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 ended up having lunch with Megan at a streetside ramen stand down in the International District, mostly because they couldn’t find a place where the staff didn’t give them the stink-eye when they came in the door. Apparently Civil Protection wasn’t too welcome those days, not with the way that Pacification had pushed the rioters from Seattle Center down there a few weeks ago. There was still some damage visible – flickering neon signs, promotional display screens still showing the pearly veins of drying patchweb. The white wounds of masonry clipped from live rounds of Pacifiers’ guns when people didn’t get the idea that the rubber bullets were a warning, not the message itself. The leathery old man running the stand was more than happy to have police at his counter, however, so soup it was.
Lunch was mostly eaten in silence, with a few sputterings of unrelated small talk keeping some semblance of the casual meal between co-workers it was supposed to be. Gray was very aware of the weight of their conspiracy, how it killed his desire to talk about anything else – but there were ears everywhere, after all, and it would be senseless to discuss their plans in public. Eventually Megan excused herself again, saying that she’d talk to him later. He imagined that meant as soon as he’d heard something new, or whenever they had to work together again. Given that he wasn’t on field duty that didn’t seem likely anytime soon.
Gray sat nursing a glass of Kirin for a little longer before he got back in the Cerico and went back to the office. The rest of the day was spent going over reports and other paperwork, which gave him ample time to see the nature of his lesser colleagues. Men and women that were young like him, and just as hungry – or at least, as hungry as he had been until lately. He recognized himself in the clarity of their reports, the exacting attention paid to every detail. If you could determine which way the atoms were spinning in a knife wound it would have been documented. He wondered why that made him so irritable now, especially since they were no longer competition.
Once he was finished, Gray closed up for the night and headed south for the Duwamish Waterway. Listening to the purr of the Cerico’s engine brought him into a kind of fugue as he took the wheel himself, navigating the crumbling streets as he drove into the Verge. He thought of nothing save for those horrible pits that had once contained the eyes of the Native gang lord. He thought of how closely the gleaming studs resembled what had been there before, something out of nightmare. What was he going to say? ‘Hey guys, what do you know about that dude who was doing illegal shit in your neighborhood and you almost got blamed for killing him?’ Well, why not? He did the same thing before, almost, and he hadn’t gotten killed over it. No telling until he got there.
It wasn’t long until he pulled up by the park again; its blue fence shone dully in the light of the fading sun, bright against the darkness of the woods. The Cerico was much more out of place than his old Vectra as it settled onto the curb opposite the park fence, but as he got out he knew that nobody’d be able to steal it – the electrified lock cylinders, armored body and bulletproof windows were more than enough to keep some random-ass crim from trying to break in.
He walked across the street. From what he could see, the park was empty; the waning of the afternoon had not yet progressed to a point where the creatures came out to play. Standing on the patchy, yellowed field beneath the withered trees, he saw nothing but the detritus from before. “Well, shit,” Gray muttered to himself. “I guess I’ll have to come back later.” As he turned to go, however, the sound of rustling from a cluster of dried-out bushes caused him to spin back toward the sound.
A young woman emerged from the withered brush, and Gray recognized her immediately as the girl whom he’d seen blowing someone in the shadows on his first visit. Lithe and thin, she was very clearly no older than fourteen; the budding curves of her hips were barely covered by the band of a neoprene miniskirt, and her budding breasts were visible beneath her mesh shirt. She did not show modesty, nor did she act with it – tattooed with the image of a cat on her sallow face, the girl slinked toward him with all the confidence of a professional.
“Mr. Cop,” she cooed, “You’re back already.”
“….yeah,” he said, feeling just a bit uncomfortable at seeing the young creature approach him. “What do you want?”
She smirked, cocking her hips and looking up at him from under hooded lids. “What do you want, Mr. Cop?” Her dark eyes traveled over his suited form, and he was very aware of how they lingered over his hips. “You got a fifty I’ll let you peg me in the back of your car. Hundred, you can take me in the ass.”
