Come The Revolution – Snippet 19
One on each side of me, they took me out through the hostel lobby and into the broad, open walkway beyond. We turned right.
“Where are you taking me?”
“Shut up,” the guy on my left said. I thought of him as Lefty. He was the one who had done all the talking so far, what little there had been, and he looked to be the brains of the outfit. He had one of the local English slum accents, this one kind of a mix between Hungarian and some Slavic languages, which meant he was second generation and probably hung out somewhere near e-Kruaan-Arc, a couple kilometers north of Katammu-Arc.
Lefty was the larger of the two, although neither one of them was all that big. He had a round face with sharp rat-like features, a scraggly black moustache, and I noticed he was missing the upper half of his right ear. The other guy had two scars on his face, one of which twisted his upper lip slightly. It made him look as if he were sneering all the time. I pegged their ages as mid-twenties. I had a pretty good idea who these guys were — not specifically, but in a general sense. I’d grown up with street toughs just like them. Hell, I’d been them.
Not that understanding them made my situation any less dire. In Katammu-Arc I had some measure of security. Prahaa-Riz would have been better. Outside of either one and at the mercy of two thugs: genuinely screwed. I needed to make some sort of a move and get control.
“Tell me where we’re going,” I said.
“Shut up,” Lefty answered. “or we shoot you here.”
“I don’t think so. Back in the room, maybe, but out here in a public space? Katammu-Arc, which has the municipal government as well as the national government? Hell, we’re only two levels down from the uBakai Wat chamber. With the Munies trigger-happy as hell and riots going on all over, you start shooting in here and you’ll never get out alive.”
The guys exchanged a look before Lefty spoke again.
“So maybe we pull stupid hat off your head and tell everyone here is Sasha Naradnyo. How leatherheads feel right now, will tear you to pieces.”
“How many Varoki do you think can tell one Human from another?” I asked.
“Are so mad will not need recognize you,” he said. “Take word for it.”
“You don’t get my meaning. How are they going to tell which of us is me? Once you get them going, they’ll kill all three of us, just to be on the safe side.”
“Yeah,” the guy in my right said in a thick, slow voice, “but you still be dead.”
“But I’m gonna be dead either way, right? So why not take you two assholes with me?” It was a bluff, but it hit home. His expression flickered as that sank in. I looked back at Lefty.
“You got no leverage, long as it looks as if you’re taking me to an execution. Die here, die there, what more have I got to lose? Any pressure you try to put on me gets you in jail or dead.
“Now, might be I’ll go with you anyway if the deal looks right. None of my options sound all that great at the moment, but you gotta make the pitch. There’s a food station with tables up ahead, posted as having Human food too. Let’s have a tea and talk about this. Otherwise I start yelling, first Munies we see.”
He didn’t say anything but I could see he was chewing it over. He lifted his right hand and he ran his fingertips absent-mindedly along the scar tissue that formed the top of what was left of his ear, as if checking to see if the other half had grown back. When we got up to the tables he stopped, looked around, and then nodded toward an empty one a little apart from the others.
“Will not hurt talk,” he said. “Pablo, get tea.”
“I’m buying,” I said. “Just take it out of that cash of mine you pocketed.”
Sookagrad was what they called the slum district they came from — which translates as Bitch City in English, probably a comment on the quality of life. I’d been right about it sprawling in the shadow of e-Kruaan-Arc. After about twenty minutes of talking I was reasonably sure of the setup.
They claimed they worked for a Russian thug named Nicolai Stal, who I’d heard of but never met. I tried to keep up on the local criminal underworld but it was hard. There was plenty of information; you just couldn’t tell how reliable any of it was.
For all their professed distaste over Human violence, a lot of Varoki found it fascinating, and so there was a thriving fan base for different Human criminal factions in Sakkatto City. Of course the stuff that got on the float about it was mostly made up, but even when the Varoki tried to play it straight and sort it all out, they still couldn’t quite get it right. Human organized crime was always simpler than they thought it was, and more complicated at the same time.
So who was this Nicolai Stal? Well, for one thing that wasn’t his real name unless his parents had a strange sense of humor. Stal was Russian for steel. Nicolai Stal–nikyel stal. Nickel steel, get it?
Besides, I’d already figured out these two punks didn’t really work for Stal, their big talk notwithstanding. I pegged them as independents who wanted to get hooking into Stal’s organization, and they grabbed me on spec’, to make an impression on their intended future boss.
I was not clear on why bringing me in would make such an impression. They said Stal just wanted to talk to me, because they couldn’t say someone wanted me dead. That would not be a very successful sales pitch, would it? They were unimaginative liars. I didn’t hold that against them since it was making my life easier. But could I parlay that into my freedom? Maybe so.
I let Lefty talk until he ran out of stuff and was starting to repeat himself. I was careful not to ask any tough questions which would trip him up and make him realize how stupid his story sounded. I just listened and drank tea. When he started running down and his confident façade looked like it might crumble all on its own I came to his rescue.
“Okay, here’s the deal. I’ll talk to Stal, and I’ll let you guys take me there so you get the credit with your boss, but I need to stop at Prahaa-Riz first.”
“Prahaa-Riz–still locked down,” Lefty said.
“I got my own entrance the Munies don’t know about.”
They looked at each other, suddenly nervous and suspicious.
“What you want there?” Lefty demanded.
“Three things. First, I need to pick up more cash. I got a feeling my negotiation with your boss could get expensive but I can’t use a cash station without showing up on the grid. I got about a hundred thousand cottos in a safe at home. Second, I want to shower again and change clothes. Looking like a bum puts me at a disadvantage in a sit-down. Third, I need to turn on my remote re-transmitters so I can use my commlink without the Munies tracking me. The controls are in my apartment.”
“You got equipment can make commlinks invisible to Munies?” Pablo said, disbelief clear in his voice.
“Yeah, don’t you?”
They didn’t answer. They didn’t need to.
“I can fix yours to run through my system while we’re up there, if you want,” I said, which was total crap but they didn’t know. I wasn’t sure which would entice them more: the idea of untraceable commlinks or the vision of a safe full of cash, but I figured together they were irresistible.
Lefty tried to keep his face blank, not let me know what he was thinking, but his hand went up to his ear again, stroking that line of scar tissue. “Okay,” he said after a few seconds, “we get moving, but not try anything stupid.”