“All right, open sesame!” the doctor said.
Dax and Scooter pulled on the ropes that opened the garage door. The other teens were sitting at the three folding tables set end-to-end. Some had cash boxes in front of them, while others sat beside boxes and organized bottles of pills. They looked like an inner-city farmer’s market. The doctor stood at one end with Rion, observing it all.
“We want to get through business as efficient as possible,” the doctor had said. “Less chance for the police to wonder why there’s a bunch of people gathered around an abandoned warehouse.”
The door squeaked like nails dragging on glass as it rose and revealed the customers waiting to come in. They shuffled in the parking lot like zombies formed into lines. Many sneezed or coughed or scratched their crotches as subtly as possible.
“Evening,” the doctor said to them.
Scooter opened up the cashbox and said, “All right, first up?”
A man in a old windbreaker approached. “Hey, Scoot.”
“Hey Albright, how’s your dog?”
“Trixie? Still kicking. The heartworm medicine really did him up.”
“Good. You need some more?”
“Please. And can you get me some lithium dibromide? I’m all out.”
“Lithium dibromide… um, that is… the, um.”
“Dehalcynate,” the doctor replied. “Red pill.”
“This box, here,” Jane said.
“Oh, good, thanks.” Scooter took the box, picked out a small orange bottle and handed it to him, along with a circular pack in tinfoil. “Forty-five dollars.”
The doctor leaned into Rion, “That would have cost two hundred and forty-five if he didn’t have insurance.”
“It’s a painkiller. Most painkillers are prescription only because of FDA regulations, and the OTCs are too weak to do any good.”
Another customer approached. “Birth control, please. Orthotricyclene-Lo. Three packs.” She handed over fifty dollars. Scooter counted out three foil packs and the transaction was over in under fifteen seconds.
The pharmy took orders and made change, hand over fist. The doctor and Rion organized and handed out product, as well as guarded the stash. They never gave out the drugs until the money was in their hands.
Jane explained it to someone in line. “You, I don’t know so well. You could be an Olympic sprinter run off with fifty dollars of this Blindside without me even getting out of the starting gate. But us–we can’t run off. We’ve got nothing to gain by stealing from you. People wouldn’t trust us anymore. So could you just favor us this, kay?”
The man, who wore a white nylon jumpsuit with a red sash, handed over his money. “Okay, okay, jeez. Sorry, just hurry up, come on. I got a class. I got training. Can’t screw up again. Got to be focused. Come on, come on.” He kept his eyes down, didn’t look at a soul as he rambled.
Jane handed him a paper bag. “Thank you.” He ran back into the night like he was late for something.
“I wonder if he should really be getting his pills from us,” Rion said to the doctor. “He seems like he needs more than medication.”
“That’s our life,” the doctor said. “Oh, excuse me. Line’s forming.”
A line of people had gathered at the end of the table, where the doctor had been sitting. “I also do some free consultations,” he said. “Mostly for people who don’t know what they need. They can come right to me.”
The first was a teenage girl who had brought a friend. “I have this stomach thing?” she said, her voice upturning at the end of every sentence. “Like every time I eat vegetables? I already talked to my doctor, and he gave me something, but it’s making me sick every time I take it.”
“Did he give you Cloveritol?” he asked.
“Get some Glycolauric Octanol.”
“Glycolauric Octanol. Two per day.”
She and her friend nodded and slid out to the customer line, repeating the medication’s name.
Rion was astonished. “How did you know that so fast?”
“I’ve been doing this for a long time. Half the battle is knowing everything it could be. Then you cull out the necessary information to find a match. Thanks to the pharmaceutical companies, just about everything can be solved with a pill, if it’s minor.”
“What if it’s not a stomach thing? What if it’s a tumor or cancer?”
He shrugged. “There’s no drug that can help with that. I don’t make any bones about what I am. I’m a street doctor. I can only do so much. It’s all observational, but that’s not too different from any other doctor visit. They fool you by doing things like blood counts and X-rays. But those are just CYA tests.”
“Cover your ass. Hospitals are constantly on the watch for malpractice suits. People love to sue. So they order a lot more tests than are necessary on the off-chance that one person with purple-spotted elephant disease gets the wrong diagnosis and sues the hospital. Yes, this is more risky than going to a hospital, but you get what you pay for. And I try the best I can.”
A twenty-something man with a goatee approached.
“I have, like, a soreness on my arm. I think I need some Polyprovilene.”
“Hmm, really,” the doctor propped one arm on the other. “Any swelling? Any feeling of pressure or fullness?”
“No, not really.”
“Is it internal or external?”
“It kinda feels like it’s under my skin. Like under the top layer. My last doctor gave me Polyprovilene.”
“Look, if you want to get high, go somewhere else. We’re not your fucking suppliers. Now, do you actually have a rash, or you want to waste more of my time?”
