By Robert Lynch
The boy climbed out of the window. It was clumsy, and his feet slipped on the trashcan he’d used as a ladder to get into the window. He fell to the ground with a crash. The large sack he was carrying fell into the mud with a thud. I trained my gun on him.
“Lesson 1,” I told him. “Everything on Cesi is wet. It’s always raining here.”
He struggled to his feet, grabbed the bag, and ran down the ally. I fired a rubber bullet into his hamstring. He crumpled in a heap.
“Lesson 2,” I said. “You can’t outrun a guy who’s already drawn on you. Now put that bag back, or I might use a more troublesome bullet next time.”
He held his leg. He scowled at me then hobbled back to the window, climbed on the trashcan again and dropped the bag unceremoniously through the window.
“It turns out it’s your lucky day, Luke,” he looked up at the mention of his name. “Of all the people you could have come across in this ally: thugs or coppers, you’ve stumbled on the only one sent by your mother.”
His shoulders slumped. “Of course you were.”
I looked at the building, gun still trained on Luke. “You’re observant, but not very smart. You picked a place with no cameras, but I’m guessing you didn’t think why there are no cameras?”
“I dunno, old?” his chin jutted out in stubbornness.
“Cameras are necessary to get insurance these days,” I told the boy, “So either they don’t have any insurance, or they have insurance of another kind.”
“There were no dogs,” Luke said.
“Not what I meant.” I shook my head. “Where were you going to fence the items in the sack.”
“What sack?” he said.
“Don’t play, boy,” I told him, “Your mother’s paying for you to be alive, but she wasn’t all that specific on the topic of bruises or broken bones. Which fence?”
“Lonnie the Fence.” He said.
“Observant, but not smart,” I said. “The Malones own this building. If something goes missing, they put the word out to the fences about it. Offer a reward for goods located. There isn’t a fence on Cesi you could take that bag to that wouldn’t turn you in. The Malones would catch you and then you’d owe them a favour; if they didn’t kill you. It’s the start to a story told a lot of times in the mud of Cesi, and one I’d rather was told less often.”
He shuffled some mud around with his shoe.
I tapped my communicator. “Penelope, an exit if you please.” A portal ripped open the fabric of space-time only a few metres from where we stood. I gestured with my gun to Luke. “March.”
In a step, we walked onto my ship in orbit. Penelope, her holographic form modelled on Effie Perine from the 1941 Maltese Falcon movie, sat at a holographic desk typing on a holographic terminal. She did like to get into character. No matter what she bribed me with, I was not going to wear a double-breasted suit, and you wouldn’t catch me dead in a Fedora.
“Hey Boss, you want to drop the kid off right away?” Penelope asked.
“I thought I’d offer him a chance for a shower first unless he wants to go back to his mother covered in slum-mud.” I said, pointing to the shower as I holstered my gun. He turned and headed for it. “Washer is right next to the shower, you hungry? Want a quick bite?”
“Sure,” he shrugged.
“Penelope, it feels like breakfast, can you whip us up a couple plates of eggs and bacon?” I asked.
Luke came out 10 minutes later; clean, in laundered clothes. I pushed the plate of eggs towards him. “So why are you robbing the Malones? You’d get more than enough to eat, but not enough for a ship ticket away from this place.”
He sat and began to shovel eggs and bacon into his mouth. It appeared he hadn’t eaten in a while. “Dad lost a bet on a sure thing.”
“Ah,” I said. “Which bookie?”
“Rudy Campenious.” He said, finishing the plate and turning to Penelope. “Good grub, thanks.”
“Another?” She said, “Or something else?”
He held his hand up to stop her from getting up, which she wasn’t going to do anyway, “No, thanks.”
“The Campenious Family is a dangerous house to bet against; your father never heard the term ‘the house always wins’?” I said.
“He thought it was a sure bet,” Luke said, “heard some tip that didn’t turn out to be as reliable as he thought, I guess.”
“How much does he owe?” I asked.
“Forty thousand,” Luke said.
I whistled. That was a lot of money. “So the sack was supposed to be a down payment?”
“They’re holding him. Told Mum this month’s juice was two thousand.” Luke said. “We don’t have it, but they won’t release him until they get it.”
His mother hadn’t told me any of this, “So you’re observant, but not smart enough to stay out of trouble when someone needs help. You need a job?”
“What?” Luke asked.
“I could use someone to do some leg work on the surface sometimes, someone to keep an ear to the ground when I’m out of system,” I told him. “I’m not talking about putting you on payroll, but case by case when I need a hand.”
“What about my father?” Luke asked.
“I’ve done a few favours for the Campenious; I can call in a marker to get him free and with all of his body parts still attached,” I said. “He’s going to have to pay the debt himself though.”
“Maybe I can help him out if I’m working with you?” Luke said.
“Lesson 3,” I said, “If you want to get rich, this ain’t the right line of work.”