Author’s note: The following tales are a composite of a single event, each told from the point of view of their narrative character: A local townie bent on revenge, a corporate employee, and a street thief. Each piece was designed to be a small bite of the environment at hand. The stories are set in the fictional world of Lester Smith’s Dark Conspiracy roleplaying game (Copyright 1991, Game Designers’ Workshop).
He’s ahead of me in the crowd and I ain’t planning to let him get away. That stupid red shirt from last year’s Decline concert marks him good and gives me a point of reference, but on the other hand the weather is not as crappy as usual and so the streets are packed. The sidewalk is like swimming through people, and when I try stepping onto the street itself I damn near get a Zil enema.
Homey’s keeping up a moderate pace. Doesn’t seem to be in a hurry. That makes it easier to follow someone, but to be honest I would just as soon he gets where he’s going. Shooting a man on a city street ain’t big on my list for today.
Witnesses are gonna be a bitch no matter what. Pop a couple caps in some monkey, even here in the upper Anthill, and folks are gonna take notice. The kick will be limiting exposure. If he’ll just go into a store or something, somewhere that limits vision and blocks some of the sound, I’ll splash his head all over the walls and just keep trucking. I kind of hope he goes into some clothing store. Wrap the .45 in a heavy shirt or something, and maybe that will mitigate the sound. Worked for Tyrone What’s-his-name in that spy film last year.
He strolls past the big Asian market thing like he can’t even hear them calling out to him. I snatch up one of those little bottled soda things and toss some aged mama-san a couple wadded notes as payment. I don’t care about any change, even though I hear her call out that I have some coming. I just turn and wink at her while taking a drink. She smiles and pockets the change.
If things go the way they could, I won’t need any money after today. Either I’ll get back the case and be able to sell it for enough to retire, or I’ll get arrested — or I’ll get dead. Either one means about the same thing as far as those bits of scrip go.
He starts cutting eastbound and passes by a Night Shift. I see his eyes reflected in the glass. I’m too close. If he sees me… The .45 feels like a brick in my waistband, but if I have to I’ll drill this asshole right here. He runs a hand back across his hair, slicking it down where the wind is getting to it.
The rain starts. Not sure why it waited this long, but it’s those early showers that just feel good and get you a little wet. The big storms will come later, not that this murdering sack of shit is gonna be around for any of it. That ain’t the kind of wet he’s gonna be. Dude comes into my house and ganks my friends, steals my cargo, and thinks I ain’t coming after him, then he needs to think again.
I stop for a second at a vendor. Let him get a few extra steps. The distance will help. I hadn’t realized I was getting that close until I was looking over his shoulder. A couple bucks later and I’m munching on some kind of meat on a stick. It’s either really shitty myco or it’s fairly tasty mouse. I ain’t asking which. I see him further east, ducking behind the big grocery store. I’m actually glad he didn’t go in there. They’ve got sec men that have good relations with the local badges. That means they remember people who do things like execute their customers. Hell, they’ll probably shoot back, and they actually know what they’re doing. Me, I’m running off what that Devil Bat showed me when he sold the gun to me.
I round the corner and see that he has passed the big game shop. There’s a little space out beside it with some tables and benches and stuff where people used to meet for chess games and romantic talks and such. I can see him making a casual approach. There are half a dozen people there at various tables. I’m throwing out the two Dobies making out, and the dude smoking a cheap cigar while he reads the latest issue of HiTek Dreamz is a no-brainer. It’s the mook in the business suit that looks entirely out of place and I figure that’s his mark. He’s gonna give my case to this nome wannabe? Not today.
As he takes another slow step forward, I make three of my own. My heart is racing faster than my steps. I reach for the metal and it fits my hand like it was made for it. I bring it out of my waistband and look down to make sure the safety thing is off. I cock it with my thumb and make the next few steps his last.
“This is for Shank and Leo,” I say as the gun comes up. He starts to turn and then it’s bucking in my hand. So loud. I can see the empty shell flying up and away as I pull the trigger again. His head is pretty much gone. He’s still falling but I grab the case and rip it out of his hands. It’s already sticky with his blood. So is Suit Boy, and a part of me thinks that’s pretty funny.
I turn and cut back up parallel to Penn in the alley. I keep seeing his head crack open. I’m gonna puke. I know I am, but I can’t yet. Heading north now, putting on speed. The badges will be coming. CorpSec or HardCop, it won’t matter if I get caught. Only difference there will be Corpers putting me down while the real ones do the arrest thing.
There’s a mushhead sitting by the sidewalk at Mackie’s, behind his coin bucket. Looks like he ate half of PharmaTech’s inventory. I can hear the sirens as I kneel down by him. Jesus, he stinks. He turns and mutters something as I shove a pile of scrip in his bucket and tell him some crap about God watching over him. The .45 fits real good under the piled up coat and assorted crap he’s got stacked beside him. I pat him on the head like a puppy and keep moving, though I change to the west now. Two blocks up and no pursuit. Time to change directions.
