Flex (Ferrett Steinmetz) - Ferrett Steinmetz



Julian knew the exact price of everyone’s pants in this nightclub. His own pants were a shabby APO Jeans knockoff ($17), purchased in a muddy alley from a toothless Chinese man, that Julian had hand-stitched with needle and thread ($2) until they’d pass casual inspection.

On any other night, Julian would feel like a fraud in this glamorous world of $275 jackets and $180 jeans – fake it ’til you make it – but he’d smile like he was a rich businessman’s kid, not the son of an $18,000-a-year drycleaner who was dealing coke to pay his tuition ($38,439 per semester). Any other night, he’d be discreetly swapping out his water ($6 a bottle, plus a splashy-generous tip) with a smuggled flask of Popov vodka ($16.99 per gallon), drinking to muffle this horrid idea that maybe – just maybe – being rich was something in the blood, and you could never ever buy success no matter how many deals you cut.

But tonight, he’d snorted Flex. And Julian saw numbers everywhere.

Hot lights flickered over bodybuilders draped in velvet, each flexing into new hypermasculine poses at set intervals – an experimental art exhibit he and Anathema had stumbled into, lured by tumbling streams of statistics. The gallery patrons plucked toothpicked pieces of brie ($1.50 apiece) off of silver trays ($49.95 from Williams-Sonoma). Each tray had wasplike blurs of probabilities hovering over them – the secret knots that tied the future together.

Magic. He had snorted crystallized magic.

“I can’t believe you got me Flex,” Julian told Anathema, grinning dreamily. He rubbed the gritty residue from his nostrils, then licked his knuckle clean. It was a cloudy G-46 – supposedly low-grade by ’mancer-standards. It still made his tongue spark like electricity coursing through a fresh piercing.

Anathema had yet to name her price. If she could set him up as a Flex dealer at Addison Prep, Julian would never worry about tuition again. His father had believed in the value of hard work, spending fourteen-hour days scrubbing soup stains off of rich men’s ties at his dry cleaning store, proud that he owned it. His dad had also eaten nothing but chicken broth and vitamins to make ends meet, and eventually the bank had seized his business anyway. The lesson: become a banker.

But how? Julian had applied to hundreds of scholarships to wrangle his first semester at Addison Prep – but the Addison Prep crowd was infamously sharklike, cliquish. That was Addison’s strength; those who survived the boarding school’s humiliating rituals emerged wreathed in that nouveau-riche scent, Wall Street’s Chosen Ones. To his fellow students, as to Julian, poverty was the sign of a character flaw: his Dad’s simple faith in mankind’s goodness had doomed him.

And so Julian hid his poverty, shamefully stirring crackers, ketchup packets, and hot water together in his closet to make Poverty Soup, knowing that if anyone caught him, he’d be lucky to get a job dry cleaning.

If Julian could convince Anathema to be his supplier, then his $38,439 tuition was a given. His future was a given. His flaws would be forgiven.

Anathema unpeeled a vulpine smile. Her teeth were yellowed with meth-mouth – but unlike most meth-heads, she’d filed them sharp. Was Anathema a model turned junkie? That would explain her wild, middle-aged ex-beauty-queen look, half starved and disdainful.

Nothing explained the tiny rat bones sewn into her dreadlocked hair, though.

She elbowed him hard enough to bruise. “Which useless socialite will you cull from the herd?”


She jerked her chin toward the bodybuilders. “You think this art display is as stupid as I do. See their muscles trembling as they maintain those poses? The artist’s trying to represent strength wrapped in velvet. Bah. Imagine wolves bursting past the bouncers, yellowed teeth slicked with saliva; they’d corner these soft, steroid-fed prey in the bathroom, tear those swollen biceps off the bone. That’s strength. No. You don’t want art. The Flex led you here to complete your obsession.”

Anathema made Julian feel like a drycleaner’s kid. How the hell did you respond to that? Was this how people spoke when they tripped balls on Flex?

Flex was beyond him. Flex was distilled magic, gifted to ordinary people by ’mancers. And no one understood magic.

Julian could handle the local dealers: twenty-something burnouts who sat in cat-piss-stained apartments, lording it over the ignorant teenagers who begged them for coke. But Anathema had crept through his dorm window at night, claiming she had supplies for the right kind of dealer.

That offended him. Julian wasn’t a dealer. He only