You couldnât be too careful. Sometimes the mist could rise as high as your head. Step out to flog your merch in a mist like that and instead of a punter you could find yourself screaming into the jaws of a Bull Mastiff, the riderâs crossbow aiming right at your crany.
Whop, wham, splash. Game over. Thatâs you tossed into the canal to sleep with the shit and the bones.
This was steaming up to be one of those nights. We were tetchy, watching the mist snake through the rushes and curl round our dog-hide boots. I tried to chill us down with a new raga hum.
âMmmbaaa mbaaa, dyayayaya.â
âPure analogue!â muttered Pegger, the hood of his cowl bobbing.
âYuhâ cooed Lool. She tugged at the string tied round her cormorantâs leg. It hopped awake, wings flapping uselessly and waaaarked at her. âGood cormy.â
âBeach it, Lool,â Pegger said. âThis innt the hour for cormy carnage. Just beach it wont yuh? âCk sake.â
“Well dint,â Pegger scuffed the ground. ââŚâCkin damn bird. Get my manbits up its recto if you innt careful.â
âPegger!â I snapped. Sometimes Pegger seemed to forget Lool was only 12. He was a good Lieutenant of mine, Pegger. Moon-scrapingly tall, ferocious quick on the run, and a good stash squirrel. But he was all mouth before mind, and that mouth was filthy.
âOh most humbly âpology, Kryptoâ said Pegger.
I ignored the whiff of sarcasm. Someone was approaching.
âSet to,â I whispered.
We were tighter than a harmony, the three of us. Within seconds Pegger and I had melted into the marsh. Lool was on the path, cormorant in tow, looking every bit the lost Red Riding Hood with the hood of her cowl down, putting on a teary face.
I peered out from the scrub. The mist was low enough for me to see the punter. I couldnât recognise him. But he was your usual. White Middly, probably a teacher or a frustrated administrator, out for a bit of wrongness. A walk on the dark side. These doozers risked their necks to slip through Hackney Cityâs walls and come to the marshes. Even in the gloom you could see white fright in their visage. This one was no different. He looked particularly ghostly.
The punter stopped short of Lool and glanced around him as if suspecting an ambush. Disarmed and confused. Just how we liked them.
âHello,â he said. You could tell he was wondering whether to ask about the merch, or run in disgust at the sight of her.
Lool tugged her string and the cormorant pranced on the path, flapping the mist into whorls and waaark, waark waark-ing. It was comical, like a midget dressed in a bird suit. The man just stared. I heard the clatter of a million bad thoughts tumbling round his skull.
Enough, I thought. He was definitely alone. I stepped out from my hiding place and joined Lool. He shrank back at my appearance, but held his ground. The deal was on.
âWhat you seek?â Â I said. âBook? Mag? Cassette?â
âUh, book,â said the punter.
I clicked my fingers. âSpecify.â
âYou want new or classic?â
âYou have new?â Shock in his voice.
âI got new, I got classic, I got pamphlet, I got mag, I got tape dubsâŚâ
âOh god, I donât know about new,â he wrung his hands, jittering on the spot. Â âIâm â Iâm notâŚâ
Okay, now Iâd clocked him. I knew the type. A fetishist. He missed the feel of real paper. The rasp of pages âneath his thumbs. The stink of ink. The mustiness of an old tome. Iâd guess he was born a good five years before the Great Upload. He remembered a library in his home. Maybe a shelf racked with colourful spines near his bed. Books made him think of Mummy and Daddy and hot milk and walking to school. Heâd come here to remember the past, not to read radical rants.
He was a light user. A newbie. An average Joe bored of being drip-fed pixels through a screen he couldnât touch.
âToo much for your blood?â I laughed. âFair fair, middly man. I can do classics. What you want?â