(c) 1990 by Wil McCarthy
Sidewalk crowds surged against him as he made his way down the street, and he resisted the urge to grab his head in both hands and scream himself blue. His clothing reeked of sweat and grime and sake, and was dark with accumulated soy-sauce stains. His body was reedy and thin. His brain was a messy Tanner/Geist jumble of thoughts and memories that didn’t match up. His narrow arms were achingly sore, speckled with punctures and ‘derm bruises.
The rage and frustration were hard to fight back. Geist was such a loser! A body like this, not a penny on him, and warrants out for his arrest!
Excuses floated up in his mind, but Tanner repressed them savagely. Billy Geist was the kind of dirtbag to whom shooting up a dose of Tanner seemed like a fun idea, a diverting way to spend the weekend. Tanner intended to see he got his money’s worth.
How’s this, Billy? He asked himself with naked hatred. How do you like the pain, the hollow emptiness where Karen used to be? It’s like somebody pulling your teeth out, huh?
He clenched his fists, clenched his teeth, and continued walking despite the need to smash somebody full in the face. The pain and the hollow emptiness were quite simply unbearable. They sliced through his tangled thoughts like razors, driven deep by Tanner’s one clear memory, the memory of Karen.
They had been walking together, Nick and Karen Tanner, along the dark streets that led back from Roppongi. He’d been too stingy to spring for a cab, too stupid to take the long way back, and too drunk to worry much about it. He could still hear the sounds; the strange and quiet slap of bare feet running on asphault, the coarse breathing of a man behind them. Karen’s grunt of muddled astonishment as a rigid monofilament whipped through her torso diagonally from kidney to armpit.
Tanner remembered, too, the feeling as his flesh parted, as his neck became almost two separate things. There was a jolt, a flash, an electrical shock as the monowire flickered through his spinal column, but no other pain or discomfort. All that would come later. He had one final memory, though, perhaps the most terrible of all. It was another sound, the dull smack of Karen’s top half hitting the pavement.
Things went down tough in Americatown.
Nick’s head had lolled over, ragdoll-style, and the street had met him hard. The rest was merciful blackness.
Tanner groped through the crowd, grabbed at a bannister. A thin howl escaped him, and tears ran down his face like warmly flowing blood. Who? Who was it that had stolen away his wife, ended her existence with a flick of the wrist?
Who did it? WHO DID IT!! He tried to keep himself from screaming, but realized he was already doing it.
Nick belted back another Suntory and, with a sigh, set the shotglass down on the bar. He pretty much had his shit together now.
Billy-chan’s look of scruffy helplessness had netted him nearly a thousand yen, hustling away salarymen’s pocket change as they took their girlfriends and fiancees out for early Saturday dinner. It seemed the more prosperous Nips got a kick out of lording over down-and-out gaijin, particularly when they had a female on their arm. Doda, kakoii daro?
But he’d about drunk up that thousand, now, and it was time to get down to business.
He looked around him, looked at the lounge decor of mirrors and gray marble, and the blue-collar types trying morosely to enjoy themselves, and the bar girls pushing drinks and smiling their mannequin smiles of abstract welcome. The air was hung with blue garlands of cigarette smoke and the low staccato of murmured Japanese.
This was Osakejo, the bar Nick and Karen had been drinking at before… Before the murder. A block off from the fashionable Roppongi district, and two kilometers south of Americatown, the ‘Jo was one of those increasingly rare establishments which catered to Tokyo’s working class. No ice cubes mined from millennia-old glaciers, or shrimp snacks wrapped in gold leaf. Not in this joint. But it lacked, too, the sleazy crowds of the waterfront, and the bogus down-home good cheer of Americatown. It was a good bar, and Tanner had always liked it. God damn it all to hell.
He picked up the shotglass again and rapped it twice on the bartop. “Hey Inoue-san!” he said.
Behind the counter, the man named Inoue turned and looked sharply at him. “Omaesan itai daredane?” His face bore a strange expression, like a polite sort of contempt. He saw, of course, the filthy scarecrow called Billy Geist, sitting alone on this side of the bar because nobody wanted to get near him.
Tanner bowed his head a little, and made a belated attempt to look respectful. This man didn’t know him.
“Sumimasen,” he offered tentatively. “Chotto otazune shimasu.”
Inoue frowned deeply, and set down the white cloth he’d been holding. “Question?” He asked with obvious irritation. “I, know, your question, already.” (Inoue, like most Japanese, spoke English competently but with infuriating slowness). “You, want to know, about policeman’s, wife, fu was killed, last month.”
A feeling of discontinuity settled into Nick’s mind. “How did you know that?” He demanded quietly. The shotglass slipped from his fingers, rolled back toward him, disappeared off the edge of the bar. When it smashed on the marble floor, he scarcely noticed.
“Iikagenhishite kure!” the bartender snapped, his face reddening. “You, gaijin, come here, always dirty. Always, ask, about policeman’s wife. Tanna-san wa koko no otokuisan datta dakeda. They, were good people. You, go away.”
“Go away?” Nick cried. “Why, who else has been here? What’s going on?”
Inoue-san, almost purple with rage, reached across the countertop and grabbed the front of Billy-chan’s oily gray shirt. “Wakatara. Deteittekure.” The barman’s voice was a malignant hiss, his words a genuine warning. Get out of here, understand? He gave a hard shove, and Nick rolled backward off his barstool and tumbled to the floor, leading with his left elbow. Pain exploded like a bomb.
Nick scrambled quickly to his feet, and grabbed his left arm in his right. Things were definitely not going as planned. He glowered at Inoue, but even a quick look was enough to tell him the man was seriously, seriously pissed off. With a sick, helpless feeling, Tanner headed for the door, pushed it open with his shoulder, and slipped out into the evening. Like a beaten dog.
God damn it! God damn it all to hell and back, he had to fucking be Billy Geist!
He grabbed a signpost, leaned against it, let the passing people brush by him. He inhaled a deep breath, held it. Exhaled. Felt the deep throbbing of his left arm. It was important that he stay cool.
