One-Eyed Crime



Workday done, I'm lie on the floor is what I do. Metallica in my ears, the world on downtime. Got the lights dim, only the violet light and my old man's star constellations stuck on the celling all in the wrong order, like from another galaxy, the way I like it. When Boom! And I mean it's gotta be big to push through the Metallica's songs. I'm jump up, drop the earphones and I see across the building maybe five six guys, white guys kinda big and a little black guy and a Chinese-lookin' guy, they go over Lester's crib like fuckin' ants. They everywhere. I grab my old handycam. Dust roll up into the lights from the floor where the door's flat; they blast it, you don't gotta be no idiot to see. That was the boom.


Lights flick on above and below Lester's. Sirens on street, but they could be for anything. Punch up the narcoscanner, put the phones back up one ear to hear it and scancam across the way three to Lester's. Like fuckin' ants only they hurl the shit around and mess it up, and they ain't took shit. The narcoscanner got shit. No calls - hard to believe with like big explosion happen and gotta be thousand people hear it in these little ant-house cribs. No surprise no one call it though. No one ever do. We got enough heat just live outside the Network most of us. What I could do with a goddam Network Link turn your ass on your head. But another story that.


I move right up to my window now, stay low, raise the handycam. One ant access Lester's pewter while the rest tip shit up knock shit over. No burglars, that's sure. They gone with the pewter and that killer Ultra Surround System in ten seconds if they come for that. Maybe ten seconds more they go for the jewels and such. But you gotta be some kinda mongo conclude that. I mean, they rip the guts out the Ultra Surround System. The guy on the pewter stand up disgusted, try one or two more codes and throw the thing into the wall, then kick it when it down. They either nuts or they want something very bad. Maybe Lester walk in on them and I get a real show.

Now Chinese come out from a back room and he waving everyone and he holding a ball or a weight or something. Look like a black pool ball. He scan it with some hi-tech shit and shit if it don't open like that, snap, it just split in half on a hinge thing. He take something out with like a pincer or I don't know, he not touching it I can see that much, he got gloves. It look like a crystal - diamond or quartz maybe. They all stand around and smile.

Maybe I move and they pick up light off the handycam, I don't know. Maybe they got hot-shit detectors scanners all wired in and now they slow down and make their mark, they take the time to listen and I'm gigged up. I can't say. Whatever it is, BAM, like that, sudden the Chinese guy flip a big beam on me and I'm froze, an idiot, they all see me. Lat thing I see two move like cowboy big time and the whole outside wall my crypt fall out and me with 80 stories and I know I 'm dead. Unless I hit ugh I do hit the terrace two down. I can't breath for shit, anything maybe everything broke, and they probably kill me twice just to be sure.

A big white wash over me, blind, and now it's over sure, only the voice is high and I feel a warm breath near my face, then the white disappear like a dot on a screen to black and boom.

Hey, vecino come on! C'mon, man, get up!'' This guy slap my face, splash water too.I see red even my eyes close, so keep' em close.

''I told you lay off, Jorge. He maybe busted up inside.'' That same high woman voice. I remember now. I turn slow and open one eye, just squint. Don't want them see me wake and make me walk.

''We gotta move him,'' Jorge say. He big, a big guy. Big head lots of black curly top and down the neck. All dressed in black. Woman small, got on a gray jumpsuit like building engineer and black and white canvas shoes. She got black hair too, only wavy not curly.

''They see you and we both dead, we all dead,'' Jorge go on, kinda loud whisper.'' You want the family end up like we still in Scumtown? Here we play it safe.''

''You want safe you damn gotta play alright, cause you know there's no safe about it,'' she come back at him. ''We just scutworkers and you damn know it.''

Jorge sit down, disgusted. Maybe she make him sense up. Latistos never argue with a sensible politic - they know the score is politic.

'' What to do when they come in here and bust it up?'' Jorge grumble. ''Then what - they take him and take us too. He probably die anyway. Just throw him into the hallway and forget it.''

She no stupid though. ''Maybe they don't look at all. You know who they are?

Maybe they run out. If they look, they look for motion. They doing it now maybe. They scan motion body fall out crib you think you escape? Then they for real get him and us, like you say. You hold it still and they go on maybe. We keep talk and whisper like this and for what we know they scan us right now and we murder us with own voices. That enough to shut you up?''

She walk over now and put hand on my face. A cool hand, she wipe off the sweat. I open both eyes now and it hurt right behind, dull like, but not so bad as I expect. She got green eyes, friendly, under black Latista eyebrows.

''You got some name?'' I hear me say, kinda far off.

''Yeah,'' she say, that voice more sweet again, not loud like to Jorge. ''Yeah, I got

one. You?''

I laugh and cough. Ribs, maybe crack. ''I ask you first.'' Cough again.

She laugh. ''True, you the guest, even though you drop by unexpected. Gloria Maria. An oldie name. You just call me Ria though.''

''Ria?'' She nod, me still groan like stupid baby. Maybe I groan less if Jorge stand there, maybe now I get too comfortable, but I thankful for the kindness from her. I know my troubles might be tend to grow - they already touch these people.

''Call me Leen.''

''What you got to do with Franklin, Leen?'' she ask. ''You his frontman? Maybe mole-man to the bulldogs?''

''Franklin?'' I ask. ''Don't know no.''

