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.
“I see you’ve been watching the news today.” Carter’s face loomed over him like that of the Great and Powerful Oz, or perhaps his mortal cousin. He looked his age, the lines showing in a black frown deeply graven into his features. He sat behind his desk, his suit different but rumpled once again.
“I just did,” said Gray with a nod. He didn’t like seeing Carter angry, or whatever it was. It had been maybe twice in the three years he’d been with the department, and it never meant anything even remotely good. “They drag you in early?”
“They did.” Carter reached for a coffee mug sitting on the desk next to him. “You can imagine why.”
“Yeah.” Gray shook his head. “They aren’t blaming us, are they?”
“Not at all,” said Carter. “But they’re probably roasting Jack Marowitz in the morgue incinerator. You know that computer I found?”
With the threat of immediate unemployment now gone, Gray stepped back toward the kitchenette. He dared to reach for the coffee machine, thumbing a button. “What about it?” A disposable cup dropped out of the machine’s bin and began to fill with newly-percolated coffee, filling the apartment with the wonderful smell of Colombian roast. “What happened?”
Carter snorted and toasted Gray through the link, taking a draught of his own brew. “What happened was that Jack didn’t bother hooking the thing up to an autistic layer. The moment he put power to it, the damned thing accessed his records through another backdoor we didn’t know about, collated what was there, and dumped as much as possible to the anonymous reception node of NewsNetNow’s Seattle bureau. Jack tried to get it plugged into an autistic layer hot, but all that did was set off a safeguard. Burned the whole fucking thing out.”
Gray stared at Carter over the rim of his mug. Steam coiled toward the ceiling, damping his nose as it went. Jack Marowitz had been one of the better guys in the Evidence Processing branch, a damned sight nicer than Merchant. But if his mind wasn’t on his job, Gray didn’t feel much in the way of sympathy for him– people didn’t do their job, it fucked things up for everybody. Sure fucked things up for the company right now. “So Anderson knew he might be killed,” he said, his brain switching over to cop mode. “I mean that’s why people do this kind of thing, right?”
“Right,” replied Carter. “That’s what I think, too – according to your friend Velasquez, he seemed to think that if anything ever happened to him, the company would bury all signs of that little venture of his.”
At the words ‘your friend’, Gray felt his jaw tighten. “Hey,” he said, “What’s that supposed to mean, ‘my friend’? You know I don’t have anything to do with her.”
Carter snorted. “Yeah,” he said, “I know. But damn, she sure seems to like you a whole hell of a lot more than she likes me.”
“What’d you get out of her?” Gray walked back toward the wallscreen, moving around the beige sofa that crouched in the middle of the room like a vast plush throne and dropped onto the middle cushion, coffee in hand. “Anything useful?”
“You mean other than the fact she’d rather spend two hours with you than five minutes with me?” Carter grinned. “Yeah. Two things, really.”
Gray leaned back in his seat, took a sip of coffee. “All right,” he said. “What are they?”
“One,” Carter said with his pinky extending, “She knew more about Anderson’s situation than she was originally saying, which of course you gotta expect. Turns out that he told her that if anything ever happened there would be something in his apartment that he’d want her to get, but he never told her what.”
“Which means they had more of a relationship than she was saying,”
“At least on Anderson’s part. She still maintains it was very casual.”
“But she would, wouldn’t she?” Gray took another sip of coffee.
“Maybe, maybe not.” Carter shrugged. “Either way I don’t get that she’s directly involved, and that’s number two.”
“So you believe what she said about not knowing who he’s been selling to?”
“Yeah.” There was a moment’s pause as Carter took his own sip of coffee, his expression thoughtful as he let the stuff trickle down his throat. “But that doesn’t mean that they don’t know about her. I’d like you to keep an eye on her. I think that now this thing’s getting media attention, Corporate is going to want to bury this thing quick. They’re gonna want to focus on the homicide aspect, make it out to be a chance thing, and let it go away.” Carter’s face hardened as he said it, which Gray expected. He wasn’t a corporate man, not like Gray. He didn’t like giving up a mark for the company’s interests.
