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Amerikano Hiaika, (c) 1990 by Wil McCarthy, Part 3

His eyes peeled open with a dry stickiness, like magic tape coming off the roll. Painfully, he raised his head up on creaking neck muscles and looked around him. The room was a small, windowless triple-capsule, its fitfully backlit ceiling barely a meter above his nose. He himself was sprawled on a ragged futon, with dingy gray-white sheets tangled about his feet. And on the sheet, he noted, there sat a brown spider almost as large as a 500- yen coin.

He kicked the sheets away with a shriek of disgust. Jesus and Buddha, he hated spiders. They crawl on your face when you're asleep, and drink out of the corners of your eyes. That was what his mother used to say, back when they lived in San Diego...

No, that wasn't right. Nick had never lived in the United States. It was Billy-chan who hated spiders, who had lived with his mother in southern California. Go away, he thought harshly. He was Tanner, dammit. Until he ran out of drugs he was god-damned Nick Tanner.

Nick heaved himself out of bed, groaning. His body was a mass of hurt, each injury calling out loudly for his attention. He ignored them, and duck-walked over to the tiny sink beside the door. The water, when he turned it on, was just a lukewarm trickle, but he cupped both hands under the flow, and splashed some on his face and chest. Aah. That was almost refreshing.

He grabbed his shirt from the floor of synthami mats, pulled it over his head.

The manilla envelope seemed to stare at him, from its place beside his pillow. He leaned over and grabbed it, spilling its contents out on the floor in front of him. Cash (a wrapped bundle of it, like you saw in banks, and in crime movies), a map of the city with highlighter marks on it, a sealed foil packet (looking for all the world like a drug-store condom), a typed note, and a business card. UNIVERSAL EXPORTS, the card read. TEL. 3-45-7659.

He took out his telephone and dialed.

It rang twice. There was a click: "Go ahead," a deep, unfamiliar voice instructed him.

"Number two, this is, uh," (he checked the note) "number seventy three."

There was a pause. "Welcome to the network, seventy three. What's your status?"

Nick cracked a smile. Like any good Americatown citizen, he had a love for cloak-and-dagger secrecy. There was, even among expatriate Americans, a sort of nostalgia for the cold war, for the days of spy satellites and James Bond movies. He could already understand the network implicitly. Number two was the man in charge (number one being the original Tanner, now deceased), the man who remained perpetually in hiding while he assimilated data from his agents.

At least, that's what Nick would do if he were running things.

"Well," he said, clearing away this irrelevant line of thought. "I'm supposed to head for the Shibuya district to talk with somebody named Brady Calhoun. He's some kind of data pirate."

"Okay," number two replied. "Right. This Calhoun, he isn't a suspect, but he may be able to help us find one. Understand?"

"Sure."

"Okay then. Keep in touch, seventy three."

The line went dead. Nick switched off his phone, tucked it away, and gathered his things together. He quickly relieved himself in the sink, a filthy but common habit here in lower A-town, where the bathroom was usually a ways down the hall, and sometimes down the street. He took a deep breath, held it, released it. He slid open the door, which squealed in its tracks, and stepped out into the world.

He almost broke his arm falling out of the doorway; Billy- chan's room was on the higher of two levels on this floor. Many of the other capsule rooms were open, and heads poked out from several of these. Further down the hall, a group of scruffy men engaged in a quiet game, handing cards back and forth across the ridiculously narrow hallway. Startled by the hollow thud as Nick slammed into the plastic floor, they looked up sharply, then burst out laughing.

"Ooh, Billy-chan. Wrong side of the bed?" One of them baby- talked at him, breaking out in a fresh peal of laughter.

"Che, bakanishiyagate." Nick muttered in the man's direction. He picked himself up and headed for the ladder at the opposite end of the hall. Downstairs, he confronted the hotel's clerk, a surly- looking nihonjin named Akemi. "I'm going out," he offered darkly. "I want the same room back tonight, wakata?"

Akemi nodded unpleasantly. She had no love for Billy-chan, but his bill was paid, now, through the end of the month. That was more than could be said for most of the Best Eastern's residents.

