I called it Blonde, Black and Blood Red.
It was on the 8th of February 2062 that I sent my alarm clock spinning with a blow at half past seven. I didn’t feel like anything, and certainly not like getting up.
It was icy cold outside and instead of the usual drizzle, it was hailing with stones as big as golf balls. It had been awful weather the last few days, and I hated awful weather when I had to go to work. I pulled the silk covers over my head and tried to remember what was so special about today. Suddenly my mood changed because I remembered that today it was exactly one month ago that my husband had died. I was going to celebrate!
I got out of bed and opened the heavy purple velvet curtains, to look outside.
The pelting sound of the hailstones reminded me of the sound of gunfire. A well-known sound to me, but it had been so long since I was last in a fight. Somewhere I missed the suspense of an attack, the adrenaline rushing through my veins when I pulled my trigger and had to dodge the enemy’s bullets. Nowadays, I only had my gun with me because I felt naked without it, but it was as if I hadn’t used it for years.
Long ago I used to work as an electrician, repairing door locks, home security systems, professional processing computers, that kind of thing. But it was a boring and badly paid job. There had to be an easier way to make money.
That’s when I met with some people who had the exact same thought, although none of us remembers what it was exactly that had brought us together. We formed an assault team, guns for hire, private investigators, whatever you want to call it.
There were five of us: I always liked to take care of the diplomatic part of the job, especially because most of our negotiations had to be done with men, and with my charm I could easily manipulate them. I was the one who collected information, and of course, I always had to get rid of alarm systems and nasty locks. So you could say I was pretty indispensable.
Then there was Butch, an army veteran specialised in grenades and explosives, who later on became the proud owner of a beautiful helicopter. Vehicles were his passion, and he spent most his time trying to learn how to drive, fly or control them. His other passion was combat, I think he knew all kinds of martial arts, especially because of his Japanese origins. He was also very competent with large firearms and, in all was a very impressive man; if you looked at him, you’d wonder whether he’d done some sumo-wrestling too.
Hathor was what you might call his best friend. I never liked him much; he could be so irritatingly ignorant and arrogant, and he’d probably say the same things about me. He was only a simple vehicle mechanic, and despite of his small size he was an admirable fast gunner. Too bad he had that attitude and that big mouth. I respected him though, he clearly had something I had not, but I’ll come back to that later.
Our third man was Roury McFarn, officially a surgeon in an emergency room, but he turned out to be an excellent combat medic as well. Most of the time we’d call him Doc, because we had too much trouble pronouncing his name. He had his own ambulance, which we usually used as getaway car, because the siren would get us through even the heaviest traffic. The only bad things about him were his three favourite hobbies: chain smoking, flirting with anything that looks like a female, and last but certainly not least drinking, heavy drinking.
Finally there was Thermo Diazz, who used to be the bodyguard of a famous film star, until the film star died, of course. Living under constant pressure had turned Thermo slightly paranoid, and we soon found out that he was suffering from demophobia. But that didn’t stop him from being the most skilled gunman in our team, he was even faster than me, and almost just as stealthy. But the only real reason why he was better than me in every way, was because of my fragile, female build.
We were not exactly professional, and therefore made a lot of mistakes. Our actions usually got all over the news, which in underground business is not a good thing, and logically that did not make us very popular.
On top of that none of us ever seemed to agree about anything, and we spent most of our time quarrelling amongst ourselves.
Nevertheless, at a certain point in our career we “accidentally” got involved in a gang war. We got in over our heads, and soon sank down to the deepest bottom of the underworld, where we found out about the greatest secret on earth.
The government had kept it safely tugged away for decades, and I’m sure that if it were ever to become public, everyone would go insane.
I’m obviously not supposed to write anything about this, but I’m going to anyway:
Spells, enchantments, curses, fairies, dragons and undead, it’s all real.
They’re here, among us, wizards, witches, demons and leprechauns, for all I know they might be living next door.
The government keeps track of them and the way they live in special, classified files, and the common people don’t suspect a thing.
I was pretty frightened when we found out about it, and I knew that now there was no turning back to the quiet, ignorant life we had led before.
Hathor was fascinated and started to study it, soon developing an enormous magical skill. Doc and Butch took it all quite well; only Thermo couldn’t cope with it. Realising the truth, the threats the magic posed on top of all the things in his paranoid imagination, would probably drive him mad, that’s why he blocked everything out and always came with semi-rational explanations for all the supernatural things that crossed our path.
