The broad-shouldered young man turned to face the tall and slender black man who had called his name.“ ”Yeah?“
They were standing at the railing of the Crystal Plaza Bar that hovered on invisible gasses above the East River at South Street Seaport.
”My name is Johnson, Folio Johnson.“ Folio extended his hand.
”Do I know you?“ Black was instantly on guard.
”No, no you don’t. I‘m a security expert for Macso but I want to get into real estate. I’ve been studying the brothers in that field and you, Mingus Black, are at the top of my list.“
The black Seeker ran his tongue under his lower lip and wondered.
”Can I get you a drink, M?“ a young, naked white girl asked Folio from the outward side of the railing.
Folio looked at the girl through the clear Glassone bar. She was shaven from head to toe and perfectly proportioned. He wondered what his hero, Humphrey Bogart, would have said in that situation.
”Real rum,“ he said. ”And, honey, do me a favor.“
”Put in an ice cube and stir it with your finger.“
”You‘re somethin’ else, mister.“
The young woman, who was unashamed to walk around naked in the bright sun of downtown New York, blushed under the detective‘s intense blue eye. She moved away to get his drink.
”Macso, huh?“ the real estate genius asked. ”What division?“
Folio was still watching the barmaid, enchanted by the words that had passed between them.
”Home,“ he said.
”You shittin’,“ Mingus said with a Backgrounder twang.
”No. I worked as Kismet‘s main bodyguard. Nine years I was with him.“
”Seven years ago Home was hit by a Peruvian kick squad. They wanted to wipe out Kismet before MacroCode could annex their country. They got pretty close.“ Folio ran a finger above his blue eye.
”You get that then?“
”A cinder broke loose from a wild shot. It ruined my eye and part of my brain.“
”Damn. That’s why I never work for nobody full out,“ Mingus said. ”They pay you to die for ‘em, that’s all, they pay you to die.“
”You right about that, brother,“ Folio said. ”You right about that, but still that cinder was the best thing ever happened to me.“
”How you figure?“
”I saved Kismet‘s life by puttin’ mine on the block. Motherfucker‘s crazy to the bone but he’s loyal. Had his surgeons save me and then give me this synthetic eye to make up for what I lost. Between the fight and this new eye I see the world in a whole new light.“
”And in that light you see real estate?“ Mingus Black asked.
”Sure do. I wanna move a half a million Kenyans to downtown Tokyo and spend my life lookin‘ at cute girls at Crystal’s.“
”You‘re here right now.“ The black Seeker was getting comfortable.
”I’m working, though.“
”Here‘s your drink, mister,“ the bald girl said.
When Folio reached for the glass she dipped her finger into the amber liquid and stirred it around. Folio took her hand and put the finger into his mouth, sucking hard enough to get all the rum off. The girl’s eyes widened and she forgot to withdraw her hand when he let it go.
”Working on what,“ Mingus asked, ”a hard-on?“
Folio laughed, looking deeply into the starstruck girl‘s eyes. ”I sure am workin’ on that one.“ Then he turned back to his target. ”But today I‘m here representin’ a new world Nazi boy named Charles Spellman.“
Mingus leaned back on his translucent barstool. For a moment Folio was afraid that he might bolt.
”What‘s up with Chas?“ Mingus asked.
”He’s drinkin‘ synth and worryin’ about death.“
”He is?“ Mingus looked down at his wristcom.
”If you wanna know the time, I can tell ya — it‘s almost up,“ Folio said.
”What’s that supposed to mean?“
”Mylo, Laddie, Bill Heinz, Derry James. They‘re all dead before their time. All the little Itsies.“
Mingus looked around to see if there was someone with Johnson, then he looked the detective in the eye.
