August 30, 2028
The dead weight of Kira’s falling body crushed the wind out of Bridge’s lungs. Kira was a skinny stick figure but the force of the shots had thrown his full weight into Bridge. He clattered to the ground gasping for air, flailing to grasp the reality of the situation. Warm blood quickly soaked his hands as he tried to push Kira’s body away. His back was soaked through to the skin underneath by the wet pavement. Flitting thoughts jetted through his mind. ‘Getting this suit clean is going to be a bitch,’ and ‘I have to find another hacker for Nicky’ and other equally unimportant truisms passed through his mind. As footsteps echoed towards him, panic set in. ‘I’m still alive and they’re coming to finish me off.’
The pressure on his chest was suddenly removed, replaced by the tramp of a boot heel. One quick stomp on the sternum, then the boot rested on his chest with enough force to push what little air remained in his lungs out again. “Oi, cuntface, where is it?” Bridge gasped wordlessly. “I’m talking to you, you tosser.” The bouncer Paulie stood on top of Bridge firing staccato questions into his face with that thick English accent. Two others dressed in black with cybershade implants were searching Kira’s body with all the finesse of rampaging bison. Kira coughed a wad of blood into one of the men’s faces and was rewarded with a vicious punch. Kira’s breathing became a loud wet gurgling, a sound Bridge had heard before. The hacker didn’t have long left.
A hard slap across the face brought Bridge back to the man towering over him. “Look here, Polly. I got no time to fuck about. That little turd over there gave you something, didn’t he? Where is it?”
Bridge struggled for breath, but managed a weak, “He didn’t give me nothing. I don’t even know him.”
“We know he was coming to meet you.” Kick to the ribs. “If I start breaking bits off you, you think you’d remember better?” Bridge didn’t respond and took another kick to the ribs. “I ain’t got all night. Convince me I shouldn’t put a fucking bullet in your head and go have a pint, or I swear I will fucking murder you, Polly.”
Bridge coughed hard, raising a hand to forestall the beating. “Hey, hey, I’m a talker, not a fighter. Let me just catch my breath and we can figure this out. You need something and he has… had it. I know a guy can find things for you. I won’t even charge a fee.”
Paulie grabbed Bridge’s left arm and began to twist, digging his foot into Bridge’s chest to maximize the painful leverage. He glanced over to his companions and said, “You lot find anything?” They shook their heads. “Right, well that does you then, don’t it? We’ll go toss his place after we take care of this cunt.” He reached into his coat, retrieving a gigantic pistol from its holster.
A trashcan slammed into his forehead loudly, sending the gun and its owner flying. Bridge rolled over and sucked in precious, stinking air, his face caked with alley mud. At first, the sounds of scuffle barely penetrated the veil of pain, but his head finally cleared enough to comprehend the scene. The two gunmen were being beaten down by a combination of Aristotle’s pummeling fists and Stonewall’s flying feet. Surprise had given them the edge, and they were taking full advantage of it. Stonewall quickly finished off his opponent with a knee to the bridge of the nose, the metal of Stonewall’s cybernetic leg making a sickening crunching sound. Aristotle chose a more direct elbow and fist combination that was equally effective. Bridge spotted Paulie crawling towards his gun, a gash in the forehead pouring blood. Bridge kicked out, catching the cockney enforcer in the ribs. He struggled to his feet, landing another staggered kick into Paulie’s midsection. “How you like that, huh!? You like that, bitch? Who are you working for?” Bridge stammered as he continued to dropkick the groaning figure.
“Fuck off,” was the only answer given, so Bridge planted another kick to the ribs. Stonewall, having finished his man, walked over and stomped Paulie’s gun hand. The resulting shrieks of pain gave Bridge no small amount of satisfaction. Stonewall used the gun to clock Paulie across the back of the skull, rendering him unconscious.
Aristotle put a hand on Bridge’s shoulder. “How bad are you hurt?” he asked.