Unfortunately, but quite understandably if you look at the way we worked together, we soon broke up and went our own ways.
That had been about two years ago now, and since then I had worked alone for a while, quite successfully I might add; those were times of unexplained burglaries, with no signs of forced entry, no witnesses, only something very valuable that was missing. Those were the days, I was happy then. But I got a taste for a luxurious lifestyle and soon found that I needed a higher income. So I got married. A few months after that, my husband had an “unfortunate” accident, and from then on things had been very quiet. Too quiet.
I sighed, thinking of those memories of such excitement. I shook my head and got dressed. I stared at the white walls in my kitchen, at the glass cabinet full of china, and at the vase of Irises on the table while I ate my breakfast and went through the mail.
Some bills that gave me the urge to rip paper, an advertising letter for some kind of sophisticated alarm system. (as if I couldn’t make that myself!)
Some more unimportant paperwork and a letter addressed to S. A. Lenòn.
Okay, that had been my name, but everyone called me Saph since I had been married to that “lovely, charming” man, Winston Sapphire. Except for…
I quickly opened the letter:
Dear beautiful Saris
Long time no see, sorry about that, missed you much, got a job for you.
Come to French Lunchroom at 10:00 hours, February 9th.
“Your Johnnie” Mr. Johnson, Ores Industries.
Apparently Johnnie, one of my old lovers, had found me again. I thought I had got rid of him when I married that big money bag; I guess I was wrong.
Now what would he want from me after all this time?
It said he had a job for me, now that wasn’t unusual for Johnnie, I had worked for him before. But he never could separate his business from his private life, all that “dear beautiful” and “missed you much” said enough to me.
I didn’t feel like getting personally involved with him again, but the job might be interesting, so I decided to go anyway. Tomorrow, ten o’clock.
The telephone rang. I picked up: ‘Saris Sapphire.’
‘Hi Saph, Paolo here. You ordered wine? It just arrived.’
‘Thanks, honey, I’ll come and pick it up around noon.’
Good old Paolo, the only one I knew in the whole city who sold my favourite wine, Clarette de Die. I had no idea where he got it from, but it was good.
While looking outside I noticed that the hail had turned into rain. Hard rain, but at least better than those big hail stones. I put on my raincoat and got on my Harley Scorpion.
I had never liked cars, don’t know why, maybe because they were too big to manoeuvre properly when you’re being chased.
This morning I had to go to another district where most of the fuses had been burnt out by the thunderstorm last night. I had to help with repairs and other things. Not exactly an exciting job, but that was just the way I officially earned my living.
After a few hours of tinkering with fuse boxes and electricity wires, I went to Paolo’s shop. I arrived there at eleven thirty and it was still raining. Paolo let me in.
The dark skin on his bald head was slightly wet, because he had been bringing boxes from a lorry into his shop. His dark eyes seemed to shine in the pale lamp light.
‘Glad you could make it.’ he said. ‘Bad weather, don’t you think?’ His grey overall was just a little too tight and it looked like he was going to burst out of it with every breath he took. He walked over to the back of the shop and motioned me to follow him. In his back room there were large heaps of liquor boxes and some distilling machines. He handed me my box of wine and came outside with me to put it on my bike. He started complaining about the weather again, when suddenly there was a big bang coming from the shop.
We rushed inside and saw that there was smoke coming from one of the distilling machines. Paolo grabbed the fire extinguisher, while I saw something red slipping away through the back door.
I pulled out my gun (glad to finally hold it in my hand again) and rushed after it. I followed it through the alley behind the shop and saw it was a young woman, with red hair and a long, dark red overcoat. I fired at her, but missed. She rushed into the street and by the time I had reached the corner, she had jumped into a red sports car and raced off. I fired at the car, but that didn’t help. I did see the number though: RED-XXX-643.
I went back to Paolo’s. The smoke was gone and there was no real damage.
‘Who was that?’ Paolo asked.
‘A red-headed lady, a friend of yours?’
‘I don’t know any red ladies. Only dark ones.’ he mumbled. ‘And as far as I know I haven’t got any enemies either, at the moment.’
Then I noticed a note on the floor. It said:
“Saris Lenòn, meet me tonight in the Moonlight Bar, or worse things will happen.”
I showed it to him. ‘I think she wants trouble, don’t you?’