Clearly, he wasn’t going to get anywhere until he had a bath and a change of clothing. A haircut wouldn’t hurt, but then neither would a few months of proper diet and exerscise. Dammit, he was under a death sentence! Geist’s liver was working overtime, processing Nick out of the picture. In three days, four at most, he’d be nothing but impurities in Billy-chan’s urine.
Hell, he’d wasted enough time already. Cradling his elbow against further harm, he waded into the crowd and headed uptown.
They cracked him on the head before stuffing him in back of the police car, and the bruise was a hard lump now at the base of his skull.
Poor Billy-chan just couldn’t stay out of trouble, you know? The Edoyu bathhouse had been wonderful, fully worth his last two hundred yen. He’d sat on a stool and hosed off weeks worth of grime and sweat, then settled into a bath cranked all the way up to 50 celcius. The water had boiled away his stiffness and most of his pain, allowing him almost to forget. The trouble came while he was getting dressed. The thought of climbing back into Billy’s reeking garments had been less than appealing, but he’d found some much nicer attire in a basket near his, along with a wristwatch, telephone and wallet. He was slipping on a new pair of shoes, almost ready to go, when somebody started yelling.
Nice timing, Billy.
Neon billboards and particolored streetlights whirled by now, as the cops rode him in. Nick allowed himself a flicker of smugness through his new pain; they’d taken all the stuff out of his pockets, but were in too much of a hurry to remove his new clothes. Somebody at the ol’ bathhouse was going home naked, or else in Billy-chan’s suit.
His glum mood settled back upon him. He was going to jail! Of all the things that could happen, this was the worst. There was no way… His eyes locked on a street sign, glowing with the pale green and white of solid-state fluorescence. Jingu-dori street! They were taking him to Americatown, then. What else to do with a scrawny, drug-addict gaijin? A trace of hope brought his mind back to life.
Rubber squealed in protest as the cops pulled a tight corner, throwing the handcuffed Tanner sideways, into the door of unyielding ceramic. The side of his face connected solidly. He recovered his balance quickly, but jerked his hands painfully behind him, trying to free one. His cheekbone! Another bruise, probably, for Billy-chan’s collection. The desire, the need to touch it, was palpable. Bastards, he thought. He could hear their laughter through the opaque, centimeter thick partition partition.
He tried to think. Had he ever treated a collar this way? Busted him up, tossed him around like a bale of hay? Images occurred to him, the scruffy faces of a hundred A-town losers, the very lowlife it had been Tanner’s job to control. A year ago, what would he have made of Billy Geist?
When the cop car screamed to a halt, Nick was ready for it, leaning back with his feet braced against the partition. They wouldn’t get him twice, at least.
The left-side door popped open with a pneumatic whoomp, and rough hands grabbed him and hauled him off the seat. The cops, straight downtown types with blue-lacquered samurai armor, each grabbed an arm and hauled him up the front steps of the Americatown Keisatsu. “Go easy!” He protested, with Billy-chan’s less-than-adamant voice. “Hanashitekure, you bastards!”
He was hustled through the airlock and into the reception area. He sighed quietly. The familiarity of this place, the phony wood paneling, the potted palms on either side of the main desk! It was almost like coming home. Across the room he could see his old desk, and all around him were people he knew.
“Kono otoko ga Edoyu de tanin no fuku to saifu totte irutokoro o tsukamaeta,” one of the cops told Raymond, the man currently behind the main desk. “Omaesantachi no mono daro. Tsuretekite yattazo.”
Here is one of your citizens. Take him.
The two cops threw Tanner to the floor facedown, turned around with almost military precision, and marched out the way they’d come.
“Your mamas,” Nick heard Raymond mutter. Then, to Nick: “Well, what are you waiting on? Go on, get up.”
New pain, fresh off the grocer’s shelf, coursed through Tanner’s rented body. He groaned, and struggled up into an awkward kneeling position with his forehead still resting on the floor. Suddenly, his wrists were jerked upward violently, and he found himself in a bent-knee standing position. Fire raced up through both arms.
“The man just told you to get up,” a voice behind him said. Sounded sort of like Takahumi Smith.
He was led forward, still painfully bent over, until his stomach was resting against the front desk. Raymond had out a pencil, and was scribbling in a 340A arrest form. “Place of incident, Edoyu bathhouse, go-san-ichi Takanodai.” He looked up from the form. “You stole a man’s clothing?”
Raymond’s face, so familiar to Nick after their years together, held an alien hardness. His black skin seemed somehow sinister, and his eyes surveyed Nick dispassionately, with no sign of recognition.
“Ray,” he said hoarsely. He straightened up. “Ray, it’s me. It’s Nick Tanner.”
A look of tired irritation swept across Raymond’s features. Nick glanced over his right shoulder at Takahumi, and saw the same expression there, perhaps a little grimmer.
“The man standing behind you is officer Smith,” Raymond said wearily, looking back down at his form. “He’s going to remove your handcuffs, and then you’re going to place your hands on the glass plate in front of you.”
“It’s me Raymond,” Nick tried. “The guy who whips your butt at raquetball every time. I’m encoded in an overlay drug–“
Officer Smith gave the handcuffs a good hard jerk, so the manacle squeezed into Nick’s wrists like a narrow vice. “Shut up you dirtbag. We don’t wanna hear it.”
Tanner sucked in a sharp breath, but made no sound. He closed his eyes and held out his wrists behind him. After a few excruciating seconds, Takahumi unlocked the cuff and removed it. Blood flowed back into Nick’s hand.
“Put your hands on the plate,” Raymond instructed with evident disgust, not looking up from his report. Feeling lost, Nick laid his palms out on the cool glass rectangle, straightened out his fingers.
The desk beeped. “Geistu, William R.” It stated in stiff feminine tones, thickly accented. “Two-three-dzero-dzero California Street, capsulu fo-one-nine. Americatown, Tokyo. Prior arrest, foteen. Prior conviction, five, misudemeanor. Currently wanted for possession of illegal material, criminal nonpayment of housing cost.”
Raymond cleared his throat. “Well,” he said, still not looking up. “We got us a regular dirtbag. Take him downstairs.”
Takahumi took hold of his arm and pulled him away from the desk.
Nick looked at him helplessly. “Smith, come on. It’s not all that hard to believe, is it? I mean, you know how well the overlay drugs are selling out there. Seepee, they call it.”
