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 what you’re saying is, he’s chasing after someone else, and I don’t have to worry about it?”
Gray sat with Angie on her shabby-but-cozy sofa in her equally shabby-but-cozy apartment, which was located in the very northern end of White Center. He’d called her on the way from Marowitz’s place; she wasn’t working that night and he’d never been to her place before. An hour later he was there, in her little fourth floor walk-up in the very nicest part of White Center. Which meant, of course, that you only got graffiti on every other building and didn’t normally have to fear for your safety. It wasn’t much, a postage stamp of a one-bedroom with a little kitchenette and bath. Plain white walls and secondhand furniture, decorated only just enough to make it relatively comfortable. There was something about it that made him feel as though she had never intended to stay there for very long in the first place, as if it were just a staging base before she moved on to something greater.
He smiled at her. She wore a tank top and jeans compared to his pale green suit, no real designer to speak of. Her hair was up in this voluminous tail, tied high up on her head. It brought out the shape of her lovely face even more. Man, did he have it bad for her. “That’s what I’m saying,” Gray said, watching her smile at him until her eyes crinkled at the corners, making them glitter like stars. “I mean, keep going, obviously, but he’s not trying to make you for anything. Should make things a lot easier for you, right?”
“Sure as hell makes me feel a lot safer,” Angie said, and took his hands in hers. “You really know how to make me not worry about playing girl detective so much. But how did you find all of this out? I mean, it doesn’t sound like something that this Vice guy would give you. Last time I checked he was hanging you from a string and using me to do it.”
Gray grinned. “I have my own sources,” he said, feeling a little goofy but proud of himself. “Seriously, I just want you to be safe, honey. I don’t mind doing some digging around on my part if it means that’s what’s gonna happen.”
She shook her head, the tail licking her shoulders, and nodded. “Yeah, I know,” she said, “But it’s just…nobody goes out of their way like this for me, that’s all.”
“Yeah, well, people don’t know what they’re missing is all.” Gray felt such a blush of warmth inside of him, being near her like this; she made him feel absolutely amazing, the way she looked, the way she smelled, just…yeah, he didn’t want to be away from her, feeling like this. “You’re my girl, Angie; I’m going to take care of you. Don’t worry.” He reached up and took her chin in his hand, lifting it so that he could look into her eyes. He loved her eyes, too, so green and deep, and he hoped she liked what she saw in his. “Look, I’m not gonna say the ‘L’ word or anything, freak you out, but you really mean a lot to me. I mean that.”
Angie colored, the delicate caramel tinging red. “I know you do,” she said, and smiled. “Same here. I mean, I wouldn’t be doing this for just anybody. I could’ve gone to this guy’s bosses, you know?”
“…yeah,” Gray said with a nod, “I guess I never thought about it that way before.” It disturbed him more than a little that he hadn’t. “I mean I guess you’ve got…friends in high places, right?” By friends, of course, he was thinking of those warm, wealthy bodies between which she was so often sandwiched. Executives and leaders of industry. “I don’t know why I didn’t just ask if you could wave your hand and get yourself protected.”
As soon as he said the words, Angie’s color vanished and her expression cooled. “It’s not like that,” she said, “And thanks very much for suggesting I’d resort to blackmail. Christ, you have a real good way of swinging from A-list to asshole, Dan.”
He blinked. Is that what he said? Did he really just intimate that? “No,” he said, stammering, “I didn’t mean it like that, I meant, like, you could just ask. I mean, they owe you, I guess…” For the moment it sounded pretty damned plain to him, though now that the words were out and he looked at it he realized how absolutely fucking skeevy it sounded. Why the Hell did he say that? “Fuck, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to sound like it was so sordid.”
“Well, you did,” she said, and her voice had flattened out entirely. “You know, Dan, sometimes I wonder what the hell you really do think of me. I mean you come on so sweet, and I know that you care about me, but something just…is there something about me that you don’t trust, or are ashamed of, or what?” Those big green eyes had filled with hurt now, and he remembered how he felt when he had asked her if she’d killed Anderson – again, not wanting to insult her, but the words just showing up. He just didn’t understand that; the words were suspicious, but the mind wasn’t. He knew she wasn’t crooked.
“I don’t think any of that,” he said, feeling terrible now that he’d made her hurt again. “I’m sorry, I just…I mean it makes sense on some level or another, you know? They’re there, right? This guy’s threatening to put you in danger, and–”
“And I knew that the man I’m with, the man that I didn’t have to fuck under threat of blackmail, would do everything he could to help me.” The words swung in like a wrecking ball aimed at his crotch, and he felt himself shrink a little more. She was right, of course. She was right, and he was being absolutely fucking stupid. What a fucking jerk he was.
