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Baby did a bad thing...

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Nexquietus

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« on: (23:51:35/10-18-14) »
Brunettes.  Superman has kryptonite, the Green lantern has the color yellow, Commander Chrome has APDS rounds.  I have brunettes.  Over the years, I have amassed quite a list of conquests, fully ninety percent of which have brown hair.  The darker the better. 

My current weakness is a tall European beauty named Annalin.  Her shoulder length hair is the color of dark chocolate and her legs are long and to be honest a little on the thin side for me, but they suit her ass so well, I enjoy it.  I met Annalin at a titty bar down on 33rd  where she waitressed and occasionally stripped.  She was less endowed than the other girls, but she loved her nipples played with and was afraid that implants would make them numb, so she traded pleasure for poverty.  Ok, maybe not poverty, but the top heavy chicks got all the big tips. 

That's how I met her.  I had just finished a job and was flush with cash and she was twice the freak the other girls were.  Man she can move.  Plus she was the only brunette in the joint.  To be honest, she was one of three with any real hair at all.  4 hours, 6 lap dances, and 1400 Nuyen later I had her number and  a date. 

We had one of those whirlwind romances involving lots of sex in lots of places.  It was some of the best sex I'd ever had, and surprisingly, her and I found a connection through all the physicality.  Late at night, hell, or in the middle of the day or whatever it happened to be when we'd just finished we'd talk.  Me about my failed relationship with my dad and my struggles within the confines of the Army, and her  about her leaving home early and doing ANYTHING that had to be done to keep her  above ground. 

Neither of us had leaned on drugs, which for people in our station was surprising.  She was a  part time stripper and I was a thug.  Quite a pair in the wastelands of the Barrens.  We even lived in an old office in the top floor of an abandoned warehouse that I'd used for a safe house on a job once.  Typical Seattle lives.  Well, that is if you are SINless.  Or worse, a felon SINner like me.

I loved her so much that after a year or so, I decided to go straight and got a shitty security job at a hotel.  Mr Austin understood once he'd met Ann.  She was beautiful in her own right, but she had so much more.  She was the kind of girl who lit up the room when she walked in.  I had a lot of rough edges, but when I was around her, she seemed to wear them all away.

Even though I could do the jobs asked of me, Mr. Austin never really thought I had the heart of a killer, so he let me out.  He's a good guy like that.  Besides, I'd done my share of jobs for him, and he knew that I'd paid my dues.  He made sure I knew that if word came round that I'd ratted him out, he'd end me and Ann, but I genuinely liked him.  He'd given me a chance when I was on the street, fresh outta the brig, so I owed him a lot.

Fast forward 3 years and we weren't doing well financially.  I was trying to get together some money to put down on a bar so she could waitress there and quit stripping and I could quit putting my meat body between bad-guys and high rollers at my Hotel.  Thing was it was going pretty slowly.  We still lived in the warehouse, so our rent was free, but I wanted more for her.  I'd even refused to take a couple jobs from Mr Austin as he'd heard of my troubles.  I just didn't want to risk it.  For her piece, Ann had started taking extra shifts as had I, so we saw less and less of each other.

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Ring Ring.  My commlink squawked, dragging me from the depths of a sleep that only a 16 hour shift can cause.  I answered it on the third ring.

"'Lo."  I tried to make myself sound awake but aloof, instead of comatose and half asleep.
"Jace, it's Moira.  You seen Ann?  She's late for her shift and we're short.  She can't do this shit on a Friday." 
"Oh, yeah."  I was trying to act nonchalant.  "I'll see what's going on.  Laters and thanks."  I sat threw the comm back onto my jeans on the floor.

I got outta bed, stretched, and looked around.  Everything was as it should be, if a little quiet.  The bedroom was messy, but that was mostly my fault.  I just couldn't put shit away.  The evening light trickled in through the white painted plexi, casting weird shadows on every thing.  I hit a light switch, and just like every other time, thought about all the work I did getting the solar on the roof hooked up.

"Ann, baby.  You here?"  I tugged on my jeans and stepped into some sneakers, dragging an old  Concrete Dreams t-shirt on as I walked toward the kitchen as I stuffed the commlink into a pocket.  I listened for a sec and didn't hear the shower going.  I was starting to get worried.  I dug my commlink back outta my pocket and pingged Ann's.  It went straight to voice mail.  I plugged the 'link into my data-jack and accessed the finder program I'd installed the last time she'd lost her commlink.

A few cycles went by before the program returned a negative search result.

Ring ring. 
The face that hovered in my field of view was that of a massive chromed viking.  Not exactly usual, but for my buddy Loki, totally normal.  "Moshi Moshi."
"Japanese?  Really?"  I laughed. 
"Hey, it keeps the telemarketers off guard.  Wassup chummer?"
"Ann may be missing.  I've called her, and checked that program you gave me, but I'm getting nada."
"I'll see what I can see.  'Sec."

Seconds went by.  I threw a coat on and stuffed the commlink, still plugged into my data-jack, into the inner pocket.  I grabbed my pistol from the table and shoved it, still in it's holster, into the waistband of my jeans hooking it all together.  I took the opportunity to grab my Go bag from the closet and stuff in a few things I thought would come in handy.  A feat normally made tricky holding a commlink to your ear with your shoulder.  Thank god for being able to jack into them.

"Jace."  The viking icon hadn't moved until now. 
"Still here."
"Yeah man, It looks like she went to the Sweaty Nipple around 17:03 yesterday, according to her comm location log.  She was there for 19 minutes.  Then her link gets to 45th and Montgomery before it loses trace.  Verizon-Fushida are usually pretty good about their location databases, and luckily, weakly protected.  Reception in that drek pile is sketchy at best, so maybe a friend's flat?"
"Man, I hope so.  Thanks Loki.  I'll credit your tab."
"Drek, brotha, you gotta get a bar before that means two squirts."

The connection ended.

Down the stairs I went to my faithful steed.  The Ford Americar didn't look like much but... Hell, who am I foolin. I'd traded my classic modded Yamaha Rapier a few years back for this even older  drek sandwich as it made the hotel I worked for less nervous for me to pull up in.  My tattoos, felony conviction, and military grade cyberarm were bad enough.  They didn't need much help in thinking I was a bad seed.

Traffic was a tad lighter than normal for a Friday evening, but it was a summer night, so it got darker later.  It WAS the Redmond Barrens, and everything bad happens after dark in the Barrens, no need to get started early.  I found a spot to park in the back of  the bar Ann worked at.  I'd laughed the first time I'd heard of the Sweaty Nipple, but after these last few years, the place had supplied a regular if fairly small check. 

Half-Track was working the door.  They called him that after he helped repair a tank track in one of the Corp African Bush wars.  Usually they used a half dozen guys and a winch to drag it into position.  Half-Track was a troll.  A big troll.  They were under fire and he figured they didn't have time to winch it and dragged it himself, half at a time.  He also happened to be a friend of mine, having served in the same unit as me in that same war.  I'd gottten him a job here a couple years back, being that I got out earlier than he did and all.  There wasn't much equality in employment for the awakened, so he had little choice and did some 'running on the side. 

He smiled at me when he saw me.  "Sup Gillette?"  We shook hands, his engulfing mine.  It helps to have a steel one, or it typically hurts at least a little.  His voice sounded like thunder.  It made a good asshole suppressant when he worked the door.  They knew what waited for them if they crossed the line.

"Hey, Big man.  You see Ann?  Guess she missed a shift tonight."
He looked genuinely worried.  "Naw man, saw her last night.  Came and grabbed a bag and busted outta here with Sindy.  Said they had an Off-site."

Off-sites were usually sketchy private parties that catered to people who couldn't or wouldn't come to the club.  Sometimes they were Yakuza, other times the Mob.  Rarely, they were Corp affairs.  Nevertheless, they were never above board.  The girls got alot of money for them, but it was generally in return to forget whatever happened and not press charges.  It wasn't Ann's scene.  Usually.

