Roy, in his mercenary disguise–complete with shaved head and eye-patch–sat at the table, his expression as deadpan as he could manage. He wore a khaki shirt that revealed his biceps and the colorful tattoos thereupon, and cargo pants over combat books. A sitting soldier-of-fortune cliche, he was.
In Cleveland, Fucking Ohio.
“Show me your knife,” he said.
The applicant, a young man who looked as if he had pumped a lot of iron and who smelled a bit sweaty, frowned. “Knife?”
Roy smiled. “Thanks for coming by. We’ve got your application, we’ll be in touch.”
The kid took a couple seconds to process that. Realized he was dismissed. Stood, nodded, and headed for the door. A wanna-be.
“Send in the next one, my lovely,” Roy called out.
“Fuck you, pendejo,” came the response from Doris in the outer office. She was on loan, and also suitably disguised for the event.
“Keep your pants on, sweetie, we’ll get to that later.”
She muttered something else, most of which Roy didn’t catch, and just as well. What few words he heard were vile even for a dyke demoness. First time he had met Doris, he almost heard the diesel truck rumbling in the background. It seemed, however, that she wasn’t strictly a carpet-muncher, if Larry could be believed, but somebody who swung both ways. Or all ways, though Roy wouldn’t have guessed that in a million years ...
The next applicant came in. He was tall, heavy, but not all of it muscle, and had a couple of interesting scars on his face. He moved the the table and sat when Roy waved him him over.
Roy looked at the application in front of him. So far, none of the applicants had been worth the paper they’d written on, but that wasn’t a surprise. Everybody fudged on resumés, that was to be expected.
There were a dozen queries you could ask to sort players into the yea-or-nay category, but he didn’t even need one question:
“Show me your knife.”
The guy frowned, but produced a pocket knife. It was big, maybe five inches, a friction folder. Roy took it, prized the blade open. It was stainless steel, and it came open slowly, grit rasping in the action. The blade was cruddy, and when he tested it with his thumb, dull.
Roy folded the blade and handed it back to the guy. “Thanks for stopping by. Doris has your information, we’ll get back to you.”
The guy left, and Roy blew out a sigh. A dozen so far, and he was batting zero. Looked like it was going to be a long day.
The next guy came in, and he was wary. He scanned the room, took in the layout, the exits, and moved to the table. Roy motioned at the chair.
The guy was short, thin, but had a feline grace about him. He took another look around, then moved the chair so he was on the end of the table to Roy’s left, able to see the entry, his back to an empty wall.
Roy nodded. Promising.
“Show me your knife.”
“What size you want?”
The guy’s hands were below the table, hidden from Roy’s view, and when he brought his left hand out, the knife, a tactical folder, was already open. He held it in saber grip, but gave it a half-spin around and tendered it butt first.
Roy already knew, but he took the knife and nodded.
The knife was immaculate. Four-inch blade, drop-point. Stone-washed or sand-blasted to a satin-finish instead of bright and shiny. Razor-sharp, with a hint of sandlewood oil wafting up from the blade. No dust in the works, not the best one made, but not a cheapie, either. Cross-checked scales. A working knife.
With the folder in his hand, Roy looked at the little guy. “I have your knife. What do you do if I come across the table at you with it?”
The guy smiled. “I don’t know. Come and let’s see.”
Roy was very much aware of how the guy had responded to his first comment. He couldn’t see the guy’s other hand, and he’d bet a million hours of free time against five minutes that he had a knife in it, and he was pretty sure it was bigger than the one Roy held.
“How many you carry?”
“Four. That one. Penknife for little stuff. SOB-horizontal on the belt. Boot knife in the right.”
“What about the boot knife on the left?” Roy couldn’t see it, but it was a good guess.
The guy grinned wider. “Oh, yeah. I forgot that one.”
“I’m sure you did.” Roy looked down at the application.
“So, your name is ... John Smith?”
“Sure, why not?”
Roy, to show he wasn’t totally inept, did a little flourish with the folder that ended with a fast thumb to open the liner lock and a little flick of the wrist to start, and then a tug on the stud to finish the close. It was a simple move, didn’t look impressive, but it had taken him a while to get it down, and the guy’s eyes lit up when he saw it.
Roy passed the folder back. “When can you start?”
“What time is it now?”
“Call me ‘Roy.’ I think we’ll get along fine. You have any friends looking for work?”
Smith nodded. “I know some guys. You want shooters or cutters?”
“Cutters. The job is going to be different than any you’ve ever done. No guns, and we’ll supply the blades, which are ... unusual. You still interested?”
Smith shook his head and grinned. “You should be selling ice to Eskimos, Roy. How could I not be interested?”
Roy nodded. “Yeah, I figured.” Steel was how these guys got high. A promise of a new way to play with knives? Better than hillbilly heroin.