Traffic was backed up at least a mile away from LA and Up, the most popular launch pad in all of Los Angeles. Of course by that I mean the cheapest, reserved for those who were too poor or stingy to find a better way into space. Still one cannot argue with cheap when you are on a limited expense account. I started the radio playing an old jazz number from the last century as I started to wonder if it would be faster to walk to the blasted station. While I waited, my pistol was quickly stashed in the glove box, no use where I was going anyways. The third guitar solo had just finished as I finally made it to the curb and went into my trunk for a dark leather bag containing enough clothing, odds, and ends to make me look like a tourist. The real treasure in the bag was very well concealed surveillance equipment, small enough to bypass just about any security. At least they had never caught me before.
I tapped the communicator in my ear. “Sarah take the car back to the office, I’ll call when I need it.”
“Confirmed Detective, I also adjusted the schedule for your time away.”
“You’re the best, I’ll make contact after I am safely at Zeta.”
I switched comms to off before spending the next half hour being searched, scanned, and stared at by a weedy little man in thick glasses who seemed a little too determined to find some contraband buried in the circuitry of my artificial eye. The little man finally gave up and let me through, allowing me the dubious pleasure of strapping myself into a T-37 Hawkling, a frightening hybrid of airplane, rocket and spaceship. I did say I wanted to get there fast though. I felt a strong desire for a stiff Bourbon, but they had stopped drinks on these flights after the first five or six people vomited, a thing you really to not want to witness in zero gravity. After several dull moments of passenger warnings the Hawkling hit the runway and launched into the air. I held onto my hat knowing what was coming in three, two, one. The bird’s boosters fired, pinning everyone in the plane to the back of their seat as we rocketed into the sky. Two minutes later I felt the weight shift to the left as the Hawkling switched to the non atmospheric engines. We started to lock into orbit with Zeta Station as I realized I was going to survive this insane trip at least one more time.
From my seat I could hear the loud click of the Hawkling connecting to the station's dock followed by the hiss of air as our air pressure equalized with the station. One by one we were escorted from the Hawkling onto a small shuttle in the spinning center of the station. I found the motion disorienting and just closed my eyes until we started to move and finally arrived at the artificial gravity of the station’s rim. Zeta station was one of twelve satellites orbiting the globe and handling the majority of the planet's communications. About a thousand administrators and maintenance workers besides the occasional tourist, which was what I was using as a admittedly thin cover. It should hold as long as no one looked too close, and I was hopeful that Burke had not made me yet. Finding Burke was going to be my main problem here, security was tight for obvious reasons and scanning equipment with any power would be picked up. I decided to go with maintaining my cover first and checked into the small closet of a room Sarah had found for me. Just a bed, toilet, and enough room to pace and think, if I didn't mind turning around every two steps. I tossed my bag down and dug into the secret compartment in the bottom, coming up with a specialized ear mic. Then I spent a few minutes setting it to lock in on Burke's voice. That should tell me if he says a word within half a mile of my location. My other advantage was there were only a few decent restaurants on Zeta Station, and my mark didn't strike me as the type for sitting in his room with a frozen food pack. He wasn't smart enough to lay that low. I took the rooms comm unit and sent a message back to Sarah. 'Just arrived, haven't seen anything yet.'
I made a slow tour of the stations public observation areas. One shaded and reinforced window after the other showing anyone who cared to see the vastness of the galaxy. The trick to that of course is too keep your mind on the deck beneath you and just presume the earth is spinning. It's less painful that way. Still I decided I would much prefer the far less vast inside of a shot glass. I made by way back to the middle of the station's rim. It was the only area on the station open to lease by the public, and therefore had virtually all of the station's commerce.
As I was deciding which of these places might have the best whiskey, I got a hit on Burke and he was close. Taking a turn around the corner I made him out sitting in the corner of the not so cleverly named Starlight Lounge. Burke looked terrified. His eyes darting left and right like a trapped rabbit as a glass of booze shook in his hand. I quietly took a booth where I could keep an eye on him and ordered a drink with some form of chicken. It appeared my rabbit was waiting for someone and no reason to wait out the interim hungry. Burke tried several calls as I dug into my chicken and rice, not terrible but nothing ever seems to taste right after you launch it into space.
