by Quentin Long
©2010 Quentin Long
|This TBP (Tales of the Blind Pig) story is part of the life of cheetah-morph Jubatus Acinonyx. Other stories of Jube are A Good Run of Luck (which appeared in Anthro #7), Second Heat (in Anthro #22), and Christmas Rush (in Anthro #26).
Go here for info on the TBP setting
Homework. Birdbrain did a decent job on all 40 phonemes; tiger-boy did better; foxy lady did best of all. I flatly will not think about how her voice is gonna end up sounding. The bugsBormansstridulation is a little iffy, but not bad for a first shot. Dennison? My questions for him amount to an abbreviated Piscine Anatomy 101 final exam, and he aced it. 25 answers dead-on correct, the other two technically invalid but strongly arguable anyway. As for Jenny
shes outta here. All her paperwork and computer files are in order, not that anybody noticed her turning in any forms or anything. None of my business anyway (he says, with a shrug).
As for the class itself (number four in a series of tencollect them all!): Anthony sounds better than I do, goddamn his near-intact throat. I give 10:1 odds in favor of the bastard regaining full human speech before the final class session. Calgonetti? Phonemes hes got down pat, but he cant quite manage to put em together into honest-to-God speech. Funny, that. Chalk up another one for self-imposed mental block, and I go out of my way to rub salt in his wound. Hell thank me for it later, right? Borman actually surprises me by stridulating recognizable phonemes; only three of em, granted, but I didnt think hed be able to swing it at all. Not this early, anyway. Good sign. Dennison turns out to have an internal swim-bladder, complete with swatting muscles, and he demonstrates it with a kind of ahh-eee-ahh that more-or-less spans an augmented fifth.
And then theres Zelinski. Her eyes arent as bright as last week; her vocalizing is decidedly worse than before; and she fumbles with her voder like shed only just started using the damn thing yesterday. Oh, and I could tell her scent was off (including what the new chemicals were) before she stepped into the classroom. I do the math, and the answer is clear: Shes drugged. Given the data Ive already acquired re: the Zelinski household, theres exactly 1 (one) person who couldve done it to her: Alison Zelinski, her loving spouse. You think Im pissed off? Damn right I am. Nobody has the right to fuck up someone elses free will like that! I stifle my anger for the duration of the class.
This weeks homework is pretty much a rerun of last weeks; more phoneme-practice, singly and in combination. When the rest leave, I ask the vixen to stay. She gives me a vague look: I muost gho homm, her voder says. Mizz Awl-lee dee-uz-int wand me tu sstay owwit laid.
Maybe so, but she also wants you to relearn how to talk, am I right? Zelinski pauses, then makes with an uncertain nod, and I go on before her voder can say anything else: You need a little extra attention right now, is all. Thats what were going to do tonight, and if Miss Allie doesnt like it, you just tell her its my fault, hows that?
I keep an eye on the parking lot while I talkan occasional momentary upshift, nothing the fox even can notice in her drugged-out stateso I see the TransportElegance limo as it pulls in. Good thing Zelinski rather likes the idea of having some time away from home: Her face slides into an off-kilter grin, and her voder says, Ohh khay!
Great. Now, sit down and close your eyes; Ive got a big surprise for you. She obeys. I upshift. Four-point-eight clock-seconds later, shes in the back of my car, seated in front of a big-ass computer display with Newspaper Tycoon VII running. The rent-a-thugs in the limo think Zelinskis still in the Shelter; I brought her down so fast they didntcouldntpercieve anything. I could care less if they try to look in the Extremis; theres a couple aftermarket features that normally let me sleep in private, but they work just as well now. Specifically, the electrochromic film on the windows (currently set to Total Eclipse), and the cab divider in front of the cargo space.
Zelinski makes with a little squeal of delight when she opens her eyes. There you go! I say. The game is set up for voice commands by default, but you can also use mouse and keyboard, if youd rather. Need any help? Apparently nother fingers dance on the keyboard as she dives right in.
Thank you, her box says, but I dont believe that will be necessary. Interesting: Her skill with the voder is distinctly higher now than it was a couple minutes ago. Good.
My cellphone has a wireless link to the Extremis video cameras; thats how I know when the rent-a-thugs leave their vehicle for the Shelter. Absorbed in an orgy of virtual capitalism, the vixen doesnt even notice when I drive off. The rent-a-thugs wont be following usnot with their distributor cap in my glove compartment, they wont. Upshifting can be useful at times
At this point, Im not sure what the deal is with Alison Zelinski. Sure, I know what shes done to her ex-husband, but I dont know why, and the why matters. Well, Ill find out soon enough.
Moving right along: Most people think the Betty Ford Clinic is just a punchline, what with all the rich actors and singers who supposedly go there to detoxify or whatever. Wrong. The Clinic is very real, very discreet, and damned good at what they do. And theyve got a SCAB-friendly branch office in the west end of Pennsylvania. A couple hours of air-conditioned driving, and foxy lady is safely deposited there. The staff was quite professional, even while enrolling an unscheduled client at 2 AM. Wasnt exactly no questions asked, but thats okay; what with all my poking around the Zelinskis private affairs, I had the right answers.