“I… I… yeah, I have a rash.” He showed his arm, which was covered in a bumpy rash. “But I really think I need some Polyprovilene.”
“I’m not giving you Polyprovilene. You don’t need it. Do you do any work with chemicals?” the doctor asked.
“Yeah, I do construction.”
“Work around insulation?”
“It’s probably a chemical burn. Try getting some topical gel. We don’t have any, but you can find some in the supermarket for cheap. Bactrinol is a good one.”
“Okay, thanks,” he sighed.
Kinneburg said to Rion, “Some of the addicts, you can easily tell. That’s the nice thing about my job. I don’t need to be nice if I don’t want,” he smiled.
Rion shook his head. “I still don’t understand. Why are they coming to you? Can’t they go to a hospital where they have to be treated?”
“Some do. Some people go, find out what they need, then come here and get the same thing cheaper. These days, hospitals and government are hard to differentiate. It’s the old people who vote, and their biggest priority is their health. The government knows this and works with the medical profession to create programs that are profitable to both of them. That means, instead of real, long-term treatment, they get pills. Pills are like designer clothing–they’re cheap to produce and people will buy them at any price.”
“They’re treating patients like consumers.”
“Hey, doc, are you getting senile?” Scooter called out.
“What? Sorry,” he said, coming out of his reverie. There was a man standing in front of him, waiting for help.
“Hi, doc. I’ve got a problem with my dentistim thingy. I think it’s broken.”
“Open, please.” The man opened his mouth wide. Dr. Kinneburg held his breath and looked inside. To Rion he said, “You know what a dentistim is? It’s a drug delivery device they put in the tooth. It releases the drug at a certain time, so you never have to worry about when to pop your pills.”
“Yeah, it was expensive too,” the patient said. “Then the piece of shit up and dies on me. Can’t afford to replace it now.”
“How long have you had it?”
“Since a year ago.”
“Mm-hm,” he said. “Is it loose?”
“No, I think it’s stuck. It’s not releasing the drug.”
“What drug is it?”
“Did this happen after you refilled it?”
“Hmm… I don’t have any safsprin in stock right now,” Doctor Kinneburg said. “Do you mind a house call?”
“Sure, that’d be fine.”
“Let me get my appointment book.” He left for the storage room, leaving Rion and him alone.
“So, are you his apprentice or something?” he smiled at Rion.
“Me? No, no. I’m, uh, with them.” He pointed to Scooter, Jane, and Dax.
“Ah,” he said. “Sounded like he was teaching you everything he knows.”
“He does that with everyone,” Scooter said as he handed back change to a lanky black man. “Anyone who’ll listen to him rant about the health care system,” he smiled.
The doctor came back with a three-ring binder and they scheduled a time next month for him to come and visit. “Sorry, about this. We don’t get too many people who need dentistim work. Get a month’s worth of Trinex in the meantime. And take some painkillers if your dentistim starts giving you trouble.”
He left the line. The doctor said, “Sometimes the system just leaves them in the cold. They give them what they need, then they abandon them.”
Rion was only half-paying attention. He kept rubbing his neck, feeling his scar, wondering where it came from.
“You feeling all right? Headache didn’t come back did it?”
“No, it’s my scar. Just wondering where it came from.”
“Good, because prozium should keep you pain-free for at least three days. It’s banned in Mexico. You don’t know where your scar came from?”
“No… I mean, at least, I don’t remember.”
“You don’t remember a thing like that? I wonder if you’re experiencing memory loss.”
“Could be,” Rion said.
“Hmm, memory loss plus headaches. Not good,” the doctor said. “What are you doing tomorrow afternoon?”
“Afternoon? Uh, nothing I know of? Working here?”
“Tomorrow’s a half-day. Days after shop are always half-days–not much to do. How about tomorrow we go see a friend of mine? He’s a neurologist-slash-psychologist. He’s been boasting about this new experimental hypnosis thing. I’m sure he’d love to meet you. Maybe try it out. You up for it?”
“Sure!” Rion said. He had to restrain himself from hugging the doctor.
After thirty minutes, the customers tapered off. They only kept the shop open long enough to serve a reasonable amount of people. Any longer and they risked a police car wandering by.
While the doctor worked with others to close the gate and count the money, Rion worked with Jane, Dax, and Scooter to pack up their little overstock.
“Did you notice Mr. Friendly wasn’t there today?” Dax said.
The others laughed.
Jane explained, “Mr. Friendly is this guy who’s always trying to buddy up to us, trying to get a discount on pills.”
“He’ll say ‘FITTY DOLLARS! Goo’ lord. How ’bout you just gimme the bottle and I’ll lick off the rim’,” Scooter said. Everyone laughed.
The doctor came back. “He’s oblivious to the fact that we’re a black market, and we don’t have coupons in the penny-saver.”