"Any idea where or who?"
"You know how it is mano, don't ask don't tell."  He smiled a tusky smile.  It was an inside joke, alluding to his preference in companions.  Being a troll wasn't usually enough to get you discriminated against in the military, but try being a gay troll. 

"Yeah, yeah."  I ran my fingers though my hair and let out an exasperated sigh.  I was starting to get worried.  "Sindy here?  I'd like to chat her up"
"I dunno, just started my shift.  You can go in tho."  Immediately his demeanor changed, "You packing?"
I laughed, my tension broken a bit at Half-Track becoming the sudden stickler for the rules.
"Naw, left it in the car."  I thumbed over to where my green Ford sat.

He laughed, a sound that coming from him sounded like part drum solo, part car wreck.  "You need a better car man.  I know you already got the girl, but Damn!"  He waved the scanner over me and green lights came on.  They didn't much care about knives, and the belt sword wouldn't show up, but firearms were a no-no.

"She'll be ok, mano.  She's Barrens tough."
"Hope so, big man."
"You need anything, lemme know.  Marko and I got nothing going on.  Drek goes sideways, my comm better ring.  Scan me?"  Marko was his 'domestic partner', a massive ork with a tech streak who did part time work for Silver Light, one of the more well known Merc outfits in the area.  Was almost as good at building weapons as he was shooting them.

"I got it.  I'll ping you either way.  Lets do dinner, our place Sunday night.  I should find her by then.  You bring the Synthwine.  I got a line on some vat scallops that are supposed to be great from one of the Sous chefs at work."  We shook hands once again, and I headed on inside.

'Man, I hope things go as well as all that'.

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Nexquietus

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« Reply #1 on: (23:57:35/10-18-14) »
The club was mostly dark, with spot lights on the four stages, each with a different girl of  a dfferent  metatype in a varied state of dress and different version of kink.  The dimy lit bar showed one bartender and maybe three guys working security.  The other two bartenders and three secutiry  usually started after 8.  Scattered sbout at private tables or up at the stage were maybe ten patrons.  The smells of various flavors of E-smoke helped mask the odor of both stripper perfume and the lust that the patrons brought.

I reached into my pocket and grabbed my own E-cig.  Pushing the button I drew a long draw and let the clove vapor out my nose, stinging a little, but giving my limbs that little tingle I craved and calmed my hands a little.

I walked over towards the door to the dressing room.  Jimi Two-Eagles was used to being a big guy and getting that respect.  He was their newest bouncer, and had the boring duty of sitting by the dressing room and keeping the rifraff out.  He hated it.  I was bigger than he was.  He hated me.  Hell, he hated everone.

"Sup, Jimi.  I gotta pick up some stuff for Ann."  I put out my hand for a shake.
"She's late.  Mr Luke don't like late bitches." 
He saw me move and his reflexes were fast, but I had years, training, and rage on my side.  Even without my reflexes on I knew what he'd do.  My left hand came up, feinting a grab, and he tried to grab my hand.  I'd anticipated that, and pushed his arm down against his body akwardly with my left.  My right elbow, part of a fantastically crafted Veselov Military Grade Model 41 Complete Arm (with aftermarket synthetic hand and smart gun link) was currently covered in a leather jacket.  I seldom was seen without long sleeves anymore, so his face was the first thing to notice that what hit him wasn't meat.  I could feel the small bones in his face crush under the impact.  He went down like a sack of dreck.  I looked around immedeately.  Still jacked into my comm, I rang Mr Luke.

There was no introduction.
"I see what you did, and I don't know why.  Get your ass in here."
The line went dead.

I'd done some security consulting for the bar owner, Mr Luke, over the years.  I'd needed extra money, he needed security on the cheap.  I knew where his office was and headed to the back.  One of his muscle boys was waiting at the door, all black pseudo silk shirt, slacks and white faux aligator dress shoes.

I knew there'd be another guy by the manager's office and if he'd heard abot what just went down,I wanted an ace in the hole.  My Onboard Implant Processer and wired reflexes were  strictly speaking, military tech, and when I was discharged, they de-activated them, but didn't remove 'em.  The OPI is designed to give you wired access to your cyber instead of relying on the much less secure wireless version.  In the special forces they make you get one so it's basically impossible to hack your implants.  It costs you a little more in cash and mana or essence or whatever the cyber docs warn us about, but it's worth it.  After a couple runs working for Mr Austin strictly as a medico, I mentioned that I had some implanted but de-activated military cyber that I didn't have the cash to repair.  He fronted me the money and I returned the favor by gunning on a few more runs for him.  I used the OIP to turn on my Reflexes, and felt the familliar hum.  The world moved in slow motion, but after years of using it, it was like being home.


"Hoi Kutter."  I approached with hands out and up, the look was disarming, but was actually one that was quite fast to act from if needed.   "Jimi wagged his mouth a bit and I had to take him down a notch.  You may want to radio the guys and get him some help.  I'd guess multiple facial fractures, a concussion, and one hell of an ego-ache."

He was trying to give me the tough look.  He was a little bigger than Jimi, so almost my size.  Difference in him was that I could tell by the slight tremor in his muscles that he had his reflexes turned on.  He pulled a Ruger Super Warhawk from the back of his crisply starched pants and stuck it in my face.  My  reflexes were turned on, but mine was a military model with almost no neuromuscular-creep like the street versions had.  Still, I let him think he had the drop.

"I don't care if your girl works here or not, you don't come into my bar and start some shit."  Drops of spit hit me as he chewed my ass.  "You fragging hear me, meat bag?  You ain't nothing here.  Who has the gun arsehole?"

"I meant no disrespect.  I called Luke after things happened.  Ask him.  You just don't disrespect a man's girl like Jimi did, not in the Barrens.  You know as well as I do, he had it coming.  He was lucky it was me, or he could be dead right now.  I'll talk to Luke and be on my way."

"You better stay the Frag outta here for a while.  Talk to Luke and then be gone."  More bits of spittle flew as threatened.

I nodded and turned the handle to Luke's office.  Discression is the better part of valor.  No need to start a pissing match that I wasn't sure I needed to get into.

The office was what you'd expect for a strip club in the Barrens.  Dark, cluttered, smokey.  A bank of monitors covered the entire back wall, showing most of the bar from several angles.  His huge alloy desk dominated the middle of the room, and behind it sat a well muscled human with a full red beard and matching bushy hair in a fairly cheap suit and tie.

"I don't know why I bought Jimi those reflexes in the first place.  Dumb fuck didn't even have them on."  He handed me a rocks glass with a light pour of an amber liquid.

"You noticed that too, eh?"  The first sip burned as it went down.  The hair raised on my meat arm inside my jacket.

"Yeah.  Even after you go straight-ish, you'll notice things too."  He took a long drink of his much more full glass.  He fingered his commlink.  "Kutter, have one of the cooks drop Jimi off at Memorial with a few hundred on his cred stick.  He can owe me."  He fingered the comm again and took another pull from the glass.  "Now, what the hell IS up with your girl?  She's never not called in before.  Hell, she's my best girl.  No drama, no drug problem. Drek, if I could I'd clone her and fire all these other trouble makers, well, after I got them all big boobs."  He smiled and took another long pull from his glass.

That was a running joke.  He told her she could be a simsense star if only she had bigger boobs, and she said he could too if he had a bigger johnson.

"Dunno, Luke.  Guess she had a Off-site last night?"  I took another sip of the booze.  It wasn't my speed, but it was exceptional.  This time there wasn't as much burn.

"Yeah, some fixer calls up and asks for two girls for an Off-site.  Moira and Sindy were going to go, but Moira's kid got sick so she couldn't go.  Ann suprised us all by offering.  She's not usually one to go."

"Yeah, we're working on a down for that little bar over on 40th."  I took another drink from the glass.  "This Pike's Place SynthBurbon?"

