Sam Nero’s office can be found on the fifty-fifth level of the City. It’s not the mean streets, but it’s not exactly busted flush territory either. The outer office is skinny and dusty and inhabited by a peroxide blonde named Sugar. Sam’s inner sanctum, should you ever find yourself there, boasts a scratched leather-topped desk, an upright visitor’s chair, and a statue of an ugly bird that sits on the window ledge…
The moment she walked into my office, I knew she was trouble. Any private eye worth his salt knows that a dame like that in a dive like this spells trouble for somebody.
She was classy, and way out of my orbit. Even the sound of silk on silk as she crossed her legs spoke of money beyond my imagination. She uncrossed those legs, leaned forward, and pulled a pack of Lucky Strikes out of her handbag. I took my cue, lighting the end of her cigarette with my brass Zippo.
Leaning back in the tatty office chair, my visitor smiled a feline smile. She smoked in silence for a moment, and it crossed my mind that she looked as out of place as an orchid in a ditch.
When she spoke, her voice was almost as wealthy as her appearance. It was smoky, and sexy, and carefully modulated.
“If a person wanted to have somebody rubbed out, where would that person go?”
“The eraser factory?”
She leaned back and blew a smoke ring. “Very funny, Mister Nero. But I asked you a serious question.”
“I’m a private investigator, not a facilitator.”
My visitor laughed, low and husky. “Very good. And I’m not asking you to facilitate a murder. I’m asking you to investigate one.”
I leaned my elbows on the desk. “Aren’t the police investigating?”
“No. Or I wouldn’t be slumming it.”
“Two questions. Who died? And why not some up-level investigator with a shiny office and an even shinier reputation?”
She stared at me before leaning forward and stubbing out her cigarette with vicious little stabs. I couldn’t help noticing the perfection of her manicure and mentally pricing the job at more than what I earned in a month.
“Not so stupid, then.” Her voice lost some of its melody and grated a little on the ear. “I came to you because I heard you were honest, and maybe not afraid of getting your hands dirty. And who died? Lefty Galento. My father.”
It was my turn to stare. Then I spoke in carefully neutral tones. “Lefty died of natural causes.”
“Oh sure,” she said harshly, “if you call being smothered with his own pillow natural.”
“What do you mean, smothered? The newsfeed said he died peacefully in his bed. And Meditech agreed.”
“You have clearance for Meditech?”
I wriggled my fingers, and the ghost of a smile passed across her features. “If you had to hack in, why did you bother?” She sounded curious.
“Because Lefty and me went back a way. And I wondered which of his family got greedy.”
“That’s what I wonder too. And what I want to know before they start dividing up the assets.” She regarded me somberly for a minute, then appeared to come to a decision. “As far as the family is concerned, I am one of Daddy’s assets. I just want to make sure that whoever they want me to marry didn’t pay his nurse to hold a pillow over his face.”
She got up from her seat and reached into her bag once more, pulling out a fat brown envelope. “There should be enough cash there to engage your services. I’ll be back in three days.”
She left my office with a swing of her hips.
All she left behind her was an image burned into my retinas and the suggestion of her perfume. Oh, and an envelope of cash.
I put the envelope in the drawer of my desk and waited.
It wasn’t long before the office door was flung open with a crash. I only just had time to wonder how a holographic door could make a noise, when a pair of huge hands with black hairs crawling across the backs of them grabbed me by the shirt front. The goon grunted as he attempted to drag me out of my seat, but I’m a big boy and I don’t drag easily. I heard the material of my shirt tear, and that annoyed me. I don’t have enough shirts to destroy them without a backward glance. I put my hands around the goon’s wrists and squeezed, gently at first, then with progressively more force. The goon left hold of my shirt and started to whimper.
I waited until he dropped to his knees, then let go. He was dumb enough to go for whatever was in the holster under his left armpit. I coughed gently and he looked up right into the barrel of a blaster disguised as a vintage Colt .45. And those barrels look mighty big when they are right up close to your eyes.
“Down, boy.” The voice that spoke from my doorway was educated, with mild undertones of thug, and the goon was obviously in fear of the owner of that voice, because he scrambled to his feet and hung his head.
“Sorry, boss,” he mumbled.
“Just go. Wait for me outside and make sure we are not disturbed.”
The goon went, and I eyeballed my second visitor with some interest. He was slim and dark and good-looking, and he exuded dangerous with every breath.
He sat where the dame had been only minutes before, and I found myself thinking they had to be related.
“I understand you just had a visit from my cousin.”
“Classy broad, about so high, wearing a red suit?”
“Then I did.”
“What did she want?”
“Hadn’t you better ask her?”
“I’m asking you.”
I looked at him for a few seconds, noticing that the whites of his eyes showed all the way around the dark brown irises, before replying in carefully colourless tones. “She wanted me to find out who disposed of Lefty Galento.”
“And what did you say, my large friend?”
Thanking all the gods and all the techs for my excellent poker face, I looked at him blandly. “As far as I am aware, Lefty died of natural causes.”
From Sam Nero - PI by Jane Jago one of the stories in Dust Publishing's anthology The Last City.