By Eric Burbridge
The cool morning breeze attacked the exposed nerves of his rotten wisdom tooth. Twig Pike rubbed his jaw as tears ran down his cheek. He focused and continued to back the heavily armored rig into the locking clamps on the vehicle’s side. The reinforced aluminium shroud covered the tractor until the entire truck was secured in the building. A green light flashed on the dashboard, notifying him to proceed through the scanners. “Reach for the sky,” a young female voice said, while the beams covered him from head to toe. “All clear, and have a pleasant stay.”
He waved and pointed at his tooth, he was in no mood for jokes, but it wasn’t their fault his tooth hurt. He made a beeline to the break room and prayed there were painkillers in the first-aid vending machine. No such luck. One thing about this place every room had a cluster of monitors that showed all angles of the facility, inside and out. It was the newest and most heavily fortified Fentanyl Dispensary in the Midwest. Everybody wore a side arm regardless of position. All uniforms were the same only the employees knew the rankings. The place was also fully automated except for two humanoid customer service robots, two AI techs who could not converse with the users and a few custodians He balled up a piece of tissue and plugged the cavity to keep the air out. He sent his doctor an E-mail, told him the circumstances and got a prescription for antibiotics for the abscess, but no painkiller. Dammit! What good would that do? For a minute he damned the day he took early retirement from the DEA. He didn’t read the fine print about mandatory reinstatement in an emergency. The politicians created one, the opioid crisis; fentanyl was killing way too many people. Since they could not stop it; regulate and tax it and saves lives in the process. Brilliant! That’ll show the Chinese. Drug vending machines would dispense non-lethal dosages to registered users. Of course, that was a bureaucratic mess and here was, Twig Pike driving a dispensary rig that paid very well, but he’d rather be fishin’. They told him just for a few months… his tooth didn’t care.
Soon there would be a line outside of users waiting patiently for the junkies ATM to open. Pike’s jaw ached to the point he left the facility under emergency conditions. His re-entry would be a bio-metric, million scan nightmare, but not like the pain in his face.
When he crossed the street, he saw a kid about ten or eleven with long sandy hair wearing a Red Sox baseball cap sitting at the bus stop. What’s he doing out so early? He must’ve heard that thought and walked toward him. “Hey mister, how are you this morning?”
“Okay.” Pike mumbled, trying not to open his mouth.
“Gee, what’s wrong with your face, it’s all swollen?” Pike pointed to his tooth. “Oh, you got a tooth ache.”
He nodded. “What you doing out this early, kid?” His freckled face lit up.
“I’m Johnny. I’m waiting for the place to open. My mom is really sick so she told me to wait in line until she gets here so we can be first. What’s your name, mister?”
“Twig? You built like an old full back. You ever play football, Twig?”
“No, call me Pike.”
“What do you do in there, Pike?”
“I’m just a truck driver and that’s all.” The throbbing pain subsided for the time being. “Where’s a drug store open around here?”
“None, but there’s a place around the corner with a guy sitting on the porch that might be able to help, but be careful.”
“No, that’s okay.” God knew he wanted to, but if he got caught on a drop, no telling what could happen. “I’ll be back,” and he headed for the strip mall down the street.
The kid was right…nothing open. When he turned the corner Johnny sat at the bus stop. The line had at least twenty people standing in it. “Hey Mr. Pike, I was right, right?”
“Yeah…you finished that quick? Where’s your mom?”
“Yeah, I was first. She didn’t come. You still look horrible.” Johnny dug in his pocket and slipped a small packet in Pike’s jacket pocket. “Take that, I got an extra.”
He thought it was illegal for minors to have access to the machines, but some people always find a way to game the system. He rubbed his face and groaned as pain shot through his tooth.
“You look terrible that’ll help. The machines give extra by mistake with a fresh reload or a reset when they first open. Don’t tell anybody, okay?” Pike nodded. “I try to help people because my mom is sick too often. I gotta go, nice meeting you, Twig Pike.”
Pike watched Johnny turn the corner at the end of the block going where ever. His tooth felt better already. Time to go back inside and go through the bio-metric BS to get back to work.
The pain was long gone when he pulled back in the main warehouse. If they made him drop and he was positive, so what. They couldn’t take his pension.