It was raining outside, the dreary, unvaryingly oppressive drizzle of Japan's early summer. Nick stole an umbrella from the rack out front and merged with the light Sunday morning crowd.

The worst thing about the rain, Nick reflected, was that it gave no sign that it was ever going to end. It might continue, with dull uniformity, for a week or more. The second worst thing, of course, was the fact that the nihon-jin, almost universally short, held their umbrellas at perfect eye level. Even here at the edge of Americatown, the sidewalk was an ever-shifting porcupine of sharp umbrella spines, any one of which could blind him at any moment.

Along with three hundred other people, he crossed a street that was two centimeters deep in water, flowing like a minor river. Then, he joined a crowd of fifty or so in descending the waterfall/stairs of the subway station.

The line at the ticket machines was long, though thankfully the floor was dry (all the water ran down onto the tracks, where it formed a subterranean sea almost ten centimeters deep). After a wait of well over fifteen minutes, Nick was finally at the machine. He fed in a 10,000-yen bill, quickly grabbed his ticket and pocketed an awkward handful of change.

"Chotto sumimasen," He said, forcing his way through several other lines. "Saki-ni gomen-ne." His train was already here, and it was not planning to wait for him! He dropped his ticket into the ticket-taker (having held it for less than 30 seconds, he wondered, not for the first time, why they didn't just eliminate the ticket and save everybody a lot of time), pushed forward, and squeezed onto the train just as the doors were closing. Luckily, it wasn't a weekday morning rush hour. He could almost breathe.

#

He pressed the door buzzer again, starting to become worried. Shibuya was a nice part of town, even if it had declined somewhat this past decade. Plenty to do around here. What if Brady Calhoun was out somewhere?

Nick had no contingency plans, no useful way to spend his time if Calhoun wasn't home.

The door jerked open in front of him. "Nananda!" A sleepy-looking, bathrobed apparition demanded.

"Uh, Mr. Calhoun," Nick began. "Sorry if I woke you. I'd like to ask you a few questions."

Calhoun emitted a sharp bark, like an aborted attempt at laughter, and looked Billy-chan's wiry frame up and down. "You would, huh? Well, I'd like to smash you one in the mouth. What say we both give up and call it even?"

He started to slam the door, and Tanner stuck Billy-chan's foot in the frame at the last moment. A lance of pain shot up through his leg, but the door remained open. Calhoun started leaning on it heavily.

"Sumimasen," Nick hissed through the crack in the door. "Ashiga itaindagane. Open the goddamn door."

"Get out of here, man," Calhoun warned, an edge of fear on his voice. "I'll cut your foot off."

"Chotto kikitaikotoga, arunda Mr. Calhoun." Nick insisted. "Two thousand yen for a minute of your time."

Calhoun eased up on the door, allowing the white fire in Nick's foot to cool down a bit. "Throw the money inside and pull your foot out."

Tanner complied, and the door promptly slammed shut. Right. Fury rose within him. He was about to pound the door until it dented, when he heard the sound of the ball-and-hook police bar being opened. The door swung wide.

"You sure ain't a cop," Calhoun told him, scratching his unshaved chin in puzzlement. "And you sure ain't a yakuza. The meter is running, what's your question?"

Nick cleared his throat. His anger needed a moment to disperse. "Um, there was a cop killed last month off Roppongi. An American."

"Yeah, I remember. Him and his wife. It was in the paper."

"Right," Nick agreed, cheeks flushing, throat constricting as he felt a little part of himself die. Karen! "That's right. My name is Geist, and that cop, uh, was sort of a friend of mine. I understand you're in, uh, the information business, and my question is whether you can locate information pertaining to, uh, this incident."

A smile, like that of a monitor lizard, broke out on Brady Calhoun's face. "Well, a friend of yours, was he? You slip him a little cash, he slips you a little get out of jail card, eh? Real friendly, like."

Nick sighed. "The answer to my question is?"

"One million yen," Calhoun stated, his smile vanishing. "Half now, half when I dig out your clues."

