The room reeked of self-abandonment. Irvine sat in a chair he'd cleaned off, tilted onto its back legs against the wall, so that he could stare at the spiderwebs and insect nests on the ceiling. It was far cleaner than the rest of the squalid apartment. The place reeked of vomit, feces and urine buried under ancient newspapers and empty bottles, food wrappers and takeout boxes, sweat and sex and rot. Addicts never died prettily.
The boy was no older than fourteen, lying on the covers of the cleaned-off bed where Irvine had laid him. Spark, he was called, for his tendency to carry a striking flint to light...whatever might need setting afire. It couldn't apply to any physical feature, not anymore, not now. There was too little to the boy, under the ragged attempt at whore's dress, and there would be less soon. Irvine stared at the ceiling and waited. There wasn't much else to be done. He'd rouse or not, reach lucidity or not.
He'd have a trail, or a clue, but he couldn't save anyone. Spark was the sixth whore he'd heard rumor of in two weeks.
There was....not a procedure, no, but an etiquette to it all. Irvine had searched nothing, touched only to clean. The addicts and the whores tended to look poorly on anyone attempting to save them or convert them, which he knew well from his own time on the streets. Once you got used to the understanding that it was a fast slide and everyone knew it...and no one cared...the prevalent attitudes were much easier to work with.
He glanced over when he heard Spark move, sighed and sent up a general prayer of vague hope when he realized it was so the boy could vomit over the side of the mattress. "Where'd you get it?" he asked.
And waited, while Spark shuddered his way through a weak convulsion. "Who're you?"
"Cowboy," said Irvine, using the nickname most of the whores used for him. "Somebody's selling poison apples, Spark."
The dull blankness in Spark's vomit-spackled face dropped into apathetic despair. "...Candyman," he said softly, one hand reaching as another convulsion hit. Irvine let Spark hold his hand. It probably wouldn't be much longer. The boy didn't have much energy left. He ticked over the possible dealers who might use such a name while Spark retched and shuddered.
Lucidity after all, before death. One more thing to get angry about. Spark was crying weakly, aware he was going to die and helpless to do anything about it. At least this time Irvine had caught up before death. At least this time, he had a name. "Where?" he asked softly. "Do you remember where?"
It took a while before Spark had the breath to answer, and when he did, it was an unhelpful, "No." He didn't remember. Irvine supposed he should be glad just for the name. A location probably would have made it too easy.
He didn't let go until Spark coughed blood, dying in his bed. He put the boy's hand on the rotted quilt and got up, shaking his head. This made six. The enforcers didn't care about the lowest strata, and drug dealers and whores were always assumed to be part of that lowest strata. Irvine knew better. This dealer, this Candyman, could be anyone. He could be selling to anyone. Whores died because whores had nowhere to go, no access to proper treatment and nothing to do with their lives if they got it - but they were still part of the city. They weren't nobodies. They were just vulnerable.
Irvine left the apartment building via the roof, where he could think and breathe and watch the stars.
Candyman. And six whores - probably more who weren't, who could afford treatment. He connected stars into streetmaps, mentally labeling the working routes of the whores he'd known better than Spark. Contained area? New dealer, possibly. Spark hadn't remembered where he'd bought Candyman's poisons at, which led Irvine to guess that he'd already been high and gotten more. A club, possibly, or just outside of one...
He made a list, and then hopped off the roof into an alley. You couldn't really get sentimental over street people. Or you /could/, but it would wear you down and ultimately kill. There were too many things that preyed on them, there were too many sad stories. But he did care. Enough to act, and that was the best measure of caring there could really be.
Four nights and two more dead later, Irvine leaned against a street light with his hands in his pockets, watching a man set up shop across the way. Edea didn't outlaw drugs of any kind - evidently saw no point in it - so there was no subterfuge. Irvine watched, and compared what he saw against the descriptions he'd garnered.
Then he wandered over, as casual as any.
"Buzz off," was the greeting he got. "This is my corner."
"I don't deal," said Irvine, and pulled out a deck. "I'm more into cards."
The other gave him a 'yeah, so?' look. "It's still my corner."
Irvine shrugged. "Are you the one they call the Candyman?" he asked, on the theory that confirmation couldn't hurt.
The dealer looked suspicious now. "Look, if you're with the enforcers, I got my permits," he protested. "You don't take, so what's your deal?"
"I'm not with the enforcers," said Irvine, shaking his head. "I just heard the Candyman gave...special deals."
"You ain't cute enough."
Irvine shrugged. "That's what it takes to get a break around here?" he asked, turning away. He didn't want the Candyman to see his face. He understood now. The dealer offered his lovers drugs for sex, and kept his profits high by mixing them with dangerous chemicals.
"It's what it takes with me, pal," said the Candyman.
Irvine looked up at the stars. He really should be sure. Street names and the testimony of the near-incoherent...he wasn't a judge but he should be more sure than that, anyway. "So you are the Candyman?"
The dealer chuckled. "That's what they call me."
That was all he needed. Irvine turned around, and slammed the man down into the folding metal chair the Candyman had set up. His other hand came out of its pocket, revealing a pistol with a silencer. It was really very quick.
Irvine picked up the Candyman's stash - of cash as well as drugs and weapons - and ducked down an alley and back into the sewers. He'd get an old friend to look the drugs over, and keep what was good. It worked far better as a bribe than cash alone, sometimes.
It was nowhere near enough payment for watching kids die, but it was a start.
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