Jorge step up. Got third degree in the eyes ''The fucker bulldogs gonna nuke you like this you don't cross them? Don't shit us, Leen.''

He kinda spit my name out, grab my arm yank me sit up - feel like I fall another two floors. I'm chuck up all on the floor now and these two Latistos start up the argue again. Then Ria start in on me, they must figure she got the touch over knuckle-boy Jorge, but I got nothing to hold out. I as much for the answers - probably more. Not them nuked out their crypt! Only I'm not tracking - who the hell this Franklin?

''We see it all,'' Ria say. ''Out on the terrace, sipping, watch the sky and kick back easy when black shakes the whole place. From up and over, maybe Franklin's place, maybe the next crib up. Couple ticks later fire come crashing through Franklin's window and take you out. You practically flatten Jorge!''

She laugh, Jorge swear, she lean my ear and whisper, ''He practically piss his pants why he really mad at you. Don't take it personal.''

Then back loud for me and Jorge too. ''Couple bulldogs look out over hole in Franklin's crib, laugh, kick some shit down after you. What they think you, anyway. We hide you back behind terrace wall, we see them but they look down to street.'' She move closer to my face. ''They nuke you just for grins, that your story? Here in plex, draw that kind of attention? Not hardly. You gotta be in it some way.''

I start to make some idea of all this, only Jorge hold a bullet gun now, open it and close it and check the bullets, so I talk fast.

''That his name, 'Franklin'? Don't know him just watch him. Call him Lester, cause the kids. Always got little kids up there, pat 'em on heads, give' em money. Figure him for some kiddie molester. So call him Lester, see?''

Jorge mad, stick the bullet gun my face. ''What a crap line! You the bulldogs blast you out your crib for seeing that? You in it up here.'' He jab up my nose with the muzzle. I push it away, mad.

''I beeb my crypt not two months. See Lester, Franklin, whatever, five maybe six times. Don't know shit. I obviously not the only one.'' I glower Jorge's face, that show the fucker. I cough, spit blood on floor. Great news.

''Lie back now, Leen. Rest against this wall.'' Ria put a blanket back me. ''Chill, Jorge, he tell us what he know. Do us no good to crack his head.''

Jorge sit down across the room on wood chair, straddle it, keep spin gun barrel. Don't scare me now though.

''I tell you Leen,'' Ria say. ''Right after you get it, you out, Franklin and his hitmen come flyin' in and shoot it out with bulldogs. Don'T know much who win or no, only couple three more bodies fall out that hole before it end and no one come here by now we gotta figure they all dead or they gone. Still I don't see why they so uptight on you if you so damn ignorant.''

''Because I see them! I watch them handycam - record it all. They must scan me down the signal 'cause they go right for me.'' The cam! I think.

''The cam! It must fall with me - or still up in crypt. It fall? You got it? All of it there to see, they rip up his place and find some kinda ball, some crystal thing or what inside it, I got it all!''

Jorge pop up again, Ria lean in real close. This ball crystal got their interest, I see that now. Now I got their attention I feel lot better. Stand up in fact. Walk across room See kid spy in from bedroom. I see that kid before once.

''That kid,'' I say to Ria. ''Hey, kid, you,'' I say to kid. ''You, kid.''

Kid walks in. Real straight, black hair, like most the kids around here, only real tall and skinny. That how I know her. She look older through the handycam over at Lester's. I see now she ten, maybe twelve, kinda shy. I look at Jorge and Ria now like what the scam, you the ones know the story now you tell me. They see my thinking, but they clam.

''You know Franklin?'' I ask the kid. She only look at Ria and tell her go to bed. Them Jorge remember, first smart thing I see from him.

''The cam.'' He run back out to terrace and we hear him tossing rubble. I look at Ria.

''Franklin pay the kid, sell drugs maybe, maybe information, hardware, organics, any cargo he can peddle,'' Ria tells it. ''This time he get something too big I think, send all the kids away, play it himself with his hitmen. We decide to--''

Jorge kinda lurch through door from balcony, whole side of face like a big melting blister and gurgling from the throat - no, deeper, like the chest, one arm out straight hold my cam. Ria beat flames off his body and I grab the cam, peel it out his grip as he slide to floor like bag of blood, dead. I hold cam up and see it replaying. Jorge start it, must be, and they scan him out fast. Ria run out to terrace, fool, blast takes out whole terrace throws her back in hard. Crib on fire now.

Ria pick up Jorge's bullet gun and the kid goin' ''Mama,Mama!'' - not afraid but like come, now. She pull on Ria, I follow, out the crib into hallway. No one out there so we push for elevator. Nobody open their door. Nobody wanna see who got blast, too scared. Elevator open and Ria, me and the tall girl go up to tramway on 95. Me and Ria grab tram, skinny girl go back inside building. She okay she say. Watch crib. Ria give her bullet gun. These kids know how to play it there, this I know.

As the tram slide zip-line into the city we look back. Little fires jump out the building. Hard to tell, but look like Ria's place. Two up, big scar in building - my place. Big scars all over, though, so truth, hard to tell. We know one thing for sure - can't go back there now. Maybe never. Three four fire copters hover up, spraying bursts. Six or seven fires going, not just me and Lester's crypts. Busy night. We gotta get scarce.

Sit down, I do your chart,''Papa say, and Mama put the finger to lip so I say nothing. I even say,

''Good idea.''

