Renault lives in one of those slick apartments where each room has a wall that looks like a window facing the city. The view looks like we're in the hills, but we're definitely in the valley so I'm not exactly sure if we're even looking at LA right now. Maybe it's a different city altogether.

Renault themself looks like one of those utility butlers that people have in Singapore 2, but, like, alive. Also, wearing shoes inside. Just the same to me: I'm glad I don't have to take off my skates. I didn't realize at first that they were the contact and not a home worker dressed as a utility butler. Also they gave me a pretty nasty look when they saw me standing there with Horus, and their face completely changed after recognizing him next to me.

"Horus, my good man!" they said.

"Renault. Good evening. This is Sugar."

"Hey," I say, my teeth unclenching.

Renault makes some incomprehensible mumble and swooshes around to lead us through a dimmed hallway. We pass into a living room with elongated black furniture. Someone is already there, wrapped in thick pink fluff, gazing at the window graphic. A helicopter beats by, and we can hear it, but it's a bit too quiet. Is it a live stream?

They say nothing to us as we enter and sit down. The long black sofa is cold to the touch. The pink fluffy person is staring at me. Not at me exactly, but at my stomach. Or maybe my breasts. I'm glad to still be wearing this sweater, and I pull it closed over myself. Horus walks over to a display of bottles and pours himself a drink. I am alone on the long sofa when Renault addresses me.

"Horus tells me you have 3 antique volumes of American Literature," they say with a smile.

"Horus tells me you're gonna buy them from me." I might as well be aggressive. I don't need to sit here all night.

"I, of course, do not use CASH currency. I'm a collector but a business professional, and keeping up with the drama of the underground isn't really... well you understand." He smiles.

Honestly, fuck you, my good jerk. I find myself narrowing my eyes and try to put a smile on top of them to keep them talking.

"I can, however, offer you a trade for compensation," they say.

Horus reappears, pushing a drink in my face. It's another purple one and covered in lump ice.

"I would be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed," I start. "You have to understand that where I come from, CASH is a basic life currency. We need to keep it in flow to keep our lives going."

"You mean to keep you in drugs?" laughs the fluffy person in the corner. "I suppose for some, that's considered a daily necessity. Don't you want to live a better life than that?"

What the fuck do they mean by that? "I suppose not all of use aspire to sit on a sofa in the valley," I spit without thinking. Do they honestly want me to explain all the ways that people use CASH to supplement their income because they can't make enough dollars to get by? Or that some people are hiding from registration? Or they have projects that can't be funded with registered dollars?

"Hah!" Renault belts from across the room. The fluffy person doesn't move a muscle. They have continue staring at their handheld.

"You want to look at the volumes?" I ask, hoping to quickly dispel whatever I started. "Perhaps off-camera?"

"Yes! Hah! She really..." Renault shakes their head. "Let's go to my office."

Renault leads me to another room with a desk machine. Horus follows us. There is a display shelf with a collection of books against one wall. Renault shows me the cameras displayed on a monitor and turns off the one in this room, hidden in the wall with the shelf. I pull out the books and set them down next to each other on the desk. Renault turns the lights up in the room and examines each one.

"I should really show you mine!" they exclaim suddenly, placing them back down on the table and spinning around. "This Bukowski collection was the first volume I got. It even has ash stains. Marks from the same kind of cigarettes he used to smoke."

I nod my head and buckle up.

"And this is a copy of The Fountainhead that was owned by KarmoniusTV."

"Wow," I hear myself say.

"Look. It has a stamp from University of Oregon where he went to college inside. He probably read it for a class. And to think, it was probably the beginning of his whole line of thought, you know. His whole message started here."

I look down into my drink and decide to start sucking it down now. Horus is making eye contact with me over the top of his glass as well. Reaches for Naked Lunch and pulls down twin copies of Dharma Bums and On the Road, their voice not quitting for a moment. There are 3 shiny hardcovers with the name ALAN WATTS printed in bold down the spine in primary colors.

"It looks like we need some refills..." Horus interrupts.

"Oh!" Renault stops, looks at our glasses and downs theirs. "I can really lose track of time talking about books."

"Hm. Yes. I think we can all relate to that," Horus says, snatching up our glasses and carrying them away. Relate. Why do some people just assume that everyone else has the same values as them, don't mind that their idols did terrible things, don't see how that touches them... don't see how it touches the person they are talking to. The more he goes on, the more impatient I get.

