“JESUS,” BOBBY SAID to Jackie, “can’t you wrap it up or something?” Jammer’s burn filled the office with a smell, like overdone pork, that turned Bobby’s stomach.
“You don’t bandage a burn,” she said, helping Jammer sit down in his chair. She began to open his desk drawers, one after another. “You got any painkillers? Derms? Anything?”
Jammer shook his head, his long face slack and pale.
“Maybe. Behind the bar, there’s a kit…”
“Get it!” Jackie snapped. “Go on!”
“What are you so worried about him for.” Bobby began, hurt by her tone. “He tried to let those Gothicks in here.”
“Get the box, asshole! He just got weak for a second, is all. He got scared. Get me that box or you’ll need it yourself.”
He darted out into the club and found Beauvoir wiring pink hotdogs of plastic explosive to a yellow plastic box like the control unit for a kid’s toy truck. The hotdogs were mashed around the hinges of the doors and on either side of the lock.
“What’s that for?” Bobby asked, scrambling over the bar. “Somebody might want in,” Beauvoir said. “They do, we’ll open it for them.”
Bobby paused to admire the arrangement. “Why don’t you just mash it up against the glass, so it’ll blow straight out?”
“Too obvious,” Beauvoir said, straightening up, the yel-low detonator in his hands. “But I’m glad you think about these things. If we try to blow it straight out, some of it blows back in. This way is… neater.”
Bobby shrugged and ducked behind the bar. There were wire racks filled with plastic sacks of krill wafers, an assortment of abandoned umbrellas, an unabridged dictionary, a woman’s blue shoe, a white plastic case with a runny-looking red cross painted on it with nail polish… He grabbed the case and climbed back over the bar.
“Hey, Jackie,” he said, putting the first-aid kit down beside Jammer’s deck.
“Forget it.” She popped the case open and rummaged through its contents. “Jammer, there’s more poppers in here than anything else…”
Jammer smiled weakly.
“Here. These’ll do you.” She unrolled a sheet of red derms and began to peel them off the backing, smoothing three across the back of the burnt hand. “What you need’s a local, though.”
“I was thinking,” Jammer said, staring up at Bobby. “Maybe now’s when you can earn yourself a little running time…”
“How’s that?” Bobby asked, eyeing the deck.
“Stands to reason,” Jammer said, “that whoever’s got those jerks outside, they’ve also got the phones tapped.”
Bobby nodded. Beauvoir had said the same thing, when he’d run his plan down to them.
“Well, when Beauvoir and I decided you and I might hit the matrix for a little look-see, I actually had something else in mind.” Jammer showed Bobby his expanse of small white teeth. “See, I’m in this because I owed Beauvoir and Lucas a favor. But there are people who owe me favors, too, favors that go way back. Favors I never needed to call in.”
“Jammer.” Jackie said, “you gotta relax. Just sit back. You could go into shock.”
“How’s your memory, Bobby? I’m going to run a sequence by you. You practice it on my deck. No power, not jacked. Okay?”
“So dry-run this a couple of times. Entrance code. Let you in the back door.”
“Whose back door?” Bobby spun the black deck around and poised his fingers above the keyboard.
“The Yakuza,” Jammer said.
Jackie was staring at him. “Hey, what do you”
“Like I said. It’s an old favor. But you know what they say, the Yakuza never forget. Cuts both ways…”
A whiff of singed flesh reached Bobby and he winced.
“How come you didn’t mention this to Beauvoir?” Jackie was folding things back into the white case.
‘Honey,” Jammer said, “you’ll learn. Some things you teach yourself to remember to forget.”
“Now look,” Bobby said, fixing Jackie with what he hoped was his heaviest look, “I’m running this. So I don’t need your loas, okay, they get on my nerves.
“She doesn’t call them up,” Beauvoir said, crouching by the office door, the detonator in one hand and the South African riot gun in the other, “they just come. They want to come, they’re there. Anyway, they like you.”