Nick blinked, nonplussed. A million yen, huh? He wondered how long it might take him to get that kind of money together. How extensive were the network's resources? How important was this line of inquiry?

An idea popped into his mind. "Brady," he said, shaking his head sadly. "Don't do that, okay? I know you're pretty tight right now, but don't squeeze me. I'll give you twenty thousand yen, all up front."

Calhoun looked startled, then angry. "Twenty thousand! You couldn't kiss my ass for twenty thousand!"

"Couldn't I?" Tanner asked. He held his expression neutral. "The hacking game isn't like it used to be. Business is slow, I know that. The payoff isn't so high, now. You used to be one of the greats, Brady, something really special, but society is shifting out from under you. You're like the carbon paper king, watching while Xerox machines flatten your empire. It's too bad, really. How about I give you thirty thousand."

He watched Calhoun's face carefully. He knew nothing about the data piracy business, and had never heard of Brady before reading his instruction sheet last night. His verbal assault had been based on guesswork and supposition, on things he thought he might have heard somewhere. That banks were numbering their imaginary dollars these days, that any transaction could be traced. If he were off the mark, though, he'd have an angry and alienated Brady to deal with. And he'd be just that much farther from finding Karen's killer.

Bright hatred flashed in Calhoun's eyes and was gone. The man looked hollow, suddenly, lost and afraid. "Fifty thousand," he said quietly, his eyes dropping. "Thirty up front."

"Deal," Nick concurred. "How long do you need?"

"Come back in five hours."

"Okay." Nick fished three bills out of his pocket and handed them over. He stepped away from the door.

"You're a dirty bastard, Mr. Geist," Calhoun said emptily. "Do you know what it's like to lose your whole world? Do you?"

Nick Tanner turned away. "I'll see you in five hours," he said.

He took the elevator down, left the building, and headed immediately for a ramen shop across the street. Jesus and Buddha, he was starving.

A bowl of pork ramen was soon presented to him, and he tossed a 500-yen coin across the counter and set in with a vengeance. The noodles were fine, rich but not soggy, and the meat and vegetables were cooked to perfection. A radio was playing softly behind him somewhere, and the music was Amerikano Hiaika, the American Blues. Hopelessly out of date, the stuff barely sold anymore, but its soothing, melancholy tones had always been a comfort to Nick. He let the music slide through him while the ramen's steamy broth warmed him against the rain. Ah, Tokyo, he thought, glad for the moment to be where he was.

The whole bowl, more than a liter of soup, was gone in five minutes. Nick considered ordering another bowl, but Billy-chan's shivelled stomach groaned at the thought. Geist was not used to eating often or well, preferring to spend his free cash on euphorin and halucinol. Just lately, too, the euphorin was becoming a problem; his dosage got higher every time, in the "suicide curve" that rose exponentially toward toxic levels. Still, that particular drug was U.S. certified as nonaddictive, so he could always quit if he wanted to.

Sighing, he got up, retrieved his umbrella from the rack, and strode out into the drizzle again.

Almost five hours to kill. What was the most useful thing he could do with that time? Number two had said the network was talking to the yakuza all over town. Presumably, that meant the Americatown Mafia as well. Calhoun was looking into the city's data net. All the wintesses were accounted for, and stopping strangers on the street hardly seemed productive.

He ducked into a narrow alley and got out his phone.

"Go ahead," the now-familiar voice of number two told him after he'd dialed.

"Number two," Nick answered, "This is number seventy three. I made a deal with Brady Calhoun, he's going to do some snooping around for us. He told me it would take five hours, though."

"Understood," number two said. "You need something to do."

"Right," Nick replied. How convenient it was, to deal with yourself over the phone. There was no confusion, no need to explain anything.

Number two spoke again: "You're in Shibuya now, right? I want you to look around, see if you can find a dealer." (he meant a CPO dealer with a supply of Nick Tanner) "We don't have one in that district yet. If you can't find one, head over to the Ginza and buy yourself a hit from Fat Charlie."

"Understood," said Nick. "Will I know him when I see him?"