Officer Smith said nothing. Tanner’s eyes fell on a familiar
figure as he was led through the main office. “Dave!” He called out, holding his hands out before him like the heroine in a silent melodrama.
The man, Dave Huntington, turned around, raised his eyebrows. “Billy-chan!” He said, with a tone of delighted contempt. “Hey, nice to see you again, you little fuckup!”
Nick recoiled, his head spinning with contradictions. It was not only Nick Tanner who had strong memories of Dave. Dave was the beat cop around the Best Eastern hotel where Billy lived, and had arrested him no less than four times! What an asshole!
Takahumi dragged him through the room at a steady, unrelenting pace. Dave fell into the background. The “dungeon” staircase loomed.
Nick felt himself on the verge of angry tears. “What’s going on here, Takahumi? Why won’t you guys listen to me?”
“Downstairs,” was the man’s only reply. He pushed lightly on Tanner’s shoulder, indicating that he, Tanner, should go first. He did so, descending the staircase in sulky silence. Once downstairs, he turned to face Takahumi, to look into his eyes and see what was going on there.
“Listen to me,” he insisted, trying to overpower Billy-chan and speak as much like Nick Tanner as possible. “I’m your friend Nick Tanner. I’ve had my personality encoded in a CPO narcotic. This guy” (he rapped his chest with the fingers of both hands) “took a dose of it. I have two, three days left in here before I start wearing off, and–“
“I know all about it,” Takahumi stated, pulling a keyring off his belt. He pointed at an empty cage. “Over there. Come on.”
Nick stood his ground. “Listen to me! I’m trying to find the killer, okay? Was I supposed to rot there in the hospital for the rest of my life? Some bastard is walking around this city, and he murdered my Karen!”
Something passed briefly across Takahumi’s face, a trace of sympathy, perhaps. But it vanished, and a stony anger took its place. “I don’t want to hear another word out of you, okay? Nick Tanner was crazy when he died, not that I blame him. But you, you are a punk drug addict loser, and you have taken a drug that makes you walk and talk like a crazy Nick Tanner.
“And do you think you’re the only one? Christ and Buddha, man, we get five of you in here every goddamn day! You’re a regular one-man crime wave!”
Tanner took a step back, let himself fall dizzily against the cinderblock wall. Five of him every day? He had thought he was the only one. He was the Nick Tanner, right?
“Smith, it is me.” There was an edge of hysteria in his voice. “I’m Nick Tanner!”
Takahumi snorted. “It’s going around, buddy. You’ll get over it.” He jingled his keys and nodded in the direction of the empty jail cell.
“Officer Smith!” The voice echoed down sharply from the staircase, accompanied by the rapid slap of leather-soled shoes. A figure appeared in the archway, then stepped out into the light. A man in gray businesswear, white shirt, red tie. Hair greased back. A typical A-town lawyer, in other words.
“Officer Smith,” the man announced crisply. “This person is to be remanded into my custody. I believe your instructions on this were quite clear.”
Takahumi grunted, looking troubled. “Are you still here?”
“Yes.” The attourney replied with a snarl. “I’m still here, and I intend to stay here until this crisis is resolved. The D.A.’s office has given me full authority to persue the matter.”
“So I turn these guys over to you. What happens then? You let them go! These are dangerous people, mister!”
“Yes, so you’ve told me.” The lawyer turned toward Tanner. “Mr. Geist, my name is Rodriguez. I’m the public defender assigned to your case. Computer set bail on you two minutes ago, and I’ve put down a conditional bond. Are you prepared to behave yourself if I assume custody of you?”
“Uh, sure,” Nick agreed, thoroughly confused. As a rule, the wheels of justice turned slowly. Why would a city attourney take such unusual steps on his behalf?
“Well,” Rodriguez said, smiling politely. “Let’s go then.”
He pointed an arm up the dark staircase, like a butler showing a guest to his room, and Tanner mounted the stairs and climbed. The echo of Rodriguez’ expensive shoes followed him up.
“I better not catch him again!” Takahumi called up after them. “I better not catch any of ’em, Mr. Rodriguez, or it’s your ass! You hear me?”
They walked out of the station in silence, and Tanner found himself ushered into Rodriguez’ car. The lawyer climbed into the driver’s seat, started the engine, and pulled out into the nighttime traffic.
“Here,” he said, tossing something into Nick’s lap. A manilla envelope.
Nick looked at it, startled, more puzzled than ever. He felt as though he were walking in a dream, the sort of dream where the scenery is constantly shifting, where doors open magically for you, and slam behind you when you go through. “What is it?” He managed to ask.
Rodriguez glanced at him and smiled. “Relax. You’re Nick Tanner, right?” He stuck out a hand. “Me too. Nice to meet you.”
Nick stared at the hand. “What are you talking about?”
“Whoops!” The lawyer replied, retracting the hand to steer around a mini-scooter. “I hate those things. They ought to make a special lane for them or something, you know?”
Nick knew. Scooter drivers behaved for all the world as if they wanted you to wipe them out. And of course, about ninteen times a day somebody did. Number one cause of fatality in Tokyo.
“Anyway, welcome to the Old Boy Network.” Rodriguez continued. “What’s going on is that I’m the Nick Tanner in charge of recruitment, and you’re the Nick Tanner who’se just been recruited. I’m glad I caught you; we’ve got enough mavericks in this city now to fill a subway car.”
“Mavericks,” Nick said. He was beginning to catch on. “You mean like me, running around trying to solve things on my own. You’ve got some kind of coordinated effort going?”
“Right!” Rodriguez agreed, slapping the steering wheel. “We’ve got about fifty of us working together on it, and things are starting to fall into place. We have a witness who says the killer was a short man wearing black clothing. After the murder he ran down Azabu-dori. He threw the monowire sword away in a trash can
near the corner of Azabu-dori and Jingu-dori, and we’ve lifted a set of partial fingerprints off it.”
“Fingerprints!” Nick exclaimed. “What kind of amateur leaves fingerprints!”
“We’re not sure,” Rodriguez answered. He was silent for a few moments as he negotiated a turn. “The prints seem kind of strange, and we’re having them checked out. They may be some kind of trick to make us think the killer was an amateur. Anyway, we have a few leads we’re following up. We’ve got people talking to the Yakuza all over town.”
