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…
The silence around the big table hadn’t quite gone on long enough to be uncomfortable when Myk returned with a bundle wrapped in a sheet slung over one shoulder. The bundle was wriggling. He set it down and the sheet fell away to disclose a thin man, who was trussed up like a joint of beef and had his mouth taped shut. I walked over to him and untaped his mouth. I wasn’t too gentle about it.
“If it isn’t my old buddy Cletus, android tinkerer to the scum of the earth.”
He sneered at me, so I slapped him. Once. It was no more than an open-handed slap, but it rocked his head on its thin neck.
“Manners,” I admonished.
His eyes slid around the room and finding neither support nor sympathy he attempted a shrug.
“Why am I here.”
Before I had the chance to answer, Katie was at my side, moving like a sleek, dangerous cat. She ran one pointed fingernail down his cheek.
“Oh. I think you know why you are here,” she purred.
The skinny guy lost every vestige of bravado and his face paled. He swallowed noisily and I could see the adam’s apple bobbing up and down his scrawny throat.
“You have,” I said quietly, “about ten seconds to start talking before I let my little friend here do her worst.”
He opened and shut his mouth a couple times.
“Nine, eight, seven….”
He slid from Myk’s grasp in a boneless heap. Katie Scarlett sorta poked him with her toe.
“Fainted, who’d a thought it…” she turned on her heel and headed back to the group at the table, where Sugar offered a congratulatory upturned thumb.
When Cletus emerged from his faint he found himself bound securely to a high-backed chair, with the ropes sufficiently tight to cause him some discomfort. I had carefully placed a spotlamp so that its bright light shone directly in his eyes. He tried to move his head, but his overlong hair was affixed to the chairback with a row of staples. Predictably, he started to weep noisily.
Katie moved into his line of vision with a sharply pointed kitchen knife held casually in one hand.
“Talk to me,” she whispered. “Talk to me and perhaps I won’t cut your testicles off.”
“I’ll do anything. What do you want to know?”
“Don’t play the innocent with me.”
She moved so the light fell directly on her face, and it must have been the first time that he had looked at her properly.
“Oh,” he said “that. But they said they would kill me if I talked.”
“Then you are in a fix, aren’t t you? Because I’ll kill you if you don’t talk.”
He must have seen something implacable in her eyes.
“Seamus O’Halleran came to me six months ago with an order for two droids. He had pictures. I just built the droids.” He showed a mouthful of yellow teeth in a rodent grimace. “Made a change from making sexbots.”
“Half a mil.”
“Would’ve been worth it,” Daddy Aitch murmured judiciously. “I’m worth about fifty times that. And my businesses. Who knows? Level one’s the limit.”
Katie looked at the droid maker with real loathing in her eyes.
“What about this carrion?”
“Oh,” I said, “we haven’t finished with him yet.”
“Is there more?”
“There’s always more. In this case we want the security camera feeds from his shop, and we want the details of the tracking devices.”
“What tracking devices?” the O’Hallerans spoke in unison.
“The ones he will have put in the droids. You might think your cousin is a snake in the grass but compared to Cletus here, he’s a straight shooter.”
Cletus shut his mouth tightly, and closed his eyes.
He wasn’t expecting what happened next and it rocked him to the foundation of his being. Zig took something out of his inside pocket, something furry and svelte, something with bright black eyes and sharp white teeth, something that looked hungry. Myk shook the prisoner gently, and as his eyes flew open Zig draped the creature on his face. He screamed for quite a while, then when his voice was getting rusty Katy Scarlett sidled up to him and breathed in his ear.
“Are you ready to cooperate?”
Once Cletus had got himself together enough to indicate acquiescence, Myk retrieved his pet. The O’Halleran father and daughter team went at the droid manufacturer like jackhammers, so I had leisure to introduce myself to what turned out to be a polecat. Looked at closely he was a handsome creature, with golden fur tipped in brown and a triangular face dominated by a pair of gleaming black eyes. He seemed to want to climb onto me, and, once he had established that I had no fear, Myk let him.
By the time the Cletus had talked himself dry, I had fed Riki Tiki with some of his special dried meat and he had curled himself around my neck where he fell asleep. Snoring gently. With every outward breath, his whiskers tickled the side of my neck. I found this warm weight a surprisingly comfortable thing.
Then I realised O’Halleran and Katie Scarlett were staring at me open mouthed.
“Well I’ll be damned. First he charms my little girl, then that damned animal cosies up to him like it was actually tame.”
“Nobody,” Katie Scarlett chimed in, “and that’s actually nobody, except Myk, can safely handle Riki Tiki, it even bites Zig.”
I smiled an amiable but not-too-bright smile – the one I keep for awkward occasions. Mister Aitch crooked a thick, black eyebrow but didn’t comment.
I broke the silence. “You want I should go pick up Seamus and his sons?”
O’Halleran grinned his killer’s grin.
“I do indeed. Usual rates do?”
“I reckon. If I can borrow the twins and Riki Tiki.”
“You can. Now what to do with our friend Cletus…” O’Halleran didn’t sound like he was planning a birthday party, and, judging by the sudden appalling stench, the droid manufacturer’s bowels agreed with my assessment of the situation.
Katie Scarlett curled her lip.
“Let him go, Daddy. We know where to find him if we want him again. Let him go and spend the rest of his miserable life praying that Seamus’ family don’t find out how much he told us.”
Cletus passed out again.
You can find the first Sam Nero story in Dust Publishing's anthology The Last City together with other stories about his fellow Citizens...