‘Are you going to meet her?!’ When I nodded, he said. ‘Just be careful.’
‘I’m a big girl, honey.’ I said and got on my bike again.
I found it a bit strange that everyone seemed to be using my old name, but on second thought, I did get that new name from a horrible guy, so I didn’t mind.
I decided to visit an old friend of mine; a man called Giovanni DiSilva. He was always in on everything that was going on in town as long as it wasn’t legal. If anybody could tell me more about that red-haired lady, it would be him.
I arrived at his house at noon. It was an old, dilapidated house in a long avenue and there were some junkies lying at the porch, sheltering for the rain. One of them got up and followed me as I went inside. Through the hall on my way up to the stairs where Gio’s apartment was, I walked faster to try and loose him, but he just staggered after me at the same speed. I ran into Gio’s office and wanted to smash the door behind me, so that he might fall down the stairs, but Gio said:
‘Let him in, Saris. All he wants is another rush.’
Gio jumped off his desk (on which he always sat, so that he could look his guests straight in the eye) and handed the junkie some pills. His eyes twinkled as the junkie paid him and he snatched the money away to count it with his little fat fingers. The junkie swallowed all of the pills at once.
‘I don’t understand why you still do that, Gio.’ I looked at the four foot tall, fat man, with his uncombed, greasy, dark hair, with a disapproving look on my face.
‘I always like to give people what they want, don’t you remember?.’ He said, while climbing on his desk again. The junkie leaned against the wall in a corner of the office, completely spaced out. Gio turned his face, with his flat, pig’s nose to me.
‘It was a long time ago, but I gave you what you wanted then, didn’t I, Dolce?’
‘How could I forget?’ I sighed and tried not to think of that night.
His eyes sparkled and he grinned. ‘Have you come for some more?’
‘Actually I just want some information.’ I answered coldly.
‘That will cost you.’ he replied. ‘100 nuyen.’
‘It’s just something small, honey.’ (I always called everybody honey, especially in cases like this) ‘Hardly important, I’m sure that you don’t have to…’
‘100 nuyen and not a cent less.’ He crossed his arms.
‘I don’t need to pay you anything.’ I whispered threateningly and reached for my gun. But before I had touched it, I heard a soft “click” behind me. The junkie, who could suddenly think clear, had stood up straight and he was holding a gun against my head.
‘You wouldn’t try to shoot me, would you now?’ Gio grinned.
Slowly I put my hands up into the air, where he could see them. I got nervous and started to sweat. Gio laughed; a grunt-like laughter, just like a squealer.
‘I had almost forgotten how much I love to see you sweat.’
He made a gesture and the junkie put his gun away.
‘What do you want to know, Saris? It’s free.’
I blinked for a moment, but then I realised that he meant it. I told him about what had just happened at Paolo’s and asked about the red-haired lady.
‘There are lots of ladies in this city.’ Gio said.
‘All of them in a red sportscar with the number RED-XXX-643?’
‘You’re wonderful, I’ll just look her up for you.’ He plugged his datajack into his computer and his eyes turned away, searching for the right file. I waited patiently until he was done and looked around the office. Besides the large, metal desk with the computer on it, there was also a desk chair which wasn’t used very frequently and a metal filer cabinet. Apart from that, the room was empty, a bit dark, and hadn’t been cleaned in a long while. It seemed logical to me; Gio was used to changing his address frequently, and like this, he didn’t have to move around a lot of furniture.
‘I’ve found her. Guess what her name is.’ Gio pointed at the file on his screen.
‘Red. Not just anybody, kind of a loner, a bit like you I guess. She has a regular employer though, but I don’t know much about him. He doesn’t like that, if you know what I mean.’ He scratched himself behind the ear.
‘I just don’t get it. What would she want with you?’
‘That’s what I came here to ask.’ I answered.
‘Well let’s see.’ He scanned the file. ‘She has been bothering some other people as well, lately. Small attacks, nothing lethal, not at all her style, she usually doesn’t leave any witnesses. I guess her employer told her to do this, but I don’t want to get involved with him. He’s what you‘d call a creep. You know, black magic and stuff.’
I swallowed. ‘What do you think they want?’
‘As I said, I don’t want to know. But it might have something to do with your reputation. Maybe he wants you to work for him.’
‘I don’t work for creeps.’
‘That’s why he’s putting the pressure on you, I guess.’
