by A. Barnes
High tech and low life is the name of the game for private detective Chris Black.
|The rhythmic tap of his metal leg on the pavement carved a harsh tattoo into the night. The streets sleep fitfully in Charon City and he was not the only one braving its fog shrouded byways that night. The stranger fell into step with the man, mirroring his uneven gait. They walked a few steps in perfect lockstep before the man stopped. Too late he heard the stranger close the gap between them. A deft sweep of the leg and the man hit the floor, his mechanical limb whining in protest against the sudden motion. The stranger walked around the prone man, a final lap before the finish. The man stared up into the shadowed oval below the stranger’s gray fedora and heard the high-pitch whine of the stranger’s pistol charging. The man closed his eyes, his thoughts turning not to his loving wife and beautiful children, but to the new dancer at Cait Sith. The stranger squeezed the trigger, punctuating the man’s thoughts permanently.
The line was wrapped around the corner when the cab dropped me off. I slipped in behind an older broad shrieking into a vidphone. Someone had robbed her again, she said. She doesn’t feel safe, she said. I lit a cigarette and listened to her broadcasting her business to the public as the line crawled forward; the only place more popular than the girl bars in Charon City is the police station.
As we neared the front I could hear the supplicants wailing and prostrating themselves at the blank-faced monolith of the desk sergeant. He stared across at them from his utilitarian desk, diligently penning down their petty complaints with all the excitement of a man walking the mile. The broad in front of me was up next. I caught the end of the conversation from my vantage outside the office.
“So, he was about your grandson’s height, build, complexion and weight? And, now that you think about it, he kinda looked a lot like your grandson?” The old bird nodded vigorously.
“Do you think it maybe, just maybe, actually was your grandson?”
She put on airs and stormed off, muttering about ‘young people these days’, while furiously dialing her vidphone. The sergeant, world weary at the age of twenty-seven, watched her walk out before waving me in.
“Christopher,” he grunted in lieu of a greeting, “I don’t have any work for you.” He leaned back into the creaking chair.
I lit another smoke, watching the vapor coil lazily up towards the ceiling.
“What about this murder up on Marsden St. I keep hearing about?”
“We’re handling it,” his voice was tense.
“Two weeks and no leads don’t sound like ‘handling it’ to me,” the ashes hung from the smoldering end of the cigarette, afraid to be the first to break the uneasy silence.
“How do you know that?” he breathed, his baby blues narrowing to glinting slits in his haggard face.
I shrugged and the ashes dropped.
“I have a trustworthy face and sometimes people just wanna tell me things,” I smiled into his reddening visage.
“I can’t give you anything, Black. You should stay out of police business. Sweet Luna’s got enough crime for us both.”
He reached for his cold cup of coffee, knocking a folder to the floor. The contents spilled out and I saw a stack of photos. I noticed the Marsden St. Refinery in the background of a few. He was a study in nonchalance, refusing to meet my eyes.
I nodded, still smiling, and stood up. I picked the file and its contents up from the floor.
“I do so love these talks of ours. Same time next week?”
I held my hand out to him and he took it with a scowl, refusing to stand.
“God willing, the devil’ll take my soul before I see your ugly mug again.”
With a bow and tip of my hat I was out the door. This was our weekly game, this cat and mouse dance that ended with a file in my hands and a case off the good sergeant’s mind. Of course I’d solve it, and when I did I’d deliver his killer to him all wrapped up in a pretty set of handcuffs. A few more collars and maybe he’d get off that fucking desk sometime before it killed him. And maybe they’d finally let me off this damned rock, too.
I took a last drag on my cigarette as I slid my slid my credit chip through the cab kiosk. I flicked the butt into the gutter as the cab rose from the track below the street. As I reached into my jacket to grab another smoke I saw a flash of red in my periphery, a scent in the air, like fresh flowers. A moment later the cab took off. I watched it recede into the distance, knowing there was nothing I could do to catch it. I hoped the broad enjoyed the free ride. I shook it off and swiped my card again; crime and Charon City went to together like milk and cookies.