Jackie settled the trodes across her forehead. “Bobby,” she said, “you’ll be fine. Don’t worry, just jack.” She’d removed her headscarf. Her hair was cornrowed between neat furrows of shiny brown skin, with antique resistors woven in at random intervals, little cylinders of brown phenolic resin ringed with color-coded bands of paint.
“When you punch out past the Basketball,” Jammer said to Bobby, “you wanna dive right three clicks and go for the floor, I mean straight down…”
“Past the what?”
“Basketball. That’s the Dallas-Fort Worth Sunbelt Co-Prosperity Sphere, you wanna get your ass down fast, all the way, then you run how I told you, for about twenty clicks. It’s all used-car lots and tax accountants down there, but just stand on that mother, okay?”
Bobby nodded, grinning.
“Anybody sees you going by, well, that’s their lookout. People who jack down there are used to seeing some weird shit anyway.”
“Man,” Beauvoir said to Bobby, “get it on. I gotta get back to the door…”
He followed Jammer’s instructions, secretly grateful that he could feel Jackie beside him as they plunged down into the workaday depths of cyberspace, the glowing Basketball dwindling above them. The deck was quick, superslick, and it made him feel fast and strong. He wondered how Jammer had come to have the Yakuza owing him a favor, one he’d never bothered to collect, and a part of him was busily constructing scenarios when they hit the ice.
“Jesus…” And Jackie was gone. Something had come down between them, something he felt as cold and silence and a shutting off of breath. “But there wasn’t anything there, Goddamn it!” He was frozen, somehow, locked steady He could still see the matrix, but he couldn’t feel his hands.
“Why the hell anybody plug the likes of you into a deck like that? Thing ought to be in a museum, you ought to be in grade school.”
“Jackie!” The cry was reflex.
“Man,” said the voice, “I dunno. It’s been a long few days I haven’t slept, but you sure don’t look like what I was set to catch when you came out of there… How old are you?”
“Fuck off!” Bobby said. It was all he could think of to say.
The voice began to laugh. “Ramirez would split his sides at this, you know? He had him a fine sense of the ridiculous. That’s one of the things I miss.”
“My partner. Ex. Dead. Very. I was thinking maybe you could tell me how he got that way.”
“Never heard of him,” Bobby said. “Where’s Jackie?”
“Sittin’ cold-cocked in cyberspace while you answer my questions, wilson. What’s your name?”
“B- Count Zero.”
“Sure. Your name!”
“Bobby, Bobby Newmark.”
Silence. Then: “Well. Hey. Does make a little sense, then. That was your mother’s place I watched those Maas spooks use the rocket on, wasn’t it? But I guess you weren’t there, or you wouldn’t be here Hold on a sec…”
A square of cyberspace directly in front of him flipped sickeningly and he found himself in a pale blue graphic that seemed to represent a very spacious apartment, low shapes of furniture sketched in hair-fine lines of blue neon. A woman stood in front of him, a sort of glowing cartoon squiggle of a woman, the face a brown smudge. “I’m Slide,” the figure said, hands on its hips, “Jaylene. You don’t fuck with me. Nobody in L.A. “ - she gestured, a window suddenly snapping into existence behind her - “fucks with me. You got that?”
“Right,” Bobby said. “What is this? I mean, if you could sort of explain…” He still couldn’t move The “window” showed a blue-gray video view of palm trees and old buildings.
“How do you mean?”
“This sort of drawing. And you. And that old picture…”
“Hey, man, I paid a designer an arm and a leg to punch this up for me. This is my space, my construct. This is L.A., boy. People here don’t do anything without jacking. This is where I entertain!”
“Oh,” Bobby said, still baffled.
“Your turn. Who’s back there, in that sleaze-ass dancehall?”
“Jammer’s? Me, Jackie, Beauvoir, Jammer.”
“And where were you headed when I grabbed you?”
Bobby hesitated. “The Yakuza. Jammer has a code -”
“What for?” The figure moved forward, an animated sensuous brush-sketch.”
