The Ventrical Virgin was busy tonight...for a small place, the Virgin was propagated by nearly a dozen Yokos from Mekka, wearing their heavily painted cartoon makeup that made them look like all the underage jap girls that the creeps from Downtown go for. Some carried props from video games, large swords and exaggerated costume jewelry to complete the fantasy. They posed for photos around the bar form time to time to post on their pages for their repeat clients. I was not into the scene, and kept far away from the area where they were snapping pics; most of the regulars knew better than to bother me, and I kept to myself for the most part. The bar owner, Cato, was a burnt-out programmer from some big operation in Redwall Korea that kicked him when his talent ran out. He pimped his latest access keys like most of them did and came to the NAM, that is North American Metro, to buy in to the Big Dream that Redwall prohibited. Redwall wasn't physical, but a hardcore xenophobic sect of corporations in Asia that worked some kind of incestuous deal trading amongst themselves.
Cato and I had history, and the debt fell heavily in my favor. The only thing I wanted was a busy place to melt away in for a few days, drink the hard Russian grain alcohol that Cato kept for me, and do biz as needed. The local outfits usually didn't come in here. Tonight was funny, and at least one slickster was leaning on Cato at the bar, squeezed in between two Yokos. He was some kind of low-level pimp, dressed in a business suit with a monochrome tan that made him look slightly corpse-like. A sweaty auggie with slabs of muscle and a lobotomy stare stood near the end of the bar, and obvious affectation of the Slickster talking up Cato. Most auggies drooled too much to represent at all, auggies standing for over-augmented heavies; this one had the telltale marks above his lips where the stitchers locked his jaw. I wondered how he ate anything...maybe a protein/whey enema?
I pounded back a shot of the alcohol, and got up from the bench where I chilled. I crossed the row of tables, stepping around a trio of girls high on some sugary energy drink and mescaline, and walked past the auggie. I smelled the high burn of adrenaline and testosterone coming off of sweaty enforcer, and wrinkled his nose in distaste; a warrior didn't need to be so dumbed down to be effective...this guy was like a bazooka on a leash. My right arm twitched slightly, reacting to a violent thought pattern – early era cybernetics developed errors if not perfectly maintained, and I didn't always have the funds to keep it cranked up. I suppressed my distaste under a ton of high-test emotional numbing, and continued my meandering into the bathroom.
I breezed past the stalls, noticing a cartoon pink camisole jerking back and forth in the air bobbing above one of the little brushed steel booths. Grunts and cutesy laughter issued in a regular rhythm from inside, and I shivered a little being this close to that creeper vibe. I stepped in front of the sink, noting that my long jacket was getting streaked from the pollution, the hard rains wearing out the synthetic leather coats I preferred. I removed the shades I wore to hide my severely bloodshot eyes. They used to be a light blue, like ice, but they kept on getting darker and more watery each year. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a small glass tube filled with a clear liquid, with a dropper velcroed to the side. I opened the tube, and used the dropped to put a drop in each eye. I sealed the tube, and leaned against the sink. The flood of isotropic iceflows came, and I grew calmer, the tension in my limbs easing. The fakking in the stall grew quieter, like it was down a long hallway, very far away. I leaned back and stretched, cracking my knuckles in a flex. I yawned and reached back to adjust the bandana I wore, tucking my hair back up into it – it was very greasy after so many days on the job. I felt like I could do a few more nights now. This push wouldn't last forever. I knew that shit. Cato had stuck me in a stall for the night a couple of months ago when it all snapped back and I was left floundering and mumbling at a table, having a conversation with, well, fakkin nobody.
The stall behind me popped open, and a blond with heavy eye makeup dressed like a sailor stepped out, adjusting her short miniskirt and leaning her parasol on her shoulder. She stuffed a cash chit down her uniform shirt. She noticed me and flashed her eyes.
“Like some?” she asked, hiking her skirt up a little and drawing her other hand up her thigh with her fingers shaped in a “v”.
“Sorry,” I said, smiling, “I don't even fakk without a sense o' bush – keeps me honest, right?”
She laughed with a childlike giggle that made me uneasy, and left the bathroom. I shook myself out and headed towards the door to leave. The heavy, scruffy fakker stepped out of the stall, blocking my way. As smooth as flowing water, I elbowed my way past the big man and through the door. The drops, a distillation of part sedative, part attenuator, were working their magic, slowing things down and allowing me time to think before my body reacted out of instinct and training. These days, taking them was the only way that I could conduct biz and keep myself in control. Fakkin cheap stims in the corps did for me, leaving scars on his nerves and made me prone to long periods of insomnia.
When I came out, I could see that Cato had his hands full with Slick, and the auggie was pushing around a Yoko with an idiot grin on his face. I also saw that there were two NAM security boys sitting at one table, checking out the scene dressed in their partial combat armor and long coats with kevlar hoods. Rattiger and Fells. Rattiger was older, a little heavy, slick-back brown hair with a heavy mustache and dark eyes. Fells was this ex-skinhead he toted around who had regrown his red hair but not so much that you couldn't make out the swastika tattoo underneath that straddled his skull. I had a hate-on for Fells. They both had persuaders, this slick-looking stun baton, slung at their sides; they would make you shit briquettes for a week from the electrocution on high settings. I wasn't worried. I would deal with them after. I strolled over to where Slick was pitching his protection racket to Cato, and tapped Slick on the shoulder.
“The fok you want?” he asked, looking at me over his shoulder.
“No big, friend,” I drolled, “just a little demonstration.”