It’s about two more blocks when the thought of what I did really sinks in. I grab a trash can out beside Taste of Taipei and rip off the cover. The maggots crawling over whatever is in the can make it even easier and the fried mouse comes back up in a rush of cheap Japanese soda and bile. I wipe my mouth and straighten up.
“You did good back there,” I hear. I jump. Whoever they are, they got close without me hearing. I turn to see her, all slick looking and very much at ease here. Nice clothes. Heh. Nice rack. I look back up to see her smile. An eyebrow arches and she glances down at my waist. As I start to look down too, she’s in motion. The foot hits me square in the balls and the world explodes into brilliant swirls of color. I reach for her but she’s already inside my grasp. I can feel the knife then, in and out, in and out. Stabbing me so fast. It doesn’t feel like anything at first but now it’s starting to feel somehow cold and hot at the same time. That obsessive part of me wants to count the times she put it in me but I can’t. Making the thoughts stick is hard.
I can feel her pulling the case. It’s mine. I need it. You can’t have it. Gotta keep hold.
Getting dark. Why is it so dark?
What a filthy place.
How do people even live here?
I dodge a puddle of water that is brimming with scum. That would ruin my shoes.
I passed out of the last Controlled Zone five blocks ago, but this area should be classed as a complete NoGo. I saw actual street gangs. Not the kind on the trid, but real, actual criminal gang members, with knives and bats and stuff. One of them even had a gun. I saw the handle thing sticking out of his pants. The briefing dossier on this area is in serious need of a rewrite.
This had better pay off or I am going to be angry. I can’t believe I had to come here. I deserve so much better than this. It has to be Brantley and his interference. I’ll be filing a complaint as soon as I get back and can get the stench of this place out of my clothes.
I step around a bundle that might well be a used diaper and keep walking. There’s a man in a robe up ahead, waving some kind of book. He sounds like some kind of trid evangelist. As I get near, his eyes light up and he starts talking to me like I’m some kind of long lost family member.
Someone bumps into me and I spin, reaching up to hold onto the thick packet in my breast pocket. Well, she wasn’t attacking me. She looks to be intoxicated or something. It’s a pity. She’s a pretty thing. She lifts her breasts and wiggles them through her soft grey blouse.
“Wanna party?” she mumbles, smiling at me. Why on earth would anyone want to ‘party’ with someone obviously on drugs? Unable to form words to express my level of discomfort and lack of desire to be with her, I point to my wedding band and turn back in time to see the evangelist grinning at the girl. She wanders away singing as he begins to tell me something about my soul. As if I need a lecture on my soul from a man lusting after that drug-addled street girl.
Giving up on the evangelist, I turn away and nearly walk into a gorgeous young girl with bright purple hair. I never thought that facial piercings were all that attractive, but on her, they certainly seem to work. For a moment I am lost in thought, and then I remember why I am here, just in time to catch an angry glare from the hairy man in the leather straps that is her escort. He looks like one of those arena fighters Mildred likes to watch on the trid. Knowing what I’ve seen in this area, he’s probably her pimp. I sigh and move on. It’s for the best. If they knew what I was carrying, they would probably rob me.
I step around the edge of some store selling “smoking accessories”, although what I can see inside there doesn’t have anything to do with decent cigars. There are yet more freaks in there. This place is horrid.
Someone has their music turned up too loud. It’s offensive. No one wants to hear your – it’s in a car? That loud and it’s in a car? How can they drive? If this was home, the security forces would have torn that thing into scrap metal and you dirty people would be – don’t get out! Don’t get out! No no no.
That man just pulled some kind of giant gun from under his jacket and stuck it in the nose of the man on the corner, and then dragged him right into the loud car. They just took that guy right off the corner! No one’s going to stop them. No police, no security force. How do people even live here?
There’s a coffee shop up ahead on my right that doesn’t seem to have too much going on. Maybe I can get something to drink. I wonder what the chances are of them having a caramel macchiato?
I order one and the fat man behind the counter – with a nose ring, of all things – tells me they only have coffee. I get one with as much cream as they will put in it. Powdered cream in what was undoubtedly thrift store coffee. It tastes as bad as it looks but it’s vaguely approaching coffee.
It’s started to rain, and I notice no one is carrying an umbrella. The majority of the people get closer to awnings or doorways, but no one is putting on any protective gear. What are they going to do when the acid hits?
South of the alleged coffee shop, I see my meeting place. Just past a place selling games and cards and little tiny figures, there’s a picnic area — or at least that’s what it looks like. Plastic tables and benches, a random assortment of round tables with loose plastic chairs, and the occasional trash can.