So. Its 9 AM Wednesday. By now Alison Zelinskis got to know that her gendermorph hubby has evaporated. Odds are, she hasnt slept. Shes probably shitting bricks wondering when the ransom note will arrive. Wish I couldve seen her face when my e-note did arrive in her inbox
FROM: J. Acinonyx (firstname.lastname@example.org)
SUBJ: re: Mary Zelinskis vocalization
Im afraid that Marys progress in class has been disrupted by a set of problems beyond my capacity to solve. Accordingly, I have taken the liberty of securing an outside specialist who can help her overcome these problems. I would like to speak to you in a private conference, at your earliest convenience, about preventing a recurrence of these problems. When would be a good time for you?
Heh! I think I hit just the right chords; aside from the none-too-subtle hints that I know exactly what shes done, Ive all but confessed to the kidnapping. And best of all, the language is sufficiently innocuous that no lawyer or judge could regard the note as evidence of anything nefarious. How long will it take Zelinski to decide that her only option is to talk to me?
I get her answer at 2:26PM. She wants to meet this evening, her place, 8 oclock. As usual, I got clock-hours to killoh, joy. In between working on my legit contracts, I make contact with the Zelinski home network. Well, well: Miss Allison has been researching me, much good may it do her. Security protocols are unchanged, which just means that if she is planning any surprises, shes doing it offline. Do I have a plan? Damn straight I do. No point wasting time in conversational parry and riposte. Instead, Im gonna blitzkrieg the bitchhit her fast and hard, from multiple directions at once, changing attacks before she can adjust or reply. Considering how easily I torque people off just because, itll be interesting to see how bad I can rattle somebody when I work at it. All of which assumes theres no armed resistance or whatever. If there is, no problem: I upshift and nuke it, after which Zelinski gets my undivided attention.
The clock-hours crawl by
8PMshowtime. The Zelinski house is a bloated, two-story carbuncle with a bunch of underground floor space; when I ring the bell, the front door is opened by a familiar-smelling rent-a-thug. His demeanor is designed to intimidate, not that I give a damn. He says, Miss Allison will receive you in the living room, and leads me inside.
The living room turns out to be an interior chamber with a good chunk of one wall taken up by an oversized flat-plasma display. Once Im there, a female voice says Thank you, Marcus. That will be all, and thug-boy leaves as we both sit down. This voice belongs to a female norm, straight black hair, semi-dark skin tone. Judging from her scent, shes a little shaky, uncomfortable, and trying not to let it show. Lets see how fast I can coax a reaction out of her. Im my name is Alison Zelinski, she says.
Jubatus, I reply.
Would you She breaks off with a sigh. Im sorry, this is all so complicated
Shrug. Seems pretty straightforward to me. Your hubby SCABbed over seven months agodifferent sex and species. Shes been stoned out of her gourd ever since, courtesy of you. Im curious, how many doctors did you go through?
Excuse me? Hmmm steady pulse and scent nope, her confusion is just an act. This isnt the first time my SCABS-heightened senses have come in handy.
How many doctors? I repeat. Before you found one who didnt care what he did to Mary, as long as your checks cleared.
Okay, now its a genuine response: High-end anger. Mister Jubatus, Ill tha-
Her words are drowned under my Shut up, bitch. My voice may suck rocks, but I can definitely go Loud when I feel like it. You may not be old enough to remember date-rape drugs, but I sure as hell am, and the only difference I see is that you married your victim first!
Iyou From calm to stuttering, with pulsing vein in forehead in under 7 clock-seconds. I love it when a plan comes together. How dare you!
How dare you, lady!? Go play the Righteous Indignation card somewhere else, cause Im not interested. What Ive got on you, I could nail you to the wall in court yetand I just might.
Its working. I can practically smell her brain cells burning out as she almost keeps up. Youyoud never win!
I give her a nasty smile, heavy on the fangs. Bets on that? Imagine your face plastered across the front page of every newspaper in a 1,000-mile radius, not to mention all the broadcast media and net coverage. Think of all the editorials. Visualize the Zelinski name permanently associated with cute stuff like anti-SCABS bigotry, chemically-mediated enslav-
attack: threat level high: 12 oclock
oh, hell. Its not the first time this has happened: My instincts trigger an upshift without my say-so, because they dont like something in my immediate vicinity. In this case its Zelinski, floating in midair, with hands poised to do some damage. Physical assault? Gosh, I mustve hit a very sensitive nerve. I could tear her several new assholes but instead, I just move around to lean on the back of her chair, resume a tempo of 1, and watch her land, clumsily, on the couch I just vacated.
Confused, she looks around, and I speak when her eyes meet mine: That was your first free shot at me. Hope you enjoyed it, because nobody gets two.