Nick frowned. “Wait. This is all happeneing too fast, I need to think. This sounds real organized. Where do I fit in?”
“Well,” (another pause as Rodriguez pulled onto California Street) “That’s not up to me. You’ll find your instructions in that envelope there, along with a hundred thousand yen and a telephone number. Call in four times a day, and again any time you find something important. You can call if you have a question, too, but your job isn’t to know everything. Okay?”
“Uh, sure.” Nick said. He paused. “I, uh, I don’t have a telephone, by the way.”
“Take mine,” Rodriguez told him, fishing in his suit pocket. He pulled out a black plastic case, about the size of an old cassette tape, and handed it to Nick. “I’ll pick up another one in the morning.”
“Expensive one,” Nick observed, slipping it into his shirt pocket. The dreamy feeling was retreating, reality was asserting itself. It was funny, really, the way strange things started to seem normal after a while.
The car slowed, pulled over against the row of parked vehicles on the left side. Rodriguez put it in PARK. People honked angrily behind them, gave up and drove around. Traffic in the opposite lane protested briefly. Outside the window, a flashing sign announced: Best Eastern Hotel. Low Rates. Vacancy.
“What are we doing here?” Nick asked. Surely, this couldn’t have anything to do with the investigation.
Rodriguez shrugged. “You live here, right?”
“I used to,” Nick replied without thinking. “I, I mean Billy- chan used to. Got kicked out for not paying the bill.”
“So pay it. You look dead, my friend. I imagine you’ve had a tough day, and I’d advise you to get some sleep.”
Nick started. “Sleep! You’re crazy, I’ll be dead in three days! I’ve got to get working!” He paused. Working. What a frightful euphemism that was. What he really meant, of course, was that he had to go track down the man who’d sliced his wife in half. The thought was like an icicle through his heart. His eyes filled with sudden tears, and he choked back a sob.
“Whoa,” Rodriguez said softly, putting a hand on Nick’s shoulder. “Easy does it. I know how you feel, Nick. I know. But you’ve got get hold of it. Channel it.”
Nick wiped an eye with the heel of his hand, sniffed. “It’s okay. It’s under control.”
Rodriguez nodded. “Yeah.” A pause. “In the envelope there, you’ll find another dose of the CPO. That, plus your current dose, ought to last you through the week. Buy another hit when you can. You’ll be okay.”
Another dose! Nick clutched the envelope tightly to him. It hadn’t occurred to him that he could prolong the overlay. “Thanks,” he said, his voice almost a whisper. His deadline was gone. Suddenly, he felt very tired.
“Don’t mention it.” Rodriguez looked out through the window at the car parked beside them. “Have you got room to squeeze out?”
Nick tried the door. It opened about half a meter. “Yes,” he answered. A thought occurred to him. “Hey, what makes a public attorney like you want to take a personality overlay drug, anyway?”
It was an important question. The RNA extraction process was lethal, so that any overlay personality was, by definition, suicidal. Who would want somebody like that driving their body around for three days?
Rodriguez shook his head. “Search me, Nick, I only work here. CPO is the hottest thing since designer cocaine, and I’ll be damned if I know why. Look, I have to get back to the police station now. Take care of yourself, okay?”
“Sure,” Nick said, getting out of the car. “Keep in touch.”
He slammed the door. The car pulled out into the flow of traffic and was swept away.
Amerikano Hiaika, (c) 1990 by Wil McCarthy, Part 3
His eyes peeled open with a dry stickiness, like magic tape coming off the roll. Painfully, he raised his head up on creaking neck muscles and looked around him. The room was a small, windowless triple-capsule, its fitfully backlit ceiling barely a meter above his nose. He himself was sprawled on a ragged futon, with dingy gray-white sheets tangled about his feet. And on the sheet, he noted, there sat a brown spider almost as large as a 500- yen coin.
He kicked the sheets away with a shriek of disgust. Jesus and Buddha, he hated spiders. They crawl on your face when you’re asleep, and drink out of the corners of your eyes. That was what his mother used to say, back when they lived in San Diego…
No, that wasn’t right. Nick had never lived in the United States. It was Billy-chan who hated spiders, who had lived with his mother in southern California. Go away, he thought harshly. He was Tanner, dammit. Until he ran out of drugs he was god-damned Nick Tanner.
Nick heaved himself out of bed, groaning. His body was a mass of hurt, each injury calling out loudly for his attention. He ignored them, and duck-walked over to the tiny sink beside the door. The water, when he turned it on, was just a lukewarm trickle, but he cupped both hands under the flow, and splashed some on his face and chest. Aah. That was almost refreshing.
He grabbed his shirt from the floor of synthami mats, pulled it over his head.
The manilla envelope seemed to stare at him, from its place beside his pillow. He leaned over and grabbed it, spilling its contents out on the floor in front of him. Cash (a wrapped bundle of it, like you saw in banks, and in crime movies), a map of the city with highlighter marks on it, a sealed foil packet (looking for all the world like a drug-store condom), a typed note, and a business card. UNIVERSAL EXPORTS, the card read. TEL. 3-45-7659.
He took out his telephone and dialed.
It rang twice. There was a click: “Go ahead,” a deep, unfamiliar voice instructed him.
“Number two, this is, uh,” (he checked the note) “number seventy three.”
There was a pause. “Welcome to the network, seventy three. What’s your status?”
Nick cracked a smile. Like any good Americatown citizen, he had a love for cloak-and-dagger secrecy. There was, even among expatriate Americans, a sort of nostalgia for the cold war, for the days of spy satellites and James Bond movies. He could already understand the network implicitly. Number two was the man in charge (number one being the original Tanner, now deceased), the man who remained perpetually in hiding while he assimilated data from his agents.
At least, that’s what Nick would do if he were running things.
“Well,” he said, clearing away this irrelevant line of thought. “I’m supposed to head for the Shibuya district to talk with somebody named Brady Calhoun. He’s some kind of data pirate.”
“Okay,” number two replied. “Right. This Calhoun, he isn’t a suspect, but he may be able to help us find one. Understand?”