"I worry though, that the books I have may not be something you have the background to appreciate... no offense."

"I'm actually very open-minded. I think my collection reflects that. I mean Ayn Rand was a feminist icon."

I scan the shelf for a single non-white author, without much luck. "That's good, because these books are about lesbians."

Horus returns and we all take sips from our new drinks. It tastes stronger this time, or maybe it doesn't.

"Lesbians are hardly a controversial subject," Renault laughs a little too loudly. Is he doing that because he knows I'm a lesbian, or because he assumes I'm not?

"I just mean that maybe they are out of place here." I decide to be challenging, and put them out of his reach so he can feel like he's colonizing them. The fact is that the books fit in perfectly fine in his collection. They were written by white men about people who they found exotic, mystical, sexy, and dangerous.

Renault thumbs through each of the small books. "Very interesting. Definitely great specimens and from the time period I'm interested in. Not out of place, here. I should look them up though."

"I can tell you a few things," I say. "If you don't want that on your deleted history."

They narrow their eyes at me. Do they not trust me? This is so exhausting. I decide to just tell them what I know about lesbian pulp fiction.

"In the mid-20th century, there were a lot more literate people than in the past, an like more and more people were living in urban and suburban communities which had new access to mass manufactured goods including media. And the economy was doing well after 2 profitable wars so people were buying more entertainment. One bit were these novels. They were inexpensive, so people were willing to try new things that weren't recommended to them by their friends. They might pick up a book at a store that was a little more mysterious. Something they wouldn't tell their friends about. So the themes that became popular were sex and murder, and in the case of these novels, lesbian sex and murder. Because very few people had public lesbian relationships, the whole idea of women having sex was shrouded in mystery. So there were specific code words used to signal to the buyer "this might be about women having sex." Some of the terms were "strange," "twilight," "twisted," "after hours." Sexual love between two women was still seen as a perversion of heterosexual love, and something to be done in the shadows when women slept together at night. So you won't find graphic sex in these books, but to the readers of the time, this was as graphic as they came. And kuz they were cheaply made and sold, and kuz people were reading them in secret, they were usually thrown away and not many copies survived. It's believed that these may be the only copies of these books in the Western US."

I gulp down more of the drink.

"Also... I mean, the reason why I mention that they may not be a perfect fit for your collection is because these volumes may be of particular cultural and historical interest to lesbian collectors... or anyone who collections queer art. And you kinda seem like..."

"I'm not straight!" they say, defensively.

"I'm not saying you are... whatever... but you have to admit, your collection is pretty straight. Maybe someone else might see more value in them."

I don't think they are listening anymore, they are still trying to convince me they aren't straight. It feels like a cloud of smoke blowing past me through an open window.

Horus is looking at them extremely hard, trying to get their attention. It's not working. Maybe I can out-mind-control magic Horus.

I'm hoping that they can imagine the private-party auction potential for these. I've heard of rich people doing them. I'm trying to implant in their mind visions of women viciously outbidding each other. Not that they would, but they might think they would. I finish off my drink and watch them do the same.

"You know," they grin. "I've always wanted to host an exchange." An exchange is what rich people call a SWAP. Or at least, that's how people make it sound when they post about them. "I collect literature, you see, and I would never sell my collection. But it would be fun to host an event like... Historic Erotica, have folks bring their own. Might be fun."

I nod, as seriously as I can manage. "Yeah, could really draw a crowd... You might want to extend your invitations to the desert too, because I know all the business folk in Las Vegas are always looking for a reason to get out of the city and often have hoards of underground goods and laundered dollar accounts to clear out." I actually have no idea if this is true. As far as I know, there is no way to exchange anything unregistered for dollars, but if anyone can do it, and does it regularly, they are probably doing it in Las Vegas. And I feel this weird obligation to prop up the lie that things are exchanged at an exchange and not just shown off.

"Reallyyyyy?" they coo with a horrible smile. Their small, pale eyes disappear as their teeth seem to overtake their entire face. "I've never really... done business there. But I hear lots of... ah... good things. Let's just say haha... good things."