Bastard! Ill sue
I laugh, a cruel, venomous noise that shatters her focus. Hah! Go ahead and try, for all the good itll do you. Face it: Whatever you do, you cant stop me opening a can of worms youd much prefer stay closed. Me, I could care less about bad publicitycan you say the same? If you think you can possibly fuck up a SCABs social status any worsen it already is, feel free to try. Who knows, you might even be able to come up with something thats not prima facie grounds for a libel suit. Should be fun.
You I can smell fear, anger, concern, and confusion fighting it out in her scent. Fear wins. Alright. Do your worst, you monster.
Says the bald ape who arranged a permanent brainwashing prescription for their own spouse, I retort. Alright, Mrs. Zelinski. Ive got half a mind to sic my lawyer on you anyway, but Im a reasonable man. Play it straight with me, Ill return the favor. Fuck with me, and I will own your sorry ass. Your choice.
Fear and guilt: A powerful combo. Theyre both on her face and in her scent. Eventually, she gets herself under control again. What what do you want? she asks.
Shes defeated, alrighther scent confirms itso I get down to business: I want the truth. Why is Mary a drugged-out zombie?
Zelinski kind of sags in her chair. She sighs, doesnt (cant?) look at my face. I no one ever intended
A few seconds after she trails off, I kill the silence: Im not hearing a why.
You already said that, I point out. Feel free to start at the beginning. Alternately, how about I just leave, wait til Marys done getting detoxified, and let her decide how many new orifices I should rip out of your hide? Your callpick one.
She goes for start at the beginning. Takes her an unnecessarily long time to spit it out: Hubby SCABs over (fur and tits), goes nutbar over the gender thing, needs to be sedated for his/her own protection and ever since, Zelinski makes sure hubby gets a fresh dose whenever shes too close to sober.
You didnt know Martin before, she says, as if her words were threading a minefield. He was difficult to live with, not
I cut her off. So. Fucking. What. If Mary wants to be permanently blitzed, fine, but guess what? Thats not your goddamn decision, lady! So heres the deal: As of now, Dr. Gordon is off Marys
What gives you the right to interfere with the private affairs of this family!
Zelinski shuts up when I look directly into her eyes. She glares right back. Both of us are way the hell pissed. Her anger is cold like liquid helium; mine is hotter than a deuterium-fusion torch.
Zelinski breaks first. When she lowers her gaze, I speak up, as inexorable as a glacier: What, exactly, gave you the right to interfereI spit that word out with a freightload of sarcasmwith your spouses mind and free will.
Her scent goes heavy on shame, with a side order of fear. No other response.
Okay, fine. Like I was saying, heres the deal. One: You will sever all connections, professional and otherwise, between Mary and Doctor Gordon. Two: You will accept whoever Dr. Derksen recommends for Gordons replacement. Three: You have no say whatsoever about Marys medical needsyou will do anything the new guy says, agree to anything they recommend, and generally treat the new guy as if theyre the Voice of God Himself. Four: If, at any time in the future, I find out that you have ever again so much as dreamed about interfering with Marys medical treatment Here I whisper, as lethal as a sack of cobras: I. Will. Destroy. You.
Zelinski crumples in silence. Her eyes glint with highlights that werent there beforepoor fucking baby.
I give her 15 clock-seconds; still no reply.
Im out of there. Nobody gets in my way, not Marcus the thug or any other hireling. Fine by me. The mood Im in, Id go through them. Not a good idea to leave a trail of broken bodies. I give the Extremis a once-over when I get to it; nope, no signs of tampering. Only then do I let myself relax. A little, anyway.
On the road, I dont think about what I just did. I dont want to think about it. I just drive. I want tono. Bad idea; I dont want to get drunk.
Well maybe just a little
Its none of my business, of course, but I keep an eye on the foxy lady over the next few days. Just to make sure Miss Alison stays the hell away from her ex-husbands treatment, is all. And wouldnt you know it, Zelinski makes quote, remarkable, unquote, progress. Think it might have something to do with not getting pumped full of mindfuck drugs on a regular basis? Funny how that works. Even so, the Ford medics insist on keeping her there for observation for another 8-10 days, minimum
which means shes going to miss a class. Maybe two.
In other news, I close 5 more contracts before next Tuesday. 33 more to go; I might run out before the tenth class. Hey, I am taking it easyI havent accepted any new clients since I started teaching the class.
Speaking of which, this session (the fifth) has a guest lecturer: Donnie Sinclair. And while hes scribbling at my students, I fill in for him behind the counter at the Pig. Thats the pound of flesh he demanded before hed do what I asked. I hate the idea; I mean, I dont do crowds! But since it puts a three-foot-wide faux-marble countertop between me and the customers, it should be okay right..? Aside from that, I have no idea how Donnie creates and maintains the Pigs SCAB-friendly atmosphereso I wont even try. Instead Im going to pour the booze, keep a paranoid eye on everything, and stomp on anything that smells like it even might be trouble. I just hope I can stay alert until closing time; for whatever reason, SCABS left me with a half-hour-long sleep cycle. Mind you, I dont have to conk out that often. I can actually stay up five hours at a time, but thats kind of like a norm staying up for five days solid well, that should be enough. Hopefully. Im pretty sure, anyway.