“I’m ok,” Bridge replied, though he wasn’t. He felt like hell. His ribs were on fire though thankfully not broken, his lungs were bursting with each breath, and he could still feel the impression of a boot on his chest. Paulie knew how to hurt a man. His mouth filled with the coppery saltiness of a bloody lip, and he spat to clear it. “What the hell are you doing wading in there like that? I’m not paying for that.”
“It’s hard to extract payment from a coffin,” was Aristotle’s bemused reply. His grin was ear to ear, the sort of smile that could cheer up any situation. “Consider it an advance.”
“Well, my cash flow just got perforated.” Bridge indicated Kira’s prone body. “You kill those guys?”
Stonewall shook his head. “Not yet, amigo, though I’m betting that one don’t have long,” he said, pointing at the one he’d kneed in the face. The unconscious tough guy’s breathing was a raspy burble. Stonewall’s tone indicated that theirs would be a temporary reprieve. “This cabrón is getting it last. He gets to watch what I’m gonna do to these two. I told Twiggs, I told him there was something not right about that guy. What’d they want?”
“Don’t know. Kira was scared shitless, kept talking about me having to take something from him. Then they shot him.”
“Maybe he has whatever it is on him,” Aristotle said.
The three men looked at each other uneasily. None relished the idea of searching a dead body. “Don’t look at me, I don’t want whatever it is anyway!” Bridge exclaimed.
“You don’t pay me enough,” Aristotle replied flatly.
Stonewall deferred as well. “Hey, I gotta take care of these assholes.” Bridge resigned himself to the task and bent down to examine the corpse gingerly with a scowl. He touched Kira’s shirt with his fingertips, as if the body was on fire. A bloody, wet cough caused Bridge to throw himself back on his hands. Kira moved, rolling over on his side and opening his mouth to release a gigantic gob of blood.
“FUCK! He’s still alive.” Bridge crawled quickly over to Kira. “Call an ambulance or the cops or something.”
“Twiggs wouldn’t appreciate the cops on his doorstep.”
“We can’t just let him die here!”
“Look at him, Bridge. He ain’t making it.”
Bridge cursed loudly. “Kira, Kira, it’s Bridge. Can you hear me?” The hacker nodded his head weakly. “Kira, what were they after?” The punk’s lips were moving, weakly attempting to mouth words that were drowned by the blood. Bridge knelt closer until he could finally make it out.
“You… you’ll find… out, bro. I… sent it… man, I can’t… I can’t feel… my legs. I’m… dying, ain’t I? Don’t… don’t let me…” With that, Kira breathed one final wet gurgle and fell silent.
“What? What the fuck does that…” Bridge began, his jaw snapping shut as he realized what the dead hacker meant. Moving his hands to the base of Kira’s skull, he searched for the thing he feared he’d find. Pulling back Kira’s hair, he saw the kid’s interface jack, the silvery metal flush with the skin of the neck. Poking out of the jack was a wireless adapter.
Bridge was familiar with the hardware, though he had rarely used it. Jacking into a crèche or a street term took a wired connection. The wireless adapter allowed the hacker to access the GlobalNet without a jack from anywhere a hot spot existed, which was just about everywhere in the country outside of rural areas. Kira had been connected the whole time, and that meant he could have sent Bridge any kind of digital file in existence. Whatever Kira had been trying to pawn off, he’d probably succeeded. “Fuck. He sent me something.”
“Don’t know and I really don’t want to find out. Goddamnit! I do not want to be in whatever this is. That is not my goddamn business. My business is bullshit. You want your shit, you go to the guy I tell you to. That’s it. Simple. Don’t involve me, just pay me your fucking money, you festering pack of idiots, and leave me the fuck alone. And what does this little bastard do? He gets this all over me!” Bridge indicated the blood on his hands before wiping them off as best he could on Kira’s pants. Bridge ceased ranting and stood, buried in thought.
