“You … you’re the courier?”
Most of the blood had left Zechiel’s face as he looked at Korehammer. With his mouth hanging open and the look of sheer terror in his eyes, Korehammer was certain that this man did not live the kind of life he or Caldera was used to. Zechiel was just a common collar who liked to bet on the cyber fights and tried to get through life unnoticed.
How he came into the orbit of Caldera and became mixed up in whatever it was that she was involved with were questions for another day. Right now Korehammer just wanted to get the package and get it to where it had to go.
“Yes. Caldera said you had something for me? And instructions on where I was taking it?”
Zechiel swallowed hard, glancing around as he picked up the cigarette that had fallen out of his mouth. “Um, that … that might be a problem.”
Korehammer sighed. He just knew it wasn’t going to be as easy as he had hoped. “What do you mean?”
“Look, I didn’t want to ditch it, all right? But I thought I was being followed. Those people don’t fuck around and I figured if I stashed it somewhere safe, it would be better than getting caught.”
Korehammer looked down at the floor and shook his head. If Zechiel was being followed, and there was every possibility that he was, there was a good chance they would find him. He didn’t see anything to be suspicious of currently, but that could change at any second. He finally decided that it would be best for the two of them to have this conversation in a more private setting.
“Come with me.”
Korehammer got up and indicated that Zechiel should follow him. He was hesitant at first but once he saw that Korehammer wasn’t going to take no for an answer, he finally got up and shuffled after him.
The two men took the elevator up to the private suite that Tindal had made available to Korehammer. He gestured to one of the large cushioned chairs and told Zechiel to have a seat.
“Can I get you something to drink? You look like you could use it.”
“A … a gut punch on the rocks.”
Korehammer walked over to the bar and made the drink. While he did he glanced out the glass doors to the sports book below and noticed a pair of new arrivals that stood out like sore thumbs. Both were extremely pale and wearing all black with mirrorshades. That would have been odd enough but the fact neither had a drink in front of them or was watching any of the events on the holoscreens meant they were here for a reason other than to place a bet.
Korehammer handed Zechiel his drink and sat in the chair next to him. “You need to relax. You’re safe here. This suite is as secure as it gets. One of the perks of being a high roller.”
“Yeah. Sure.” Zechiel sat straighter in his chair and drew a lighter out his pocket. With shaking hands he lit the cigarette and inhaled deeply. He blew the smoke out of his nose and closed his eyes.
“I’m not part of the conflict, you know. I’m just doing this as a favor to Corrine. I owed her big time.”
Conflict? What the hell was Zechiel talking about? Didn’t matter. He would add it to the list of questions he had for Caldera once he saw her again. “That so?”
“Yeah. I was in deep with some bad people. I was going to die of concrete poisoning if I didn’t come up with the credits I owed them.” He took another drag off his cigarette. “To this day I don’t know why but Corrine got me square again. Told me I owed her a favor and someday she would come to collect. I said fine. I mean, what choice did I have?”
Zechiel reached into his pocket and brought out a pack of Coffin Nails cigarettes, lighting a new one with the butt of the one he had just finished. He offered the pack to Korehammer but he waved it off.
“So, Quinton, let’s try to focus. Where did you stash the package?”
Zechiel sighed and glanced at the floor. “In the Caesars Zone there’s a strip club called Cheetahs. Been there forever. Up in the private area where there’s no surveillance, it’s stashed between the cushions in the third room on the left.”
“And it’s safe there for now?”
“Yeah, it should be. I was planning to go back later to get it but now that you’re here I don’t have to. Which is fine by me.”
“And where was I supposed to be taking this parcel once I retrieve it?”
“New York. The Brooklyn Zone. There’s a tattoo shop there called The Auditory Eye. Ask for a guy named Mattix. The place is a front for Corrine’s people. They’ll know what to do with it from there.”
Zechiel blew air out his mouth, his relief almost palpable. He probably thought his role in this affair was now done and he could get on with his life. Korehammer really hoped that was an option as he stole another glace at the glass doors. The pair in black were more than likely still down there, waiting to see if Zechiel showed up at his favorite sports book.
Korehammer wasn’t happy about what was going to happen next, but it was unavoidable. He liked Zechiel and thought he was a decent enough guy. He likely wouldn’t live to see the dawn but hopefully it would give Korehammer enough time to get to this Cheetahs, get the package and be on his merry way.
Korehammer stood, reaching his hand out to Zechiel. He didn’t stand but took it, his hand clammy and wet with sweat.
“Thank you for the information Mr. Zechiel. I will let Corrine know you were most helpful.”
“That’s it? I thought there would be some kind of reward or fee or something.”