Having a few weeks advance notice, I did my usual obsessive prep work beforehand. The cash register is a late-2016 NCR job, tablet-style touchscreen; before Im through, I know it better than Donnie himself does. Im packing 47,583 different drink recipes on a PDA, complete with recommended ingredient substitutions for when stuff runs out, and the thing happens to be equipped with a wireless internet hookup in case somebody wants something outside the onboard library. More recently, I confirmed that the Pigs supply database is 100% up to date (I double-checked each item myself). Come the fatal Tuesday, I make sure the lavatories are fully loadedwhich is trickier than you might think, since the Pigs bathrooms accomodate a wide range of SCAB body types. Comfortably, yet. I also stash a couple dozen pounds of beef jerky behind the counter; the kind of calories I burn, Im gonna need that protein
And then its showtime.
The hours pass in a blur. Jesu Christe, theres a shitload of customersI sometimes have trouble keeping up with the orders! Upshifting doesnt help, because I have to understand what all you damn slowpokes are saying. And that means my tempo needs to be real close to 1 most of the time
I keep a watchful eye on the crowd.
Gimme a Stattenvorl.
I take orders.
Three shots of Jack Daniels, straight.
I make change.
Vodka martini for me, an a Purple Ray for the lil lady.
I pour booze.
tellya, I wuz on topa th world
I hate it. Sob stories from self-pitying moronsgaah! I pay those twits as little attention as I can manage. Most of em take the hint and stay the fuck away from the counter; occasionally I delegate one to Wanderer or somebody via an upshifted note in their glass.
I keep a watchful eye on the crowd.
I take orders.
Scotch and soda, heavy on the soda.
I make change.
you gonna do about it, runt?
Oh, fucking joy. I quit pouring. Commotion by the dart board; theres a St. Bernard-derived animorph SCAB who cant aim worth shit, lost a bet, and is now proving himself to be a welching asshole and a mean drunk.
I point one finger ceilingward. Scuse me a sec, I tell the customers I havent gotten to yet. Then I zip over to the big dog, telling him, You lost, Bernie. Pay up and deal with it.
Hes, like, six-foot-thirteen and 380 pounds, none of it fat; me, Im five-eleven and forty-odd kilos. Seeing this as he turns to look down at me, Bernie makes with a contemptuous grin. Whos gonna ma-yeee!!!
Theres an instant cloud of ozone and burnt furI didnt let Bernie see my TASER, but he damn sure felt it. He hits the floor like a 380-pound sack of dog food. Upshift, extract his wallet from a pocket, downshift, hand the wallet over to the norm-looking guy that beat Bernie. I say, Take your winnings out of this, then I upshift again, this time sos I can haul Bernies ass out the front door. We cheetahs are stronger than we lookwe have to be, since our legendary top speed is muscle-poweredand besides, Ive found that local gravity gets weaker when I upshift. Put em together, and Im not even breathing hard when I set Bernie down on the sidewalk outside the Pig.
Once more behind the counter, I inhale dried meat, downshift, and pick up where I left offelapsed time 8.6 clock-seconds in all. Im back. You there, what do you want?
I keep a watchful eye on the crowd.
Make mine a Jumper Cable.
I take orders.
Bacardi 151 on the rocks.
I make change.
I pour booze.
Time goes on. The clock-hours spin and gyrate
and suddenly I blink, confused at what I see before me. Minotaur? I ask myself. Thatshold it, whats Donnie doing here..?
The place is damn near empty, only a couple of stragglers still hanging on; I must have signaled Closing Time already. Thank any applicable god Oh, yeah. Must ask Hhhh I stop, close eyes, swallow, restart. Howd the class go?
Donnie shrugs, then gives me an interrogative Mmm?-and-look combo.
Im tired. My head hurts. If youre asking how my end of the deal went, it sucked. I have no idea how you can stand doing what you do. Can I go now?
Donnie looks at me with some inscrutable bovine expression. He nods.
I do likewise myself, no words. I manage to drag myself out to the Extremis, get inside, and lock up before I collapse
Week 6: Nothing much happened. Okay, I did lose another student, but its all good
On Thursday (that being July 29th, if youve lost track), I get a call from out of statethe Betty Ford Clinic. Guess which of their recent patients put in a request to chat me up, personal-like? Righther. No reason given. Well, what the hell. I got time to kill, like always, so I agree to do the conversation today. I make time for it (and I do mean make time), and at 5 PM, Im in Mary Zelinskis private room at the Clinic.
She screws up her face a little, concentrating, and saysshe honest-to-Thoth says!Hhhee-rhho, Tcheu-baddhuz.
