A smog-induced smear of pinks, oranges and purples bounced off the Detroit River, unleashing the brilliant hues of a polluted sunset upon the latest flock of people to depart from the RaceWorm. They cluttered the ferry dock on Belle Isle with a palpable silence usually reserved for monasteries. Most hid behind hooded jackets, low-brim hats, sunglasses, or other garb to which shadows clung, as the procession filed down the pier.
Such a blatant disguise was how the uninitiated, and the paranoid, believed they should dress prior to entering the Black Market Bazaar. Ed couldn’t help from judging them, they who were only inconspicuous by virtue of how equally conspicuous most of them seemed as they went about this meaningless masquerade; clowns don’t stand out at the circus.
Ed lingered behind the parade of not-so-subtle skulkers with James, who was the Worm’s helmsman and younger half of its father-and-son crew.
“Hah, look at’em all. Gotta love tourist season,” James said. A plume of smoky vapor billowed from his nostrils as he passed the electronic cigarette back to Ed. “Who am I to complain, though? Green travelers equal greener pockets.”
“You should sell those burglar getups on the boat,” Ed said. He coughed up some phlegm and hocked it into the river before taking another breath from his vaporizer. The whole ordeal reminded him of the raspy Mr. Slater.
“Pops wouldn’t be for that. He misses the old days too much. Doesn’t even wanna let these sightseers onboard.”
“He’s right about one thing, this isn’t the Belle Isle I remember floating over to as a little kid,” Ed said. “Used to just rig a raft out of a few plasteel panels and some cybernet wiring. We’d sneak out to the Bazaar at night and watch the cargo boats unload.”
“I’ll be damned if the RaceWorm isn’t one of the last floaters left on the river – the aftermath of drone delivery,” James inherited a loathing of the word from his father. Even without him present it escaped James’ mouth accompanied with a snarl.
“So it goes. At least your pops is still his own Captain. Most of these hoverboats got decommissioned or refitted by luxury liners. Here,” Ed tossed the vaporizer with little regard for its glass casing, “help yourself while I’m on my shopabout, Jimmy.” He was one of the few people still in Detroit who knew James when he was just Jimmy.
“You know the deal, Rivers. Seven of them – one for last time,” James said. Ed was also one of the few people he trusted to fetch eggs for him.
“Yah, yah. I told you, that guy needed some yolk on his face. You’d have done the same thing. I’ll be back before that vape runs out.”
All the tourists were gone by the time Edgar left the dock. Two other passengers still lingered about: a stranger dressed as a skulker, and then Norman. Ed resented Norman for being a chameleon, always camouflaging his true colors, and Norman enjoyed how much this unnerved Ed. It was to their mutual benefit that one of the few unspoken rules governing the Bazaar mandated silence until entering the market grounds, an exercise in paranoia left over from when law enforcement wasn’t receiving kickbacks from black-market activity.
From the dock it was another fifteen minutes, walking at a skulker’s pace, before reaching the freight elevator that descended underground into the Black Market Bazaar. Everything sold in the sprawl of rooms and warehouses below Belle Isle seemed to be defined by what it wasn’t – unlicensed weaponry, non-digital cigarettes, reverse-engineered electronics, alcohol that didn’t come from a vat, deconstructed software, really anything that wasn’t sold by Metronet Industries, the fiscal syndicate that owns and operates Detroit as well as most of the Mid West.
Ed had been buying his groceries from the Bazaar since moving back to the city last year. He savored every meal that was not liberated from a box or tube, a leftover sentiment from summers spent wrestling in the dish pit at one of the underground’s few full-service diners. Submerged up to his elbows in a stew of plates, pans, bleach and grime, Ed witnessed the occasional flare of brilliance from the restaurant’s listless chef, a man who had mastered the art of frying runny eggs and droopy bacon while sleeping off a perpetual hangover.
All these years later, the diner was long gone. Businesses come and go in the Black Market Bazaar, yet Trader’s Post seemed immune to this precedent. The grocery store was always crowded with fresh produce, unprocessed delicacies and a clientele hungry for real food. Ed grabbed his weekly fix of wholesome sustenance before leaving to get Jimmy’s eggs. The Post wouldn’t dare carry something that delicate so he headed for a swankier sector of the underground.
Del was the only vendor Edgar knew on Moneymaker Lane. Before opening a bakery amongst those who dealt in indulgent amenities at correspondingly indulgent rates, Del made a name for himself by providing an endless flood of eggs, meats, breads and other foodstuffs to the Bazaar’s rotating cast of restaurants. It was rumored that he was a geneticist before setting up shop in the Bazaar and that all his goods were grown in a hidden laboratory.
Ed couldn’t taste any science on the bacon he had used to fetch for the diner whenever supplies were low. He never noticed anything different about the bread Del baked, other than that it was less brick-like than the grains offered by the Post; so much so that Ed was once tempted to lift some using the five-finger discount to which so many cocksure youths believe themselves entitled.
Del, in turn, introduced the rebellious teenager to the intricacies of the culinary arts during his six-month stint doing inventory at Del’s storeroom – a rather lenient sentence compared to most instances of Bazaar justice.
“Well if it isn’t sir stickyfingers himself. How goes it, Mr. Rivers?”
“Same ol’story, Del. Grabbing some groceries and I’ve got to pay the toll. Jimmy’s after eggs again, fixing to make one of his quiches is my guess.” The RaceWorm was furnished with a rather impressive galley from which many delicious meals spawned.
“You’re in luck, kiddo. Clucketta and company have been hard at work. How many are ya after?”