“I could have decided it was easier to partake in crime. I could have made an excuse that my family were all criminals, or reliant on the State. Every day, there are excuses and reasons to take the easier way. The fact of the matter is that a large sector of mankind, not just South Sector, but mankind, are lazy.”
Craig Welles stared up at the huge blimp, as it hung in the air above him, its report booming across the city. Most were going about their daily business, a huge river of people moving between home and office, office and home. Craig stood still, like an oasis amongst them, holding tight to his attache case. He had the hard, grizzled look of a top business executive, right down to the expensive cut of his suit.
“Right fucking call on that,” came a voice. Craig glanced over. Down. He noticed the man standing next to him, smoking on a thick cancer stick. The sort that middle management smoked to look important. “Should clear the whole damn lot of them out like rats.”
“South Sector?” replied Craig, his accent tight, proper.
“Yeah, why the fuck not?” replied the man. Craig took him in with sparing glances. Short. His weight was probably due to a good deal of laziness on his own part. “Always known that the whole lot of them cheeky darkies were good for nothing.” He pointed towards the blimp, where the interview continued to play out. “Now there’s a good man. One who ain’t scared to speak his mind.”
“Guess you aren’t with the Iwi groups on this one then?”
The short man shook his head, “Bunch of land grabbing bastards.”
“Nothing like the corporations then,” Craig replied, with a slight, wry smile. The irony wasn’t lost on him. “You’re right though.”
“About Edward Skye. About … South Sector.”
“Oh, for sure,” grinned the guy. Craig kept his smile in place, but he couldn’t stand the guy. A couple of Korean pancakes short of greasy, with his ineffectual comb over. “Takes a lot of courage to say what he’s saying. Someone has to.”
“Certainly. One could say that he’s certainly not taking the easy path on this one.”
“Nick Stiles,” remarked the man. Craig noticed he was sticking his pudgy paw out, and he was introducing himself. Craig completed the transaction, and his vision bloomed with the credentials of his business card. “Sigma Industries. Management of special projects.”
“Craig Welles,” Craig remarked. It was like shaking hands with a warm wheat sack, the sort that those up-class massage and treatment clinics used.
“What like of work are you in Mr Welles?”
As curt and polite as the details that were finally starting to fade from his vision, Craig noticed. Following all the protocols of business greeting. “Special project also, you could say. Acquisitions, mostly. Mergers and acquisitions.”
“Your card doesn’t say who you’re working for,” Stiles remarked. Craig knew that his business card would show sweet fuck all, especially to someone like him.
“Freelance, actually,” replied Craig. He resumed his glance up at the blimp, but the special report was coming to a close. Most of it had passed the foot traffic by completely, but come nightfall the report will have been chopped, chipped and replayed in every different forum.
“Ah, you’re the kind to look out for. The dangerous ones!”
“Why do you say that?” Craig asked. He stifled a bored sigh. Some fucks thought they knew just about everything. In their own narrow little worlds.
“No loyalties! What have you worked on?”
That was forward. Craig played along with it. Even now he could feel the presence in the forefront of his mind. Not like that was about to quit anytime soon, but at least the presence had the good presence to keep his mouth shut.
“I’ve just returned from a time in the Americas, negotiating a few limited contracts for the Ford-Chrysler Group,” Craig lied, not missing a step. No man Stiles size could ever keep up with his footwork. “There’s a few minor start ups in the Caribbean League that interested them. Easy prey.”
“Did you have any involvement in the Hibiki merger?”
“Oh, sure,” Craig replied, holding his case two handed. “I was actually at the head of that project.” Stiles look suitably impressed. Craig allowed himself a hint of a smile, a smug show of pride.
“That was some excellent stuff. I followed the followed up for the week up to it.”
“It was a little hairy at points, I’ll admit, but entirely worth it in the end for the parents.”
Stiles nodded, enthusiastically. Craig waited for it, then it came, almost like clockwork. “You and me should talk over drinks. Maybe a light working lunch. Strictly social, of course.”
“Oh, of course,” Craig remarked, feigning a hint of indignation. “And certainly. Do you have a local?”
“There’s a place I know down in the Oriental Sector that does an incredible platter.”
Craig glanced down at the man. Way down, almost down his nose at the guy. “Oh? I wouldn’t spot you as the sort. What with Skye’s sentiment.”
“Don’t get me wrong! The Nips are a decent folk. It’s not about skin color, Mr Welles. Only entirely about effort. I’ve had nothing but entirely pleasurable exchanges with the Nippon people. Hard working people they are.”
Craig nodded, let Stiles take it as agreement. He let him continue, without interruption now he was spewing his filth freely. “The Nippon are like dealing with your next door neighbors. Nice enough. And you can go home when you’re done, say goodbye to them for the night. The fucking Iwi groups, it’s like living with your in-laws!”