“Okay then. Keep in touch, seventy three.”
The line went dead. Nick switched off his phone, tucked it away, and gathered his things together. He quickly relieved himself in the sink, a filthy but common habit here in lower A-town, where the bathroom was usually a ways down the hall, and sometimes down the street. He took a deep breath, held it, released it. He slid open the door, which squealed in its tracks, and stepped out into the world.
He almost broke his arm falling out of the doorway; Billy- chan’s room was on the higher of two levels on this floor. Many of the other capsule rooms were open, and heads poked out from several of these. Further down the hall, a group of scruffy men engaged in a quiet game, handing cards back and forth across the ridiculously narrow hallway. Startled by the hollow thud as Nick slammed into the plastic floor, they looked up sharply, then burst out laughing.
“Ooh, Billy-chan. Wrong side of the bed?” One of them baby- talked at him, breaking out in a fresh peal of laughter.
“Che, bakanishiyagate.” Nick muttered in the man’s direction. He picked himself up and headed for the ladder at the opposite end of the hall. Downstairs, he confronted the hotel’s clerk, a surly- looking nihonjin named Akemi. “I’m going out,” he offered darkly. “I want the same room back tonight, wakata?”
Akemi nodded unpleasantly. She had no love for Billy-chan, but his bill was paid, now, through the end of the month. That was more than could be said for most of the Best Eastern’s residents.
It was raining outside, the dreary, unvaryingly oppressive drizzle of Japan’s early summer. Nick stole an umbrella from the rack out front and merged with the light Sunday morning crowd.
The worst thing about the rain, Nick reflected, was that it gave no sign that it was ever going to end. It might continue, with dull uniformity, for a week or more. The second worst thing, of course, was the fact that the nihon-jin, almost universally short, held their umbrellas at perfect eye level. Even here at the edge of Americatown, the sidewalk was an ever-shifting porcupine of sharp umbrella spines, any one of which could blind him at any moment.
Along with three hundred other people, he crossed a street that was two centimeters deep in water, flowing like a minor river. Then, he joined a crowd of fifty or so in descending the waterfall/stairs of the subway station.
The line at the ticket machines was long, though thankfully the floor was dry (all the water ran down onto the tracks, where it formed a subterranean sea almost ten centimeters deep). After a wait of well over fifteen minutes, Nick was finally at the machine. He fed in a 10,000-yen bill, quickly grabbed his ticket and pocketed an awkward handful of change.
“Chotto sumimasen,” He said, forcing his way through several other lines. “Saki-ni gomen-ne.” His train was already here, and it was not planning to wait for him! He dropped his ticket into the ticket-taker (having held it for less than 30 seconds, he wondered, not for the first time, why they didn’t just eliminate the ticket and save everybody a lot of time), pushed forward, and squeezed onto the train just as the doors were closing. Luckily, it wasn’t a weekday morning rush hour. He could almost breathe.
He pressed the door buzzer again, starting to become worried. Shibuya was a nice part of town, even if it had declined somewhat this past decade. Plenty to do around here. What if Brady Calhoun was out somewhere?
Nick had no contingency plans, no useful way to spend his time if Calhoun wasn’t home.
The door jerked open in front of him. “Nananda!” A sleepy-looking, bathrobed apparition demanded.
“Uh, Mr. Calhoun,” Nick began. “Sorry if I woke you. I’d like to ask you a few questions.”
Calhoun emitted a sharp bark, like an aborted attempt at laughter, and looked Billy-chan’s wiry frame up and down. “You would, huh? Well, I’d like to smash you one in the mouth. What say we both give up and call it even?”
He started to slam the door, and Tanner stuck Billy-chan’s foot in the frame at the last moment. A lance of pain shot up through his leg, but the door remained open. Calhoun started leaning on it heavily.
“Sumimasen,” Nick hissed through the crack in the door. “Ashiga itaindagane. Open the goddamn door.”
“Get out of here, man,” Calhoun warned, an edge of fear on his voice. “I’ll cut your foot off.”
“Chotto kikitaikotoga, arunda Mr. Calhoun.” Nick insisted. “Two thousand yen for a minute of your time.”
Calhoun eased up on the door, allowing the white fire in Nick’s foot to cool down a bit. “Throw the money inside and pull your foot out.”
Tanner complied, and the door promptly slammed shut. Right. Fury rose within him. He was about to pound the door until it dented, when he heard the sound of the ball-and-hook police bar being opened. The door swung wide.
“You sure ain’t a cop,” Calhoun told him, scratching his unshaved chin in puzzlement. “And you sure ain’t a yakuza. The meter is running, what’s your question?”
Nick cleared his throat. His anger needed a moment to disperse. “Um, there was a cop killed last month off Roppongi. An American.”
“Yeah, I remember. Him and his wife. It was in the paper.”
“Right,” Nick agreed, cheeks flushing, throat constricting as he felt a little part of himself die. Karen! “That’s right. My name is Geist, and that cop, uh, was sort of a friend of mine. I understand you’re in, uh, the information business, and my question is whether you can locate information pertaining to, uh, this incident.”
A smile, like that of a monitor lizard, broke out on Brady Calhoun’s face. “Well, a friend of yours, was he? You slip him a little cash, he slips you a little get out of jail card, eh? Real friendly, like.”
Nick sighed. “The answer to my question is?”
“One million yen,” Calhoun stated, his smile vanishing. “Half now, half when I dig out your clues.”
Nick blinked, nonplussed. A million yen, huh? He wondered how long it might take him to get that kind of money together. How extensive were the network’s resources? How important was this line of inquiry?
An idea popped into his mind. “Brady,” he said, shaking his head sadly. “Don’t do that, okay? I know you’re pretty tight right now, but don’t squeeze me. I’ll give you twenty thousand yen, all up front.”
Calhoun looked startled, then angry. “Twenty thousand! You couldn’t kiss my ass for twenty thousand!”
“Couldn’t I?” Tanner asked. He held his expression neutral. “The hacking game isn’t like it used to be. Business is slow, I know that. The payoff isn’t so high, now. You used to be one of the greats, Brady, something really special, but society is shifting out from under you. You’re like the carbon paper king, watching while Xerox machines flatten your empire. It’s too bad, really. How about I give you thirty thousand.”