Gray took a deep breath and nodded. He couldn’t look at her face now; he was looking down at his hands. “I’m sorry,” he said, “I am. What can I do?”
“Well, you can trust me,” Angie spat, “For one. I’m not a bad person. You know that or we wouldn’t be here. I’m not proud of what’s happened in the past, and I’m trying to do better with that.”
“All right,” he said. He deserved that. “And the other?”
“Pour me a gin and tonic,” she said, and she gestured to the little kitchenette. Then, taking a deep breath, letting it out, “After that, take me to bed with you.”
Gray wasn’t sure what to say about that, really. He said instead, “How much ice do you want?”
Angie was quiet the whole time she drank the gin and tonic he’d made for her, and then when she’d finished she put the glass aside and looked at him. Really, seriously, for the first time since she told him before that she wanted to go to bed with him. It was a serious thing for her, this subject. “You ready?”
“Yeah,” Gray said. He felt nervous, like he did when he was sixteen and he had his first time with Susan Redden. “I mean, if you are.”
She gave him a little half smile. “I’ve been ready since I met you, honey,” she said. “Now I don’t have any reason not to.”
That was right, Gray remembered. She wanted to hold off because of the thing with Moody. Take that out of the picture now, and there really was no stopping them. He was going to get her into bed with him, touch her like he wanted, be inside of her…
“Me neither,” he said, and he took her chin in his hand. He kissed her right there on the couch, his mouth sealing tight against hers, tongues playing. The need in him came rushing to the surface all at once – weeks of stress, of horror, of denial set afire beneath his skin. It was the fuel he needed to get past the last vestiges of whatever this was that let him hold back for so long. She let out a gasp against his lips as he pushed her back onto the sofa; they moved together with urgency, her propped up on her arm, him settling down to kneel on the floor so he could get better access to her.
He drank deeply from her once and then drew back, lavishing a trail of kisses down the side of her cheek, the hollow of her throat. She whispered something in Spanish as he tasted her; she arched her back as his lips wandered over her shoulder, nipples like stone buds beneath the thin fabric of her shirt. He didn’t bother with pulling it over her head – the flames inside him burned away propriety. Gray simply tore it open. As he did, her fragrance hit him, the musky smell of cinnamon sandalwood, and he wasn’t sensing anymore. The wall of scent put him under, pushed him back from his own body.
It was like watching a movie in his head of two people making love, one of them he was not entirely certain that he recognized – the man who he watched stripping his lover and himself moved with an energy and dominance that Gray did not know, as if he were starving, and all the time she was moaning into his ears. “Mi corazon,” she whispered to him, “Come to me, come here.” And he did, one hand on her throat, the other on the small of her back as she wrapped herself around him; their mutual grunt of union was like the ringing of a distant thunderhead to him. He felt himself inside of her, and felt her gripping him as he drove his hips in an insistent rhythm, as if he were both of them in that instant – in that moment it was as if their bodies had become linked, as if nerve and muscle moved together, driven by one mind.
It was the strangest thing he had ever experienced. Terrible and frightening at once, the movements of their bodies vanished from his perception as the seconds drew on. His vision had narrowed into a tunnel, at the end of which was her face, her beautiful face alive with all the permutations of ecstasy. He did not feel his body, nor the pleasure that he had known with the women that had come before her; the gross sensations of the flesh had been burned away, like his inhibitions and his doubt, and lancing through him was a feeling that he could neither name nor describe. It was death. It was terror. It was rapture. It radiated from inside of him, spreading through his brain, down his spine, through the conduits of every nerve, transforming them both into a single transcendent whole. Release came, left, and came again; he did not know how long they were there on the couch, or the floor, or her bed – time had vanished along with these other lesser sensations. There was only the two of them, unified, timeless. The night stretched on until finally their bodies could do no more, and the world collapsed down a spiral of exhaustion into the grand oblivion of sleep.
Gray rose the next morning like Lazarus, filled with a clarity that he’d never known before.
Angie was already in the shower; he heard her little booth-sized unit gushing hot water, too small for him to join her. He wasn’t sure he could handle being so close to her again so soon anyway, considering what happened last night. He wasn’t a religious man at all, of course, but Christ Jesus on a fucking tent-peg! She was like nothing he’d ever seen, felt, thought of – the cold bitches he’d been with before were absolutely nothing by comparison. It was terrifying in a way, but maybe that’s what love was like anyway. It wasn’t very common anymore, that was for certain. And yet…it was what it was, the experience that he could not hope to name or describe to someone else if he were asked. Gray lay there thinking about the way he melded into her, about the bridge the pleasure made between them, her scent spreading through him, through them both. Then he let out a soft sigh, stared at the ceiling a moment longer, and got up to rifle through her kitchenette and scrape together some breakfast.
