He Who Laughs Last
"Shaved head, green beard," Cash summed up, then spat angrily into
"You know the man," I stated. There was a mist off the sea, pale
and wispy, something we didn't get in Camineet.
"Trenton"--he spat again--"Griggs. Fixer. Middle of the food
chain." Rival, I decided, and probably a bit above middle.
"You were hacked," I said. "Someone knew you were hiring me, what
the codes were. I was followed in Camineet and the guy turned up here.
I wondered how the heck that could happen. Now I know. He knew where
I was going. When he couldn't get the chip the hard way, Griggs cut in
and got it for cred by completing our contract. You need to up your
phone security, Cash."
"Don't wise off at me, Marshall. You screwed up. You gave my data
to the wrong guy."
"Who gave me the password you set up," I said. "If you were going
to make the pickup yourself, you should have told me. Then you
wouldn't have had to worry about fakers cutting in on your action." I
sighed, then added, "Look, I'm tired, it's late even on Camineet time,
and I've had a hard day. There's no point trying to fix blame."
"You're right," Cash said. "Griggs is the one at fault; anything
you or I did is incidental. What matters now is getting the chip back
before Griggs gets the chance to sell it. He'll be moving fast, so
we'll need to go after him now."
"We?" I asked.
He rounded on me.
"We," he said flatly. "I need another gun, Marshall, if I'm going
to make this work. You were hired to deliver the chip. It
didn't happen. Let's fix that."
Cash grinned. I didn't feel like smiling. Smug worm; he knew
exactly what I'd do. Probably had a full report on me from his
contacts before he hired me in the first place--you don't throw five K
away because you like the sound of a man's name. He knew that given
that the chip I'd been hired to deliver had wound up in the wrong
hands, my fault or not, I'd have a responsibility. Especially since
I'd been paid by the wrong side (which I certainly intended to keep; it
was a fitting payback for using me).
"All right. You have a plan, I hope?"
"The start of one. Come on; I'll explain."
Cash's skimmer wasn't quite a limousine, but it was the next best
thing, a Palman Motors Microglide, the kind with the hoversystem that
let it float above the ground instead of riding on wheels or treads for
the ultimate in smooth rides (I must be sleepy; I sound like a flipping
promo spot). I noted the not-entirely-subtle body armor and the
windows made of advanced polymers, though I wondered what good that
did, given the extreme vulnerability of the underside. The
security-conscious attitude extended to the driver, a uniformed hulk of
a man. When he got out to open Cash's door, I saw that he stood at
least six-five and had to weigh over three hundred pounds of pure
muscle. The uniform he wore was definitely a carbonsuit, and probably
was augmented with armor as well. He looked as if he could snap me in
half with a pinky finger.
We got in the back and the driver shut the door before getting back
in. It struck me that if my client was the petulant type who liked to
extract his pound of flesh from his own people when things went bad for
him, I was not in a good position. Oh, well, too late to do anything
about that now except keep the Marksman ready.
"Adam, take us to the harbor district. We need to pay a call on
"Yes, sir," replied the hulk in a distinctly unhulklike, even
The Microglide hummed to live, sweeping through the Scion city
streets. The ride was as luxurious as I'd imagined; only the inertia
of stopping, starting up, and changing direction told my body it was in
motion at all.
"As I said," Cash told me, "the nature of the data
you--inadvertently, I grant--delivered to Griggs makes it evident that
he'll be moving it quickly. The time to strike is now. He operates
out of various places, but his 'home base,' so to speak, is an old
hotel in the dockside section. He'll be there, making his
"So we're going in and taking the chip?"
"Got it in one."
Well, at least Griggs wasn't likely to call the DLE and do anything
that would screw up my record, since it would mean exposure of his own
illegal biz. On the other hand, he was very likely to have a fair
number of armed goons around who would no doubt be happy to do things
to me that would show up in my citizen file under "cause of death."
"He'll have security," I warned.
"Don't worry; I came prepared."
He touched a button, and a section of the partition between the
front and back seats recessed to reveal a vidscreen. Another touch
made a keyboard slide out. Apparently Cash had sunk some heavy meseta
into the complete option package. A few keystrokes brought up a 3-D
"What we've got here is the plans for Griggs' little hideyhole,
fished out by a helpful gridrider." A few more keystrokes caused
various points to light up in red. "The main door and the old service
entrance to the kitchens are both out, but there's a third-floor fire
escape that's not rigged, mainly because the fire escape is gone now."