Gray stared at her. What the fuck was this? Sure, he’d seen this plenty from afar, but he’d never had any little girl roll up and straight out proposition him. “…that’s okay,” he said, horrified beneath his flat expression. “I’m here to see James Black-Eyes.”
The girl shrugged her spare shoulders. “He ain’t here,” she said, reaching up to play with the end of his tie. Her hair swayed softly, like a fountain of black down over her shoulders. Gray fixed his eyes on her face. “But I am. You sure that you don’t want to…” She ran a fingertip down the lapel of his suit, and he felt his back stiffen as if he’d been frozen solid. She grinned again, loving his reaction. She’d screwed around with men’s heads like this before, no doubt. Only they probably gave in after awhile.
“No,” Gray said, gently pushing her hand away, “I’m sure. No way to get in touch with him then?”
She made the faintest spitting noise, so small as to be barely heard, and made a face at him. “Not right now, but he’ll be back tonight. You want me to tell him you were by, Mr. Cop?”
He nodded. “Yeah,” Gray said, taking a step back from her. He reached into the breast pocket of his jacket and came up with a business card, handing the slip of transparent plastic out to her. “He can reach me here.”
The girl looked at it, made another spitting noise. “Fine,” she said, sounding bored now. “I’ll let ‘im know.” She paused a moment. “Not even a slurp?”
“Good evening.” He turned and strode across the park toward where the Cerico waited on the other side of the street, shaking off the images that his lizard brain had injected in his head like a bad fever. Jesus fuck, he thought to himself, these people are fucking nuts out here.
He got back in the Cerico and sat there for a moment, thinking about that girl in the park. How young she was, how she didn’t care who saw her – wearing that mesh shirt with no bra, begging for people to ogle. He wondered if she’d been forced to do it that way and got used to it or if she’d been one of those hypersexualized girls who grew up early and decided to wield themselves like weapons at the public. Maybe it was survival, maybe it was mental illness, who the fuck knew. He wasn’t Vice and he wasn’t a saint, so it’s not like he could help her. He stared at the park from across the street once more; she had vanished as quickly as she had appeared, like some kind of bizarre nymph that might have sprung from one of the dying trees. He shook his head again and started off, happy to leave the park behind him. The sooner he could get out of White Center again, the better.
As he drove along the ruined waterway and past the corpses of the barges, however, a call came in on the Cerico’s console; answering it, he was rewarded with the rumbling of James Black-Eyes, an audio-only call which made his voice sound as if it were echoing from the abyss. “Detective Daniel Gray of Homicide Solutions” said Black-Eyes, making it sound like the invocation of a True Name. “Trinnie says you wanted to see me.”
Gray shivered in his seat. “She also said you weren’t around,” he said. “Bit surprised to hear from you so soon.”
“I was indisposed,” replied Black-Eyes. “A bit different, but you don’t expect someone so young to make these sorts of determinations. Now, what can I do for you?”
Gray parked the Cerico on the side of the road by the waterway; the day was fading, the bones of the dead ships growing increasingly dark. “I’ve got a lead on something,” he said, “Maybe.”
“Yeah. Look, you remember that you told me that Ronald Anderson–”
“The man who was killed? The one you thought we murdered?”
“Yes,” Gray said.
“Ahhhh.” Black-Eyes sounded amused. “You’ve done us a favor, killing off that girl who thought that she could make us look like monsters.”
Make us look like monsters, he says, Gray thought as he remembered the sight of the man. “Yes, well, it’s part of the service,” he replied. “Protecting the public.”
“Indeed. And we thank you.” A black feeling floated up from his stomach at that. Yes, protecting people like them, at least when they weren’t menacing the public on their own. “So what did you need?”
“Well I need some information,” said Gray, rubbing at his brow as he said it – he was glad that the Cerico’s phone was set so that voice-only calls got voice-only responses in return. Wouldn’t do to let the horrible man see him disturbed. “If you have it.”