She came out to the scent of pancakes, instant but fragrant, cooked up with soy chocolate chips he rifled out of the far corner of a cupboard. Coffee, strong and fragrant. Angie looked surprised as she came out of the bathroom, bundled up in a big plush bathrobe and her hair wrapped up in a towel; all smiles, warm and bright. He loved her, as much as he ever loved his badge. The glow of the Amber Shield was nothing compared to the light in her eyes as she came up to him, put her hands on his bare chest.
“If this is the kind of reward I’m going to get for a performance,” she said, grinning up at him, “I’m going to have to make sure you get a box seat every night.”
He loved this, the waking up. It was like a movie; he liked being the leading man. “Definitely worth the price of admission,” Gray rumbled, grinning down at her. “Goddamn, baby girl, I don’t think I’ve ever even thought of feeling like that before.”
“You’d be surprised what the love of a good man will bring out in a woman,” she said.
“I hear that goes both ways,” he said. “C’mon, sit down and eat your breakfast. I want to make sure you’re taken care of before I go to work.”
She gave him a look – surprised, maybe, but delighted – and settled down to breakfast. He poured her coffee, then his own, and they sat down to it together. Quiet, but nice. Kind of domestic. Gray thought that he could definitely see this happening a lot in the future. Maybe she did too, from the look she was giving him over the rim of her coffee mug. He watched how she ate, careful, exact bites. Everything quantified. Angie didn’t waste anything, movement or otherwise. He liked that about her; she was deliberate, and he’d only started to appreciate that about her. Gray figured there was a lot to Angela Velasquez to appreciate that he was only just scratching the surface on.
Gray finished his breakfast fast, got to his feet and started putting his dishes away. “I gotta go,” he said, “Got all kinds of work this morning.”
“Mmmhmm.” Angie smiled at him. “You just be careful out there, okay?”
Gray smirked at her and nodded. “The terrible danger of case reports,” he said with a chuckle. “Yeah, I’ll watch out, honey, don’t worry about it. Just keep me in the loop on what you find out, okay?”
He gave her one last smile, taking way too much time as he went and got dressed and then headed out the door. He didn’t want to leave her, didn’t want her out of his sight. Gray surprised himself with his possessiveness – but then again, who wouldn’t be? He thought of how she moved under him, how she called him her heart before he entered her and the world blurred together in that strange, wonderful way. This was love with a woman who loved you back, then. Jesus. He couldn’t get enough.
The phone in the Cerico was ringing when Gray slid into the driver’s seat. He took the call as he started the car up, the hydrogen engine barely making a rumble as it ticked over. The face that appeared on the holographic panel conjured over the console was Carter’s, direct from his office. The man looked like some modern-day judge of Hell, the way he frowned from behind his desk. “Hey, Dan,” he said. “You watched the news yet?”
“Just got breakfast,” said Gray, his brows quirked with interest. “I haven’t had time. What’s going on?”
“A Pacification patrol found Muller.” A beat. “Parts of him, at least.”
Gray’s brows shot up at that. “Holy shit, you’re kidding me. Where?”
“Delivered in front of his own fucking gallery, that’s where.” Carter shook his head. “They found his head sitting on a pyramid made from his arms and legs. Oh, and of course, his dick was in his mouth, because there’s no point in stopping there.”
“Fuck, are you kidding me?” Gray stared at the console, trying to figure that out. Who the fuck would be looking for Muller that would want to kill him in this city? You know, other than war survivors, former victims, relatives of former victims, and –
“Wait,” said Gray, “Do they know how he was killed?”
Carter pursed his lips a moment. “I’m glad you asked that,” he said. “Megan says that it was a very clean cut, no heat malformation.”
Gray’s brows arched a little higher. “You mean like from a waterknife?”
“Yeah, something like that.” Carter shook his head again. “Fuck’s sake. This would be the goddamned Duwamish, wouldn’t it.”
“That’s what I thought, yeah.” Gray leaned back in his seat and rubbed at his face. James Black-Eyes and his friends, probably, went out and hunted the fucker down. “Does Megan know how long he’d been dead?”
