Joined: 12 Jun 2007
Chapter 3: Tara Mercer [solved]
The Boxcar in Blue District
Chapter 3: Tara Mercer
It is pouring rain outside again, and the only low light is from the hanging lamps on the inside of the café and the single streetlamp on the corner which can be seen through the big window at the front. All the table monitors are black now. I hear the occasional thunder in the distance from time to time, usually accompanying a slight flicker in the hanging lights and a quick line of static in the monitors. I’m only one in the Café except for Sam behind counter. Sometimes she lets me stay past closing for no real reason. Usually I take her up on it.
The door chime sounds and a drop-dead gorgeous woman decked in red from head to toe enters the Cafe with a big red umbrella. She shakes the water off of her umbrella as she closes it and brushes a limp lock of her red hair back over her ear.
“I'm closing.” Sam tells her.
Drop-dead ignores Sam and instead sashays over to where I’m nursing a whole new coffee in a dark green mug. Without so much as a nod, she sits down and pulls out a slim cigarette from her purse. Lightning flashes the world outside white, and the thunder is loud and close. The lights in the café flicker hard. In my head a red haired woman thrashes about in a pool. All I can see is churning water and the red one piece swimsuit she is wearing on her voluptuous body. I try but I can’t see her face.
I shake myself out of the memory of the dream and wince. The lights are back on. I blink and jam my thumbs into my temples. Drop-dead is smiling at me from across the table. I cross my arms and stare right back across the table at her. I hope I’m regaining my composure and taking on my usual expressionless look. Out of the corner of my eye I see Sam give me a dirty look before turning her back on us to finish cleaning the bar and close up.
“My name is Tara Mercer, Detective...” She says. “You may know of my late-husband?” In the window the neon "open" sign flickers off. Sam is making a show of closing up. I’m honored.
“I'm not a Detective,” I say. “I drink coffee.”
”Come now Mr. Sawyer,” she says, “I'm a busy woman. I need your particular expertise in a delicate matter concerning my husband. Do you have a light?
“Quit.” I say. “How did you find me here? And why do you assume I am who you think I am?” The lie is a weak one, and her smile matches it. She pushes the unlit cigarette back into her purse, she pulls off her gloves and folds them, placing them into the purse, then pulls out a tube of red lipstick and a handkerchief instead. Then she speaks again.
“My husband's profession allows me a certain, freedom in these regards.” she says. “People interest me Mr. Sawyer. I consider myself something of a student of human nature.”
“What's that to me?” I ask her.
She lowers the purse to her side and opens the tube of lipstick, smoothly brushing back a limp lock of wet red hair. She begins applying the stick to her luscious lips.
“I have a favor to ask of you Mr. Sawyer,” She says. “A delicate matter which you are in the unique position to do something about. I have become aware of some embarrassing events which recently took place, and I can't help but feel at least partially responsible for them.” Behind the counter Sam rolls her eyes. She is standing with her arms crossed, a dirty dishrag dangling from her fingertips, and I’d wager more than a few dirty words dangling from her tongue. “These events had caused some bad publicity for my husband in his particular line of work, and someone somewhere is trying desperately to undermine our good name.”
I sit with my arms crossed. My cold expression relays my mild interest, but not so much in what’s coming out of her mouth as what’s going onto it. “Unfortunately, due to certain new high-profile security policies, we have been unwilling to risk his corporate investments and political influence in a possible public affair.” She says. I watch as she caps the lipstick and blots her lips with the handkerchief. “Because of your special ability Mr. Sawyer to move - shall we say - 'off the record?' You alone may be able to help me.” She places the handkerchief on the table. A dark red lip print is on it. “My husband was a wealthy man Mr. Sawyer,” she says, “and though you must understand that I cannot officially hire you for your services, I trust that you will check to see that your accounts are in order and consider my predicament.”
Before I can process what she’s saying, drop-dead stands up from the table, adjusts her hat and her purse strap, then turns to go. “Good day Detective Sawyer.” She says over her shoulder. She makes it as far as the door, when Bishop, with his usual timing, and soaked to the bone from the storm walks up with his briefcase over his head and knocks loudly on the glass shouting something none of us can hear.