“Anything for our friend in Civil Protection,” the beast replied smoothly. “What is it you need to know?”
“Do you know about the strip club in the Hilton Crown Pavilion?”
“Mmm…that gaudy thing by Sea-Tac? The one made to look something like a fairytale castle?”
“…I’d never thought of it like that,” Gray said. “Looks like a snowflake to me.”
“Indeed,” Black-Eyes replied. “I believe the club is called the ‘Autumn Heights’. You were saying?”
Gray cleared his throat. “Right. Who owns that place, do you know?”
“I do not, but I can find out. Why do you ask? Is this not something you can find out on your own?”
“It is,” Gray said, “Well, to a point. I want to know who really owns it, you know?”
“I can find out.” Black-Eyes sounded genuinely curious now. “It isn’t every day that a police officer asks a fellow such as me for such information. Isn’t this something that your friends in Vice could tell you about?”
Gray made a face. Jesus, stop asking so many fucking questions. He hated it when he dealt with genuinely smart criminals, especially ones like Black-Eyes. The ones who would eat your children in front of you, and then possibly compose a sonnet about the ordeal later on. The modern gentleman savage. “I always double-check my sources,” he chose to say. “You know how it is.”
“…indeed,” said Black-Eyes, and his amusement rose. “Well, then. Was there anything else?”
Gray made another face and nodded. “Yeah,” he said to the empty air, “I’m curious. Do you know if there’s a Shard operation going on up there? I have sources that say otherwise, but it’s come to my attention that drugs of some sort are being trafficked in that area. Maybe…exotic substances.”
“‘Exotic substances’.” Black-Eyes sounded thoughtful. “Ah. Wonderland sweets, eh?”
Gray frowned. Wonderland? He hadn’t thought about black-market substances. Maybe that was it, though – especially if whatever Megan had found in Yin’s victims was what was being traded at the Autumn Heights. Could it be that Anderson was involved in the sale of this substance? If so, how were the other victims involved? How was Angie involved? Suddenly a whole new line of possibilities opened up for Gray, and he found himself wondering just what the hell he was getting into here. “Maybe,” he said. “If you can look into it, I would appreciate it. Quietly, if you can. You’re a man who understands discretion, I think.”
From the depths of the Cerico’s sound system, Black-Eyes’s laughter bubbled up like the black breath of Satan. “Yes,” he said, “Discretion. You see beyond my outward appearance, Detective, that is why I like you. You know the value of respect. Yes, I will look into this matter for you, and I will tell you what I discover. It is the least that I can do for someone who has clarified the reputation of the Duwamish Sons.”
There was a pause. Gray rubbed at his forehead, wondering, and then asked the obvious question. “I don’t understand that,” he said. “How did I manage that?”
“It was as you said,” explained Black-Eyes. “Someone was acting as if they might be us – certainly you thought so, and as it turned out, so did others. You made sure that certain understandings that people had about the Duwamish Sons were confirmed again. Certain…aesthetics.”
“Ah.” The aesthetics of death, he meant. How every gang killed was as much part of their image as how they looked or what business they were into. He’d helped cement part of their legend by removing the confusion that Yin kept up. “All right, well. Happy to help, I suppose. Thank you, Mr. Black-Eyes. I appreciate your help.”
“I will take it that you mean ‘I’ as the individual, not as the policeman.” Black-Eyes chuckled. “You’re welcome, Detective. We shall talk soon.”
“Soon,” Gray echoed, and reached to cut the call. He sat there in the car, waiting for his guts to settle. He’d just made a deal with a criminal. It happened, but nothing like he’d ever done before – certainly not with a monstrosity like James Black-Eyes. He felt as though he’d made a deal with the Devil, and possibly he had. But this might get Vice off his back, and more importantly, off of Angie’s. Maybe the ISB would get involved and Civil Protection would get cut out of it all – and as much as that might annoy the company, it would finally mean some peace.
Peace. Even if he’d have to deal with the Devil to get it, peace – and Angie – is what he wanted most right then.