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His offices were located in a warehouse behind Ninsei, part
of which seemed to have been sparsely decorated, years before,
with a random collection of European furniture, as though
Deane had once intended to use the place as his home. Neo-Aztec
bookcases gathered dust against one wall of the room
where Case waited. A pair of bulbous Disney-styled table lamps
perched awkwardly on a low Kandinsky-look coffee table in
scarlet-lacquered steel. A Dali clock hung on the wall between
the bookcases, its distorted face sagging to the bare concrete
floor. Its hands were holograms that altered to match the convolutions
of the face as they rotated, but it never told the correct
time. The room was stacked with white fiberglass shipping
modules that gave off the tang of preserved ginger.
"You seem to be clean, old son," said Deane's disembodied
voice. "Do come in."
Magnetic bolts thudded out of position around the massive
imitation-rosewood door to the left of the bookcases. JULIUS
DEANE IMPOъT EXPOъT was lettered across the plastic in
peeling self-adhesive capitals. If the furniture scattered in
Deane's makeshift foyer suggested the end of the past century,
the office itself seemed to belong to its start.
Deane's seamless pink face regarded Case from a pool of
light cast by an ancient brass lamp with a rectangular shade of
dark green glass. The importer was securely fenced behind a
vast desk of painted steel, flanked on either side by tall, drawer
Ed cabinets made of some sort of pale wood. The sort of
thing, Case supposed, that had once been used to store written
records of some kind. The desktop was littered with cassettes,
scrolls of yellowed printout, and various parts of some sort of
clockwork typewriter, a machine Deane never seemed to get
around to reassembling.
"What brings you around, boy?" Deane asked, offering
Case a narrow bonbon wrapped in blue-and-white checked paper.
"Try one. Tins Ting Djahe, the very best." Case refused
the ginger, took a seat in a yawing wooden swivel chair, and
ran a thumb down the faded seam of one black jeans-leg. "Julie
I hear Wage wants to kill me."
"Ah. Well then. And where did you hear this, if I may?"
"People," Deane said, around a ginger bonbon. "What sort
of people? Friends?"
"Not always that easy to know who your friends are, is it?"
"I do owe him a little money, Deane. He say anything to
"Haven't been in touch, of late." Then he sighed. "If I did
know, of course, I might not be in a position to tell you. Things
being what they are, you understand."
"He's an important connection Case."
"Yeah. He want to kill me, Julie?"
"Not that I know of." Deane shrugged. They might have
been discussing the price of ginger. "If it proves to be an
unfounded rumor, old son, you come back in a week or so and
I'll let you in on a little something out of Singapore."
"Out of the Nan Hai Hotel, Bencoolen Street?"
"Loose lips, old son!" Deane grinned. The steel desk was
jammed with a fortune in debugging gear.
"Be seeing you, Julie. I'll say hello to Wage."
Deane's fingers came up to brush the perfect knot in his
pale silk tie.
He was less than a block from Deane's office when it hit,
the sudden cellular awareness that someone was on his ass,
and very close.
The cultivation of a certain tame paranoia was something
Case took for granted. The trick lay in not letting it get out of
control. But that could be quite a trick, behind a stack of
octagons. He fought the adrenaline surge and composed his
narrow features in a mask of bored vacancy, pretending to let
the crowd carry him along. When he saw a darkened display
window, he managed to pause by it. The place was a surgical
boutique, closed for renovations. With his hands in the pockets
of his jacket, he stared through the glass at a flat lozenge of
vat grown flesh that lay on a carved pedestal of imitation jade.
The color of its skin reminded him of Zone's whores; it was
tattooed with a luminous digital display wired to a sub-cutaneous
chip. Why bother with the surgery, he found himself thinking,
while sweat coursed down his ribs, when you could just carry
the thing around in your pocket?
Without moving his head, he raised his eyes and studied
the reflection of the passing crowd.
Behind sailors in short-sleeved khaki. Dark hair, mirrored
glasses, dark clothing, slender. . .
Then Case was running, bent low, dodging between bodies.
"ъent me a gun, Shin?"
The boy smiled. "Two hour." They stood together in the
smell of fresh raw seafood at the rear of a Shiga sushi stall.
"You come back, two hour."
"I need one now, man. Got anything right now?"
Shin rummaged behind empty two-liter cans that had once
been filled with powdered horseradish. He produced a slender
package wrapped in gray plastic. "Taser. One hour, twenty
New Yen. Thirty deposit."
"Shit. I don't need that. I need a gun. Like I maybe wanna
shoot somebody, understand?"