”What’s Charles to you?“
”A piece ‘a shit,“ Folio said. ”But a piece ’a shit who laid out hard creds for me to save his ass.“
”You think that‘s it?“ Mingus asked. ”That it’s because they‘re in the I.S. [International Socialists].“
”We should be so lucky to live in a world where they kill the fascists and spare the lambs.“
”Maybe it’s coincidence?“
”Is that the kinda thinkin‘ bought you downtown Tokyo?“
”So what do you think?“
”Nothin’ yet. I‘d like to know who’s killing you boys. And in order to know that I have to know why.“
”I have no idea.“
”What were you guys discussing at your last meeting? Other than the 10-million-mile pool cue.“
”Education and labor and their relation to citizenship. Azuma was thinking that Elite Education Group had the right idea, that everyone should be tested as to their abilities and that their scores should be the basis of the degree of their citizenship.“
”No. Nothing. They thought they were getting somewhere, though. Fonti and Derry set it up so that we could have daily meetings. They were all excited by the possibility of presenting the I.S. with a model for political organization that would lead ultimately to social change.“
”How could you hang with Itsies, man?“ Folio asked. He took his glass and drained it, thinking of the barmaid‘s fingers as he did so.
”They ain’t worried about us, man. There‘s a place for all the races up in there. All except Jews and Gypsies.“
”You believe that?“
”Then why don’t you belong?“
”How do you know I don‘t?“
”Another drink?“ the barmaid asked. She had a glass with a double shot of rum in it. Her finger already submerged.
Folio took the glass and the hand. This time he kissed the fingers and then licked his lips.
”My name is Paradise,“ she said.
”What else could it be?“
”I get off at midnight.“
”I have to work the next three nights,“ Folio said seriously. ”But I will be at the front door on the fourth night at midnight. And I won’t do anything until we‘re together. You know what I mean?“
Folio smiled and handed her his wild card. ”My friend and I have to go, but I’ll see you then.“
Paradise swiped the card through a payment slot on her left wrist. When she handed the card back Folio tapped in her tip on the screen over her artery.
”See ya,“ she said meekly.
”How do I know that you‘re working for Chas?“ Mingus asked Folio on the way down the Crystal Stair escalator.
”You don’t. And I can‘t prove it either. But I bet you know what’s goin‘ on, that your boys are being eradicated and that you’re on the list. I‘m not trying to kill you. If I was, you’d have never seen me comin‘.“
”Maybe you need something first,“ Mingus said. ”I don’t know.“
”I went to the police,“ Folio said.
”Don‘t worry. It was a guy I know pretty good. He wouldn’t turn on me, I‘ve done him too many favors.“
”What did he say?“
”He can’t do a thing.“
The escalator had completed its steep descent and was now almost parallel to the water. A large photo-animae sign covered the side of the monorail bridge before them. The sign displayed a cinematic picture of boy and girl children marching with automatic rifles and cinder guns, firing on a unit of adult troops. After a moment soldiers on both sides began to die. The wounds were very realistic. One child was hit in the chest with a cinder blast that charred her body, leaving only her pretty face intact. As the head fell from her shoulders the image faded into giant words composed of flaming letters: TWELVE IS TOO YOUNG FOR WAR.
On the pier they strolled under the transport bridge.
”Maybe I should disappear,“ Mingus said.
”Give up everything?“
”Red Raven or nobody else could pay me if I‘m dead.“
”Common Ground won’t hide a Backgrounder, M Black,“ Folio said.” That‘s the first place they’d look for you.“
”The cops won‘t help. Common Ground won’t hide me. What are you sayin‘?“
”Let’s work together. I got resources and you know all about the guys gettin‘ killed. Maybe we can figure it out.“
”Why didn’t you do that with Chas?“
”‘Cause Chas is an Itsie. I hate fascists.“
”Then why work for ’em?“
”The job don‘t have politics, Mingman. The job is straight.“
”I might not be in the I.S., but all my friends are. Doesn’t that make me just as bad?“
”You‘re just usin’ them.“
”What makes you think that?“
”Mingus Black,“ Folio recited from an amalgam of reports gathered by his eye, ”born 27 years ago, given up for White Noise at the age of six months. Arrested for larceny at the age of 7. Transferred to a maximum juvenile authority at the age of 11. Suspected of drug distribution from the age of 12 but never convicted because you became a fink for the Social Police. At 16 you saw your chance. The Underground Party kidnapped the daughter of Mina Athwattarlon, chief counsel of Red Raven NorthAm. You turned in the cell and got a university berth and a good job once you graduated.“
”Nobody knows that. Nobody but Mina and me.“
”And me,“ Folio said. ”Brother, I got senses so sharp I can see the rhinoviruses grazin‘ on your face. I can hear your heart rate rise and blood slither in your veins. But I don’t care. The U.P. means nothing to me. Neither do Itsies or cops. I took on a job and I intend to do it. And if you help me you might be saving your own life.“
”What do you need?“
”I need to know what you guys were sayin‘ in the last few meetin’s you had — exactly.“
”We weren‘t talkin’ ‘bout nuthin’.“ The Backgrounder came out in the land dealer‘s speech again. ”We –“
Folio put up a hand to cut Mingus short. He began scanning the upper area of the huge Glassone ramp. He moved his hand from Mingus’ face and pointed to a shadowy area just under the lip of the trestle‘s underbelly. There, both men could make out a black form about the size and shape of an old American football.