Papa got this crazy star system for everything. Don't tie his shoe or grease his bread without do it on the proper alignment or however. I try and explain to him how this system too simple for the world now. How everything got two three ways to go. I on purpose mix up glow-in-the-dark he stick on my ceiling. ''See,'' II say. ''You can look at a thing from a hundred places in a hundred ways.'' This thinking upset him. His mystic too logical for it.

Me and Ria watch the replay patch into the big screen.

''Mama, you better maybe look at this,'' I say. Mama once work in hard-processor security clearing-house, big one. Make sure nothing get out except where it supposed to. So she seen lot of restricted pieces. Sometimes Authority float assembled components through the line, operational, real tempting. Mama say nothing ever get smuggle out, though - no one that stupid. At least she never hear of it.

''Leo rise for you,'' Papa announce. ''Just start today.''

Mama sit down at monitor to look at replay crystal thing come out eight ball thing.

''You remember I tell you before,'' Papa say, ''Leo very special to you. Leo first three letters your name, and my sign, and your Mama sign. It bring you strongest good, strongest evil. This I know.''

We frame-by-frame it on poolball. Where Chinese guy flip it we enhance on crystal. Hard to see, he handle it with pincers, hand in my way, but blue, multi-facet, real complex, we see that much. Enough for Mama.

''No question about it,'' she whisper. ''A Network drive-look universal. Who the hell these men, Leonard? Why you involved with them?'' She brush back my hair, look at bandage on head again.

''Not involved - they just catch me handycam.''

''Bulldogs,'' Ria say. ''Corporate maybe.''

''Well, that's a relief,'' say Mama, well-indoctrinated, or maybe just paranoid to say other. No one say it, but we all know we in danger just to have this vid. Law say we gotta turn it in right now - but you gotta be crazy do that once you know. Better be ignorant: loyal citizen report strange doing, happen to record it, just thought we let you know. Fine They test you out, see you true, pat your head, make sure you got no copies hard or soft and you on your way. But none of us could pass. Five minutes with any one of us and they know we know. And then - even Mama couldn't say what then. Or would't

''We get outta here,Mama,''I say, give her big hug. Papa too. ''We take it with us - you got nothing to do with it.'' I feel like I'm talk to someone else, someone else listen. ''Nothing at all,'' I say again.

''Where will you go?'' ask Mama.

''We go''

Papa maybe miss the whole story, which is best, like I say.

''I know- Leo rising. Good and evil. Very special.'' Papa smile. Okay I make fun if I understand his point.

I toggle-off monitor patch on the handycam, hard store the vid under code and bulk the front porch. Clean at first glance, but if someone decide to take a real look, probably crack it open before it leave my pocket.

First thing we stop and pick up a box of storage cards Stop for tube-post supplies too. Grab tram to Scumtown - more anonymous there. Me all beat-up and Ria in maintenance suit, we fit right in. We hole up in some fleabag.

In the tram I run the storage cards, delete the handycam memory. Seal up the cards in 20 envelopes. Write names of government, press, corporate, the kinds of people like to get the goods on other people. Figure a few at least maybe come down on our side.

We grab a room in All-night Hotel, very subtle name. No database of any kind except paper directory with sound-only phone. I look up adresses, add to all the packages, then go back out alone to Local North Airbus Terminal. Me nervous, switch trams three times, finish up with private taxi. At the old airport put the 20 envelopes in a locker, get the hell out. Then I ride three four different vehicles, still nervous but not so much now, pay call on Ben.

Ben work the recycling plant with me six years back, guy owe me one big time for yanking him out the aluminum crusher. I also tick off big chunk of credits to him, like near half my account, good for his family, but on hold till I release it, He know my word good, but wonder how he get paid if I don't make it.

''You get paid for the risk, and if I make it, you make it too,'' I tell him, setting logic aside. ''If I don't make it, chalk it up. Just be glad I'm there to stop the crusher that day.''

He figure that sound good. I run the procedure by him again, it all check out. Twenty-four hours to settle this thing, or he mail. I give him locker key, head back to Scumtown and the All-night.

That weak-ass scum-waste Franklin's gonna take it every way I can dish it.''

''Double-timed us for the last fucking time.''

''I say we just do him.'' John Bull slapped his pistol into his palm.

''Gentlemen,'' Aoki interrupted. They hated his polite formality. ''I count us fortunate to have boarded such a sluggish elevator. Had we already arrived, you might have acted from emotion. Surely we will stick to the plan shall we not?''

The four bulldogs grunted. If he wasn't such a goddamned genius fucking hacker we'd wasted his Nip attitude that first day, John Pitt thought. Slant eye motherfuckers, thought John Blood. And John Whippet thought, Your ass, xerox-clone fish-breath.

The elevator opened on floor 80 and the tentative alliance moved on the target door. Whippet double-loaded his blaster rifle, erring well on the side of excess, and the door was propelled across the entire width of Franklin's crib and into the wall. The entire building shook.

Guns draw, angry, they fanned-out through the rooms. Pit, especially, felt cheated to find Franklin absent. He, kicked over the aquarium and watched the fish writhe against glass.

''Officer Pit, I believe you have a tracer instrument.'' said Aoki. ''Please use it, or give it to one of your colleagues.''