But Gray surprised himself; a distinct spark of irritation flared in the back of his mind at the idea as well. Burying this thing would be best for the company, sure, and Anderson didn’t have anyone other than Angie to trouble his memory – his parents were dead, no siblings or other family that the company knew of. Both he and Carter would be given kudos for their work, possibly bonuses or whatnot, and everything would be copacetic.
And yet…he thought about Angie, how she cried when he showed her that picture, how he expected them to be crocodile tears but they weren’t. They were real, he had decided, not tears of horror but tears of loss. He’d done something ugly to her by showing her those images, however it might have been in the course of his duty, and now he felt bad for it. Anderson was a scum, sure, but he was hers. Didn’t the survivors deserve justice too? He wondered at these feelings – more importantly, he wondered why he hadn’t really thought of it this way before. His thoughts became tangled with his immediate suspicion of them, coming together like a barbed thatch in his brain.
“Dan. Yo, Dan.”
“Huh?” Blinking up at the screen, Gray saw Carter staring at him. “You with me here?”
“Uh, yeah.” Gray drowned his embarrassment with a deep swig of his coffee. “I was just thinking, sorry. Uh…actually, wait. What about the explosive in his pocket?”
“I’m thinking it was a hot load.” Carter shrugged. “We can’t pin down where it came from; it might have been cooked locally. Whoever it was he’d met with – which I’m betting was a customer – gave him the bills with the explosive inside, thinking that it’d go off on the way home thanks to his body heat. This all fits with what Velasquez has been saying.”
Gray wrinkled his nose. “Yeah, sure,” he says, “But none of that explains the whole spine thing. Or who wanted him dead in the first place.”
“You mean the spine thing that didn’t kill him and wasn’t mentioned in the press?” Another shrug from Carter. “Remember, that was all done postmortem. And Administration doesn’t care who killed him. He was a traitor to the company and they want him buried; all the backdoors he installed have been closed down thanks to Marowitz, the poor bastard, and they don’t want public scrutiny to increase. They’ve ordered me to basically blow off the press by making it out to be a gang-related homicide.”
“A gang murder in White Center,” Gray said. “Well, that’s not going to be a stretch of any kind. Close to the border with the Old City as the scene was, it could have even been some stray crazy.”
“Yeah,” Carter said with a nod. “Hell, that’s probably the case. I’m thinking he went to do a deal with whoever he’s selling information to, got a hot load, and got killed by some wandering Oldie on the way home that wanted something other than cash as a trophy. In the meantime, they’re not slating any further budget dollars to the case. We’re done with it unless something else crops up.”
That stab of anger in the back of Gray’s head began to heat up at that, but he said nothing. “I got you,” he said instead. “Well, I’ll be in the office later today.”
“No need. You’ve earned a day off, go enjoy yourself. Company orders.” With that Carter gave him a little salute. “I’m off to feed the wolves. Talk to you later, Dan.”
“Yeah, I’ll see you.” The call ended, leaving a commercial for Endex in its wake. Some smiling motherfucker with arms full of attractive women, conducting them to his hotel room for a nonstop fuck-festival thanks to Wilpharma – leave it to modern television to hawk flaming dick-drugs on a news channel. Of course, come to think of it, they’d been doing that for years now, even during the Crusader Government when all that shit was supposed to be immoral. He figured that’s why it all failed, really. The idea of Jesus Christ and self-restraint couldn’t stand up to the reality of cock-drugs on demand.
Gray turned off the display, dumped his cup in the waste-chute and went off to take a shower. He hadn’t taken a day off since he started working with Civil Protection. He took a deep breath and thought about what he was going to do, thought about his phone and its list of former girlfriends listed there, and thought about how he didn’t take days off because he no longer had things that he wanted to do other than press for that Amber Shield. Well, now there had been a case, and he had been given the day off and nothing came from it, nothing at all. Or at least, not yet. But would it mean anything if it did? All they’d done was collate information, come up with some halfassed answers, and been quickly told to drop the case. No budget meant they would be stealing from the company if they pursued it on duty.
