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.
Gray waited until he had calmed down to call her back and get the address she was staying at, a place called the St Mark’s not far from her place. It was run by an ancient Chinese couple, shabby but very clean, and she was waiting for him on the third floor. When he knocked on the door she flung it open and threw herself at him.
“Dan,” Angie cried out, clinging to him and crying, “Oh, Dan, Dan…”
He held onto her tightly, keeping her close, stroking her hair with an arm wrapped around her waist. “Hush,” he murmured to her, “It’s all right, honey, it’s all right. I’m here. You’re safe, now.”
“I think they wanted to kill me,” she moaned into his shoulder. “I think, but I can’t be sure.”
Gray took a step back, lifted her chin with his free hand so that he could look down into her eyes. Big, blue, liquid with tears. She looked as she sounded – absolutely terrified. He was mad as hell that he’d forgotten the gun. “Tell me, honey,” he began. “Tell me why they’d want to kill you.”
“I…” She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, and as she did he got a hit of her scent – smiling slightly as he smelled the wonderful odor, the cinnamon tinged with sweat. “I think they think I screwed the owner, this guy Hammersmith.” She reached for him, took his jacket by the lapels, looking up at him with her wide eyes. “But I didn’t, Dan, I swear it. I’ve never even seen him! I thought I’d try and call him, but there’s not even a number for him.” Angie shook her head, looking confused and scared and miserable. “Can you tell me what this is about?”
A deep breath then, drawing in more of her smell, and he nodded. ‘I know,” he said. He could trust her. She needed him, needed help. Needed the truth. “It’s Carter,” he said. “He’s Executive Affairs – sort of like the corporate cops. Hammersmith is just the name of an operation they’ve set up, that’s why you haven’t seen him before. He doesn’t actually exist.”
She looked surprised at that, her eyes getting all wide – it was like he’d told her that Santa wasn’t real. “I don’t understand,” said Angie, playing with his lapels. “I mean, what kind of operation could it be?”
“A farming operation,” he said, and he ran a hand through her dark tresses. “Civil Protection building so-called ‘safe zones’ where people can commit crimes and get busted for them. It’s for padding arrest margins, you see? That’s all. And here’s Moody, the poor fucker, thinking that it’s a real guy behind things and planning on getting this fat collar by doing his usual tricks – but EA is on to him, and he’s going to end up losing his job and going to the freezer.” Gray leaned down and kissed her forehead. “See? You got nothing to worry about. I’ll just keep you hidden.”
Angie kept her gaze fixed on his face, her blue eyes still wide with shock; she drew a deep breath before leaning forward and winding her arms around him again. “My hero,” she murmured. “I thought I was gonna end up at the bottom of the Sound.”
“Not while I’m here,” he said, hearing the defiance in his words and feeling all the stronger for it. “I promised I’d protect you, honey. I will.”
“I know you will.” She buried her face in his chest, sighing again, her breath hot on his skin through his shirt. “Do you think they’d have followed you here?”
“Here? No.” He shook his head. “I think it’ll be fine.”
“Good.” Gray felt her smile. “Come with me. I wanna give my Prince Charming his well-earned reward.”
He woke still buried inside of her, her body laid astride his own. The time had gotten away from him again; how long had they been making love? An hour? Four? He struggled to find the clock on the bedside table, picking up the ancient liquid-crystal panel and turning on its LED backlight. Six thirty-seven in the morning. Had it really been two and half hours since he got there? He didn’t remember the time passing, only the incredible experience of their joining. His body was sore, but his nerves sang.
“Baby,” he murmured as he slid his hand up Angie’s back, smiling at her in the dark. “Angie, wake up.”
“Mmmmh?” She roused, eliciting wonderful sensations inside him; he felt himself stiffen inside of her all over again and she laughed. “You’re not waking me up for another round, are you?”
Gray laughed as well. “No,” he said, “As tempting as that might be. We need to get out of here, honey. You want another round, we can do it at my place.”
“Meh.” Angie struggled to sit up, still atop him, and ground her hips a little. She laughed at his gasp, drumming her fingertips against his bare chest. “I guess we’d better. You don’t think they’d be at your place as well, do you?”