Disgusted, Pit tossed it to Blood, who, like Aoki with his own tracer, began running it over objects in the rooms. Pit and Whippet went about the more conventional task of braking things apart, in case the polygon had been shielded. Bull sat down at Franklin's terminal and began work on the third and least promising method of discovery, the ransacking of files. Time consuming and pointless, he thought. I'd rather be ripping shit up. But he off-loaded anything he could crack, in case they might have a use for it against Franklin later on. Gotta stay one step ahead of that slime-bag, Bull thought.

Aoki, of course, was the one who found it, and he laughed aloud at Franklin's audacity. The black sphere; where that fails, turn them against each other; tertiary course, betray them to Authority. He walked to the front room, holding the sphere before him for all to see.

''Aoki, you're beautiful,'' said the vampire Bull, draining off the last of Franklin's computer.

''Word,'' said Blood.

''Word,''said Whippet.

Aoki produced a small, curved piece of stele with a miniature display face and two heat contacts. He placed it on the sphere. The five men waited as it cycled through the random transmission codes, and less than twenty seconds later the sphere propped open at an invisible seam.

Aoki pocketed the transmitter and produced a set of frictionless tweezers. He extracted the blue icosahedron, holding it up so the others could observe and so that he could inspect it from all aspects. The unbroken facets of the crystal indicated that it had been grown around the gold rod suspended inside it. He shut i up şn the protective sphere once more. Blood, who had alertly selected a wide sweep mode on his scanner, said, ''Video. We're being watched. Lens recorder, portable. Multi-channel.'2

''Where?'' Aoki asked. He locked the sphere into a small steel case which he cuffed to his wrist. The others looked reflexively out the window.

''Don't look, you idiots!'' Blood snapped, and they turned back to Aoki. Blood stared down at the scanner display screen belted to his waist. ''Straight across. I'll turn toward it - here. I'm right on the plane. Down 6 meters.

''Two floors,'' Bull said.

''There is a lens,'' said Aoki. ''Give me a flash beam. It will surely reflect.''

''Got it, Jap-man,'' said Pit, and pulled the light off of his tool belt. Aoki took it, looked up, flashed the beam straight across, then quickly dropped it two stories. The lens gleamed back.

Bull and Whippet let loose with blasters, taking out Franklin's window and the back end of the eavesdropper's crib. They both ran to the open hole to watch the debris tumble down, cheering-on the presumedly splattered arrival of the nosy neighbor on the street below. Bull hurled the display screen from Franklin's terminal out the empty window frame, laughing hard with Whippet when it smashed into the rest of the wreckage.

The force of the darts from the hand-bows of Franklin's hitmen would have been enough to propel Bull and Whippet out of the building, even if the two projectiles had not perfectly pierced their hearts. Blood stood with a satisfied grin after the apparent destruction of the video voyeur, but defenseless with both hands on his scanner as the next two darts sliced through his heart, together, their tips finding a common endpoint in the left ventricle. Unlike Bull and Whippet, he had stood eye to eye with his assassin, and his jaw hung aghast as he dropped.

Pitt damaged to return fire, ducking behind a couch. Aoki cartwheeled to the wall, then out the doorless doorway when it appeared clear. The dart that struck him in the center of the upper back penetrated past the depth of the heart, and knocked him against the door of another crib. As he crumpled to the floor, he looked over his shoulder. One of the hitmen lay dead in the hallway, struck by Pit's fire; the other approached, expressionless, lowering his hand bow and drawing a huge knife from his black plastic shell-jacket. The glowing ember in the shadows, Aoki knew, belonged to Franklin.

The hitman, wanting the briefcase, dropped the knife like a guillotine from over his head, but it recoiled violently off of Aoki's CroMoly-core arm and dropped to the floor. Aoki turned, just a rotation of a few degrees onto his side, and blasted a neat hole through the hitman's head. Bouncing to his feet, he trained the still-held flash-beam into the smokey shadows, but the ember now smoldered faintly in the carpet, Smoke swam out on the currents of Franklin's wake. Aoki, dart tip protruding from his chest, bounded effortlessly down the hallway in the direction opposite to Franklin's escape.

Pit lay still until he was sure no one was left. He was sweating heavily, breathing hard as he used his good arm to push himself up to a sitting posture. There was blood, two white dart-feathers blooming from his blood-soaked chest. And someone's feet in the hallway - looked like one of the hitmen. He struggled up and moved cautiously to the door, his disabled arm swinging at his side. Two dead hitmen - probably fellow cops, the stupids. No Franklin. No fucking Japans. Never see him again, he thought.

Then he thought about his ass, cover, an alibi. He limped over to the hole where Franklin's window used to be. The wind blew hard into the crib. A small fire burned on what was left of the terrace they'd blasted. A pair of huge fire choppers approached, about a mile off. Two floors below, he saw the glimmer of the lens again. Another terrace, rubble all over it, and some fat Latisto looking up through a cam. Looking out at the city or the sky. Same cam? he wondered. It falls from the sky onto this guy's porch and now he's got it, maybe replaying and watching us, watching me, a cop, ripping off this big-time dealer.

He picked up Whippet's blaster rifle and double-loaded it with a fire charge. One armed, he aimed for the city light reflected in the lens, and fired. The recoil jerked his body and his bleeding arm. He saw that he'd missed most of the target. Some peripheral fire appeared to have struck the fat man, but Pit saw the cam still in his hand as he stumbled back into the crib.

