About Bone Wires
In the wasteland of commercial culture that is future America, police are operated not by government but by private companies. In Seattle, that role is filled by Civil Protection, and Daniel Gray is a detective in Homicide Solutions. What used to be considered an important – even glamorous – department for public police is very different for the corporate species, and Gray finds himself stuck in a dead end job.
That is, until the Spine Thief arrives.
Bone Wires is a dark, brooding cyberpunk noir set in the same dystopian universe as the full-length novel, Shadow of a Dead Star, and is serialized and published right here at Curiosity Quills, every Thursday.
“So I heard that your vic was a nutter.”
Gray looked up from his terminal. Carter looked down at him from atop the rim of his cubicle, grinning. “That’s how it appears,” he replied, fingers working the keyboard as if on automatic.
“Appears?” Carter chuckled. “If a man uses kitchen scrub when he’s got a perfectly good water shower on hand, he’s got problems.” There was a big CivPro coffee mug in his hand, which swung back and forth over the edge of the cubicle as he talked. A few drops of coffee splashed on Gray’s clean desk.
“…yeah.” Gray frowned briefly at the errant spots of brown before turning his attention back to his report. “Did you get the Anderson thing sorted out with the press?”
Carter nodded. “That I did. Mind you, it’s not as if it was easy to do – it took forever to get them chewing that thing as a gang killing; now that another murder’s come up they’ll be on that and the whole company involvement forgotten. So good for you.” He took a drink of his coffee. “The investigation’s still going to proceed, of course.”
Gray looked up, his fingers pausing over the terminal keys. “Is it?”
“Well, sort of.” Carter smiled, that ridiculous smile he usually had when he was attempting charm – like a dog’s, eager and pleasant. “I mean, we still need to figure out who killed him if we can, right? This fellow of yours might have done it, but if he just boned the vic post-mortem like the report indicates then there’s still someone out there that’s responsible.”
“Ah.” Gray didn’t like the sound of that. It usually meant he was getting pegged for a lack of seniority, which meant the case wouldn’t be his own.
Carter seemed to read that in Gray’s face, because he immediately shook his head. “Now don’t get the wrong idea from me, Dan. I’m not trying to take your case from you – I’ll be digging around on my own, but it won’t be about your maniac there. I’m still pursuing a gang angle.”
Gray relaxed a bit at that; he leaned back in his chair and looked up at his fellow detective, his hands lacing across his stomach. “All right,” he said, nodding. “Do you need anything from me?”
“Need?” Carter shook his head again. “No, nothing right away – although if you come across anything else concerning Anderson you can send it my way.” He shrugged. “And of course if it turns out that your boy did him in as well, I’ll see to it that you get whatever information I’ve collected.”
This was a pleasant surprise for Gray, who had become long accustomed to having rank pulled on him. This deference, was it an indicator that he might be on the rise? As a junior detective, he had been treated more like a newly graduated student than a professional – but this, this was courting behavior. This was peer talk. “I’d appreciate it,” Gray said. “And sure, I’ll of course keep an eye out for you. Want to get both of these solved before they become a problem for either of us.”
“Well, good.” Carter nodded his head, and pulled away from Gray’s cubicle. “You have a good one, Dan.”
Gray raised up out of his seat a bit and watched Carter leave from over the rim of his cubicle, then sat back down. Within the shelter of its beige carpet walls, no one could see him smile.
When he got home that night, Gray found a pleasant surprise waiting on him in the form of Angie Velasquez. She was waiting for him in the lobby of his building, sitting by the elevator on a granite bench. She was quiet and pretty in a sweater and skirt combination: lavender cardigan and black suede. She didn’t dress like a stripper, he thought, but then again, that really didn’t mean anything. If she’d showed up in six inch floater heels he’d have scolded her for playing to stereotype. Instead she looked very much like a timid librarian of some sort, and she offered him a small, hopeful smile as he approached.
“Miss Velasquez,” he rumbled, smiling back at her. “This is a surprise.”
“Angela, please,” she replied as she got to her feet. “Or I guess Angie is fine, now.” Her smile widened , and he wondered at it.
“All right, Angie then. What’s brought you out here to my doorstep?” He was a delighted as he was curious, of course, but he still had Carter’s words ringing in his ears. “Is there something wrong?”
“Wrong…” She said it as if she were considering something. “Well, no, I suppose not. But I heard that there was another murder. It was on the news this evening.”
“I guess you can’t avoid the press,” Gray said with a chuckle.
“I guess not.” Angie looked down at her hands. “Um, I’m sorry I came out here like this -”
“Oh! No, no, that’s fine,” said Gray, whose heart was picking up speed by the second. “Did you want to talk about something?”
Angie looked at the door to the street and brushed a few locks of hair from her face. “Well, I remembered something about the case,” she said. “I mean, you know, about Ron.”
Gray’s brows arched high at that. “Ah, oh…I see. But, uh, Detective Carter’s on that case.”
