my feet sunk into the wet sand, every step driving a pattern of fissures into the moist grit. the strap of the bag cut into my bare shoulder, and though I scanned the beach, I couldn’t quite see her, but then again the sun was in my eyes – the second time I’d been blinded in as many days, but I still had yet to figure out which would ultimately prove more fatal.
she – that cat’s mother, or thereabouts - walked into the leased cubicle I jokingly call an office, in the ferrocrete and plastiboard building that leant against the others on the block like an old chrome addict – Slouched, propped up by the rest of society. The quake back in ’12 had pushed up the foundations, enough to rattle those of us who lived and worked there (and Christ knows, there were enough of us), but hadn’t quite pushed us all the way out. this was not because we were stubborn, or that we particularly liked living in a building where roaches could carry off your baby if you didn’t keep a careful eye on him, but rather that the only other buildings we could have afforded to move into, went down in the quake.
a lot of things went down then. but I’m getting ahead of myself a bit, I think. every girlfriend I’ve ever had has always said I finish too quickly, so I think I’ll do my best to take this slow, from the top. After all, I’ve got all the time in the world, ahaha…
like I said, she walked into my office. I have an office because I have a business. Which mainly consists of sticking my nose into other people’s. I’m a street samurai – One of the best. No matter what the Wire may say, hackers can only get you so far. For sure, if you’re robbing banks it’s much easier to put a drill through their firewalls then their vault walls, and when it comes to industrial espionage nothing beats a quick-witted deck jockey and a good wetwired icebreaker, but you can’t beat someone to death with data. A virus can’t chase down a fleeing hype. Programs can’t hate, can’t get angry, can’t get even. That’s why cops are human. That’s why soldiers are human. Dirty job, sure, but it beats the hell out of working civil service.
So yeah. I’m an operator . The physical means to a well-paid end. Investigator, freelance gunsel, bounty hunter, courier, hitter, it’s all covered. I’m licensed and on record with all the required departments, which is a good thing to be able to show potential clients when they come walking through my door.
Which, as I said, is exactly what she did. Slim thing – Skin like milk and eyes like opals under the lupe – Iridescent blue, sparkling like finely-powdered scarab’s shells in white spirits. Her hair hung just above her shoulders – Red like the blood that hammered in my eyes as I drunk her in. She looked like she’d poured herself into the sheer black dress she wore without spilling a drop, moved like a bad dream and smelt like cigarettes and sleepless winter nights. I’d seen – and touched - enough of the vatgrown designer babies, and the chinese fleshmod jobs to know artificial beauty when I saw it, so you’ll believe me when I tell you she was real. All woman, on the surface at least.
I looked at her from my desk – I was leaning back in the skeletonised chair, jackbooted feet up on the scarred plastic table, unlit cigarette in one hand and a lighter in the other. I thumbed the actuator, and a tiny pencil-point of star hot plasma arced up, smelling of ozone and casting an eerie green glow through the ensuing billow of thin smoke that I exhaled out moments later. Lighter returned to pocket, and I looked her over again. Waiting for her to speak.
She hesitated a moment, visibly. Appraising me too. I won’t pretend to know what she was thinking, but if she was anything like most women I knew, it was probably along the lines of “I’m going to kill Sandra for setting me up with this fucking cliché.” Then – She spoke. For a moment I wondered how on earth she’d managed to get here without being dragged into an alleyway, raped, and sold to West African slavers because her voice was almost childlike with innocence, but still husky with the smoked curves she was painted with. “Are you… Are you Mr. Baraqi?” She asked, clearly uncertain of how to proceed.
I nodded, and stood up, placing the cigarette into the small ceramic ashtray on the table and walking towards her, still appraising while trying not to stare at the firm swell of her bust, wrapped in a tight black ersilk with a hint of lace lingerie protruding from the edge, I held out my hand. “Mikhail Baraqi. Call me Hale. Freelance operator.” She took it and squeezed gently, rather then shaking. Her skin was twice as soft as it looked, but I felt the edge of her lacquered black nails – acrylic coat, organic keratin basebond but what felt like a synthetic ceramic between the two, probably one of those new sintered organic aluminium complexes. Very sharp. My mystery woman was not harmless – And that combination of high-tech implant with her polished, molten charm said only one thing – She was very good at convincing people she was harmless. Until she was close enough to make ribbons out of their face. That was the kind of dedication you saw in very few places, and in this part of the world, it meant either Yakuza or one of the corporate intelligence labs.
She felt me tense up and smiled, her nose crinkling delightfully. “Very well.” She released my hand. “Mr. Hale. I’ve been told that if I need to find someone, that I should find you first…” She took a step back and glanced around my office. I didn’t know if she was looking for security cameras or pictures of my family, and I wasn’t going to relax until I had her measure. Still, my gut said she wasn’t here to make julienne fries out of me, but then again, if she was a Yakuza razor geisha then that was entirely the point. “You’ve been told correctly.” I answered, picking the cigarette back up again and taking another pensieve, calming drag. “Husband absconded with the kids? Want to get revenge for what Daddy did to you when you were thirteen and he had one too many scotches?” I was starting to relax. Probably going to get me killed, but then again, if she was just a regular client then I didn’t want to put her off by seeming too cautious.
Her eyes flashed hotly and colour swum into her cheeks briefly. “No.” She reached into the small clasp bag hanging from her shoulder and dug out a photograph with a name drawn on the back in felt-tip marker. She put it down on my desk, stabbing it down with one hand, index fingernail piercing the thin paper and nailing it to the soft walnut-look polyethylene surface. “Why I want to find him is my business. Are you going to be able to do yours?”
I grinned wolfishly. She’d let her hand slip. Too emotional to be a pro hitter. “Yeah, I think I can manage that. Assuming you can muster up the credits. Fifteen thou retainer up front plus five more every two days. And that’s just to locate him. If you want me to bring him in, that will be an additional fee negotiated based on circumstances.” She contemplated this for scarcely a moment before nodding, and again her hand slipped into her pure before pulling out a small plastic card. “I can offer you forty thou in SJ-Zaibatsu yencreds or if you prefer pre-revolution currency, two ounces of Berlin palladium ingots.” I contemplated for a moment. “The fuck can I do with ingots here? Where do you think you are, Manhattan? Hookers like things I can stuff in their panties, not virtual stocks correlating to chunks of shiny metal in a bank in germany. Give me the credits.” I held out my hand, and she dropped the bankchip into my open palm. I tossed it onto my desk, I’d file it later. “Come back in a week.” I said, walking to open the door for her. “I’ll find your mark, whoever he is.”
She paused on the threshold, looking back over her shoulder with the kind of gaze that launched a thousand nukes. “Aren’t you going to ask me what my name is?” She whispered. I looked back at her, and hesitated a moment before answering. “I was going to pull your prints and any loose DNA off the credchip and run it through my sources to turn up a lot more then your name.
Why? Do you want to tell me what your name is?”
She shrugged, and in that moment her dress threatened to fall off her shoulders in what I’m sure was a impeccably rehearsed maneuvre. “Molly. You can reach me at the Casa Aura, room ZZ-13.”
And then she was gone. Out the door, into the night. Into the breach and down the rabbit hole.
God help me, I was about to follow her.