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Next of Kin, Chapter Nineteen: 47%


  09:05:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 2093 words  
Categories: Next of Kin

Next of Kin, Chapter Nineteen: 47%

Nineteen, 47%

I slept fitfully, which seemed appropriate. Even with some good painkillers, I was pretty sure Charles Dean couldn't be sleeping any better.
I sighed when I realized I couldn't even pretend to doze any longer. I pinged my bank account. I was broker than usual, and I was usually pretty damned broke. I needed to work, but to do that, I had to finish this case, first. I looked at my investigative notes. I had a long list of suspects, but also nobody who had really shown me much of anything concrete to go on.
There were two more, written in red at the bottom. The two suppliers fighting over John's business. After Jim warned me off, I had been reluctant to talk to them. But it looked like my investigation was otherwise stalled. So I sent Jim a message, to set up a meet. I figured John's new supplier was the safer option; if the old had gotten wind of the deal, I could see them lashing out.
I didn't get an immediate response, so I cooked myself breakfast.
While I was eating, I received a message back. ?Latin suppliers reluctant to talk to cops- even advocates. Chinese dealer accepted.? He appended an address, and a time. I had less than twenty minutes to dress and make it across town.
I was glad I showered the night before, though the reason for the shower renewed my shame. But I didn't have time to dwell on it, I jammed on a fresh-ish set of clothes and hurled myself into my car. I GPSed the location, and the time estimate made my stomach drop down onto the street. No matter how recklessly I drove, I was going to be late. Something told me keeping a high level drug trafficker waiting, especially waiting to talk to an advocate, was just asking for trouble.
The traffic was light this morning. I tried not to obsess; I was going to be late, I told myself, no need to road rage.
Finally, I arrived at a nondescript warehouse. The locks had been cut; so we were breaking and entering into our meeting space. It probably made more sense than providing the police with one of their own haunts.
The lights were off inside. My interface automatically adjusted for the difference, and I could see green outlines of boxes, then what I thought was a woman. She was reaching for a manual light switch. I shut my eyes a moment too late, and the fluorescents seared my eyes. I made a show of rubbing them, though without any pressure, so as not to scratch myself again, to let them readjust at an even pace.
When I could finally open them the woman was much closer, close enough to have a conversation, probably close enough to stab me, if she wanted. The proximity unnerved me, but I tried not to let it show on my face. She wasn't letting anything show on hers; it was blurred, like Jenel's.
I reminded myself she was a prime suspect, and pulled up the lie detection app, and her brain scan. Or at least, I tried. Instead, what I got was an image of a cartoon pirate, flipping me the finger while hatefully masturbating at me; it was funny and disturbing at the same time.
?I was hoping to ask a few questions about my brother. I don't suppose any of this means you're going to cooperate.?
?I'm here. My further cooperation depends on you.? She didn't have any detectable accent. I didn't think that could be a mod, since I was pretty sure vocal masks weren't that sophisticated. At least not yet.
?Okay,? I said. ?Did you know my brother was considering another supplier??
?Any dealer worth his beans always is, but that's capitalism. You don't think...? She chuckled. ?Qui bono,? she said. ?I don't benefit, knocking off customers who are trying out the Walmart of suppliers.? I snickered. ?I agree. Chinese goods are often cheap shit, manufactured to fall apart the first time an insect farts on it. But the product I move is quality, sourced from all over Asia to provide the best, consistent highs. You want crap, buy Canadian, buy Latin. You want to make sure you get what you pay for every time, you buy from me. I'm not in this to sell crap; I'm building a brand. I want to be the Mercedes of intoxicants.
?But also: bullshit. John wasn't testing out the Latins. He'd done that already, months ago. Like I wouldn't notice him cutting his usual order by exactly a third- then increasing it the next month by a third to make up for the utter terribleness of the Latin product. He'd eaten shit once before, he wasn't about to do it again- not this soon, and not with them still trying to turn their supply chain into a bizarre auction.?
?I didn't say he was testing out the Latins,? I said.
?Aren't many in this business, not dealing in the kinds of bulk your brother moved. Canadians are an option, at least for anything they can manage to grow up on their tundra. But there's also a premium; they have to pay a Canadian wage, so their product is usually spendy. And they don't cook; they'll refine, but you know, no meth or anything else. The Russians pull from a lot of the same suppliers that I do, or at least the same regions. But they're Russians, so nobody likes the Russians.?
?Why's that?? I asked.
?Afghanistan, mostly,? she said. ?Russia's half-Asian, but they look down on us. Like also being part of Europe makes them better, somehow. The catastrofuck in Afghanistan was simply emblematic. Every dealing they've had with Asia has this feeling of, 'get under our boots already.' And you start negotiations like that, you're bound to pay a shitheel tax. Which they pass onto the customers. And not only that, when you step on toes, and there's a supply hiccup, guess whose order goes unfilled.?
?So it basically had to be the Latins.?