Pit reloaded, hold blast half fire. A woman ran out now, and he pulled the trigger. A more direct hit on the terrace this time, and fire. The fire-chopper turned and shined its beacon into Franklin's crib and Pit fell back out of the light.

He stumbled out of the crib, wondering if he'd managed to destroy the spy cam, and if he hadn't, whether the recording showed the crystal, and all of them looking at it, and his face, especially his face.

I'm gonna kill Franklin, he thought. Double-crosser lifts the fucking crystal-our crystal, that we all stole together - then sets us up for the hit. But maybe Aoki got out with it. Could their helicopter still be on the roof? Probably be way too much to expect he'd wait for me, Pit thought.

He was right.

When I get back to the All night, guy at the desk give me real funny look when I ask for key. I get up there fast but I already know too late. Nothing look different in the empty room, only the mirror broke. Handycam lie on the bed, still made, a little rumpled is all. I pick it up, touch battery test, everything look OK, put it back on bed. Then I see real strange thing.

On the windows-sill, a black sphere, like the one the Chinese-looking guy crack open in Lester's place, on a stand like a display nicknack. This make no sense, I think, and walk over and pick it up.

''It's empty,'' voice come from the shadows and I jump. He step out into neon red/blue/red from All-night street sign. It Lester, I mean Franklin.

''It's not even the same one, as a matter of fact. Just an old shell from and old shell game,'' he laugh, like a gurgle. ''I'Ve, shall we say, brokered a number of them. Very, very lucrative. But they require substantial outlays in the acquisition. Losing one puts a heavy strain on the cash flow. You wouldn't want me to have to go back to peddling napalm to the kiddies in your project, would you?''

''Fuck you,'' my only answer to that shit.

''I understand,'' he reply, so cool. ''If only I could forget that inglorious chapter in my career.''

''Where is she?,'' I ask, clenching my fists and move toward him.

''Don't be stupid Leen, or Leem, or whatever the hell she said it was.''

I see the little dart weapon in his hand now. He walk up to me, breathe his candy-sweet breath in my face. He small, about my height. Dress in black suit, shirt, black half-tie. His face smooth, like white plastic. Look like cosmetic knife salon job - probably look like moon before. Real pale blue eyes, hardly any color at all, almost white, and the whites real clean like his face, too smooth, no little blood vessels at all.

Very thin lips, tight. Quarter-inch razor cut white hair stand on his head and thin, white-line moustache over those skinny lips. Cheek bones sunk like maybe he sample some of the goods himself in his napalm days.

''I don't like darkies, Leen, so I don't like you. Or your greaser girlfriend. But mostly I hate fucking Japans. Ruin our fucking country, make it though on all good businessmen, above or below the law. They fuck you every way and smile the whole goddamn time until finally you smile back and then they've got your ass. So I'll work with you * and you'll work for me. For the good of the people, eh?''

He grin. I don't get his meaning, but the drift, maybe. I know I'm insulted when I hear it, but seems like some back-ways compliment in there somewhere.

He walk over to the bed, pick up my cam. ''I watched your little home movie, Leen.'' He just stare, make me squirm.

''I should really beat your brains out with this toy, my eavesdropping friend. I could beat your brains out and I wouldn't feel a thing. Know that about me.''

I want to hit his face to shut him up, or just walk out, or make him say where Ria go, where he take her, but I can't, I know he the control here, and he has his crazy story yo tell so I listen. I only hope he not planning to waste me for some looney punchline.

''This recording could be very dangerous in the wrong hands.'' He hold up the cam and kinda shake it at me. ''How stupid are you?''

He maybe sound a little nervous. I wonder if I got him - don't feel like I got him. I think he got me.

''No one see it yet. You bring me Ria or the story go out big-time.'' I look him straight, try yo tough it, but he gurgle laugh again, the crazy paste-face.

''You think I care? Go ahead, show the world, what do I care? You think this can hurt me? At the worst it might represent a tiny inconvenience in an hour of questioning, a night in the chill at the outside.''

He walk up to my face again, now angry, crazy mood-shifter. ''Which I would not appreciate.''

He back off. ''I can kill you, I can let you live. I can kill your friend or not, as I please. The recording does not incriminate me. They broke into my crib, I wasn't even there. Police officers, and - '' he hold the cam up to his eyes, I don't think he actually turn it on ''- oh my, look, isn't that Aoki, the infamous database cracker from Daikko? What's he doing with these officers of the law? And what is that object they're handling? Isn't that, oh my, it is, a highly contraband Network Link, top security clearance levels only. This looks distinctly like illegal activity, wouldn't you say?''

He lower the cam, look at me sly. ''Didn't know it could be done, eh? This consumer junk is easily covered. The chip alignment-changes leave residual vibration in the casing. The tracer is no cheap toy, but hey - do I look cheap to you?

''You've done me a favor, Leen. If I'd thought of this,'' he say, waving the cam, '' I wouldn't have even had to kill them. I might've pulled in some good blackmail revenue.''

But then he say, ''No It's safer this way. They did their job and I paid them off. Very off.'' He laugh that loon laugh make me shiver. ''And AgCorp will more than cover what the bulldogs could have given me.'' Then he shake my hand like we just make some deal. His hand all dry like sand, make my stomach drop.

So I join up with Franklin, or so he say. We get taxi, leave Scumtown, but why I still feel like I got the scum on me? His story make no sense so I think maybe we get rich. He the one carry the weapon, though, so maybe just he get rich and me and Ria get dead.

