The Skin of the Earth — Chapter 2

Chapter 2

“Come on,” the man wailed. “I don’t know a thing about Jerrica, or anything.”

“Really?” Sundown commented. She began a slow tour of the one-room apartment. Daniel made a point of standing back as his new partner played her little game. She stopped in front of a beat up side table with a gaudy lamp sat atop it and started playing with the purple beads that hung from the shade. “Because Finley told me you were running crystal for Jerrica.”

“Fin? Come on, Sunny. That’s bad data. You know how much that one lies.” The man’s voice sounded calm enough but the sweat on his brow betrayed him.

“Exactly why I’m here, Diggs. Got to verify …” Sundown put a boot on the side table …

“I can’t believe you don’t trust me –”

… and kicked it over. The lamp shattered, and shards of rose quartz spilled out onto the dirty carpet.

Diggs, for his part, just stared silently at the pile of pink gems.

Curious, Daniel knelt down and picked one up. They buzzed softly in his hands. “Tuning crystals,” he said. “They’re pure.”

“Yep,” Sundown agreed. She turned to the man in the middle of the room, “That’s a pretty terrible place to keep your stash, Diggs. I really don’t think Jerrica would be too pleased to find out how careless you’re being with his product. I take you back to lockup and have to tell some of my colleagues just how easy it was to find this shit, how long do you think it will take to get back to the boss, himself?”

“Sunny, please. This is a mistake you know. I never do this, you know I don’t deal –”

She put her hands up as if to calm him down. “I know, Diggs. Believe me, I know. So, why don’t we all just forget about this after you tell me about the two dozen bodies that were left torched on the metro this morning.”

“Ah Gott,” Diggs slipped down into the filthy couch behind him.

Sundown stepped closer, looming over the man. “Which crew was it? What’d they do to earn the wrath of Jerrica’s pyros?”

“I don’t know.”

“Diggs.”

“I don’t know.”

Sundown looked back to Daniel, though the gesture seemed to be more for Diggs’ benefit than Daniel’s.

“Honestly, detectives. I stay away from all that violent shit. I got an ulcer. I can’t take it – this right here is killing me.”

“Then who knows, Diggs? I’ve got about thirty seconds left of patience before I let my new partner here bring in his first collar.”

“Alright, alright!” the man’s eyes shifted back and forth as he racked his brain for some information worthy enough to spare him. “Okay, okay … ah, oh! Jerrica’s new whiz kid knows everything that goes down. The Everseer, you heard of him?”

“Of course I’ve heard of him, Diggs. Spill.”

“Yeah. He’s just a kid, some savant or something. Real name’s Farin. They say Jerrica found him in some hovel near the Edge making motherboards out of hairpins and mouse entrails.”

“That’s a great story, Diggs. How do I find him?”

“You can’t miss him. He’s got blue and green hair – you bring him some one-zero-one and he’ll tell you anything. He’s an addict.”

“Where, Diggs?”

The man’s eyes glazed over with what Daniel could only describe as utter despair. It seemed he had reached the end of his information, and thus his usefulness. Diggs breathed out ever so slowly, “I don’t … know.”

Sundown turned sharply away from him, running a hand through her hair.

“Please, Sunny. Please, I don’t know. All I know is his name and that he’s crazy for that energy drink shit.”

Sundown shot a look at Daniel that was equal parts annoyance and exasperation before responding to the man behind her. She reached into her jacket pocket and brought out two copper disks emblazoned with the city’s seal, showing them off with a bit of a flourish before tossing them onto the floor in front of Diggs and walking out. Daniel took one look at the pile of tuning crystals on the carpet before following after her.

“We’re not going to arrest him, then?” he surmised.

“He’s an informant – he’s more valuable to me out here than in lockup,” Sundown explained as she made her way back to the stairwell at the end of the hall.

“You pay your informants with newcomer rations?” Daniel asked as they began their descent back to the ground.

“Yep,” Sundown said, as she bounced down the stairs. One level down, she stopped and looked back up to Daniel, “They’re easier to trace than bitcash. Plus you can’t buy drugs, or guns, or spells with them.” She disappeared around the landing.

Daniel followed after her, not entirely sure what to say.

She lead them off the main stairwell somewhere around the third floor – it was hard to tell, as a few of the floors had managed to coalesce over the years – and towards the back of the building. There, through a window, a spiralling wrought iron staircase took them the rest of the way to ground level.

“So who’s this Jerrica?”

“Not much of a detective are you?” Sundown smirked. “He’s a bad guy.”

Daniel smiled politely rather than roll his eyes, despite his want. “And this Everseer?”

“Don’t know. Only heard about him today.”

Daniel decided that some polite conversation might be a better way of winning his new partner over. With his most charming smile, he asked her, “Aren’t you hot in that jacket?” as they picked their way through a rubble-strewn alleyway.

Sundown didn’t bother to even look behind her. “Nope.”