He watched Calhoun’s face carefully. He knew nothing about the data piracy business, and had never heard of Brady before reading his instruction sheet last night. His verbal assault had been based on guesswork and supposition, on things he thought he might have heard somewhere. That banks were numbering their imaginary dollars these days, that any transaction could be traced. If he were off the mark, though, he’d have an angry and alienated Brady to deal with. And he’d be just that much farther from finding Karen’s killer.
Bright hatred flashed in Calhoun’s eyes and was gone. The man looked hollow, suddenly, lost and afraid. “Fifty thousand,” he said quietly, his eyes dropping. “Thirty up front.”
“Deal,” Nick concurred. “How long do you need?”
“Come back in five hours.”
“Okay.” Nick fished three bills out of his pocket and handed them over. He stepped away from the door.
“You’re a dirty bastard, Mr. Geist,” Calhoun said emptily. “Do you know what it’s like to lose your whole world? Do you?”
Nick Tanner turned away. “I’ll see you in five hours,” he said.
He took the elevator down, left the building, and headed immediately for a ramen shop across the street. Jesus and Buddha, he was starving.
A bowl of pork ramen was soon presented to him, and he tossed a 500-yen coin across the counter and set in with a vengeance. The noodles were fine, rich but not soggy, and the meat and vegetables were cooked to perfection. A radio was playing softly behind him somewhere, and the music was Amerikano Hiaika, the American Blues. Hopelessly out of date, the stuff barely sold anymore, but its soothing, melancholy tones had always been a comfort to Nick. He let the music slide through him while the ramen’s steamy broth warmed him against the rain. Ah, Tokyo, he thought, glad for the moment to be where he was.
The whole bowl, more than a liter of soup, was gone in five minutes. Nick considered ordering another bowl, but Billy-chan’s shivelled stomach groaned at the thought. Geist was not used to eating often or well, preferring to spend his free cash on euphorin and halucinol. Just lately, too, the euphorin was becoming a problem; his dosage got higher every time, in the “suicide curve” that rose exponentially toward toxic levels. Still, that particular drug was U.S. certified as nonaddictive, so he could always quit if he wanted to.
Sighing, he got up, retrieved his umbrella from the rack, and strode out into the drizzle again.
Almost five hours to kill. What was the most useful thing he could do with that time? Number two had said the network was talking to the yakuza all over town. Presumably, that meant the Americatown Mafia as well. Calhoun was looking into the city’s data net. All the wintesses were accounted for, and stopping strangers on the street hardly seemed productive.
He ducked into a narrow alley and got out his phone.
“Go ahead,” the now-familiar voice of number two told him after he’d dialed.
“Number two,” Nick answered, “This is number seventy three. I made a deal with Brady Calhoun, he’s going to do some snooping around for us. He told me it would take five hours, though.”
“Understood,” number two said. “You need something to do.”
“Right,” Nick replied. How convenient it was, to deal with yourself over the phone. There was no confusion, no need to explain anything.
Number two spoke again: “You’re in Shibuya now, right? I want you to look around, see if you can find a dealer.” (he meant a CPO dealer with a supply of Nick Tanner) “We don’t have one in that district yet. If you can’t find one, head over to the Ginza and buy yourself a hit from Fat Charlie.”
“Understood,” said Nick. “Will I know him when I see him?”
“Hai, sugu wakarusa. He’s pretty easy to spot. Keep in touch, seventy-three.”
Nick swiched off the phone.
Stepping back out into the street, he scanned the crowds with a critical eye. He was looking for somebody relaxed, somebody just sort of hanging out while the high-strung mobs brushed by. Somebody well dressed, but a little seedy looking. Most of all, he was looking for somebody caucasian.
It was the shame of the western hemisphere, that over ninety- five percent of drug-related crimes in Tokyo were committed by white Americans. That Americatown had more crime per capita than any other place in Japan, over six times the national average.
That more people were killed there every month than in the entire province of Osaka. This was a particular, burning shame to Nick Tanner, who loved A-town dearly, had lived there for his entire life. He was a cop there, entrusted with the job of keeping the lowlife in check, knowing full well that he was unequal to the task. The robbers outnumbered the cops a thousand to one.
His eyes tracked the street like the sensors of an autonomous weapon. He found no target. The people here were all Nihon-jin, moving hurriedly from one place to the next. Spending even their Sundays like rats in a maze.
Nick pocketed the phone and moved on.
This was really the wrong part of town to look for drugs in, he decided after a few hours. Gaijin were few and far between, and in Shibuya they were all Japanized folk, scurrying around like everyone else. Tamago, such people were called in Americatown. Eggs; white on the outside, yellow on the inside.
Eventually, he gave up and took the train to the Ginza. He walked up and down the blocked-off-for-Sunday street twice, until his shoes were filled with chilly rainwater and his pant legs were wet up to the knee. When he finally spotted Fat Charlie, though, there was no mistaking him. An overweight American in a white, three-piece suit, the man might as well have carried a sign reading “Dope For Sale”.
Fat Charlie was standing beneath an awning, glancing over a rack of soggy magazines, when Nick pulled up next to him.
“Nice day out, huh?” Nick offered.
The white-suited man turned and looked at Nick, a polite surprise registering on his face. An I-don’t-know-you-but-you-seem-friendly-enough look. “I suppose it could be,” he said. His voice was deep and hoarse, the low rattle of cigar-ravaged throat and lungs.
Nick nodded, approving, at least, of this man’s style. “You’re Charlie, right?”
The man made a noise that was either a chuckle or a cough. “My friends call me Fat Charlie. I’m not quite sure why.”
“Got any euphorin?” Nick heard himself ask.
“Ahem. Let’s, ah, let’s lower our voices, shall we?”
“I’m sorry,” Nick said, shaking his head a little. Where had that come from? “I didn’t mean euphorin. I meant seepee. Have you got any seepee?”
Fat Charlie looked uncomfortable. “Shall we take a walk? Someplace a bit more private, perhaps?”
Tanner nodded. “Sure. Lead the way. I’m looking for a specific overlay, though. Name is Nick Tanner. Can you help me out there?”
