Jaden paled. Nobody had called him by his street alias in five years.
Ally’s parents looked on with disdain. Only four kinds of people came to the Detention Center—addicts, enforcement officers, splitters, and dealers. The man’s oversize, wrinkled tuxedo and the grubby maroon derby he clutched clearly identified him as an addiction dealer.
“Uh, whoa. Look, bro, maybe I could roll you in nuts some other time, but right now. . . .” Jaden’s tone plainly implied that the man was a lunatic. Jaden scrutinized the man’s narrow, thin face. He tried to place the heavy eyelids and pasty complexion. He’d known a lot of people back in the old days, but he’d put that part of his life away when he became a splitter.
“You clean up better than a pig in a rainstorm!” the dealer continued, patting and pawing Jaden amicably.
Kim frowned. “You’d better check your pockets before you let this guy go, Jaden.”
“Uh, I think you’ve got me mixed up with someone else,” Jaden said, extricating himself from the man. “I’ve never even been to Amsterdam.” He couldn’t really deny that his name was Jaden, obviously. Maybe no one had noticed. Amsterdam had been the nickname the other dealers had given him—a hackneyed reference to the notoriously permissive laws of a certain city in the European Union.
The man flashed a slick, sideways grin that revealed a gold incisor. “Left the streets like a meatball rolling uphill, have we, Amsterdam?”
Jaden regarded the man with a bemused stare, but inside his heart was pounding. He recognized this guy. He hadn’t thought of Squeeze at first because Squeeze had been pink-slipped just before Jaden became a splitter. There was no way he’d have been released from the Unemployed Zone already. Yet there he was, standing there with his crooked gold grin.
“I’m afraid you’d know more about the streets than I would,” Jaden said. “Uh, being of the streets yourself.”
Jaden turned his back on Squeeze and whipped out a business card for Ally’s parents. “So, I really must be going. Please call the Splitter Center if you have any further questions.” With a deft movement, he stuck his hat back atop his dreads and loped down the hall toward the nearest exit.
“Too damn close,” he grumbled as he pushed out into the midmorning sunlight.