Korehammer smiled. “Once I get to Cheetahs and retrieve the package, I’ll make sure you get a little something for your efforts. Say, 25,000 credits? How does that sound?”
Zechiel eyes went wide again but this time from unadulterated joy rather than fear. He was smiling ear to ear as Korehammer spoke. “Now, I think it would be best if you made yourself scarce for a while. Stay in big crowds and go play some VR roulette or something. If you are being followed, this is the first place they’re going to look.”
Korehammer looked up toward the ceiling. “Mr. Tindal, could you come to my suite please?”
Moments later Tindal was at the door, datapad at the ready. “Yes sir. What can I do for you?”
“Do you have a another exit from this floor that leads back to the casino?”
Tindal glanced at Zechiel before saying “Yes sir. We have a service elevator at the end of the hallway that goes down to the first floor.”
“Could you take my friend here and show him the way? He wants to mix things up and play some table games but doesn’t want to use the main entrance of the Senshō. Trying to avoid being seen by the wife.”
When Tindal seemed to hesitate, Korehammer said “I would consider it a personal favor. And I always repay my debts. Very generously”
Tindal nodded. “Of course. Did you need anything else?”
“Nyet. That is all.”
“Excellent sir.” Tindal then looked at Zechiel. “If you’ll follow me I can show you the way to the service elevator.”
Zechiel glanced briefly at Korehammer before allowing himself to be led away. Once the door closed he looked down through the glass doors and saw the man and woman were still at the bar, waiting. He hoped that if Zechiel listened and stayed in the open, it would give him enough time to get to Cheetahs and retrieve the package. If not, things could get very interesting later this evening.
Before he left the suite, he placed a number of bets on the cyber fights that were just getting started in Vegas. It took valuable time but was necessary in order to keep the Chernova identity as genuine as possible. He placed one rather large bet on the Jovena Rackman fight. He didn’t care what Zechiel said, that woman could kick some serious ass.
With that done, he used his NIIC to place a call to Neomi Wynn. He figured he could go into Cheetahs with guns blazing or he could try doing this the easy way.
“Mr. Chernova. What can I do for you?”
“What can you tell me about a club called Cheetahs?”
“It’s a duel-gender exotics club about three blocks away from the Caesars Casino Megaplex. Very popular with high rollers and the like. Were you planning to make a trip there?”
“Da. I was considering it. Sleep is not forthcoming and I could use a distraction.”
“Of course sir. If you walk over to valet, I’ll have a car waiting to take you there. Would you like me to call ahead and arrange for bottle service for you? I know one of the VIP hostesses there and she would be more than happy to accommodate you.”
“That would be lovely.”
“When you get there, just ask for Miss Nyx Wynter. She will take very good care of you. Enjoy yourself Mr. Chernova. ”
“I will try. You have my thanks dushen’ka.”
Wynn blushed ever so slightly again before the holoscreen winked out.
Korehammer walked to valet and found that the same car as the one that brought him to Atlantic City was waiting for him. The driver, this time a young Black woman with a cybernetic left hand, opened the door so he could get in.
Fifteen minutes later they pulled up to the front of Cheetahs, a three-story building made entirely of reflective chrome and pulsing neon. A massive holoscreen took up most of the front of the building, flashing ads for what they called the “Cheetahs Experience” and whatever mixer was playing the music that night. Outside the main entrance a line snaked around the corner, made up of people waiting to get in who probably never would.
The car pulled right up to the entrance, drawing the attention of everyone in the long line. The driver got out and opened the door for Korehammer with a bit more flourish than would be normal. She told him to just call when he wanted to be picked up and then drove off.
Korehammer walked up to the double doors and was immediately stopped by the incredibly large muscleboy standing there. It was obvious from just looking at him he was mostly chrome and grafts, which is probably a good thing with a job like this.
“Can I help you?” The bouncer sounded bored, like he was on his third shift and had no desire to deal with some infirm who thought he was just going to walk right in.
“Da. My name is Malcolm Chernova. I’m supposed to ask for a Nyx Wynter. She will be expecting me.”
The muscleboy turned his head and spoke into his NIIC, and within moments had an entirely new attitude regarding Korehammer. “Sorry about the wait sir.” he said as he pulled one of the doors open and gestured for Korehammer to enter.
The moment he walked into the club he felt as if his senses were under assault. The air was think with the smells of smoke and sex while his ears had to deal with the constant thumping of bad techno music. Holoscreens along the walls played a variety of either sporting events or rocker vids that no one could hear.