He didn’t have anything else that could really help me, only the location of the Moonlight Bar. It was somewhere in a shady district, near the industrial sites.
I thanked him and went home to prepare myself for my little visit tonight.
What would I need? I went into my office and opened a closet to inspect my weapons supply, which had become a bit dusty over time. I had an old Magnum .45 that I had had custom made for me, with a built-in silencer. My other gun was a sniper rifle; a Barret .121, my favourite, which was also silenced, because I always hated to attract attention, especially when there are heavily armed guards around. I also had a stealth body armour, which masked my body heat and made me virtually invisible in darkness or dim light (and which had cost me quite a fortune), but I only used that for real assaults. I decided that tonight I would just need my magnum. Although…
I reached out for my toolbox and grabbed my laser cutter; a handy tool, very useful for all kinds of things.
I spent the rest of the afternoon repairing a computer and doing some other technical work. Around eight o’clock in the evening I got on my bike again and went to the Moonlight Bar. It was very crowded in front of the bar, there was hardly any space for me to park. There were a lot of cars and motorcycles but no red sportscar. There was an ambulance there, strangely enough, but that didn’t really interest me.
Inside it was even more crowded and also warm and smoky. Loud heavy metal music came from all corners of the bar, and the only lighting consisted of a single red lamp on every table and a few above the bar. I found an empty bar stool and sat down. I saw a lot of bikers who I didn’t want anything to do with, some cheap whores and some real unshaven night types. I decided that this was not my kind of bar; the music was good, the crowd was bad. And there was no red-haired lady either. I was starting to wonder why I was here and what she wanted.
I looked around again.
On the stool next to mine there was a white doctor’s coat with a little nametag on it. I bent over so I could read it: R. McFarn, Surgeon.
From the men’s room came the owner of the coat: a slender man with dark, careless hair, smoking a cigarette. He was just in his thirties, but already his hair was growing thin. He carelessly wore only the dark trousers of a suit and a white shirt with its collar open and red lipstick smudges on it. Although he hadn’t shaved for at least two days, he had a very charming, almost handsome face with light blue eyes and a very pleasant smile.
I hadn’t expected to see him here (although I should have, because he always did like to go for a drink) but he would only distract me from finding Red.
When he noticed me, he hugged me and sat down beside me.
‘Saris! You look more beautiful every time we meet.’ He smiled. ‘What a coincidence. It must have been a long time since I last saw you.’
‘About two years.’ I mumbled and looked around the bar again.
He looked at me. ‘You’re not very glad to see me.’
‘Sorry, I’ve got other things on my mind.’ I said. ‘I’m looking for someone.’
‘Oh, right.’ We both looked around, but there was still no sign of Red.
I gave up. ‘Get us a drink, I’ve got something to celebrate.’
Doc smiled. ‘A Bloody Mary for the lady, please.’
‘No, I don’t drink that stuff anymore.’ I said. ‘A martini, straight up, and... you want a scotch on the rocks, right?.’
‘You changed your style?’ he asked me. ‘And what’s the special occasion?’
I grinned. ‘My husband died a month ago.’
Doc stared at me. ‘You were married? And you’re celebrating that he’s dead?’
‘Why not? He was a rich bastard, but still not exactly my type.’
‘You never had a heart, did you Saris?’ He raised his glass. ‘Cheers. To your rich bastard.’ And then he mumbled: ‘Can’t believe I’m celebrating someone’s death.’
He emptied his glass in one gulp and quickly ordered a new one.
‘I have a heart.’ I looked at him. ‘Why do you say I don’t?’
He shook his head. ‘We’re old friends, Saris, but I’ve never seen your soft side.’
I laughed. ‘Don’t you worry about that.’
We started talking about the good old days, for about half an hour.
‘Yes, we had lots of fun together.’ I smiled.
Doc put his glass down. ‘I remember you being very angry with me as well.’
‘You do?’ I asked. ‘When was that?’
‘I had taken you with us in the helicopter, with your fear of heights.’
‘Oh yes…’ I looked at my glass. ‘I still don’t really like heights.’
‘I’m sure it’s not as bad as it was.’ He looked at me. ‘Is it?’
‘Are you kidding?’ I replied. ‘This bar stool is already too high for me.’
We laughed again, until we found out that our glasses were empty.
‘Barkeeper, the same again, please.’ Doc said.
