Kyle Willey

Babylon’s Echo, Part 4

“I’ve got the prototype.”

“That was quick.”

Smith shrugs, even though Augen can’t see him. “Like you said, it was a lucky coincidence.”

“Everything in one piece?”

“Doesn’t look like they opened it.”

“Good. I’ll let the feds know.”

Smith resists the urge to spit on the ground. “Just send me the rendezvous and I’ll make sure they get their stuff.”

He can see the rent-a-cops across the street. They’re leading the wire-head who’d been jacked into some bootleg away in handcuffs.

Maybe they think the punk killed his partners. Maybe there’s an APB out on them from the feds. It isn’t Smith’s business.

Augen’s quick. A display lights up and lets Smith know that the feds have an agent waiting for him at a diner. Walking distance.

Too many happy accidents.

He leaves his gun and armor in the room. Doesn’t want there to be a misunderstanding. If they want to smoke him, they could do it. Use a drone and land a rocket on him out in the deadland. Kick down the door when he’s asleep and take him down in a hail of bullets. If it made the news, they would turn it into a sensation. A modern day Bonnie and Clyde, sans Bonnie.

He’s a little surprised the vultures haven’t descended on the motel yet, given the work he did across the way.

When Smith leaves his room, he could be any salaryman. Cheap shirt, cheap tie, cheap slacks. No suit jacket, but maybe he hung it up on the wall of his cube when he left the night before. If you ain’t cleaning it every night, why bother taking it home?

Sure, he’s got a metal hand, but how many vets came back from Shenzhen with one of those?

He could leave the prototype in the room and ride off into the sunset. Feds want to talk. Otherwise they wouldn’t have an agent following him. Or at least they wouldn’t have that agent collect the contract.

He tells himself he’s going to vanish, going to find another place to be. It’ll send a message that he’s nobody’s pawn.

The black hardshell case in his hand makes a statement to the contrary. He sees the diner’s light as soon as he steps out from the parking lot to the street. All the streetlights have gone out, but the red and orange neon still blazes away in the night.

As soon as he walks in, he hears a woman’s voice. “Mr. Smith.”

He doesn’t reply. He just walks over to her table and sets the case on the ground.

“Sit down.”

He does. “What do you want?”

“To talk.”

“Go ahead.”

She has no clue how to respond. He’s a cold-blooded killer, running more military hardware than an entire third-tier street gang combined. And she knows who he considers friends. “There’s blood on the case.”

“Found it like that.”

“Usually people–y’know.”

“This way you can see it’s farm fresh. Never seen blood before?”

“It’s just–”

“Think just because you got voted for means you’re a good person?”

“I’m a public servant, not an elected–”

“You’re a puppet.”

He leans back in the booth and puts his hands behind his head. It’s supposed to look natural. It also keeps the guy across the street with a rifle from getting too nervous.

She collects herself. “You are on thin ice, Mr. Smith.”

“What did I do this time?”

“You’re not supposed to be in the dead zone.”

“Look, you give me a better way to go from Portland to Richmond, and I’ll listen. Gladly. But they don’t let people fly with the sort of hardware I need to do my job.”

“Who did you meet with?”

“Nobody.”

“Are you sure?”

He stands up to leave. “Make sure the funds get into my account.”

His hunch is right. They don’t want him dead. The cop sitting in the booth by the door doesn’t make a move to arrest him, either.

It doesn’t make him hate them any less.

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