Founder’s Landing, Day One, Nightfall

Back Room, Smell Of Stale Booze

Gino grabbed me by the arm, gently for him. I stopped; it was either that or leave my arm behind, and I’ve always been attached to that arm. He looked me over carefully.

“You ain’t bringing in trouble, are you?”

I had to laugh, despite the fact that my hand was falling asleep. Here I was, walking around the Silver Zone in a stolen uniform with an illegal assault blaster in the bag at my side. “All the trouble I know of is out here, and it can wait until I get back,” I said. I sincerely hoped it was true, and I guess that was enough for Gino, who grunted again and let me pass. His eyes were already back on the traffic. Good people, Gino, and one hell of a professional. Wish he liked me more, but then again in his shoes I’d be equally suspicious.

The main bar was starting to fill up. It looked better with the lights on and people moving; in an hour or two, with a crowd of happy customers milling about, you could easily be excused for missing the stains on the carpet, the cigarette burns on the upholstery, the bullet holes in the wallpaper. And if you didn’t, what of it? That sort of thing adds atmosphere.

Eddie Deuce is an easy man to find when he’s unhappy; his voice gets high and it carries. The servers all pretended not to notice, but I could make out every word. As I walked in, he was berating a barmaid for using the storeroom as her private locker, holding up my satchel as evidence. I grabbed it from him, saying, “Hey, you found it! Thanks, Eddie!”

He turned, startled, and I kept talking; the girl scuttled away. She was very attractive — particularly when she scuttled; fine view of her ankles — and I stumbled a bit over my words. That’s a critical error when it’s important to not let the other party get a word in edgewise.

“What’s with the uniform, Taylor?” Eddie scowled menacingly. “You trying to get me in trouble again?”

To Eddie, I’ll always be Taylor; that was the name I’d been using when we’d first met all those years ago. He still owed me big for that, and for other favors since, but then again he’d helped me out a dozen times and more over the years, and we’d come through some scrapes together. It all adds up. We’d become friends of a sort, and we trusted each other. Still, it’s better to not give too much away, even to old friends.

“Just a job, Eddie. You know how it is. Hey, what’s with all the extra beef out front? Gino nearly took my arm off.”

“Cost of doing business. You’re lucky he didn’t try for a leg too.” Eddie smiled, but his heart wasn’t in it. He was genuinely worried.

“What — you don’t really figure there’ll be riots in the Silver Zone, do you? Half the street traffic is Security informants, and the other half are minding them for Intelligence.”

He laughed wryly. “No, but every time there’s a riot over there, the Redcaps bust in and make a raid over here. Last time they smashed half the glassware in the bar; time before that they beat up some of the dancers. I’m paid up, you know that, but it doesn’t buy so much protection anymore.” He looked hard at me. “That’s why I’m really hoping you have a good explanation for that uniform.”

“In case of a raid, Eddie, I’m down the tunnel and out before you can blink. I’ve got a job on. Last thing I want is to draw attention. I’m looking for a place to nap for a couple of hours, and after that I need to track down a smuggler for a quick orbital hop.”

“Heh. Boy, did you pick the wrong time.” He began ticking names off on his fingers. “The MacReady boys skipped town last week, two steps ahead of a warrant. Garrick the Privateer vanished two days ago. Crichton stopped in over the weekend, said he’s taking a vacation. And Major South finally got tagged for gunrunning; they took him down over at the Blue Parrot.”

“What about Hawk and Fisher?” I asked, naming a pair of Bird Man specialists. Eddie shook his head.

“Nah, they got hired by the Guard, believe it or not. Never woulda believed it, but there they were in uniform, big as life, strutting around like they owned the place and busting heads. No, it’s a funny thing, but all the big names just vanished all of a sudden.” His eyes narrowed again. “Maybe they know something we don’t.”

I had to admit, it seemed likely. There was definitely something going on; these were some serious names Eddie’d been tossing around, and if anyone could see trouble coming it was them. For another thing, riots just don’t happen all that often in the Empire. Security frowns on them. But what could be behind it?

What indeed? Tune in next time to find out!

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