“I don’t think so, no,” Gray said, though in truth he wasn’t entirely sure. It was possible, perhaps. And here he’d left his gun. “I’ll go up first and check it out when we get there, though. Just in case.”
“All right.” Angie eased herself off of him, disappearing into the bathroom; the light threw a shaft of light across the room, drawing a path toward the door leading into the hallway. Gray lay there, listening to her running the shower, thinking that she could do that with much cleaner, hotter water back at his place. Then he got up and got dressed, feeling the wonderful tingle of her presence radiating from his hips into the rest of his body. As he put on his pants and reached for his shirt, he wondered again just what he’d done to get such a woman like her.
“All right, honey, we’re here.”
Angie had been drowsing on the way back to Gray’s apartment building – he could hardly blame her, after that performance – and he only woke her up after he had parked the Cerico in the adjoining parking structure. “C’mon, sweetie. We’re at my place.”
He reached out to touch her face, and it was only then when she stirred, nuzzling his palm as it cupped her cheek. “Let me sleep a little longer,” she said, half-mumbling the words like a little girl. Damn, she was precious. “I’ll be here when you get back.”
Gray smiled at her. “All right,” he said, “Just lock the door when I get out, okay?” He opened the glove compartment and took out a multidriver from its sheath, the device like a screwdriver with a memory-metal head. He looked it over, checked the settings to make sure it had power, set the tip to ‘awl point’ so that the metal formed a short, wicked spike. He slid it into his shirt sleeve, handle out, and closed the compartment up.
“Okay,” she sing-songed, and propped herself up drowsily on one elbow while he got out of the car and handed her the key cylinder. When he shut the door behind him, waited until he heard the locks engage, and then headed for the apartment building feeling that she was secure for the moment.
As he rode up the elevator, Gray tried to plan for whatever might be awaiting him. He was unarmed, and Moody’s people had been around trying to round Angie up. Given that he was directly connected to her it was likely that he would have already been paid a visit. This was company housing, after all; Vice would just have to wave a badge at his door for it to open up and in they’d go, not like Angie’s ancient lock-and-handle getup. When he got to the door, he reached into his pocket and wrapped his fist around the dingle that served as his door pass. The lump of plastic had little weight to it, but its solidity gave him a little extra confidence as he waved himself in.
The door hissed open to darkness. A shaft of light spilled in from the hall, illuminating a path into the apartment; there was the sofa, currently with nobody on it. The rest of the furniture was undisturbed as he could se. Here goes, Gray thought as he took a step inside, ready to be assaulted. He was prepared for a punch, or maybe for someone to step out with a gun – what he wasn’t prepared for was the sudden snap and blue-white flash of electricity, the cold numbness that shot through his body, and the vaguest sensation of falling as his body collapsed beneath him. The door slid shut, and the darkness crashed over him like a wave.
Gray felt as though he floated through a cold sea, frozen and oblivious. He bobbed and sank within its course for an unknowable time, eternity spiraling on around him. Finally the spell was broken, and by force. The ringing of impact, like a slap in the face, propelled him back toward reality – and after a moment he came to realize that this was exactly what it was.
“Wake up, Gray. God damn it, wake up!”
The voice was as harsh as the force that preceded it, pulling him fully into consciousness. Gray lay on the floor of his apartment, staring up at the lights – and the snarling face of Charlie Gauge. The bald man’s blue eyes lanced through him from on high, boiling over with a fury that Gray could not identify through the remnant fog in his head. Gauge was standing over him; Gray saw the blunt, angry shape of a police-issue stunner in his hand. He also saw the grip of a pistol in the waistband of Gauge’s pants. “Get up, you traitor piece of shit,” Gauge hissed, and pain exploded in Gray’s ribs as Gauge kicked him hard in the side. “Get the fuck up!”
“Jesus, Charlie.” From off the the right, Gray heard a familiar voice, more amused than reproachful. Through the haze of pain, Gray struggled to identify it. “Don’t fuck him up too badly, else how am I supposed to talk to him?”
Recognition washed over Gray as the pain began to settle. The voice belonged to Bud Moody.
“Yeah, sorry,” said Gauge from overhead; he looked off to the side, then back down at Gray. His teeth, large and square and slightly yellowed, were bared in rage. “Get up, you piece of shit. Boss wants to talk to you.”
