Copyright 4/5/15 by Raymond Daley
Eight days. Eight long days of hustling wide-eyed tourists around the shortest possible loop I could make while still keeping him within sight.
I'd taken the first one, mostly as a joke. I'm still not sure if that particular joke was at his expense, or mine. Either way, when the skinny old Asian man held up his smart-phone, muttered something incomprehensible into it and it'd asked me "Are you a guide?", something deep at the back of my mind had made me say "Yes.
I'd made a big dog and pony show about the whole thing, taking a full twenty minutes to slowly lead the old man first up, then back down the one block of strip where I'd been able to get a visual on his area of operations.
I knew his street crew were already watching me, I'd spent the previous three days running the gauntlet of spotters, dickerers, pitch-men, beggars, muggers and whores. All his people. All sent out to assess this new interloper in their midst.
Anyway, I'd sidled the elderly Asian gentleman up and down the block, stopping every few paces to point out features of local interest. That was all bullshit, of course. I had a talent for improv, it's what makes me so good out here on the streets. I can take any feed, aud or vis, and spit out a shtick that makes me fit right in. Good enough to fool the natives too!
I'd point out the spot where Man Rey had filmed his first holo, sadly now long deleted after the Cultural Wars. The divot in the sidewalk where Tommi La Fommi had breathed his last, hopped up to the eyeballs on meth and cabbage. Actual cabbage!
I must have come up with fifty or so points of interest before we finally found ourselves right back at the point where we'd started out from, a little over twenty minutes later. Then came a period of uncomfortable silence where both of us just stood there looking at each other, unsure of the protocol in that situation. The old man broke the deadlock eventually, speaking into his phone which said "How much do I owe you?"
Only I hadn't thought that far forward. How much to charge him, for the four hundred or so steps we'd taken up and down the block?
My mind initially said fifty bucks, instantly rejecting it just as fast as I'd thought of it. No. Way too much. He'd be off and away, looking for the nearest police uniform and that'd be me over and done for, before I'd ever really gotten started. So clearly not fifty then. Less than half that? Twenty bucks perhaps?
I ran a couple of scenarios across my mind. Firstly one where I asked him for twenty; he gave it to me grudgingly, later giving me a shitty write-up online, telling others to avoid me. Comments like "He shitty! He rip-off!" Strike twenty then.
I got the same vibe off asking for ten, so I settled for five bucks. Not too much, considering what he'd just got.
"Five?" I said, more in hope than anything else.
I didn't need his phone translating for me this time, him searching for his wallet was answer enough. Then he gave me the note. Before I'd even half unfolded it, I knew he'd given me a ten. "I got no change man!" I said into his phone. I waited for the couple of seconds it took to throw him the translation.
"You keep!" it said, "you worth it! Very funny! I tell my friends!" and he tottered off down the street, vanishing into a strip joint about four doors down.
I had a dozen more like him that day. So he clearly had told his friends.
The next few days went by like that, little old Asian men, and a few women too, mostly communicating through translation apps on their smart phones.
" 'Chu doin' okay, new guy!" That'd been the Hispanic muscle on the front door of the strip bar just next to me. He sported a partially erased Latin Kings tat on his right bicep. I later found out his name was Ruiz.
"Yeah," I'd said, "very big in the oriental market, it seems. Just wish I knew what lingo they keep speaking."
Ruiz looked at me over a raised eyebrow. " 'Chu stoopid or somethin'? Dat's Mandarin."
So that was me told then. Mister Stoopid.
Up to then, most of the Asians had paid me the asking price of five bucks. The odd one or two gave me ten. Once I'd recorded my shtick and run it through a translator, I was getting at least ten bucks every time, after that.
I changed my clothes on the third day out there. I'd seen how all the other guides in the region wore a sort of unofficial uniform, grey khakis, plain white tee, black windcheater too, for when it got damp. They weren't great if it rained hard though. That required an umbrella. A real easy outfit to copy though. Now I at least looked like I belonged.
I had the market cornered, especially with my unique gimmick. There's always plenty of tourists who want to see a lot of things but don't have all that much time between stops. So my one block tour was perfect.
Each day though, I was more than aware that his people kept a close eye on me. How many tours I took, how much money I made. They weren't obvious about it though. Just visible enough to know they were there, providing you know what you're looking for, of course. I had a good thing going. A cardboard sign hung on a string around my neck reading TWENTY MINUTE TOURS! INTERNET FAMOUS!
People eventually just came to say they had, they'd ask for a picture, as proof. Those were free, at first. Then I wised up, and started charging a buck each. A buck for a snapshot with me. Another buck if they wanted to include the sign. Another buck if they wanted to hold the sign themselves.
Those bucks soon added up, let me tell you!
I cottoned on pretty quickly to what people really wanted from me. It wasn't just a tour. It was an experience!