I hated the silence in these things. The engines ran whisper quiet and the magnetic tracks made cabbies a relic of the past. There were never any accidents, but I missed the bad conversation. It did, however, give me a chance to look over the file in peace. Some poor bastard with a bad leg gunned down in the middle of the street. No leads, no suspects, and no witnesses save the surveillance video. I pulled it up on my vidphone and watched the events unfold in silence. Nothing useful at first glance but I’m not paid to find people because I stop at first glance. The assailant had a dancer’s grace and leg strength, too. The Marsden St. killer was a woman.
I put the files back and watched the Earth hanging in the air above the lunar surface as the cab drove from the Atlas dome to my home under the Endymion.
“Thank you for your continued patronage, Mr. Black,” the automated voice chimed over the cab’s tinny speakers, startling me back to reality. We had arrived.
“Please vacate the vehicle, and have a great lunar cycle.”
The door swung open, releasing a flood of dust that coated my legs. As I stepped out and the cab pulled away, I noticed another pile of dust on the opposite side of the drive. My hand moved to the gun at my hip, and unholstered it as I continued up towards the house. The door was open and I could smell fresh flowers on the air. I heard movement inside and the door swung open the rest of the way. She appeared in the doorway.
“Are you coming in? It’s rude to keep a lady waiting,” she moved like a predator down the hallway, long legs and fluttering eyelashes masking her claws.
I followed her in against my better judgment and found her draped across my cheap sofa.
“Thanks for the cab ride, by the way. Mr. Black, was it?”
She pulled a cigarette from the depths of her handbag. It was long and slender, like she was. I lit it, watching the shape of her chest under her tight sweater as she leaned forward.
“Like what you see?”
My eyes met hers and I looked away, ostensibly embarrassed. I didn’t care, but dames love modest men.
“You have me at a loss, Miss-,“ she held my gaze for a long moment.
“Odetta Gionne,” she held her hand out and I took it.
Her grip was firm and she had a strength that surprised me. I holstered my gun and relaxed in the doorway of the living room.
“What exactly is it you want from me, Miss Gionne? Boyfriend cheating? Lost sister? Missing friend?”
She sat in the silence and gloom, her cigarette smoke making her features fuzzy and indistinct.
“Someone was murdered,” her voice was low and breathy.
“I’m afraid I’m gonna need some background information. About the victim and about you.”
“Everything you need to know about him is in that file you pinched from the station house. As for me, well, I moved here for the same reason anyone does: to make it big or die trying. Now,” she paused to take a drag. “Now I work at a little dive called Cait Sith as a dancer. Adam was a regular client of mine and, while there’s no direct evidence to link the two of us, I know you’d make the connection.”
I tried to hide my surprise. I regretted putting my gun away. I moved my hand to my hip as we continued our conversation.
“Why don’t you level with me here? Tell me what you need and I’ll see if I can help you.”
“My needs are simple, Mr. Black, I need to know that I can count on you to keep this case from getting solved.” She moved towards me, and I knew, for a moment, how a deer feels with a wolf bearing down on it. I backpedaled, not wanting her to close the distance.
“I can’t make that kinda promise, Ms. Gionne. If you know as much about me as you seem to, you should know that.”
“Can’t blame a girl for trying, can you?” She shrugged eloquently, the skin-tight sweater hugging her curves as tightly as I’d like to.
My hand closed around the grip, and I drew my pistol as she drew hers. We stood, eyes locked for a long moment, appraising each other. I was the first to act. I moved through the doorway and pressed myself against the wall. I saw her flit over the couch, her gun trained on me.
“Why’d you kill him?”
Even with a gun in my face, I had to sate my curiosity.
“He wasn’t human! I brought him home and when I got his pants off I saw it!”
Her voice had taken a hysterical edge.
“What are you talking about?!”
I risked a glance around the corner and a charged shot dug into the plaster of the doorjamb near my head.
“That damned leg of his! It was unnatural! People aren’t meant to be mechanized, so I put him down,” she leaned over the top of the sofa to line up her shot.