“How much did we make, doc?” Jane said.
“Nine hundred thirty two, and seventeen cents.”
“Niiiiiice,” Scooter said.
The doctor fingered the wad of bills in his hand. “So deducting for meds… Dax has a week’s worth of melange on credit. And Jane, your polydichloric euthimal. Scooter pays for his stuff on Friday…”
He handed each person counted out money.
“How do you remember all that?” Rion asked. “Every medication, every disease, what everyone’s taking?”
“Got to have good memory to be a doctor,” he smirked.
Well, I’m out, Rion thought.
The doc handed Scooter the last of the money. “Rion, you’re still paying off your prozium. Sorry.”
“That’s okay,” he said. “I completely understand. It’s a business.”
“Exactly.” The doctor puffed out his chest and yelled, “Quitting time! Lock it up!”
The kids gathered together all the tables and boxes, replacing them in their hidden cubby holes. Soon the warehouse barely looked like anyone had been inside for a year. They all emptied into the parking lot.
A heavy-set girl was climbing down from the roof via a maintenance ladder.
“Look, it’s a Yolanda-bird,” Scooter said, “It’s emerging from its natural habitat to search for food.”
“Hardee-har. Thanks for telling me the store was over, guys,” she said, and dropped the last few feet.
“Shoot it! They’re dangerous when angered,” another teen said.
The doctor smiled, obviously trying to keep from laughing and handed her some money. “Good job, Yolanda. Nothing interesting happen?”
“Didn’t see a thing,” she said. “You get a good view of the neighborhood though.”
The doctor pulled down the garage door and locked it.
The doctor said, “All right, well, thanks for your help today everyone.”
“We’ll see you tomorrow, Dr. Kinney,” one of the girls in a plaid shirt said. “See you, Rion.”
Rion looked up, unaware that someone had spoken his name. “Yeah, see you.”
The groups of teens banded together, many of them lighting up cigarettes. The ones who had cars gathered together in them. The doctor got into an old rusty car on the side street and bellowed away. Rion tried to look like he was busy thinking or waiting for something–adjusting his hands, looking down the street. He didn’t want people to think he had nowhere to go.
Scooter approached him, “You going back to the shelter?”
“Uh, no, no. I’m going… somewhere else.”
“You sure? I can give you a ride? It’s a walk-“
“No, I’m fine, I’ll be all right. I have a place to stay,” Rion lied.
“So, no money for you this time. That kinda sucks.”
“I’ll make do,” Rion said. The relief from headaches would be worth it. “It’s not like I’m not used to having limited funds.”
“True, true,” Scooter nodded. “Say, what would you say to some ‘overtime’?”
“Well, it goes like this.” Scooter put his arm around Rion’s shoulder. “Did the doctor tell you about our little scavenger hunt?”
“Yeah, figures. You’ve only been here a day. It’s kind of a trust thing. But here’s the deal. You know how we got nothing but junk equipment, always breaking down. We need constant supplies, can’t pay for them. So some of us do some, I don’t know, I guess you’d call it dumpster diving.”
“I’ve done that before,” Rion said brightly.
“All right, atta boy. And he pays us for the stuff we bring back. It’s not much, but you need all the money you can get. Am I right?”
“So usually we do this alone, but there was this place I just heard about. It’s like an abandoned science lab or something. Lots of stuff. There’s police tape all over, but no one’s been in there for like a week.”
“How do you know that?”
“There was some kind of raid, I guess. Neighbors told me about it. One person says ‘private residence’, another guy says it was a front.”
“But if there’s police tape, doesn’t that mean it’s off-limits?”
“I think it was an ‘abandoned drug lab’. Whoever was leading it was probably killed or arrested or something. But there’s a ton of stuff we could use just sitting there.”
“Don’t the police need it for evidence?”
Scooter scoffed. “What’s it going to do? The police bag it up and it sits in a locker for twenty years until they throw it out. Meanwhile, we could be using it.”
“That’s a good point. But isn’t this technically a crime?”
Scooter shrugged. “Isn’t everything we do technically a crime?” He punched Rion on the shoulder. “Look, I know you need the cash. And you’ve got a good eye for finding things. We could really use you on this.”
Rion looked around, as if there was someone who was going to tell him the right decision. Maybe this was like saving the turtle–putting yourself at risk to help another. No one would be hurt by taking a few things.
“Well, all right. I’ll come.”
“Great,” Scooter said. “Where can we pick you up?”
“I’ll be here. I mean, you can pick me up here.”
“Awesome. All right, be here at ten o’clock sharp tonight. Don’t be late. Oh, and don’t breathe a word of this to anybody. We don’t want other people taking our stuff, right?”
“Like pirates and treasure.”
“Exactly. See you, Rion.” Scooter headed to the car, where the teens he had driven with today were waiting for him.