Korehammer made his way up to his room, still in something of a daze after the way the evening turned out. He had heard rumors about the casinos in Atlantic City and the lengths they would go to in order to ensure privacy and security for the ultra-wealthy who came to visit, but this was ridiculous. Korehammer had shown up on their doorstep with a hovervan filled with armed mercenaries on his tail and everyone seemed unfazed.
If nothing else, Miss Wynn had earned her gratuity and then some.
The elevator opened and Korehammer got out, let himself into his suite and sat in the first chair he could find. He looked up at the ceiling and let a long breath escape his lips. He was going to be 50 in a few years and while that was far from old, it was too old to be running around getting into gunfights with unstoppable mercs and wannabe goths.
Korehammer got up and removed his X-22 from the holster and put it on the table by the kitchen, followed by the small box that contained the two datachips and the burned out Chameleon Mask. He felt a slight pang of guilt when he saw it, thinking of Vanya and how maybe she deserved a better fate.
He shook his head ruefully. “Damn. I am getting old,” he said aloud as he walked into one of the bedrooms. It was almost midnight and he had been awake for what felt like forever. His muscles ached and his head was throbbing thanks to having to maintain the Chernova persona for an extended period of time. He took a long vibro-shower and tried to get the stink of Cheetahs off of him before crawling into bed. Within moments he was asleep, the Spawnblade under his pillow.
Korehammer was stirred awake by the sound of the door chime, which had been going off for the last few minutes. He asked what time it was and was told it was five after nine in the morning. It was then that he remembered asking Wynn for a pot of coffee to be delivered at nine.
He got out of bed and pulled on a robe as he walked over to the double doors. Korehammer hadn’t even opened them all the way before a young man came bustling in, pushing a small hovercart with a pot of steaming coffee on it as well as a covered tray.
“Mr. Chernova? I have your coffee for you sir.”
“Spasibo. And your name is?”
“Ezra sir.” He took both the coffee and the tray off the cart and placed them on the table where Korehammer had left his gun, the datachips and the Chameleon Mask the night before. To Ezra’s credit, he didn’t even flinch when he saw them.
“Miss Wynn asked me to bring up an assortment of pastries for you. She thought you might enjoy them with your coffee.”
“If you do not mind a question, where is the coffee from?”
“It’s a combination of beans from India and Brazil sir. The beans were flown in fresh this morning and ground right before your coffee was brewed.”
Korehammer nodded his head. He had been accused of being a “coffee snob” before and it never really bothered him. While his late, lamented Mr. Coffee was far from fancy, he used it with coffee ground from some of the most exotic and expensive beans you could get. As far as he was concerned, coffee was not something you trifled with.
“Thank you Ezra. That will be all.”
“Of course sir. If you need or want anything else, just ask.” With that Ezra left the suite just as quickly as he had arrived.
Korehammer poured himself a cup of coffee and after determining that it was up to his standards, picked up the small box that contained the two datachips and removed both. He turned them over in his hand and saw that they were essentially identical, the only noticeable difference is that one had an access code printed on it. He activated the suite’s neural interface display and inserted the one with the code into the reader.
A holoscreen appeared in the air in front of him and once he input the access code the screen began scrolling information for an account held by the National Cryptobank of NeoTokyo. It included a balance of one million credits to be paid to Trevor Korehammer upon the release of the funds by one Elon Mattix.
According to Zechiel, Mattix was the person Korehammer was supposed to locate in Brooklyn. Once he found him and gave him the other datachip, he would get paid and he could finally go back into retirement.
Not that Korehammer needed the money. He lived a relatively simple life and didn’t exactly want for much of anything. The issue for him was that once he took a job, he had to see it through to completion. Korehammer wasn’t a fan of loose ends as they could come back and bite you when you’re least expecting it.
Looking at the neural interface he said aloud “Search. Elon Mattix.”
The screen that appeared before him told Korehammer that Mattix was a seemingly unremarkable 29-year-old who owned a tattoo parlor called The Auditory Eye, just as Zechiel had said. From the picture he was bald, white, surly-looking and had some kind of cybernetic eye augmentation. He was also covered in bright neon tattoos, had been arrested numerous times and was a former low-level member of Codex, the gang that ran most of the crime in Brooklyn.
“Lovely. You need to start hanging out with a better class of people Corrine.”
