Chapter 4: Working
The first three days on the planet had not been easy for Harry. He had to pick up a lot of Chinese in record time and understand the culture of the people in Beaumonde. Business was the only language that was common to all and it was unfortunate that Harry had no business sense at all. The city was overpopulated as it is and nobody wanted a kid who couldn't speak Chinese properly and looked as weak as a twig. He felt terribly degraded when he requested for work in restaurants, garment shops or even electronic shops. He liked to say requested but by the expression of the managers and owners, he knew they dismissed him as just another beggar on the streets and the impulse to resort to violence when he saw such looks was hard for him to resist.
When he explored the city, he found many alleys where the jobless and homeless had taken shelter by building flimsy huts with discarded cardboard and steel. They had several fires going in trash cans full of garbage and every time Harry passed by such an alley; dread would pool in his gut and he prayed he wouldn't end up like that.
By the end of the second night, Harry was beyond exhausted and frustrated. His money was running out fast and the passionate screams of men and women resonated through his room until late in the night. He could not get enough sleep and he was seriously contemplating turning to a life of crime to buy his bread. He had also spent a part of the day searching for alternate accommodations but to his surprise, he found that 'The Sun' was definitely the cheapest place to stay in. He continued to look for a job and had to endure immense humiliation in the process but he didn't give up no matter how dirty it made him feel. This was what he had wanted and now he had gotten it. There was no going back.
On his third day on the planet, he thought about maybe trying his luck in the lesser populated cities of Beaumonde but he soon found out that the Alliance presence in the other cities was heavy and to add sting to the matter, he didn't have enough credits to travel anywhere out of the city. He ended up wandering near the outskirts of the city and discovered several factories spewing thick black smoke from their long chimneys. He was unceremoniously kicked out of the first two he went to but struck gold when he entered the third.
"You'll get thirty credits a week and lunch," shouted the foreman over the loud noises. "All you have to do is shove the coal into the furnace as fast as you can and make sure not to slip and fall into it! You see this gauge over here?" He pointed at a large meter above the flaming hole. "The temperature never goes below halfway and if it does, you're outta here!"
Harry looked at the red hot hole nervously. There were men doing the same thing to his left and right and Harry was intimidated by their blackened faces and bulging muscles. He wondered if he could really keep pace with them but he pushed aside the negative thoughts for later.
"Our last man was unlucky. He wasn't paying attention and one of the pots moving on the conveyor belt above fell and knocked him into the furnace. The poor fellow didn't even have the time to scream." The foreman said this and chuckled.
"When can I start," Harry asked with false bravado. A job was a job and he wasn't stupid enough to say no because it was dangerous or was being paid next to nothing.
The foreman smiled nastily. "Get a helmet from the shed and an overall which fits you. You can start now."
Two physically exhausting weeks later
When Harry decided to live on his own and start over, this was not what he had expected. He hadn't thought earning money and living independently would be this hard. The thirty credits he got at the end of the week barely lasted him the six days. He had no time for enjoyment and all he worried about all day was did he have enough for the next day. He would eat the nasty food they served at the factory but it was far from satisfying. When he got back, he would go to a cheap noodle stall and eat the greasy chow mein they served with relish. He ended up becoming friends with the owner of the stall and he would serve Harry at rates cheaper than usual. He would sometimes add a little beef if there was any leftover when Harry came by.
At night he had to dodge Madam Fang's offers of women. One night he confidently told her that he didn't need money to get a woman in his bed and Madam Fang started laughing in that high shrill voice of hers, knowing that Harry was lying and was a virgin. After that, it became a game between them. The Madam would describe various women and their assets to him just so that she would watch his face flush with desire and embarrassment. Harry had to endure this and pretend he knew what she was talking about and explain to her that she was already too late and the type of women she was describing had already christened his bed. The only good thing that came from their banter was that Harry was no longer embarrassed or bothered by the sexual advances of doxies on the streets. A doxy was what the people referred to as a prostitute.
On the rare nights of silence in his room, he knew that the rooms had been rented out by drug traffickers who needed a place to do their dealings. He was offered drops at cheap rates by dozens of drug dealers and he had refused every single time no matter how they described the wondrous effects of the drop.
Murder, too, was a common occurrence in the district he was residing in. Just yesterday a woman with five bullet holes in her back was dragged out and sent to the crematory. When Harry had asked Madam Fang about it, she had just waved him off cheerfully and said it had been the woman's fault anyway. The casual way she spoke about it didn't do anything to put Harry at ease.
But strangely even after all that Harry felt like he was quite happy with the way things had turned out. He knew the way he was living right now was sad but it didn't matter to him. He knew things could have been much worse. What gave him the most happiness was the fact that he didn't have the boy who lived tag attached to him, he didn't have his parent's inheritance to live off and best of all nobody knew him, nobody cared about him and nobody wanted to kill him.