Gray tried to get up, but his body wasn’t quite cooperating. Gauge grabbed him by the collar and hauled him to his feet, where he swayed unsteadily on the spot. Gray looked over at the sofa, where Moody sat cross-legged in a black suit; he turned Gray’s Hornisse over in his hands. “Damned good gun, this,” Moody said. “I’m surprised you had the paper to pick it up.”
Gray shook the remaining fuzz out of his head and frowned. “We don’t all have to be corrupt fuckers to have nice things,” he spat. “What the fuck is this about, Moody?”
Moody looked up at Gray, surprised. “Look at you,” he said. “Baiting the bear even though he’s already smacked you one. You’re either incredibly brave, or incredibly stupid, Dan. Or maybe both, but it doesn’t really matter. The result’s the same.” He nodded to Gauge, who promptly buried his fist in Gray’s stomach.
Gray doubled over, coughing and sputtering, new pain blossoming in his gut. He stood there for a minute, bent over and sucking in wind, feeling like the bald bastard next to him just tried to tickle the back of his spine by way of his abdomen. “That,” he managed to gasp, in the deliriously self-destructive way of someone who can only translate his sudden fury into humor to keep from losing his shit and jumping on someone, “Is hardly…going to make me…want to talk.”
“Oh yeah?” Moody grinned, nodding at Gauge who stepped up and axe-handled him across his shoulders. The force of it drove him to one knee, and now he had wings of burning pain folded up tight against his upper back. “How about now?”
“I don’t…” Gray paused and got to his feet, swaying again. He willed himself to focus through the haze of pain that hung in his head. Christ, that guy could punch; Gray figured that Gauge was the kind who worked over dealers and pimps so that the smoother fellows could swoop in and do the chat-up routine on them. “What the hell do you want, Moody?”
“I want your girl, of course.” Moody chuckled, looking Gray over. The pounding in Gray’s back and torso was an express tribal beat, a burning rhythm that Moody’s words seemed to keep in time with. “I want the girl, Gray. She knows who he is, how to find him.”
“You’re confusing me,” Gray said through a wince. “Who’s ‘he’ in this case?”
Moody gave him a narrow look. “You know who,” he said. “Hammersmith. She’s been fucking every other man, woman and whatever else that has the slightest bit of power in this town, and it’s got to be under his orders. She knows who he is, and I’m going to squeeze her until she takes me to him.”
“Or until she pops,” Gauge sneered. “Maybe she’ll need a little incentive, huh?”
Gray felt that old monster of hate boiling up inside of him as Gauge leered; it started to scratch at the gates within him, sensing the opportunity to escape. He held it back, though, instead staring hate-rays into Moody’s face. “She doesn’t know anything,” Gray said. “She hasn’t done anything.”
“Yeah, you say that,” Moody said with a smirk, “But I’ve seen the pictures – and I know that you have, too.”
“Marowitz.” The monster roared again, smashing at the gates with great fists, but Gray managed to restrain himself – mostly now because he didn’t want to get shot before he could find some way to get the hell out of there and back to Angie in one piece.
“Turns out our boy Jack hasn’t gotten over his taste for Hax,” Moody was saying, but the flames inside him were boiling up the tunnel of his gut and licking the back of his throat, making it hard to focus. “I know all about your little bitch’s bedroom trips, and I know all about her connection to Anderson. So I got her for extortion and Murder One, the way I look at it, because even if she didn’t cut those people up she sure as shit smashed Anderson’s head in.”
Gray’s lips drew back in a snarl. “She did no such thing,” he hissed. “She wasn’t anywhere near him when he died!”
“She lives in White Center, for fuck’s sake,” Gauge said with a laugh. “Just on the other side of town from where he was found.”
“She was at work!”
“Yeah,” Moody said, laughing also. “Whoring around for him, eh? See, that’s what I don’t understand there, Dan. What’s the attraction here for you? Why you gonna risk your career for some bumba who’s got her coozoh stretched out like fuckin’ bubble gum, huh? She that good?”
He could feel it coming over him, the fury, boiling away all good sense and intelligence. They were going to squeeze her, and probably kill her and dump her somewhere, this scum, these shitbag motherfuckers. No way was that going to happen. No way. His muscles bunched all at once in preparation for the right moment as Moody talked away, but Gray’s ears were no longer able to hear them; only the thundering roar of blood filled his world, that and the red moire of rage that he could no longer hold at bay. “Tell me something, Moody,” he said, feeling the words buzz in his throat. “What’s it like being such a fucking moron?”