“But he had that thing happen to him!” Her eyes widened a bit, blue and shining and liquid like a little girl’s. That thing, said as though she couldn’t bear to actually name it. “And they said at Central that you were in charge of the murders now…”
“They’re different situations.” Much as he liked her, Gray wasn’t totally stupid around the girl – he wasn’t going to go into too much detail and thus stomp all over his toes. Nevermind the fact that, technically speaking, Angie might well still be a person of interest. Just not Gray’s. At least, not professionally.
“Well, okay…” She looked uncertain. “Maybe I should go to Central, then. I’m sorry that I bothered you.” Angie rose to leave, and when she did Gray felt his heart start the journey into his throat.
“Maybe you could just tell me instead.” The words came out of his mouth before he could catch them. “I mean, we were just talking about how we’d share information if we got it.” It was stupid, but much less so than the words that he felt sure would damn him.
“You could come up if you like.” And he meant it, every word.
She smiled at him, and nodded. Despite every brash word she’d said to him, every inch of flesh that he’d seen, this coyness of hers stoked the fire in him higher than all of it put together.
They took the elevator up in silence, with Gray counting the floors in his head and willing the car to rocket to his floor, or perhaps magically teleport them straight into his living room, bed, shower, or whatever the situation called for. Gray stared straight ahead in an attempt to hold together some remaining measure of professionalism. What the Hell was he doing? He should send her to Carter. There was still time, and he could change his mind. He could just turn her around…
The elevator chimed, and the door slid open on his floor. Angie brushed against him just the slightest bit; he felt warm curves, and his brain clicked over and let his dick do the driving.
Well, so much for that Amber Shield, right?
But he didn’t think about this at the time. Instead he walked her down to his apartment and let her in, all smiles and polite charm, and invited her to sit down on the sofa. “It’s not much,” he was saying as he stepped into the kitchenette. “Can I get you something to drink? Coffee?”
Angie stood there staring at the wallscreen. “That’s the biggest display I think I’ve ever seen in a house,” she said, sounding vaguely awed. “How much did that cost you?”
“Not too much,” he replied, warming up a bit. He liked that she was impressed. “You like it?”
“I could see up Maya Frail’s nose with this rig!” She laughed, and dropped herself on the sofa. “What is it, a Sony?”
“Mihama Etherlux – it’s voice-activated, you can go ahead and use it. You want some coffee? I got real.”
She turned around and grinned at him. Just like a little girl, so excited. “Imported. Oh, definitely.”
Gray couldn’t help but smile as he ducked his head in answer, and he fired up the coffee maker while Angie commanded the wallscreen to turn to the Trinity Network – Trinity as in News, Sports, and Entertainment. Instantly a vision of Wilson Leung appeared, singing his new hit ‘This American Age’ just in time for the Tricentennial, in his suit of red, white and blue. Anson Maddox designed that, he read. Or was it Miliang? Gray was quiet as he slow synths and guitars wove together the patriotic tune, grinding coffee as Wilson crooned on.
We bear the weight of centuries
Through trials and darkness too,
And though we sometimes stumble
Every year we stand renewed.
We are mighty and won’t be denied
Where the light of Freedom’s needed,
And among the nations of the world
Our word is the most heeded.
Wilson launched into the chorus, which to Gray’s surprise Angie sang along herself – a bright, pretty voice that sounded nothing like her usual smoky tones.
This American Age,
Three centuries of heroes,
This American Age,
Where Freedom can stand tall,
And I thank them all,
Who will bring about tomorrow,
And turn another page…
In this American Age.
Gray had never really liked that song when it came out a few months ago – something about a guy who but five years ago had been a citizen of the Chinese Communist Remnant now singing about freedom tickled his hypocrisy lobe – but seeing Angie so juiced up about it, giving a little ‘yay’ and laughing at the sight of the singer’s enormous image, he thought maybe he liked it a lot more now. As applause filled the apartment he brought two steaming mugs of black coffee around to the sofa and handed one to Angie. “Here you go.” He told the screen to mute.
“Thanks,” she said, cradling the mug with both hands and smiling at him. “You do pretty good for yourself here, Detective.”
“Well, Blue Shields don’t make much,” Gray replied, leaning back into his corner of the sofa with the mug steaming away in his hand, “But I’m very good with resource management. I have a way I want to live, and I try to make that happen as best as possible.”
“Goals are good to have,” Angie said with a nod. Her expression shifted a bit – still pleasant, welcoming, but something changed under that pleasant patina. “Listen, Detective…”
“Dan,” he said instantly.
“Dan. Look, I wanted to apologize. I’ve been giving you a lot of shit lately.”
Gray looked at her, brows rising slightly in surprise. “You’ve been dealing with a lot,” he replied. “It’s understandable. And nobody likes cops, not really.”
She nodded a bit along with him. “Well, Vice does make it pretty hard, but that’s not you. I just wanted to say, you know, that I really appreciated your being nice to me. I mean, dinner and everything – I almost thought you were going to try and get me to go to bed with you that night. But you didn’t. You’re a decent guy.”
