GHOSTS

image copyright: Sebastian Leon-Silva

Shielding his eyes from the rain, Jonah gazed upon the face of the apartment building where he and Herbie were supposed to find “Michelangelo” and his black market prosthetic clinic. From the bracer struts holding the bricks, he could tell it was one of those early-century restoration projects. Something told him this wasn’t quite the breakthrough he had been hoping for.

I hope this is the right lead, he thought

Herbie patted Jonah’s breast pocket through his trenchcoat, gripping Jonah’s badge. “No matter what happens, keep this to yourself. These guys don’t take kindly to blue boys,” he said.

Jonah gritted his teeth. “I got it. Shall we?”

Herbie nodded and whacked his meaty fist against the metal door and pressed the call button for “Receiving” at the same time. Jonah stood behind him. The buzzer hummed for a moment then fell silent. After a moment of empty air, the vid-com growled to life. A shadowy image of a hooded man wiped over the vid-com screen. The orange glow of ocular implants was unmistakeable.

Shì shuí ya?” the shadow asked, audio clicking and popping as it came over the speaker.

“Randolph. Brought a potential client,” Herbie lied.

Jonah remained motionless. The hooded shadow glanced at Jonah then back to Herbie. Did the implants actually move? Jonah wondered to himself.

Wǒmen de fúwù zōngzhǐ shì zhǐ yùyuē. Nǐ zhīdào zhège,” the shadow replied curtly.

Herbie leaned down to the vid screen and mumbled something gruffly in Chinese. The vid-com flashed to black. Metal clanked against metal as the door locks disengaged. When the door hissed open, the shadow was standing there, both synthetic arms pointed at them, twin barreled guns of some sort built right in. They look like the same material as the prosthetics in the flophouse, Jonah observed.

The shadow was actually a tall thin man, dressed head to toe in a black hooded cloak and black fatigues. Deep black claws were tattooed up is his neck, the points of which ended at his chin. His face was flat and hard, and his two ocular implants still glowed a hazy orange.

“Inside,” he ordered, keeping his arms trained on both of them. Herbie and Jonah stepped inside and flattened along the wall in the entryway. The door slid shut behind them and the locks reengaged.

“Thank you, Quan. Will he see us now?” Herbie asked calmly as though this were routine.

“Be quiet, old man,” the shadow, Quan, barked. He turned to Jonah. “Who is he?”

Herbie smirked. “He is an associate of mine,” he said, reaching up to pat Jonah’s shoulder. “He’s trying to get a new arm, but his insurance don’t cover electives.”

“What’s your name, associate?” Quan snarled, gun-arms still trained on them both.

Jonah thought quickly. “Barton,” he answered.

“Well then, Mr. Barton,” a booming voice called out from their right. A supremely large bald man entered the hallway with his thick arms outstretched. A gleaming smile was drawn across his shining face. He was slightly taller than Herbie, but several inches shorter than Jonah. He was dressed in a well-fitting sleeksuit which seemed to flicker a golden radiance, despite being a deep black color. This must be our man.

“Thank you for seeing us on such short notice, Michelangelo,” Herbie said graciously.

“Of course, Randolph. Always a pleasure to see you,” Michelangelo said.

Putting a hand out for Herbie to shake, Michelangelo commanded Quan to lower his weapons with a wave. Servos whizzed up, and the gun barrels receded into Quan’s forearms then the hands folded back out and realigned themselves, like a flower blossoming.

“Let me see what I can do for you,” he continued. “Any friend of Randolph’s is a friend of mine as well.” Michelangelo stuck out his fleshy hand for Jonah to shake. “Nice to meet you Mr. Barton. Come, step into my office. No more visitors today, Quan,” the bulky man said to the doorman as he led Herbie and Jonah down the hallway.

The walls were as mute and grey as any other apartment building Jonah had been in before. He could sense that this was one no one lived in. Two men emerged from one of the doorways in green and white scrubs, respirators sealed across their faces. They must’ve just left a surgery, because they were splattered head-to-toe in deep red blood.

Kwong — Michelangelo, Jonah reminded himself — spoke to them rapidly in Chinese. The men nodded and ducked back into the room, the door swiftly sealing behind them. To Jonah, the whole place stunk of dried blood and hot metal. He could taste the copper in the air. At the end of the hallway was flat white door. Michelangelo laid his hand against the lock panel and after it flashed green, the door slid open and they stepped inside his office.