“Shit You’re probably telling the truth…”
“I am, I am, swear to God.”
“Well, you ain’t what I need, Bobby Zero. I been out cruising cyberspace, all up and down, trying to find out who killed my man. I thought it was Maas, because we were taking one of theirs for Hosaka, so I hunted up a spook team of theirs. First thing I saw was what they did to your mom-ma’s condo. Then I saw three of them drop in on a man they call the Finn, but those three never came back out…”
“Finn killed ‘em,” Bobby said. “I saw ‘em. Dead.”
“You did? Well, then, could be we do have things to talk about. After that, I watched the other three use that same launcher on a pimpmobile…”
“That was Lucas,” he said.
“But no sooner had they done it than a copter overflew ‘em and fried all three with a laser. You know anything about that?”
“You think you can tell me your story. Bobby Zero? Make it quick!”
“I was gonna do this run, see? And I’d got this icebreaker off Two-a-Day, from up the Projects, and I…”
When he finished, she was silent. The slinky cartoon figure stood by the window, as though she were studying the television trees.
“I got an idea,” he ventured. “Maybe you can help us -”
“No,” she said.
“But maybe it’ll help you find out what you want…”
“No. I just want to kill the motherfucker who killed Ramirez.”
“But we’re trapped in there, they’re gonna kill us. It’s Maas, the people you were following around in the matrix! They hired a bunch of Kasuals and Gothicks -”
“That’s not Maas,” she said “That’s a bunch of Euros over on Park Avenue. Ice on ‘em a mile deep.”
Bobby took that in “They the ones in the copter, the ones killed the other Maas guys?”
“No. I couldn’t get a fix on that copter, and they flew south. Lost ‘em. I have a hunch, though… Anyway, I’m sending you back. You want to try that Yak code, go ahead.”
“But, lady, we need help.”
“No percentage in help, Bobby Zero,” she said, and then he was sitting in front of Jammer’s deck, the muscles in his neck and back aching. It took him a while before he could get his eyes to focus, so it was nearly a minute before he saw that there were strangers in the room.
The man was tall, maybe taller than Lucas, but rangier, narrower at the hips. He wore a kind of baggy combat jacket that hung around him in folds, with giant pockets, and his chest was bare except for a horizontal black strap. His eyes looked bruised and feverish, and he held the biggest handgun Bobby had ever seen, a kind of distended revolver with some weird fixture molded under the barrel, a thing like a cobra’s head. Beside him, swaying, stood a girl who might have been Bobby’s age, with the same bruised eyes - though hers were dark - and lank brown hair that needed to be washed. She wore a black sweatshirt, several sizes too large, and jeans. The man reached out with his left hand and steadied her.
Bobby stared, then gaped as the memory hit him
Girlvoice, brownhair, darkeyes, the ice eating into him, his teeth burring, her voice, the big thing leaning in…”
“Viv la Vyéj,” Jackie said, beside him, rapt, her hand gripping his shoulder hard, “the Virgin of Miracles. She’s come, Bobby. Danbala has sent her!”
“You were under a while, kid,” the tall man said to Bobby. “What happened?”
Bobby blinked, glanced frantically around, found Jammer’s eyes, glazed with drugs and pain.
“Tell him,” Jammer said.
“I couldn’t get to the Yak. Somebody grabbed me, I don’t know how.”
“Who?” The tall man had his arm around the girl now.
“She said her name was Slide, From Los Angeles.”
“Jaylene,” the man said
The phone on Jammer’s desk began to chime.
“Answer it,” the man said.
Bobby turned as Jackie reached over and tapped the call-bar below the square screen. The screen lit, flickered, and showed them a man’s face, broad and very pale, the eyes hooded and sleepy-looking. His hair was bleached nearly white, and brushed straight back. He had the meanest mouth Bobby had ever seen.
“Turner.” the man said, “we’d better talk now. You haven’t got a lot of time left. I think you should get those people out of the room, for starts.”