I was just finishing the meal and taking a sip of the whiskey as a young Japanese man wearing a crisp black and white suit the a bowler hat walked over with a drink in his hand, taking the seat opposite Burke. He spoke softly as he leaned over the table. "Try to control yourself, you are drawing to much attention."
"What does it matter, no one knows I am here."
"That is what I believe you Americans call 'Famous last words’. Now why did you request this meeting?"
"I'm in trouble and need to talk to Ha_"
The young man cut Burke off with a gesture. "You speak to who we say you speak to, now tell me the problem."
Burke swallowed the rest of his drink in one gulp, eyes scanning the room in fear. "I think someone at the Century Club has found me out, maybe even Cherry Azure herself. And the patsy we set up to take the fall found out about the operation. The little twerp is trying to follow me, it can't be long until he decides to go to the law.
Burke's opposite stared right into his eyes without betraying a single emotion. "And you wish us to do what?"
"Either get rid of the people chasing me, or give me enough money to get out of town and stay gone. I know enough to make trouble for you." Burke shook his finger at his quiet companion, about as intimidating as your average squirrel. "I keep records."
"Are you truly sure you wish to threaten us Mister Burke?"
Burke lowered his head. "Of course not Aiko."
"I thought not" Aiko pulled a small device out of his jacket and typed a few words into it. "Meet me in corridor seven in two hours. I can arrange your escape. Until then keep out of sight."
"Thank you, you don't know what this means_"
Aiko cut him off with another gesture. "When I said do not be seen I meant begin doing so now."
Burke slowly caught the drift and slinked out of the place before Aiko had to repeat himself again. I slid slightly over in my booth at avoid attracting any attention myself and waiting for Aiko to make himself scarce before taking my leave. I made my way back to the closet and took advantage of the two paces each way for a bit of good pacing well I thought. I only knew of a couple Japanese outfits that operated in the Los Angeles area and they were both bad news. I sent an update to Sarah with Aiko’s picture and told her to look for known associates and any encounters he may have had with the law. That should get me started. It had been a long day so I took advantage of the gap in time to close my eyes. This was the kind of meeting you wanted to show up fashionably late for.
The alarm went off and I took a moment to splash some water on my face. Readjusting my hat as I made my way down a dull gray corridor and turning the ear mic up to give me advance warning if anyone was lurking in the shadows. I found corridor seven and peeked around the corner. No conversation, not much of anything would be more accurate. Something was not right here. I took a slow stroll down the empty corridor acting like the lost tourist I was meant to be. A single access hatch on the floor caught my eye and I moved towards it with a very bad feeling in the pit of my stomach.
I wiped a touch of condensation away and peered through the window seeing Burke on the floor of the airlock dazed and trying to rise. He look like he had been either beaten up or drugged and was struggling to rise. I started to search for the mechanism to open the hatch as it occurred to me I should have known his threats would not have been taken lightly.
I managed to raise local security on my comm unit. “Emergency in corridor seven, there is a man trapped in the airlock.”
A response came back. “That should not be possible. Sending maintenance to investigate.”
“I’d hurry if I were you.” I switched the channel off and went back to the window. “Burke! Listen I have people coming to get you out of there.
Burke nodded groggily then stopped in place. I could see the look of horror on his face as the outer door opened and he was drug out into the vacuum around the station. I hit the inner door in frustration getting a hollow ring in reply to my efforts. As I stood up as I heard foot falls behind me and there was Aiko and a man in an identical suit that could be his brother.
Aiko took a couple steps forward and shook his head. “I don’t know who you are, but you picked a bad place to be today.”
Truer words were never spoken. I sized the two crooks up getting ready for a fight.
Post a Comment