Vynnie and Larsen walked briskly off the pedestrian walkway down to the gaudily lit bar. Many of the buildings they passed were boarded up. Those shops that were open supplied what the locals demanded - food, drink, sex and arms. The streets were quiet, most gang members were not out of their beds, and many others were busy jacking into some system or stimulation to while away the hours. This was the birthplace of many a skilled hacker. On the streets pitiful figures scurried from the barricaded blocks. Those with work, the people who filled the scummiest jobs up town, were already out. Those left behind stocked up on tasteless algae or plankton based foods and a few sniffs of synthetic alcohol. The pair walked cautiously, even though Larsen was facing down most of the small fry, dawn-call punks who haunted the doorways, just with a touch to the Desert Hawk at her hip.
“It’s got class, girl.” Vynnie laughed referring to the new gear Gwen had just picked up a few streets back to replace the threads she had dropped back in the Aztecs’ den. “You needed something jazzier than those brown fatigues. You look fine, loosen up.” Vynnie turned to her and straightened out the polished blue armour-lined leather, “Surely dark blue is dull enough for you.”
Gwen gave a brief smile and walked toward the doorway just ahead of them. Its doors slid apart taking them into the gloom and the staleness of a bar during daylight. Both dropped out the magazines from their guns and handed them over to the bulky guard by the door. The bar was filled with a mess of styles from decades past, crammed with ads for brands that had long past folded. It was well stocked though and the two staff looked eager to serve. Vynnie stepped up ahead of her comrade; she already knew what they needed and was keen to get on with business. Only a few heavy drinkers clung to the bar. She ordered a couple of green-brewed beers. Gwen was in no mood to argue, she leant her back onto the scuffed counter and scanned the room. Vynnie tossed a few notes over the bar. The prices in the D-Zone were low.
“We need some firepower too.”
Larsen mumbled as she took the proffered beer. She stared out of the grimy window at the black smoke billowing skyward a few streets away.
“No problems, we’ve got the ‘kews, we can get some hardware along with the info. If we’re up against the like of the last scene an SMG or two wouldn’t go amiss. Though you can take them on bare knuckle again if you fancy.” Vynnie blabbered, her wit was smoother than usual.
Larsen nodded. The thrill of the fight was still lingering in her bloodstream. After days of inactivity she had been fired by this job. Vynnie span on her stool and rested her back to the bar. “We’re in luck, hit the right spot: Stoak!” She said enthusiastically.
Vynnie nodded over to the man huddled in the corner poring over a beer and the previous night’s headlines. He was holding court and Larsen checked out the apparently innocuous drinkers around the room who formed his guard. The two women wandered over to sit on a couple of stools in front of his table. The man looked up mumbling something in his own language. This old Catalan was the best dealer this side of the zone; that was what had kept him alive, so far.
“Morning, ladies.” There was a burr to his voice.
“Yeah.” Vynnie replied, switching to a harder attitude. “We’re looking for a gang. The Chrome Scorpions to be exact, an all girl outfit.”
“Mmm, well.” He looked into Vynnie’s eyes and she imagined he could see that she wanted no chat about getting down to business quickly. “Well, I think you’re looking for one in particular.”
Vynnie nodded, “She’s dealing software, big league, and hangs with some rocker, male.”
Stoak mumbled something again. He checked a tattered black notebook, his stained fingers fumbled with the numerous scraps of paper that filled it. He nodded and grunted. The two women knew this was part of the show and played along. “There are a few who deal, Jax, Litor and Brill are hot on softs. For twenty I could tell you that you’re best off trying Brill, she hangs at ‘The Boomer’. I guess with the rocker, if not, she’ll know the other two’s haunts, they hang more to the North. Twenty, ladies, twenty.”
“’The Boomer’s’ on the end of Snow Hill, I’ve not been up there in years. Surprised it’s still running.” Vynnie chatted away as Gwen passed a couple of folded yellow tint notes under the table.
“Glad to be of service. Will there be anything else?” His voice parodied a street trader’s.
“Yep, we need some fireware: SMGs. Something handy, for a couple of black ‘kews. Have you got it?” Larsen spouted.
“Mmm, that’s better, I knew you wouldn’t come to me, just for a little blurb. Though no job ain’t too big or small for me.”