The auggie had pegged me as trouble when I was on my way to Slick, probably. He was already nearly on me when Slick turned around. His big hands were reaching for me when I turned to the incoming thug and reacted. I turned the hands away with a strong sweep of my cybered right arm, and struck upward with the palm of my left across his nose, feeling it crunch as it snapped to the left and blood sprayed over his cheek. The auggie stumbled back, holding his broken nose as blood streamed down his face.
“Who's going to protect you, Slick?” I asked, nodding at the auggie.
In reaction, Slick pulled back his jacket to reveal a heavy-looking piece done up in flat chrome with a short barrel and a pearl grip, some kind of custom job for dealing with close encounters. He nearly had it out of the holster when I seized his hand in my right grip and started squeezing. I could feel the bones move as I brought them to the point of breaking, and nodded, motioning over my shoulder at the NAMS.
“Uh-uh, now,” I muttered, close so he could hear, “we don't care for that kinda action here, Slick. You take your meat and fakk off out of here: the Virgin doesn't like to be fakked, ok?”
Slick looked over at the auggie, and nodded his head towards the door. The big man plodded out, holding his nose that was still running blood like a tap...too much boosting can create a hemopheliac condition like that – heart pumps way too fast for coagulation. I let go of Slicks hand, and gave him a little push towards the door. Slick eyed me all the way out, giving me his best psycho stare as he left, humiliated. I turned to Cato and tapped on the bar. He already had the bottle of the good stuff out, and poured me a shot. I took it up and nodded to him.
“Obliged,” I said, before downing the alcohol.
I set the glass down on the bar and turned to make my way over to the NAMS. Fells was watching me very carefully as I came over, his little rat eyes narrowed, probably with the memory of when we first met during the food riots two years ago; his balls met with my knee, his face met with the ground, my piss met with his clean uniform. Good times, good times. Rattiger was watching one of the Yokos at the bar with less than fatherly interest. I pulled up a seat.
“Don't make it too fuckin' obvious, shithead,” Fells gasped out through his teeth.
“You going to let your dog do the talkin' while you put some stuff in the spank bank, Ratts, or are we talkin' biz here?” I said, not sparing Fells a glance.
“Sure,” Rattiger said, pulling out a cigarette and lighter from his coat.
“Stickin' around Fells, or do you have some squatters to abuse somewhere? I hear vagrancy is real high on the city's list of shit to worry about right now.”
Fells broiled in his gear, and pulled back his hood to reveal a little stubble of red on his melon. His hand drifted down to the holstered baton and thumbed the catch. I kept on smiling, paying him little attention.
“Yeah, Smitty, and the only reason that you're in here all day is because you're broke, and you don't have fuck all to do now that nobody wants used goods, right?” Rattiger countered. My smile disappeared a little, and I felt my calm get stirred a little by the dipstick of my pride.
“Fak you, Ratts.”
“Fuck you too, Smith. Now that we've got the prelims out of the way, do you want to earn some cash?”
Ratts said, lighting up a cig and leaning one elbow on the table.
“Right then. We've got a prime pinch in mind, and we need you to do the pinching. A couple hours work, and you can get right back to whatever the hell you're doing here.”
In my experience, nothing was ever that simple, and anything made out to be was just as likely to be a clusterfak of monumental size. There was the money, though...maybe pay to stay in some cheap holdout for a couple days with a bottle and something pretty that wouldn't mind loving up my scarred-up old ass. It had some appeal, that's for sure.
“Are you in?” Rattiger asked, taking a drag.
“Sure,” I replied, “if I like what I hear, anyway.”
“We could pay a squatter in food chits to fuck this guy up, Rattiger,” Fells hissed, rising up from his chair, “why the fuck are we bothering with this guy?”
That was a good question.
“In case of,” Rattiger said, “sit down and dig out the pixer.”
Pixers were high-rez display units that functioned by flipping it with your thumb. They pulled out from a metal tube that kept the weird polymer shit that made up the screen cool. They were expensive, and sure not standard issue for NAMS. Fells pulled one out of his coat, unrolled the screen, and shoved it across to me. I thumbed the screen gently, and the image bubbled up to stand slightly above the screen, rendered in three d's. Impressive. The image was a young, clean-shaven guy with high cheekbones and a dimpled chin, blond hair and dark eyes. His face was very narrow, and hinted at some very slight correction here and there to make it almost noble-looking in the right light. I put the pixer down, thumbing it off.
“That the target?”
“Yeah, at Harrison and Queen in two hours, in front of the Royal,” Rattiger muttered, tapping off some ashes, “he'll be carrying a case that we need off of him.”
I couldn't help but raise my eyebrows at that one. The fakkin Royal?
“Royal's got some boys out front who give a shit if someone gets turned out in front of the hotel, boys,” I started, “if that's the case, whatever you were thinkin' for pay, you double with some up front.”
Fells bristled. Rattiger blew some smoke and grinned at me.
“Fine,” Rattiger said, producing a chit from his pocket and throwing it down on the table. I made it disappear.
“Going rates are five per hour, Ratts, and double that for cowboy shit like this,” I said, “all of it in my hands when I get back.”
“You'll get it, Smitty,” he said, “as long as we get the case, unopened. It has a time lock on it, so don't get any cute ideas, right?”
“No problem,” I said, holding out my hand, “shake?”
Rattiger stubbed out his cig.
“Not likely,” he replied, “I saw what happened to the peddler at the bar. You really shouldn't go around messing with the wrong people, Smith; it's unhealthy.”
“Oh yeah? You going to arrest me, Ratts? Besides,” I said, getting up and turning to Fells, “ I only fuck with the right ones.”
Fells saluted me.
“On that note, I'll see you boys later,” I said, heading for the exit.
I needed to see a man about a gun.