“Where in the hell are we?” Brig asked. “Or should I say, where in the hell, in hell, are we?”
They were in the capital city of China’s Qinghai province, Xining. Under ideal conditions, Xining was a beautiful city full of culture and a history of over 2000 years. It was known for its cool summer weather and some called it “The Summer Resort Capital of China.” Today, however, a temperature inversion had sealed the smoke and dust where it was being produced. The summer resort capital of China also had some of the worst air quality in the world, and today it was as bad as ever.
“Maybe I should take up smoking. At least the air would be filtered,” Brig cracked.
Tommy was searching for a pharmacy as they walked. Despite its comparatively backward appearance, Xining had a population of over 2.5 million. Tommy was reasonably confident he could find a place that would sell him opiates.
“Tommy, I’m freaking out. This is Bumfuckistan, China. They won’t have any Western medicine here. They have tiger penis and bear sperm, but they won’t have any oxycontin.” Brig was panicking. Tommy could see it in his eyes.
“Calm down. Chinese labs have gotten good at copying Western medicine. Selling Chinese manufactured drugs to rich gwailo consumers has become a big business. We’ll be able to find you something. Maybe even stronger than what you’re used to.”
“If you say so. But can I have two of your pills now? My ribs are killing me.” Brig had taken the last of his stash a few hours ago and was jonesing.
“I’ll give you one, but we’ve got to stay sharp. I can’t be dragging you around a city I’m not familiar with. Until we find somewhere safe, you’re just going to have to endure.”
Brig accepted the pill gratefully, but the single dose barely registered and his pain intensified.
They made their way to a nearby market and purchased several changes of clothes. The more they could blend in with the locals, the better. Brig’s height, light hair, and fair skin color made him stand out like a lighthouse. Eventually, they found a Chinese pharmacy. They could smell the place before they could see it; dried meats, herbs, powders, ointments, and balms. A small man dressed in a dirty white doctor’s smock sat behind the counter. Tommy approached the man and spoke to him in Mandarin. Brig didn’t know what they were saying, but Tommy was either having difficulty being understood, or the man was driving a hard bargain. After a few minutes, Tommy handed the man some money and walked back towards Brig.
“We’re good. I think. He said to come back in an hour and he would have it for us.”
“It? What is it? It can’t just be like Tylenol or aspirin. This is an opiate. I heard they were tough to get in China.”
“Again,” Tommy said impatiently, “you just need to know the right people.”
“You knew that guy?”
“No. Not him specifically. But I know people like him, and I know that money talks. Here, he wrote the English name of the drug for you.”
Scratched out in poor handwriting were the letters – PERCOCET.
“Excellent!” Brig was relieved. “Do you know how many milligrams?”
“I’m not a fucking doctor. You should be happy we found anything at all. I honestly didn’t think we would find anything and you were going to have to dry out. From what I’ve heard, that is not a nice experience.”
“It’s been a while since I’ve tried, but you’re right, it sucks. Think of having the worst flu you’ve ever had. Then multiply that by a hundred. Speaking of which, I’m feeling peckish. Since we’re going to get the Percocet in an hour, can you give me a couple more of your pills?”
Tommy shook out the last two pills he had and gave them to Brig, who immediately sucked them down, not bothering with water.
“That’s the last of them,” Tommy informed.
“You gave me your last two painkillers?”
“I have a high tolerance for pain. I’ll be O.K.”
“I wish I had that…a high tolerance for pain.”
“I learned how to manage my pain in prison. It’s mind over matter.”
“You were in prison?”
Shit! Tommy was mad at himself again for having revealed another piece of information that Brig didn’t need to know.
“For a little while. It was no big deal.”
“What were you in for?”“None of your business. Take my pills and shut the fuck up.”