Stoak got up. His features sharpened as he nodded to a couple of men hanging by the door and bar. Vynnie and Larsen followed as he shuffled his way from the bar and then down the stairs to the car park below the building. The car park was lit by flickering neons and a couple of squat attendants were bundling a stoned junkie into the hulk of a car, Vynnie imagined, hoping to stash him away until the body bankers came. They straightened up their scummy hull suits as Stoak passed and nodded to him. He opened the doors of his office, a barely mobile black cab. He climber into the front and left the rear door open. The women knew the routine. Larsen glanced around. A couple of bulky thugs, no doubt in Stoak’s team, sat in a similar vehicle, across the car lane staring at the three of them with electronic eyes; laser=sighted carbines rested on the dashboard in front of them.
Vynnie stepped into the back of Stoak’s cab; Larsen followed. The doors locked down around them. Stoak was divided from them by thick glass. A couple of Beretta 16Ss came round on the revolving plate between the front and rear. Larsen took one.
“Reliable, accurate, 9 mil rounds but snug enough for your pocket. Four hundred the pair, two mags thrown in. A good deal for direct business.”
Larsen looked to Vynnie who nodded, not wanting to seem too keen.
“Three fifty and we’ll take them.” Gwen said, firing the empty mechanism a couple of times.
“Okay, three fifty now.”
Larsen wedged the notes on the tray and it span to leave the magazines on their side, the cash on his. The two women loaded and pocketed the guns. The doors flicked up and they stepped out. Stoak smiled as they walked to the exit.
“We’d better get to this Brill, and be at the head of the queue. Time to head cross town, we’ll fill in the lads when we know how it goes.” Vynnie said as they strode across the stained concrete. Larsen nodded her agreement.
“Hey, I got you at last.” The two looked up but it was only DeLadd hurrying down from the bar to find them. He waited for them to reach the bottom of the steps. “Where to now? Back to base?” The young man asked.
“No we’ve got info, across town, and legal this time, keep our heads down. No more torching vans.” Vynnie’s tone was cutting.
“Me?” DeLadd smiled as he followed them back up to the bar.
“Here they are.” Cydock said, straining to peer through the windscreen of Cane’s van.
In the back Cane was working on the brain fried. The case seemed hopeful: in the minutes they had been waiting for the pick up, they had got him to speak and say his name. Cane was sure that he would soon be back to normal. As for the corpse, that was different.
“I’ll guide them down, you two get this pair out.” Cane said as he jumped from the rear of the van.
“Sure thing, captain.” Cox said with sarcasm, he disliked Cane’s tone at times and the fact that this case was not running smoothly.
Cane did not hear him as he hurried across the area of derelict ground where they had cleared some of the debris to allow the vectored thrust craft to touch down. Cox and Cydock manhandled the body to the spot and his colleague followed on behind, clearly wrestling with what was happening. The aircraft was unmarked bar the standard ident codes, but it had the air of a corp vehicle. Cox gave no concern to who Cane was trading these two with. He just wanted to get them off his hands; to get back to finding a few more of the carts and stop the whole thing falling completely apart.
A handful of para-medics took their charges back into the aircraft. Another figure, a tall, well-built woman jumped down and hurried over to Cane. Cox saw him pass over the cartridge and get a package in return. He drew closer. Apart from the communicator on her head she was clothed in retro style. Her hair was pulled back from her face, her suit was dark pinstripe; her waistcoat and shirt, ornate. A monocle was in her eye and a gold watch sat in the pockets. Cox was sure that some neo-pepperbox pistol was concealed beneath. She looked a typical affected corp type, but that partly reassured him.
“... yes, Mr. Cane I appreciate what you have done given the tiresome difficulties. We will be watching your progress, but we are sure that you shall succeed. I have been told to warn you that a team has been hired to work against you. I urge utmost caution. I am sure you have the best people working for you and that they will be careful.”
The woman’s voice made Cox cringe, but the fact that another team had been put in the field was important news. The woman nodded to Cane and Cox then returned inside the aircraft. The two men stepped back to join Cydock as the jets powered up and the vehicle lifted up. It soon faded from sight amongst the other aerial traffic, the little there was over this sector.
“We need to hurry even more if another team’s on the case.” Cane said as the three of them walked back to the van. “I just hope Mouth and Trent and the others have come up with what we need.”
Cydock started the van and turned it back towards Cane’s base.