“Maybe a week,” he said, “Not terribly long. They’d been delivered there just last night or so though.”
So no fucking wonder Black-Eyes was in such a good mood, Gray thought. They’d gone and gotten him, this guy who’d been responsible for making people think that the Duwamish had been up to things they didn’t want to take credit for. They didn’t like people fucking with their reputation. Jesus, it was no wonder Black-Eyes did the favor for him – he’d already repaid them, however unwittingly, by revealing Muller in the first place! “God damn it,” Gray said, rubbing at his forehead now, “God damn it. So what the fuck do we do now?”
“‘We’ do nothing,” Carter said, frowning at Gray directly now. “It isn’t the Company’s case anymore – Muller was an international fugitive. It’s the Fed that’s going to be responsible for this now. They might talk to you about it, since you were attached to the case, but I don’t think you have anything to worry about.” He quirked a brow. “Right?”
Gray licked his lips. He’d kept Black-Eyes out of his reports. “Right.”
“All right.” Carter seemed to relax a little. “Well, you’ll hear from the news soon, I’m sure. You talk to your girl last night after we met? Are you doing all right?”
At the mention of Angie, Gray had to fight very hard to keep from smiling like his head was going to split open. “I talked to her, yeah. Told her she’d be looked out for, but I didn’t tell her anything about the rest of it.” Moody had been bad enough, he sure as shit didn’t want EA on her. “So what are we going to do about it?” Gray was trying very hard to change the subject, to get Muller out of his head. The creepy fucker, done in possibly by Gray’s own hand in an indirect fashion. He was the one who let Black-Eyes know he was on the Spine Thief case, after all, and that someone was leaving a calling card that seemed related to the Duwamish. But why was he feeling so evasive? Would it have been worse if he had killed the man himself? Would he have felt any grief if he’d put a round between those horrible synthetic eyes? Fuck no he wouldn’t. He just didn’t want to get in trouble, and that was the truth of it.
“Well, I guess we’re going to wait and see what he does, see if he starts pushing her harder. I think he’ll just set something up in the end – if that happens, don’t worry, your girl will be fine. We have her registered as a confidential informant for Executive Affairs now.”
Gray frowned a little at that. “You don’t think he’ll be able to pick that out? I mean he’ll know, won’t he? He has connections.”
“None in my department,” Carter said. “And anyway, don’t you trust me? I know what he is, how he acts. Don’t tell me you’ve gotten cold feet overnight.”
“No, no. It’s not that at all.” It was that he had too much to lose now, and the eyes falling on him just kept getting bigger and bigger. Moody and Vice, then Executive Affairs, and now possibly the Feds – fuck’s sake, it was good enough being a hero, he didn’t need any more of this kind of shit. “I’m just nervous, I guess, about what he’s going to do.”
“What he’s going to do is get himself fired and possibly arrested,” Carter said with a shake of his head. “Don’t worry about it. All right?”
Gray swallowed. “All right,” he said, not feeling it at all. He wanted to get out of the car and go right back upstairs and guard Angie all day. Take her to work, follow her in, shoot that fucker behind the bar in the face. Fuck it, kill everybody involved, throw them in the canal. Only way to be sure. Did he want to be sure? He sure as fuck felt like he wanted to be sure. Gray’s skin prickled with a sudden rage that had been like the one from before, but inside of him, under his flesh, through the nerves, not as hard to control as before – because it was part of him, this anger, this certain violence that had suddenly bubbled up from within. He hadn’t the slightest clue from whence it came, but it felt…good. Good to protect her. Yes.
Carter was staring at him. “You there, buddy? You went away for a sec.”
Gray shook the thought out of his head; the fire in him went out, the wire shorting out in his head. Strange. “Yeah,” he said, “I’m here, I’m sorry. I was just thinking about the whole thing, that’s all.”
“Well, go get yourself some coffee,” Carter said. “Seriously, you can’t just go fading out like that, huh? She keep you up all night?”
“No,” Gray said, though he felt the anger flutter again. “Right. Okay, I’ll talk to you at the office. See you later on.”
The call ended, leaving him in the car with the engine running and no desire to go anywhere but upstairs. The rage had come, gone, and he felt nothing after – like it was a process running in a computer, a thing with a natural place and a natural purpose despite its suddenness and its oddity. He thought about it a moment, what it might be like to indulge it, to keep the world away from the lean woman upstairs, and then he felt himself shrugging it off. It would mean getting thrown in the fucking freezer for a hundred years, and nothing was worth that.
Gray sat in the car and thought about that feeling a little more. Then he pulled out onto the street.