I take up space in a seriously uncomfortable chair. I’m going to get dust all over my suit, but at least I’ll be able to see the seller when he arrives. I figure I will have to burn the suit anyway. After being down in this neighborhood, there is no hope for it. I can smell the stink of a bad cigar on the wind, and when I look, I can see the fat man smoking it. He’s reading some magazine. HiTek Dreamz? Really? Look at you. The closest you’ll get to anything HiTek is right there in your magazine. You’re as likely to end up in my part of town as those two nasty men kissing behind you. Nobody wants to see that! Save it for the bedroom.
He’s three minutes late. Three minutes. I’ve seen men fired for less. When he gets here I’m going to give him a piece of my mind. I do not like being kept waiting. A lack of punctuality shows disrespect for your business partner.
Is that him? That’s a courier case, at least. He’s heading my way. It looks like this is the right guy. Time to remember that stupid code phrase. What was it? I can’t remember. Think. Think. Here he comes. Something about a giraffe.
Who is that? Dear sweet Jesus, he’s got a –
He shot him! He shot him! It’s so loud! I can’t hear anything. Oh God, he just killed him! It’s all over me and I’m gonna be sick and oh my God please don’t kill me!
He can keep the case, just don’t let him kill me please oh please.
He’s running away and I hear the men behind me screaming and running. All I can see is this thing on my table. It’s like some kind of opened fruit. A moment ago this was a human being. Now it’s just –
I lean over and vomit onto the concrete. My hands are shaking and I heave again. My eyes are stinging from the acid going up my nose.
“Well, damn. That’s gonna leave a mark,” I hear. I straighten up. There’s blood and brain on my shirt and I feel my body trying to be sick again. Swallowing, I turn to look.
She’s lovely, even squeezed into whatever that outfit is. I suppose it must be fashionable somewhere. I wish my suit wasn’t ruined. I can at least smile at her. She looks familiar.
“Hey, aren’t you -” I start to ask.
She sticks a hand out and I automatically reach to shake it before I realize she’s holding a knife. The smile hasn’t faded from her mouth, but she’s holding a knife on me!
“Inside right breast pocket, mister. You know what I’m here for. Don’t try to play hero and you’ll be back in your MikeTown haven by sunset. Anything stupid and they’ll find your bloody corpse right here with dead boy.”
As if I’m going to do anything. She’s got a knife. I’m not some trid hero fighter. And just like that, there goes thirty thousand. How am I going to explain what happened here? Money gone and nothing to show for it? God, they’ll fire me.
She’s a ghost now, just a flicker of motion beyond the next building, moving at a full run that I couldn’t keep up with on my best day. I scratch my head and look around. Everyone ran away, but now some people are starting to drift back and peek around the corners of the buildings. Oh no. They’re going to think I did this!
I’m up and moving. Back past the front of the game store, with its inhabitants peering through barred glass at me as I run. My suit is filthy and no one pays me a second glance this time as I fly past them. If they let me keep my job, I’m never coming back here. Not once.
“Bring that case and all will be forgiven.”
You know, when you hear that kind of thing, it makes you wonder why you got into this line of work in the first place. When it’s coming at you from the Don, that question is a deafening scream. Most folks don’t get a second chance, but based on my past history, he’s prepared to allow me a shot.
So to make reparations, I’m shadowing this MikeTown idiot through the south side. According to our intel, he’s meeting with the seller this morning. If I follow him, he’ll lead me straight to the case.
Friggin’ tourist. He’s so lost here. You can tell he doesn’t come down from his ivory tower real often. I keep wanting to walk up and escort him to where we’re going just to get past the way he stops and stares at everything. I mean, seriously? What kind of dumbass is gonna give the hairy eyeball to a crew of Ragged Ones? I just hope he doesn’t do anything irreparably stupid before I can get to the case. After that, he’s on his own.
He wanders along with his head up his ass, heading straight for a street preacher. Dude’s all waving his arms and lecturing, but this idiot is gonna walk right into him. I wanna yell at him: Skirt him. Go right. Go right — but it won’t do any good.
And now I’ve gotta go past him while he hears the good word or some shit. Well, at least I can make this a profitable move.
I bump into him as I pass, just so. Two pockets checked and I’m snatching what feels like a bankbook of some type. No heavy wads of scrip. Unless this book has a fortune hidden in about three sheets I’m screwed.
“Sorry, man,” I mumble, taking on the affect of a stoned out Gidget. I let a sleepy smile pass across my face as I see him protectively clutch at the right breast of his immaculate suit. In response I cup both of mine and shake them at him a little. “Wanna party?”
He looks disgusted – which is, I must say, kind of an ego blow – even as the street preacher licks at his lips and grins at me. At least I’m not completely scragged.
As the mark sputters a protest I slide past, stumbling through the steps of some dance that goes with the Queenly Flux tune I start warbling. I slap the ass of an over-pierced drag queen with purple hair as she walks by, escorted by a tatted-up bear in some S&M leather harness crap who gives me a dirty look but doesn’t say anything.