"Hai, sugu wakarusa. He's pretty easy to spot. Keep in touch, seventy-three."

Nick swiched off the phone.

Stepping back out into the street, he scanned the crowds with a critical eye. He was looking for somebody relaxed, somebody just sort of hanging out while the high-strung mobs brushed by. Somebody well dressed, but a little seedy looking. Most of all, he was looking for somebody caucasian.

It was the shame of the western hemisphere, that over ninety- five percent of drug-related crimes in Tokyo were committed by white Americans. That Americatown had more crime per capita than any other place in Japan, over six times the national average.

That more people were killed there every month than in the entire province of Osaka. This was a particular, burning shame to Nick Tanner, who loved A-town dearly, had lived there for his entire life. He was a cop there, entrusted with the job of keeping the lowlife in check, knowing full well that he was unequal to the task. The robbers outnumbered the cops a thousand to one.

His eyes tracked the street like the sensors of an autonomous weapon. He found no target. The people here were all Nihon-jin, moving hurriedly from one place to the next. Spending even their Sundays like rats in a maze.

Nick pocketed the phone and moved on.

This was really the wrong part of town to look for drugs in, he decided after a few hours. Gaijin were few and far between, and in Shibuya they were all Japanized folk, scurrying around like everyone else. Tamago, such people were called in Americatown. Eggs; white on the outside, yellow on the inside.

Eventually, he gave up and took the train to the Ginza. He walked up and down the blocked-off-for-Sunday street twice, until his shoes were filled with chilly rainwater and his pant legs were wet up to the knee. When he finally spotted Fat Charlie, though, there was no mistaking him. An overweight American in a white, three-piece suit, the man might as well have carried a sign reading "Dope For Sale".

Fat Charlie was standing beneath an awning, glancing over a rack of soggy magazines, when Nick pulled up next to him.

"Nice day out, huh?" Nick offered.

The white-suited man turned and looked at Nick, a polite surprise registering on his face. An I-don't-know-you-but-you-seem-friendly-enough look. "I suppose it could be," he said. His voice was deep and hoarse, the low rattle of cigar-ravaged throat and lungs.

Nick nodded, approving, at least, of this man's style. "You're Charlie, right?"

The man made a noise that was either a chuckle or a cough. "My friends call me Fat Charlie. I'm not quite sure why."

"Got any euphorin?" Nick heard himself ask.

"Ahem. Let's, ah, let's lower our voices, shall we?"

"I'm sorry," Nick said, shaking his head a little. Where had that come from? "I didn't mean euphorin. I meant seepee. Have you got any seepee?"

Fat Charlie looked uncomfortable. "Shall we take a walk? Someplace a bit more private, perhaps?"

Tanner nodded. "Sure. Lead the way. I'm looking for a specific overlay, though. Name is Nick Tanner. Can you help me out there?"

"Oh." Fat Charlie exclaimed quietly. He had just opened his umbrella, but now he pulled it closed again. "I am sorry, but somebody just bought my entire stock of... of that. That was about fifteen minutes ago."

"What!" Tanner cried, loudly, causing Fat Charlie to wince. Somebody had bought his entire stock? Some small-time dealer, hoping for a quick buck? A maverick Tanner, laying in a year's supply? God damn it all.

"I am sorry." Fat Charlie repeated, with a tone of finality.

Nick shrugged. "Popular item, I guess."

He popped open his umbrella and rejoined the waves of Ginza shoppers. He had a bad feeling, suddenly. What if the CPO was difficult to find, not just today but every day? What if the investigation simply tapered away, for lack of Tanners to carry it out?

He took out his telephone and dialed up Universal Exports.

"Go ahead," an unfamiliar voice answered.

A chill ran through Tanner's body. "Who is this?" He demanded.

"This is number five," the strange voice answered. "Number two is missing, I don't know where he is. Who is this?"

Nick ducked his head aside to avoid the murderous spines of somebody's umbrella. "This is number seventy three," he said. "What happened to number two? Did he get arrested?"

"No," the voice replied impatiently in his hand. "I already checked. Do you have any information to report?"