The waiter shrugged, replacing the taser behind the horseradish
cans. "Two hour."
He went into the shop without bothering to glance at the
display of shuriken. He'd never thrown one in his life.
He bought two packs of Yeheyuans with a Mitsubishi Bank
chip that gave his name as Charles Derek May. It beat Truman
Starr, the best he'd been able to do for a passport.
The Japanese woman behind the terminal looked like she
had a few years on old Deane, none of them with the benefit
of science. He took his slender roll of New Yen out of his
pocket and showed it to her. "I want to buy a weapon."
She gestured in the direction of a case filled with knives.
"No," he said, "I don't like knives."
She brought an oblong box from beneath the counter. The
lid was yellow cardboard, stamped with a crude image of a
coiled cobra with a swollen hood. Inside were eight identical
tissue-wrapped cylinders. He watched while mottled brown
fingers stripped the paper from one. She held the thing up for
him to examine, a dull steel tube with a leather thong at one
end and a small bronze pyramid at the other. She gripped the
tube with one hand, the pyramid between her other thumb and
forefinger, and pulled. Three oiled, telescoping segments of
tightly wound coil spring slid out and locked. "Cobra," she said.
Beyond the neon shudder of Ninsei, the sky was that mean
shade of gray. The air had gotten worse; it seemed to have
teeth tonight, and half the crowd wore filtration masks. Case
had spent ten minutes in a urinal, trying to discover a convenient
way to conceal his cobra; finally he'd settled for tucking the
handle into the waistband of his jeans, with the tube slanting
across his stomach. The pyramidal striking tip rode between
his ribcage and the lining of his windbreaker. The thing felt
like it might clatter to the pavement with his next step, but it
made him feel better.
The Chat wasn't really a dealing bar, but on weeknights it
attracted a related clientele. Fridays and Saturdays were different.
The regulars were still there, most of them, but they
faded behind an influx of sailors and the specialists who preyed
on diem. As Case pushed through the doors, he looked for
ъatz, but the bartender wasn't in sight. Lonny Zone, the bar's
resident pimp, was observing with glazed fatherly interest as
one of his girls went to work on a young sailor. Zone was
addicted to a brand of hypnotic the Japanese called Cloud
Dancers. Catching the pimp's eye, Case beckoned him to the
bar. Zone came drifting through the crowd in slow motion, his
long face slack and placid.
"You seen Wage tonight, Lonny?"
Zone regarded him with his usual calm. He shook his head.
"You sure, man?"
"Maybe in the Namban. Maybe two hours ago."
"Got some Joeboys with him? One of 'em thin, dark hair,
maybe a black jacket?"
"No," Zone said at last, his smooth forehead creased to
indicate the effort it cost him to recall so much pointless detail.
"Big boys. Graftees." Zone's eyes showed very little white and
less iris; under the drooping lids, his pupils were dilated and
enormous. He stared into Case's face for a long time, then
lowered his gaze. He saw the bulge of the steel whip. "Cobra,"
he said, and raised an eyebrow. "You wanna fuck somebody
"See you, Lonny." Case left the bar.
His tail was back. He was sure of it. He felt a stab of elation
the octagons and adrenaline mingling with something else.
You're enjoying this, he thought; you're crazy.
Because, in some weird and very approximate way, it was
like a run in the matrix. Get just wasted enough, find yourself
in some desperate but strangely arbitrary kind of trouble, and
it was possible to see Ninsei as a field of data, the way the
matrix had once reminded him of proteins linking to distinguish
cell specialties. Then you could throw yourself into a high-speed
drift and skid, totally engaged but set apart from it all, and all
around you the dance of biz, information interacting, data made
flesh in the mazes of the black market....
Go it, Case, he told himself. Suck 'em in. Last thing they'll
expect. He was half a block from the games arcade where he'd
first met Linda Lee.
He bolted across Ninsei, scattering a pack of strolling sailors.
One of them screamed after him in Spanish. Then he was
through the entrance, the sound crashing over him like surf,
subsonics throbbing in the pit of his stomach. Someone scored
a ten-megaton hit on Tank War Europa, a simulated air burst
drowning the arcade in white sound as a lurid hologram fireball
mushroomed overhead. He cut to the right and loped up a flight
of unpainted chip board stairs. He'd come here once with Wage,
to discuss a deal in proscribed hormonal triggers with a man
called Matsuga. He remembered the hallway, its stained matting,
the row of identical doors leading to tiny office cubicles.
