Page 51

Huh. It never occurred to me not to trust Svoboda. He was way too “Svoboda” to be sinister. “I guess so.”

“Awesome!” He snapped the chocolate in two and handed me half. He popped the other half in his mouth and savored it.

“Oh, hey,” he said with his mouth full. “Did you get a chance to test the condom?”

“No, I haven’t had sex in the two days since you gave me the condom.”

“Okay, okay,” he said.

I picked up the ZAFO box and tossed it to him. “I need you to tell me what this is.”

He plucked it out of the air and read the label. “Huh. ZAFO. You asked me about that earlier.”

“Yeah. Now I have a sample. What can you tell me about it?”

He opened the box and pulled the cable out. “It’s a fiber-optic data cable.”

“What’s it for?”

He peered at one end. “Nothing.”


He held both ends of the cable up. “These aren’t connectors. They’re caps. This cable can’t be used for anything. Not without connectors, anyway.”

“So what’s the point? It’s just a useless cable?”

“No idea,” he said. He coiled it up and put it back in the box. “Is it related to the murders?”

“Maybe,” I said. “I don’t know.”

“Okay, I’ll take it to the lab right now. I’ll get you some answers tonight.”

I pulled out my Harpreet Gizmo. “Two thousand slugs?”

“What?” He gave me a look like I’d pissed on his mother’s grave. “No. Nothing. The price is nothing. Jesus.”

“What’s wrong?” I said.

“You’re in trouble. I’m helping you because you’re my friend.”

I opened my mouth to speak, but couldn’t think of what to say.

He whipped his Gizmo from the shelf. “I assume you’re using an alias. Give me its ID.”

I shared my new contact info with him. He nodded curtly when his Gizmo received it. “Okay, ‘Harpreet,’ I’ll call you when I have something.”

I’d never seen him so annoyed. “Svoboda, I—”

“Forget it. It’s cool.” He forced a smile. “I just thought that would be assumed, is all. You need somewhere to stay?”

“Uh, no. I’ve got a hideout set up.”

“Of course you do. Lock up when you leave.” He left a little faster than necessary.

Well, shit. I didn’t have time for male ego or whatever the hell that was about. I had to hurry off to my next scheme.

“All right, Lefty,” I mumbled to myself. “Let’s see how well connected you are….”

Evening is the Arcade District’s busiest time of day. It’s when the richfucks come out to play. Freshly fed and liquored up, they hit the shops, casinos, brothels, and theaters. (If you haven’t seen lunar acrobats in action, you don’t know what you’re missing. Hell of a show.)

It was perfect. People everywhere. Just what I needed.

Arcade Square (which is a circle) sat in the center of Aldrin Ground, right in the middle of everything. It was only a collection of benches and a few potted trees—the sort of thing you see in every town square on Earth, but an incredible luxury here.

I glanced around and didn’t see Lefty anywhere. Very helpful of him to have a sling on. It made him easy to spot. Someday when I died and went to hell I’d thank Irina for slashing him.

Drunks and revelers crisscrossed the square. Tourists packed the benches and chatted or took pictures of one another. I pulled out my Gizmo and turned it on.

And when I say “my Gizmo” I mean my real Gizmo. It powered up and showed the familiar wallpaper—a picture of a Cavalier King Charles spaniel puppy. What? I like puppies.

I discreetly placed the Gizmo on the ground and kicked it under a nearby bench.

The bait was set. Now to see if anyone came nibbling.

I walked into the Lassiter Casino. It had wide windows looking out over Arcade Square so I could observe from a safe distance. Plus, it had a reasonably priced buffet on the third floor right up against those windows.

I paid for the all-you-can-eat Gunk bar with Harpreet’s Gizmo.

The trick with Gunk is to steer clear of stuff trying to taste like other stuff. Don’t get the “Tandoori Chicken” flavorant. You’ll just be disappointed. Get “Myrtle Goldstein’s Formulation #3.” That’s good shit. No idea what the ingredients are. It could be termite carcasses and Italian armpit hair for all I know. I don’t care. It makes the Gunk palatable, and that’s what matters.

I took my bowl to a window table and sat down. I nibbled Gunk and sipped water, never taking my eyes off the bench where I’d stowed the Gizmo. It got boring after a while, but I stuck with it. This was a stakeout.

Could Lefty track my Gizmo? If he could, it’d give me an idea of how powerful he was. It would mean he had connections all the way to the top.

“Mind if I join you?” said a familiar voice behind me.

I jerked my head around to look.

Rudy. Shit. “Uh…” I said eloquently.

“I’ll take that as a yes.” He seated himself and rested a Gunk bowl on the table. “As you can imagine, I have a few questions.”

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