Seems Aoki, the Japanese I thought Chinese, work for Daikko Corp, or for USA Government,Inc. No matter which, because Daikko in same multicorp as USA Government: AgCorp. Which you know is world biggest. They powerful, but not all-powerful, and Franklin figure maybe he can use my movie ''tactically,'' blackmail some Daikkos he know, some cops on the take, hold out threat of FBI exposure.

FBI one division of USA Gov. that AgCorp seem to have little control over. Not big players, but control certain physical means. Big inconvenience and embarrassment for Daikko their executives get questioned, locked up. Okay for guy like Franklin, he got slime-ball rep already, but for honor of Daikko very bad, bad against competition, and certainly hurt them in eyes of other shareholders in AgCorp. Bad for business.

That his strategy, really. ''A little pocket change,'' he call it - talk about crystal as ''big score,'' like he already got it. Make no sense. He tell me about how him and hitmen fight it out with Aoki and bulldogs, one bulldog make it, called Pit, and Pit work for Franklin now too. Sound like no choice for Pit, same as for me.

Only place worse than Scumtown is Dog-town, where all the Doggers live. Doggers savage assholes, hunt dog-packs for sport, eat them too. Rumor human meat get in the mix sometimes, don't surprise me. By time we get to Dogtown sun come up, so when we step out cab in industrial graveyard we got the shades, hats, sleeves, screen, the works on. I'm wonder if maybe that's why Franklin got the face-job - s what can happen you fuck with the UV. Supposed to be building some space patch up there rotate with the earth and block it out, but they say the hole ripping like a bad artery now and platform construction can't keep up. It seem hotter everyday, you ask me.

Pit paced the cement floor of the abandoned warehouse loft. Compulsively, he traced and retraced his steps from the freight elevator to the windows and back, glancing up once each cycle at Ria, who was handcuffed to a steel eye-hook embedded deep in a thick wooden support beam. He sweated continuously and his suspenders chaffed against his soaked shoulders. His wounded arm, in a sling, pressed up against his body and made it even hotter. In his shirtsleeves and black pants pulled high on his fat round belly by the suspenders, the just over five foot tall Pit looked to Ria like an unshaven Humpty-Dumpty. She couldn't help smiling.

''Quit grinning, bitch!'' Pit growled at her, and she frowned back. Real bitches howled on the street ten stories below.

''Fuckin' Dogtown,'' Pit muttered. ''God I hate this place.'' He cranked the volume on the narco-scanner to drown out the street noise. They'd put out an APB on him, after the Franklin crib mess. Guys he knew were calling in leads. They weren't making him out to be some missing person victim, either.

Except for the gun held ready at all times in his good hand, and the handcuffs on her wrist, nothing about Pit intimidated Ria. He was a typical bulldog, stupid, nervous, overweight, hiding behind his weapon and, usually, behind the rest of his pack. Alone, he was scared, she could see that. One on one, she could break him in half. Maybe even with him holding the gun, she thought, if I could seize the moment.

Ria had seen him put the radio key to the handcuffs in the inner pocket of the suit-coat that lay draped over the chair just out of her reach.

The chatter on the scanner cut out for a moment, and the dog howls and gunfire, dog yelps and men's voices and more gunfire, rose up to the loft again. The elevator started to ascend, the motor whirring loudly.

Pit jumped behind one of the fifty or so support beams that divided the loft into a grid. ''Keep your trap shut,'' he barked at Ria. ''One word and ...'' He waved the gun at her.

Elevator clang stop, jerk up a few more inches and and clang again. The heavy metal doors part and I see Ria, chain to big beam. She look tired, eyes sunk and shadow from bare incandescent hang beam over her. I want to run to her, but I hold. I look quick around the dark lo, try to adjust vision and track movement at the same time.

''Pit!'' snap Franklin: ''Get your ass out here,Pit!''

Franklin walk up to Ria, lift her wrist to check the cuffs, wink lews. A short fat guy - look real familiar - step out from the dark mass of pillars. This must be Pit. Now I remember him - one of the guys who trash Franklin's crib. As he walk up to Pit, I look at Ria and she signal with her eyes to a chair and must be Pit's jacket. I slide over and stand next to it.

''You're late,'' Pit say.

''No, my friend,'' Franklin say. '' Franklin say. ''It's you that is late.'' He gurgle.

''Why'd you bring him?'' Pit wave his gun at me. ''I thought you'd do him.''

''Pit,Pit,Pit. We still don't the card, remember? We kill him now and a lot of important people are going to see a replay of you and your friends, off duty, helping Daikko Corp expropriate a highly protected drive mechanism.''

Franklin go on. ''I've watched it,'' he say, ''and it doesn't look good. For you, for the rest of the bulldogs, for the country in general.'' He twist the blackmail tight on Pit.

''You don't care about the goddamn country,'' Pit say. ''You just care about money.''

''Let's not have the pot calling the kettle black,Pit.''

''What're you trying to do to me?'' Pit ask loud, but panicky.''

''Pit,Pit,Pit. Don't worry. I need your talents. Look, we'll get the Link back,''he say, ''and then ...'' He walk up to Pit and whisper in hi ear. Pit grin, look at me and Ria, nod and grin like some fool.