He smiled at her. In his head, however, he was kicking over chairs in frustration. He was a decent guy? Was that it? Jesus! “Well, I’m flattered that you think so. Anything I can do to make things better.”
She smiled back at him, nodded, and took another sip of coffee. Silence descended upon them as he attempted to get his bearings. Finally she said, “So, about the case.”
“Yes.” Gray took another drink of his coffee. “You said you had something you’d remembered?”
“Right.” Angie shifted to face him better, tucking her legs under her. “So I’d said before that Ron had bragged about this information that he’d been dealing, right? I remembered that he’d mentioned a name, once, or kind of one anyway.”
Gray the man and his raging sex drive took a back seat as she spoke, and his brain started driving again. “All right,” he said, sitting up in interest, “That’s useful. What name did he give you ?”
Angie leaned into the couch a little more. “Well,” she said, “Once, when we were…talking…” Her cheeks colored very slightly, making the faint freckles there stand out a bit more. Man, did he love that. “He’d said about talking to a guy named Jimmy Black-Eyes. Not a name you easily forget, because I thought he was Italian. We get them sometimes, visiting on business from out east. You know. Italians.”
“You’re referring to organized crime.”
“Well, yeah,” she said, looking a little uncomfortable now. “Look, I told you that I didn’t have anything to do with Ron’s operation.”
“Of course,” he said with a nod. “You said so, and I believe you.” The evidence bore it out so far.
She let out a deep breath. “I’m glad,” she said. “I don’t want you to think I’m like that. I mean I know you think poorly of me because of what I do, but…”
“Not true,” he replied, and he surprised himself with the conviction with which he said it. “I don’t look down on you at all – I mean you’re saving to go to school, it’s not like you want to make this a career. I can’t look down on anyone who wants to make their life better, so long as what they’re doing is legal.”
His last words must have struck a bit of a chord, because Angie made a face at him. “I’m not doing anything illegal,” she said. “I don’t turn tricks or anything else like that. Hell, I don’t even spark up on crystal like some of the other girls do. I like to dance, and I like men. I can’t help it if the two intersect a lot where I work.” She was quiet a moment, then fixed her eyes on his. “And I’m not going to apologize for it, either.”
Gray leaned forward. His eyes locked with hers, blue on blue, and he felt the heaviness of the moment. “I would never expect you to,” he said, carrying still his previous intensity.
“Good,” she replied. “Detective, I want to tell you something else.”
“When this whole thing is done, I would really like to go to bed with you.” She said it as calmly as when she complimented his wallscreen. “At the very least.”
Gray looked at her, finally struck silent. He looked at her face, the tumble of her dark curls over tawny skin, the seriousness in her eyes that matched his own. He looked for any sense of bullshit, anything that would give him a clue that she was playing him – but there was nothing that he could see, no titter of the eyelids, no slight wavering of her glance. His heart froze in his chest for a few beats before he spoke again.
“I think I’d like that,” he replied. “Very much.”
And with him saying this, the severity of Angie’s expression melted away under the heat of another lovely smile. “Good,” she said, and she got to her feet. “I should go. I got another shift in a few hours – I want to get some dinner and some stretching in.” She held her still-full cup out to him. “Thank you. Dan.”
Gray stood as well, and he took her cup from her. “Oh, you’re very welcome.” He sounded as stunned as he actually was. “I, ah, will make sure that Detective Carter gets your information. I’m sure he’ll appreciate it.”
“I’m sure he will.” She took a step toward the door and paused. “Dan, be careful of that guy, will you? I mean, I know you two work together, but there’s something…I dunno. When I look at him, it’s like I’m looking at one of those guys at the club.”
“One of ‘those guys’?” Grey looked like a doubtful waiter with a mug in both hands and his expression hardening at these words. “What do you mean?”
“I mean the kind of guy who doesn’t want to stop at feeling you up in the VIP room, and won’t take ‘no’ for an answer.” Angie shook her head. “Look, just look out for yourself, okay?” And with that she turned and made for the door; Gray set the cups down on the coffee table and hurried over to let her out.
“I will,” he told her, looking down at her and wishing at that moment that she would stay with him forever. “I just…okay. You be careful as well.”
A thin smile flickered on her lips. “I will.” And then she was gone.
Grey shook his head and stepped back from the door, stared up at the silent image of a toothpaste commercial for a moment, and then muttered to himself as he walked back to the couch. He stared down at the two cups of coffee, hers full and his only slightly less so, and called for the wallscreen to call up his mailbox. There were three messages – one from the medical examiner, who announced that Gray would have to wait until tomorrow for his findings, another from Megan Cinders with a negative result on Askew’s tox screen, and finally a budget notice from the company reminding him that he had forty-six hours, twenty-seven minutes remaining of billable time left on the case – a counter which filled him with a sudden swell of fiery irritation that would only be drowned with the swiftly-chugged contents of his coffee mug.
Jesus. Three days’ work budget. It was like they didn’t want him to solve the fucking case at all.