At least nobody wanted to kill him yet.
Physically he had changed a lot already. His body was a lot stronger and because the food they served at the factory was high in proteins and carbohydrates; his body had become more muscular as well. He had shortened his hair at the local saloon and was happy to see there was no change in length when he awoke the following day.
Today, Harry and the rest of the people who worked at the lowest level of the factory had received a 10 credit bonus and Harry knew exactly what to do with it. He hurried back to his flat, showered, changed into some decent clothes and headed out to the nearest bar.
Most of the people he had become acquainted with at the factory had all made their way to the closest brothels. But what Harry wanted to do was go and drink some alcohol. He was earning his own bread; he had passed himself off as a nineteen year old; and now he wanted to buy his first drink with his hard earned money.
He went to the central area of the city and found a decent looking place called the Maidenhead. It was a very interesting bar. Even though the main entrance was at level with the road; to reach the sitting and drinking area, you had to descend down a flight of stone stairs. It was quite large on the inside and there were gaps in certain sections of the wall where all that you could see were a pair of attractive legs in stockings writhing around a pole sensuously. Every couple of minutes the woman would slide down the pole, revealing her naked behind or front up to the bottom curve of her breasts and Harry thought it was the single most erotic thing he had seen in his life. Harry felt his body burn with desire and he quickly took a seat at the semi-circular bar at the centre of the establishment. What Harry didn't know was that on the other side of the wall, all that separated the customers and the dancing woman was a glass screen and entry to that section of the bar was only for those who could afford it. There were three such women behind the walls.
When he had calmed his hormones down to acceptable levels, he observed the bar more carefully. One corner of the place seemed to be dedicated to gambling and Harry recognized a few who worked at the factory. Another corner looked like the place business dealings were carried out and the rest of the place was crowded with tables where people were drinking and conversing softly. There was some nice ambient music playing in the background and the big screen above the bar displayed the latest happenings in the verse.
"Can I get you anything?" spoke the girl behind the bar. Harry found it weird that most of the bars were owned and managed by women on this planet.
"Yes, umm I would like some alcohol," Harry said awkwardly. He couldn't suppress the bubble of excitement in him and he smiled charmingly at the girl.
"What kind?" she asked.
"The cheapest kind," Harry replied.
She nodded and pressed a button on a machine filling a small glass with a yellow colour liquid.
"Here you go," she said and went away to serve another customer. He gulped it down in one go and produced a very satisfied belch. But a few seconds later a terrible burning sensation began to assault his throat and his eyes began to water profusely.
"First time taking a shot huh," said the girl coming back. She had another shot ready for him.
"No," Harry choked out.
The girl gave him a look.
Harry took a deep breath and pushed down the nausea that was threatening to overcome him.
"Okay it was my first time," he accepted. He took a closer look at the girl. She was fair and unlike most of the women on this planet, she wasn't Chinese. Harry counted at least nine piercings on her body - Three rings on the nose; one iron bar above her eye; another ring on her lip; and two on both ears. Her black hair was loosely tied up and he could see the beginning of a tattoo on her nape. He was disappointed that the bar table hid the rest of her.
"What's the occasion?" she asked him.
"Got a raise and decided to spend it the right way," he said chuckling. He took the next glass and downed that one too.
"God," spluttered Harry clenching his eyes and forcing the alcohol down.
"You should take it easy you know," said the girl with a laugh. "Cheap whisky hits you faster and harder."
"Okay," Harry said gasping and checking her out once more. "You from around here?" he asked.
"No. "I'm from Londinum."
"Londinum! You're from a core planet? What are you doing out here!"
She leaned forward giving Harry a splendid view of her cleavage. "That planet had too many rules," she replied. "And I hated it there."
Harry nodded sagely and then gestured for her to bring him another drink. He had learnt quite a bit about the verse since he had arrived and had begun to pick up on the Chinese too. The girl looked at him with raised eyebrows but complied anyway. She then left to do her work and Harry watched her every moment with interest. He felt his head buzzing and he knew that the alcohol was doing its thing.
He looked around and his eyes were attracted to the gambling side of the bar. Smirking he focused on his legilimency skills and took in the scene in front of him. Thoughts that weren't his rushed into his mind and through all that jumble greed was the emotion that lingered the most. He tried to understand what the game was about and the only pieces he could get was that it involved cards and if you had better cards you bet big and win, or it was something like that but he wasn't too sure.
He gulped down his drink and called for the bargirl.
"You want another one?"
Harry shook his head. "What are they playing?" he asked her instead.