Well, Gray thought, he wasn’t on duty now. He thought about Angie and her beautiful eyes, and how Carter had said that she liked Gray a lot better than him. He remembered that he had her number and her address. Well, if the case was closed…
Gray met her at a place called the Nautical Star, a restaurant and bar in the bottom floor of the Corona Hotel. The Corona was a nice place, a very old structure over in Pioneer Square that had been reworked to stand up to modern code. He’d heard the structure had once been built with money made from typewriters, which basically made it as old as the Pyramids as far as he was concerned. Like most of the surviving structures of the city’s elder days, the hotel was a veritable midget compared to the modern skyscrapers that surrounded it; unlike those office towers and shopping blocks, however, the Corona still had…well, there wasn’t any way he could describe it. Cachet, maybe. A seriously retro style that somehow hadn’t faded.
What the Star lacked in size it made up for in substance, in many ways very literally; it amounted to a kind of marble vaultwith tables. The walls and floor were pale, veined with greens and blacks and ambers, lit up with sconces worked into the shapes of local totemic fish. An enormous chandelier, made of frosted glass in the shape of the restaurant’s namesake, was suspended overhead with its point thrust downward toward the floor. Patrons dined on imported tapas and cultured seafood over tables made from the same stone as the walls. The Star wasn’t so trendy that Gray would be out of place, though it certainly wasn’t where he made a practice of eating – despite the fact they used printed-protein steaks instead of raised fare, it was still rather expensive for him. He didn’t mind, though. He felt he owed it to her, to treat her a little after all this. That’s what he told himself. And so he’d gotten a table – a Blue Shield got a reservation, even if it was far from VIP – and waited for her to arrive. It was seven o’clock.
At seven thirty, after a few glasses of Tsingtao had gone down the hatch, she arrived. Sweet blazing hell, she was beautiful. Angie wore a simple, sleeveless black gown, which looked to Gray like a Monica Perez, with a string of diamond cutouts from collar to navel. From the tiny star-points that glittered just at the bottom of the last void, Gray figured she was wearing body crystals under her dress. Nice. She approached wearing a smile that was wide and charming, but he knew it was most likely professional; she had no idea why she was here, after all, just that he’d invited her. He wouldn’t be surprised if she’d approach with a great deal of caution.
“Good evening, Detective,” Angie said as she neared the table; Gray saw the way she looked at him, and then just beyond – looking for trouble, this one. Very smart girl.
“Good evening.” He got to his feet and offered her his hand, which she shook, and then Gray pulled out the opposite chair for her. “I appreciate your coming.”
Angie sat down, looking perhaps a little startled at this show of civility from him. “I have to admit, I’m not exactly certain why I’m here.”
“Well,” he said, “I wanted to talk to you about the progress of the case,” said Gray, folding his hands on the table.
“And you couldn’t telephone?”
He looked at her quietly for a moment. “I didn’t feel it was appropriate.”
Angie’s brows arched, sculpted black lines. She had a good stylist. Her blue eyes were accented by shadow and paintsticked dots that rimmed the top of her cheeks, both varying shades of shimmering scarlet. It was a startling effect, lending her gravity beyond her beauty as she spoke. “I would think that sitting alone at dinner with a person of interest in a homicide case would be even less so.”
Gray nodded a little. “Well, that’s what I wanted to talk about,” he replied. He took his glass of beer in hand, frowning faintly down into the gold. “The case has been suspended.”
She blinked very slightly. “So you’ve made an arrest?”
“…no,” he replied. “Suspended, pending future evidence.”
Her eyes narrowed, the red of her makeup seeming to cast its color into them. The placid seas turning to blood. “You mean that you aren’t going to pursue it farther,” she replied. “You’ve sewn up whatever he was doing to Civil Protection and you’re going to put it away so nobody finds out.”
