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Mit der Dummkeit kämpfen Götter selbst vergebens.

Against stupidity the gods themselves struggle in vain.

Friedrich von Schiller, Die Jungfrau von Orleans, 1801


Blackie thought he was the logical and Whitey the emotional half of their partnership. Whitey knew Blackie thought this, and knew he was wrong, knew even that he was confusing verbal facility with reasoning ability but, having neither talent nor taste for debate, never said anything about it and often failed to convince himself. Anyway, it was Blackie who got the two of them really entangled with Ahmed and Whitey who didn't stop them.

"Look, man," explained Blackie, after they had moved the first few tolas, "There's a lot of folks here who want to take shit back, and we can get it for them. We get it from Ahmed, pass it on, take a cut, easy as falling off a log."

"Not fucking worth it," objected Whitey.

"You reckon?"

Shrug. "Yeah."

"You mean, what do we get out of it? Admittedly shit's so fucking cheap, it's like twenty percent of nothing's nothing, right, that what you're talking about?"

Shrug. "Yeah."

"That would be Ahmed's deal, wouldn't it. He'd get the cash and we'd be the faces. Shit, you're right, I mean, who would they fucking turn in if they got busted?"

Shrug. "Yeah."

"But what if we turned it around? I mean, what if we just told Ahmed where to go to in London, he'd get a better price and we'd get a percentage of an English deal. And everyone thinks we're just pissing about here and doing nothing and all the time we're raking it in off the top."

Blackie was flying now. His pride hadn't fully recovered from the humiliation Mario had put him through, not to mention dear Rodge and his more concrete approach, and he wanted it badly. Putting one over them would be a revenge he could savor, and if none but he knew about it, that would be even better. Knowledge is power and secrets are its purest form.

Whitey was more uncomfortable. He wasn't into revenge for its own sake, and he'd never known anyone to get away with an end-run around the firm, which he did accept would in theory be a coup for the ages. But he was into Blackie, and he could see Blackie was into the concept, and maybe he should suspend his skepticism and go along. He could veto any such scheme; a single solid No wouldn't be the end, but a wall of them would. He was reluctant to lay it down, though, without explaining what it was that made him do it and he couldn't nail that to himself, let alone to an enthusiast. The alibi was fine, the idea possible, the whole thing stunk but he couldn't convince himself enough to overcome his wanting to go along.

Shrug. "Yeah."

Blackie was not a total clod, and Whitey was being even more phlegmatically monosyllabic than usual.

"You're uncomfortable with this, are ya?"

Shrug. "Yeah."

"How come? You think it's gonna get out. You know the way around that – yeah, you're right –" Blackie was eliding nicely through imagined disagreements that masked the real, basic one, and Whitey let him get away with it. "If it's not our idea, we're covered, man. I betcha I can get Ahmed to bring it up anyway, I think he was gonna yesterday but there were too many people about. Man, if we do him a favor, then he'll cover us, and we don't have to be greedy, we're just gonna have a little fun with it. He'll pay, you know he will. He's an OK dude."

This was a bit of a stretch for Blackie, but not an unreasonable one. Fact was, Ahmed was an OK dude, for real. Fact also was, Ahmed was one whole twist of the spiral ahead of Blackie, and trying hard to project the image of an OK dude – and wise enough to the ways of the world to do it by treating the English as if they were Afghans. He didn't laugh at their jokes unless he thought they were funny (those ones usually weren't meant to be humorous, but the genuine response was what counted), he treated them with rough-hewn politeness, and he was scrupulous about not letting debts of business or hospitality get out of balance.

Shrug. "Yeah."

Maybe guilt blurred Whitey's vision a little. He was usually capable of distinguishing between an OK dude and an OK dude making OK overtures, but he may have thought that Ahmed was compensating for that One Night of Sin back in W11. Really, it hadn't been that big of a deal, more like Five Minutes of (to tell the truth, somewhat one-sided) Fun, and if it hadn't been for the jealous ramifications and the way that led him and Blackie on, it would have vanished quicker than most of his arse's commercial transactions. There was no sign of a repeat, unless this friendliness was leading up to it and after half a dozen visits that didn't seem to be going on. But there was a tinge of emotional coloring there that might be enough to explain a faintly off-key note, in Ahmed's performance or possibly, in this joyously pre-post-Modern era, in Whitey's abilities as audience. He let it slide.

Now, that was emotional. And exceptionally illogical.