"You don't know?" she asked him, a little surprised. Harry shook his head. "Well, there's no name for it particularly. You get handed two cards from a deck. Five cards are kept open and if the total amount in your hand plus the ones open is the largest in the group, you win."
"The remaining cards are kept closed and you can pick a card from that deck if you're not happy with your own, but to do so you'll have to give a penalty."
"Huh," Harry muttered, looking at the game with interest.
"You're not thinking of playing, are you? It's a high-risk game," she warned.
"I think I am," Harry said grinning broadly. He knew with his skill he could empty every wallet on that table. "How much for my drinks?" he asked her. His voice was beginning to slur.
"Six credits," she said. "And I'll give you one on the house if you come back without your pockets empty."
Harry gave her a bow and paid her.
"Excuse me," he said going over to the table. "May I join you?"
"10 credits buy-in. You got?" The one dealing the cards asked roughly.
Harry emptied his pockets and produced ten credits. It was going to be an interesting night.
Three hours later Harry stumbled out of the bar feeling extremely satisfied with himself. He had just made a whooping hundred and fifty-seven credits in one night! He had bamboozled all his opponents with his supposed luck when actually it was his mind-reading skill which brought him the luck. Technically it was cheating but he didn't care. The last two weeks had taught him that if you don't cheat you get nowhere in this world.
Taking a deep breath he mentally repeated over and over, "Walk in a straight circle, walk in a straight circle, walk in a straight circle," but then he realized what he was saying and smacked himself in an effort to get some clarity.
"Hey you," said a familiar voice and Harry turned and found himself face to face with the girl from the bar.
"Hey yourself," he replied grinning. Before he would have never even thought about checking out a girl the way he was doing now but then that's why they say alcohol removes your inhibitions. He couldn't keep his eyes off her and the way she was dressed only served to arouse him.
A tiny black skirt ended halfway down her thighs and a sleeveless t-shirt hung loosely around her thin frame. Her dark brown hair fell just a tad below her shoulders and curled towards the end. Another ring on her belly button was revealed when the breeze came calling.
She was hot, was the only thought that was running through Harry's drunken mind.
If she noticed where his eyes were wandering she didn't say anything. "I see you made a killing tonight."
"I cleaned the table," he said and began to snigger uncontrollably.
She laughed at the state Harry was in. "You need some help getting back home? You look like you're ready to pass out."
Harry blinked. There was no way he was going to pass out in front of such an attractive woman. Steeling his resolve he forced his drunkenness down and looked up at her and smiled.
"I'll be fine," he said charmingly, or at least tried to be charming. "But your company would be most appreciated."
She grinned, "Well lead the way."
Twenty minutes later Harry and his tongue were playing tug of war with hers and she had her back pressed up against his door. One of his hands was blindly trying to open the door and the other was freely groping under her shirt.
"God you know how to kiss," she said breathlessly.
The door opened and the pair stumbled inside. "This is going to be a night you won't forget babe," he whispered huskily in her ear. He knew exactly what she wanted and he was bloody well going to deliver.
"Oh god yes," she moaned as he sucked on her earlobe and ran his tongue down her neck.
It was set in stone that today was the best day of Harry's life.
The next morning the light from the star Kalidasa filtered through the window onto Harry's face waking him.
He groaned and pulled the bed sheet over him wondering which god had he pissed off to give him this massive headache. But then memories of last night began to come back and a big grin grew on his face. He clumsily felt around his bed looking for the soft body that was supposed to be beside him but there was none.
Frowning he stumbled out of bed wincing as a sharp pain stabbed him between his eyes. Scrunching his eyes, he checked the bathroom but she wasn't there either. His eyes roamed around the room in confusion before they came to rest on his winnings from last night. The pouch looked smaller than he remembered.
He quickly rushed over to check if everything was still there and to his immense shock the pouch was significantly lighter. He turned it over and emptied it and found there were barely some twenty credits left in it.
"No," he whispered in shock. He had just been robbed!
"No, no, no, no, NO!" His hard-earned money had just been stolen from him. He curled his fingers into fists and felt his nails digging into his skin. He had just been taken advantage of! Rage coursed through him and he wanted nothing more than to find that girl and get revenge and get his money back.
How dare she steal his money!
As his eyes roved around in fury, he suddenly spotted a woman's underwear on the headboard of his bed.
It was red, it was tiny and it was hers. There seemed to be something written on it.
'Thanks for the mind blowing night and the money. If fate requires it, we'll meet again.'And she signed it with a little heart using her lipstick.
"That gorram bitch," Harry muttered. He hadn't even gotten her name and if memory served he hadn't given his either. His anger began to abate and resigned amusement was all that remained in him. Of course, the sex was mind blowing, he thought glumly. She had been projecting her desires vividly.
A wry chuckle escaped his lips and he shook his head ruefully. This was a lesson well learnt.