Gray saw Moody’s mouth moving. “What are you talking about, man?” His amusement was starting to drain away; the look that was now spreading over Gray’s face gave him pause.
“It’s Hammersmith,” Gray said, and he was aware now that he was laughing. “You fucking idiot! There’s no such thing! It’s all Executive Affairs! It’s a fucking sting for your corrupt ass!”
Moody’s face went pale. Gray could see with savage glee how the parts were clicking into place behind Moody’s eyes. “EA,” he mouthed, and now Gauge was saying something, looking as shocked and angry as Moody now did. They were trading words, arguing, and Gray stood there with the rage in him boiling over. They weren’t looking at him now; they didn’t see him draw the multidriver from his sleeve, and by the time he had charged Gauge neither of the other men had time to draw and shoot him down.
As if in slow motion they both watched, aghast, as Gray slammed into Gauge’s back and drove the tool into his kidney. The sharp point went in easy, all the way to the handle, boring through flesh and fabric alike without resistance. Gauge let out a bellow of mingled pain and shock as Gray twisted it in his side, and he dropped the nerve crusher onto the floor. Gray stepped in behind him and stabbed him again.
Moody was next to react, shouting himself as he fired the Hornisse three times – missing Gray entirely. Gauge’s massive body served as a shield, catching two of the rounds. He began to fall to the ground, but not before Gray could yank the pistol out of his pants. Moody fired again, and Gray felt something sear his right arm – but it didn’t stop him from lifting Gauge’s pistol and firing twice into Moody’s chest. The pistol coughed rather than roared as it blew bloody craters in the man’s tailored shirt.
Moody fell back onto Gray’s white sofa, misting it with red, and fell over onto the cushions with his eyes wide open. Gauge fell to the ground before him as Gray watched the life drain from them, the blue eyes clouding and then going glassy. He stood there and stared at Moody’s body until the smell of postmortem evacuation reached his nostrils and broke the spell. He wondered for a moment why the alarm hadn’t gone off and then realized that both he and Moody had used guns that were nearly silent, the Hornisse and Gauge’s gun, which he looked down at and saw was an outlaw Henekker P79 with an integrated silencer. He had time to move.
Gray used that time to swap his bloody clothes for a new set of casuals, and put the damning garments into a backpack; he put his boots in there as well, swapping them out for a pair of ancient sneakers he discovered in the back of his closet. They were the pair he bought when he started with Civil Protection, fresh out of college. Easier fucking times then, that’s for sure. He grabbed a fresh hoodie and the harness for his Hornisse as well as all his extra magazines and batteries, then walked toward the living room – and stopped, long enough to go back to the bed and get Angie’s scarf from its place under his pillow.
Gauge and Moody were still dead. Blood soaked the carpet and the couch. Defilement everywhere, the dirty blood of greedy men. Gray walked between the corpses, careful not to step in the blood, and saw that his Hornisse had fallen under the coffee table. He had to kneel down to get it, reaching out…and froze.
There, adhered to the underside of the table’s frame, was the unmistakable black button of an audio bug.
Gray grabbed the gun and shoved it into the stomach pocket of his new hoodie, zipped it up and pulled the hood over his face, and got the fuck out of there.
When he got to the car, Angie still slept. She was curled up in the corner of the front passenger seat, looking much more like the pretty young girl she was, and not the world-hardened woman she tried to be. He knocked on the window; she stirred, waking up and seeing him there. The look on his face had her up and unlocking the car in no time, big green eyes wide and staring; he opened the driver’s side and reached in to pop the trunk without a word, went to put the backpack in the trunk, then came back and dropped into the driver’s seat. It was only when he reached for the steering wheel that he realized that his hands were shaking.
“Dan,” Angie said, her voice very cautious and soft. “What happened?”
Gray closed his eyes for a moment as he socketed the key cylinder into the steering column and started the car. “Vice was waiting for me,” he said, and was shocked at how calm he sounded as he drew the car out of its parking spot and headed carefully toward the exit of the parking structure. “Moody and another guy named Gauge.”