"Naw, It's a little something I've had going on the side.  It's the real McCoy.  I get the grain smuggled in from the plains and I have a guy that does the rest in the basement.  Good, neh?"

I noded and finished the glass in one toss.  "Guess I'm not used to the real stuff."

"Sindy ever call?"  I was looking over the monitor bank on his back wall even though I knew there were no cameras in the dressing room that were on unless the panic button was tripped.  I had done a good job.  You could see most of the bar, but I couldn't make out much from across the room.

"Yeah, she's here.  We asked her how things went last night when she got here.  Sometimes those off-sites can be bad enough the girls need a night or two off.  She was understandibly vague, but said things went ok."  He finished his glass and took a puff from his E-Cig.  The smell of chocolate filled the room, carried on the vapor.

I put the glass down on his desk and started for the door.  "Hey, I'm sorry about Jimi.  I'm gonna go see Sindy then I'll stay outta your hair for a while."

Mr Luke looked troubled.  "Look, kid.  This could be nothing.  Thing is, if it's something, I'll owe someone an ass kicking.  No one uses my girls.  The Fixer I talked to was a low level named O'Keefe.  He runs his drek outta some coffee bar down on Goodman.  If Sindy can tell you where Ann is...  If not..."  He let out a deep sigh and shook his head.  "If not.  Call me.  I still got contacts.  We can make things happen."

Man, I didn't like where things were headed.  "Thanks Mr. Luke."

My mind was reeling as I walked to the dressing doom down the back hall from the office.  Dressed girls were coming out, naked ones were headed in.  I'd been with her long enough that it was just... normal.  No titilation.  I saw a toned black woman with impossile grace and two shapely cyber legs walking toward me,  headed back to the ressing room.

"Hey, lady.  You seen Sindy?"  She smiled and gave me a brief hug, spreading stripper stink from her naked breasts on my jacket.

"Yeah.  She just got done with her set.  You hear from Ann yet?"  We walked to the dressing room as we talked.  She towled off and opened the door for me.

"Nope.  Was hoping to get some info from Sindy.  Moira, thanks for the call this Am."

"No problem.  Hope she's ok."

I turned, filtering the mass of bodies.  In the corner stood an impressively built asian woman with a purple fiber-optic wig, carefully picking through a pile of g-strings that in total weighed less than a sock.

"Hey, Sin.  You see Ann?"

She turned to face me and turned away, suddenly transfixed at her image in the mirror as she drug a brush through her lonk black hair repeatedly.  "Nope.  Sorry Jace.  She left the Off-site last night and caught a cab."  Her words were clipt and she never looked at me.

"Why is it that I think you are lying to me?"  My voice hardened, I grasped her shoulder and spun her to look at me.

Tears began to run in streams down her perfect skin, dragging lines of mascera with them. 

"Just leave it Jace...  She's a big girl...  She'll turn up."  She was sobbing between sentances.

"Not cool, Sin.  If you went missing, hell, I'd come looking for you too."  Sindy and Ann were close.  Probably the closest friends the other had.  Sin had even stayed with us for a few months during a rough patch.

She hugged me tight, and broke down. She sobbed and sobbed, I had no choice but to hold her tight as my heart sank.  Finally she got herself together.  We had attracted a bit of a crowd, and were surrounded by most of the girls in the room that weren't headed directly on stage.  These girls were a tight nit group, used to drama.  Some were standing near Sin to be there for her, others were standing by me to attack me if I went outta line.

One of the other girls brought over a chair and helped her into a robe. "At first it was fine, Jace.  The guys were rich and the tips were flowing, you know."  She managed a smile an a sniff.  "We did some dancing, some chatting, some drinking."  Her eyes glazed over a bit as she thought. "Then they brought out some more girls.  By the end of the night there were 12 of us.  Dancing, stripping, and some of the other girls were playing with each other."  Someone handed her a smoke and she sucked up a lung full, held it, then blew it out. 

"It was crazy money.  People docked our credsticks constantly, raining tips on us.  But then, I got a weird feeling.  My feelings are always right, you know.  This one time, an old cutomer I had said I had magic in me.  Like magic magic.  Weird, huh?"  She shrugged at the segue, closed her syes as she took another puff of vapor, then continued.  "Anyways, I decided to bail and looked around for Ann, but couldn't see her.  I asked a few of the other girls, most were too stoned to talk, but one said she thought she left."

She closed her eyes and lowered her head.  "I figured she had felt the same thing and bailed, so I told a guy I had to hit the john before things got carnal.  I scooted out a window and ran my ass off."  She began to cry again.  "I had to ditch my bag there with my comm in it, so I couldn't call anyone.  I didn't know for sure that she didn't get out until I saw you."

My hands were clenching and un-clenching.  I could feel my heart racing.  "I need specifics.  Who were they?  Where were you?  Who were the other girls?"  Despite my pulse, my speech was crystal clear and even.  Measured. 

"Gaia, Jace, I dunno. I think they were from out of town.  Heard something about a hotel room.  Most of them spoke Japanese, though only maybe half of them were."  She closed her eyes again, and one of the girls rubbed her shoulders through the robe. 

"The place was a closed store front over on  Montgomery.  'A' something... Abel's?  The other girls were just like, outta it, you know?  Don't think it was BTL, but a drug of some kind.  They had e-cigs like these, "she said wagging hers in the air.  "But theirs smelled like, like lemons.  It was weird, come to think of it.  That's all I got Jace.  I'm so sorry."
She broke down again, sobbing and one of the girls hugged her slumped form.

One of the girls touched me on my meat hand, and I snapped my head around to look at her.  She was a cute blonde who smiled meekly and looked down to my hand.  It was clenched so tight it hurt, yet I hadn't realized it.  I must have looked like I was going to hit Sindy.  "Spirits, Sin."  I walked over to her and the girls parted a bit, but stood close.  "You did what you did.  This ain't the Archology.  You gotta take care of you.  How were you to know."

"I wanna help make it right."  She stood and took my hands in hers.

"We'll see.  I have a few things I wanna check out."

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I sat in my Ford, head back against the head rest.  I wanted some back up when I went to see O'Keefe, but Half Track was working, and Mr. Luke couldn't give him the night off.  Marko was doing a one-night for Silver Light and wasn't available. 

Since going straight-ish, I'd lost contact with many of my old chums.  Most of which had moved out of town, or were dead.  Such is the life of a shadowrunner.  My eyes closed.  I had one card left.  It wasn't a joker.  It wasn't even from a poker deck.  If anything, he was from a tarot deck.  Death.

Ring ring.

"Gillette.  Long time.  If yer calling, there must be trouble."  His voice was even, confdent, but not arrogant.

"Konichiwa, Mr White.  It's been too long."

"It has, but you were smart to part ways.  Our last two runs weren't your cup of tea.  But I look forward to coming to your bar some day."

I took a deep breath, and let out a deep sigh.  "I may be getting back into the game.  Someone took Ann."

There was silence on the line for too long.  Cold silence.  The voice that spoke on the line was ice, measured and barely audible.  Knives have edges, but wouldn't cut like his voice would.  "Who and how?" 

Mr White was an associate of mine for several years.  His name holds sway in Seattle as one of the premier killers in the shadows.  I usually ran support for him and his crew, driving and providing medical care thanks to my medic background.  I ran the occasional run, but as he mentioned, straight up wet work wasn't my style.  Oh, I'd kill a guy if the situation warranted it, but I hated it when that was the whole point of the job.

Four years ago, one of our runs went south.  Way south.  Firebombs dropped from Mitsuhama drones killed all the main team but Mr White, and I pulled him into the van at the last minute  sporting massive injuries.  Our safehouse was comprimised, so I had little choice to take him home to care for him.

At one point, I had to draw some corp goons away, and Ann stayed with him.  It took me a couple days, but she stayed by his side the whole time.  They've had had a unique relationship ever since.  Mr White, or Demetrius as she called him, called every year on her birthday, and she the same for his. 