Tara opens the door from the inside. Bishop holds the door for her awkwardly - an afterthought I’m sure. He fumbles with his case while letting in the storm and blocking her way all at the same time. He continues to stand in the doorway stupidly, as she lowers her head, excuses herself and brushes past and opens her umbrella.
Bishop just stands in the open doorway, wind and rain sweeping past him. He cranes his neck as Tara passes around the corner and past the big window. “The pleasure is all mine!” He shouts towards the storm. “Va-va-va voom!” He has all the subtlety of a hand grenade. Not that matters, she’s long gone by the time he’s said it.
“Close the door Bishop before I make you mop that floor yourself!” It’s Sam. Bishop grins, he looks mildly embarrassed, steps inside, and lets the door close behind him as he nearly slips on the wet floor again. He talks himself to the table, his words a constant stream as usual. Act two, scene one, and Bishop is the leading man.
“I hate the rain!” he says. “What's the point of all this water anyway? Course I don't really hate the rain so much, it's the lightning, y'know? Power outages, power surges! Zzzt! I wouldn't be afraid of actual lightning or anything, not like that guy, what was he? Senator, got fried last week, the sucker! Zzzzzt!!” Bishop shakes water in every direction as he demonstrates the lightning strike effect on a human body. For the briefest moment I wonder if I might ever be that lucky. He sloshes into the chair across from me. It looks like he’s been running around in the rain since I saw him leave. I saw a drowned rat in a gutter once in a back alley. It looked better than he does. “Course they say you have a better chance of winning the corporate lottery than actually being hit by lightening. I wonder if-” His voice trails of to some inner monologue I’m glad I can’t hear, as he examines his briefcase for water damage and searches for something to wipe it down with.
“I'd rather be hit by lightning.” I tell him.
“You would!” he says. “Speaking of which, the I-Corp Bank either made a serious error today or you are holding out on me because I got notice about an hour ago that our account balance seriously shot-” again he trails away, he’s spotted the handkerchief. “And... What the hell is this?” He picks up the red lip-printed handkerchief, looking at it, then at the door where Mrs. Mercer had made her escape, then finally at me for an explanation.
“Just exactly who was that red hot thing that just walked out of here Sawyer? Friend of yours?” I ignore his intense stare long enough for him to feel awkward. He glances down then to me then at the handkerchief and back again. Then it hits me.
“So... Our accounts are in order?” I ask.
”Waaait a freaking minute! We got a client? We got a job! Red-hot's hired us?!” Bishop jerks forward in triumphant if not epileptic celebration. His hair slaps forward flipping yet more water onto the table as he grabs the hankie and waves it around like a victory flag. Or possibly a white flag of surrender.
I look down at the place on the table where the handkerchief had been moments before. A very small shimmery translucent bag about the size of my thumb sits on the table with three identical, tiny rice-like metal objects in it. Slow horror mixed with curiosity crawls down my spine as recognition sets in. Bishop sees the same thing, because he stops convulsing and slowly picks it up, dangling the bag between his forefinger and thumb like a used prophylactic.
“Are these...? Oh crap they are! Sawyer, what are you doing with these! They could strip your license if they saw you with these! More importantly they could strip my core access privileges if they saw me with you with these!” He looks around in a panic, then drops the tiny bag onto the table next to the wall behind the keyboard. I glance at it casually before raising my coffee mug to my lips.
“I've always liked the rain,” I say. “It washes the garbage out of the gutters and the blood off of the rails.” Bishop stops looking around nervously and stares untrustingly at me instead.
“What blood?” he says, and suddenly we’re at work.
“That message I got today was written in it,” I say. “Somebody with a sick sense of humor got me out to the train station today to watch a skiver end himself.”
“A skiver?” he says unbelieving. “You mean an illegal with no ident chip?” I love it when he states the obvious. Bishop lets out a long low whistle before continuing. “Man you can't take a legal piss without a subcutaneous identity chip!” He looks again at the three identity chips in the shiny bag he tossed behind the keyboard. “So wh-who's chips were they?”
“Good question.” I say, “Lets find out.”