Angie was quiet a moment. “You’re wearing new clothes,” she said, noticing it for the first time.
“…did you kill them?” She asked, but her tone made it clear that she knew the answer already.
“Yeah.” He drew the car up to the exit, looking both ways before pulling out onto the street. “They were going to kill me. And you.” Gray grit his teeth. “Or worse.”
“Oh.” Angie curled up again, this time drawing her knees up to her chest in the fetal position. “I…I don’t know what to say.”
Gray didn’t either. They were pretty much fucked, now, or at least they were as long as they were in the New City. They’d have to go somewhere. The Verge, maybe. Somewhere. Or rather, he would have to go somewhere. She didn’t have to get dragged into this any further. “I’m going to drop you off at your apartment,” he said as they proceeded down the street. “You don’t need to be a party to this.”
“What?” She sat up again, staring at him. “What are you talking about?”
“I’m going to drop you off,” he repeated. “And then I want you to call the police. Get yourself clear. We’re gonna stop at a cashpoint terminal, and I’m going to pull as much cash as I can from it – then I’m going to give you the majority of it. Get away from here, go to college, just…please, get the fuck away from all of this.” This wasn’t what he wanted, but he needed to save her – protect her. It was never even a question, just hard fact for him. “I’m not going to take no for an answer, either, so you might as well not fight with me. Maybe I can get this straightened out, come back to you.”
Angie didn’t say anything for a little bit. She sat there staring at her knees now, tears glittering in her eyes. He’d made her cry twice now, and Gray knew he was beyond forgiveness for it. “And if you can’t?”
“Well.” Gray took a deep breath. “Then at least we had this time together.”
“I love you, you know.” She whispered it now, her eyes closing tight. He knew she would do what he asked of her.
“I love you too, honey. Here, we’re coming up to the cashpoint.”
He stopped the car and got out, ran across the street to the terminal sitting there, and withdrew an entire paycheck’s worth of cash before coming back to the car. Angie was still sitting there, tears falling onto her lap.
“Here.” Gray counted out a couple hundreds for himself from the cashpoint’s envelope, then pushed the rest into her hands. She took them, but she didn’t say anything.
They drove for a little while longer, closer and closer to White Center, to her home. Where he’d never see her again. He thought about her being gone, how he’d never sleep with her again – he thought about how much he loved her now, how her scent filled the cabin, easing him, making him feel so good even through the agony and trauma of the night. Finally, when they were heading down Sixteenth Avenue and the last leg of their journey, she spoke.
“I killed him, you know,” she said. “Ron I mean.”
He took a deep breath, let it out again. “I know,” he said, and it surprised him a little to realize that he had always known, deep down. But it didn’t surprise him a bit to know that he didn’t care.
“He was trying to give me money,” she said, “And I wouldn’t take it, saying I wouldn’t have part in blackmail except for what he was forcing me to do – and he got angry, and he slapped me. I didn’t know what to do, so…I pushed him against the wall. He hit his head, and…” Angie closed her eyes tightly again, the tears coming once more. “I didn’t mean to, but he was dead, and then I heard someone coming, and I–”
“It’s all right.” Gray shook his head. “The money had a bomb in it. A ribbon of plastic explosive set to detonate at a specific temperature.”
She looked at him, shocked. “You mean, he was going to kill me?”
Gray nodded. “Yeah,” he said, guiding the car along. “You’d have been dead, and we’d never have met.”
“But then you’d never be–” She stopped and let out a sob.
He reached over with his free hand and stroked her thigh, saying, “It’s all right, sweetheart. This will be all over soon, and I’ll do my very best to make sure that we’ll meet again. I promise you that.”
He dropped her off in front of her place. They didn’t speak again, though he thought it was best that way. As he pulled away, he watched her staring, knowing that he left with her the best parts of him that he’d ever had – what drove away was only a shell filled with rage. He’d killed two men, and probably destroyed his career and his life, all because of the fucking machine that he had been so enamored with, so driven to serve and exploit. And now what? It had eaten him instead, and would continue to do so until there was nothing left. Not unless he could do something about it. Either way it went, however, Angie didn’t need to be involved.
As she disappeared from the rearview, he knew he had made the right decision. In time, so would she.