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…
I heard the staccato snap of high heels crossing the floor and Katie’s hand sneaked into mine.
“If I asked nicely, would you lend me a shooter, Sam?”
“What happened to your little stingy gun, babe?”
“Had to lose it when I shot some kid through the leg.”
I laughed. “Taking liberties was he?”
She nodded. “Now. About that shooter.”
“No. I’m not lending you heat so you can shoot your daddy. No matter how pissed off you are.”
Her laughter was lazy, and throaty, and warm.
“I wasn’t really going to shoot him. Just wanted to scare the cold bastard as much as he scared me.”
“Fair enough. But the answer is still no.”
She left hold of my hand and I heard her walking back to daddy, only this time her footfalls didn’t sound so all-fired mad.
Myk put a big hand on my shoulder and I turned to see a smile in his eyes. He signed “good work,” and we fist-bumped.
We carried on looking at the trees as they speared their way into the ‘sky’ until the voices behind us finally wound down. I turned to see Katie Scarlett with her arms around her father and her face buried in his shoulder.
“Not crying, I hope. You’ll mess your face up good if you are.”
“Nope. Not cryin’ just settlin’.”
O’Halleran motioned to a big table that looked as if it might have been made of real tree wood, and we all took seats. There was a bottle in the middle of the table, and a tray of crystal glasses the like of which I didn’t think I had ever seen before. Katie Scarlett poured ten-year-old bourbon with a lavish hand.
“And now,” she fixed me with a steely gaze, “I think Mister Nero has some explaining to do.”
Zig signed something to her, but the moves were so quick and so subtle that I didn’t catch any of it. Whatever it was brought red flags of embarrassment to her cheeks, and she cast down her eyes.
“Sorry Sam. Uncalled for.”
I handed around my best good old boy grin.
“No worries, babe. And I do have some explaining.”
I touched my wrist unit and Sugar appeared in the vacant chair at the foot of the table. O’Halleran licked his lips, and that riled me.
“A little respect, now, or we walk.”
He glared at me for a long moment, and opened his mouth to say who knew what, but Katie Scarlett forestalled him.
“Manners Daddy. Sugar may only be a hologram, but she is still entitled to be treated respectfully.”
The big man subsided and I nodded to Sugar.
“We are here,” she spoke briskly and not at all in her usual breathy little girl voice, “to talk about why anybody might find it worth their while to poison Mister O’Halleran’s mind against Sam and Katie Scarlett. I have some information that might clear things up a bit.”
As soon as she stopped speaking a short movie played itself out on the white wall opposite her chair. It was night and two figures walked along an unfamiliar street. The woman was wrapped around the man like a morning glory vine, and they stopped under a convenient street lamp for a bit of canoodling. The man’s hands were all over the woman, and as she lifted her face to be kissed Katie Scarlett’s features were revealed. Then the man turned his head.
For an instant Katie Scarlett stared, then she sprung up from her seat like a vengeful goddess.
She’s fast, but I’m faster and I was on my feet in time to catch the clawing hands and hold her away from me as she kicked and screamed. It took her a goodish while to recognise that she was getting nowhere, and soon as she started running down I transferred both of her wrists to one hand and used the other to lift her chin.
I made my voice hard.
“Katie Scarlett, you need to stop acting like a baby and just listen to me. You’re all over snot and you’re making an exhibition of yourself. Capiche?”
For a long moment her reaction hung in the balance, then I felt the tension leave her body. I handed her my handkerchief and she blew her nose firmly. She made to hand the crumpled square of linen back, with the ghost of her three cornered smile hovering above her lips.
“You keep it babe.”
“Thank you most to death, Sam. But who? That’s not me? Isn’t you either is it?”
“No. It isn’t either one of us.”
“Will somebody please explain,” Mister Aitch sounded both bemused and dangerous.
“It’s simple, if you think instead of reacting,” Sugar’s icy tones acted like a douche of cold water. “Somebody, somewhere spent a lot of money setting Sam and Katie up. You wanna know who?”
“Oh. I want to know all right.” The big man looked at his daughter. “You gonna forgive me?”
She gave him the cold eye for a moment, then smiled a sad smile. “I guess I gotta. I almost believed it was me myself.”
Sugar watched them tolerantly for a while before bringing the meeting back to order.
“At first Sam and I thought the security camera footage was completely faked, but we were wrong. That camera saw what we saw. So how was it done?”
The picture on the wall grew bigger as it zoomed in and focussed on the man’s hands. At first it blurred and shook, before steadying and sharpening.
Katie caught on before her father.
“Why, it’s a droid.”
Mister Aitch stared at the wall.
“So it is. And a pretty darned expensive one.”
Katie shrugged. “It’s good, but they can never get the fingernails quite right.”
I found myself looking at my own hands, then I dragged my gaze away to find Sugar smiling at me. I smiled back and dropped her the ghost of a wink.
Mister Aitch leaned his elbows on the table.
“What else you got to tell me?”
I took over.
“What about who made the droid and who paid him to make it?”
“Now you are talking.”
I signed to Myk, who left the room walking quietly.
Katie quirked an eyebrow at me, and I showed her my blandest face.
You can find the first Sam Nero story in Dust Publishing's anthology The Last City together with other stories about his fellow Citizens...