BLACK TRACE - Chapter 7
Everything had gone straight to hell since Danh-Danh and his pals had bought it, Thin Man decided. He stared into the curved screen, reflection distended and convex in the glass.
Los Coyotes had gone gunning for the Sons of the Tiger in general and Danh-Danh’s clave in particular. The old Monte Carlo couldn’t have been more than inches over the blacktop, cruising silent. The blacked window rolled down on the passenger side and someone stuck the oiled barrel of a streetsweeper through the opening. But the Tigers were too busy jabbering and flexing to notice.
Danh-Danh and his ’clave had been standing in front of the soup stand, leaning on their vermilion bikes. The burner creeping down the street was beneath their notice. After all, it was their neighborhood, nothing would happen here.
No Tigers got zeroed on their own streets. They didn’t believe it, even after someone shouted “Shooter! Down!”
Someone thought it was a prank.
The gunman sprayed the front of the shop with a storm of steel pellets the size of peas. The clip was vented in ten seconds of thunder. Everyone in front of the shop, Tigers or not, had been shredded. Their blood was mixed with the razor shards of glass like scattered rubies and diamonds. Hazard street was living up to its name again.
At least that’s what Thin Man had heard. He didn’t know anyone who had seen the Monte Carlo for sure or anyone who had even seen Coyotes in New Saigon that night. But word was that Coyotes were behind the wheel and pulled the triggers. It was easy to take snaps of the carnage, but harder to get a clean shot of a moving target. Wannabes and slickers smelled the blood and ran to it, but only the freshest pics got any looks. In the morning, it would be old news.
The talk lit up all over New Saigon and Santána. Through the Weave that linked all the lines in Orange, Thin Man watched the information transfers like clusters of stars bursting into life and fading into nothingness with eyeblink quickness, supernovas of attention. Nobody was saying anything new, though. It was all repeats and tweaks and rumor shined up until it became almost true. Nobody had any answers. And Brother Thanh was going to want some, square.
On the streets, everyone hushed up and began to pack again. Greysuits from OCPD stayed way out of New Saigon and Santána both. They weren’t going to be able to keep the icehouse cool if things between Coyotes and Sons of the Tiger started to go real bad. Thin Man watched Yamaha cycles race through the streets, out on some war dance all running in packs. Nobody had gotten themselves killed yet, but someone would be if something wasn’t done soon. And that kind of rock and roll was nothing Thin Man wanted any part of.
He wished Jason was still around. Jason always knew what to do. He had the good sense to hit the big time and pick up himself a whole new set of problems, but at least they were just sponsorship problems.
Which was funny, once Thin Man thought about it a moment.
The next morning, he enjoyed a cup of hot Ibarra in the Mexican coffee bar in the Plaza. He was watching the doves fly through the third level. At least he thought they were doves, though he wondered if they were supposed to be orange and blue. The screen up top was playing scenes of an Arctic prospect, ice looking cold as it hung in the warmish air. A polar bear lumbered stupidly through the jagged aquamarine landscape.
Then the Tiger sat down at the table opposite him, without warning or a hello. Short guy, little over one and a half meters. His face had wise, grandfather eyes which shone black. The suit he wore was woven from Muddenahalli silk, cut just like a Razor’s jacket, all angles that ate the light. This was his table, just that Thin Man happened to be sitting here first.
“Good morning, Thin Man,” the Tiger said in modest Vietnamese. The voice was bigger than the man, a liquid purr with discipline beneath the surface. “Your skill and craft are known well in our circles.”
Thin Man nodded, not wondering who was spreading word. He knew already.
The Tiger ordered some Mexican black that he did not drink. He steepled his manicured hands over the steaming cup. His sleeve fell down far enough for Thin Man to see the curved nails of the stylized tiger paw tattoo on his left wrist. It was a very quiet display of power, removing all uncertainty as to what the man was. And his tattoo wasn’t a mere outline, but full black, taking years to work up to that honor mark.
Thin Man took a sip of his spiced tea and smiled politely. He was not dressed formally this morning. He hadn’t expected to be doing business, speaking with a pointer. Though the guy looked like he could do any job that needed doing, not just calling them out.
“I am unduly honored.” He shifted in his seat. Clients of this caliber didn’t come to him directly. There had always been a middleman before. This must be a real Cadillac job. “How may I be of service?”