"Riiiiight," I say with a conspiratory grin. I despise Las Vegas but I feel like I should ride this wave of putting the event in their mind. "May be a good excuse to spread your wings, so to speak. Nothing wrong with that." I can't believe they are trusting me at all but whatever. "But one thing at a time, what do you have to bargain with today, my friend?"

"Well, I'm not familiar with laundered accounts and all that. Perhaps I could order you something to be delivered to your home as a gift? Is there something you could use? A new handheld?"

"Well to be completely honest with you, I am not quite sure. I can turn most electronics into CASH, but it would need to be something bought without insurance or product registration requirements," I explain. I know some things can be stripped of their identity, but if this dude is thinking they can sell these books for a chunk and turns out they can't, and wants a refund kuz that's what people outside the underground think is normal business... I mean reporting an electronic as stolen would be all too easy. Especially since they will have ample footage of me entering and exiting the building.

"Why don't we have a drink, relax, and I can show you around. Maybe you will see something you like and we can try to make it work."

I definitely don't wan't to take anything from this apartment. But maybe I can think of something. I really only need to leave them here. That would complete the job. But if I let them go too easily, they will think that they are hot. Hotter than they already are, I mean like that police are already looking for them hot. Not just baseline illegal. I can't look too desperate. But I feel so tired already. Today has been impossibly long. This morning feels so far away. "I might consider that. But perhaps ordering something that is legally exchangeable would be best."

"Oh! What about a cosmetic procedure gift credit!" they suggest, looking a little too hard into my eyes.

"Ah... I don't mean to be offensive but that's not really up my alley. Not really something I'd be interested in."

"Oh shit! I didn't mean anything by it! I'm not saying that you know... I just know that lots of women have something they want to have done and maybe it would be ah... I mean there's nothing wrong with cosmetic procedures, you know!"

"Maybe there's something else that I could think of..."

"Or maybe a nice health spa trip, or an air filter for your home! I know that good water is required nowadays but..."

shutupshutupshutupshutup "Horus, why don't you teach me how you are making these drinks!" I interrupt. Horus' jaw is clamped closed and he quickly nods. We walk out of the room. I am now one room away from those books.

What could they order for me that

1. wouldn't need registration

2. I could actually use

3. would be in some way comparable in value?

I don't even really know how much those books are worth. Maybe in CASH they would be like 700 each? Maybe? Maybe not. I don't know--illegal media prices vary so much and I can't really keep up with them. Sometimes it just feels like people just pick the cost out of thin air. I mean it is technically Trash value since its value can't be calculated by labor hours + supplies. But wouldn't that mean it would be worth less now? I don't know how rarity works. It just feels like "Bullshit..." I hear myself mumble as we near the bar.

"Sorry?" Horus says. He is shaking a little bit.

"Are you all right?" I ask.

"Yes!" he exclaims. "I'm just!..." he runs his shaky hand over his face. "I didn't want to come here tonight. We should really be trying to do this deal with my first contact who didn't answer their handheld!" He takes a deep breath and reaches for the purple bottle again. "But at least he has good taste in alcohol... see, this stuff is made in Malaysia. They have a pretty young drinking culture there so they don't mess around with traditional methods of distillation..."

What the fuck? I know what it's like to think it's no big deal to see someone from my past, and then once I'm actually there with them and watching them and all the things they used to do, its a big reminder of why I don't talk to them anymore.

"Do you want to leave?" I ask Horus.

"We haven't finished the deal yet." he says, shaking out fresh lumps of ice into our glasses.

"No, but maybe it's worth taking them back. Let they realize they want them once they've lost them." Or maybe I could just let Horus work things out with his other contact and I can just call the job done.

"Okay..." Horus says slowly, pouring another dose of purple over the lumps.

"Besides, I have no idea how I'm going to figure out how they're going to pay me."

Renault returns with the volumes under their arm. Probably in full view of whatever cameras are in this room.

"Horus is going to be taking those back for the evening," I say, pointing with my glass. "You can think about it. Talk to whoever you need to. Figure out how much they are worth to you. Then I'll be in touch. And we can negotiate a deal. Sound good, Horus?"

"No, we 'll do the deal tonight. Besides, I'd really like your opinion about these." They interrupt before Horus gets a chance to respond. They pull the books out from under their arm. They aren't mine, but definately in the same style of pulp fiction from the same era. Why didn't I just end my night at that pizza place?

©2019 by Zita