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 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.
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