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30 - Hired Man

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TURNER STARED AT Conroy’s face on the screen of the office phone. “Go on,” he said to Angie. “You go with her “ The tall black girl with the resistors woven into her hair stepped forward and gently put her arm around Mitchell’s daughter, crooning something in that same click-infested Creole. The kid in the T-shirt was still gaping at her, his jaw slack. “Come on, Bobby,” the black girl said. Turner glanced across the desk at the man with the wounded hand, who wore a wrinkled white evening jacket and a bob tie with thongs of braided black leather. Jammer, Turner decided, the club owner. Jammer cradled his hand in his lap, on a blue-striped towel from the bar He had a long face, the kind of beard that needed constant shaving, and the hard, narrow eyes of a stone professional. As their eyes met, Turner realized that the man sat well out of the line of the phone’s camera, his swivel chair pushed back into a corner.

The kid in the T-shirt, Bobby, shuffled out behind Angie and the black girl, his mouth still open.

“You could’ve saved us both a lot of hassle, Turner,” Conroy said. “You could’ve called me. You could’ve called your agent in Geneva”

“How about Hosaka,” Turner said, “could I have called them?”

Conroy shook his head, slowly.

“Who are you working for, Conroy? You went double on this one, didn’t you?”

“But not on you, Turner. If it had gone down the way I planned it, you’d have been in Bogota, with Mitchell. The railgun couldn’t fire until the jet was out, and if we cut it right, Hosaka would have figured Maas took the whole sector out to stop Mitchell But Mitchell didn’t make it, did he, Turner?”

“He never planned to,” Turner said

Conroy nodded. “Yeah. And the security on the mesa picked up the girl, going out. That’s her, isn’t it, Mitchell’s daughter…”

Turner was silent.

“Sure,” Conroy said, “figures.”

“I killed Lynch,” Turner said, to steer the subject away from Angie. “But just before the hammer came down, Webber told me she was working for you.

“They both were,” Conroy said, “but neither one knew about the other.” He shrugged.

“What for?”

Conroy smiled. “Because you’d have missed ‘em if they weren’t there, wouldn’t you? Because you know my style, and if I hadn’t been flying all my usual colors, you’d have started to wonder. And I knew you’d never sell out. Mr. Instant Loyalty, right? Mr. Bushido. You were bankable, Turner. Hosaka knew that. That’s why they insisted I bring you in…”

“You haven’t answered my first question, Conroy. Who did you go double for?”

“A man named Virek,” Conroy said. “The moneyman That’s right, same one. He’d been trying to buy Mitchell for years. For that matter, he’d been trying to buy Maas No go. They’re getting so rich, he couldn’t touch them. There was a standing offer for Mitchell making the rounds. A blind offer. When Hosaka heard from Mitchell and called me in, I decided to check that offer out. Just out of curiosity. But before I could, Virek’s team was on me. It wasn’t a hard deal to cut, Turner, believe me.”

“I believe you.”

“But Mitchell fucked us all over, didn’t he, Turner? Good and solid.”

“So they killed him.”

“He killed himself,” Conroy said, “according to Virek’s moles on the mesa. As soon as he saw the kid off in that ultralight. Cut his throat with a scalpel.”

“Lot of dead people around, Conroy,” Turner said “Oakey’s dead, and the Jap who was flying that copter for you.”

“Figured that when they didn’t come back,” Conroy shrugged.

“They were trying to kill us,” Turner said.

“No, man, they just wanted to talk… Anyway, we didn’t know about the girl then We just knew you were gone and that the damn jet hadn’t made it to the strip in Bogota. We didn’t start thinking about the girl until we took a look at your brother’s farm and found the jet. Your brother wouldn’t tell Oakey anything Pissed off ‘cause Oakey burned his dogs. Oakey said is looked like a woman had been living there, too, but she didn’t turn up…”

“What about Rudy?”

Conroy’s face was a perfect blank. Then he said, “Oakey got what he needed off the monitors. Then we knew about the girl.”

Turner’s back was aching. The holster strap was cutting into his chest. I don’t feel anything, he thought, I don’t feel anything at all…”

“I’ve got a question for you, Turner. I’ve got a couple. But the main one is, what the fuck are you doing in there?”

“Heard it was a hot club, Conroy.”

“Yeah. Real exclusive. So exclusive, you had to break up two of my doormen to get in. They knew you were coming, Turner, the spades and that punk. Why else would they let you in?”

“You’ll have to work that one out, Connie. You seem to have a lot of access, these days…”

Conroy leaned closer to his phone’s camera. “You bet your ass Virek’s had people all over the Sprawl for months, feeling out a rumor, cowboy gossip that there was an experimental biosoft floating around. Finally his people focused on the Finn, but another team, a Maas team, turned up, obviously after the same thing. So Virek’s team just kicked back and watched the Maas boys, and the Maas boys started blowing people away. So Virek’s team picked up on the spades and little Bobby and the whole thing. They laid it all out for me when I told ‘em I figured you’d headed this way from Rudy’s. When I saw where they were headed, I hired some muscle to ice ‘em in there, until I could get somebody I could trust to go in after them…”

“Those dusters out there?” Turner smiled. “You just dropped the ball, Connie. You can’t go anywhere for professional help, can you? Somebody’s twigged that you doubled, and a lot of pros died, out there. So you’re hiring shitheads with funny haircuts. The pros have all heard you’ve got Hosaka after your ass, haven’t they, Connie? And they all know what you did.” Turner was grinning now; out of the corner of his eye, he saw that the man in the dinner jacket was smiling, too, a thin smile with lots of neat small teeth, like white grains of corn…

“It’s that bitch Slide,” Conroy said. “I could’ve taken her out on the rig… She punched her way in somewhere and started asking questions. I don’t even think she’s really on to it, yet, but she’s been making sounds in certain circles Anyway, yeah, you got the picture. But it doesn’t help your ass any, not now. Virek wants the girl. He’s pulled his people off the other thing and now I’m running things for him. Money, Turner, money like a zaibatsu’.

Turner stared at the face, remembering Conroy in the bar of a jungle hotel. Remembering him later, in Los Angeles, making his pass, explaining the covert economics of corporate defection… Hi, Connie,” Turner said, “I know you, don’t I?”

Conroy smiled. “Sure, baby.”

“And I know the offer. Already. You want the girl

“That’s right.”

“And the split, Connie. You know I only work fifty-fifty, right?”

“Hey,” Conroy said, “this is the big one I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Turner stared at the man’s image.

“Well,” Conroy said, still smiling, “what do you say?”

And Jammer reached out and pulled the phone’s line from the wall plug. “Timing,” he said. “Timing’s always important.” He let the plug drop. “If you’d told him, he’d have moved right away. This way buys us time. He’ll try to get back, try to figure what happened.”

“How do you know what I was going to say?”

“Because I seen people. I seen a lot of them, too fucking many. Particularly I seen a lot like you. You got it written across your face, mister, and you were gonna tell him he could eat shit and die “ Jammer hunched his way up in the office chair, grimacing as his hand moved inside the bar towel. “Who’s this Slide he was talking about? A jockey?”

“Jaylene Slide. Los Angeles. Top gun.”

“She was the one hijacked Bobby,” Jammer said. “So she’s damn close to your pal on the phone

“She probably doesn’t know it, though.”

“Let’s see what we can do about that. Get the boy back in here.”


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