>NEVER A FRONTWARD STEP, PART ELEVEN

>The house was at the end of a long street. The day was darkening to a dull point, and the street trailed off tiredly into a dirt road that ran down a hill. I had led my junkie friend here, making as though he was leading me, and now we stood here at the front gate of the house like two boy scouts neighbourhood fund-raising.

“This looks like number 43 to me,” I said.

The junkie—who had insisted we stop off at a milk bar for a block of Top Deck chocolate and then eaten it all in two minutes—nodded his head at me.

“What I need you to do,” I told him, “is to get into that house and get something for me.”

Even in his sugar-addled whisky-wobbled head, the junkie obviously had some modicum of dignity; he acted taken aback by my proposal, placing his fingers delicately against his chest in an approximation of gentlemanly distaste. “I’m a, tour guide,” he said. “This, is not, part of the, tour.”

I removed a bundle of tied up fifties from my pocket and held it out in front of him. “I can’t leave any trace of myself in this house,” I said. “Understand that. If I were careful, I could do it without leaving a trace, but that would take far more time than I’ve got. I know you’ve done this before, and I know you’ll do this again. There’s another payment the same size as that one when you’ve done the job. Understand?”

The junkie’s eyes bulged. He blew out his cheeks. “What do, you want me, to do?” he asked.

I looked the junkie right in the eyes. “I need you to tell me what’s in that house. I need to you to go in there, go through every room, and tell me what you see. It’s only information I’m after.”

“Information?”

“Just tell me what you see in the house. That’s all I need to know. I’d say you have about 30 minutes to complete this task. Understand?”

The junkie nodded, his eyes narrowing and focusing. I knew I had picked the right man. He disappeared nimbly around the side of the house. I checked my watch, and with nothing else to do, took a walk down the dirt road.

I walked down the hill and came out alongside a series of soccer fields. People were playing on the biggest field, twenty or thirty, mostly kids. The main game was being played by a group of African guys, stripped down to their shorts, wiry brown torsos disappearing in the day’s failing light. I noticed the dark clouds above, and as if in acknowledgement, rain began to come down in intermittent shivers. A pleasant coolness hung in the air, and I welcomed the relief from a day’s heat. The only sounds were the pleasant huffs and bustles of the soccer game. And even though I knew it was imminent, I stopped in my steps, like everyone else, when a gunshot cracked open the air.

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