“Stoney, can you deal with this body for me?” Stonewall nodded. “And take these bastards, find out what they were looking for, who they told, who they’re working for. Anything you can.” The ex-footballer nodded again. “If I’m going to be in this, damnit, I’m not doing it without knowing all the particulars. Do what you gotta do. You won’t hear me crying, got it?”
“What do you want me to do, boss?” Aristotle asked with earnest concern.
“Go home. Your bill is already past due.” Aristotle started to protest. “If I need you, I know where to find you. But these guys aren’t going to be scared off by a big black man, which means you stick around, you’ll have to do a lot more of this.” The bodyguard looked hurt but agreed. “Help Stoney move these guys out of sight, then get home and stay there.”
“What are you going to do?”
“What I do best. Cover my ass.” His confident smile was anything but.
Bridge caught a passing cab a few blocks over, took it three blocks in one direction, hopped out and caught another cab going the opposite direction for eight blocks. He got out of the cab at a corner terminal. Called street terms, these kiosks were found every few blocks in LA, offering cheap GlobalNet access, banking, news sheets, driving directions, tourist information and food delivery services. Bridge used an old backup hacker ID to access the GlobalNet and called Angela. He crouched low beside the term, the cord to his interface jack stretched perilously. Memories of teenage street hacking came flooding back, years of nickel and dime hacks riding the Net while keeping meat vision lookouts for the cops. He constantly searched for pursuit. His paranoia was likely misplaced, since the ID he’d signed in with wasn’t tied to the Bridge name at all, but he hadn’t survived this long by being careless. And if the Bridge ID was already hot as he suspected, this one would be burned once he was done.
Angela returned the request with a physical presence, projecting her avatar onto his vision. She appeared as a wispy ghost, beautiful blonde angel with demon horns and gossamer wings floating in mid-air on the street in front of him. “What’s wrong?”
“Why do you think something’s wrong?” Bridge put on his best fake smile.
“Because you haven’t used B#rTman in ages, which means you don’t want somebody following your trail. Now what’s wrong?”
“Kira’s dead.” The ghost chewed on that for a moment. “He was trying to give me something, said somebody was after him for it. Bunch of guys shot him and tried to shake me down for something Kira had. We took care of the guys…”
“Never mind that. I’m alive, he’s dead and I need to know what he was working.”
“Nothing major.” Bridge frowned doubtfully. “No really, nothing big. We were messing with some pedofarms, but nothing that would get him killed. These guys, they look like organized muscle?”
“They weren’t cheap. Good clothes, cybershades, laser-sights, big guns and the like.”
“As far as I know, nobody he was working on was connected like that. Where’s the body?”
“It’s being taken care of.”
“So I shouldn’t tell his mom, then?”
“Not unless you want it tied to you.” She shook her head ruefully. “I think he sent me some kind of package before he died, probably whatever he was trying to get rid of. I can’t go to my place, in case those assholes reported back to their bosses.”
“Here it comes.”
“Look, I just need a place to crash for a few days, ‘til I can get this sorted.”
“Don’t you have any friends?”
“When did I ever have friends I could impose on like you?”
She sighed angrily. “Few days tops. And I better not get any heat over this, or it’s your ass.”
“The first sign of heat, I’m gone. I promise.”
Her scowl was an accusation. “Save it. I know what your promise is worth. You owe me. AGAIN.”
He cut off the connection, muttering under his breath, “More than you know.” With creeping dread, he switched Net ID’s, accessing the Bridge mailbox. Buried among the assorted spam offers and regular mail was a message from Kira, bloated with an attachment. Kira must have been good to float an attachment past Bridge’s filtering system. He sighed and jacked out without reading the message. He’d wait to get to Angela’s, where he could open it from the detached safety of a clean room. He called another cab, beginning an hour merry-go-round of cab switching, route retracing and obfuscation. By the time he reached Angela’s place exhausted and bruised, it was almost two a.m.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
August 30, 2028