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?