The hardest killer in Seattle pledged us a life debt.  I'd never had to call him, but this was certainally the right call to make.  Besides, if he found out she'd been taken and I hadn't called...

I filled him in on the particulars, and he was silent the whole time.  "Basically, I don't want to leave my ass hanging out talking to this O'keefe joker, and if things go the way they are looking, I can get Half-Track and Marko, but I'd still need some help."  I paused and he was still quiet. "You down?"

"You didn't have to ask, my friend.  I owe you."

"True, but a friend wouldn't assume."

"I don't think I have heard you call me friend before."

"I'll be honest, it's tough sometimes.  I'm a healer down deep, remember and you're... well...  But we've been through some dreck.  And man, can I use a friend right now..."

"I'll be at your place in an hour.  We'll take my car.  Your POS won't make a get away if wee need it."  There was actual laughter on the other end.  It sounded strange coming from him. Like purring from a lion.

"That's cold chummer."

The line went dead.  I still wasn't sure it was the right thing to do, but nothing stacked the deck quite like a physical adept of the Shark totem.
« Last Edit: (00:04:55/10-19-14) by Nexquietus »

Nexquietus

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« Reply #2 on: (11:30:29/10-19-14) »
"So mind telling me why we are going to this place?"  Mr White was driving.  I wasn't sure what model of car I was in.  It was European, red, and fast. 

I was carefully sliding my Crowner Troika fighting knife into the sliding holster in my cyberarm.  I assured myself it was 'just in case'.  "Loki tracked Ann's commlink to this area, and Sindy said they were at some place that started with an A.  That's what we are looking for.  See if we can find where this went down."

Minutes went by.  Mr White would have passed the most stringent Dragon lady DMV test for his driver's license as he expertly wove through the traffic.  Uneventfully, we pulled up in front of a place called Abel's.  Back in it's day it was likely a happening joint.  Now, it was closed with a barely readable sign over the main doors. 

We stepped outta the car and into the fading light of evening.  I had everything turned on.  My Flare Compensation kept my Thermographic vision from flaring, and my reflexes were on full.  The amber light of sunset falling over the city was in grey scale to me as hotter things like bodies and car engines shone brightly compared to the cool brick of the building. 

We strode casually to the front of the building.  Most of it was covered over with layers of posters glued directly to the concrete walls.  The door had been boarded over, but something about that looked recent.  Mr White looked at me and nodded to the back of the building.  I nodded in agreement. 

The trash strewn alley was like a million other alleys in the city and we picked our way through the detritus carefully.  Being ex-special forces I was quiet as I moved, Mr white was spooky.  I watched him step directly on a crumpled newspaper, and it didn't deform.  Not a sound was made.  The man always found new ways to scare the shit outta me.

There was a door in the rear of the place, next to a small parking area tucked behind the building.  There weren't any cars here now, but the lot looked too clean for the area.  It had been used recently.

Mr White walked up to the door and put an ear to it.   Several seconds went by before he produced a maglock passkey.  Another quick second went by before the grimy LEDs on the maglock shown green and the handle clicked open. 

Mr White put the passkey into his pocket of his suit with his right hand and when it came out, it held the most fancy knuckle duster I have ever seen.  It looked as if it was made of silver and gold swirlled metal and had elaborate carvings on every inch.  I still wasn't sure I was in for violence just yet, so my weapons stayed where they were.

White pushed the door open slowly and stepped in.  I switched from thermo mode to normal for a second, realizing that in thermo I could see heat, but not light.  The hallway was dimly lit by an emergency light at the far end.  There were a couple closed doors on the left and an open one on the right.  It terminated in another door several feet past the last door.  We walked in slowly.  White walked past the first door and subtly pointed with his left hand to it.  I stood in front of the first door and he walked to the second.  We reached out to the door handles simultaneously.  Mine turned easily so I slowly opened the door, peering into the grey scale room.  An overturned desk and toppled over file cabinets suggested this room used to be the manager's office.  There were even the monitor racks, now empty on one wall, similar to the ones I had installed at the Nipple.  Suddenly there was a voice from behind me.

"Move and you are Frakkin dead."  My head turned a touch, revealing a biggish Ork in a black suit that I didn't recognize, holding a Colt Manhunter in his right hand.  "Don't frakkin look at me," he commanded.  I turned my head back straight and rose my hands stammering out an apology that almost sounded sincere.  I backed up a half step until the gun barrel pressed into the back of my skull.   It didn't matter too much where he was aiming, I just needed to be that close.  Action always trumps reaction.  I spun to my right, catching his shooting arm with my elbow and driving him off target.  The Troika knife was a classic design but hellaciously effective.  It slid easily from the custom sheath in my cyber arm and into my hand.  I crouched, arm cocked back.  When my arm came forward I drove up with all I had, the knife point entered just below his sturnum.  When your reflexes are on, you experience the world in slow motion.  I could tell he had armor because the blade scraped on something metallic as it entered.  Totally off guard, he looked at me with surprise as his head hit the door frame as his feet left the ground.  I reached up to him and grabbed his shoulder.  Gently I let him to the floor, trying not to make a sound.  I removed the knife from his abdomen.  He struggled to breathe for a few seconds.  The Troika had done it's job on his Diaphragm on it's way to his lungs and heart.  The life left his eyes.

I grabbed his pistol in my left hand and aimed it at the door, still in a crouch. 

"White," White said from the other side of the Door frame.

"Jace," I replied, lowering the gun.  White entered the room, looking down at me and my opponent.  His knuckle duster was splattered in blood, but he was un harmed.  I wiped the knife on the dude's pants and put it back into it's sheath, then stashed the gun into my right coat pocket.

"Looks like you got the big one, for once.  He have anything on him?"  I checked his pockets, finding only a commlink, a certified credstick, and his wallet.  There was also 3 pistol magazines in holsters, so I took those too.  I tossed the credstick to White and pocketed the rest. 

"Where's yours?"

He walked me down the hall and into the next room.  That room used to be a storage room of some sort, and laying in the middle of it was a thin Elf with a hole punched through his chest.  I looked at White in amazement, not a speck of blood on him, except for a little on his right hand and the knuckle duster.  He shrugged his shoulders and said simply, "Stain-guard."

We checked this guy, and found a similar set of belongings.  I offered one of the pistols to White, but he declined.  "Never had much use for firearms."

We walked back out to the hall where I took out a small ball from my inside coat pocket and put it on the floor by a broken bottle.  "This is a motion activated camera, if we get more company, this will let us know, and forward the images to me."

"Very nice."

The open door was a lounge that had a set of stairs on the back wall.  The lounge was clean, with nice couches, decorations, and some nice lighting.  It even had a small bar on one end, and I could hear the refrigerator working.

White nodded to the door at the end, and I nodded back.  I raised my stolen pistol and followed.

He opened the door, moving even faster than I could.  I entered behind him and scanned the room.  The pistol didn't have a smartgun link, but I was still a good shot, and this one wasn't registered to my fake ID like the one in my holster was.  The room was the once upon a time dance floor of this joint, and hadn't been nearly as well taken care of as had the lounge.  Tables and chairs were tossed about.  Broken glass covered more of the floor than the hideous yellow and blue 2050's tile.

"Stairs?"  I asked quietly.  Mr White nodded.

It took us a few more minutes to search the rest of the building.  Upstairs there were several rooms that were obviously set up for sex.  We even found the bathroom window that Sindy climbed through.  Her purse was even in a garbage can in the lounge room.  Sadly, there was no sign of Ann.  My blood was boiling, but the killing had helped some. What a weird life I led.

I sat on the lounge, thinking.  My commlink was pluggd in, like on all ops, and I used it to call Loki.

The Viking answered in my field of vision again.  "Jace."

"Yeah.  I think I'll be needing some favors."

"It's not called a favor, it's called friendship.  What do you need?"

"I went to the place where you thought Ann might be.  Sindy had confirmed where they were.  Turns out it is some kind of underground sex club."