”Sawyer, no!” He says quickly, “We can’t just scan them here, what if they are hot-listed... or worse! If those chips are flagged in any way then in two minutes they will have I-corp Security crawling all over us! I know! I used to work for data fraud, not that I have to tell you that... Are you listening to me damn it?”
While Bishop protests, I tap on the dark cafe monitor screen and it instantly springs to my familiar I-corp desktop interface. I tap the telephone icon and the expected vid-phone dialing window appears. "Welcome to I-net,” the no-nonsense male voice of Intellicorp says. “To place a call, please scan your identity chip for payment confirmation and state the name of the person you wish to call". Various Ads also appear on the screen – the reason I usually avoid the phone at all costs, but this is different. This is work.
Bishop is pouting. He’s never liked risk-taking that didn’t involve a virtual alias, and multiple levels of anti-tracer encryption. “Why do you never listen to me any more?” he says.
“Because you talk too much.” I tell him. I peel open the clear little bag and empty the three metallic rice-like chips into my left hand. Closing my left thumb over one of the chips, I roll the other two back into the bag and set it back onto the table. Bishop merely crosses his arms, leans back in his chair, and mumbles to himself.
“I'm telling you! That can't work!” he whines. “Those things automatically deactivate when they are removed from a human body, there is no possible way for you to just scan one like that.”
Still holding the chip clenched in my left hand, I pass it under the wall monitor’s hidden scanner. The general color scheme of the screen changes to red. "Identity confirmed.” The voice of I-corp says. “We regret that you have insufficient funds to place this call. Thank you for choosing Intellicorp."
“Look like this chip belongs to a broke priest.” I say, looking at the name attached to the bank credit balance that has helpfully appeared on the screen. “Somebody named Father Beck.”
Bishop jerks forward in shock to look at the screen. “What?! That's impossible. Gotta be a database error, you can't have a live chip outside of a dead person!”
“Yea, I'll give you that. It doesn't make much sense. But if this chip is still active, then maybe this priest is still alive. Can you find me a last known address for him? I'm starting to take an interest in the priesthood.” Bishop grabs the keyboard in front of him, typing wildly, the threat of corporate fallout eclipsed by his techno-fetish for information retrieval. The screen rapidly changes as reams of information scroll past faster than humanly possible. He shakes his head at me in disbelief and a second later we are hacked into the city’s raw data feed.
“Whatever you say Sawyer, I just work here” he says. “But as for me, I prefer cold… hard… facts!” Each of Bishop's last 3 words is punctuated by a keystroke on the board in front of him. I let a slight smile slip out around the edges for his dramatic flair and a page of biographical information scrolls onto the screen.
“And here we are!” he says. “Looks like your priest lived in Grey's old downtown sector. Rough neighborhood.” Bishop hits a combination of keys with a flourish and the monitor spits out a small paper with a name and address on it.
“I think I can handle it.” I tell him. “I have another job for you.” I reach into my pocket and push the now-wrinkled first message I received over to Bishop.
“Duce Ecks Match-in-uh? What is this, Latin?”
“I think it’s a literary term. Somebody sent it to me to get me out to the station tonight. God-something. Look it up, it won't kill you.” Bishop wrinkles his nose at the notion. Probably because he can do this without any kind of password cipher or hack program. Then, without another word I down the last of my coffee, snatch the printout away from the wall, and grab my hat before making my way towards the door and the downpour that awaits me.
“And figure out who those other two lonelies are,” I shout back to him, “If they are dead I want obit's. I'll be back in an hour.”
“Okay then, well I'll just sit here... then, and get arrested then while you go and do whatever it is you... do... then!” He mutters to himself, thinking I can’t hear him. “I deserve a raise.” Bishop turns toward the bar behind him. “Hey waitress, how bout some-“
A loud clatter and a girlie yell is the last thing I hear as the door shuts behind me. I put on my hat, pausing long enough to pull my coat tight around me before I walk out into the stormy night.
an alluring and seductive woman whose charms ensnare her lovers in bonds of irresistible desire, often leading them into compromising, dangerous, and deadly situations. She is an archetypal character of literature and art.