I smile and nod. Hello yourself, Ms. Zelinski. The voice needs work, but not too damned shabby. Yknow, if you wanted to let me know youre dropping the class, you couldve just sent me an e-mail
Despite herself, the foxy lady smiles. Only for a moment, but its there. And then she goes on: Iiayy, wrrahndtuu hrraauuw! A frustrated yowl. Frowning, she picks up her voder, which just happens to have been lying on her nightstand, and lets it speak for her. Yes. Im dropping your class. This is about something else. What happened to my wife?
I wasnt expecting that. If I had eyebrows, Id raise them. It matters?
Angry and some other emotion fight it out on Zelinskis face. Angry is losing, big time. Im not sure any more, her voder says in its incongruously level tone. Im not sure I want to know. But I must know. And you can tell me. Cant you?
Oh, rapture and fucking joy. Yeah. I can. But just remember, you asked for it And I make with an infodump. I give Zelinski the whole story, everything from when I first read her file to when I hammered on dear little Alison. The foxy lady doesnt interrupt; she sits there and absorbs it all without making a sound. And then Im done
back to the Pig, to get smashed. Well, as smashed as I can get, anyway.
At this point, Zelinski isnt the least bit angry. Shes kind of hunched over into herself; her voder lies, forgotten, on the bed next to her.
I wait a bit, then kill the silence: You asked. I answered. Is that it?
The vixen pulls herself together. Yes, her voder says, thats enough. Then her fingers pause over the talk-box. A few moments later, it recites the words shed been typing; it gets as far as I wish before she hits the abort button. She starts over, her hands a little shaky: Tank you mitt sir Jubatus. You comforted my suspectings. Please lever me out lone.
Which I do. The Ford Clinic staff wants to debrief me; I blow off most of their questions with variations on, Ask the foxy ladyits her call.
And then Im on the road again, driving back home.
Nothing much happened for the next week or so, and that includes during the next class session. Fortunately. Ive been on the short end of too damn many surprises already
Wait, there was one thing: The bug. Borman. He can actually stridulate isolated syllables! He sounds lousy (still better than I do, damn it), and it sucks up so much of his attention and concentration that changing to a different syllable is a major feat but when all is said and done, he can talk. Its just a matter of practice, honing his currently-primitive skill.
Well, whatever: I knew the job was dangerous when I took it, to coin a phrase.
Okay: Week seven. So Im coming in for todays stint at the West Street Shelter. Im not three steps past the front door when this lightly morphed rat-SCAB, a new addition to the staff, says Splendor wants to see me in her office right away. What does she want from me? Hell if I knowbut in her office means its a private conversation, and that cuts way back on the number of alternatives
By the time I open her office door, the short list is down to about three possible agendas. I close the door. Splendors just beginning to greet me; I interrupt her, saying, You want I should work somebody over.
She blinks. What makes you never mind. Actually
Some things are best stopped before they start. I cut her off again: Not interested. Go find someone else to play shock trooper. Im sure theres plenty of people around here whod love to put a hurting on some asshole who desperately deserves
Thats exactly why I want you for this job! Her turn to interrupt, it seems.
My turn to blink.
Okay I finally say. Youve piqued my curiosity. Explain.
Thank you. First, some background. She opens a file drawer, pulls out a manila folder, hands it to me. Read this.
Upshifting, I follow her advice. This is a collection of eyewitness reportsseems that Splendor has an unofficial network of informers all over the City. Its mostly surveillance on the comings and goings of various lowlifes, but theres also some educated guesses on what said lowlifes will be up to in the near future. Hmmm if Im reading this right, it looks like the West Street neighborhoods been relatively low on criminals for a while, and a gang from outside the City is planning to move into what they perceive as a vacuum.
I close the folder, slip back to a tempo of 1Done.and return it to her. Alright, thats the background. So what?
I know the local thugs, and Ive gotten most of them to stop committing their crimes in my neighborhood.
Bully for you. Ive got an uncomfortable feeling I know whats on her mind, butAnd I should get involved why?
She gestures at the folder. The Cargill Mob. If they establish a presence here, it will be well. Lets just say it would be best for all concerned if they dont. I want to dissuade them with a show of force; give them a demonstra-
No. I flatly refuse to play enforcer.
Will you let me finish!? she says, glaring at me. Well, what do you knowthe snake-lady actually has a temper. I gesture for her to continue; she does. Ive set up a meeting with Jocko Cargill,head honcho of the eponymous Mob, says her files, real name Giocomoand I want to be accompanied by people who I can be absolutely certain will not initiate any hostile action.
Thanks for the vote of confidence, I say without much sarcasm. So what do you want from me?
Youre welcome. And I want you to serve as bodyguard.
Damn Hadnt considered anything even close to that
Frankly, Id be a fool to trust Jocko as far as I can BLAM!
attack: threat level extreme: 2 oclock
Shit! The whole south walls erupted with itsy-bitsy explosions. The instincts upshifted me to a tempo of 35-40, somewhere up there, and the ambient noise Dopplers down like always; I can see
Holy limping HephæstusI can see the bullets moving!