Korehammer waved the holoscreen closed and then picked up the second datachip. He inserted it into the neural interface where the first one had been and a screen winked into existence in front of him. Unfortunately, Korehammer could see that all the information on the chip was heavily encrypted, just as he was expecting. If he had the time and the right chopware he could probably break the encryption, but it wasn’t something he could do here. Or, if he was being honest, the desire.
Korehammer was quickly realizing the less he knew about all this, the better. He was just a courier and wanted to keep it that way. This job had already cost him more than he had bargained for.
He took the datachip out of the interface and placed both of them back in the small box. He was about to take it into the bedroom when a voice said “Mr. Chernova. You have an incoming call from Miss Wynn.”
No doubt she wanted to discuss the events of last night. “Put it through, thank you.”
“You’re very welcome sir.”
Korehammer smiled as a holoscreen appeared in front of him filled with the image of Wynn. The fatigues and handgun were all gone, replaced by a ponytail and a green pant suit with a white blouse. “Mr. Chernova. I hope you slept well and the coffee was to your liking?”
“Da. I almost feel human again.”
“I’m glad sir. I was calling to inform you that someone has asked to meet you for breakfast. He said the two of you had business to discuss?”
Korehammer’s senses went on high alert. No one should know he was here and even if they did, as far as he knew he didn’t have business with anyone.
“Did this person say who they were?”
“No sir. They just asked if you could meet them in Angelo’s Cafe at ten this morning. He would have done so himself but the Shina-Yasuyan has strict rules about giving out room information so he asked me if I could relay the message.”
When Korehammer hesitated, Wynn continued. “They told me that it had to do with a business proposition and that it could benefit both you and a Corrine Caldera greatly. They said you would know what they are talking about?”
The datachips. Of course. He should have known this wasn’t going to end with the events of last night. Whoever wanted them was going to keep coming after him and wasn’t going to stop. But why talk to him here, in the hotel? Why not come after him once he left or back in Philadelphia? They had to know the Shina-Yasuyan would never allow a gunfight to break out while they were on the premises.
Taking that into consideration, Korehammer figured this was probably the safest place on the East Coast to have this meeting. If he was lucky, maybe he could get some much needed information about just what the hell he had gotten involved in.
Korehammer nodded his head to the holoscreen. “If you could pass along to this individual that I will be happy to meet them for breakfast, you would have my thanks. I will be there precisely at ten.”
“I will pass the message along Mr. Chernova.” Wynn hesitated before continuing. “Do you want me to have security standing by?”
Korehammer thought for a moment. “Yes, that would be fine.”
“Consider it done sir.”
With that Wynn ended the call. Korehammer went into the bedroom, picked out some suitable clothes for a business meeting and made sure both of his X-22 handguns were loaded and activated. He then headed for the elevator and prepared for what could be a very interesting morning.
Angelo’s Cafe was located on the twentieth floor of the tower Korehammer was staying in and when you walked in, you couldn’t help but think of old world Italy. It was no doubt the kind of restaurant that could be found all over in the days before the War but is now almost exclusively the domain of the rich and powerful. The floors were made of real wood while the tables had actual linen tablecloths and napkins. The smells coming from the kitchen made Korehammer smile almost immediately as he walked through the doors into the dimly lit dinning area.
Korehammer noticed immediately that there was no one else in the entire restaurant. All the tables were empty and the servers were all gone except for a few scattered here and there. As he made his way further into the restaurant, he almost unconsciously noted where all the exits were and the best route to go if he had to leave in a hurry.
A short balding man with a noticeable paunch walked up to him. He was visibly sweating and seemed incredibly nervous, his eyes darting back and forth between Korehammer and the back of the dinning area. Something told Korehammer that this was the proprietor and he wasn’t that excited to be having this meeting occurring in his restaurant.
“Are … are you Mr. Chernova?” He had a slight Italian accent to go with a deep, resonate voice.
“Da. And you are Angelo?”
“Yes. Could you follow me please?”
Angelo led Korehammer to the rear of the dining room to a small table in the far corner where sat a man smoking a cigarette. He was muscular, barrel-chested with wide shoulders and wearing a dark grey suit with a matching tie and black shirt. His skin was pale, his features were chiseled and his straight white hair was pulled back in a ponytail.
Off to one side was a woman that Korehammer recognized instantly. She was the same woman from the night before and she didn’t look happy. She stood with her hands behind her back and didn’t react in any way that Korehammer could notice when he entered the room.