‘And a beer.’ I suddenly remembered.
Doc looked at me, surprised. ‘Beer? You don’t drink beer, do you?’
No, I had never liked beer, but then why had I ordered it?
‘For me!!’ Behind us stood a small, wiry, scruffy looking young guy. He was wearing a dirty overall and there were some motor oil stains on his hands and even some in his scruffy, blond beard. He was wearing a baseball cap backwards on his head and he smirked at me as he had always done.
‘Hathor?’ Doc stared at him.
‘The one and only.’ Hathor said proudly. ‘Cool trick, huh?’
I muttered something, I had never liked magic. And I had never liked Hathor either.
‘So? Where’s my beer?’ He sat down with us. The barkeeper poured it out and we raised our glasses and drank. I put down my glass and started thinking.
‘This can’t be a coincidence.’ I said.
‘Whaddaya mean?’ Hathor put his glass down too. Now there was not only motor oil in his beard, but some beer froth as well.
‘She means that it can’t be a coincidence that we meet each other here two years after we broke up our team.’ Doc explained.
‘Oh, right.’ Hathor nodded. ‘So why are you guys here? Eh… I mean, why are you here, Saris? I know Doc’s here for the booze.’
‘Thank you for the compliment, but no.’ Doc replied. ‘I’m looking for a lady…’
‘Jeez, tell us somethin’ new.’ Hathor mumbled.
Doc took no notice of him. ‘…who has been bothering me for the past few days. I’m supposed to meet her here and put an end to that.’
‘Funny.’ Hathor said. ‘I’m lookin’ for a chick here too. Yesterday I had to repair her car, but there was nothin’ wrong with it and then she left a note in my toolbox, so I guess she wants to go out with me. I’m irresistible!’
‘Honeys, hold on a second.’ I interrupted. ‘Did she have red hair?’
‘Yes, she did.’ Doc replied. ‘She was quite a looker too.’
‘And a red Ferrari, she had.’ said Hathor.
‘This ìs no coincidence!!’ I said. ‘Someone is trying to get us back together!’
Doc looked at me. ‘Do you think so?’
‘But then the others…’ We all looked around the bar.
‘Look over there!’ Hathor pointed to a stout, muscled man who was standing outside in the drizzle, the pale skin of his jagged face dripping wet. He was wearing a long raincoat and he was carrying a rifle. His grey hair was combed backwards with so much grease that it was almost water repellent. Standing under a streetlight he was just a jagged grey silhouette. The reason why he was still standing outside in the rain was probably his demophobia.
‘That looks like…’ Doc hastily grabbed his coat and we all ran outside.
‘Thermo!!’ I called out. ‘Thermo Diazz!!’
The man was surprised. ‘Saris, Doc, Hathor, what are you doing here?’
‘Not important.’ Doc said. ‘Are you looking for a redheaded lady?’
‘Yes. How do you know? What’s going on?’
I looked around. ‘The only one missing now is…’
‘I don’t see him anywhere.’ Hathor said.
Thermo frowned his thin eyebrows. ‘Are you talking about…’
His question was interrupted by the sound of a helicopter landing in the middle of the road. We were nearly blown away by the wind it created, and there was so much noise I could hardly hear myself think. The door opened and Red jumped out.
She pointed a full-automatic .22 at us and yelled: ‘Get in!!’
‘That’s Butch’s chopper.’ Hathor said. ‘The whole group’s here.’
‘By the way…’ Thermo was losing his temper. ‘What the hell is going on?!!’
‘Gimme your weapons and get in!!’ Red yelled and she fired at the ground near our feet. Slowly we threw our guns over to her and put our hands in the air, walking towards the helicopter.
‘Don’t you know a trick for this?’ I whispered to Hathor.
He looked at her and she looked brashly back at him.
‘If you try anything, shorty, I’ll blow your tiny brains out!’
Hathor swallowed, smiled at her and walked on obediently.
I walked very slowly; that helicopter was going to lift off in a moment, high up into the sky, hundreds of feet above the ground. I shivered.
‘Move!!’ Red put her gun against my back. I tried to figure out what would be worse: having to fly or having several holes shot in my body. I just couldn’t decide.
‘Come on, Saris, don’t make a fuss.’ Thermo dragged me roughly inside. I got frightened and grabbed hold of the first thing I could get my hands on. It was Doc. He tried to calm me down during the flight and he didn’t do such a bad job; I didn’t even become hysterical. Still, I don’t remember much of it.