At the end of the alley, sat a police issue vehicle. If his badge’s AI had lead him down this route to Sundown’s coordinates, he would have known for sure that he had finally found the elusive detective. The vehicle’s sleek lines and immaculate condition were in glaring juxtaposition to the crumbling brown brick alley. There were three doors: one for the driver, one for the passenger and one for the criminal element at the back. Colloquially, they were called sliders for their tendency to slip and drift around tight corners or sudden inclines. Daniel had been told that this was due to the weak repulsors that were used in their manufacturing.

The slider beeped in recognition as Sundown approached, going so far as to automatically open the driver-side door for her. Daniel followed around to the other side and got in.

“Don’t you want to know who you’re working with?” he asked amiably.

Sundown hit the ignition and the repulsors revved to life, lifting the vehicle off the ground by a couple of feet. “For one, your name’s on your badge,” she said. “For another, we’re not working together.”

The name on his badge wasn’t actually his name, of course, but that wasn’t exactly something he could point out a the moment. Instead, he said, “I’m afraid we are. If you had reported into the station this morning, the captain would have –”

“It’s a mistake, or a bad joke.” She looked at him pointedly. “There are ten detectives for this entire barrio. We work alone – we cover more ground that way. I’ve got no time to school you. And even if I did have the time or inclination to take up some newb, it sure as hell wouldn’t be some Old Family spoon.”

“Sp –”

Sundown slammed the pedal and the slider rocketed forward, hurtling Daniel into the dash.

 *          *          *

Sundown strode into the captain’s office without so much as a salutation. Daniel found her wilful disregard for pleasantries fascinating more than anything else. He stood in the doorway to wait until he was invited inside.

The captain was sitting at her desk and didn’t seem to notice Sundown’s entrance, let alone be bothered by it. Sundown took up position in front of Captain Esparza’s desk, waiting for the older woman to look up from her coffee. Esparza took another sip before acknowledging her detectives.

“Get in here,” she said to Daniel with a nod of her head. “And don’t close the door, the two of you won’t be in here long.”

“Tell me this is some kind of practical joke,” Sundown said when the captain looked back to her.

Daniel took a step forward. “With all due respect, ma’am, I’m not entirely happy with this arrangement either.” He gave Sundown an uneasy, sideways glance. “I requested to be partnered with someone who was lawful, ma’am.”

“Lawful?” Sundown asked, sounding more amused than anything else.

“She’s using newcomer rations as payment for information,” Daniel explained to the captain. “I’d like a new partner.”

The captain laughed. “If that’s got you riled up, it’s a good thing I didn’t put you on with Dylan or Pandri,” she muttered.

“Look, as long as you’re taking requests, can I request not to have to look after some do-gooding spoon?” Sundown said, giving Daniel her own sideways’ look.

The captain regarded them both with an expression that was a mix of ice and concrete. “Let me clear this up as efficiently as possible. Listen carefully. You,” she turned to Sundown. “No one else would take him. You don’t have a choice so bring him along with you, or sit him at your desk, I don’t care. You,” she turned to Daniel. “Asked to be here so you do what your senior partner tells you to do or you can find yourself another damn job.”

Sundown didn’t say anything in response. She turned and left.

Daniel watched her go, unsure of how to proceed. This is what I wanted, he told himself. To be treated like one of them. He turned to leave as well.

“And Detective Arbour.”

“Yes?”

“You call me ma’am again, I’ll have you working the runoff district barefoot. I’m your goddamn captain, not your school teacher.”

Always courteous in the face of personal critique, he gave a little bow, dipping his head respectfully and then left the office.

Sundown was leaning against a table. “What the hell was that?” she laughed.

“An apology,” Daniel said, a little defensively.

“Well, down here, we just say sorry.” She stood up and stretched. “C’mon partner, we should get to work.”

One could have substituted the word “doggie” for “partner” with the way she said it. Daniel chose to ignore it and smiled instead. “Alright,” he said. “What would you like me to do?”

“Find a chair,” Sundown responded as she pulled out a rickety old thing that was tucked underneath the table and then sat down.

Daniel scanned the immediate area for another chair, found yet another orphan of a previous furniture generation and moved to go and grab it. “This is your desk, I take it?” he asked as he crossed the small distance to the fetch the old chair.

“Uh huh.”

There was nothing on the table, desk rather, than a lamp and a dirty coffee mug. Underneath the scarred surface of the so-called desk, sat a small fridge, which Sundown opened, grabbing a cold can of beer and placing it at the back of her neck. Eyes closed again, she leaned back in her chair and put her feet up.

Daniel stood there, holding his chair. After a brief moment, he set it down and walked around to face her. “What are you doing?” he asked.

“Compiling my notes,” Sundown muttered.

©MSR 2015

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One thought on “The Skin of the Earth — Chapter 2

  1. You’re really good at the overall descriptions and the subtle details. It really brings the world alive. Adding the gritty detective element and the gruesome crime and decrepit city makes for a fun story.

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