Viv Martin felt the push of a suit behind her. She rolled up her newspaper and shoved it under her armpit, put her hands back in her coat pockets and made a sudden turn onto Reade Street. She kept her pace even, tried to be cool, to blend with the others on the sidewalk all trying to look full of purpose, like savants with their lives made. And maybe they really were all that. It was getting harder to tell. Most of the folks currently in the city were either of the new breed or getting good at imitating their mannerisms.
The suit hadn’t missed a beat, made the turn onto Reade Street. Viv could feel the steel of him behind her, cutting his way through the crowd. She watched the expressions on the faces of the people on the other side of the street to get an idea of what kind of goon she was dealing with. This one must’ve been hideous. Everyone knew not to risk eye contact with a G-man but the majority of folks across the street couldn’t keep from casting glances behind her.
It was over for Viv. She could feel the suit’s cold front driving in from behind. All she could do was brace for it. And it came. A huge, icy hand clamped down on her right shoulder, stopped her short. It spun her around and another hand clamped onto her left shoulder, held her hard and solid. Viv kept her eyes down, locked them on the suit’s shiny black boots sticking out of black pinstripe suit pants. Another set of black boots parked next to them.
Viv heard a deep raspy voice say, “Secure Ms. Martin while I pat her down.”
One set of boots walked around behind her. Great long bones cinched around each of her arms and yanked and twisted them back behind her. The newspaper dropped to the ground and people streamed around the contamination of them.
“Go for it,” she heard the long bones say.
The deep rasp moved in on Viv, slid his icy hands into the warmth under her brown hair, felt her scalp and worked his way down her body. He spread her coat open and slipped his hands under it, felt her back and sides and around to the front of her, lingering around her breasts and down her stomach to her hips and buttocks then between her legs. He took his time there, pressed up hard.
“You wouldn’t be hiding something up your snatch, would you Ms. Martin?” the deep rasp asked. Then he broke into a laugher that caught in his smoker’s lungs and set off a fit of wheezing.
Viv fought to keep her cool. One sign of mental weakness, one telltale sign from her body, a shudder, a retch, would mean a worse death. She forced her voice to midrange, monotone, benign. “No sir.”
The rasp recovered from wheezing, finished his pat-down, seized the newspaper from the ground, and stood up. He stepped back a way from Viv, went through the newspaper, found nothing suspicious. “Look at me, Ms. Martin,” he demanded.
Viv steeled her eyes, then lifted them to meet the rasp’s eyes. G-men are some of the meanest, ugliest fuckers in what’s left of this country. Most of them are ex- mercenaries mangled freakishly from years of combat with maniac slayers. The deep rasp was one of the worst she’d seen. Half his face had been hacked off. It was all she could do to hold steady.
“Ms. Martin, you have a mere three days remaining of your thirty-day allowance to secure employment.” The rasp paused and smirked. “And unless you’ve done so within the last ten minutes, it doesn’t look good for you.”
The rasp lit a cigarette and blew the smoke in Viv’s face. Her eyes watered. She held back a cough, cleared her throat. “I’m aware of that, sir. But I have some excellent leads—”
“Face it, Ms. Martin: no one’s hiring below an IQ of 200 and you and I both know yours falls far short. You’re a dying breed. We might as well take care of business right now.” The rasp hotboxed his cigarette and blew a thick, black cloud of smoke in Viv’s face.
Mid-gasp, Viv took in the cloud and her body rebelled. She doubled over, sick from the blackness, and belched out smoke and vomit. The rasp laughed, hollered over to the other goon, “Fuck her up Tommy.”
Boyd twisted the last of the beer mugs around the brushes, dunked them in the sanitizers and set them on the drainage mats to dry. He turned from the task and walked the length of the bar wiping his hands on a bar rag. He was a burly mother of the new breed with a four hundred-plus IQ and a wicked mean streak. It seemed no harm could touch him, not from the government or their goons or any civilians stupid enough to fuck with him.
The sharp light of Boyd’s eyes scanned the folks all along the bar, at every table in the place. One hair out of place, one item of clothing amiss, and he’d have Lick come out and yank their asses into the back room, shove them down into the basement and let his girls work them over, get them cleaned up, pumped full of the right drugs and back up here until he was ready to bus them to the underground and bring in more bodies to fill the seats.
It’s how he stayed in business, keeping the place looking like it was upper crust with rotating clientele, shakers and movers just needing a little diversion. All the other bars in the city had been shut down by the government, their witless owners either terminated or let loose to find work, depending on how each of their interrogations had gone down.