"Yes, I do. I just checked with Fat Charlie on the Ginza, and he says somebody bought up his whole stock a few minutes ago. He doesn't have any more."

Nick heard the voice of "number five" sigh tiredly. "Thirty- eight just told me the same thing about one of our waterfront dealers. Something's going down, here, seventy three, I think we're in trouble. Some of the guys haven't called since this morning.

"We lose people all the time, you know. Somebody wakes up straight one day, and we never hear from him again. Stuff like that. But this is different. I'm worried."

Nick's heart was racing. What had happened to number two? Was there genuine cause for alarm here? "I, uh, I'm going back to Brady Calhoun's place," he said into the phone. "I'll probably be late as it is. Do you have things under control?"

"Sure," said number five, a little too quickly. "No problem. Keep in touch, seventy three."

"Yeah, take care." Nick replied, hanging up. He forced calmness into his thoughts. There might or might not be something to worry about. Knowing his own flair for drama, he couldn't be sure number five wasn't making a big deal about nothing. Then again, he trusted his own instincts, and number five's instincts were his own...

He pushed the thought away. He'd stay alert, but even if something big were happening, there was little he could do but play out his part.

The walk to the train station, and the train ride itself, seemed interminably long. The rain seemed a cruel taunt, aimed directly at him. Life is hopeless, the rain said. Life is a grim discomfort leading inexorably to death. The crowds seemed to fight him, part of a deliberate conspiracy to slow him down.

He was over an hour late when he hit the buzzer on Brady Calhoun's door again.

This time, Calhoun opened the door after only a brief pause. He was still dressed in his bathrobe. "Come in, Mr. Geist," he invited, smiling the same reptillian smile Nick had seen earlier. Won't you step into my parlor.... "Come on in and have a beer with me!"

Nick stepped through the doorway, closed the door behind him. He moved with an underwater slowness. Something strange was in the air.

"I think you'll be interested in what I've found," Calhoun went on, as Tanner stepped out of his sodden tennis shoes and up onto the apartment's floor. His feet left wet, squiggly sock marks on the carpeting. "Come on in, sit down. I've been waiting for you!"

The apartment was a single room, divided into kitchen, bedroom, and livingroom regions through the placement of furniture alone. The bathroom was an upright cubicle, almost like a telephone booth, in the corner of the room. Brady led him over to the kitchen table, handed him a beer. They sat.

"What did you find?" Nick asked carefully. His guard was up, but he wanted to appear as casual as he could. What was wrong? He couldn't quite put a finger on it.

Calhoun scooped up a pile of papers, flipped over the top one. "News briefs," he beamed. "I took a look at the crime. Not a very professional job. Your police friend didn't die until two weeks ago. That rules out organized crime, I think. And it couldn't be a robbery, right? The victims' personal effects were found with them. Maybe it was a random crime, I thought. Doesn't give me a lot to go on, so fuck it. I decide to check the corporate angle.

"And what do I find? Well, it seems our friend Officer Tanner was involved in an investigation last year. Something about a stock deal, something about the Funada corporation. Nothing very big. No conclusions drawn."

Nick remembered that investigation, in the offhand way that you remember trivial things. A Funada executive had sold a block of stock to a blind holding company at well below the market price.

Nothing illegal there, but it was unusual enough to provoke a brief inquiry from the Government Ethics Department. And, as Calhoun had indicated, no evidence of wrongdoing was uncovered. No conclusions were drawn.

"Okay so far?" Calhoun asked impatiently.

The man seemed inordinately proud of himself, and Tanner nodded, also impatient for the story to continue.

"Well," Calhoun expanded. "That oughta be the end of it, right? But I notice, all of a sudden, all sorts of memo's being passed around the high levels of the Funada corporation with Nick Tanner's name on them. There were some other names, too, some government people involved in that investigation. But we're mainly concerned with Officer Tanner, neh?