After we had been standing on the ground again for quite a while and everyone had left, I finally began to feel a bit better. Butch came back to see how I was doing.
He was seven feet tall, a bit chubby, very muscly and the long Dai-Katana he carried made him even more impressive. His long, brown hair hung in a ponytail over his massive, tattooed shoulder. He had a rough face, ragged with many scars, but he had friendly little eyes.
‘Still don’t really like my flying?’ he smiled.
‘I don’t like any kind of flying.’ I got up. ‘Can you tell me where we are?’
‘Duke’s house.’ Butch replied. ‘Wants to talk to us.’
‘Who’s Duke?’ I looked outside and saw that we had landed on the roof of a penthouse. Butch took me inside to the living room where the others were.
Red was standing near a door, her gun was no longer pointed at us, because it didn’t seem necessary; our weapons were lying in a corner.
Thermo and Doc were sitting on a leather couch, which was black, just like most of the furniture in the room. It seemed to be someone’s living room, and that someone had an awful taste for macabre things and black; it was dark, decadent and a bit dusty too. There was also a strange smell lingering in the room, an old, musty smell, with something spicy to it. Probably a combination of magical ingredients and someone with a strong body odour.
Doc lit a cigarette and I looked curiously around the room. There was a large, black wooden closet with dead golden handles shaped like skulls, a bookcase, also made of dark-coloured wood, probably ebony, and a dark cabinet with three drawers. On top of the cabinet stood a set of cognac glasses, a glass carafe with cognac and a photograph of a young woman. She had long, blond curls, a pair of twinkling blue eyes, nice rosy cheeks and bore a remarkable resemblance to me. On the bottom were two words written in an elegant female handwriting: “Love, Caroline.”
Then I was startled by Hathor, who said: ‘There’s someone else here.’
Red smiled. ‘Mize, you can come out now.’
An annoyed voice emanated from somewhere in the room. ‘My name is not Mize!’
I sat down on the armrest of the couch. This could be interesting.
‘Sorry.’ She sighed without meaning it. ‘Everyone, this is my associate Mizander.’
She pointed to an empty spot in the room, where there was suddenly a puff of smoke, a flash of light and then a handsome, tall man. His dark blond hair was uncombed, looking a bit unkempt and he was wearing a brown suit with no tie. He had something charming and graceful about him and his bright blue eyes seemed to sparkle as he spread his arms and said: ‘Tadaa!!’
Butch picked his nose, Doc yawned and Thermo mumbled something about an old magician’s trick. Hathor, on the other hand, got very excited and ran over to him to ask how it was done. I closed my eyes and shook my head. How pathetic.
‘Show off.’ Red muttered.
‘Playing again, Mizander?’ The door had opened and a man in a sophisticated dark suit came in. Mizander looked offended. The man smiled at him, but it seemed a bit patronising. He had long, dark hair, smoothly combed back, a strangely pale skin and mysterious, fierce eyes. He had a very low voice and there was something frightening about him, although I couldn’t say what it was.
‘I am Duke.’ He said. ‘Red and Mizander work for me, Butch has joined them recently, and now I want you people to do the same.’
I didn’t like his word “people”; the way he said it made it sound condescending.
Thermo crossed his arms. ‘Who says we want to work for you?’
Duke stood right in front of him and threw a piercing look on him. ‘I do.’
Thermo swallowed and started to sweat. Duke kept on staring at him until he started to tremble slightly as well. That was mean, especially to Thermo.
Duke suddenly turned to me. ‘Is it?’ said his voice inside my head.
I got very nervous. Yes it is, I thought. And to me as well.
He stared at me and grinned slightly. ‘Oh really? Do I scare you?’
His voice echoed through my head. I swallowed and tried to move backwards, which made me fall of the armrest. Mizander helped me up and looked at him angrily.
Duke looked at me for a moment, then glanced at the photograph on the cabinet.
I guess he had noticed the resemblance too.
‘What is your name, girl?’ He asked me.
‘S… Saris Lenòn.’ My voice trembled and I didn’t even notice that I said my old name until after I had said it.
Duke looked at Mizander, who shook his head. I had a feeling they were having a conversation, without talking. I stared at them, slowly moving backwards.