Boyd was satisfied enough with the look of the place to strike up a conversation with Lil, a fox with big tits, milky skin, and towering red hair. She was sitting at the end of the bar, one of her luscious legs crossed over the other, making love to the look of Boyd while she sipped her drink. She was always trying to find his weak spot, melt him down, just for the fun of fucking with his manhood. And she was just smart enough to make it a challenge, which is why Boyd bothered with her. Keeping separate the business of his dick and his brain kept him sharp, fine-tuned.
Lil had just finished a book on cryogenics and was about the hard job of impressing Boyd to bed, when the bar door busted open and a curvy little brunette fell inside, crumpled on the floor all beat up. Boyd grinned at Lil. “Hold that thought, Darlin’,” he said and winked at her. She blushed and squirmed in her chair. No one else moved a muscle. It was just another day of complacency in Boyd’s custody.
Boyd walked over to the kitchen doors, pushed one open a crack and motioned to Lick. Lick set his sandwich down, grabbed a scanner and strode out to the brunette. She was stirring a bit, beginning the process of coming around. Lick ran the scanner all over her. “Vivian Martin, 1401 Breaker Street, age 32, IQ 140, unarmed, not wired, tagged ‘Wasted Space’ at 13:01 today.”
Boyd looked at his watch. “Extract her chip, find a stiff that fits her description. You know the drill.”
Lick nodded, picked up the brunette and took her down to the basement.
Carter paced back and forth in the control room, watching the monitors all keyed up like a boxer waiting to take the ring. He was thin, almost six foot, with huge brown pools for eyes and a peptic ulcer the size of Texas. It could be said with a measure of truth that Carter’s position as gateway to the underground was a riskier one than Boyd’s and he couldn’t have had a worse personality for it. Boyd had it easy in his opinion and he cursed him under his breath. “Motherfucker’s late,” he snapped.
Johnson looked up from his magazine, yawned. “His guys probably had to divert, take a different route.”
“Feels malicious to me,” Carter shot back, “like he doesn’t give a fuck about us or the millions he’s making.”
Johnson slammed his magazine down on the desk with a crack that restrung Carter. “Listen to yourself!” he yelled. “One of us fucks up just one other person in this operation and we all lose more than just millions!”
“Right, right,” Carter mumbled. He popped a Tagamet and sat down in front of the monitors and watched for the bus in silence, his feet jiggling under his chair. Truth is, it was getting tougher to transport the low-IQ folks from their origin cities through to the underground to breed and then back out. The G-men were beginning to notice an increase in sub-geniuses in their cities despite their radical programs to exterminate them.
“We’re going to have to slow this operation down some or we’ll all be fucked,” Carter said.
“I know,” Johnson said. “But it ain’t happenin’. These overseas motherfuckers are either clueless or don’t give a shit.”
They both sat in silence thinking the same things. Carter, Johnson, Boyd, none of these guys or their men knew what country was employing them to screw with their own country’s government. They hadn’t given a fuck for the millions they were rolling in. Who gives a shit about human injustices when practically every country in the world was tearing up another country? Live it up while you can before it all goes down. But now it was getting clearer as they got deeper in, more uncomfortable and less likely to get out alive.
Carter and Johnson were jolted from their thoughts by a great dark shape moving across the monitors. The bus was here. They jumped from their chairs, grabbed their weapons and ran for the elevator. When they got to the ground level vault they heard a great ruckus. They checked the monitor by the door and in the middle of the dark shapes of people on the dimly lit bus, they saw a woman going ballistic. Carter hit the door opener and he and Johnson busted out of the brush and ran for the bus.
They could see one of Boyd’s men now wrangling with the woman who was fighting like a wildcat. Her legs and arms were snapping every which-way like thick whips, and in between smacks and kicks she was screaming, “Fucking bastard Boyd! I will not be upstaged! That brunette bitch’s got nothin’ on me! Take me back there, Lick! Now!”
Just as Carter was bounding up the steps of the bus to shut the bitch down, she got a direct hit to Lick’s nose, set him back enough for her to break loose. She started down the aisle screaming, “Higher IQ than me? I don’t fucking think so!”
Carter was ready to blow her head off just to silence that mouth when he got a good look at her. He stopped, stunned. She stopped. Everything was quiet. Then the woman began smiling into Carter’s huge brown eyes and straightening up her high red hair. She blushed. “I’m Lil,” she said. “And you are?”
Carter’s mouth ran dry. His knees shook. He swallowed hard. “Carter,” he croaked. And there, in the milky glow of Lil’s skin, nothing else mattered.