?Yup. Which is why it doesn't sound like John. You know who that idea sounds like? His idiot partner. See, I'd figured out they tried out the Latins on my lonesome. But next time we met, to talk numbers, the idiot tagged along. John knew well enough to keep his mouth shut. Jim? Told me he could supply with the Latins for two-thirds what they paid me.
?I said you don't go to the BMW dealership, and tell them you could buy a crap GM for less, so they should really drop the price by ten gs. And they knew the competitor was selling crap, because they'd tried it out. I told them they were lucky I wasn't raising the prices on them- a disloyalty tax- because even at double the price of what the Latins are selling, stepped-on as theirs is, mine would be a bargain.?
?The Latins refused to meet with me. So why did you come here at all??
?The Latins have spotty tech. Again, they're doing this bargain-basement style, which means half the time their blur mods don't work right. Just last week, a few of them got caught in a DEA sting, because they aren't bright.?
?But you are,? I said.
?I got a woman about a quarter of a mile away with one of the world's largest rifles, technically classified anti-materiel- for shooting trucks and tanks- because it's ridiculously overpowered to use against a soft target like a man- even a man in armor. If this had been a set-up, she would have shot a bowling-ball sized hole in your chest. Then I would have gotten away.?
?So you had an escape plan,? I said. ?But that only answers half of the question.?
?Hmm. I had a brother, back in China. He was killed, by a corrupt official. I never really found out why. But I did find out who. And I brought my brother justice. So your... quest, is something I can relate to. And I hope you catch the son of a bitch. I don't know if I could say your brother was a good man, but among thieves, he was about as honorable as you could hope for.?
?Can you think of anybody else who would want John dead??
?Not the Latins,? she said. ?They'd try to kill him with kindness. Send him chocolates laced with cocaine, hookers to snort their shit off of. Putting one mid-level dealer in the ground, nobody benefits.?
?But if nobody benefits...?
?Then somebody lost,? she said. ?Somebody got worked up enough that they killed him in a moment's passion.? I didn't have to glance at the chat to know that 'the girlfriend' reverberated through it. ?And when it was done, it hurt them nearly as much.?
?Thanks,? I said, ?for your help.?
?Your brother was a good customer. Didn't make me a fuckton of money, but I also never had to worry he was going to stab me over a shipment, either. Sometimes it's the little things.?
I showed myself out. I needed to go to Tara's. I wasn't looking forward to it. But I also didn't want to linger. With a rifle like she described, I imagined her friend really wanted to test it out. I didn't want to give her any excuse.
I got in my car and started to drive. I made it a couple of miles before I got a private message from Chase. ?Take a leak.? With it came a GPS marker, leading to a coffee shop.
I stopped in at it, and used their restroom. I remembered to pause the feeds when I entered, and as soon as I had I got a call from Chase.
?Yarr,? he said. ?Saw you took a meeting with a cartoon pirate. These underworld-adjacent crimes are the worst. Everybody involved has illegal mods- everybody. Means you can't trust the brain scans, or any of the other biometrics. There are ways around it. You can get root access to somebody's systems, to make sure they aren't booting up anything that could interfere with the tests. Or there's the more... thorough solution- that you get illegal mods to counter theirs.
?There is, however, a logistical hurdle- and not just the normal legal one. There's no way in hell anyone who usually puts in the illegal stuff will touch you while you're an advocate. There's a solution- though a desperate one- and I'm not saying you're there yet, I just, I don't want to blindside you with it if the time ever comes.
?You can shoot yourself- through the implants. You do that, in or around one of the dead zones, and they'll fix you up, fill you full of illegal tech, and just drain the funds as available from your bank account to pay for it. Unless they really don't like you.?
?You want me to shoot myself?? I asked. I heard something drop in one of the stalls, and became both embarrassed and paranoid.
?I don't want you to,? he said. ?But I wanted you to know that it could theoretically come to that. At some point. And because of that, I left you something in the stall.?
?What kinds of things might make them reluctant to put Humpty Dumpty back together??
?Typically we're talking things like like child molesters, or dedicated rapists. Usually scum the likes of which they don't want to be able to hide away amongst them.?
?What if I'm investigating one of them?? I asked.
?That might do it, too.?
I checked the empty stall, but didn't find anything. I heard flushing in the other, and waited until it was vacated, and the occupant had left the room. There was a gun taped beneath the toilet. ?Is this legal?? I asked.
?Quasi-legal. Taken off a felon during an arrest; he lost it because he had it illegally. It wasn't registered, and therefore didn't have a legal owner. But because it hadn't been used in the commission of any other crimes, it kind of made sense to keep it, for this sort of an occasion. There are still plenty of reasons why a cop might need an unregistered firearm.? That thinking reminded me of why the cops were all but disbanded in the first place. ?Know how to use it?? he asked.
?I'm familiar with the mechanics.?
?Well, familiarize yourself with the kinetics. Because there's a better than not chance you'll need it by the end of this investigation.?

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