One door was open now. A Japanese girl in a sleeveless black
t-shirt glanced up from a white terminal, behind her head a
travel poster of Greece, Aegian blue splashed with streamlined
"Get your security up here," Case told her.
Then he sprinted down the corridor, out of her sight. The
last two doors were closed and, he assumed, locked. He spun
and slammed the sole of his nylon running shoe into the blue-lacquered
composition door at the far end. It popped, cheap
hardware falling from the splintered frame. Darkness there, the
white curve of a terminal housing. Then he was on the door
to its right, both hands around the transparent plastic knob,
leaning in with everything he had. Something snapped, and he
was inside. This was where he and Wage had met with Matsuga,
but whatever front company Matsuga had operated was
long gone. No terminal, nothing. Light from the alley behind
the arcade, filtering in through soot blown plastic. He made out
a snake like loop of fiber optics protruding from a wall socket,
a pile of discarded food containers, and the blade less nacelle
of an electric fan.
The window was a single pane of cheap plastic. He shrugged
out of his jacket, bundled it around his right hand, and punched.
It split, requiring two more blows to free it from the frame.
Over the muted chaos of the games, an alarm began to cycle,
triggered either by the broken window or by the girl at the head
of the corridor.
Case turned, pulled his jacket on, and flicked the cobra to
With the door closed, he was counting on his tail to assume
he'd gone through the one he'd kicked half off its hinges. The
cobra's bronze pyramid began to bob gently, the spring-steel
shaft amplifying his pulse.
Nothing happened. There was only the surging of the alarm,
the crashing of the games, his heart hammering. When the fear
came, it was like some half-forgotten friend. Not the cold
rapid mechanism of the dex-paranoia, but simple animal fear.
He'd lived for so long on a constant edge of anxiety that he'd
almost forgotten what real fear was.
This cubicle was the sort of place where people died. He
might die here. They might have guns....
A crash, from the far end of the corridor. A man's voice,
shouting something in Japanese. A scream, shrill terror. Another
And footsteps, unhurried, coming closer.
Passing his closed door. Pausing for the space of three rapid
beats of his heart. And returning. One, two, three. A bootheel
scraped the matting.
The last of his octagon-induced bravado collapsed. He
snapped the cobra into its handle and scrambled for the window,
blind with fear, his nerves screaming. He was up, out, and
falling, all before he was conscious of what he'd done. The
impact with pavement drove dull rods of pain through his shins.
A narrow wedge of light from a half-open service hatch
framed a heap of discarded fiber optics and the chassis of a
junked console. He'd fallen face forward on a slab of soggy
chip board, he rolled over, into the shadow of the console. The
cubicle's window was a square of faint light. The alarm still
oscillated, louder here, the rear wall dulling the roar of the
A head appeared, framed in the window, back lit by the
fluorescents in the corridor, then vanished. It returned, but he
still couldn't read the features. Glint of silver across the eyes.
"Shit," someone said, a woman, in the accent of the northern
The head was gone. Case lay under the console for a long
count of twenty, then stood up. The steel cobra was still in his
hand, and it took him a few seconds to remember what it was.
He limped away down the alley, nursing his left ankle.
Shin's pistol was a fifty-year-old Vietnamese imitation of
a South American copy of a Walther PPK, double-action on
the first shot, with a very rough pull. It was chambered for .22
long rifle, and Case would've preferred lead azide explosives
to the simple Chinese hollow points Shin had sold him. Still
it was a handgun and nine rounds of ammunition, and as he
made his way down Shiga from the sushi stall he cradled it in
his jacket pocket. The grips were bright red plastic molded in
a raised dragon motif, something to run your thumb across
in the dark. He'd consigned the cobra to a dump canister on
Ninsei and dry-swallowed another octagon.
The pill lit his circuits and he rode the rush down Shiga to
Ninsei, then over to Baiitsu. His tail, he'd decided, was gone
and that was fine. He had calls to make, biz to transact, and
it wouldn't wait. A block down Baiitsu, toward the port, stood
a featureless ten-story office building in ugly yellow brick. Its
windows were dark now, but a faint glow from the roof was
visible if you craned your neck. An unlit neon sign near the
main entrance offered CHEAP HOTEL under a cluster of ideograms.
If the place had another name, Case didn't know it; it
was always referred to as Cheap Hotel. You reached it through
an alley off Baiitsu, where an elevator waited at the foot of a
transparent shaft. The elevator, like Cheap Hotel, was an afterthought,
lashed to the building with bamboo and epoxy. Case
climbed into the plastic cage and used his key, an unmarked
length of rigid magnetic tape.