‘Me neither.’ Hathor suddenly said. ‘Now will ya talk normally and tell us whatcha want?’ Duke scowled at him. Hathor smirked back.
Duke sighed. ‘As I said: I have a job for you.’
‘I was wondering…’ Doc said. ‘Why us? We’ve been apart for over two years. Why go to all that trouble to bring us back together?’
He slowly walked over to Doc. ‘I have my own reasons for that and I do not feel the need to discuss them with you.’
Mizander made a sound. Duke looked at him and again they seemed to discuss something without speaking.
I moved closer to Butch, because I was starting to find this very scary.
Duke nodded and turned back to us. ‘Let’s just say: if you don’t do this job for me, you will get in serious trouble.’ He looked around. ‘Well?’
‘Does it pay anything?’ Doc replied.
’2,000 nuyen each.’ Duke said.
‘I see no reason not to do it.’ Thermo smiled. ‘What is the job exactly?’
Duke smiled. ‘You will break in somewhere, make sure some people get hurt, and accidentally damage some of the equipment. I am certain you know what I mean.’
Hathor started laughing, he loved trashing other people’s stuff.
‘Would it be a problem if we were noticed?’ Doc asked.
Noticed, now that’s an understatement. We always made a lot of trouble when we broke in somewhere; it would be impossible to miss us.
‘If it is necessary, it won’t be a problem.’ Duke answered.
It wasn’t exactly necessary, but more like unavoidable.
‘What about the police?’ I was of course the only one thinking of the consequences.
‘That is taken care of.’ We looked at each other and reached a decision.
‘Deal!’ Thermo rubbed his hands together. ‘Where is it and when?’
‘Philips Research Labs, tomorrow night.’ Duke replied. ‘You are expected here tomorrow at six o’clock for further instructions.’
Yeah, right! As if I was coming! I had never worked for creeps and I wasn’t planning to start doing that now. Then I noticed Duke looking at me.
He smiled, wished us all a good evening and went back into the other room. Doc, Thermo and Butch started talking to each other about the good old days, Hathor went over to Mizander to ask how the trick with the smoke and the light flash was done and Red came to talk to me.
‘Sorry about that.’ She said. ‘I didn’t know you were so afraid of heights.’
I smiled. ‘You couldn’t have known, could you?’
We looked at each other. I saw that her hair was only reddish and her face was smooth, round and slightly freckled. She was pretty but rather muscled, she looked very strong. She had green eyes, which looked a lot friendlier than I first had expected. She turned away.
I said: ‘You know, that Duke is a real creep!’
‘You shouldn’t think that too loudly.’ She warned me.
I laughed. ‘He knows that I’m afraid of him. And anyway, all magic users are creeps to me.’
She looked surprised and pointed to Hathor and Mizander.
‘Except for weirdo’s like that.’ I laughed.
‘I heard that!’ Hathor said angrily.
Mizander grinned. ‘It’s getting late.’ He said. ‘We should be going home.’
We went down to the ground floor (I didn’t feel like flying again anyway) where Red’s Ferrari, Butch’s bike and a strange looking vehicle with six wheels belonging to Mizander were parked.
Doc, Hathor and Thermo called for a taxi and I called my bike’s autopilot to get over here on the double. The cab left with Hathor hanging out of the window shouting: ‘G’bye, see ya tomorrow!’
Mizander shook his head. ‘He’s a strange little fellow.’ He got into his car and drove off. Butch tapped me on the shoulder. ‘Can I ask a favour?’
‘Of course you can, honey. What is it?’
‘Got some debts to pay off, and eh…’
I reached for my cashcard. ‘How much do you want?’
‘No, don’t want no money! eh… just need a place to sleep.’
I gaped at him. ‘What?’
He looked at his feet. ‘Been sleeping in the chopper for some time now… expect to be able to pay off in two weeks. Was just a little loan, you know, pricey cyberware… Then some repairs on the chopper after small accident. And compensation for the guy who owned the house I landed on…’
Butch hadn’t changed, he still couldn’t hold on to his money.
Then I asked: ‘Can’t you sleep with any of the guys?’
He smiled. ‘Figured you’d be the only one who wouldn’t have a landlord complaining about you taking people home with you.’
‘Alright.’ I said. ‘But don’t get all over me.’
He looked at me. ‘You're not my type.’
‘I’m just warning you.’
‘All men are the same.’
‘Shut up already.’
And we set off for my place together.