Black Market Phoenix

by Michael Gunter

“Fifty million.”

The buyer shrugged uncomfortably, sweating under his business suit. What was sharp and stylish in a New York investment firm was just excess insulation under the jungle sun. “It’s a lot.”

“You’re kiddin’, right?” The dirty cowboy hat bobbed as the man in the truck stared at the businessman in disbelief. “You wanna haggle over this? Ya know what? I’m gone.” He threw the gearshift into drive, one hand touching his hat brim in a sarcastic salute, but a wrinkled hand grabbed his sleeve before he could hit the gas.

“Wait!” Panic flared in the businessman’s eyes. “I didn’t say that!” The driver didn’t put the truck back into park, but he did step on the brake, just in time to grab the spotless leather briefcase thrust through the window. He eyed the businessman suspiciously, but popped the latches on the case and opened it, revealing a built-in computer. The display showed a symbol he recognized as the logo for an international bank.

“What’s the password?”

The businessman’s shoulders slumped in relief. “There isn’t one. It’s a one way link to a holding account with fifty million dollars in it. Transfer it, keep it there, do whatever you want with it; they won’t ask questions.”

Shoving his hat back out of his eyes, the driver tapped the keyboard and smiled as the screen changed to show a five and seven zeros under a row of account buttons. “Okay.” He reached into the cup holder on the dash, fishing through the gum wrappers and loose change until he found the little glass bottle. It was slippery, as if the rubber stopper had leaked. His eyes widened in panic, until he remembered the cheap soda he’d spilled over the dash.

“Here ya go.” With a careless flick, he tossed the vial to the businessman, who gasped and snagged it out of the air with trembling hands. “One hundred percent pure phoenix blood. Only bottle in the world, until this fifty mil runs out, anyway.” He let off the brake and rumbled away, the hole in the truck’s muffler making the engine noise seem unnaturally loud in the still jungle air.

The businessman watched him go, a mixture of hope and desperation on his face that disappeared in a slight grimace of pain. He turned back to his dust-covered limousine, pawing at the inner pocket of his jacket for his arthritis medicine, before remembering he had just bought something far better. His chauffeur opened the car door and helped him into the seat. “Is this stuff really worth fifty million, sir?”

He grabbed a bottle of water from the little refrigerator between the seats and popped the lid off the vial. It was an ugly, dirty red against the dome light of the limousine and the stench of old blood filled the car. The driver jerked back, his disgust evident, but his employer only winced. “It’s worth much, much more.”

Before he could change his mind, he lifted the little bottle to his lips and downed the foul liquid. With a choking gasp, he dropped the vial and drained the water bottle. “That was… horrendous.” He gagged again.

“Uh… sir?” The look on the driver’s face changed, going from sick to puzzled. “You’re… you’re….”

The old man shrugged his coat off; he was hot, enough that the taste in his mouth was forgotten. “I’m what?”

Something glinted off the chauffeur’s wide eyes. It was red, the wrong color for a car’s dome light. “On fire!!” One boot caught on a fallen log and he toppled over into the grass, just as a wave of flame billowed out of the open door. In the falling dusk, the orange sparks and rippling tongues of flame looked like ghostly feathers rising into the night sky.

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