Ria mouth, 'Pocket, pocket,' to me and I slide into the chair and quick search the pockets of Pit's jacket. In the last pocket I palm out a flat plate with a tiny raised button in the center. As Franklin lean over to whisper to Pit, I press the button. Hear a little click behind. Pit and Franklin turn toward us, I glance over shoulder at Ria, she nod. The cuffs off her.

''Your prisoner is free,'' a Japanese accent voice echo from the stairwell door. Chinese-looking guy from Franklin's crib step forward. ''The quality of your protection is slipping,Franklin-san.''

Pit drop fast and fire but Japan-man already cartwheeling past Ria and me, we drop down behind a beam together. Japan-man strike Pit full-face with both legs extended. Second shot crackle useless from Pit's weapon as he hurtle back toward elevator. His head strike the wooden floor inside the cab and he roll to his back, moaning.

Japan-man pick up Pit's weapon, walk over to him semi-conscious on the floor, and melt his face off. Then he drop the weapon on Pit's gut, which has stop rise and fall.

''You were finished with him, correct?'' Japan-man ask Franklin.

''Right.'' Franklin look at Ria. ''He was through babysitting. You run it?''

''It's run.'' Japan-man hand something to Franklin.

''Very good,'' say Franklin, turn it over once in his hand. It sparkle blue. He toss it to me. The crystal.

''A present - the source of all this confusion. Quite useless now. Locked out by its own entry code once it was detected on line.'' He turn back to Japan. ''We are rich now, aren't we?''

''Much too rich, Franklin-san.''

''USA?''

''Forty-eight per cent, Franklin-san. All of the lan-bean futures.''

''You're a genius, Aoki-san.'' They both laugh like this some kind of delightful joke.

''Aoki,'' Franklin say to me and Ria, ''being too smart to be cracked via a mere entry tag, has succeeded in obtaining the credits and commodities I required to expand and diversify my enterprise. After a while, detecting the illegal and bogus transactions occurred, disassociated from the tag code, under cover of decoys, disguised and laundered.

''What you do with crystal now is your business. But I would't recommend linking-up. Though, hell, you might as well try it if you ever get out of here, which you won't. Does that make sense ?''

Franklin laugh gurgle and step over Pit's body into the freight elevator. Aoki follow him in.

''The link-up was done here, on the floor below,'' say Franklin. ''They'll trace it here in ,oh, I'd say - what do you think, Aoki? Ten minutes? They'll find the two of you, the crystal, and a dead bulldog. I expect they'll just shoot you on sight - information criminals and all. Best to cover these things up rather than air them out in the Network. Don't you agree?''

I still got the cards, ''I say, kinda weak though. ''They mail today.''

''Oh, yes your home movie, ''Franklin gurgle. ''I'd almost forgotten. Awful lot of trouble and embarrassment for the for the police and Daikko that'll be eh, Aoki? Enough, perhaps, to entice them to help us acquire, say, three per cent of USA, Inc. I'm sure they'll consider that a reasonable fee.''

Aoki and Franklin laugh together, and now I get why the two of them together seem so uncanny. Their laughs identical. Franklin move around behinf Aoki and reach into his collar. Something click and Aoki's head hinge back. Franklin pull up on it and it come off. He stand there's holding the while the Aoki's body walk into the elevator.

''Sixth generation,'' he say. ''I wonder if the real Aoki has a clean alibi for the night we staged our raid? I hope so, for Aoki's sake, because otherwise Saikko's not going to like what they see on your movie. They're not going to like it in any case.

''You do what you want with those cards,'' Franklin say, waving the handycam. ''I'll just make my own copies from the residual memory. Maybe I can generate some pocket change before yours go public. I've goy all day.''

The headless Aoki android start to push Pit's body out of the elevator, but Franklin stop him. ''No, let's bring him down. Put him outside for the dogs.'' He look at Ria and me, try yo scare us. ''Or for the Doggers.''

The elevator doors close, just catch an edge of Pit's shoe, then slam shut past it. The gears and pulleys engage loud and it whir down, leave me, Ria, the cancelled Link crystal, police radio, pair of handcuffs, a chair and Pit's jacket with cigarettes, matches, car and house keys and the handcuff radio key.

Nothing we can use and the staircase door electro-bolted by the Aoki. It don't even rattle. Ria try the radio key on it, but no go. Worth a try. Elevator hit bottom and we try call it back. Nothing. Sheer drop from windows, nothing to climb down by to next storey, no rope, nothing here. Loft cleaned-out. Start thinking about tie clothes together, but we lean out see no windows on nine or eight. No way can we drop down to seven with only a couple pairs of pants and such tied together. We stuck. We wait.

Minute maybe two after they hit bottom we hear the howls and soon they get loud, grow in number and we hear the feeding. Lean out we can see six eight dogs rip into Pit. Doggers follow soon we know.

''We gotta call them,''Ria say. ''It's our only chance.''

''You loon? They come up here waste us,'' I say. ''Use us for bait! You don't know Doggers - they only know meat.''

In the end she listen to me. We watch the dogs and first dog fall we hardly hear shot. Then shots ring and two more dogs fall, others scatter to the broken streets. Doggers, three, come out running, can't wait for meat. Start tying legs and such together to drag off three dead dogs. Ria get ready to call out but, like I say, in the end she believe me cause I point look, she look, and do something awful. He reach into Pit gut and raise stuff to his nose, maybe mouth, hard to tell from high up. Then he tie Pit legs and hands together like dog and drag him. We know then there's no point to call out. We slide back away from window, hope no one see us.