By the fifth day I was starting to get repeat customers. Some would even walk a few steps behind me, repeating my own shtick right back at me, like some kind of demented low grade copy of myself.
I decided that I was the show here, so I had to nip that in the bud as quickly as I could. When I spotted the first one I was straight on top of it. "If you're going to do that, I'll have to charge you double!" I said to him.
He couldn't pull his five bucks out fast enough!
So that became a thing too. You could pay an extra five and be my shadow as I led the tour.
I couldn't work out at first how they'd learnt the shtick. Then one guy showed me a vid someone had covertly shot of me taking the tour a few days earlier. They'd sat down and taken the time to transcribe my every last word. So I was internet famous! And I thought that had just been another piece of my own bullshit marketing to draw in more punters.
Mind you, after seeing that vid I realised I had to change up my line in patter, especially now people were learning it by heart.
I let one final guy shadow me, late on my sixth day on the street. He gave me his ten bucks "for one and one shadow please!" and I duly took it. The look of confusion on his face was a complete picture by my second or third stop.
I looked at him and said "Oh? You're still on the old script? I'm afraid that's a five buck fine now, it interrupts the tour." I'll give you one guess who couldn't get another five out of his wallet fast enough. If you guessed my newest shadow, well done you! He was clearly a fan. Emphasis on the fanatic. And happy to be the first to experience my newest performance.
When we were finished I saw that he was frantically typing away on his smart-phone. "Here," he said, "just posted it!"
Guess who went and got himself an entirely different spiel? Why it's none other than your friend and mine, Mister Shorty La Short, guide of The Worlds Shortest Street Tour! Fans will be interested to know that whilst shadowing is still allowed, Shorty now imposes a fine to those still using his old script.
And guess which lucky dog was the very first one to receive this penalty? None other than my humble self, your friend and fellow blogger. I'm just off to ask the great man about any potential merch on the horizon for us die-h
"So," said my newly fined shadow, "about that merchandise then? You getting any in? We'd like t-shirts, at least. And maybe consider certificates for those who'll want to get themselves the new fine. I'd make them sequentially numbered too. And I'm entitled to number one, of course."
I hadn't even considered that kind of thing. They clearly had. It'd be easy money though, for a minimal outlay. What with there being a print shop right across the street too.
"And how much would you pay, for one of these t-shirts?" I asked him
"Fifteen bucks sounds about fair to me. Maybe two or three bucks per certificate?"
I went right across the street and asked the guy in the print shop how much they charged for fifty printed t-shirts. I had to resist slamming down the money right then, when he told me.
"Of course, you'd get a better discount if you bought a hundred."
And he was right. He did a hundred certificates at way below cost too!
So I had merchandise by the seventh day. T-shirts that read I'VE TAKEN THE WORLDS SHORTEST TOUR!
Ruiz from the strip club even wore one, he'd been referring people by word of mouth since my third day. So his was free. And good advertising too.
My fined shadow from the previous day came back too, shortly after I'd asked Ruiz to tweet that I'd finally got some merchandise to sell. He bought the very first t-shirt, documenting the fact that he was the first paying customer to receive one. I tried to give him his "fine" certificate, but he was having absolutely none of that, insisting I take his three bucks.
"You know something man? I don't even know your name, yet here you are giving me all this free publicity." My fined shadow insisted that I called him by his screen handle, Gentleman Jim. And what a gent he was too. Some kind of post-grad legal student with lots of disposable income.
As I packed up after the last tour of my seventh day, Ruiz called me over. "Hey man! 'Chu ready for tomorrow?"
I nodded. "Sure am. Got plenty of t-shirts now."
Ruiz shook his head, clearly not what he'd meant at all. "No man. Pay day!"
So it'd finally come around, had it? Was it about time to become a cop again?
My boss had already pulled me off this case twice. The last time had cost me the best partner I'd ever had in my twelve years on the force.
I was supposed to be on administrative leave, but the death of my partner had left a sour taste in my mouth. One I was sure I'd only be able to clear once the scum-bag responsible was put away for good. I'd never seen his face but I knew he and his men had killed my partner.
When Ruiz mentioned "Pay day!" I feigned ignorance. Clearly well enough to make him explain that my intended target made his rounds of the local businesses every month, expecting to receive a cut of their takings. A basic protection racket. No-one had ever been able to catch him collecting any money though.
My partner had been the last one to try. You know how that worked out for him already. While it was easy to arrest any number of his collection agents, they were always easily replaceable, and far too quickly at that. I wanted him.
Cut off the head, the body will die and wither away without it. His men were followers, out for an easy ride. None would think to try and replace him.
" 'Chu be ready, okay man? He know you been working here." That was the advice Ruiz left ringing in my ears.
So there I was. Day eight into my own private little stakeout. Totally off book. Completely off the record. No back-up either.