The man at the table gestured for Korehammer to sit. “Mr. Chernova. Would you please join me? We have much to discuss.” His voice was deep but not as deep as Korehammer was expecting.
Korehammer pulled a chair out and sat, resting his hands on the table as the man put the cigarette out in an ashtray that was in front of him. “I’m afraid you have me at a disadvantage tovarich. You know my name but I am unfamiliar with yours.”
The man smiled. “My name is Gareth. Would you prefer for me to continue to call you Mr. Chernova, or would you like me to use your other name, Mr. Korehammer?”
Korehammer didn’t react. There was little use in lying but there was no advantage to giving away information either. “Mr. Chernova will be fine.”
“As you wish.” Gareth reached into his jacket and pulled out a silver cigarette case, pulling one out and lighting it.
“First, I wish to apologize for my associate and the events of last night. She was perhaps a bit overzealous in her pursuit of you and someone could have gotten hurt or killed. That was never our intention and something that should never have happened.” He then waved over to the woman, who walked stiffly to the edge of the table.
“Felicia, do you have something you would like to say to Mr. Chernova?”
Through gritted teeth she said “You have my apologies about what happened at the club. I’m sorry.”
Korehammer gave her a disinterested look, as if it meant absolutely nothing to him one way or another. He then turned back to Gareth. “Apology accepted. Now what is it you wanted to talk to me about? I have a busy day of gambling ahead of me and do not have time to waste.”
Gareth grinned. “Right to the point. I can respect that.” He took a drag of his cigarette before continuing. “You have something that belongs to us. We want it back. We will do what we have to do in order to get the datachip from you. You can either profit from this or you can make this whole affair more tedious than it has to be. It doesn’t matter to us either way but rest assured we will get what we want one way or another.
“It is my understanding that you are to be very well compensated for your retrieval of the item so I thought we could treat this as a business deal like civilized men. Whatever you are to be paid for the datachip we will pay you five times that amount. We can transfer the credits right here, right now and put this entire matter behind us. It’s up to you.”
Korehammer looked at Gareth. He couldn’t see his eyes thanks to the mirrorshades he was wearing but he already knew that he was lying. The minute they had the datachip Korehammer would end up dead in a ditch somewhere along the Atlantic City Expressway. Of that he was certain.
Not for the first time, Korehammer wondered exactly what Caldera had gotten herself involved with over the last few years. After speaking with this Gareth, he knew now that even after he got the datachip to Brooklyn, Korehammer wasn’t going to be able to wash his hands of all this and walk away. These were serious people, the kind you didn’t fuck with and now he was hip deep in whatever this was right along with Caldera.
Korehammer knew now that his retirement and his life as he knew it was effectively over.
When Korehammer finally spoke, he did so in measured tones. “Mr. Gareth, while your offer is very generous, I will have to decline. You and I both know that there is no way you can let me live at this point, not with all that I know. So I will take my chances and keep the datachip on my person.”
He then decided to see if he could provoke a reaction. “Who knows, maybe there is another group who will pay me more for it?”
Gareth’s eyebrows arched as he stabbed his cigarette out in the ashtray. “I thought we could act like gentlemen and keep the bloodshed to a minimum. Obviously I was mistaken.” He then rose from his seat, Felicia instantly by his side.
“Just remember Mr. Chernova. What happens next is on you. The loss of life, the destruction, it all could have been avoided. Have a pleasant day.”
“Did you even know her name?”
Gareth stopped and turned to look at Korehammer, who was still seated at the table. “Excuse me?”
He had abandoned the charade of Chernova, speaking now as Trevor Korehammer. “When your people slit the throat of the waitress and left her to bleed to death in my apartment. Did any of them even learn her name?”
Gareth had a bored expression on his face. “I’m sure I have no clue what you’re talking about.”
Korehammer rose from the table and walked over to Gareth. He was taller than Korehammer, but not by much. “Her name was Ludmila and of all the people in this pathetic excuse for a world, she was the closest thing to family I had. When you killed her you made this personal.
“Now normally I don’t let things like that cloud my judgement because we’re all professionals. Things happen that can’t be avoided. However, as far as I’m concerned you crossed a line. So realize that what’s to come, the blood and death, isn’t on me or what happened here today. It’s because you killed a defenseless waitress to send a message. That isn’t the act of a gentleman, it’s the act of a savage. What happens next is on you.”
Korehammer turned and walked out of the cafe, his mind already planning for what was to come.