The man said nothing and then smiled.
“Tell me, Thin Man. Is it true you ride Leviathan?” The Tiger asked it just like that, just like a friend would ask if you could get a bottle of Corona from across the street.
Thin Man swallowed hard. Someone else had been telling when they should have just shut the hell up. There’s reputation and then there’s a specific deed. Dusty. Yeah, it was him. He never could keep his yap shut.
“If it can be done.” The Tigers thought they knew already, or they wouldn’t have gone looking for him, but there might be enough room for some flex if he played it right.
“Excellent.” His teeth were arctic white, his manner terminal. “We have much to discuss.”
By the time the coffee had cooled, Thin Man and the Tiger had worked out the details of the arrangement. After Thin Man left the table, the Tiger sat there elegantly sitting before his Mexican black. It was simple, easy, direct.
Thin Man didn’t want the job, but refusal wasn’t possible, either. And maybe this job could actually be done, though the gap between expectation and likely reality was dark and deep. Men like this weren’t known for being overly concerned with the attainability of their goals, just whether the doing got done.
An hour later, Thin Man woke up the Total and looked though his list of onramps. Nothing too public. Nothing that a number could stick to. He called up his best and sleekest and went riding. The public face of the Weave was just business, but the private face was fed as much by that which could be done out of sight as the polite and solid. Transactions decoupled from accountability. Pools of fortune pushed around by eddies of currency and desire. Want something? It’s out there unless there’s money spent to lock it up or burn it out like electroshock.
Out in the middle of the Weave, Leviathan was unmistakable, a mammoth tower of faceless gold that soared up and out of the flat, and sprawled traffic clustered around it. It was the knife with which the men who had the means cut up the world, serving themselves double slices or more. The Trust kept a billion billion secrets locked up tight there, or so it was said. After the roaring boom and then the quiet of the Bust and the Great Big Zero that followed, the Internet was all but undone, frayed and unraveled. The Weave was built on top of it, only those who built it wanted to make sure that their fingers stayed well into things, pinching out a chunk of everything that went down.
Of course, that was the dream of the new Kings of the World, but even their reach wasn’t into quite everything. While they could make their own remote shoals of activity, everyone had to do business in the real world once in a while. Doors had to be opened to the wider Weave, and doors were invitations to riders like Thin Man.
All you had to do was to get past the sentinels and snares, and then it was glass-smooth.
He didn’t see any guards this time. Last time he rode Leviathan, the base of the tower was thick with chromed myrmidons, Trust logo etched in their polished chests like matching battle scars. It was very imposing, if you planned on going through the front door. Front doors were for sucks. And Thin Man wasn’t one.
He changed routes, loping around the structure, the tower always in his eye-line. Come on in, the water’s fine. He shook his head and cursed at himself. It was too easy, even if they weren’t supposed to see him coming. Lines of data seethed and pulsed like nerves or roots, spreading into the Weave at the base of the spire, becoming so small they disappeared. Only ripples like raindrops showed where the lines met the Weave. He paced and looked again. No sentinels; the place was empty as a news reader’s brain. All clear.
He drove the sliver in and slid the link home.
Two steps forward and he slammed into the wall. A thousand colors, all black, hit him like a jackhammer to the forehead. Thin Man recoiled. The connection was cut off with prejudice. That link was burned and if he was unlucky, they might even have flashed a location. Usually though, those sorts of rebuffs were pushouts, not a sneak peek into what was going on at the other side of the screen. This was a nightstick to the face, not a line of questioning. Go was not passed.
He spent the next twelve hours riding lightning until he pierced the gold wall. It had taken all of his tricks, even the Bashour clusters that he’d paid too much for. At least he said that at the time, but now they were worth the Total’s weight in gold. Not to force the door, but to emulate and blend. The last probe went in disguised as a flawlessly composed focus group report from a Swiss design firm. Thin Man could feel the cold Nordic perfection in its columns and rows of boring Helvetica.
But what he found inside Leviathan wasn’t what he was looking for. Not even an hour later. Not even two or three.
He swore at himself and stared at the screen. Fronds of unfolding data swayed in the ebb and flow of the Trust’s private shoal of the Weave, but none of it was any use to the man with the tattoo.