Just the reassuring feel of the Needler secreted inside my black windcheater jacket.
I had no idea what time this man would show up for his cut of the little business I'd created from nothing. If it even was a man. Maybe they'd send a woman, hoping to catch me off guard.
It'd gotten to be that time in the day, where I was thinking about packing up and going back to the dive hotel I'd been living out of.
I looked around. The only face in sight was that of Ruiz, standing there arms folded across his massive chest. He'd barely squeezed himself into one of my large t-shirts, choosing to cut the sleeves short to allow his huge biceps room to flex.
I caught his eye, rubbing my index fingers against my thumb in the age old pantomime gesture of money. He immediately caught my meaning, had they been to collect payment yet? Ruiz shook his head.
I decided that if they weren't coming by now then they were never coming today. I took off my sign, folding it in half. As I was pulling the rucksack full of t-shirts off my back to stow the sign, some of the street kids ran across the road, positioning themselves between myself and Ruiz.
I nodded to the tallest of the bunch. "You boys are out late tonight."
He smiled. "You're the tour guy, right?" He couldn't have been any older than eight. If that.
I nodded. After all, I was wearing one of my own souvenir t-shirts. Even now, I'm still not sure exactly where he pulled the gun from. I've had no end of concealed weapons pulled on me in my career on the force. And it never gets any less scary. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a liar, or a maniac. The Colt 1911 was an antique, though it looked more like a cannon in the kids hand.
"Yeah, I'm the tour guy. No need for the heat kid. I'm gonna reach for my money belt. Take it all. Just don't shoot, okay?"
His smile was unnerving. If I hadn't already been nervous. "We ain't come to rob you, tour guy. Just here for our cut, that's all."
So this kid was their bag-man? No wonder we'd never caught them taking any money off the other businesses before! No-one ever gave the street kids a second glance. They were mostly ignored, thought to be small scale beggars, occasional pick-pockets too. But stuff like that was small potatoes, so we paid them no heed.
"You been making some good money, tour guy. Give him the note!"
One of the older kids pressed a scrap of paper into my hand. Written on it was the amount they wanted from me. I quickly did the maths in my head. About thirty-seven percent of what I'd made. They'd even factored in my out-goings for the merchandise.
"You sure this ain't no robbery? 'Cause it kind of seems like one. What with you pointing that gun at me, and everything. How old are you any way?" I asked.
The kid just stood there looking at me, scratching his head with his free hand. "What kind of question's that, tour guy? Sounds like the kind of thing cops ask. You a cop, tour guy?"
Nothing about me even remotely said cop. Not any more. The clothes, exactly like the licensed guides. My makeshift sign. I'd even gone so far as to invest in a facial tattoo, one of those authentic hand-done tribal jobs, and had it aged too, so it looked like it'd been there a good decade or more. Top that off with the aged scar running right down its middle.
Nothing about me said cop. The kid was just fishing, hoping to scare me.
"Look at me kid. I got the gear. Over at the Goodwill down the block."
One of the other kids nodded. I had the feeling they'd been tailing me, back at the start.
"And this face?" I asked.
"He's right Mo. Cops ain't allowed no visible tattoos." That was one of the other kids who was standing near Ruiz.
Mo, eh? So I had his name. Or at least a name. Before today all we'd known for sure was a gender, he, him. Nothing more. No wonder the businesses around here hadn't told the local police anything about who ran the protection game. They'd probably been too embarrassed to admit that a bunch of kids had been taking their money. Armed kids admittedly, but still just kids.
"Okay, so you ain't no cop. But you been working our street. And now it's pay day. So pay!" Mo had a firm grip on his gun and it hadn't left my direction at any point since he'd pulled it.
I looked him up and down once more. "What are you, like nine? Some local hood sent you out to collect their money?" I asked.
"I'm fourteen, tour guy. Yeah, kind of small for my age, I know. I hear it all the time. And I don't work for no-one either. I run this street. Me. King Mo. Now I'
Fourteen, eh? Still too young for juvie then. I hoped that I'd figured this out right.
As I pulled the Needler from inside my windcheater, the kid closest to me reacted exactly as I'd hoped he would. He stepped between me and Mo. And he made a grab for it. And that was the last stupid move he ever made. At least as a live human being, it was.
As soon as he'd lain hands on the Needler, I made sure to let go in a big and obvious way that by-standers would be able to easily recall when later questioned for real by on duty cops.
The Needler had been bought several months before, in the back room of a Black Market workshop. "She, er, might not fire. At all," the salesman had said to me.
"No serial numbers, right?" I'd asked him.
He raised an eyebrow. I didn't look like a typical customer. "Acid etched off. But she might not fire."
Fractions by Ray Daley / Mystery & Detective have rating 2.1 out of 5 / Based on33 votes