"Uh, in the barrens?  What the frag needs to be underground in the barrens?"

"No drek.  But that's what has me worried.  When we got here, we were jumped by a couple mooks.  They aren't with us anymore.  I think they were up stairs, and heard us or saw us some how.  Could you check for cameras?  I think this place may have a gas leak, and I don't want to be fingered."

"Oh, Dreck.  Sending a message?  And who's we?"

"More like erasing evidence.  And we is Mr White." 

"Holy dreck.  You are not Fragging around."

"It's a long story, but he and Ann are friends.  I'd be in more trouble if he didn't know."

"I scan that.  So check for cameras in the club and municipal ones outside."

"Also, can you find out who this dreck-hole belongs to?  New owners, old owners, basically anything."

"I'll do what I can.  I'll ping ya with what I come up with."

"Oh, Lok, one other thing.  I'm also looking at some low-level fixer named O'Keefe.  Works.."  Loki cut me off. 

"Out of that Holy Grounds coffee place down on Goodman."

"You know this guy?"

"Hey chummer, you have a computer problem like I do, you know all the good coffee joints in the Plex.  Naw, he's tried to book me for a job or two when I've been in there, but I don't take no jobs but from folks I trust, these days.  Always gave me the 'tryin to be a tough guy' vibe."

"Ok, see what else you can find out about him.  I think I am going to go visit."

"Gotcha.  Later, Jace."  With that, the comm blanked out.

"Loki is on the job?"  White asked.  I nodded.  "Good, he's a  wiz decker."

"So, what do we know?"  I was looking at the two goon's wallets.  White had their certified cred sticks.  "Two street level goons, armed and armored fairly well with the licenses for everything.  Both are Metahuman, but not the same, so there's likely no race angle.  Both have different pistols, one an old Manhunter, the other a Viper."

White spoke, "If they would have been the same they would be unit types, but not these two."

"Yeah, and no real pro gets that close when they have the drop on someone, except maybe for Lonestar, which these two aren't."

"Agreed."  He checked the balance readout on the two credsticks.  "And they have around 15k each on these."  He tossed them to me.  "IF things go to dreck, you will need this money.  I am doing fine, and this is for Ann anyways."

"Thanks, White."  I surely hoped that this would be over in short order, but things were looking complicated.  "This whole place looks like some sort of sex club, or something."  White nodded.  "Which means someone runs it.  They are watching it, or at least had guys here to watch it.  Loki will be able to tell us if they had cameras."

"I find that unlikely.  With a place like this all set up for sexual stuff, I am betting that their clients don't want the possibility of being on the 7 o'clock news or worse under the thumb of some Yak or Triad Boss.  That's why there wasn't much electronic security, and why they had guys here."

I chewed on that a bit, and fished my e-cig outta my pocket for a puff or two.  "You have a favorite method of combustion?"

"Yeah, but it's in the car."  He said it like we were talking about drink mixers.  He walked to stairs and took them down two at a time.  I stood and walked to the fridge.  There was a bottle of spring water and I grabbed it.  I walked over to the bar and checked around.  Almost half the bottles were real spirits.  Not a synth bottle in sight.  I grabbed a couple bottles of the best stuff, and placed them in Sindy's purse.

I hadn't heard White come up the stairs.  "You done raiding their stash?"  I turned around, feigning being caught, hands up, ridiculous purse dangling from my grasp.

He smiled.  "I planted my friend on the breaker box in the storage room.  We best get going.  The explosion from all the cleaners down there is going to blow those guys to hell.  That should at least slow Lone Star a bit.  If they even give a shit at all.  We should give them their guns back, and their ID."

"Oh, I have an idea. Hold up a sec."  I grabbed two rocks glasses, filled them with what passed as water from the sink, and stuffed the wallets into them.  "Hopefully, this will prevent the wallets from burning all the way.  The sooner they find out that these guys were bad, the sooner they stop thinking they are law abiding citizens."

I took the two soaking wallets and my purse down stairs.  White had drug the baddies into the storage room, and it only took a few seconds to give them their stuff back, save for the cred sticks.  A quick tip of a rack dropped a case of alcohol and cleaners onto the goons, and White activated the device. 

"It's designed to look like a listening device, and the chemical explosive is designed to look like an electrical short.  This place will be up in flames in no time."

My comm chirped.  Text from Loki: Yo, no cameras, even the municipal ones are broken.  Peace. 

That guy had good timing.  We were a few blocks away before I saw the smoke in my side mirror.

Nexquietus

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« Reply #3 on: (11:56:55/10-19-14) »
We were lucky that O'Keefe operated out of a coffee joint in one of the biggest coffee cities in the world.  It was still open at 1am when Mr white parked us across the street.  My comm rang in my head.

Mr white was looking at me as I pointed to my head and answered the call.  "Loki, what do you have for me?"

"O'Keefe is definitely mid-grade.  Lone Star has a pretty good list of his known associates, none of which are all that.  Mostly street level, just up from ganger types.  He is pretty good at slipping convictions, and has yet to visit lockup.  His recent bank activity is pretty substantial.  Multiple 6 figure deposits in the past 3 months suggests somethings up.  He's gotten into something, but there's no telling what.  I called because I saw you pull up on the shop's camera.  The irony of this drekhole is that this place sells massive amounts of coffee.  If he weren't a criminal wannabe, he could do some real buisness."

I laughed.  "Some people.  I would rather be behind a bar, he'd rather have a gun in his hand."

Mr white spoke.  "He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword."

"No drek,"  I said.  "Lok, can you run cover for us for a few?  I just want to see what this dick-bag knows."

"Sure thing, Jace, I figured you might want me to.  And... just so you know, no one matching Ann's description has been entered into the databases of any of the local morgues, or E.R.s.  Even the chop-shops i could get into didn't have anything."

It stung a bit to think that way, but there was a bit of good news in that. "Thanks for looking, chummer."  I closed my eyes for a sec as that hung in the air.  I was interrupted by Loki's voice.

 "One more thing, I'm sending you the layout of this block.  Just, you know, in case.  Oh, can we do a comms check?" 

I turned to Mr White.  "Comm check."  He slipped a pair of earbuds in, and touched his commlink.  I heard his voice in my ears and in my head.  "Check, check."

Loki replied in our heads.  "Gotcha.  I read your signal.  That's a nice commlink Mr White.  Good to  talk with you again."

"In my line of work, and not being a chip head like you fellas you get the best one you can't afford..." He smiled at me, an uncomfortable, calm before the massacre type of look.  "I mean no disrespect."

"None taken.  I'll cover your gear from the net.   I don't see anything much currently.  No activity.  I'll filter their comms, and you guys can head in."

We gave him a few seconds, then exited the car.  We were quite the pair as we walked across the street.  Me in my leather jacket and jeans, still in my Concrete Dreams shirt, and Mr White impeccably dressed in a suit that cost more than I made in a month and dress boots you couldn't just go out and buy. 

The bell rang as the door opened.  In the back booth a slimy looking human surrounded by four tough looking guys talked softly on a shiny chrome commlink.  The two standing tough guys looked at Mr White and I then away.  I just didn't have the outward presence of a hardened killer.  Mr White, while certainly a hardened killer by every definition, purposefully cultivated a very unassuming look.  Few people that saw him ever recognized him.  It was uncanny.

I walked over to the counter and ordered a pair of soymaricanos, agave, no cream.  I slipped the cashier an additional 20 nuyen and asked quietly, if O'Keefe was in after he handed me our drinks.

"Who's asking?"  His voice was equally quiet.

"I'm looking for someone, and I hear that O'keefe runs information."

The cashier, a thin looking human with half a shaved head, looked at me for a few seconds.

Loki's voice sounded quietly in my head.  "He's pinging O'keefe's comm...  He just asked him if he wants to talk to you. O'Keefe said he'll send someone over."

I looked over, and  saw an impressive looking kid shuffle over.  There was an sizable looking bulge under his left armpit under his cheap suit jacket.  A very familliar looking cheap suit jacket.  "Oi," he said.

