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32 - Count Zero

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BOBBY FOLLOWED JACKIE and the brown-haired girl out of the office. It felt like he’d been in Jammer’s for a month and he’d never get the taste of the place out of his mouth. The stupid little recessed spots staring down from the black ceiling, the fat ultrasuede seats, the round black tables, the carved wooden screens… Beauvoir was sitting on the bar with the detonator beside him and the South African gun across his gray sharkskin lap.

“How come you let ‘em in?” Bobby asked when Jackie had led the girl to a table.

“Jackie.” Beauvoir said, “she tranced while you were iced. Legba. Told us the Virgin was on her way up with this guy.”

“Who is he?”

Beauvoir shrugged. “A merc, he looks like. Soldier for the zaibatsus. Jumped-up street samurai. What happened to you when you were iced?”

He told him about Jaylene Slide.

“L.A,” Beauvoir said. “She’ll drill through diamond to get the man who fried her daddy, but a brother needs help, forget it.”

“I’m not a brother.”

“I think you got something there.”

“So I don’t get to try to get to the Yakuza?”

“What’s Jammer say?”

“Dick He’s in there now, watchin’ your merc take a call.”

“A call? Who?”

“Some white guy with a bleach job. Mean-looking.”

Beauvoir looked at Bobby, looked at the door, looked back. “Legba says sit tight and watch. This is getting random enough already, the Sons of the Neon Chrysanthemum aside.”

“Beauvoir,” Bobby said, keeping his voice down, “that girl, she’s the one, the one in the matrix, when I tried to run that -”

He nodded, his plastic frames sliding down his nose. “The Virgin.”

“But what’s happening? I mean”

“Bobby, my advice to you is just take it like it comes. She’s one thing to me, maybe something different to Jackie. To you, she’s just a scared kid. Go easy. Don’t upset her. She’s a long way from home, and we’re still a long way from getting out of here”

“Okay…”

Bobby looked at the floor. “I’m sorry about Lucas, man. He was - he was a dude.”

“Go talk to Jackie and the girl.” Beauvoir said, “I’m watching the door.”

“Okay.”

He crossed the nightclub carpet to where Jackie sat with the girl. She didn’t look like much, and there was only a small part of him that said she was the one. She didn’t look up, and he could see that she’d been crying.

“I got grabbed,” he said to Jackie “You were flat gone.”

“So were you,” the dancer said. “Then Legba came to me…”

“Newmark,” the man called Turner said, from the door to Jammer’s office, “we want to talk to you.”

“Gotta go,” he said, wishing the girl would look up, see the big dude asking for him. “They want me.”

Jackie squeezed his wrist.

“Forget the Yakuza,” Jammer said. “This is more complicated. You’re going into the L.A grid and locking into a top jock’s desk. When Slide grabbed you, she didn’t know my desk sussed her number.”

“She said your deck oughta be in a museum.”

“Shit she knows,” Jammer said “I know where she lives, don’t I?” He took a hit from his inhaler and put it back on the deck. “Your problem is, she’s written you off. She doesn’t wanna hear from you. You gotta get into her and tell her what she wants to know.”

“What’s that?”

‘That it was a man named Conroy got her boyfriend offed,” the tall man said, sprawled back in one of Jammer’s office chairs with the huge pistol on his lap. “Conroy Tell her it was Conroy. Conroy hired those bighairs outside.”

“I’d rather try the Yak,” Bobby said.

“No,” Jammer said, “this Slide, she’ll be on his ass first. The Yak’ll measure my favor, check the whole thing out first.

Besides, I thought you were all hot to learn deck.”

“I’ll go with him,” Jackie said, from the door.

They jacked.

She died almost immediately, in the first eight seconds.

He felt it, rode it out to the edge and almost knew it for what it was. He was screaming, spinning, sucked up through the glacial white funnel that had been waiting for them…

The scale of the thing was impossible, too vast, as though the kind of cybernetic megastructure that represented the whole of a multinational had brought its entire weight to bear on Bobby Newmark and a dancer called Jackie. Impossible.

But somewhere, on the fringe of consciousness, Just as he lost it, there was something… Something plucking at his sleeve…

He lay on his face on something rough. Opened his eyes. A walk made of round stones, wet with rain. He scrambled up, reeling, and saw the hazy panorama of a strange city, with the sea beyond it. Spires there, a sort of church, mad ribs and spirals of dressed stone… He turned and saw a huge lizard slithering down an incline, toward him, its jaws wide. He blinked. The lizard’s teeth were green-stained ceramic, a slow drool of water lapping over its blue mosaic china lip. The thing was a fountain, its flanks plastered with thousands of fragments of shattered china. He spun around, crazy with the nearness of her death. Ice, ice, and a part of him knew then exactly how close he’d really come, in his mother’s living room.

There were weird curving benches, covered with the same giddy patchwork of broken china, and trees, grass. A park.

“Extraordinary.” someone said. A man, rising from his seat on one of the serpentine benches. He had a neat brush of gray hair, a tanned face, and round, rimless glasses that magnified his blue eyes. “You came straight through, didn’t you?”

“What is this? Where am I?”

“Güell Park. After a fashion. Barcelona, if you like “You killed Jackie.”

The man frowned. “I see. I think I see Still, you shouldn’t be here. An accident.”

“Accident? You killed Jackie!”

“My systems are overextended today,” the man said, his hands in the pockets of a loose tan overcoat. “This is really quite extraordinary.”

“You can’t do that shit,” Bobby said, his vision swimming in tears. “You can’t. You can’t kill somebody who was just there…”

“Just where?” The man took off his glasses and began to polish them with a spotless white handkerchief he took from the pocket of his coat.