”Noser,“ Mingus hissed.
”It hasn’t uploaded yet.“
”How the fuck you know that?“
Folio ignored the question, concentrating instead on the image of a control panel conjured up by his eye. The panel exhibited a grid of Manhattan that had little yellow lights for every city spy device, commonly called nosers. Folio had already located their CSD and was busy downloading a series of commands.
The football began shaking, its fail-safe survival mode enacted, but then suddenly it plummeted 40 feet, striking the ground with a brief flash of fire. It landed near a group of Infochurch priests in their iridescent blue cloaks and transparent skullplates. ”Let‘s go,“ Folio said.
”I told you already,“ Mingus Black said. He was sitting on a couch the shape of a large, half-erect phallus. ”Them guys didn’t have nuthin‘ to say or think about that could scare anybody. They aren’t even real Itsies.“
”What does that mean?“
”They just belong to the fan club. Buttons and banners, you know. They pay dues and go out to drink synth on Sixdays, that‘s it. They don’t know nuthin‘ an’ they don‘t do nuthin’. Talk about all the great things they do in business but you know they‘re just shopkeepers, dustin’ off the big boys‘ merchandise.“
”If they’re so outside, then why you hang with ‘em?“ Folio asked, nestling back in a cushioned chair that was fashioned as an open vagina.
”Families got money,“ Mingus said. ”At least some of ’em. Chas and Mylo, Laddie and Azuma, too. Big bucks, baby.“
”And you like being around all that?“
”I trade in real estate. I‘m good at it, too. Most’a these rich families got some liberal shit goin‘ on about Common Ground. They wanna say they helped somebody crawl up outta there. I’m perfect for ‘em ’cause I already did it. And I know how to turn a buck, too.“
”But they didn‘t have some other kinda thing goin’ on?“ Folio asked. The chair he sat in had all the colors and textures of a Caucasian woman‘s genitalia, from thick brown fur to pink petal lips to a bright red interior. The fabric was covered by a clear material that had a liquid filling. The heat from Folio’s body caused the liquid to flow.
”The kids, their parents. Shit, I don‘t know. I mean this New York is one crazy motherfucker, but people don’t start knockin‘ off rich kids just ’cause they‘re stupid.“
”No business I knew about.“ Mingus lay back into the foreskin comforter. ”Hey, you think they might find us here?“
”Don’t fuck with me, man. I don‘t know who.“
”Sex pits are always the last on the list for searches. People payin’ cash and usin‘ fake IDs. Almost every ID in this here sex hotel is fake. They have to send out manpower or fourth-generation nosers to check out a place like this. And even if they did come“ — Folio tapped the orbital ridge over his blue eye — ”I’d know they were here before they did.“
”That‘s some eye there,“ Mingus said. ”How a street-level motherfucker like you hold on to that? I mean, I heard ’a pirates stealin‘ just a plain blue eye not even worth a thousand creds.“
”I’m wiry,“ Folio said and then he laughed. ”Was your boys gonna do anything soon? Anything different?“
”Naw. Them dudes just wanted to feel important. Last thing they managed to do was gettin‘ us to talk every day at 16. I had some trouble with that ’cause I‘m movin’ around all the time.“
”So? You could cell it.“
”Naw. They were doin‘ it in-house to act like they were in business. But the internal lines have a security system that won’t allow external devices access. You know some people use those lines to transmit very sensitive information.“
”How much would that have cost the companies?“
”Hardly nuthin‘. I mean, people do it all the time. Free calls just a perk in big business today.“
”I told ya, man, they got frog skins for guts. Any real trouble and them boys ran.“
”Runnin‘ won’t help them now.“
Mingus scratched his eyebrow and looked away. When he moved around on the chair it arched upward in an approximation of a growing erection.
