You should see the other guy.
That’s how it starts, this conversation, every time, and it’s a tune I don’t much like singing. In this case the other guy was somewhere at the bottom of Final Bay with half a pound of lead in his chest to make sure he stayed there, administered in individual .45 doses, and I was not in a conversational mood.
This case had been trouble from the start, I’d known that as soon as he walked into my office -- you can tell, you can always tell the ones that are going to wind up with you donating blood, it comes with the job -- but I needed the money more than the peace of mind. It’s not as if there’s ever much of that to be had anyway, in this city. And it had sounded pretty simple, in the beginning. Missing-persons cases sometimes do.
A week ago, rain hammering against my office window, evening drawing in: Your name is Hux? Just Hux?
I’ve heard all the jokes, I said. There something I can help you with?
They say you’re the best. That you can find anyone.
Tall and dark and the kind of lovely that knocks the wind right out of you, but that wasn’t the part that made me worry: that was the eyes, I’d never seen eyes like that before, black-crystal eyes a man could get lost in, and want to stay lost. He was wearing black from head to foot, and at a guess I’d been looking at nine or ten thousand dollars of bespoke tailoring on the hoof. Even the cigarette case he slipped out of a pocket was black on black, enamelled, an antique that added another couple grand to the ensemble. So was the holder he fitted one into, although the smokes themselves were plain old Dunhills.
He was watching me. Is it true?
I’d taken my feet off the desk, leaned forward to light the cigarette for him. Who’s asking?
I am, and he’d blown smoke at me, those lips curved and lush. I want you to find my uncle.
How’d you lose him? It wasn’t my best line, but I was at a disadvantage. Could be he doesn’t want to be found.
He’d sat down on the edge of my desk, all black and white in the barred street-light through the window blind, and those eyes felt like they were unscrewing the top of my head to have a look inside. It’s complicated. It’s a family thing.
Cute, I’d said. I don’t get mixed up in family squabbles. It never ends well.
I can pay.
And he’d named a figure that made my hair try to stand on end, hat or no hat. That was enough dosh to get me out of several holes, some of which had been getting deeper just recently. Hell, that was near enough to take a holiday somewhere that went in for actual sunshine. The prospect, combined with the rain battering my windowpane like birdshot, was enough. You got yourself a deal, I’d said. Tell me the story.
If I’d known just how bad it would get, I would have held out for another couple grand. Hindsight’s a bitch.
It turned out that complicated was not exactly the right word to describe Kylo Ren’s family situation. There was money, plenty of it, and influence, but money’s no good once you get into ideology, and the two halves of that family had spent a couple generations reenacting the goddamn Civil War. The problem at hand was actually pretty simple: Ren’s grandfather had kicked it a little while back, and the old bastard had made sure his descendants didn’t get hold of his money without a fight. Not an original story, I’ll admit, but this one got creative. There was a map.
(I’d stopped him. A map. A goddamn treasure map. Are you kidding me?)
There was a map. And Ren’s weirdo uncle had apparently gotten hold of it, and promptly taken a powder. Nobody had seen or heard from him for a month -- he hadn’t written, called, hadn’t been in any of the places Ren’s family had looked, and so at last Ren had sought out professional assistance. Namely me. There’s only one Hux in the phone book, I’m not hard to find.
That had been a week ago. None of us had counted on Snoke getting involved.
Snoke’s a big name, in the underground. Stark City has an underground that’s bigger than the dayside; it’s where the small-time crooks -- and the bigga-time crooks, for that matter -- end up, rolling in from points east and settling here in low-lying ground, rather than spreading up or down the coast. There are layers of the underground, and like the murk at the bottom of a lake it is best not to stir up those layers, in case something nasty comes to the surface. Like Snoke.
He runs most of the established operations. You don’t set out in business for yourself in this town without Snoke knowing, and you don’t stay in business very long unless Snoke lets you. I steer clear, on account of having this healthy respect for the idea of keeping my livelihood, and life, intact. But Snoke somehow got wind of this situation with the missing map and the Ciel family’s ongoing attempts to ruin one another and claim the money, and apparently wanted it for himself.