“Apt way of putting it,” Craig said. He raised his left wrist, made a point of shrugging the sleeve of his jacket back on the timepiece, just for Stiles benefit. “Say, I need to be getting on, but I’d like to take you up on that sit down, if you’d be agreeable.”
“Of course! Would be a total pleasure. Perhaps exchange a few war stories.”
“How about I link you a little later in the week,” Craig suggested, amicably. He looked down at Stiles, moving his attache case between hands.
“Excellent. A good day, Mr Stiles.”
Craig stepped away from the man, easing into the flow of foot traffic easily. He could almost feel the smugness sitting in the front of his mind. He tried to blink it away, just a natural reaction to the wetware, but he knew it might take a bit of alcohol and a Code Black to banish this particular sensation.
“I can’t believe it! You made it seem like it was his idea!”
“It was his idea,” Craig subvocalized, falling in step. About him, the lunch crowd was making their way back to their desks. Craig pulled up the lists of Bullet times, his mind already set on his target.
“You just make it seem so effortless.”
“Time and experience,” he muttered, and this time it came out vocally. Craig was too busy checking availabilities and times. His programs factored his position, locale and ETA on the nearest stop, and goaled it to a few possibilities.
“It’s a pleasure working with you,” the voice commented. Craig rolled his eyes, crossing the street, dodging the slim, shiny vehicles with an expert step. “I know I say that a lot, but it really is.”
“Dogson,” Craig commented, bluntly. “Unless it pertains to the mission at hand, kindly keep your fucking mouth shut. Am I clear?”
“Clear as glass.”
“Good. Now if you want to make yourself useful, perhaps you could run a sheet or two down on Williams? See how deep his links with Richmond go? And while you’re at it, I’ll be now needing a full workup on Stiles.”
“Do you think you’ll be able to work the two cases at once?”
Craig quickened his pace a little as he worked his way up from street level. The floating levels were almost as packed at this time of the day, but his programming said that there was a decent chance of him making the 1.23 Bullet.
“I think you already know the answer to that one, Dogson.”
Craig didn’t hear the reply, but he could almost damn well feel it. That warm, beaming approval. He’d have to talk to the Bunker about replacing the damn angel. Maybe get someone a little less green behind the ears. This was all a matter of a days work for him, and the last thing he needed was a transcript update after every sentence.
“Sampson and I got talking last week –”
“Has it got to do with Richmond?”
“Then shut up.”
Craig kept his step quick, pulling up to the wide platform just as the Bullet was pulling up. The platform was wreathed along one side with hyper real blipverts, trying to sell him all manner of things, based on his previous buying history. He didn’t of course, but something had to be encoded into his preferences, if only for completeness’ sake. He stepped onto the Bullet, and felt the lightness of the fare leaving his stipend.
There was a little Noodle Box down over near Neon, and he planned to make it there on short time.
Craig sat, thankful of the silence for the moment. Time to just sit. The rest of the commuters thankfully had the same idea. Craig wondered how close he was to retirement. This was meant to be the last case, but then again, so had the last four cases. It was in these spare moments that he wondered whether it was him of the Agency holding on. What was life after the SIS, or the Agency?
Fucked if he would be leaving it all to the new generation of Agents. People like Dogson. Heaven forbid. It would be a bleak new future down that path.
Craig ran his memory through what he knew about this William’s man, supplemented by what Dogson had managed to pull from Richmond’s internal systems. He was good at his job in that respect, at least. It took his a second to realize all the new additions, and the rest of the trip to mull over them.
The weather was starting to take a turn for the worst again, when he finally stepped off the Bullet. The platform he stepped out onto was almost a mirror of the one he had left, if not for perhaps a little more rubbish. Craig stepped towards the exit, wondering if it would be such a bad thing having Skye run for Lord Mayor. Pull the rest of the city up to par.
The Noodle Box outlet was doing a brisk trade when he arrived. Craig walked straight passed it, and down the next side alley. Lighter foot traffic here. He stepped into the battered, buffed dome of the hardline, and linked, then dialed. A rather tired looking face appeared on the devices flatscreen.
“Williams,” he intoned, pleasantly. “I’m calling about my daughters birthday cake.”
“Oh. Craig. Yeah. Sorry. Haven’t got to it just yet.”
“I’m going to need a time and place,” Craig replied stiffly. He felt hemmed in with the closeness of the dome. He wondered how much privacy it really gave, but then this was all age old tech. “Her birthdays coming up quick. I’ve given you the specs. All I need now is the goods.”
“Hmmmm. What about Monday next week?”
“Time and place?”
“I’ll message you with the details.”
“Not a bother, is it?”
“Nah man, not for you. It’s all in a good cause.”
“Certainly is. I’ll await your message then. A good day of it.”
Craig terminated the call. Always payed to play it safe in this line of work. It’s how he got to retirement age in the first place. Cakes or dirty bombs, it was all the same to him in the end. He stepped away from the hardline, figuring he would patronize the Noodle Box, just this once. Better to stay near the hardline, just in case William’s message took a while to get through.