"Oi?," I looked around.  Mr White and I were the only people in the joint that weren't working for O'Keefe.     "Where you from, chumski?"  I was pretty sure he was from Britian.  I was also pretty sure he had muscle augmentation, just looking at the muscle boy's bulk.  Likely that lumpy Chicago crap, not the lean San Diego stuff real pros prefer.

"It don mattah, scan.  Muh boss O'Keefe want to haff speaks. Or do I beat you an send ya packing?"  I held my hands out, unassumingly.

"I gotcha, we're just here to buy some info. Nothing more."  The metal detector I had installed in my cyber arm for my security job had finally come to play in my normal(?) life.  He had a large piece under his left armpit, another in his waist band and what was likely a knife on his right hip.  It also scanned like he had some sort of armored vest on.

""Iss way den."  He walked toward O'Keefe.  We followed his bulk to the back of the shop.

Loki chimed in again over the comm.  "The skinney kid with his back to you on the right is trying to hack your commlinks.  I can keep him out without him thinking you have cover.  Null Perspiration."

O'Keefe spoke as we came to a stop by his table.  "I hear you come here looking for information." 

Looking around at his goons, I didn't notice any shakes.  Plenty were muscled up, but none had wires.  Muscle aug was way cheaper than wires, and plenty useful in their own right, but these guys didn't likely have the scratch for military or corp grade wires.

I pointed at the skinny kid.  "He stops picking at my commlink and my cyber or I spread him onto the wall." 

O'Keefe smiled and looked at the kid, "Please forgive me, sometimes my associates do without being told."  He nodded to the kid and he put his small terminal in a back pack on the floor.  "Now how can I help you?"

"I am looking for some information.  An associate of mine has gone missing."  He gestured to a pair of chairs.  I took one, Mr White stood behind and to my left. 

"What makes you think I can help?"  He took a drink from a coffee mug.

"I was told you had ran the information in this side of town." I took a drink from my own cup.  "I run a crew from Kirkland, but this chick is from here.  She's a hell of a good face, but she dances on the side.  Seems she took a job the other day, and didn't make our meet-up to scan a mark uptown.  She owes me the up front money, and an explanation.  I asked around, and folks said if there was something to know around here, you'd know it."  It was a bit of a shine on job, but whatever worked.  I didn't need more murder on my hands despite how I felt.

O'Keefe closed his eyes, supposedly deep in thought. "I think I know this girl.  A brunette?"  I nodded, my blood sudenly cold.  "Yes, She was hired for a private dance that some of my associates attended.  What's in it for me? I hate to be crass, but I am in the BUSINESS of information brokerage.  You understand."

My blood boiled, but I held it together.  I looked at Mr. White.  He simply nodded, the simple gesture letting me know he had my back whatever way I played this.  "I can pay you 5000 nuyen, half now, half if I find her."

His face changed.  It was a bit of money just for info.  "Her up front money must have been significant."

"6000 Nuyen.  Now it's the principal.  You understand."

He tapped the fingers of his hands together.  "The event your friend attended was organized by some very important people.  I am afraid you haven't pleaded your case quite enough for my liking."  He looked to the British goon.  "Show these gentlemen out, please, Oscar."

Oscar had time for one step.  Mr White was on him like, well, a shark.  His right fist entered Oscar's  head, covered in one of his knuckle dusters, spraying blood over the other standing goon upon exit.

I stood, my own reflexes no joke and after spring drawing my knife, I shanked one of the seated goons though the throat.  The skinny kid, valiently tried to draw his pistol, but no one had told him not to have his pistol in a waist band holster if you were going to be seated.  It was slow and sloppy.  I had time to bring my knife down onto the top of his arm, severing it cleanly as he screamed.  I heard several sickening crunch sounds from behind me, and knew Mr White had things handled.

I uncoiled my left forearm into O'Keefe's face and he slumped into the booth.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


The poor bastard woke to a glass full of water into his face.  Tied to an overhead pipe, he was certainly uncomfortable, his wrists must have been killing him.

"Ok, now that the niceties are over, let's continue our conversation."  I sat in a chair and took a long drag on my E-cig. 

He looked around.  He likely didn't recognize where we were.  The walls were bleak and dingy.  There were no windows, and only a couple poorly working fluorescent lights illuminated us.

"You are probably wondering where we are.  Well, we are in the basement of a building next door to your old store.  See, seems that your employee was agreeable to a management change.  We pointed out how successful that business was, and how we were simply removing a particularly irritating client for him.  Mr White made it clear that discretion was in his best interest."  I took another puff from my E-cig.  The Clove smoke twinged as it went down.

"I... I still don't..."

I interrupted him.  My voice scared me.  It was a little quiet, cold and menacing.  "Be careful what you say from here on out.  That you will not leave here alive is a given.  How the next few hours go and how long you live aren't."

Mr White stepped up to him and struck him in the thigh with just a couple fingers.  The howl of agony was something that will haunt me forever.  White touched him again and the screaming stopped.  He was breathing heavily, a sheen of sweat was across his body.

"Mr O'Keefe, Let me be honest.  I may have told you a story, earlier.  I am a combat medic, by training.  A healer who tried the shadows.  I have been straight for three years now.  I didn't have the stomach for death.  I found this brunette we were talking about, and she made me want to be a better person.  Now she is gone, and here I am torturing a man in a basement."

"I don't know.."  Mr White aproached him again and he screamed again.  "I SWEAR!  I DON"T KNOW WHERE SHE IS!"  Mr White struck again and his screams echoed in the room again before he passed out.

I stood and walked to the hallway.  I vomited up the coffee and the protein bar I had eaten.  I pulled a handkerchief from my coat pocket and wiped my mouth.  I turned to go to the room and Mr White stood in my way.  "Jace, you don't have to do this.  You and I both know..."  I cut him off.

"Mr White..." this time, he cut me off. 

"My friends call me Demitri.  Well, both of them do."

"Demitri, I need this info.  We need this info.  Lets just get it.  Ann means more to me than anything in my life.  I've done come horrible things in the past for nyuen, doing some horrible things now for the woman I love..."  I paused and tucked the hankerchief back into my jacket.  "I will have to live with it, but I rather than than live without her."

He nodded and put his hand on my shoulder.  I took a deep breath, turned and headed back into the room.

I took a drink from a bottle of water, then drained the rest into a glass.  I threw it at O'Keefe.  As he woke, he began to sob, his body remembering the agony of just a few seconds ago. 

"You better get to talking.  I'm not sure your heart has many more of those in it."  I puffed again on my E-cig, hoping he didn't notice my hands shaking.

"There's this guy.  Named Johnny Fixed-Blade..."

"You gotta be kidding me."  I let the irritation into my voice.

"No.. no bulldrek man.  Lives over in Bothell.  He asked me to get him some girls, on the down low.  Ones that wouldn't be missed, but he said I'd get more money if they were hot.  Ya know, quality girls.  Everyone knoes the Sweaty Nipple has the best girls, so I got a couple from there.  And another couple from  Hexxen farther out in the Barrens.  Oscar grabbed a few working girls off the street."  He was talking fast. He knew he was bargaining for his life.  What he didn't know was that I wasn't buying.

"And then what?"  My voice was cold and hard.

"I dunno man.  They didn't want me there after delivery."

I strode over to him and hit him hard in the stomach with my cyber arm, crushing at least a rib or two.  I screamed into his face, "AND THEN WHAT!"  Now his body was dealing with real phyiscal damage and pain.  His breaths came in short choked gasps between sobs.

"I.. swear.. I... dunno..."

I drew my knife and plunged it into his heart, or where it should have been.  His eyes shot wide as he died.  Casually, I wiped the blade onto his pant leg.  "Loki, you get all that?"

"Pretty heavy drek, Boss."

"I don't need a lecture, Lok."

"No, what you need is some perspective." Mr White was leaning on the door.  "This kind of drek ruins a man."