It actually takes a couple seconds of my time before I snap out of it and get to work. Numero Uno: Digital camera from my vest, aim it at the walls exit wounds, leave it floating in midair at1,000 shots per clock-second. Numero Two-o: Shpritz a layer of DeadGlove (inert polymer in a spray can) on my hands, grab bullets out of the air, store em five-to-a-mylar-envelope. Wouldve preferred individually-wrapped, but I ran outwasnt prepared for this many projectiles! Numero Three-o: Theres a second wave of airborne crap (shards of window glass, wood chips, nails, yada yada), so I sweep it all to the carpet and bury it under several dozen pounds of books to make sure it dont go noplace it shouldnt ought to.
I retrieve my cameragood, its still got 91% free RAMand theres nothing visibly moving at the moment, so I downshift to a tempo of 1 sos I can hear if theres any more bullet-in-flesh impacts. There arent any, but I do hear screams and wails from casualties, damnit! Well, hell; they probably wont die in the next few clock-seconds, so I upshift to a tempo of 35 and avoid the jagged remnants of windowpane in the frame as I go outside to get some good shots of a late-model Chrysler, nicely framed between a lamp post and a dumpster; driver and two passengers, shabby paint and no discernable plates. Oh, and a pair of rifle barrels sticking out its side windows, complete with muzzle flash and more fucking bullets on the way. The cars tilted forward, which means the sons of bitches are braking to give themselves more time to shoot.
Fine. I move in, camera kchnkk-ing away as it stores images of the bullets and their source, and when Im in range, I reach inside the car; grab the front gun by its chamber; and pull the fucker out and down, with the kind of force youd expect from muscles that can shove a hundred-pound mass around at 70 MPH. Next up is a re-run with the back-seat firearm.
Both guns are firmly lodged in the dirt, barrel-first. The guys who were holding them have a bunch of fingers sticking out at real weird angles. Fuck em both. Im busythe guns may be harmless now, but theres all the bullets they already fired okay, got the last one. My envelopes now hold seven bullets apiece.
Hungry now. I inhale a slab of beef jerky from my vest while I plan out my next move
By the time Ive made my decision, the dudes-in-car are starting to react to the abrupt change in their immediate surroundings; theres the beginnings of shocked/worried expressions evolving on their faces. Hmm the cars not so tilted as it had been betcha the drivers floored it. I grin as I extract a genuine Swiss Army Knife from a vest-pocket, unfold the (diamond-hard, waterproof, corrosion-resistant, tungsten/vanadium alloy) cutting blade, and slash a diagonal gouge all the way across the tread of the drivers side front tire. Not waiting for it to finish blowing out, I do likewise to the drivers side rear; then I step back onto the sidewalk, resume munching on shriveled meat, downshift to a tempo of 1, and watch the wreck change from incipient to actual.
As per my unwritten script, the cardrivers side, at leastdrops to the pavement with a hell of a clang and a shower of sparks. Then it makes with a metal-on-asphalt shriek all the way to its 45-MPH collision with the dumpster. Oooh, no airbags! Thats gonna leave a mark
I finish my snack, keeping an eye on the perps in case someone feels like doing something cute; nobody does. I upshift high, strip all three assholes down to their underwear, expend an entire pocket-sized roll of duct tape making damn sure the perps are gonna sit tight where they are, clean out the glove box and trunk and for an encore, I downshift and call in the whole sorry encounter to the local police precinct.
Citizens arrest is a good thing, right?
Waiting for the cops to show, I drop back to my default tempo of 6 and amuse myself checking out my loot. No discernable ID on any of the triosuch a surpriseso well just have to see what their photos, fingerprints, and DNA (from impromptu blood samples) say about the matter. Again, the car is plateless, and theres no VIN either. As for the guns, they look like they could be Izakawa Divine Wrath-model automatics. That, or else homebrew jobs. I sure hope its the latter, since I happen to know that Izakawa doesnt do firearms for any civilian market.
Onward to happier thoughts. Lets see the clothes look to be generic off-the-rack Target. Residual scent is mostly drowned under cheap-ass cologne, so theres not so much chance of getting olfactory ID off of it. Just one of the tricks criminals have learned for dealing with a post-SCABS world
ah. Someones approachingcorrection: Splendors approaching. I downshift to match her tempo.
Nice day, huh? I say.
She grimaces a little. Hardly. It seems Im not the only one who felt a show of force might be appropriate.
Seems like, I agree. The timings pretty interesting, though. It could be coincidence but me, I bet Cargill had your office wired for sound. Not sure when.
Splendor nods. That makes sense. Perhaps we should relocate this discussion to a more secure place?
No point. I mean, hes already eavesdropping, right? So hes gotta know his boys got way the hell hammered on, by someone whos literally faster than a speeding bullet. He may not be sure what other tricks I have up my sleeve, but I, for one, will be happy to help him learnthe hard way. Of course, thats assuming Jocko Homo has the balls, not to mention the requisite lack of functional brain cells, to suit up for Round Two.