"On May eleventh, your good friend Tanner and his wife were attacked. And those memo's stopped going around! Just like that! Tanner didn't realize it, but he'd stuck his hand in a hornet's nest, and the hornets stung him, after a while. Funada was spreading cash around in the government, man, just spreading it around like peanut butter on a piece of bread. And they thought Tanner knew about it!"

Nick reeled back under the impact of these statements. Could all this be true? Would they really kill people over something like that?

Calhoun flipped over another sheet, one which bore a smudged color-laser hardcopy of a man's picture. "This is a personnel photo from Funada's files. The man is Toshio Fujiwara, he works on the loading dock at Funada Tower downtown. He called in sick for a whole week, starting the monday after the attack. A week after that, the decimal point slips two places on his paycheck and the computer fails to catch the error. This here's the guy that popped your friend, man, this is him."

Nick was speechless. His mind was not assimilating this data. He saw the face in the picture, but found it impossible to connect with anything. How could the man who killed Karen have a face like that? How could he have a face?

"While I'm snooping around," Calhoun continued mercilessly, like a boxer who rammed and rammed at his opponent's chest, refusing him a chance to breathe. "I notice how far out on a limb Funada's gone with some of their financing operations. They've got a room full of adaptive neural nets over there, doing an operation called `computing short'. They're over there cranking out next years tax returns, using virtual calculations based on an algorithm that isn't written yet. That's cutting edge AI, man, that's like five years ahead of its time. For the goddamn taxes!"

Tanner's mouth hung open, his face frozen in something like horror. He had virtually stopped listening. His eyes were locked on the image of Toshio Fujiwara. Could it be true? Could it?

With an effort, he shifted his gaze to Calhoun's face. The man was grinning like a snake, his eyes as flat and lifeless as if they were painted on.

"I burned them, Nick, I gave them an algorithm."

Nick. Calhoun had said his name. "How did you know my name?" He asked, his voice registering no surprise. Nothing could surprise him any more. "I didn't tell you my name."

Brady Calhoun shrugged, still grinning. "I looked at the police records, you know? And I found all these references to seepee-heads, being released into the custody of one Milo Rodriguez, public defender. Every one of them claimed to be Nicholas Tanner. Every last stinking one of them, including William R. Geist, aka. Billy-chan. It's you, man, you're investigating your own murder!"

Things came together in Nicks mind. All of a sudden, his confusion was gone. His grief was gone, his suspicions and worries and questions gone, plowed under by the certainty of the thought that had occurred to him. "You sold me out," he said quietly. "Once you got my name, you sold it right back to Funada, didn't you."

Brady looked afraid for half a moment, but the reptile quickly reasserted itself. "What are you talking about?"

Tanner smiled wanly, and threw his unopened beer can into Brady's face. It impacted solidly, just above the nose, and fell away. The data pirate had barely flinched, but he screamed now, and fell back against the refirgerator, grabbing his face in his hands. Blood trickled out between his fingers.

Tanner grabbed the edge of the table and lifted, flipping the whole thing over on its side. He stood up, took his chair in his hands, raised it. He took a step forward. "Talk to me, Brady!" He shrieked, all his accumulated rage now coming to a head as he brandished the chair. "Tell me what you did!"

"No, man!" Calhoun cried in shock and terror. "Don't hit me! Oh Jesus don't hit me with that!" He held his hands before him, pleadingly, while blood streamed from his nose and left eyelid.

"Why did you do it!" Tanner screamed. "Why!"

Calhoun wailed like a harpooned seal. "You only offered me fifty thousand, man! I brought Funada to its knees in an hour and a half, and I told them you did it. They coughed up eight million for a list of names and addresses. I'll split it with you! Right down the middle!"

Eight million yen. Nick lowered the chair a bit. "They'll

kill you, Calhoun. They'll kill anyone. They killed my wife, and she didn't even know anything!"

"No!" Brady insisted, a pathetic hopefulness creeping into his voice. "I wrote a deadman loop into the data net! The whole story gets dumped to the papers if anything happens to me!"

"To the papers? Are you sure?"

"I'm sure! I'm sure!"

Tanner broke the chair over Brady's head and ran like hell.


Click here for Part Four.

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