Authors: Austin Dragon
THE CYBERPUNK DETECTIVE SERIES
Crime in a High-Tech, Low-Life World
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Shoot-Out on Sweet Street
Chapter 1: Easy Chair Charlie
Everything that was seen or heard, every smell, and almost every feeling belonged to it. Skyscraper monoliths with their side lights rose into the near-perpetual overcast sky one way, blink-blink, and the lukewarm downpour fell onto the neon urban jungle the other, drip-drip. From the ground looking up, on those days that were as clear as it could ever get, buildings seemed to have their own halos, courtesy of the rooftop lights. On "normal" rainy days, that same illumination gave the sky a faint glow. Also from the vantage of the streets, the city's lighted buildings pulsated in all the many psychologically-tested and focus-group-researched colors to mitigate the street's base griminess despite the ever-rain. There were the flashing neon signs screaming every second of every day; their soft-sell, quasi-hypnotic consumerist cons of Big Bad Business and government public service "aggravations" (PSAs) of Big Bad Government. But people were numb to it all--no matter how outrageous or provocative.
The crowds on the streets moving about were like a collective lifeform. Everyone clad in their gray-toned or black slickers; and for those carrying them, umbrellas with glowing colored handles. Most had their ears covered with headphones, their heads covered with hoods, and everyone had their eyes covered with glowing colored glasses. The masses were in the world, but mentally someplace else--away from it, never a part of it, unless there was a reason and there almost never was a reason. Tech-tricksters, analog hustlers, and digital gangsters at least had purpose. The masses had only one concern--to exist, get to the end of the day unscathed, and then do it all over again the next day. Maybe smile a real smile a time or two in life. Escape was only possible if you could buy or trick your way Up-Top or, of course, when the Grim Reaper came a-knocking. 'Til then, for most, there was plugging the ears into the music, and the eyes (and brain) into the virtual television. For too many others, it was also about jacking the body into the drugs or the mind into the cyber-games. Everything in an attempt to stave off the dark emotions and conventional madness that accompanied the daily grind of life in the 50 million-plus, super-city of Metropolis, and the many, many other metropolises exactly like it, though smaller, on Earth.
"Yo, yo, yo. Easy Chair Charlie! What's the street talk, E.C.?" a voice called out.
If it were not for their glowing colored glasses, the three street kids would have been completely invisible through the drizzle of the night. Easy Chair Charlie stopped his musically-influenced stroll through the streets, pulling his headphones down around his neck. He wore his favorite
black slicker that flowed behind his tall, lanky frame. He also had the attached clear hood pulled over his bleached-white spiky hair and wore glowing dark blue-black shades, but looked out from the top of them as if they were bifocals.
A neon sign flashed and he could see the kids clearly--flapper hats and chia-pet bubble-coats--squatting on the corner. "What you playin'?" he asked.
The boys looked like gorillas with the heads of Old World War I fighter pilots. The water-resistant, faux-fur of their coats kept them toasty warm in the rain.
"Just a game of street jacks to pass the time, Easy," answered the same boy. "Easy, what's the street talk? You always know the low-down. If we get something, we'll give you a cut like always."
Easy Chair Charlie was a hustler of some distinction. His racket was the numbers and he had the inside scoop on every professional and amateur, major league, minor league sports game, hover-car race, horse race, dog race, boxing match, or martial arts match there was and every illegal and back-alley one too. But he was branching out from his old racket, though he still had the touch and threw a tip here and there to the street kids he liked.
"No action now. But I may have something for you later," he said.
"Righteous, Easy. You always come through for us."
"You always come through for me. The street looks out for self."
"You know it, Easy."
"Catch me later."
"You got it, Easy," they said in unison.
Easy Chair Charlie returned his headphones to his ears and strutted away to his tunes. He gave them the thumbs-up as he disappeared into the rain.
Downtown loved to tout the ethnic diversity that was the melting pot of Metropolis. It was true; everyone felt equally miserable and that they were being melted into a pot--a big wet one. With so many millions in the super-city, there were more ethnicities, nationalities, and languages spoken here than any other place in the world.
In the old days, groups
protected their neighborhoods, but legacy housing changed all that; some say ending the traditional ethnic communities forever. There were still the ethnic enclaves of old, but often they were not run by the nationalities that originally created them back when Metropolis was just a city, let alone a mega-city or the super-city center it was today. The suave, hipster Old Harlem, with more historical landmarks than any other part of the city, was run not by blacks anymore, but Italians. Most of its buildings were not as tall and not as massive, but many argued it had the best clubs and restaurants in the city. It was also the center of the cigar aficionado world; one place in particular.
Joe Blows was where Easy Chair Charlie was going. The world famous Joe Blows Smoking Emporium on Sweet Street. He was out of smokes and needed to replenish his stash. It was a lucrative storefront, but also an official historic landmark of the city. In the old days movie celebrities and mega-corporate playboys made up its famous clientele, but though it no longer featured in the papers and trades like back then, everyone knew it as the establishment for all cancer-stick connoisseurs--and people came far and wide for a stash. There wasn't an exotic, classic, or premium cigarette or cigar in the world that they didn't carry. But no narcotics. If you wanted that, any corner dope daddy or drugstore cowboy on speed-dial could get you that. Joe Blows was for those who loved smoke--the taste and feel through the lungs, nose, and mouth. For the true connoisseur that was the high. It had its main store but the real action was the adjoining smoking rooms where old-time smokers sat around chatting up for hours and doing deals as they smoked and joked over drinks, over dinner, over poker, or a game of pool with beautiful waitresses around. Joe's was strictly a straight joint--male chauvinists and babes only, though nowadays a quarter of its clientele were female smokers.