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…
Once the panel had shut gently behind him I opened the office door. I gave Katie Scarlett just the merest suspicion of a wink before coming out and carefully closing up behind me. I looked at the two big droids.
“Nobody goes in there without my say-so. That’s nobody.”
They looked to Katie for approval and she nodded.
The bigger of the two spoke.
“That means not even Miss O’Halleran?”
She nodded again.
“Sam will have his reasons.”
“I do have. For now you need to speak to all the staff Katie Scarlett, assure them that everything is being taken care of.”
“I can do that. And you will be?”
I waved my fingers and she swallowed.
“I prefer to call it exploration.”
She managed a wan little smile, and turned away with a deliberate swing of her hips.
“And Katie,” I spoke to her retreating back and she turned to look over her shoulder. “Don’t speak to any family members.”
She showed me her even, white teeth in a taut grin
I waved Myk and Zig after her, then went back into the blood-spattered office. Twenty minutes got me everything I needed to know and I went in search of Katie. I found her sitting at the bar moodily sipping what looked to be a very large martini. I must have raised an eyebrow because she pushed it towards me.
“Virgin, Sam. You can taste it if you don’t believe me.” She didn’t sound too fond of me so I favoured her with my best overgrown schoolboy grin.
“None of my nevermind, Katie Scarlett,” I said pacifically.
“It could be your nevermind if you wanted,” her voice turned into honey being poured over warm rocks and she licked her full lower lip with an adorably pointed pink tongue.
I leaned over and swatted that portion of her excellent backside which wasn’t resting on the barstool.
“Behave, Katie Scarlett. There’s a game on.”
For a second she pouted, but underneath the flouncing and posturing she’s daddy’s daughter through and through, so she sat upright and regarded me flatly.
“There is? Then it’s about time I was told who’s playing.”
“I guess it is about time I filled you in. But not here. And not quite yet.”
Her diamond-bright gaze raked my face as sharply as a set of painted fingernails. Whatever she saw in that face must have satisfied her because she nodded briefly.
“In twenty minutes or so, if everything pulls together.”
She crossed a pair of silk clad legs and crooked a finger at the bar droid.
“I’ll have a proper martini, and Mister Nero will have a bourbon on the rocks.”
The droid almost bowed before scuttling off.
“What’s with the barkeep?”
“Oh. They all think Daddy is gone. And that makes me the boss. And they aren’t sure they like the idea.”
I grinned. “And why would that be?”
“Because I have an eye for detail, and I don’t have patience with anyone or anything that doesn’t do its job.”
“I just bet you don’t.”
The bar droid came back with the drinks and she flashed it a dazzling smile.
Katie Scarlett took a sip and inhaled the icy vapour.
“Sam,” she said and her voice was kinda soft and appealing, “am I ugly?”
I looked at her assessingly allowing my eyes to caress her creamy skin, and I was rewarded by a rosy blush that spread up her long throat and mantled her cheeks.
“No,” I said, “and you know you aren’t. But that’s not the question is it?”
She met my eyes bravely. “It isn’t. You know what the question is.”
“I do. But I promised your daddy that I wouldn’t explain.”
We finished our drinks in silence, and I looked at my watch. I was just beginning to think I would have to ask for a few more moments when the cellphone in my pocket bleeped. I pulled it out and the readout was what I was waiting for. I stood up and offered Katie Scarlett my arm.
She looked puzzled for a second then put one red nailed hand on my sleeve. I signalled Myk and Zig to follow us and we made our way to the private elevator.
“Where to?” I could feel the waves of puzzlement coming from her rigid figure.
“Your daddy’s apartment.”
“Okay, but we won’t be able to get in.”
I lifted one eyebrow and Katie gave a small moue of defeat. She put one slim hand to a palm plate.
The elevator moved with a silky smoothness that spoke volumes of money and maintenance. The doors hissed open and the four of us stepped out into a white painted foyer with a thickly carpeted floor. Opposite us was a set of double doors, painted to look like wood, but if I’d have been a betting man I’d have put the farm on them being plasteel.
I took the card out of my pocket and applied it to the almost invisible plate beside the doors. Katie Scarlett opened her mouth, but I forestalled her with a finger across those delicious red lips. It almost went without saying that the door which slid open wasn’t even in the same wall as the imposing looking ‘entrance’. I chuckled inwardly as I shepherded Katie and the twins inside, the door closed behind us and we found ourselves in another elevator. It was a quick trip, I guessed one floor only.
This time the door opened into a big room, with floor-to-ceiling windows and a view over the rooftops of Level 39 to where trees and grass grew in the only municipal park in this level.
“That you, Nero?” a voice called from what I guess was the kitchen.
Katie Scarlett swayed like a leaf in the wind and I braced her with my hands around her slender waist.
“Yes it’s me. And I have your daughter with me.”
O’Halleran barrelled out of a door to our left and grasped Katie Scarlett in his brawny arms. I signed to Myk and Zig and the three of us went to enjoy the view. The low-voiced conversation behind us went on for some time, and it seemed to me that Mister Aitch was having some small difficulty pacifying his little girl.
You can find the first Sam Nero story in Dust Publishing's anthology The Last City together with other stories about his fellow Citizens...