Reggie sat at the bar and ordered a plate of synth-stew. Raz nodded, punched a few buttons on the first gen synthesizer and waited while the machine gurgled out a greasy paste the same olive-drab color as Reggie’s jacket. While the Docks sported all the wonder that was Old Mitchell Street, anything you bought there was expensive because it was real. Off the beaten path, in the real world, you had to take synthetic food stuffs, made from recycled materials in the waste plants of Sector Five. Fresh food had become a luxury commodity as farms disappeared under urban growth. If you wanted the real thing and had the credit to throw away on it, you had to go to Sector One and the flora encrusted arcologies. Then again, if you had the credit to throw away, most likely you lived in one of those arcologies.
Raz dumped the bowl of paste on the bar in front of Reggie. He stood and watched Reggie, a half smile playing on his face. Reggie glanced down at the bowl and asked, “If I had ordered chicken, would it look any different?”
Raz laughed, deep and throaty. “No, amigo.”
“Yeah, I didn’t think so.” Reggie spooned a mouthful, tried to ignore the texture and focus on the flavor, but it was impossible. “Ugh,” he swallowed, “just gimme a beer.”
“All we have is the lab stuff,” Raz shrugged.
“Bullshit. I know you’ve got Sapporo back there,” Reggie waved a finger, pointing to the entire area behind the bar. “My credit’s good.”
Raz laughed again. “No fooling you, eh, amigo?” Raz reached under the bar and Reggie heard a click as Raz unlocked the cooler that held imported drinks. Moments later, Reggie was holding an ice cold bottle of Nippon’s finest.
“You hear the Reds rolled into Paris yesterday? Lo más loco.” Raz asked. “Too bad the NAA pulled out of Eurasia.”
Reggie cocked an eyebrow. “Is it?”
Raz shrugged. “Maybe they could have held it off longer.”
Beer sloshed in the bottle as Reggie took a pull. “Yeah, maybe.”
“You were there, right, amigo?” Raz was absently wiping a spot on the bar with a dirty cloth. “You and that little chica?”
Brows down, Reggie asked, “What are you getting at, Raz?”
The bartender shook his head. “Me? Nothing. I just hear some things, is all.”
“Yeah? Like what?”
“Things,” Raz turned away, but Reggie reached out and grabbed his wrist.
“What things, Raz?” Reggie growled.
“Amigo, you better keep hands to yourself if you want to keep them,” smile gone, Raz held a vibro-blade a hair’s breath over Reggie’s wrist.
The door burst open, afternoon sun blazing in, silhouetting a slim figure in a billowing coat. Reggie released Raz’s wrist and the vibro-blade disappeared somewhere under the bar.
Gris came in, closing the door behind her, once more bathing the Zephyr in dimness. She hopped onto the stool next to Reggie. “What’s going on, guys?”
Raz and Reggie displayed looks of feigned innocence, smiling. “Nothing, Chica.”
“No? All right,” she scratched her scalp, barely disturbing her short, bright orange hair. “I’ll have a beer, Raz.”
Raz smiled wider and got her a Sapporo. Reggie scoffed at the double standard, earning a shrug from Raz. At a call from the men in the erotica booth, Raz left.
“Glad you’re here, Reg,” Gris said.
“Since when are you glad?” Reggie grumbled. “Didn’t seem to care too much last night with Jefferies in your bed.”
“Fuck you,” she backhanded his healing arm and he yowled in pain, leaping from the stool. He stood, clutching his arm, breathing heavily, glaring at her.
“Christ, you pansy!” she teased. “I didn’t hit you that hard.”
“You damn near dislocated my arm! I paid a fortune to get it fixed last night!” he shouted, eyes on fire behind his fallen hair.
Holding up a finger, Gris’ eyes lost focus as she accessed her RAM bank. She gently shook her head and smiled apologetically at Reggie as her eyes came back to the room. “Sorry, Reg. I left everything on. Jefferies likes it rough.”
“Are you serious?” Reggie sat back down. “Do I need to know that?”
She shrugged. “Well, I’m not normally strong enough to choke…”
“All right,” her hands were up in a show of surrender. “All right, I’ll stop.”
They sat in silence for a while, each drinking Sapporo. Raz replaced the empty bottles with full ones. The Raptors switched holovids from Vain Gloria to a comedy program that was currently popular during night-time broadcasts. Their loud laughter was the only sound in the entertainment house.
Gris was fumbling through the pockets of her large coat, looking for her inhaler when she paused. “Wait, what happened to your arm last night?”