"So does losing your woman."

Time passed and no one spoke. I sat, puffing on my E-cig and Mr White busied himself with the clean up of our guest and his untimely death.  Loki broke the silence after a few minutes.

"Johnny Fixed-Blade, great villian name by the way, lives in a flat over on 187th in Bothell.  Security is pretty good there.  You are gonna need a good SIN to get there.  If you drop by, I have a few things you are gonna need.  You need me to make a new ID?"

"Lok..."  I paused for a few seconds.  "I appologize for what I said.  I have a good ID man, thanks.  If White can drop me off at my car, I can be there in 40 minutes."

"Take your time Jace.  It's 2 am.  Johnny is scheduled to be at First Financial at 0930 for a meeting regarding a loan for a new night club he's wanting to open.  Meet me before then, and I'll have everything ready and you can get in while he's out."

Nexquietus

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« Reply #4 on: (12:24:23/10-19-14) »
Life is different when you are used to sleeping with your girl.  Sure, we get into and out of bed at different hours, but usually we spend a few hours snuggled together.  I slept like drek.  I woke to screams a few times, decided they were cats screwing in the alley and went back to sleep.

Showered and shaven, I pulled out my best suit (that was actually quite nice, a benefit of a former life) and started to get dressed.  When I had my slacks and shirt on, there was a knock a my door.

"Gilette, it's the Police, Open up."  Frak.

I walked to the door as they continued to pound.  I opened it, and greeted the officer, a brutish looking human with thinning hair.  "Why hello, Officer Renyolds.  So good to see you."

"Cut the shit, Gillette.  You know why I'm here."

I shrugged my shoulders.  "I dunno, you are going to escort me to my job interview?"  I looked at the bag full of felony that happened to be under my leather jacket, I could barely see the shoulder strap, and hoped Renyolds didn't.

"Don't be a smart ass."  He gave the room a look over.  "There's been some criminal activity here in the Barrens.  I know, a shock, right?"

"And I happen to be the only registered Felon in 5 blocks.  Again."

He walked to me and stuck two fingers in my chest.  He was a big guy, and 20 years ago I wouldn't have screwed with him.  Now he was tired and fat.  A pencil pushing bully that always rode us felons when a big crime went down around this part of the barrens.  "Where the Drek were you last night?"

"What time?"

"Don't get smart with me, arsehole.  I can drag you to lock up just to stick your ass into a line up."

I backed down.  I had to play the tough guy, but I didn't need this.  "Look, man.  I was here all night.  Not like there are any cameras around to prove it."

"Where's your stripper?  Will she confirm where you were?"  He generally only disrespected her when she wasn't around.  Usually I let it go becaue I know he's trying to get a rise outta me, but this time it burnt.

"She left for her sister's house a couple days ago."   My voice was controlled, but inside I steamed.

"That's awful handy.  The one girl who keeps you straight goes outta town and no one to confirm your whereabouts..."

"Look, I don't even know what the hell you are talking about."

"Some drekhole torched a block of the barrens last night.  It was supposed to look like two guys were trying to plant a listening bug, but our fire investigator had seen one of the same devices used just last week, so he knew as soon as he saw it.  Lucky us."

"Still don't know what the hell you are talking about.  I watched Commander Kaos and drank Zoomas until I passed out last night about... it was the one when Kaos goes to the Moon base and finds the Zombie virus...  Maybe 10ish."  In my retinal display I could see the schedule for Trideo Channel 476, and knew all the Commander Kaos shows by heart.

He looked around the room as he thought.  I was well dressed, talking about a job interview.  I was putting on a nice jacket.  The house was WAY cleaner than any other place in this part of the barrens.  It all added up to me mending my ways, but he still had to be an ass.

"I have a strange feeling you had something to do with this, Gillette."

I buttoned the top button on my jacket.  "I"m reformed man.  I don't run the shadows, I haven't shot anyone since...  Well a long time.  It was just me and the commander, last night."

He turned and walked to the door.  "If I get so much as a tingle that you are stirring drek here, I'm gonna drag your ass in and find something to charge you with."

After he left, I sat on the arm of our couch for a few minutes.  I mulled the situation over in my head.  He was basically a good cop, if a bit misdirected.  At least my sources said he was clean.  Hopefully he'd quit looking my way for a while, at least until Ann got home.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The drive to Loki's flat didn't take that long, and I listened to the somber crooning of Emile Beretta's retro-trip hop.  It was slow and depressing, not exactly helping my mood, but totally matching it.

Coincidentally, I had a Beretta Firecat in a in the waistband holster that hid inside my tucked in shirt.  It was a small gun that I'd loaded with explosive ammo so it packed a punch way more than it should have. It wouldn't be much use against any real armor, but against street trash it would still do ok.  The troika rode in it's cyber arm sheath and I had the Belt sword on.  Part of me hoped for an easy time, the rest of me craved some violence.

The belt sword looked like any of the current breed of polymer belts. It didn't buckle, you just pulled it tight and hit the button.  Magnets in what should be the buckle area held the belt in place.  If you grabbed the buckle area and hit the button three times while pulling it from your waist band, as it became free from the belt loops, it straightened and became rigid.  The edge of the belt was designed so that when it was activated, the edge curled from it's rolled position, exposing the Monofilament edge. 

Suddenly you had a 30-some inch sword at your beck and call, seemingly from nothing.  I had bought it over seas.  It was tech that never caught on, as most folks into swords liked steel, or at least metal.  I liked swords, but I didn't have the job where I could open carry a Ferrotitanium Fujitsu Neo-Ginunting on my hip.  I owned one, but the only action it saw was when I practiced with it.

I grabbed my pack and exited my car.  I locked it, and walked to the door of his building.  I used my comm to ping him.

The door buzzed, and I stepped into the elevator.  With apartment buildings in this area, the main floor was saved for commercial space.  In this case a Moody's Formal wear shop.  To access the apartments on the other 47 floors you took an elevator.  In most other buildings it would be an entry door, but in this place it was directly into an elevator.

The elevator dinged at the 31st floor. I walked down the hall, and turned left.  Loki's door was painted with neo-tribal glyphs and Amerindian symbols.  I think there was even a magical rune in there somewhere.

Overall, it had the effect of being hard to look at.  I didn't know if it was intentional or not, and I had never asked.

I knocked twice and the door opened.  Once inside, my eyes adjusted to the darker light level without needing to change settings.  The place was like a Compu-shack had blown up and filled the one bedroom hovel with electro-mechanical shrapnel.  You only knew you'd passed the bedroom when there was something that looked relatively soft on the floor, instead of parts, part bins, or wires.  I walked by what passed as his bedroom and into the main room.  He sat in a magnificent captain's chair, a handful of trid monitors in front of him, and no less than 6 decks on some sort of tiered computer desk.  The tangle of wires in the rear of the station giving me a headache, and I wasn't a tech head.

"This place never ceases to amaze me."

Motors whirred as the captain's chair turned to face me.  Loki sat, half naked and smiling.    The top half this time, thank the maker.  He was a dwarf, so he wasn't exactly fat. In fact, I knew he packed a punch, but he still had a bit of a ponch.  It was just funny to see that, in at least his case, the copious hair on his face and head didn't extend to the rest of his body.

"Chummer, do you wax?"  I asked smiling.

He laughed.  "Your mom likes me bare..."  He patted his crotch.

"Oh gods,"  I threw up my hands.  "Too much Info."  We both chuckled, and I moved some circuit boards so I could sit on the corner of what was probably a couch.  "What do you have for me?"

"I threw together some listening devices.  Pretty amazing if I do say so myself.  Probably going to start selling these.  They have batteries for a few days.  They cover like a thousand square feet each, and and using a pretty complicated algorithm can listen in on both ends of a handheld commlink if someone uses one near them.  Head comms are a no go, unless their end is vocalized.  They listen passively, and then when they don't hear anything for an hour, they burst transmit the info to me, including the Comm numbers for any used near them."  He handed me three devices that were smaller than UCAS half dollar coins.  "They have peel and stick geko-glue on the back, and aren't metallic."