“Just alive,” Bobby said, taking a step forward The man put his glasses back on. “This has never happened before.”

“You can’t.” Closer now.

“This is becoming tedious, Paco!”

“Señor.”

Bobby turned at the sound of the child’s voice and saw a little boy in a strange stiff suit, with black leather boots that fastened with buttons.

“Remove him.”

“Señor,” the boy said, and bowed stiffly, taking a tiny blue Browning automatic from his dark suit coat. Bobby looked into the dark eyes beneath the glossy forelock and saw a look no child had ever worn. The boy extended the gun, aiming it at Bobby.

“Who are you?” Bobby ignored the gun, but didn’t try to get any closer to the man in the overcoat.

The man peered at him. “Virek. Josef Virek. Most people, I gather, are familiar with my face.”

“Are you on People of Importance or something?” The man blinked, frowning. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Paco, what is this person doing here?”

“An accidental spillover,” the child said, his voice light and beautiful. “We’ve engaged the bulk of our system via New York, in an attempt to prevent Angela Mitchell’s escape. This one tried to enter the matrix, along with another operator, and encountered our system. We’re still attempting to determine how he breached our defenses. You are in no danger.” The muzzle of the little Browning was absolutely steady.

And then the sensation of something plucking at his sleeve.

Not his sleeve, exactly, but part of his mind, something -

“Señor,” the child said, “we are experiencing anomalous phenomena in the matrix, possibly as a result of our own current overextension. We strongly suggest that you allow us to sever your links with the construct until we are able to determine the nature of the anomaly.”

The sensation was stronger now. A scratching, at the back of his mind…

“What?” Virek said. “And return to the tanks? It hardly seems to warrant that…”

“There is the possibility of real danger,” the boy said, and now there was an edge in his voice. He moved the barrel of the Browning slightly. “You,” he said to Bobby, “lie down upon the cobbles and spread your arms and legs.”

But Bobby was looking past him, to a bed of flowers, watching as they withered and died, the grass going gray and powdery as he watched, the air above the bed writhing and twisting. The sense of the thing scratching in his head was stronger still, more urgent.

Virek had turned to stare at the dying flowers. “What is -”

Bobby closed his eyes and thought of Jackie. There was a sound, and he knew that he was making it. He reached down into himself, the sound still coming, and touched Jammer’s deck. Come! He screamed, inside himself, neither knowing nor caring what it was that he addressed Come now! He felt something give, a barrier of some kind, and the scratching sensation was gone.

When he opened his eyes, there was something in the bed of dead flowers. He blinked. It seemed to be a cross of plain, white-painted wood; someone had fitted the sleeves of an ancient naval tunic over the horizontal arms, a kind of mold-spotted tailcoat with heavy, fringed epaulets of tarnished gold braid, rusting buttons, more braid at the cuffs… A rusted cutlass was propped, hilt up, against the white upright, and beside it was a bottle half filled with clear fluid.

The child spun, the little pistol blurring… And crumpled, folded into himself like a deflating balloon, a balloon sucked away into nothing at all, the Browning clattering to the stone path like a forgotten toy.

“My name,” a voice said, and Bobby wanted to scream when he realized that it came from his own mouth, “is Samedi, and you have slain my cousin’s horse…”

And Virek was running, the big coat flapping out behind him, down the curving path with its serpentine benches, and Bobby saw that another of the white crosses waited there, just where the path curved to vanish. Then Virek must have seen it, too; he screamed, and Baron Samedi. Lord of Graveyards, the ba whose kingdom was death, leaned in across Barcelona like a cold dark rain.

“What the hell do you want? Who are you?” The voice was familiar, a woman’s. Not Jackie’s

“Bobby,” he said, waves of darkness pulsing through him. “Bobby…”

“How did you get here?”

“Jammer. He knew. His deck pegged you when you iced me before. He’d just seen something, something huge He couldn’t remember…” Turner sent me. Conroy. He said tell you Conroy did it. You want Conroy…” Hearing his own voice as though it were someone else’s. He’d been somewhere, and returned, and now he was here, in Jaylene Slide’s skeletal neon sketch. On the way back, he’d seen the big thing, the thing that had sucked them up, start to alter and shift, gargantuan blocks of its rotating, merging, taking on new alignments, the entire outline changing ‘Conroy,” she said. The sexy scrawl leaned by the video window, something in its line expressing a kind of exhaustion, even boredom. “I thought so.” The video image whited out, formed again as a shot of some ancient stone building.

Park Avenue. He’s up there with all those Euros, clicking away at some new scam.” She sighed. “Thinks he’s safe, see? Wiped Ramirez like a fly, lied to my face, flew off to New York and his new job, and now he thinks he’s safe -”

The figure moved, and the image changed again. Now the face of the white-haired man, the man Bobby had seen talking to the big guy, on Jammer’s phone, filled the screen.

She’s tapped into his line, Bobby thought.

“Or not,” Conroy said, the audio cutting in. “Either way, we’ve got her. No problem.” The man looked tired, Bobby thought, but on top of it. Tough. Like Turner.

“I’ve been watching you, Conroy,” Slide said softly. “My good friend Bunny, he’s been watching you for me. You ain’t the only one awake on Park Avenue tonight…”

“No,” Conroy was saying, “we can have her in Stockholm for you tomorrow Absolutely.” He smiled into the camera.

“Kill him, Bunny,” she said. “Kill ‘em all. Punch out the whole goddamn floor and the one under it. Now.”

“That’s right,” Conroy said, and then something happened, something that shook the camera, blurring his image. “What is that?” he asked, in a very different voice, and then the screen was blank.

“Burn, motherfucker,’ she said.

And Bobby was yanked back into the dark.


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Radical Militant Library 0.5.5
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