Bright white lights flickered to life and the opulence of this room was quickly apparent. Unlike the makeshift ward on the other side of the door, Michelangelo’s office was beautifully ornate. Looks like a museum, Jonah thought as he scanned around the room, taking in all the antique wooden furniture, stained with a similar shades of cherry. His desk was large one which reminded him of the kind of private detectives sat behind in old film-lifts. There was a single Screen in the middle of it and a long, flat Chinese sword, right out of a kung-fu film.

Offering them a seat with an outstretched hand, Michelangelo stepped over to corner of the room and slim, onyx wet bar rose up from the floor. Clinking two glasses out of their holsters, he offered them a drink.

“Whiskey for you, Herbie?” the stout man asked.

“Yeah, Kwong. That’ll do,” Herbie quickly replied.

Michelangelo looked over to Jonah as he poured Herbie’s drink. “And for you, Mister…I’m assuming Barton is not your real name?”

Jonah bristled that mood had suddenly shifted to such a friendly disposition. Herbie must have a really beneficial relationship with this guy as an informant. With any luck, he’ll be just as useful to me, he hoped.

“Barton’s the name, and whiskey’s fine,” Jonah answered, nodding his head in gratitude.

When he finished pouring, Michelangelo handed the drinks to them, then took his seat behind the desk, resting his palms flat on its surface.

“Now, what in the hell could you possibly want, coming in here — unannounced — with a fucking cop on your arm, disregarding of all the goddamn rules we’ve — no, YOU — established, Herbie?!” Michelangelo shouted at him, slamming down his thick fists at once.

Herbie seemed unfazed as he sipped at his drink. “I’m not the one who needs to see you. My friend here has questions.”

“Well, Mister Barton? What do you need to know?” Kwong asked, opening his hands.

“All things considered, can I trust you to be honest with me, Mr. Kwong?” Jonah asked, taking a sip of the whiskey. It was warm and smelled like a campfire.

“You’re in my place of business, drinking back my hospitality, and you were brought here by my precinct liaison. I have to wonder if I can trust you, Mr. Barton,” Kwong growled, knotting his fists.

“You can trust him, Barton,” Herbie said with a grin. “His information hasn’t done me wrong yet.”

“Fine,” Jonah said, setting the glass of whiskey on the side table between them. “I’m with District Homicide. We turned up a John Doe at a recovery den on the East Side yesterday. Had combat modifications on him, blades in the lower leg prosthetics, to be specific. There were black market pharmaceuticals all over the place. Post-surgery recovery drugs, in addition to synthetic nerve inhibitors. More curiously, we also found several forms of inhalant-based synesthetics and a few other illicit substances…”

“My clinic is a floor-to-ceiling operation, which I own in an entirely legitimate manner, Mister Barton. I don’t have any recovery facilities outside of this building,” Kwong cut him off.

“Let him finish, Mikey-boy! And do you mind?” Slumping back into the chair, Herbie knocked back the rest of his whiskey and dangled the empty glass in front of him, waving it at their host.

Grumbling, Kwong returned to the bar shelf and snatched up the bottle. He set it on the edge of his desk. Herbie reached for it and laid it on their table after refilling his glass.

Jonah continued. “As I was saying, this place was a mess. The body had been there for a day or so, and showed signs of acute inhalant toxicity. The victim showed clear indications of arterial hardening, and bruising consistent with an overdose reaction to the mixture of inhalants and the surgical drugs. I did not say this was your clinic, or that you had anything to do with this man’s death, Mister Kwong.” Jonah said, trying to reassure him. “What I am asking is if you know of any…competitors who may have this careless of an operation?”

Kwong folded his hands together and leaned back in his chair. After a pause, he glared over his knuckles at Jonah and spoke through the hands pressed against his face. “What assurances can you make me that my information is being provided to you on an anonymous basis, Mister Barton?”

Swigging back another gulp of whiskey, Herbie leaned forward on to Kwong’s desk. “I am your assurance, Michelangelo,” he offered, almost mockingly. “I would not bring him in here if he did not have my trust or the same predilection toward discretion that I do.”