Gray’s jaw clenched a little, both at her expression and at her words. She was a tough girl, he knew that. He didn’t know why he was surprised at her reaction, but the ferocity in her eyes was enough to make him glance down and check if where her hands were in relation to the silverware. “Look,” he began, “It’s how things work. I don’t make the rules, I just…”
“You wanted me to know. Personally. Because you’re not a bad guy, really, you’re just a part of the machine.” Angie made a face, her lips twisting up poisonously at the corners into a sneer – and then, just like that, it was gone. “Well, fine, I guess that’s how it is then.”
Gray was quiet a moment. A tiny stone had lodged itself in his throat, or so it felt, a stone that was descending and growing heavier. “I didn’t mean to make it sound quite like that,” he replied after taking a drink in order to push it down farther. “I meant to say…look, I don’t know what I meant to say. I just thought that you deserved to know in person, and just dropping by your home didn’t seem right.”
“Is that because I live in White Center? Didn’t want to go down into the ghetto without professional cause? Or is it…” Angie paused, giving him another wine-colored squint. “Wait, this isn’t a social call, is it?”
At that moment, Gray felt the stone of shame inside of him grow much larger and heavier. “I…no,” he lied, taking another sip. “I just thought that this might be more comfortable for you.”
“For both of us.”
“Yeah.” He paused, sighting the waiter drawing close. Relief washed over him. “…can I get you something?”
Angie looked at him a moment, as if she were sizing him up all over again. “Are you buying?”
“Yeah,” he said, and smiled at her without quite knowing why. “I am.”
It had been the most pleasant evening he had spent with a woman in ages. Once the initial awkwardness of the whole thing had worn off, mostly thanks to a bottle of good wine split between them, Angie had opened up a good deal to him. Some of what she told him – that she was from the San Diego-Los Angeles Complex, for example, and had moved up to Seattle with her family when she was young – he had already learned from her file. She had lived in the city all her life, going to high school and entertaining the idea of going to the University before ultimately drifting off. Lost direction, she said, and that happened all the time with kids. If it hadn’t been for Civil Protection he’d probably be in the same boat somehow; too much ambition, not enough desire to play it in an office. Or at least, not the way the clockwatchers did – his paperwork was fairly limited by comparison. He’d seen it so many other times, only she was so smart about it. Angie didn’t have a drug problem, she didn’t have any priors. Hell, she was saving to go to school all over again, a thing that you’d need to be top of the pole to do if you were a stripper.
Gray told her a little about himself as well, which was new for him. He told Angie about his dad, and the bar that he used to run – she’d heard about it, of course, which was a little bit of a shock until she’d said she’d had some past clients who were fellow employees – and how his dad had died a few years ago and left him some money. That made sense, she had said, because she didn’t see a man with a Blue Shield wearing Andreas Kasper unless he was crooked.
“I’m not crooked,” he said, sounding a little hurt, though he wasn’t sure if it was that or the fact she equated a Blue Shield with blue-collar earnings that bothered him more.
“I’d wondered at first,” Angie had said. “I mean, you don’t look like a Blue Shield. You look…I dunno, you have a hungry thing going on. Ambition in your eyes. A lotta boys that I knew had that look, they ended up gang vets or worse.” She had paused a moment, then smiled at him. “You look good, though.”
“Yeah.” Her smile got a little bigger. “Real good.”
All was instantly forgiven.
He lay in bed that night, looking up at the blank ceiling, thinking about her. They didn’t even have dinner, just a few drinks, and then he was letting the car drive home while sitting there thinking about her. Feeling his dick turn to steel thinking about her winding on the stage, how she had been riding that one asshole from Acene Electric. He didn’t think about the dream he’d had, either, though that wouldn’t come to mind until later. He went home and took a hot shower, hanging his head under the high-pressure spray, and thought about her last words to him before they’d parted.
“You’re a good guy, Detective Gray,” she’d said, not calling him Dan once even though he’d said she could. And from the light in her eyes when she’d said it, he knew that she’d meant it.
He’d never wanted any woman in his bed so badly in his life.