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He picked up the ringing cellphone from the scratched wooden coffee table and turned towards the window. Looking through thin white metal bars into the garden, he pressed the answer button. His dark brown eyes narrowed as bright sunlight hit his pupils. He noticed that the lawn needed mowing and that a fine reddish brown dust covered the green leaves of the bushes along the mud-spattered boundary wall.
“Hello?” he said.
“Hello,” a man answered.
He recognised the caller’s voice instantly. The Asian accent was unmistakable. Rolling his eyes, he turned his bulk away from the window and concentrated on what the Asian was trying to say.
“Last shipment went bad -” he made out.
The big man shook his head irritably. The Asian was always exaggerating, demanding and exaggerating. For such a small man, he could be quite annoying. Unfortunately, he knew the guy had plenty of muscle behind him. Going head to head with him was not an option if he did not want to get hurt or be put permanently out of business.
Overly polite, he asked, “What are you talking about?”
“Last shipment no good,” the Asian said impatiently, his voice sounding like a chirp from a little bird.
“Don’t know, but no good,” he reiterated. “Boss not happy.” “So?”
“Boss wants new shipment,” the guy said.
The big man walked over to a battered couch and let his bulk fall onto threadbare beige cushions. A tired squeaking sound escaped from the springs beneath him.
The boss wants a new shipment, the big man thought cynically. The buyer was going through the goods faster than he went through his underwear. What was the man doing? The merchandise was usually sturdy and well maintained.
Staring at a picture of a ghastly painted Italian landscape, he shrugged his shoulders.
What did he care? If they wrecked the goods before the expiry date, then it gave him the opportunity to supply some more – as long as they paid him.
Thoughtfully, he turned his head and glanced towards the dingy kitchen at the end of a long narrow passage, its floor covered by a threadbare spot-stained brown carpet. An overflowing dustbin winked at him from behind a paint peeling door. The head of a Rottweiler peered around a corner. The dog’s pink gums glowed in the semi-darkness as it opened its huge jaws.
“The price has gone up,” the big man said, drawing his lips back to reveal sharp pointy teeth.
“That no good,” the Asian twittered.
Growing increasingly irritated by the Asian’s attitude, a frown appeared on the man’s forehead. He loathed the wiry man with his ugly pock-marked face, his smell of incense, cigarette smoke and cheap hair gel.
Ready to snap at the Asian, he just caught himself in time, remembering that this was business.
Nevertheless, his next sentence sounded like a growl. “Take it or leave it.”
There was a moment of silence on the other side. “How much?” the Asian finally asked.
“Double for each,” he answered, pushing his luck.
The Asian did not reply, but the big man heard him tapping on a calculator pad. “We want five,” the Asian said after a short while.
He nodded appreciatively. Five wasn’t too bad. That would make him a nice extra chunk of money for maybe four or five days work.
Rubbing his shaved scalp, the big man ran quickly through the figures: his guys would get about twenty percent, which left him with some play-money.
He shifted his bulk on the sofa. “When do you want it?” “One week,” the Asian replied quickly.
He didn’t hesitate. “Where?”
A small silence ensued. The Rottweiler trotted closer and rubbed his square head against the big man’s leg. The dog’s tongue shot out from between its teeth, warm salvia drooling from the tip of the pink muscle onto the thin carpet.
The Asian’s chirp came back over the line. “The usual place,” he said.
The big man pushed the slobbering Rottweiler out of the way. “All right,” he agreed.
“Thank you,” the Asian tweeted politely and disconnected the call.
Cradling his cellphone in his hand, the big man turned back to the window. A tiny brown bird with white freckles on its chest, almost hidden by dusty leaves, perched beside the wall. With its head tilted to one side, it stared with black beady eyes at the tall, bulky man behind the glass.
“What are you looking at?” he scowled and waved his hand threateningly. The small creature opened its wings and fluttered away to the far side of the overgrown garden.
He turned around and leaned his back against the grimy wall, his mind already in overdrive.
First he had to get his team together, then he had to organise transport. He also had to make sure the transit site was available and that the contact was properly rewarded. And he had to fork out the money, before he got paid.
This was the part which always annoyed him, but he had no choice in the matter. His guys wanted to be paid immediately once they had finished the job. They did not care if he only got his money at a later stage. They had had plenty of arguments about it in the past, but he always gave in because he did not want to lose his team.
Licking his lips, the big man brought his cellphone up to his ear. It was time to get to work.