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.
Story Based On:
Gray left the bar and crossed the street to the parking building where his car had been racked, fighting the urge to go back in there and shoot Moody in the face. Moody wasn’t the sort who just swooped in out of nowhere – if he’d heard about Gray using his name, he must have been watching him for some time. That would be about right, to wait for him to get something shiny and new to lose and hold it over his head. This was the kind of pattern he’d heard of before, too – but he didn’t think it would happen just because he said the man’s name. Something was off, he could feel it in his bones. This had nothing to do with any Shard ring – the question was to try and figure out what, and how he could discover it without giving Angie up on the altar.
He entered the parking building and stood in the delivery bay, which was a plain vault of concretewith a kiosk set in the wall. He fed his claim slip into the kiosk and watched as a great hatch in the ceiling slid open and the Vectra was delivered by a great metal arm with a pair of powered jaws. It was a bit like watching Godzilla regurgitate some long-eaten Japanese taxi. The arm stretched down and deposited the car on the floor of the vault before retracting away behind the closing hatch. And the hand of God will reach down to crush you, he thought, and for a moment he confused God with Bud Moody. Then he got into the car.
Gray set the car to take him home again. He leaned back in the driver’s seat and tuned the network to NewsNetNow, which was again extolling the virtues of the Muller case and his own person. He switched it to a retro music channel, and got the Telecom Junkies. The ‘30s were a good decade for hotbeat music, the electronic and ethnic beats weaving themselves together; the beat was entirely separate from the flow of the traffic and the winking of the holos and the neon rails. He closed his eyes and let it fill him, a rare indulgence indeed, but it worked for him now. He needed something new, something…novel. Might as well be good music, if old music.
As he closed his eyes, he started to turn things over in his mind. Strangely enough, his brain did not go to the situation at hand but to the case that had just been declared closed. Again, too neat. Too simple. Maybe they had been connected just the way it had been shown; maybe they had all been in league with Muller in the first place. But what about their other crimes, their pasts? Whatever horrors Muller had been into, other than Lin there was no information as to how these people met. No records. Plenty of records of association after the fact, but how did they get together? There had to be some central agency, a service or a method if not a person; these people were too perfectly matched, too easily drawn into confederacy.
Gray thought on that as the car moved, and the lights of the city branded luminous shadows on the backs of his eyelids. Well, that might be true, but the case was closed, the budget sealed. If he tried to re-open it without any kind of proof it would be a problem. The flashes of light from the city beyond seemed to reform into a shadow of the ticker that trailed on the monitor, spelling out the net worth of his life’s stock. Currently it was trading high, but the projections involved in his digging back into this thing were looking mighty poor. Gray sighed and opened his eyes as the Telecom Junkies faded away, and he sat up in his seat. Well, he was going to have to talk to her sooner or later, he thought, so he decided to get it over with.
He told the car to dial Angie.
She appeared in the console with a head of wet hair being ruffled in a towel; she didn’t bother wrapping herself up, smiling naked to the waist in the camera. “Hi, baby,” she said brightly, grinning at him. “Nice to hear from you already. Thought you’d be passed out in bed by now.”
Gray stared at her image for a moment, them smiled. “Hey,” he said, “Nice to see you too. Wow, you look nice.”
“Oh yeah?” She looked down at herself and smiled, turning her shoulders this way and that in a coy gesture. “Maybe I just wanted to give you a glimpse of things to come.”
He couldn’t help it. Gray grinned at her, folding his arms over his chest and akin in the view. “Man, I can’t help it. I’d love to see that time and time again. Every morning.”
“You sure?” Angie pulled the towel free and lifted her arms over her head, drawing her long black hair upward through her fingers in a sexy pose. “What’s my best feature, do you think?”
“Your eyes,” Gray said without a thought. “No contest.”
She let her hair drop and smiled. “You’re a sweetheart. So what’s up? Did you just miss me?”
Inside his head, Gray’s thoughts went to war with one another. He could ask to see her, but that meant he’d have to talk to her. Or did he? Could he just let it drop for a few days, figure out what he wanted to do? Or would Moody be after him straight away for an answer? “I just missed you, yeah,” he said, giving her what he hoped was a convincing smile. “Is work okay? Do you need me to come down there or anything, give you a ride home?”
Her eyes widened a little bit. “Hey, I couldn’t ask you to do that,” she said with a laugh. “Unless you’re close.”
“Yeah,” he lied. “I’m close. When do you get off?”
Angie’s face lit up a bit more – but then she gave him a look that was mockingly severe. “Hey, you’re not waiting for me in the parking lot, right? Because that would be creepy.”
Gray laughed despite himself. “No, no,” he said. “C’mon, now. I’m a cop, not a stalker.”
“Oh, one never knows,” she said with a smirk. “Sometimes that happens. Wouldn’t be the first boyfriend I had that got possessive, you nkow?”
