Martin M. Clark
Shades of William Gibson's GUNHEAD from 'Virtual Light'.
Rolling in the deep, wired to the max. Adele playing on Retro FM, Jim driving, me hugging the 12-gauge to my chest, head bobbing in time to the beat. We were both fired up on Godz - methamphetamine with a ketamine bumper - and feeling pretty damn invincible.
Maximum Law, baby, that's who we work for. We got the warrants, we got the vests, we got the guns, we got the armoured four-by-four. You diss me, you call me rent-a-cop and I will hurt you, so be warned. We're private security, bail bondsmen, bounty hunters, skip tracers. We're the real deal. If local law enforcement is too overworked or just plain indifferent, then we're the crew who come calling, and we take no shit. 'Your safety in our hands' is our corporate motto and, man, you better believe it. If we're not there then no one else is coming.
Jim and I were riding through Lakeside after dark. It's a dilapidated, low-rent housing project, home to white trash - and trash of just about any other hue you care to mention. I didn't see any signs of multi-cultural harmony though. Just a slew of wannabe street gangsters split along ethnic lines. I was buzzing, getting this great vapour-trail visual from the streetlights. On the downside, my teeth felt too large for my head and I had to sit with my mouth wide open. We were rolling slow, windows down, scoping the streets for Laney, tonight's target of choice.
The way I heard it, Laney was just a two-bit hustler who started punching way above his weight. Danny Craig, who treated Lakeside as his personal fiefdom, sent 'round a negotiating team to put across his point of view with extreme prejudice. To give him his due, Laney saw this coming and trumped Craig's tooled-up hard men with a one-shot anti-tank launcher. Result - one burnt out Subaru and three unrecognisable corpses. He followed this up with a grenade through Danny's front window, costing the big man an eye and his four-year-old daughter. Craig ran out into the street, carrying his girl in his arms, and got run down by the arriving ambulance. That's what lack of depth perception will do for you.
If Laney had been more than just a wide-boy with access to army ordnance, he might have pulled it off. The rest of Craig's operation might just have fallen in line behind the new kingpin and that would have been an end to it. Unfortunately, none of Craig's lieutenants were prepared to take orders from, well, anyone. This kicked off a protracted bout of territorial adjustment and they were still digging bodies out of the landfill site near Morton. As the case against Laney was all hearsay and the Police had their hands full stomping on bona fide drug dealers, they kicked his file back to us.
Cue Unit Two, Jim and me, cruising the streets after a tip-off that Laney was wrapping things up with a view to heading for pastures new. The clubs where he usually did business were all under electronic surveillance, so if he wanted cash he'd have to stiff his street contacts pronto.
My eyes itched, but I couldn't rub them as we were both wearing DataSkin contact lenses. I licked my lips. "I want a strawberry shake. There's a drive-through McD at Cuckoo Bridge. It's less than a mile."
Jim grinned, although he was gripping the wheel so hard his knuckles turned white. "You're addicted to that crap, Matt. Why don't you-" His head jerked round. "On your ten. I got a shimmer-sheen."
I locked-on, and sure enough, there was a human-shaped blur walking across the wide sweep of pavement fronting a row of shops. To the naked eye the figure appeared invisible, just a trick of the light. However, our sensor package was as near military grade as the shimmer-suit itself. I laughed, more of a giggle really, and took a deep breath. "Laney, you sad sack! Come quiet. Don't make us nail your ass in front of all these nice people."
The row of youths over by the railings looked up, and the figure stopped, turning to face us. Jim pulled up and killed the radio, his fingers drumming an irregular beat on the worn leather wheel cover. "I say we taser him, just on general principle. Say we were in fear of our lives and stiff him with a resisting arrest surcharge. He's gotta' be good for it, and the bounty on this clown isn't that great to begin with."
I grinned. "I like your way of thinking, my man, so-"
The figure flared and there was Laney, wearing a long coat with hood, little fading sparks dancing across the surface. He hauled out - I kid you not - twin machine-pistols and opened up, blazing away in über -Matrix fashion.
Jim flicked a switch. "Shields up. Jesus, will these people never learn?"
"Laney! Cut that out!"
The swarm of bullets hit our inertia field and slowed, leaving red smoking trails as their momentum burnt off. The spent rounds began to hit; pok-pok-pok against the bodywork, but with as much effect as ping-pong balls. When his guns went empty Laney cast them aside and simply vanished.
Jim frowned. "What kind of shit is this?"
I stuck my head out the window. "Where'd he go?"
"I got nothing on scope."
"Laney! Stop buggering about." The locals started up with cat-calls and ironic clapping, and I wasn't in the mood. "Kill the field, I'm going out."
My skin prickled as the residual static earthed through me, but I ignored it. The DataSkins relayed the sensor information from the car, compensating for relative position. This gave me specs for low-light enhancement, wire-frame outline, infrared, and electromagnetic overlay. But even with these specs the street was 'empty'. I turned back towards the car where my partner was still dicking with the sensor sensitivity. "Jim, I got zip. Tell me it's a systems glitch, yeah?"
He pointed down the street, stubbing his finger on the inside of the windscreen. "Shit. Down there, look."
I looked and the same outline shimmered as before. I figured some kind of scramble pulse, maybe, but it hardly mattered. The shotgun settled snug into my shoulder. I could have nailed him then, but I liked his style. "Laney, give it up man. You're worth more alive than dead, but dead is acceptable. You hear me? I got you cold."
"You sure about that, bud?"