A searing pain sliced its way through Folio‘s head. ”What’s wrong?“ Mingus jumped up and grabbed Folio before he fell out of his chair.
Azuma Sherman was running down the lower ramp of the subterranean section of the Whitney Museum. Folio recognized the mutated inner organs created by the bio-artist Atta A that were on display. The point of view of the image came from the pursuer. Azuma‘s long brown hair was flowing backward; every few steps he would look back to see Folio’s mind‘s eye catching up to him. Folio couldn’t think how this transmission had hijacked his eye.
Another pain exploded in Folio‘s head.
”You okay?“ Mingus shouted.
Azuma’s leg was nicked by a shard from a wide blast of a cinder gun. From his ankle to just above his knee burnt to a crisp in a second. The handsome youth fell to the floor. Through the eye-cam of the killer Folio saw Azuma‘s amputated foot. The assassin kicked it away. Azuma looked up into the killer’s eyes. He was about to shout something and then his face burnt off.
The contact broke. Folio found himself sprawled on the floor, Mingus Black holding him by his shoulders. They were both shivering.
”Sherman‘s dead,“ Folio said.
”Mind if I share your bed, com?“ Mingus asked Folio.
To shake off the nerves they had watched a very good matchup of Fera Jones against Mithitar the Mad Mongolian on the vid. The Mongolian had an interesting circular style of boxing, but he couldn’t deal with the amazon‘s power. After six rounds Mithitar’s buzz-saw-like attacks had slowed enough for her logjam jab to take control; he was a sprawl in the middle of the ring by the end of round eight.
”What?“ Folio asked.
”Just need to lie next to somebody. That‘s all. It ain’t sex.“
Folio sighed. He knew the trauma of ex-Backgrounders, especially those who‘d spent their entire lives underground. They feared the loneliness of a full-size room.
”Just keep your pants on,“ he said.
Folio awoke on a small blue island adrift in a scarlet sea. The sky was pink and yellow. Violet pelicans soared on the wind above him. Folio was completely aware that this place was a dream provided by his eye. It was an attempt to ease his tension, but as usual, in these hard times the mechanical eye was at war with Johnson’s troubled unconscious. He supposed that the eye had been trying to create a Caribbean island but was disrupted in color and size by Folio‘s own fears.
There was a disruption in the water. Somebody was swimming toward his islet. When she climbed out of the water he could see that it was the young woman from the Crystal Bar. Immediately he felt a powerful erection.
”Is that for me?“ Paradise asked.
”Keep it hard like that for me, baby,“ she said. ”But we can’t do anything yet.“
”You have to keep out of trouble.“
”What‘s that got to do with you?“
”That’s just the problem.“
”I‘m not important but you still want me. Your dick wants me. He can’t help himself but you have to hold it back.“
”Who are you?“
”Are you from the eye?“
”I met you today, at the bar.“
”But where are you from in my mind?“
”I‘m your stupid side. You’re my fool.“
Folio felt his erection straining and suddenly he wondered if it wasn‘t Mingus trying to be more than friendly.
The detective pulled himself awake and turned angrily toward his bedmate.
Mingus’ eyes were wide open, his throat cut from jawbone to jawbone.
With a heavy sigh Folio rose out of bed and switched on the vidphone.
From the book Futureland: Nine Stories of an Imminent World by Walter Mosley. Copyright © 2001 by Walter Mosley. Reprinted by permission of Warner Books Inc., New York, N.Y. All rights reserved.