“Oh.” Fat Charlie exclaimed quietly. He had just opened his umbrella, but now he pulled it closed again. “I am sorry, but somebody just bought my entire stock of… of that. That was about fifteen minutes ago.”
“What!” Tanner cried, loudly, causing Fat Charlie to wince. Somebody had bought his entire stock? Some small-time dealer, hoping for a quick buck? A maverick Tanner, laying in a year’s supply? God damn it all.
“I am sorry.” Fat Charlie repeated, with a tone of finality.
Nick shrugged. “Popular item, I guess.”
He popped open his umbrella and rejoined the waves of Ginza shoppers. He had a bad feeling, suddenly. What if the CPO was difficult to find, not just today but every day? What if the investigation simply tapered away, for lack of Tanners to carry it out?
He took out his telephone and dialed up Universal Exports.
“Go ahead,” an unfamiliar voice answered.
A chill ran through Tanner’s body. “Who is this?” He demanded.
“This is number five,” the strange voice answered. “Number two is missing, I don’t know where he is. Who is this?”
Nick ducked his head aside to avoid the murderous spines of somebody’s umbrella. “This is number seventy three,” he said. “What happened to number two? Did he get arrested?”
“No,” the voice replied impatiently in his hand. “I already checked. Do you have any information to report?”
“Yes, I do. I just checked with Fat Charlie on the Ginza, and he says somebody bought up his whole stock a few minutes ago. He doesn’t have any more.”
Nick heard the voice of “number five” sigh tiredly. “Thirty- eight just told me the same thing about one of our waterfront dealers. Something’s going down, here, seventy three, I think we’re in trouble. Some of the guys haven’t called since this morning.
“We lose people all the time, you know. Somebody wakes up straight one day, and we never hear from him again. Stuff like that. But this is different. I’m worried.”
Nick’s heart was racing. What had happened to number two? Was there genuine cause for alarm here? “I, uh, I’m going back to Brady Calhoun’s place,” he said into the phone. “I’ll probably be late as it is. Do you have things under control?”
“Sure,” said number five, a little too quickly. “No problem. Keep in touch, seventy three.”
“Yeah, take care.” Nick replied, hanging up. He forced calmness into his thoughts. There might or might not be something to worry about. Knowing his own flair for drama, he couldn’t be sure number five wasn’t making a big deal about nothing. Then again, he trusted his own instincts, and number five’s instincts were his own…
He pushed the thought away. He’d stay alert, but even if something big were happening, there was little he could do but play out his part.
The walk to the train station, and the train ride itself, seemed interminably long. The rain seemed a cruel taunt, aimed directly at him. Life is hopeless, the rain said. Life is a grim discomfort leading inexorably to death. The crowds seemed to fight him, part of a deliberate conspiracy to slow him down.
He was over an hour late when he hit the buzzer on Brady Calhoun’s door again.
This time, Calhoun opened the door after only a brief pause. He was still dressed in his bathrobe. “Come in, Mr. Geist,” he invited, smiling the same reptillian smile Nick had seen earlier. Won’t you step into my parlor…. “Come on in and have a beer with me!”
Nick stepped through the doorway, closed the door behind him. He moved with an underwater slowness. Something strange was in the air.
“I think you’ll be interested in what I’ve found,” Calhoun went on, as Tanner stepped out of his sodden tennis shoes and up onto the apartment’s floor. His feet left wet, squiggly sock marks on the carpeting. “Come on in, sit down. I’ve been waiting for you!”
The apartment was a single room, divided into kitchen, bedroom, and livingroom regions through the placement of furniture alone. The bathroom was an upright cubicle, almost like a telephone booth, in the corner of the room. Brady led him over to the kitchen table, handed him a beer. They sat.
“What did you find?” Nick asked carefully. His guard was up, but he wanted to appear as casual as he could. What was wrong? He couldn’t quite put a finger on it.
Calhoun scooped up a pile of papers, flipped over the top one. “News briefs,” he beamed. “I took a look at the crime. Not a very professional job. Your police friend didn’t die until two weeks ago. That rules out organized crime, I think. And it couldn’t be a robbery, right? The victims’ personal effects were found with them. Maybe it was a random crime, I thought. Doesn’t give me a lot to go on, so fuck it. I decide to check the corporate angle.
“And what do I find? Well, it seems our friend Officer Tanner was involved in an investigation last year. Something about a stock deal, something about the Funada corporation. Nothing very big. No conclusions drawn.”
Nick remembered that investigation, in the offhand way that you remember trivial things. A Funada executive had sold a block of stock to a blind holding company at well below the market price.
Nothing illegal there, but it was unusual enough to provoke a brief inquiry from the Government Ethics Department. And, as Calhoun had indicated, no evidence of wrongdoing was uncovered. No conclusions were drawn.
“Okay so far?” Calhoun asked impatiently.
The man seemed inordinately proud of himself, and Tanner nodded, also impatient for the story to continue.
“Well,” Calhoun expanded. “That oughta be the end of it, right? But I notice, all of a sudden, all sorts of memo’s being passed around the high levels of the Funada corporation with Nick Tanner’s name on them. There were some other names, too, some government people involved in that investigation. But we’re mainly concerned with Officer Tanner, neh?
“On May eleventh, your good friend Tanner and his wife were attacked. And those memo’s stopped going around! Just like that! Tanner didn’t realize it, but he’d stuck his hand in a hornet’s nest, and the hornets stung him, after a while. Funada was spreading cash around in the government, man, just spreading it around like peanut butter on a piece of bread. And they thought Tanner knew about it!”
Nick reeled back under the impact of these statements. Could all this be true? Would they really kill people over something like that?
Calhoun flipped over another sheet, one which bore a smudged color-laser hardcopy of a man’s picture. “This is a personnel photo from Funada’s files. The man is Toshio Fujiwara, he works on the loading dock at Funada Tower downtown. He called in sick for a whole week, starting the monday after the attack. A week after that, the decimal point slips two places on his paycheck and the computer fails to catch the error. This here’s the guy that popped your friend, man, this is him.”
Nick was speechless. His mind was not assimilating this data. He saw the face in the picture, but found it impossible to connect with anything. How could the man who killed Karen have a face like that? How could he have a face?