That wasn’t something he’d expected to hear. “Boyfriend,” he repeated, tasting the word on his tongue. “Is that what I am?”
She looked at him as if he’d asked her what his name was. “Well, yeah,” she said, “I mean, I thought so. Is that not what’s going on?”
Well, this was the moment, wasn’t it? He could be the big idiot and try and be noble, tell her that no, they weren’t dating or whatever – but that was bullshit, and he didn’t feel like playing the hero this time around. If Moody was going to make him fight, sure, fuck it. He’d fight. He didn’t just want to get PART of what he wanted, goddammit. “No,” he said, “That’s what’s going on. I guess…I just didn’t expect to hear the words coming out of your mouth.”
“Honey,” she said, “You know I could’ve been the one on the end of that knife, right? It’s like I said. You get the boyfriend card if you want it.”
“Yeah.” The words sounded nice in his ears, despite things – or maybe even more so because of them. “Yeah. But let’s talk soon, okay? Let me pick you up, I’ll take you to my place. Would that be okay?”
She smiled at him again, showing dazzling white teeth, and propped her chin up on one hand; he remembered her smell, how it curled into his brain and took hold of him. Her skin glowed like warm caramel. He let out a deep sigh, and was hooked all over again. “I’ll see you soon, baby,” he told her. “When should I be by?”
“It’s what, ten? Come by at eleven. I’m out by then.”
Gray nodded. “All right. See you then.”
Angie gave him one last teasing jiggle and a wink before killing the phone, leaving him halfway home. He took a deep breath and told the car to correct its course and turn toward Sea-Tac and the glittering hotel, where the damsel would be awaiting a rescue. He just hoped that the Devil wasn’t watching him, too. He’d had enough of Him tonight.
Gray’s watch read 10:47 when he parked the Vectra in the guest lot of the hotel. He wanted to go up, but he knew that if he did it was almost certain that he’d ruin Angie as a potential informant – he was a cop, and a very well-known cop right now. Maybe in a few weeks, when NewsNetNow had latched onto some other piece of murder or flash, but right now it’d be entirely wrong. For a moment he almost got out of the car and went anyway, but he knew how Moody would play it if he did. Defiance didn’t play well with Vice, and it definitely didn’t play well with Moody.
So he waited, and while he did he watched the people going in and out of the doors of the hotel. It was a nice-looking building, like a vast ice palace shipped from what was left of the polar caps; he had an image of topless ice fairies flitting about serving the guests, and realized that whiskey and lack of sleep were completely fucking with him. Gray decided to stop thinking and wait until Angie was done. A little while later the car’s phone rang.
“Answer,” he called out.
“Uh, baby?” It was Angie. “I’m done. Where are you?”
“Out in the parking lot,” he replied.
“…you’re not going to meet me up here? Walk me down?” She sounded disappointed, but also somewhat hesitant.
“I can’t,” he said. “It’s not…you know, safe.”
She was quiet a moment; he could watch her face through her phone camera as she struggled to parse that. “Safe for me, or safe for your career?”
Gray shook his head. Christ, Moody, he thought to himself, I so owe you a bullet in the face. “It’s not like that,” he said, laying a hand over his brow. “Look…just come down and get in the car, please. I promise, I’m not trying to be a fucker. I got a definite reason here, yes, it’s work related, no, it’s not what you think. I swear.”
Angie gave him a look that made her eyes tighten up into a cat’s, gleaming green and doubtful, but she nodded. “Fine,” she said. “But it better be a good one.”
“Don’t worry,” Gray said, and he sighed. “It is.”
He sat idling in the parking lot until he saw Angie come out the front doors of the hotel, dressed in a pretty black Sola Lange sweater dress, leggings, and ankle boots. The look was very retro – a hundred years or so ago, it would have been aggressively chic, and by virtue of that fact the look had come full circle again. She carried a small backpack on one shoulder, and her expression coming out was one of slight confusion and even some anger as she walked across the traffic circle toward the lot. Gray flashed the Vectra’s headlights at her, and she adjusted course to approach him. He unlocked the doors as she drew close so that she could get in.
Angie was silent when she got into the car, and remained so after she closed the passenger door. Gray felt himself squirming inside. “So,” he said after maybe half a minute’s quiet, “How was your evening?”
“Oh, you know,” she said in a voice full of measured terseness, “You know. Took my clothes off, danced around. Made some money.” She looked straight ahead.
Gray hated this. He knew she was upset, wasn’t entirely certain why – well, he could guess – and she wasn’t going to share easily. She was going to make him dig a bit and then blow up at him. Well, he might as well get his shovel. “You do all right?”
“Mmmhmm. Thousand bucks or so.”
“Ah. Good.” Jesus, he’d forgotten how much a good stripper could make in this town. “So…yeah. Are, are you all right?”
