The name’s Nero, Sam Nero. Private eye and augmented android. Me and my holographic sidekick, Sugar, operate out of an office on the fifty-fifth level of The Last City. We do okay. But some days are a bit bumpier than others…
When a dame whose everyday walk is as smooth and studiedly sexy as a big jungle cat, and whose make-up is as immaculate as a well-pressed designer suit, arrives in your office at a shambling run with her face all over tears and snot it’s a safe bet that something pretty bad is wrong.
I was lost in thought, with my feet propped on my desk and my hat tipped way down over my eyes, when my office door was thrown open in a dramatic fashion. I barely had long enough to wonder why in the hell my holographic door was now making an eldritch shriek, when Katie Scarlett O’Halleran and her exceptional bosom landed almost in my lap. She was crying, and her face was a mess.
She grabbed me by the lapels and tried to shake me.
“Sam. Sam. You have to come. Somebody has taken Daddy.”
I sat bolt upright and squared my shoulders. Anybody brave enough to mess with Mister Aitch was certainly a big fish, and I guessed I was about to go shark fishing. I grasped the sobbing girl by her slender shoulders.
“Calm down Katie Scarlett, and tell me what happened.”
“I already told you,” she all but screamed, “somebody has taken Daddy.”
“Details Katie, details.”
I gently compelled her to sit down, and held onto her until her chest stopped heaving and she took two steadying breaths. Then I got the bottle out of my drawer and poured her a stiff one. Her teeth chattered against the side of the glass, but the act of drinking calmed her almost as much as the bourbon.
“Daddy’s personal alarm sounded about an hour back. Me and the twins ran, but his office door was locked. When we broke the door down he was gone, and there was blood all over.”
“Okay,” I said, although I didn’t think anything was okay. “Where are the twins now?”
“Flirting with your holographic floozie. We set droids to watch on the office and came straight here.”
I decided now was not the time to react to the slur on Sugar’s character. Instead, I reached into the locked drawer of my desk and pulled out two extra weapons, a mini blaster that I stuck in my sock, and a weighted sap that slipped into my pocket.
“Let’s go then.”
The twins and Sugar were in animated sign language conversation.
“Sugar,” I said, “if anybody comes looking…”
“I don’t know where you are, and I certainly never saw these folks.” She flashed me that empty-headed smile that I knew hid a mind like a steel trap and wiggled her assets. I gave her the raised eyebrow and we left.
The trip down the glides was tense and silent. Katie had herself together but she was only holding by a thread, while the twins obviously looked to me for a lead. I’ll admit it. I was worried. So much so that I didn’t even bother to exchange words with the young chancer who thought it would be a good idea to put his hands on Katie Scarlett; I just broke his wrist before I threw him off the glide. Myk gave me the thumb, and Zig grinned a tight grin.
At Hood’s Bar, everything looked smooth on the surface, the booths were full, the bar droids were just about run off their feet, and the holographic pianist was playing that damned song. Again. The undertones of worry were there if you had the eyes to see them, though. The droids were jittery, and every security guy had a hand on his weapon. Oh yeah. It was tense and they were all looking to Sam Nero for a lead.
“Office,” I said and followed Katie Scarlett’s long legs down the familiar corridor. She signalled to a guard droid, who opened the door.
“You all wait here.”
I strode into the office then stopped in my tracks. The blood was wrong, it smelled wrong. I rolled back the plastic ‘skin’ from my fingertip and bent to touch the red fluid. It was blood all right, but not human blood. It was rat blood. Somebody had recently killed one of the rats that inhabit the tunnels that honeycomb The City. So why was that blood artistically splattered all over O’Halleran’s office?
I turned and closed the office door. I spoke softly.
“Okay Mister O’Halleran, what gives?”
A panel behind the desk opened and the big shark himself stepped out. He was a little dusty, but unharmed, and he held a blaster in one big fist. Seeing it was me, and I was alone, he pocketed the weapon. His flat, killer’s eyes regarded me unblinkingly for a second.
“You have just presented me with a problem, Nero.”
“How so?” I leaned one shoulder against a bit of door that wasn’t smeared with rat blood and lifted a brow at the hulking killer.
“I got information that you had taken money to kill me. And that Katie Scarlett was in on the deal.”
“So you decided to disappear?”
“I did. And I heard my little girl screaming. And now you come in here quiet, with your hands empty. And I don’t know what to think.”
“Try thinking that you’ve been had.”
He regarded me for a long moment.
“Maybe I have. But what to do about it.”
I examined my fingernails for a long minute before giving him my blandest stare.
“Go back in that cubbyhole and await developments. Or…”
“Or find out who set this up.”
“And how do you suggest I go about that?”
“Think for a start. Think about who would benefit if you thought Katie Scarlett had betrayed you.”
O’Halleran stared at me. His eyes were lightless and unreadable. Then he nodded.
“I’ve thought. And now we have to catch the bastard.”
“You narrowed it down to one?”
He shook his big head ruefully.
“Not that simple. Gotta be family. Nobody else benefits. Nearest is my sister and her slimy bastard of a husband. But it don’t quite fit.”
I waited as something came across his countenance, something he didn’t like too much by the looks of him. When he said nothing I pulled my brave together and spoke up.
“Okay, Mister Aitch, what does fit?”
He looked at me with something akin to loathing, but I gave him back stare for stare and in the end he dropped his eyes.
“I got a cousin, his mammy died when he was just a button and my ma and pa brung him up as their own. We was like brothers. He has a son, a smooth handsome son…”
He stopped speaking, and I kept my mouth shut too, knowing that this glimpse of O’Halleran’s humanity was a dangerous thing to have seen. He was quiet for a while, but when he did speak his voice was as coldly unemotional as it always was unless he was talking to Katie Scarlett.
“All right, Nero. You are supposed to be the best. Catch the bastard for me. I’ll pay whatever.”
“I’m working for Katie Scarlett right now.”
His face worked for a moment.
“I suppose you are. So now what?”
“That depends on you. Can you get out of here unseen?”
“Once you are out, where can you get to?”
“My private apartment, upstairs. You will need a key card to get in,”
“Doesn’t Katie Scarlett have one?”
“No. She has her own apartment and I don’t have a key to that.”
I thought he probably did have a key, but deemed it prudent not to voice that thought. He handed me a card and turned to go back through the panel.
“One hour,” I said to his retreating back, and he nodded.
You can find the first Sam Nero story in Dust Publishing's anthology The Last City together with other stories about his fellow Citizens...