"Pretty wiz, chummer.  This enough for his flat?"  He turned back to his control station and clicked a few buttons.

A file recieved icon flashed on my image link. "Yeah, I just sent you the file on the building.  His place is big, but it doesn't have that many rooms, you'll understand when you get there.  They will do fine.  I marked where you should stick these, and where good emergency exits are.  There is a vacancy on the floor he lives on.  I 'Leased it' it to a Wayne Chmmernifski this morning.  You can say you are there to see him."  He handed me a mag card.  "This will get you into Mr Chummernifski's place."  Maybe you are his aide, or something?" 

"I brought that Fake SIN for Kabe Mifune, the media guy cover.  It should work."

"Yeah, I think it will."  He punched a few keys, and I noticed my SIN got pingged on my commlink.  "Oh yeah, that's good.  Some of my better work."  He turned back to me, and we both smiled. 

"I hate having to do this, omae."

"I know, but there's no faster way to find this out."  I shrugged, the corner of my lip pulling back in an uncomfortable rictus.  "Well, I guess there is, but in a lot of ways, that guy had it coming.  He was street trash.  Just don't make it a thing, and getting Ann back won't make a stain."

I extended my arm out to my best friend.  We shook hands.  "You have always kept me on the straight."

"You started it by keeping me alive.  We work well together, I just want to keep working together."

"Guess I should go."  I said turning.

"Hold up."  He hopped out of the chair and walked to a heroically messy closet.  After a few long seconds of archeological excavation, he produced a worn real leather messenger bag.  "This baby was stolen from a high level Johnson, one of those black ops types.  It has a faraday built in, as well as a concealed bottom holster that has a Fichetti Pla-nB in it.  It's loaded with caseless flechette so ballistics is basically impossible.  No shell casing, nothing left behind, and the ceramic flechette won't have any ballistic info for the cops, not like a bullet would."  He handed me the bag.

It was weighty and reeked expense.  The way he had it just laying in a closet is one of the things that always amazed me about the remarkable Dwarf.  I sling it over my shoulder, and practiced drawing the small gun from the hidden holster.  It was a little odd, but the magnets hoding the flap closed was easy enough to navigate.  The small pistol was a matte grey and I ejected the magazine and worked the slide, pressing the Unload lever as I did.  I caught the round as it dropped out of the grip. 

On a normal pistol the casing has to be ejected, so unloading it once it's loaded is as easy as working the slide, but with caseless ammo, there is no case and no opening for anything to come out.  When you hold down the unload button, working the slide pulls the round out of the chamber and into where the magazine resides, and out of the weapon.  Quickly, I field stripped the little pistol and examined it, placing the parts on the corner of the couch.  It was nicely put together and as clean as any of my guns were.  One of the few habits I'd taught my diminutive friend that'd actually stuck.

I put the little gun back together and put it back into the bag's holster.  It hadn't taken but a couple minutes.

"If you take 123rd to Durrant, traffic is pretty light, you should get there so you just see him leaving his apartment.  Good luck chummer." 

We shook hands again, and I left.  The elevator took it's time, but eventually deposited me at the ground floor.  Once in my car, I pulled up it's navmap onto my retinal display.  Uncomfortably, I pushed my self to almost a standing position and reached into my waistband, retrieving my little Beretta.  I stuck it into it's holster under my seat.  If I got stopped, the Fichetti would be harder to detect, even if I would give up a little firepower. 

________________________________________________________________________________

Traffic was as Loki said it was, and just as I slipped my maglock into "Wayne's" apartment I caught Johnny as he strode down the hall.  He had his face in a tablet, swinging his off hand wildly as he carried on an animated conversation on his commlink and didn't even look in my direction.  I activated my video recorder, and captured a few seconds.  As I closed the door, I mentally uploaded the file to Loki's server.

'He's out of the building, stand by.'  Loki's voice crackled in my head.   A few seconds later Loki spoke again, "He just got in a Nissan Grandeur Limo... and it's pulling away.  Good to go.  I own the cameras, you are clear."

I opened the door and walked down the hall.  I slid a Maglock spoofer into the lock an waited.  The lights across the top turned all green and the door opened.  I was glad he'd opted to go with the older but arguably more secure wired maglock.  Otherwise I'd have had to try to crack it wirelessly, and when I'd failed, I would have had to let Loki have his way with my ego.

I opened the door, stepped inside and closed it again.  Thick tan carpet was underfoot, and looked like it cost more per square foot than I made in a month.  It was also the cheapest thing in the whole place.  The apartmemt was an open concept affair. Basically, one large room, seperated by strategically placed neo-industrial furniature and massive etched glass plates hanging by wires to separate areas like the toilet and a strangely lady like changing area in the bedroom, complete with a real Japanese silk changing screen.

I cued up Loki's map, and dutifully placed the bugs in the places where it told me.  The three bugs seemed a little over kill in a room this open, but when evesdropping, is there such a thing?  My gloved hands struggled with the little paper backing of the geko glue, but man if that shit ain't amazing.  It stick to the bottom of his leather and titanium sofa as easily as it did to the inside of the stove hood.

'I'm getting a good feed.  I can hear you walk around, which is pretty damn impressive on that carpet.  I'm definately selling these.'  Loki sounded happy with their quality, and hopefully these little bugs would provide us some useful information.  'Oh shit,  You need to find a place to hide, I don't know how I missed it, but he's at a jog and headed to the elevator.  Must have happened when I was listening to the bug.' 

I looked around the apartment.  It was 5000 square feet of extravagance where you could see every corner from the door.  By said door, I could see a worn attache case.  Likely the object of his return.  I ran over to it, and rifled through. 

'90 seconds.'  There were file folders full of pages.  Each file was a seperate company; some large and some small.  Inside the files were pages of names and personnel files on various people on them.  It was strange that he had used paper, but in this day and age, that which is on paper can be hidden, while that which is in the matrix cannot. 

'30 seconds.'  The last file was titled Order Forms and held a blank page where you could fill in fields like height, age, hair, race, meta-type, special kink, and others.

I closed the case and hurriedly looked around the room again.  Quietly, I ran to the other side of the room.  I could hear the door open.

"Malakai, I know you are just a middle man, but Omae, I was just a middle man once too."  There was some shuffeling, and my retinal display sprang to life, a live feed from the apartment's cameras popped into my vision thanks to Loki.  I slowly reached into my bag, retrieveing the small pistol, wishing I had a silencer.  On my screen I saw the lean man from the hallway in the same power-suit walk by the case, and toward my position behind the silk changing screen I'd ducked behind.  He smoothly veered right and walked to the bathroom area.  The sound of a bladder being emptied filled the space. 

"I know, I know.  But I'm telling you, you gotta take chances.  Levi is in control here, but you can still make a play.  There is plenty of room where you are."  The flow of urine stopped, and the toilet flushed as he stepped away.  I could see him washing his hands in the clear sink, and dry his hands on the stark white towel handing from the bar.

"Yes.  We have some quality merch, we just need to find markets, that's where you need to be."

He was walking slowly, looking absently around his place, and finally his eyes fixed on his attache.  "Look, Mal, I gotta jet, Tony's waiting down stairs, I had to run back by the house to grab some files, but I'll head over to the Margarita for lunch."  A pause.  "Ok, via con dios."

He knelt and opened the case, just as I had.  He looked in, and then looked around for several long seconds.  I stopped breathing, switching to my internal air tank.  He seemed satisfied and stood, case in hand.  The lock clicked behind him and I started breathing again.  I could see the meter for the air tank in my display ticking back up from 94% with each breath I took.

'He's in the Limo again and moving.  Sorry about that, mano.  Totally my bad.'

I spoke subvocal as I walked down the richly appointed hallway, 'Null sweat chummer, you just owe me some new drawers.'