Reggie answered staring straight ahead. “I think you know, or you wouldn’t have told me to meet you here.”
“What happened, Reg?”
Reggie set his bottle down. “Tiburons.”
“What?” Gris was shocked. “I thought the job was a simple shoot and scoot?”
“It was supposed to be,” he said. He emptied the bottle, swallowing noisily. “I never made it to the mag. They jumped me on North.”
Reggie shrugged. “I saw them coming from the mag, walking on the other side of North.” He waved at Raz for another Sapporo then raked his fingers through his hair, sighing. “I ducked into an alley, waited until they passed. They must have seen me. They were waiting when I came out.”
“How many?” Gris had stopped rummaging through her coat, all attention on Reggie, her blue eyes blazing.
“Five,” he shrugged, downing more beer, “not counting the Super. It was Hoss and his jumpboys.”
Gris’ eyes bulged. “Hoss recruited a Super? How the hell are you even alive?”
“Killed the Super,” Reggie smirked.
“Are you shitting me?” When he shook his head, she turned away, grabbed her own beer. “Fuck, Reg.” She turned back to him, holding her beer as if she wanted to crush it. “Realz?”
“Realz.” Reggie smiled again. “Once the big guy went down, Hoss and the jumpboys ran.” He shook his arm at her. “Got a broken arm for the trouble. Doc Jimi patched it up.”
Gris scoffed. “Have you got any credit left?” Raz perked up at that, eyeing Reggie.
Reggie waved a placating hand at Raz. “I’m good for it, Raz.”
“See that you are, amigo, or I start taking fingers,” the bartender threatened.
“Jesus, Raz, stop being so dramatic,” Gris chuckled. “I’ll cover if he needs it.”
Raz nodded and wandered off.
“Gris, I’m a big boy, I can handle my own mess. You don’t have to keep helping me out.”
Gris frowned. “If I was really helping you out, I’d pay to get your shit fixed,” she said as she waved a finger in front of his eyes.
Reggie swatted her hand away. “It’s not that bad yet.”
“No?” she searched his eyes. “You’re shit for a liar.” He turned away from her, tried to focus on the holovid the Raptors were watching even though he couldn’t hear it.
She grabbed his shoulder and spun him around. “What happened last night was bad, Reg. Hoss must have paid a fortune for that Super. He’s gonna be looking to take the cost out of your skin.”
“Dammit, don’t you think I know that?” he growled. “I’ve bigger things, though,” he shuttled the beer bottle between his hands. “The job was scheduled. I was on a timer. It had to be last night. The Tibs got nothing on Stahler.”
“I’m sure Jefferies and the Rogers can offer some protection for a while, but…”
“Fuck Jefferies!” Reggie shouted cutting her off. He saw Raz look over at them and continued in a quieter voice. “You know I want nothing to do with him after what happened in Sarajevo. Besides,” he drank some beer, a sudden pride creeping into his tone, “as long as he’s fucking you, I’d like to see his head leave his shoulders.”
Gris laughed. “Son of a bitch, you’re jealous.”
Reggie remained silent.
Her laughter stopped, but her smile remained as she began searching her coat again. When she couldn’t find the inhaler, Reggie smirked, “Breast pocket.” Gris’ hand shot to the pocket, removing the stim inhaler. Smirking still, Reggie looked right at her. “You always put it there. Bet Jefferies doesn’t know that.”
“Leave it, Reg,” she said. Reggie could hear the soft whoosh of the inhaler as Gris punched the button, taking a deep breath.
“That shit is gonna kill you eventually.”
Pocketing the inhaler, she waved his words away. “You’ve chosen your way, I’ve chosen mine.” She emptied her beer and waved Raz away when he offered another. “What’s the plan now, Reg?”
“Easy,” he said. “Get drunk now, avoid Tibs, and talk to Stahler tomorrow when I can think of what to tell him so that I don’t end up in the Thames.”
“What are you going to tell him?” Gris asked, the fringe of her irises were turning purple as the stim washed through her.
“Think fast, amigo,” Raz said as he placed a holocard on the plasteel bar. “For you.”
The card was marked with a gold lion’s head: Stahler’s crest. Reggie’s hand shook as he picked it up and said into it, “Play.”
An old and distinguished looking man’s head sprung from the card, made of glowing yellow light. The face was restrained anger as it spoke. “Reginald, I am displeased. You had better be standing in my office at eighteen hundred.” The head winked out.
Reggie deflated. “Fuck.”