As I walked into the Dangerous Seasons, the first thing I noticed was the smell. A strip-club when it isn’t open smells like nothing else you’ve ever smelled. It’s the usual closed club or bar mix of stale beer, sweat and cleaning fluids, but with a sweeter overlay of body oil, talc and the CFC-free propellant from spray-on latex. Like a drunkard baby with a hangover. It was dim in the club, but not too dim. The working lights were on, a pale and cold glow matching an aircon system that didn’t have to keep up with 200 plus carousing bodies. No neon, though, except over by the long bar where one of the managers, Cavendish, was re-assembling an Armatech riot gun, all fat matte-black body and a barrel that looked like I could put my fist in it. Beside him, on the bar, two drum magazines full of taser rounds with their blunt yellow heads and another with blue-capped tear gas in case things got really out of hand. Cavendish waved and pointed towards the left-hand stairs that lead to the V.I.P. rooms – as if I didn’t know which way to go from the two guys in flash shades and leather armored trenchcoats standing at the bottom of them; one bald and the other with a long ponytail but both flashing Tiberius machine pistols, the expensive ones. Both had little buttons on their lapels in of blue, yellow and green – the colors of the Emir’s personal guard, the Imazighen. Friedlander Bey, club owner and the most powerful underworld figure between the city core and the docks was most definitely “in”.
I sauntered over to them, giving my best “I’m a harmless nice guy” smile. It didn’t work all that well – I could hear the snick as one flipped the safety off his Russian gun and moved wide to avoid getting his friend in his field of fire. His friend pulled out a wand connected to a box at his belt, from which a another cable snaked up until it disappeared under his greasy pony tail. Obediently, I stood still and put my arms out straight from my sides as I was given the once over. Quickly, I was relieved of my gun and even my holdout electrolaser, and a pair of inhibitors clamped over my wrists to stop me popping my claws. The inhibitors didn’t even touch my other augments – not that their little box had the smarts to “see” those anyway. Acting suitable cowed, I waited until I was waved on then lightly stepped up the stairs to the upper floor. I could see two more of Bey’s men at the far end, outside the manager’s office, so headed towards it, then almost stumbled as a soft feminine cough from one of the V.I.P rooms caught my augmented ear. Surely not a dancer at this time of day, not that any of them ever triggered my urge to perform my Art – to smoothly glib on duty, too cynical off. I risked a quick glance into the darkness of the unlit room, my cybernetic eyesight catching a glimpse of a slight figure slumped back on the fake-leather upholstered sofa . Dressed in street clothes and an apron, the girl was obviously a cleaner, taking a nap and somehow overlooked or given permission by the Imazighen. I stored the image on my implanted computer for later consideration: no time to let myself get distracted, less than six feet from The Emir himself.
I kept walking without missing a beat and one of the goons opened the door for me as I approached. My audience was scheduled, after all, and I was on time to the minute according to the readout in the lower left of my vision field. Anyhow, I could hear Bey and his chief lieutenant – Desmond Battersea, the guy who had phoned me last night and simply told me the place and time – inside the small office, talking idly about a shipment of designer drugs expected by courier from Europe later in the day. They broke off as the door opened and Desmond moved instinctively to block my view of his boss. He’s a massive man, is Des – all of nearly seven feet and 350 pounds, with a reputation for enjoying violence in the line of his duties. I could hear the click and whirr of the exoskeleton beneath his suit as he moved. And thought once again that I’d sooner cross an entire go-gang than the Emir’s strong right hand.
Desmond relaxed and moved aside again when he saw I was who I was, not some assassin from a rival mob, but one of the guards slipped into the room behind me and closed the door. He’s a careful man, is Desmond. No wonder, given the threats to his boss, the slim, tall, top-hatted man sitting behind the manager’s desk with his Italian shoes propped up on the scarred metal surface, toking a hand-rolled Moroccan narcostik from which the sweet smell of expensive tobacco and hashish rolled in curls of smoke. Friedlander Bey, undisputed head of the now-cosmopolitan Corsican Mafia in Night City and one of the pre-eminent crime bosses on the entire West Coast. In the light of the single overhead striplight, the skin of Bey’s hands and face glittered with golden flecks – actual gold dust imbedded in a layer of custom-made skinweave armor by a Swedish clinic, by the rumors. He smiled, taking his feet off the desk and sitting up .
“Ah, Randall, so good of you to come. I won’t detain you long but I wanted to ask you a favor that couldn’t be trusted to electrical communications, you understand sadeeq”
I stayed where I was – there wasn’t a second seat in the tiny room anyway. I nodded.
“Good, good. I owe a favor, just a small sakhawat you understand, to an old business colleague. You are going to be a part of my repayment.”
The Emir, cool and calm and oh so polite, then explained how he’d agreed to trade my expertise in second storey jobs for a long-ago service, back when he was an up-and-comer in the Unione Corse. He told me an address not too far away, a date a couple of days away and a time, which I immediately committed to electronic memory and…we were done. No wasted time for him, a trek across two districts for me – but my time didn’t matter. The guard escorted me downstairs again and my weapons were handed back at the same time the inhibitors were taken off. Around me, the club was starting to gear up for lunch-time opening – holo projectors weaving light and subliminal erotic images as some new chromebeat track played on the surround-sound although not yet at ear-splitting volume. Deep in thought, I headed out, down the stairs to the alley the club sat above then out onto 44th and Stross, passing some of the dancers and wait-staff heading into work on the way.
Unexpectedly, my HUD outlined up a figure walking away, Northbound on Stross. My internal processor had matched the sillouhette with the image I’d recorded of the cleaner earlier. Pretty enough, fresh-faced, slim and brunette – maybe Eastern European or some exotic immigrant mix. Not usually my type but there was something about her walk that said there was a pride, a haughtiness, not usually present in a Doler cleaner girl. I hesitated. Ah, what the smeg – I had a couple of days to kill. Zooming in my optics as she paused to consider a storefront selling cheap knock-offs of Glitterati fashions, I set my implant to record everything and melted into the crowd, trailing her effortlessly.