“While I’m snooping around,” Calhoun continued mercilessly, like a boxer who rammed and rammed at his opponent’s chest, refusing him a chance to breathe. “I notice how far out on a limb Funada’s gone with some of their financing operations. They’ve got a room full of adaptive neural nets over there, doing an operation called `computing short’. They’re over there cranking out next years tax returns, using virtual calculations based on an algorithm that isn’t written yet. That’s cutting edge AI, man, that’s like five years ahead of its time. For the goddamn taxes!”
Tanner’s mouth hung open, his face frozen in something like horror. He had virtually stopped listening. His eyes were locked on the image of Toshio Fujiwara. Could it be true? Could it?
With an effort, he shifted his gaze to Calhoun’s face. The man was grinning like a snake, his eyes as flat and lifeless as if they were painted on.
“I burned them, Nick, I gave them an algorithm.”
Nick. Calhoun had said his name. “How did you know my name?” He asked, his voice registering no surprise. Nothing could surprise him any more. “I didn’t tell you my name.”
Brady Calhoun shrugged, still grinning. “I looked at the police records, you know? And I found all these references to seepee-heads, being released into the custody of one Milo Rodriguez, public defender. Every one of them claimed to be Nicholas Tanner. Every last stinking one of them, including William R. Geist, aka. Billy-chan. It’s you, man, you’re investigating your own murder!”
Things came together in Nicks mind. All of a sudden, his confusion was gone. His grief was gone, his suspicions and worries and questions gone, plowed under by the certainty of the thought that had occurred to him. “You sold me out,” he said quietly. “Once you got my name, you sold it right back to Funada, didn’t you.”
Brady looked afraid for half a moment, but the reptile quickly reasserted itself. “What are you talking about?”
Tanner smiled wanly, and threw his unopened beer can into Brady’s face. It impacted solidly, just above the nose, and fell away. The data pirate had barely flinched, but he screamed now, and fell back against the refirgerator, grabbing his face in his hands. Blood trickled out between his fingers.
Tanner grabbed the edge of the table and lifted, flipping the whole thing over on its side. He stood up, took his chair in his hands, raised it. He took a step forward. “Talk to me, Brady!” He shrieked, all his accumulated rage now coming to a head as he brandished the chair. “Tell me what you did!”
“No, man!” Calhoun cried in shock and terror. “Don’t hit me! Oh Jesus don’t hit me with that!” He held his hands before him, pleadingly, while blood streamed from his nose and left eyelid.
“Why did you do it!” Tanner screamed. “Why!”
Calhoun wailed like a harpooned seal. “You only offered me fifty thousand, man! I brought Funada to its knees in an hour and a half, and I told them you did it. They coughed up eight million for a list of names and addresses. I’ll split it with you! Right down the middle!”
Eight million yen. Nick lowered the chair a bit. “They’ll
kill you, Calhoun. They’ll kill anyone. They killed my wife, and she didn’t even know anything!”
“No!” Brady insisted, a pathetic hopefulness creeping into his voice. “I wrote a deadman loop into the data net! The whole story gets dumped to the papers if anything happens to me!”
“To the papers? Are you sure?”
“I’m sure! I’m sure!”
Tanner broke the chair over Brady’s head and ran like hell.
By midnight, he was back in Americatown. He felt a helpless terror, a sense of certain doom upon his return. And yet, the only place he could go, the only place he could guarantee an encounter with the people who had killed Karen, was back home.
He had lost the manilla envelope in his headlong flight. Probably, he’d left it in Brady’s kitchen. His seepee was in there, his personality overlay, his very soul! He was a dead man without it, yet he didn’t dare go back. He’d be deader if he went back.
It was war out there. He’d called up Universal Exports, and number six had answered. Number five was dead. Six was in the middle of something, though, and had no time to talk. Nick had tried again a half hour later, but this time he got no answer.
A few hours after that, he’d thrown away the phone on some vague suspicion that they could use it to locate him. The radio said that two rival gangs of gaijin mafia were fighting tonight, all over the city, that at least twenty people had already been killed and more violence was expected.
What was being accomplished here, he wondered. He’d set out to solve a murder, and had ended up committing one. Now murders were happening all over Tokyo, people were dying who would otherwise be alive, who would still be merrily going about their business if it weren’t for Nick Tanner. He’d set a lethal domino- chain in motion, and it was still going, cascading its way through the nighttime city. If they weren’t his dominoes, was it still his fault?
Was any of it his fault?
Now, he sat huddled in the corner of Billy-chan’s room, clutching the gas pistol he’d pleaded for with the last of his cash, waiting for the door to open. He wished he could turn out the lights, but with the advent of true cold fusion the Japanese had found it cheaper to build poor-man’s housing without the benefit of off switches. The ceiling glowed with the fitful, eternal light of solid-state fluorescence.
Yes, the dark would be nice. Not only would he be better hidden, better able to take down his enemies without being taken down himself. No, he’d also like it because it would free him from the horrible familiarity, the hominess of the triple-cap. Billy- chan’s triple cap. Could it happen so soon? Could Geist’s drug- acclimated liver be cleaning out the last of him already?
The door squeaked.
It squealed open, suddenly, and a dark figure appeared in the doorway. He was ready for it, and he shot it. He heard a muted, muffled scream, watched droplets of bright blood patter across the synthami. The figure fell back, but he shot it again, and when it fell out of view he fired at an angle through the wall. He fired again, and again, and once again, until the gun was empty.
Tears welled up in his eyes, streamed down his cheeks. It had been Toshio Fujiwara, of course. He didn’t have to look to know that. It had to be Toshio Fujiwara.
That would close the circle, that would avenge Karen’s death. That would avenge Nick Tanner’s death. That would be justice.
Justice was one more body on the heap, yes sir. Things went down tough in Americatown.
His voice bubbled up through his tears, but instead of the deep howl he’d expected, he found himself singing:
Haru ga kita, haru ga kita,
Doko ni kita?
Yama ni kita, sato ni kita,
No ni mo kita!
He hugged his knees and rocked himself like a child, for this was a children’s song. A happy spring song, but sad too, and deeply moving in its own way. It had always been Billy-chan’s favorite.