Night-Time Is Always the Worst: Ch. 3

Welcome back, patient reader.  By now you know the terms:  share it but don’t steal it, and so on, so I’ll keep it brief.  This is the third part of my collaboration with Luke Newman.  Enjoy!

Continued from Chapter 2

Kriever spat. There was little to be liked about uptown. Here in the gutters, at the edge of Tai-Town, the law of club and fang was strictly enforced. Up there, there were other factors, unknowns, deadly laws that shifted the balance. He wiped grease from his fingers as he crossed the police line again. At the top of the street he caught a late Prolebus going anywhere and shoved money into the operator’s alien hand.

“Hyperion Twenty, corner of O’Conner and Hammett!” he snarled. The blue-green head shook slowly as the operator pocketed the money anyway and held out his hand again. Kriever shoved the head with his sidearm.

“Hyperion Twenty, slugface, or be another bug on your windshield!” The yellow eyes blinked once. He got off in front of Hyperion Twenty.

The place was about as far from Feng’s as Kriever had been in a long time, without actually leaving the ground. Hyperion Twenty was an all-night joint, a towering inferno of good chrome and brass and bad neon, shot through with simply hideous stained glass for twenty stories above the street. Somewhere in there was a woman who could get him uptown. It was raining harder, but he kept his hat and coat. He might not come out at this door again.

He took the stairs two at a time to the third floor. Dice rattled in the smoky room. Harsh laughter came from the table in the back corner, where she waited. A cheap sidearm popped almost at his elbow, and a young-looking man fell on his back in front of Kriever’s feet. Blood spilled from the hole in his chest. The dice stopped rattling, and then the room roared with laughter – at the murder, apparently. As Kriever stepped over the body, it revived to say clearly “Could somebody get me a napkin? And a new shirt?”

“Who shot you: did you see that?” Kriever grappled a fistful of the victim’s shirtfront. Awake enough to talk, so let’s talk. Kriever didn’t want to stay in this place any longer than necessary.

“Who shot you? Answer me!”

“I did it myself,” said the suicide. “See, here’s the weapon,” and he held up a cheap electric man-stopper. “It could put a hole in a DT at point-blank, if you wanted it to.” He gestured to the crowd. “I’m a regular:  most of ’em see me do this all the time! No, no, I can get up.”

“Maybe after that, but after this?” Kriever relished the crunch of nose bones beneath his fist, but there was something off in the way they crumpled as the man fell back again. His eyes lit up red and then green, then went out altogether. Fleshene eyelids clicked down over the empty glass globes. Kriever got up and wiped his hands on his coat. “Dang toasters.” Dang wasn’t what he meant, but he was just old-fashioned enough to know there were ladies present.

“I didn’t like the way you treated Sam just now, Data,” she said when he reached her table. He spat into her glass.

“Don’t call me that. Sam was begging for it.” She was wearing something much too short, but Kriever was too busy to be impressed. “Put on a coat and take me uptown, doll,” he said, and coughed. There was too much smoke to think in here: was that the point of it?

She tossed the drink back anyway and rolled her dice without looking. The croupier poked her arm.

“Madam, you owe the table seven hundred ChinYen! Please!” A drunk across the table repeated the demand more rudely. She pushed half her chips at the croupier and ran a finger down the side of Kriever’s neck.

“So I’m to take you uptown, Data? To what do I owe this thrill-ride? Why does Mister Kriever of Waterfront Transport and Freight want to meet me here to go uptown?”

“I’m not with W. T. F. anymore, and I can’t tell you why, doll. Where’s your coat?”  The wrist-com hummed the second time that night.

“Kriever.” The first thing he heard was a loud snap, exactly like a bubble popping. Spiked pink hair and facial piercings lit up on his wrist as Bee lapped her gum back in. She smacked twice before she answered.

“D’ja see Feng’s yet?” the bored voice asked.

“Yeah, I saw it. So?”

“Captain says what goes down in TaiTown stays down in TaiTown, got it?” She tweaked a nose-stud idly.

“Got it, Bee,” Kriever said through his teeth. He masked the com-link with his hand as he moved behind the table to the back door. The woman with the too-short something crowded him behind. “Tell the Captain I fly my own ship, and if he meddles too far he misses his cut. Got that, Bee?”

“It’s Bay, as in Bay-yur-tree-chay!” Bee snipped back at him. He sneered for the camera and moved to close it. “And we got another call for ya’ if ya’ don’t wanna play safe like yer s’posed ta. Some Prole called in ’bout a missing kid, says DIS took ‘er fer no reason he knows of. Wants you on it, personal.” Kriever swore, ladies or not.

“Yes Bee. I’ll be right home, Bee.” Her eyes got wide and her bubble popped abruptly at his insolence, and he snapped the wrist-com shut.

“Wifey?” asked his companion.

“No use for ’em,” he said.

A voice in the smoke hollered “There goes the guy as socked Suicide! That’s him, the guy that hit Suicide Sam!” Kriever turned to see the press of the mob coming towards him. Some of them had got ahead of him, between him and the back door. The ladies’ room was on his left. She shoved him through the iris.

“What the he—” he bit it off. She secured the iris behind her. “We’re trapped in here!”

“The utility closet!” she said, pointing at the two doors at the back. He stalled and she pushed him toward the left-hand one. It opened into an elevator.

“What’s that doing here?” he had to ask.

“Don’t ask.”

“So what’s the other door?”

“The utility closet. This one goes to the penthouse levels.”

“I get it, I get it. We’re going uptown.” He took his coat off now and wrapped it around her bare shoulders. It was almost morning, and somewhere outside it was still raining.

To be continued…

Well, as the falling optimist said as he passed the tenth-floor window:  so far, so good!  Check in for more, next week!

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