The pharmacy didn’t open for another hour, but already a line had formed that extended the length of a city block. As I took my place at the end I heard the muffled coughs of those ahead of me. Though I wore my mask, I couldn’t help but take short, shallow breaths. I kept my hands clasped behind my back to help resist the urge I had every five minutes to check my inner coat pocket for the prescription that could save my daughter’s life.
When the doors were finally unlocked, the line began to move forward at a snail’s pace. Two at a time we were allowed to enter the first set of doors, wait for the overhead vents to clear the air, and then scan our IDs before passing through another set of doors and into the waiting room. Once it was my turn to find a seat, I noticed most people kept their masks on. I did the same.
Minutes crawled by as I tried to think of something other than Hope waking up and finding me gone, of Aaron having to take care of his sister on his own. The news on the waiting room television didn’t help to lift my mood in the least.
The sound of my name being called over the speaker startled me out of a daydream. I was sure those around me could hear me swallow as I stood and walked toward the counter.
“Warren Shreve?” The young woman behind the clear divider spoke into a microphone on one of those wrap-around headsets and I heard her voice issue from the speaker on the counter in front of me.
I nodded once and she tipped her head toward the card reader near my right hand. After sliding my card, I watched her tap her computer screen and waited. She frowned.
“Slide it again, please.”
“The prescription isn’t on there,” I said softly, leaning toward the mic in front of me.
The young woman shot me an exasperated look.
“One second.” I saw the woman’s eyes widen as I reached inside my coat. She relaxed visibly when I extracted my rectangular slip of paper. As I pressed the paper to clear divider, the young woman’s expression returned to her original state of barely suppressed boredom.
“You’re going to have to speak to the manager. Please have a seat, she’ll call you in a moment.” Her eyes had returned to her screen and before I’d even turned around she called the next name.
I tucked my precious piece of paper away as I stepped to the side. When I turned to go back to my seat, I felt as if every eye in the room was fixed on me. My heart hammered and I began to sweat.
For ten minutes I wondered what would happen when the manager called me back. I’d heard stories from others, but what if there was a new manager? What if she didn’t accept my offer?
I nearly jumped out of my seat when a middle-aged woman in a pencil skirt opened a side door and called my name. As I hurried to follow her through the door and down a short hallway, I noticed her hair had been pulled into a tight bun, not a hair out of place. She didn’t look like the type to break the law.
“In here please.” The woman gestured for me to enter what I assumed was her office.
I stepped past her and removed my mask.
“Have a seat,” she stated as she slid into the chair on the opposite side of a wide black desk.
Perched on the edge of a hard metal chair, I waited for her to make the first move.
“ID and script please.” She held out her right hand as she tapped her desk with the index finger of her left.
I placed the requested items on her open palm and waited.
She slid my ID through a card reader to her right, scanned the page, and then tapped open a new app. She placed the prescription face down on the desk and snapped a photo of it, then picked it up and placed her hand out of sight beneath her desk. I heard the unmistakable sound of a shredder as the woman stared straight at me.
“Your insurance doesn’t cover prescriptions and you don’t have the funds to fill this out of pocket.” It was a statement, and all true, so I remained silent. The woman raised her eyebrows expectantly.
This is the part I wasn’t sure about. Either she’d be willing to make a trade, or she’d have me in jail in about five minutes.
“I work in one of the off-shore experimental estates. I’m sure you’ve heard of them, completely self-sustaining, completely off-grid.” Her eyebrows raised a bit higher. “I can pay in food, stuff you can’t get from the rations.”
Her face remained unreadable. Finally she leaned forward a fraction of an inch.
“How much can you get?” she asked.
I let out a long breath and my shoulders relaxed.
“How much do you want?”