“Then you should be the least surprised by my concern, Herbie,” Kwong retorted, cutting his eyes at the old man. Herbie furrowed his brow.

“I can’t make you any promises, Mister Kwong — Michelangelo — but as Herbie said, I know when to keep quiet about my sources. Now, can you help my investigation or not?”

At that, a slick smile crept across Kwong’s round, smooth face.

“As far as I am concerned, this is a hospital, Mister Barton,” Kwong said, rising from his chair. He smoothed out his suit along his round belly, and began to pace. “I don’t deal in this back-alley butchery you are chasing. We help those who cannot afford to help themselves in the world someone like you or Herbie lives in.”

“And what sort of world is that, Michelangelo?” Jonah cut back at him.

Kwong stood with his back turned to them, staring off into a glimmering holo-frame. The image was of a marble bust, a woman in a veil, carved so intricately the veil almost seemed as though it was really draped over the marble.

“Do you what this is?” Kwong asked.

“No,” Jonah replied succinctly.

“This is ‘The Veiled Virgin.’ A marble unlike any other, sculpted by Giovanni Strazza. The detail, the minutia, the skill involved to make such a thing so beautiful it almost defies logic. That sort of perfection, Mister Barton, is at your fingertips. You — people in the echelon you are from — can afford to make the next step. To change. To augment themselves. But people down here, on the ground? We have to scrape by. We have to wait. These people are fighting over scraps and leftovers from your table, and while the world is getting smaller every day, its people are not,” he said as he turned and took his place at the head of his desk, facing them both.

“In the coming decade, humanity is going to leave the flesh to rot. I am here so that the common people do not get left behind when the future arrives. That is the world we live in.”

Kwong reached over his desk and produced a slim case of cigarettes. He produced one and lit it.

“I know who this operation you speak of may belong to,” he said inhaling. “But information is not free.”

Herbie slammed his drink down and shot up out of his chair.

“What the fuck is with this jerk around act, Kwong? We’re police and we have a fucking deal!” Herbie shouted at the plump, smiling man. Michelangelo seemed unfazed.

“Sit back down, Herbie. Remember where you are. Besides, you’re no stranger to a good old fashioned quid pro quo. I have needs, same as you,” Kwong said coolly. He barely had to turn toward Herbie before the old man backed down quietly into his chair, scooping his drink back up meekly.

Jonah knew then this wasn’t someone he should take lightly. There’s more to this guy than he’s putting on. I need to play ball. Jonah’s mind couldn’t help but remind him what was at stake. Weaver.

“What do you need?” Jonah asked, setting down his empty glass.

Michelangelo sat silently a moment, just smoking and staring at the two of them. His eyes fell on Herbie and he smiled, grimly.

“See Herbie? You could learn a thing or two from your friend here about cooperation. You seem to have forgotten the concept.”

Kwong turned to Jonah and beckoned him toward the desk as he circled back around it and pulled open the middle drawer. From it, he retrieved a small paper notebook. It was thin and bound in black leather. Kwong thumbed through it. When he settled on a page, he turned it to Jonah. It read:

Dock Delta. Lot 461. ”Sorry. Only have the one.”

“Who will I find there? And is this some kind of catchphrase?” Jonah asked.

“Quick study. Passcode. The doorman will ask you for a cigarette. That’s your response. Head to the Eastside Docks. You’ll find your proprietor there. His name is Bertand. I don’t know who he works for. Now, for your end of the bargain,” Kwong replied devilishly.

“What would you have me do?”

“That depends. Are you natural — unmodified, as it were?” Kwong asked.

The way Kwong looked at him then made Jonah’s skin crawl.

“Yes. Nothing on me that God didn’t provide,” Jonah responded, more than a bit unnerved by the question.

“Excellent.”

Kwong reached back in the desk and produced what looked like a thin metal business card. “After you find what you’re looking for, give him this. Make sure he knows who it’s from.” He placed the card into Jonah’s outstretched hand.

Jonah turned the card over in his hand. Blank. Nothing but polished metal.

“And what it is this exactly?” Jonah asked him, perturbed.

“A message. Bertrand’s a smart man from what I gather. He’ll understand.”