Must have been a slow week in Snoke’s world, or something, because suddenly instead of tracking down clues as to where Lucas Ciel might have gone to ground, I was dodging goon bullets. They weren’t good shots, but there were a lot of them, and twice I’d found myself in a situation that could have turned nasty. Well. Three times, if you count just now.
Final Bay has a reputation, mostly deserved, for being the underworld’s most popular dumping site. Nobody goes fishing in its crystalline waters, if you get my drift; there’s so many stiffs down there it’s got to be standing room only. And now there’d be one more.
I watched the body sink into the murky water and returned to my office the long way, without a single gunshot, which was kind of a nice change.
I was getting closer to Ciel, though. I could feel it. All I had to do was stay alive.
Which was maybe easier said than done. It always surprises me how quick you start to get logy, once you start to bleed. Snoke’s goon had grazed me, the bullet plucking at my side, but while we were trading lead I barely even noticed the pain -- by the time I got back to my office, though, it wasn’t just singing but belting out grand opera, and all I could think of was the bottle of Beam in my desk drawer. A couple slugs of that would take the edge off the hurting, and I could maybe think straight, figure out my next move. And find a clean shirt, this one was all over blood.
I was further gone than I’d thought, judging by how I didn’t even notice he was there until I actually had my keys in the office door. He was doing a damn good job at lurking in the corner of the upstairs hall, where the shadows are deepest, and when he stepped into the light I near jumped out of my skin.
“Jesus fucking Christ on a crutch,” I said, or maybe gasped would be more accurate. My side was on fire. “What the hell are you doing here?”
Kylo Ren followed me into the office, without waiting to be invited, and shut the door behind us. I made straight for my desk, leaving the overhead light off. It felt great to sit down. “I was waiting for you,” said Ren, with one of those incredibly annoying half-smirks I’d come to know and loathe over the past week. Kind of loathe, anyway. As I watched, though, the expression changed. “-- What happened?” he said sharply. “You’re hurt.”
I was not in the mood for this. At all. I looked up at him, then at the handkerchief I had pressed to my side, and then back up, and said it: “You should see the other guy.”
“Christ, Hux,” he said, and switched the desk lamp on, turning the window to a black mirror. I wished he hadn’t. There was a lot of blood. It always looks like more, when it’s yours.
“I’m all right,” I said, despite it. “Why are you here? Has something happened?”
“Yes. Something has. You need a doctor.” He was bending over me, and God, I was dizzy, all I could think about was reaching out to touch that ridiculous hair. “Take your shirt off,” he said.
“Take your shirt off,” he said again, impatiently. “I need to bandage this, are you going to take it off or do I have to do it for you?”
I reached down for the bottle in my bottom drawer, decided the glass was an unnecessary complication, and took a long swallow -- and then another. The whiskey went down smooth as silk and spread its warmth through me, and the edges of things firmed up a bit. “If you put it like that,” I said, and pulled off my tie.
I ended up a few minutes later sitting on the edge of my desk, stripped to the waist, with one of Ren’s Dunhills in my mouth and a lot on my mind. This was the kind of circumstance that could lead to complications. I hadn’t spent a lot of time imagining situations in which either of us weren’t wearing all our clothing, you understand. But you don’t see someone who looks and moves like that, don’t look into a pair of eyes like those, without, well. Getting a little imaginative. It was aesthetic appreciation, that’s all. I have more culture than people might expect.
“This is going to hurt,” he said. “A lot.”
I shrugged, and that hurt, too. “Tell me something I don’t know, sunshine.”
He rolled his eyes -- black-crystal eyes, God, every time, it was like a punch -- and reached a hand out for the bottle of scotch; and I closed my own eyes and waited for it to be over.
I knew he was trouble from the very beginning.
Sometimes -- not always, but sometimes -- the other guy sees you.