She fired, and the shot went wide. I flicked the safety off and aimed into the cushions of the sofa in front of her. I pulled the trigger and immediately knew something was wrong. The gun made a shrill sound before burning my palm, and as I tossed it aside, Ms. Gionne rounded the corner. In a flash of skin, her toned and tanned leg connected with my head. Stars blossomed into my vision as I collapsed to the ground. As I shook my head to clear the sparks, I could see her circling me.
“Sorry Mr. Black,” I heard the smile in her voice. She thought she’d won. “Better men than you have-“ I lunged toward her knees, and she fell, the impact knocking the wind from her. I used my body weight to pin her writhing form.
“Come on, Mr. Black. Let me go and I promise you won’t regret it,” her voice was a purr, soft and suggestive. I had to take her in. No more bodies on my hands.
“Sorry, gorgeous, I have a thing against crazies who try to off me.”
I picked up her pistol, discarded during the scuffle and turned the dial to a non-lethal setting. She looked up at me, all pouting lips and promises. I fired a single shot, sighing. Why do all the best-looking dames gotta be nuttier than squirrel shit? She went limp and I bound her wrists before carrying her to the curb. I hailed another cab and tipped her in before climbing in myself. I hoped the young sergeant was still up.
The ride was silent, as usual. I watched Ms. Gionne’s chest from the seat next to me rising and falling in hypnotic rhythm as the cab whispered on. My vidphone chimed in my pocket, startling me and echoing in the thin air of the cab. I turned and reached into my pocket to answer. It was an advertisement for a new girl bar; Cait Sith. Isn’t that the bar that Ms. Gionne worked at? I glanced back over at her prone form and met her sharpening gaze. It felt like someone walking over my grave. My hand shot to my gun as she kicked with a powerful leg. It connected with my wrist and I felt a sharp pain before my arm went numb. The gun clattered to the plastic floor of the car. Another savage kick, this one to the back of the head, sent me sprawling to the floor as I tried to reach for the gun. I saw her stand out of the corner of my eye, her tall form bending at the waist to avoid the cab’s low roof. She kicked the gun outta my reach before a leather pump connected with my stomach. My breath left me with a painful gasp and my vision momentarily blackened as I curled around my bruised stomach. While I struggled to regain my senses, she landed on top of me, pinning me with her body. A knee to my face shattered my nose and sent me into a dreamless unconsciousness.
My memory was hazy as I woke up on the pavement where I had started my day. The station house loomed before me and I could hear the ever present crowd beginning to gather. I could feel the dried blood caked to my face and, for some reason, the air seemed a few degrees colder. I saw the young sergeant charging from the station towards me, red-faced and in a huff.
“Black!” When he reached me, he grabbed me roughly by the arm and hauled me up off the pavement.
He dragged me into the station without a word and tossed me down on the floor of his office. After a few moments of awkward silence he spoke, his voice so low I had to strain to hear it.
“What the fuck is wrong with you, Black? How do you always get yourself into these god damned situations?”
While I pondered how best to spin this delightful yarn, I reached into my pocket for a cigarette. I kept reaching for a moment before my mind caught up with my hand; I wasn’t wearing a shirt. In fact, I wasn’t wearing anything. I cleared my throat, stalling for a few moments while my thoughts ran themselves into the ground trying to figure out exactly what the good Ms. Gionne had done.
“I couldn’t bother you for a cigarette, could I? A man can’t be expected to think without a lungful of carcinogens, now can he?” I smiled my most winning smile, the dried blood flaking off my face onto my bare chest.
He reached into his desk and pulled out a pack and a lighter and winged them at my head. He watched me, his dark eyes nearly black in his pink-tinted face. The flood of nicotine calmed me enough to leave my seat on the worn carpet and I plopped heavily down into one of the leather chairs around the office, the young sergeant averting his eyes from the majesty of my frost-shriveled piece.
“Are you gonna tell me what misfortune landed your pasty ass on the step of my fucking squad house?” I grinned and planted my feet on one of the many stacks of paper covering the plain wooden desk.
“Well, it all begins with a girl.”