''You think that pewter really down there on floor below?'' Ria ask. ''Been fifteen minutes and no sign of info-narcs. And Franklin take Pit down there instead of leave him here as evidence like he say. What goes on?''

''Don't know,'' I say. Nothing else to say.

''There has to be a way to get down there,'' Ria say. ''We could climb down the elevator shaft.'' We try pulling elevator doors open, but no. We try chair as wedge, try call button at same time we pull, everything. Franklin kill it good.

Finally, we just lie down, try to stay warm up against elevator doors where hot air rise through shaft. Try cover with Pit's jacket, but it seem like death and we throw it off. No narcos come, so we sleep, I drift, wonder if Franklin just want to scare us, or if they come after all, any minute. Maybe they don't trace the Link ident code, maybe the crystal still good! Wonder again if that pewter really down there on nine but mostly wonder how we get out, and then how we get outta Dogtown. Maybe easier when it get dark - but maybe harder, don't know. Don't really know Dogtown.

Near sunset we see the way out, something we don't see in the dingy loft all day long. As sun get low it fall on west wall of building and outline seams in a little door hatch, up near ceiling level back in the corner. I boost Ria up and no lock on it she pop it right open, swing out. She hang on, look out and the fire escape there. Fire escape! Why we forget about that last night? Old buildings have them always and if there's none out the windows it gotta be somewhere else. We shoulda thought

Pass nine on the way down and look in the hatch there, see no pewter. I run in fast and look around. Ria want to just go on, almost go without me, but I gotta look. No pewter. Franklin bluff-ass liar, just scare us for sadistic pleasure. Shoulda guess it from a napalm pusher.

We get down and get outta Dogtown, which look about like Scumtown or even Hometown in the twilight, only a few more dogs wander and some uglier garbage, the kind you smell before you see it. Real horror of Dogtown those sounds the howls the fighting, snarling, seem to be down every alley. In a way I guess it not so different from Hometown, but it gotta be worse.

We talk about go back to the plex, but decide not yet, bulldogs probably wait fır us, lotta questions, too late for Jorge now anyway. they probably ship him to organ salvage or fry him. At least he not en up like Pit.

I figure let Ben mail the cards. So what. Most places ignore it, maybe one or two like the television ones make something of it. Heist of a Network Link nothing to sneeze at. I don't much care if Daikko and AgCorp look bad even if they not involved here, cause they had bad enough everywhere else. Figure not much point in try and tell the real story, me just some homeboy and Ria be Latista and all. Probably find a way to bust us we try and go public. No one but bad people in my movie, so let it play, anonymous.

Figure Mama know, if anybody, what this Link crystal can do so I decide to run by. Place to shack till the heat blow, too. Ria need to make the daily slave though. ''I might try that recycle mill out on the river. Put in ten to twelve and head back for Hometown. Should be clear enough by then.''

''A bad plant, that one,'' I tell her. ''Too old. They still doing toxics there. Right next to Dogtown, too.''

Ria laugh. ''Not afraid of Dogtown now. I've been there.'' Then she kiss me, what a deal. ''Don't worry, I'm careful. See you back at the plex.'' She had down steps to the subway. ''Check in on my girl if you get there before me,'' she call back, disappear into the tunnel.

Back in Hometown, I stand in P&M's crib, look out sooty window at the plex to the east, rising sun burn up behind it. Whole thing look on fire now, wouldn't surprise me. Mama look for long time at crystal, then finally say, ''This no ordinary Network hook-up, Leonard. Not what I thought on the pictures you shot. This what they call a Lattice Encoded Ordinance driver - factory set for one access, but deep. From what you say, this Franklin probably use it to enter the Commodities Elite market. You can buy anything grown, buried or lie on top of the earth there - black market, white market or gray. Make sense for a napalm pusher - that stuff much more pure you distill it from the lan-bean. The synthetic not so good, some reason. They don't have all the multi-alkaloidal interactions figure out yet.''

Mama lose me there. I got one smart Mama. She learn a lot in that processor warehouse. Keep her ears open. Papa, he grin.

''What I tell you, son? What I say about your stars?''

''You say Leo rising, I know. I still keep and eye you out.'' I wink at Papa good to keep him in humor.

''Maybe Papa right this time,'' Mama say, and that grab me. She usually at best tolerate Papa's mystic, with all her techno-think. ''Lattice Encoded Ordinance: L-E-O. And a rising fortune for you, soon. For all of us. Thing about a custom link like this - it can be reopen, even after the code is terminate, in listen-only mode.''

I just look blank, but Mama so excited, I know something good about to happen.

''Leonard, this a working Network Link. It still a Network Link. Might take me a while - I'll have to consult with a couple of old friends...'' she wink,''... but I think we can change it over. Can watch the world spin with this no doubt.''

Watch the world sound good to me, that basically my way. Mama gonna make this thing work, I believe she will. Won't buy us in to the system - you can go in but you can't touch anything, can't interact - but you watch, keep an eye on things. Watch the information flow by and bide your time. Maybe one day, maybe another chance, maybe learn where to look for a way past just a way in, a way to move things around or, like Ria say, seize the moment. That moment maybe roll across my screen someday, maybe not, but I got good shows, pictures to watch till then. You can't play, you might as well watch.

#darkfiction #ShortStory

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