I’m past them now and veering into a shite little bodega. I duck behind a merch rack and wait for Idiot Boy to get away from the preacher. Cursing my luck at picking the place with the most hideous fashion ever, I pluck a t-shirt from a rack and slip it over my head. Great. Alabama Meat Packing. Really? Souvenir shirts from a meat company? Whatever. It’ll keep the mark from recognizing me, I guess. I top it off with a skate beanie and an Adolph Coors – the only water I can see in this place with an honest-to-God factory seal on it. Twenty-seven bucks later, I’m out the door about fifty feet behind Suit Boy…and then ducking in the doorway of a taquiera while he stands open-mouthed and watches a Devil Bat snatch-and-grab. It’s a money hit, what with them actually throwing the guy in their car rather than just whacking him.
I flag the shopkeep and order a taco. The mark is arguing with the counter guy at a coffee shop, so I might as well get a snack. Why in the hell can this asshole not just go to his damned meet? I slip the pinched bankbook out and give it a glance. Not a bankbook after all. Corporate ID pouch. Nice. That’ll bring a few ducats.
It starts to drizzle. Cool drops. Not too thick yet, but as humid as the air is, it’s coming. I want to be through with this before the chem storms hit.
He moves again after a few minutes sipping at an overpriced something in a brown cup and now he’s cutting south toward some kind of game shop. There’s a Korean joint here, too. I’m half tempted to wait in there, but I just know the meet will come and he’ll wind up leaving some other way. I’m not going home without that case. He goes past the game shop to a section with tables and chairs, looks around and takes a seat where he can watch to the west. I slip into the shop itself.
It’s warm and dry in here. Some fuzz-faced dude with a fistful of card decks gives me the once-over. I grin and peel off the Alabama Meat shirt. He drops his cards when I toss the shirt to him. The beanie goes with it. I ruffle my hair back up, but the spikes are a lost cause, thanks to the stupid hat. Beardly McBeardson seems to think it looks good, though. That or my cleavage. Either one works.
I glance out through the window and Suit Boy’s still sitting there, looking around at the people at other tables. I pick up some big box with starships on it and pretend to read the back so I won’t get chucked out.
“You, uh, you play Centauri Command?” asks Beardly. I smile.
“No. Just checking it out. Do you?”
He starts to answer, but the sudden eruption of gunfire outside silences him. I spin and leap out the door, the game box sailing across the room as I do. Suit Boy is sitting with a terrified expression on his face — along with a lot of blood and brain. There’s a dead guy splashed on his table and some dickhead in faded jeans and an oversized FunkFerret t-shirt is ripping off my case. Dead guy is the meet, then. Great.
The FunkFerret guy is bailing and Suit Boy is puking his guts out. Everybody else is running and screaming like they were the ones that took a bullet. I catch a bead on the runner and then wander over to Suit Boy. There’s a .45 casing on the table. That’s something to keep in mind when I find the shooter. He’s got a cannon.
There’s a snick as the switchblade snaps open, and a minute later Suit Boy is passing me his wallet. Yeah. There’s the cash. A quick glance shows it to be probably twenty kay or more in Ford-Revlon scrip. I blow him a kiss and take off, hot on FunkFerret’s track.
He’s fast, and he’s blowing past crowds like someone who just shot a man. No attempt at stealth. That’s either gonna make this easier or one hell of a lot harder. If he attracts security attention, we’re boned. Cutting back behind Hubcap Haven and pushing those stringy legs for all he’s worth. Glad I’ve always been a runner. He won’t get away based on speed or distance alone.
I slow to a gentle walk now as he kneels by a human speed bump in front of a Mackie’s store. Nice chunk of change he’s adding to the boy’s bowl. Back up and moving, but this time he’s at a slower pace. No running now. He seems confident that there is no pursuit. He knows these alleys, though, and that puts him one up on me.
I catch up to him as he’s barfing out beside some Chinese joint. Why is it everybody’s gotta puke around me? These guys are gonna give me a complex.
“You did good back there,” I call out, and he whirls. The case is still dangling from his left hand. Predictably, he scans my body, so I smile and look down like I’m admiring his package. He glances down, too, and when he’s not looking at my eyes I know he won’t see it coming until it’s too late. Snapkick to the jewels, baby. I hit him like I’m punting at the Superbowl.
Before he can move, I’m in close, the switchblade working with me in a series of stabs that are not so much graceful as they are frequent. As fast as I can work the blade I’m tagging him, right through the FunkFerret logo. I can’t let him get to the pistol he had. Blood runs thick and hot over my hand, and his slapping blows are slowing and getting weaker. I grab the case with my left hand and boot him in the guts to break his grip.
He hits the deck and I’m gone.