From the looks of the plan, which showed internal sec-systems that
definitely weren't what the hotel had originally come with, Cash's
gridrider must have hacked into the files of the security firm that had
installed the cameras, alarms, and auto-defenses. This, as you can
guess, wasn't easy but serious neon angel stuff, given that most
security firms are into datanet security as well.
"Going to climb the wall?" I asked.
"You are. I'm sure you can handle opening one door."
"Yeah, if I don't have to fly up to it."
"That, Mr. Marshall, is why we live in a world with ladders."
"Not to put too fine a point on it, but isn't that just a little
He grinned, showing lots of teeth, like a Burnwolf contemplating its
latest target's throat.
"Oh, I'm thinking his muscleboys will have more to worry about than
He typed a few more keys, initiating the porta-visiphone function of
his onboard comp. It rang twice at the far end, and an amber-skinned
face decorated with light-get tattoos on both cheeks appeared.
"Yo, you know what time it is?"
"Time for you to make some money, Stinger. Remember that job we
"Yeah..." the punk said. I noted that the tattoos were both of
scorpions, tails poised to strike. "I remember the price, too. Aura
Scorpions don't come cheap."
"Fifteen K for you and your boys," Cash said. "You strike in
exactly twenty minutes from the time I hang up. Hit the front and
back, and"--He favored Stinger with that toothy grin.--"don't be nice
Stinger grinned back, looking just as feral.
"You got it, man."
Cash hung up on him.
"You've been planning this for a while," I noted.
"Let's just say that I've been planning extensive business
negotiations with the competition for some time. Those gangers will
hit Griggs front and back, both of his doors. Something nice and noisy
to occupy his muscleboys. DLE response time in that district is about
twelve minutes, 'cause they're gonna come in with a rover and
tac-teams, not a patrol, to a major violence call."
"You've done your homework," I said approvingly. What I didn't like
was the style of the operation. People were going to get killed.
Sure, we were talking about a fixer's hired muscle and a pack of
gangers, none of whom had much of a life expectancy in their current
careers anyway, but still, they were Palman lives. I don't mind
working for the underworld now and again (hell, a good ninety percent
of bag runs come from guys like Cash and Griggs and are gray areas at
best), but getting into the middle of a scene like this was hunter
stuff. Show you what a bloody sense of professional honor will rope
"I have, which makes me twice as angry that Griggs cut in on my
action this way. In case you were wondering," he added, "I didn't make
the call to you from the car phone."
I had been wondering that, as a matter of fact.
Cash returned to the schematic.
"Here's what happens. When the fur starts to fly, we go in this
door. We make our way down this hall to Griggs' office and bust in.
He'll have the chip with him; there's no way he'd let it out of his
sight. Then we get the hell out in under ten minutes. If we're really
lucky, he's bribed the cops to leave him alone, but I wouldn't bet on
"Sounds straightforward enough."
"It should be. Adam, you, and I ought to be enough to deal with any
of Griggs' boys we happen to meet."
Frankly, I figured Adam was enough by himself to deal with the enemy
fixer's whole crew.
"You have any questions?" asked Cash. "Now's the time to ask."
"Nope. No way to plan past the start, anyway."
"Okay, then. You need a gun?"
"I've got mine." Luckily, a sonic gun didn't leave traceable
evidence behind the way vulcan rounds could be matched to a weapon by
"Just figured I'd ask."
He pressed a couple of more buttons, causing the computer to close
up and another compartment to open. Cash took out a titanium
chest-and-back armor set, which he buckled into place, then donned
titanium headgear. Next he took out a bulky laser shot, a heavy-frame
version with a little more power than the conventional one-handed
pistol. This went into a hip sling on his right side, while a long
ceramic knife with an eight-inch blade was sheathed on the left. The
professional way he handled the gear told me that my client was more
than familiar with the tools of the soldier's trade. That was good,
considering that he was going to be the one backing me up in a fire
The rest of the drive passed quickly, which was good. It kept me
from worrying about what I was about to do. Commando raids weren't my
style--I'd pulled exactly one in my whole bloody career, and it
hadn't been this big. Punch-ups like the one I'd had in the alley were
more my speed. I was glad when the Microglide slid into the side
passage--an airshaft, really--next to what an old, burnt-out neon sign
identified as having once been the Harborview Plaza Hotel. Of course,
the only plaza in sight was the narrow street out front and the view
was of decrepit old brownstones and equally decrepit new concrete
blocks, but hey, what's a little poetic license among friends?