Splendors eyes widen, just for a moment, about halfway through my last sentence. Then she gets it and puts a subtle smile on her face. I see. I trust you know what youre doing
Always, I state flatly. And I know something else: That fucknose is toast.
The next few days are kind of busy, and not just because of my unfinished contracts (29 and counting) and speech-class-related stuff and helping Splendor deal with the listening devices. To begin with, I pore over police records and the snake-ladys filesbut thats maybe a couple of clock-hours at most. No, what really occupies my time is what I do with the data thereby gained: I smash hands.
See, the cops have a pretty good idea of who-all is on Jockos payroll, and what their particular duties are. Just because the authorities dont have enough hard evidence to nail a guy in court, that doesnt mean theyre clueless about why he should be nailed in court. And if youre curious about why the police might grant a puny civiliani.e., meaccess to this sort of sensitive information? Two reasons:
First, money talks.
Second, it seems I got a bit of a fan club in blue. Something to do with all those meticulously detailed complaint reports I keep filing any time some jackass messes with me or my property. Im told that last year, about17% of all City trials for SCAB-related hate crimes used at least some data from one of my complaint reportsmake it 23%, if youre only interested in convictions.
The point is, I got a line on Jockos whole organization. His entire chain of command, from him and his most-trusted seconds all the way down to his lowliest footsoldiers. And I also got several dozen of the freelancers hes most likely to call when he needs a little extra manpower.
Put it all together, I got me a good, long list of targets to hit and hit them, I do. With a pair of bricks. At a closing velocity well in excess of the speed of sound.
I tap each of their hands twice. Hit Number One, the bricks are parallel to the plane of the palm; Hit Number Two, theyre at right angles. Locating a targets never difficult. After that, I do my business, leave a card, and bug out.
The card, you ask? Just something I whipped up on a cheap-ass laser printer I bought, used for this one job, and melted to untraceable slag immediately after. Each card bears six wordsTELL JOCKO HOMO TO GET LOSTand a single letter, J.
No, as a matter of fact I couldnt just waste em all. Three words:
Aside from that, leaving Jockos crew mostly-intact is a good thing. Theres a lot to hate about organized crime, but one thing they get right is, you take care of your own people. Cause if you dont well, either you take care of them, or else they take care of you. Not to mention, a rep for fucking over your underlings makes it a lot harder to get replacement thugs when you need them.
So. If Id left Jocko with a pile of corpses, hed just bury em and thats it. But hes got a pile of cripples instead, so hes got lots bigger problemslike medical expenses for the victims, rent and food for their families, yada yada yada. Unless hes just crazy, he must deal with all this stuff.
Well, maybe Jocko is batshit insane; doesnt matter. Crazy or not, he still needs warm bodies to do his business, right? Which means he needs a whole new army. And if people know how badly he screwed his last gang, who the hells gonna want to sign on with his next gang? Answer: No-fucking-body. And no, Jocko cant just lean on people to ensure silence. Not while all the guys who would be doing the actual leaning are in hospital with mangled hands, he cant
Splendor catches up to me a couple days after the drive-by (remember the drive-by..?). Another tete-a-tete in her office, which is where two of the five bugs were. She did what I wouldve suggested if shed asked: Left em all in place, just paying attention to prefabricated sound tracks rather than ambient sights and sounds. But as I walk through the door this time, she welcomes me with a gesture that (by sheer coincidence, Im sure) switches off the bug bamboozler I installed in this room. Confusion to the enemy, hm? Okay, I can play along, I muse to myself with a subtle hand gesture that she picks up on.
Thank you for your promptness, Jubatus, she says. How many eavesdropping devices have you found?
Two, I think.
And then she makes with a disapproving look, so I put on a show of annoyance: Damn right, I think! You got any idea how old this places wiring is? Theres all kinds of components that the only reason I could even recognize them is, Im old enough to have seen em back in the 90s! And further-
The phone on Splendors desk rings. Twice. She picks up before ring #3, saying: West Street Shelter. Splendor speaking.
I hear the voice from the handset, real clear. Hey there, Miss Splendor! How ya doin? I heardja had some trouble just recent.
Having heard that voice on some police surveillance recordings, I recognize it as Jocko Cargill; not sure about the snake-lady. I am doing well, she says in a professionally-controlled tone that doesnt give away a damn thing. If youd care to tell me what business you have with the Shelter
Yeah, Jocko interrupts. I got business with you, alright: Onea your freaks dissed me, real badand it aint the kind of thing you can clear up with an apology. I know the little pussys there, so hows about you put im on the line, huh?
Ve- she begins. A momentary upshift lets me confirm theres no incoming assaults; when I revert back to the normal tempo, shes turned on the speakerphone function, and shes saying, -ell. Hes here now.
Jubatus, I say to the phone, playing my part. Who are you, and what do you want?
I want a cheetah-skin rug, Mister Juba-
Well, if it aint Jocko Homo! I break in. Whats crawled up your ass, Mr. H?