Case had rented a coffin here, on a weekly basis, since he'd
arrived in Chiba, but he'd never slept in Cheap Hotel. He slept
in cheaper places.
The elevator smelled of perfume and cigarettes; the sides
of the cage was scratched and thumb-smudged. As it passed the
fifth floor, he saw the lights of Ninsei. He drummed his fingers
against the pistol grip as the cage slowed with a gradual hiss.
As always, it came to a full stop with a violent jolt, but he
was ready for it. He stepped out into the courtyard that served
the place as some combination of lobby and lawn.
Centered in the square carpet of green plastic turf, a lapanese
teenager sat behind a C-shaped console, reading a textbook.
The white fiberglass coffins were racked in a framework of
industrial scaffolding. Six tiers of coffins, ten coffins on a side.
Case nodded in the boy's direction and limped across the plastic
grass to the nearest ladder. The compound was roofed with
cheap laminated matting that rattled in a strong wind and leaked
when it rained, but the coffins were reasonably difficult to open
without a key.
The expansion-grate catwalk vibrated with his weight as he
edged his way along the third tier to Number 92. The coffins
were three meters long, the oval hatches a meter wide and just
under a meter and a half tall. He fed his key into the slot and
waited for verification from the house computer. Magnetic bolts
thudded reassuringly and the hatch rose vertically with a creak
of springs. Fluorescents flickered on as he crawled in, pulling
the hatch shut behind him and slapping the panel that activated
the manual latch.
There was nothing in Number 92 but a standard Hitachi
pocket computer and a small white styrofoam cooler chest. The
cooler contained the remains of three ten-kilo slabs of dry ice
carefully wrapped in paper to delay evaporation, and a spun
aluminum lab flask. Crouching on the brown temper foam slab
that was both floor and bed, Case took Shin's .22 from his
pocket and put it on top of the cooler. Then he took off his
jacket. The coffin's terminal was molded into one concave wall,
opposite a panel listing house rules in seven languages. Case
took the pink handset from its cradle and punched a Hong-Kong
number from memory. He let it ring five times, then hung up.
His buyer for the three megabytes of hot ъAM in the Hitachi
wasn't taking calls.
He punched a Tokyo number in Shinjuku.
A woman answered, something in Japanese.
"Snake Man there?"
"Very good to hear from you," said Snake Man, coming in
on an extension. "I've been expecting your call."
"I got the music you wanted." Glancing at the cooler.
"I'm very glad to hear that. We have a cash flow problem.
Can you front?"
"Oh, man, I really need the money bad...."
Snake Man hung up.
"You shit " Case said to the humming receiver. He stared
at the cheap little pistol.
"Iffy," he said, "it's all looking very iffy tonight."
Case walked into the Chat an hour before dawn, both hands
in the pockets of his jacket; one held the rented pistol, the other
the aluminum flask.
ъatz was at a rear table, drinking Apollonaris water from
a beer pitcher, his hundred and twenty kilos of doughy flesh
tilted against the wall on a creaking chair. A Brazilian kid
called Kurt was on the bar, tending a thin crowd of mostly
silent drunks. ъatz's plastic arm buzzed as he raised the pitcher
and drank. His shaven head was filmed with sweat. "You look
bad, friend artiste," he said, flashing the wet ruin of his teeth.
"I'm doing just fine," said Case, and grinned like a skull.
"Super fine." He sagged into the chair opposite ъatz, hands
still in his pockets.
"And you wander back and forth in this portable bombshelter
built of booze and ups, sure. Proof against the grosser emotions,
"Why don't you get off my case, ъatz? You seen Wage?"
"Proof against fear and being alone," the bartender continued.
"Listen to the fear. Maybe it's your friend."
"You hear anything about a fight in the arcade tonight, ъatz?
"Crazy cut a security man." He shrugged. "A girl, they
"I gotta talk to Wage, ъatz, I. . ."
"Ah." ъatz's mouth narrowed, compressed into a single
line. He was looking past Case, toward the entrance. "I think
you are about to."
Case had a sudden flash of the shuriken in their window.
The speed sang in his head. The pistol in his hand was slippery
"Herr Wage," ъatz said, slowly extending his pink manipulator
as if he expected it to be shaken. "How great a pleasure.
Too seldom do you honor us."
Case turned his head and looked up into Wage's face. It
was a tanned and forgettable mask. The eyes were vat grown
sea-green Nikon transplants. Wage wore a suit of gunme