Michael A. Stackpole

Wolf and Raven


In my case, that includes surviving into my thirties

I never thought I'd live long enough to be writing memoirs. Hell, I never thought I'd learn to write well enough to write memoirs. One of the things about associating with Doctor Raven is that you end up doing a lot of things you never thought possible.

Anyway, the adventures I've written down here all took place back in the dawn of time-back a good six, eight years ago. Not very long in calendar days, but a lifetime when measured in physical therapy sessions and reconstructive surgery. Much of this will feel like ancient history to most of you.

I'm hoping it will seem like that to me, too, one of these days.

– Wolfgang Kies, Seattle, 2059

Squeeze Play

As the door shut behind me and the bar's natural atmosphere raped my nostrils, I had a sudden urge to remodel the place with a flame-thrower. From the outside the boarded-over windows and plywood framing for the weather-beaten door suggested someone had already tried that with 'the Weed,' as its denizens affectionately called the place. I had to agree with the name-nothing in here a load of Agent Orange wouldn't improve. The Weed was the kind of bar that aspired to be a dump when it grew up1.

I'd not liked Ronnie Killstar when I'd spoken with him to set up this meeting. After seeing the place he chose, I liked him even less.Easy, Wolf, I reminded myself.Raven gave you this job because you 've got more control than Kid Stealth or Tom Electric. Don't let him down -you already owe him too much.

Against my better judgment I crossed the short distance from the door to the bar. A small, Hispanic-looking bartender wandered over to where I'd elbowed in between two other patrons. His voice sounded like a ripsaw tearing into sheet steel. 'Waddalya have?'

I squinted against the burning smoke from my neighbor's Saskatchewan Corona Grande and shrugged. 'What's on tap?'

The bartender shook his head.

'Great. Make it a double.'

1Oh, this is what a footnote is. Slick.

He stared blankly at my attempt at humor. 'Waddalya have?' he rasped in a gravel-croak.

I glanced at the cooler. 'Green RiverPale. No need for a glass.'

As he pulled the beer out of the cooler and brushed the ice off onto the floor, I pulled a roll of corp scrip from my pocket. He twisted the cap off and I started peeling bills off the roll. I slowed when I got near what the beer had to cost, then stopped when he started to move the bottle forward. He glanced up at me, shrugged, then gave me the drink. I could have used a credstick to pay, but in a place this archaic and seedy, crumpled paper seemed the way to go.

I carried the drink toward the corner nearest the door. The beer tasted like his voice sounded, but cold, and I set it down quickly. I slid into a booth, then unzipped my leather jacket and settled in to observe the bar and its patrons. I kept the beer in my left hand while letting my right rest near the butt of my Beretta Viper 142.

My new vantage point allowed me a fuller appreciation of the Weed's decor. The plastic baby doll heads and high-heeled shoes hanging from the ceiling somehow made sense seen within the larger context. Most of the light came from sputtering neon signs begging patrons to drink exotic brews the bar no longer stocked. Silvery tinsel and some flashing lights left behind during some long-ago Christmas mocked the moribund setting, but somehow brought gaiety to the expression of the plastic, safe-sex doll floating above a busted pinball machine.

The place oozed atmosphere.

I used my beer bottle to smear a six-legged piece of that atmosphere across the table.

2Sure, the Beretta Viper 14 is old. So's gravity, but it still works. Nice thing about the Viper is that I have a bullet, I have a target, I pull the trigger, and the gun does all the math for the hit. And with the Viper, I never have batteries go dead on me in the middle of a firefight.

About the only normal portion of the bar lay kitty-corner across the room from my position. Three jack-tables, the cocktail model, sat up against the wall. Only one wirehead was using the Weed's facilities. The trode halo circled her ebony brow, and the light from the unit's display washed in rainbow waves over her face, but she didn't notice. Whatever graphics were flashing across the screen were for outsider consumption only- she was jacked in deep and playing her own little games.

I caught the scent of dead flowers all mixed up into a noxious blend that made the Weed smell worse and was trendy enough to cost 150 nuyen a milliliter. The stink came to me about a second and a half before I heard the click of Ronnie Killstar's wrist spur. Large as life, or at least as large as he could muster, the pasty-faced street samurai slid into the booth across from me. The jaundiced light from the bar skittered across the razored edge of the curved metal blade jutting out from his right wrist, and a red light glowed in his eyes.

He sneered at me. 'You ought to get your eyes done. I can bull's-eye a rat's ass at a thousand meters in the pitch dark. I saw you come in and I saw you sit down. I can see in here plain as day.'

That being the case, I saw no reason to mention he'd just wiped the sleeve of his white jacket through cockroach paste. I sniffed at the air. 'I don't need eyes to find you.'

Two large men slipped from in back where Ronnie had been waiting and stood on either side of our booth. They were both built like those smiling Buddha-type statues you find down the coast in Tokyo West, 'cept these two wore more clothes, didn't smile, and didn't look like they'd give you good luck if you rubbed their bellies. Still, if they were hanging around with Ronnie it meant they had to be losers-which also explained why they looked so much at home in the Weed.

His intimidation batteries in place and ready to fire, Ronnie reinforced his sneer. 'I didn't figure the great Dr. Raven would trust Wolfgang Kies with an assignment of this importance.'

I smiled. 'TM.'


I smiled more broadly. 'I said, 'TM.' You forgot to add the trademark to the phrase, 'the Great Dr. Raven.' ' I shook my head ruefully. 'That's why he sent me. You've got no manners and no sense of propriety. You wouldn't expect him to come to a place like this, would you?'

Clearly, any space in Ronnie's monosynaptic brain devoted to humor was overloaded by my effort. His eyes flashed on and off as he got angry and his concentration broke. Suddenly, with a metallic snap that sounded like a pistol being cocked, a twenty-five-centimeter icepick blade shot out from between the middle and ring fingers on his right hand and he lunged forward. The tip touched my throat right above the silver wolf's-head totem I wear and drew a single drop of blood.

'I don't need your static, you drekling! Raven sent word that he wanted to make a deal with La Plante, not the other way around. We're not doing you a favor-it's you that wants one from us.' Killstar's dark eyes narrowed. 'I want Raven!'

With great effort I killed the urge to lunge forward and bite his face off. I swallowed hard and felt the icepick brush against my Adam's apple. 'I wanted La Plante. I would suggest we're even.'

I forced my eyes open and got the surprise reaction I expected as Ronnie looked into them for the first time. With the anger rising in me I knew they'd gone from green to silver-that change is not all that rare. Ronnie got an added treat, though, as a dark circle surrounded each iris with a Killer Ring.Your augmented eyes may let you see in the dark, but they can't do this. It's something you've got to have inside -it's not an option you get to tack on aftermarket.

Ronnie leaned back, but left the stinger extended. 'Maybe we are even. What are you offering Mr. La Plante?'

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