Ha, fuckin, ha, he replies. Its hard to tell, what with the audio distortions of the telephone system, but I think his level of irritation just got boosted a notch or two. Good. Funny, kitty-cat. Real funny. Lemme tell you what I do to little pussies that stick their noses where they dont belong: I skin the fuckers alive.
You and what army? I sneer back at him. Get real, Jockoyou aint got shit, and we both know it. Face facts: I am the fastest SCAB alive. You cant threaten menot when I can outrun any bullet on the face of the Earth! Hell, I can catch your damn bullets and throw em right back in your face!
Youre dead, you goddamn pussy!
I give Splendor a thumbs up gesture as I hammer the needles deeper beneath his skin: Go ahead, Homolose your temper. Blow a gasket, thats a good little thug. Let your blood pressure rise until your arteries explode. Ill be sure to dance a jig of grief at your funeral, and piss on your grave.
I hold my hand up, warning the snake-lady not to interrupt, for the few moments of heavy breathing it takes Jocko to regain a semblance of self-control. Which he does: Okay Okay You got me goin there, I admit it. Not too badfor a fuckin animal. Enjoy it while you can, Mister Kitty, cause you wont enjoy nothin after Im done with you!
So you can tag somebody that can break the sound barrier under his own power? Not! is my smugly confident reply. Try a gas weapon, Homo. A poisonous cloud is a lot harder to dodge than a bullet, and maybe I wont zip through it so damn fast it doesnt have time to affect me.
Thats real fuckin hilarious, Mister Kitty.and now he pauses, just for a very short momentIn fact, youre a goddamn comedian, aintcha? Well, it wouldnt be polite of me to keep you from laughin it up, so Ill just say gbye now. And he hangs up. I think about Jocko Homos pre- and post-pause vocal overtones, as much as I could hear them over the telephone, as Splendor turns the bamboozler back on with a heartfelt exhalation
Well, she says, that was interesting. May I assume there was a reason you insisted on giving Jocko the bright idea to try chemical weapons?
Damn straight. I grin mercilessly. Look: We SCABs have an insanely wide range of biochemistries, right? What that means is, you can spend however-many megabucks developing a weapon that takes out one SCABbut you got basically no idea whether or not its gonna affect any other SCAB! So lets say youre a weapons researcher whos just been handed a pile of cash to come up with an equalizer thatll work on people like us. Do you spend it on chemical weapons, knowing that its a fucking waste of resources, or do you spend it on new and improved projectile weapons, which are guaranteed to work on almost all SCABs?
She thinks it over a moment, and likes the answer: In other words, you goaded Jocko into wasting some of his remaining resources on an intrinsically futile gambit.
Bingo! Got it in one.
Unfortunately, I believe theres a flaw in your thinking. Whats to keep Jocko from attempting to acquire one of those experimental projectile weapons you spoke of?
I shrug. Calculated risk. Assuming Jocko manages to get his hands on any military hardware at all, Im betting he wont get more than one or two pieces, if that. And the more he focuses on me in particular, the less hes gonna be able to do to anybody else. Put it this way: Which would you rather deal withone or two superguns, or 150 Glock pistols?
I see Splendor just looks at me for a clock-second or so. Youre determined to play lightning rod, arent you.
Better me than one of you slowpokes, I reply. Whats your point? Im pretty much the hardest target youve got, so why shouldnt I paint a bullseye on my chest?
No reason at all, she says in a neutral tone. Thank you, Jubatus.
For what? Premature much? I grimace. Save your gratitude until after weve dealt with the problem at hand.
Look, Jockos no Jubatus. If it was me plotting an assault on the Shelter, Id have researched the place in exhaustive detail ahead of time, including all of its resident SCABs and their combat-useful abilities. Id also have worked up about 14 layers of contingency plans in case Something Went Wrong. And in particular, I would not have allowed my targets any breathing space whatsoever after my first attack. Then again, maybe Cargill did have a Plan BSplendor doesnt think so, but, yknow, for the sake of argument? So maybe the guy did have a backup plan, like I saidbut I got my counterattack in before he could push the button.
Maybe. Maybe not.
Either way, Im not about to let up on him. For one thing, Ive only tagged 68% of the targets on my list, and if youre a slowpoke (which everybody else associated with the Shelter is), just one disgruntled twit with a high-powered rifle is all it takes to ruin your whole day. For another thing, three of said targets have already bolted and run, apparently the moment they heard about what happened to my first victims. Or did they run away? Could be Jocko ordered em to go elsewhere and pick up a few 55-gallon drums of industrial-strength Whupass. Again, Splendor doesnt think Jockos subtle enough (or smart enough) to do that; Im inclined to agree, myself. Nevertheless, its a loose end that needs to be tied off before it trips up anybody who matters. Ive uploaded a few spiders to the Net, to keep an eye on the runners financial activity; nothing big, just what I need sos Ill have a little advance notice if/when they make a suspicious purchase wherever, or they return to this fair city, or yada yada yada.