The majority of Cheetahs was made up of a large rectangular bar that took up almost the entire center of the room. Bartenders ran back and forth serving drinks as dancers, both male and female, writhed on stages and swung from poles attached to the ceiling. Some were walking around, trying to convince patrons that their lives would not be complete unless they chose to enjoy some alone time with them.
As Korehammer stood taking in the scene, a woman with long pink hair and fingernails to match walked up to him. She had a heart-shaped face with prominent cheekbones and full lips that glowed a neon red. She was older than most of the dancers and had obviously had a number of procedures done to minimize the effect time was having on her.
“You’re Mr. Chernova?” Her voice was soft but seemed to carry over the music without any problem.
“Da. And you are Miss Wynter.”
“That’s correct sir. If you’ll follow me I’ll show you to your private booth where you’ll be able to relax and enjoy everything Cheetahs has to offer.”
Korehammer followed her towards the back of the club where a number of booths were located. Each gave unimpeded views of the show going on at the bar and had a holoscreen as well as a VR rig. Several of the dancers were already eyeing him up, thinking that they had found their sugar daddy for the evening.
Korehammer also noticed that in the far corner was a spiral staircase being guarded by two more muscleboys, similar to the one at the doors. Above the staircase in bright green neon were the words “The Sparkle Lounge” and as he watched, a male dancer was heading upstairs with an older couple, the three laughing like they had known each other forever.
“Here we are Mr. Chernova. Just input what you would like to drink into the datapad and one of our girls will bring it right over. Unless, of course you would prefer one of the boys?”
“A girl will be fine Miss Wynter. Spasibo.”
“Great. If you need anything else feel free to let me know. Have a good time Mr. Chernova.”
Korehammer looked over the drink menu on the datapad and ordered a bottle of Tsarskaya vodka and an iced glass. Most bars served synthentic versions of alcohol because they were a lot cheaper and the majority of the population really didn’t care. They just wanted to get drunk fast and forget about their lives. The fact Cheetahs had the genuine article was surprising.
Five minutes later a young girl walked over to Korehammer’s booth with the vodka on a tray along with two glasses. She couldn’t have been any more than five feet tall with short hair cut into a bob that was the same shade of blue as her eyes. She had a stunning hourglass figure and was wearing very little to cover it.
“Your Tsarskaya sir.” Her voice had a slight Spanish accent, but Korehammer couldn’t quite place from where.
“Thank you. But I think you brought one too many glasses with you.”
She fluttered her eyelashes as she said “I was hoping you might want some company. It would be a shame to drink such an expensive beverage and not be able share.”
“You do have a point my dear. Please, sit.” Korehammer gestured to the empty space in the booth next to him.
The girl sat down and opened the bottle, pouring herself and Korehammer a drink.
“My name is Vanya. It’s very nice to meet you.”
“Likewise. A toast then. To new friendships.” The two drank and Vanya refilled both glasses.
Korehammer had to admit that if the situation was different, he would be more than willing to spend some time with this girl. Unfortunately, time was something he didn’t have a tremendous amount of. He needed to get the package and get out of here before Zechiel was found by the pair from the Senshō and he cracked under questioning.
Luckily it seemed that Vanya wasn’t interested in wasting time either. Korehammer felt her breath in his ear as her hand found its way into his lap.
“So, Mr. Chernova. I was told to try my best to make you as happy as humanly possible. Would you like to go upstairs to the lounge and have some fun? I promise you won’t go away disappointed.”
“I’m sure I won’t my dear. I was just thinking the same thing.”
“The what are we waiting for?”
Vanya took Korehammer’s hand and gently pulled him out of the booth. Still holding his hand she led him toward the spiral staircase and the Sparkle Lounge above. The two muscleboys didn’t even bat an eye as they walked past.
Once they reached the top, it opened onto a long hallway lined with wood doors on either side, each with a NIIC reader mounted to the wall next to it. They all had a light strip mounted above them, some glowing red while the majority of them glowed green. The sounds coming from inside the ones that were red Korehammer could only describe as intense. Unfortunately, one of those was the third door on the left.
Why can’t anything be easy on this damn assignment? Korehammer thought to himself as Vanya led him down the hallway.
Thankfully the room right next to the one he needed to get into was open. Korehammer stopped in front of it and pulled Vanya toward him.
“How about this one?” He said, pointing to the door.
“Are you sure? I have a regular room I always use. I think you’ll like it much better.”
“Nyet. I am very superstitious and my gut tells me this is the room for us. I always follow my gut. It’s how I made my millions.”
At the mention of how much money he had, Vanya became much more agreeable. With a smile she walked over to the NIIC reader and waved her wrist over it. The light strip above the door went from green to red and Korehammer followed her into the room.