>NEVER A FRONTWARD STEP, PART NINE

>I came out of the hallway and into a proper heads-down rough-hops bar with a wonky stage at the back and a games room attached behind glass doors to my right. All the patrons were at least thirty years older than the polo shirt crowd in the front bar. I threw my beer—gilt-edged schooner and all—behind a blackened pot plant that looked like it could use a drink, and approached the bar. A proper ugly barman stood looking suspiciously at some change in his hand. His head was like an egg, buried deep in the dough of his pudgy shoulders. He grumbled under his breath.

“I don’t know where you think you are,” he said, “but this amount of money does not buy a double whisky in this country.”

I sensed a squirming presence to my right. A junkie with a camel skin vest and train-wrecks for eyes pulled at his arms like they were slumping stockings. He said, “That’s the, right change. It, is the right, change.” Slowing and speeding his sentences. My eyes snagged on the junkie’s face.

The barman—whose stocking-armed-junkie count was probably in the mid thousands—looked nonplussed. “I need the right amount of money in order to pour you a double whisky,” he said flatly, “otherwise the basis of modern economics will collapse in on itself.”

The junkie seemed to consider this for a moment. The moment stretched on. “Modern, economics is, modern,” was his eventual evaluation of the situation.

I smiled. The junkie was from a photo in one of the files I had looked at, only one day before I hopped on the plane. Sometimes God dropped the roulette ball right in your pocket.

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