“Oh, sure.” Angie looked aside, checking her nails. Gray looked at them too, the short points painted soft lavender metallic. “I’m just waiting.”
“Waiting?” Here it comes.
“Waiting for you to tell me what this is all about. It sounds to me like you’re ashamed of being with a stripper outside of a club, big promotion and all. Since, you know, Maya Frail can’t shut up about you.” Her voice was flat now, laced with hurt. “I’d like to think you were better than that.”
Gray let out a deep breath. Oh, that fucker. He’d make Moody pay one way or another for this. “Baby,” he said, and he reached out to take Angie’s hand, “No. That isn’t it. Not even a little.”
She looked up at him with her green eyes big and shining with a strange sadness. “I…that’s how it is, you know. I mean it always happens.”
“No.” He said it forcefully now, and he turned in his seat to take her other hand, squeezing them both gently. “Listen, that’s not it. I promise you, I am not embarrassed of being with you.”
“Then why didn’t you come up to the club?” She made a little bit of a face, pouting. “Even my worst boyfriends would do that.”
Gray heaved another sigh and shook his head. “Okay,” he said. “Listen to me.”
He told her all about it, meeting Moody in the bar, what he wanted, what he’d said. He told her about Moody’s reputation as well, since Angie didn’t seem to know who he was. Angie listened carefully with her hands in his, those bright green eyes tracking his the whole time. When he’d finished, however, her expression was one of understanding, missing any of the fear he might have expected. Instead, she looked confused and thoughtful.
“This doesn’t make sense,” Angie said, taking her hands out of his and setting them on her lap. “I’ve worked at the Heights for two years now, and I’ve never heard of Shard getting dealt out of there. I know the girls sure as hell don’t use it – you could see a spiderback from a mile away with her clothes off, the way those marks show up. Charlie doesn’t mind the girls using some, you know, substances…but nothing that would impair performance or leave obvious marks.”
Gray wrinkled his nose. “Well, why would he ask me to put you on as an informant?”
“I have no idea.” She leaned back in her seat. “Here, let’s drive home, huh? I’m positively guttered.”
He smiled at her way of expressing exhaustion, and he reached over to take hold of her chin. “Hey,” Gray said, his tone soft and tender, “You know I’m happy to be like this with you, huh?”
Angie smiled back at him. “Me, too,” she said, then winked. “I’m assuming you’re referring to the whole being with me thing, and not the crazy Vice cop asshole thing.”
“Definitely the former,” Gray said, and winked back at her. Angie laughed a little, and they turned toward the windshield in anticipation of the drive ahead.
While they drove home, they talked about the situation with Moody. Like Angie had said, it made sense to Gray that she would know if someone was dealing out of the back of her own club – but assuming that she didn’t, how the hell would she get into it? Gray thought that if there was a drug operation, she’d be a perfect method of introducing it, if not using it herself. She was pretty, she was popular, and she danced for a lot of VIPs; why wouldn’t she be the one to provide guests with such refreshments?
No, they both agreed that something else had to be going on here. They couldn’t lie and say that there was something going on, but Angie surprised him by saying that she would volunteer to serve as an agent for Vice anyway. “Wait,” Gray had said at that, “Why would you do that? If there’s no Shard, there’s no Shard. We don’t have to fucking deal with it.”
She snorted. “If this guy is like you say he is,” Angie said, “You know he’s going to want something to go away. I’m sure I can find something else going on. That club might not be a Shard den, but it’s not like it’s clean. Some of the girls turn tricks, I mean, and of course there’s the lighter drug use. I’m pretty sure Hannah’s boy is dealing stims to whoever wants ‘em, too.”
“Yeah,” Gray said with a shake of his head. “I don’t know what he’s doing. Maybe he’s just trying to set me up as a resource, and he’s using you to do it. I wish I could’ve just walked away, or…”
As they pulled into the parking structure adjacent to his building and found a spot to park in, Angie laid her hand on his thigh. “Dan,” she said softly. “Honey.”
Gray killed the ignition and looked at her. She looked back at him, her green eyes so beautiful, her scent filling him up like the finest of perfumes. Nobody had this kind of effect on him, not ever. “Yeah,” he said, letting his gaze drop away from her. “I’m here.”
“I want you to stop worrying about it tonight.” Angie leaned over a little, brought her hand from his thigh to his face; she brushed the back of it across his cheek, and it was as if she brushed his troubles from him. He felt at peace, something that was very rare on the best of days. “I want you to come upstairs with me, take a shower, and let’s go to bed. And then you’re gonna go to work, and things are going to get better. Believe me.”
Gray took one last deep breath, pushing the rest of his doubt away, and smiled. “All right,” he said. “I believe you. Let’s go.”
She was so good for him. He never believed that he’d be so lucky, so fast – and despite all common sense, he knew that this was going to work.