"Let's go," Cash said, cutting short my thoughts. Adam hit some
control in the aerospace control panel Palman Motors called a dashboard
and the trunk popped open. We were just getting the ladder out when it
all hit the fan. Shouts, explosions, the high-pitched screams of sonic
guns and the dull booms of combat shotguns told me the Aura Scorpions
weren't doing things by halves. I checked my chron; it was 2:07.
I clambered up the ladder, feeling my gut lurch every time it flexed
or swayed. Falling twenty feet to the pavement wasn't as exotic as
getting lasered, dumped in the bay as ammonite food, or standing at
ground zero for somebody's NAGRA technique, but it would make me just
as dead. I got to the top, though, and started looking at a locked
door with no handle on the outside.
Some inquiry agents of my acquaintance could give B and E lessons to
a cat burglar. It is, after all, a handy talent for collecting
evidence, planting electronic surveillance toys, and otherwise forcibly
inserting oneself into the information loop. I am, however, not one of
those inquiry agents. Figuring that one more gunshot wasn't going to
attract anyone's attention at this point, I drew the Marksman and blew
out a fist-size chunk of the door, specifically the part where the lock
had been. With my free hand--which meant letting go of the ladder,
ugh--I pulled the door open so I could clamber inside. Cash and Adam
followed me in, the big driver carrying a laser shot like his boss',
only in one hand, and even that dwarfed the gun, making the normally
two-handed weapon look like a pocket pistol.
Cash told Adam to lead the way, and we followed along. I slid my
hand into my coat pocket and palmed my backup piece, ready for
anything. I hoped.
The Harborview had apparently been designed with fake old-school
luxury in mind, with dark red carpeting (now faded), wood-paneled walls
(cheap plastic veneer), and exotic fluted-glass light fixtures
extending from iron sconces (also plastic) all designed to present an
image of sumptuous elegance (such as that found in cheap bordellos).
The battle raging outside was clearly audible through the thin walls,
and I could feel every second tick down as we climbed two flights of
stairs. Trenton Griggs has reserved what passed for a penthouse suite
in this joint for his own. It occupied about one fourth of the top
level's floor space, according to the schematic, and was at the end of
a short hall near the stairs and elevator both.
Unfortunately, straight down that hall was the only way to go, so
that's what we did. Two members of the usual goon squad were on guard
in front of the door, guns in hand. We fired more or less
simultaneously, and I couldn't suppress a wince as the two men slumped
back against the door and crumpled to the worn red carpet. Adam had
taken a couple of hits, but apparently whatever armor he had on was up
to the job because he barely slowed down, throwing the doors open and
storming into the room. Another guard was there, his attention on a
security monitor, but Cash shot him down before he could get his gun
out. We headed into what must have been Griggs' business office,
barely pausing to acknowledge another death.
Unlike the rest of the hotel, I noticed, the furnishings in the
fixer's penthouse were neither replicas nor cheap. The carpet, for
example, was an exotic Motavian weave with golden dragons twined on a
scarlet background, and the huge desk behind which Greenbeard himself
(yes, we were in the right place) sat was clearly real wood. He was
still wearing the carbonsuit, but had at least gotten rid of the
Griggs clucked his tongue at us.
"Really, Cash, I'd have thought this evening would have taught you
to keep out of my affairs, and instead here you are, interfering
again." He still had the accent of the Scion streets, but this time it
had a supercilious tone that didn't jive with a man who had a war on
his doorstep and three guns pointed at his head. "Slow learner?" he
inquired pleasantly, lifting a thin cigar to his lips. Griggs picked
up a heavy desk lighter with a cut-glass base and snapped it into
flame, touching it to the cigar.
"I want the G-Tech data," Cash said. I'd been calling him that
because I had no other name to go by, but since Greenbeard had used it
too I realized that it was his actual name (or actual nickname, at
"I'm sure you do." He took a drag on his cigar, sighing blissfully
as he drew the smoke from the Dezolian tabak into his lungs. Then,
with a deft flick of his wrist, he tossed the lighter onto the carpet
at our feet.
Where, predictably, it exploded.