The voice came from close behind. As I turned to look, Laney shot me in the back. I coughed and staggered forward. Laney shot me twice more as I fell to the pavement.
The shimmering figure down the street turned into a girl - Jones, Veronica, according to my virtual display. She was holding a short tube the same way you'd carry an awkward roll of wallpaper. Laney's file said he went for street-wise girls who knew how to handle a weapon, but his latest squeeze was clearly a gun-shy amateur. On this occasion, he'd gone for eye-candy over killer. He'd gone for tits over tactical acumen and they both paid the price.
Veronica shrieked as the weapon fired; a stab of back-blast and the anti-tank round flashed across the road to ricochet off the tarmac. It detonated in a disused mailbox with a curiously flat bang that barely rattled the surrounding windows. Shards of flying metal spread comfort and joy in all directions, but none hit the car.
Laney roared with anger, and Veronica dropped the spent launcher like the proverbial hot potato. Before she could say anything Jim tapped her, one-two, using the camera gun housed in our car's engine space. He swears by it but I just swear at it, finding the little joystick way too awkward. It was probably more accurate than getting out to use his 9mm, though I suspect he was just showing off.
Veronica fell to the ground in a heap, a puppet with the strings cut. In full avenging angel mode, Laney pulled a grenade from an inside pocket, fumbling with the pin while keeping hold of his pistol. Jim bailed, ducking down behind the vehicle, unaware of the danger. In a couple of seconds he would pop up and start firing, but by that time the grenade would have been tossed through the door I'd left open.
On the ground I was hurting, as a vest can only do so much. Your standard item is only good against small calibre or knife thrusts. You can go for AmourGel, as used by army and special forces, but it's way too uncomfortable to wear for any length of time while riding around. So instead we use Straub Containment Harness. It has the same kind of stopping power as regular ballistic cloth but with a twist. The elastic lining is drawn into the body by the bullet, forming a tube. Then it snaps back into shape, expelling the spent round and chemically cauterising the wound tract as it does so. You're still history if it's a major organ and it's no help with broken bones, but at least you won't bleed to death.
Lying there I could feel the movement inside me. The Straub is supposed to have a built-in local anaesthetic, but it was a lot like being stabbed, only in reverse. My breathing was ragged, so there was a lung wound for starters. But at least I could move.
I rolled over, clutching my 12-guage, coughed by way of witty rejoinder, and fired. None of your buckshot crap either. I was using solid shell with flechette load, proximity spread. At point-blank range the round detonated immediately, drowning out the shotgun roar. The shoal of barbed-steel projectiles shredded Laney from groin to chest and he collapsed, slithered, to the ground in a bloody mass. No last words either, as his lungs had burst.
The grenade spun to a stop between my legs, the pin still in place.
I took a deep breath that didn't hurt too bad.
Jim appeared at my shoulder and helped me to my feet before stooping to retrieve Laney's weapons. He laughed. "Hell, dog, when you put a man down he stays down." I managed a thin smile, but my voice was still on hold. My partner raised his voice. "Camera!"
The tailgate came up automatically and our camera drone wafted out. It sidled up, mini-turbofans whirring, and started snapping away. I struck a pose with my shotgun by way of promo shot before limping back to the car. Flopping down I slapped on another dermal jolt of Godz, plus one of Bliss to improve my general sense of well-being. Time dissolved for a moment. When my surroundings snapped back into focus Jim was in the driving seat and the camera was zooming home.
I pulled the door closed with that heavy clunk of armour plate that always gives me a shiver, a sense of security. The comms console squawked. "Unit Two, this is Central."
Man, she has such a sexy voice, and was probably chosen for that very reason. We'd never met her, of course, and I suspected that reality wouldn't shape up to the ideal woman in my head. Jim answered. "Central, Unit Two receiving."
"Nice job boys. We had your live feed on the big screen back here and the censored version will definitely generate some reality TV revenue. Photo analysis confirms the target as being Desmond 'Diamondback' Laney, and, pending DNA confirmation, we've forwarded a claim for bounty payment. Nothing for the girl though, she was clean sheet. Just to reassure you that initial review by management and independent assessor have rated your use of lethal force as justified. You'll have to give a statement to local law enforcement, but that's just a formality…How's Matthew? We saw his biometrics take quite a hit."
Jim glanced over at me. "Shot three times but still as bad-ass as ever. The guy is plain indestructible."
She laughed. "Glad to hear it. Now, we have a suspected home invasion in Fairview. Unit four is en route and has requested back-up."
Fairview was a series of up-market gated communities not two miles away, ostentatious wealth in incongruous contrast to the urban squalor of Lakeside. The bonus for riding to the rescue of the rich and famous made this a prime call-out. Jim raised an eyebrow and I nodded. "No problem, Central, show us as responding."
"Unit Two confirmed. Just make sure Matthew gets a full medical at end of shift, OK? We worry about you boys. Central out."
Jim fired up the engine, revving it until the vehicle trembled. We pulled away with a squeal of run-flat tyres. Local police and a meat wagon would be arriving at some point to clean up our mess, but that was part of the price they paid for privatisation.
I hit the radio. Retro FM again; 'Clubbed to Death' this time - mood music right on the button. We drove on. I hit the lights and siren. A thumping base line and enough pharmaceuticals in my system to qualify me as a drug mule. The grin on my face couldn't get any wider. The shotgun felt cool and slick in my hands.
Maximum Law, baby, Maximum Law.
© Martin M. Clark 2018 All Rights Reserved
Date and time of last update 11:09 Wed 14 Feb 2018
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