8

Stein is a dirty neighbourhood, that's a bit of a misnomer for downtown, as all the streets are dirty, but Stein is dirty even by normal downtown standards. We get a lift down from one of the battle taxis in the area, and as we get off, a ridiculously fat man in one of the most expensive cheap suits that I've ever seen strides up to us.

"Whatthehellisthisandwhatthehellamisupposedtodowiththisandwhysthereadeadpers oninmytruck!?"

With as much restraint as I can manage, I look down at him "Pardon?"

"Whatthehellisthisand- "

"Whoa." I stop him with a raised hand and a quiet authority "Name?"

"Mrthomasvladimir-"

"Sl-ow-ly" I say to him, with the air of someone speaking to a troublesome child.

"Vladimir, Thomas Vladimir" he says, drawing himself up to his full height (which is still six inches below mine)

"And what is it that you want from me, Mr Vladimir?"

"I want those Shivers off my vehicle, and I want that body out of it, and I want it done now!!" Saliva splatters on my suit as he finishes.

I nod "I'll see what I can do."

He puts one fleshy hand on my chest as I move to get past him, I glance down at the hand with the mildest expression I can manage and then back up at him.

"I don't want you to try, monkey boy, get it done." he sneers at me.

Oh, what the hell, first idiot of the day. I look back down at him, then lower my head slightly so that it's nearly level with his. I pause there for a second and then smile and look back at Eve briefly. She winks and nods imperceptibly, excellent, someone who knows when I'm about to get nasty on a dumb civvie.

"Mr..............Vladimir, you are probably aware of the SLA directive concerning the impediment of officials from their task, yes?" I turn back to him as I'm speaking.

"What?"

"Code 15.57 specifies that........"

"No civilian shall impede the progress of any particular operative from the lawful conclusion of his or her work" finishes Eve.

"The penalty for this infringement is.........."

"A sound beating from the Operative to the civilian in question providing that the civilian makes a nuisance of him or her self." Eve chimes in again.

He steps back, looking scandalised "I've made no impediment to you!" he blusters.

I step after him, hunching over slightly to emphasize the size of my shoulders "Oh I disagree Thomas, I can call you Thomas can't I, after all, you seem to think that monkey boy is a perfectly acceptable name for me." He nods his head vigorously.

"You see, you placed your hand in contact with me, and prevented me from moving in the direction that I was going, that constitutes impediment, now, under article 7.21 of the criminal code, at this point you have two choices, either you can accept your sentence, which is..........."

"30 days in county lock up" I can hear the amusement in Eve's voice at this point, we may have to do this more often.

"Or..........." I smile wolfishly. "You can attempt to render unconscious the Operative that you impeded, as the embarrassment will prevent him from reporting the incident." I stick my chin out and tap it with one finger "Right there son, give you a free shot."

He staggers back, raising both hands in defence.

"Ah." My smile broadens "You wish to go fairly, excellent, I like a man with a sense of fair play."

I raise both my hands in a boxing crouch and extend all my fingers, indicating that I've never been defeated, and take two blindingly fast steps towards him, he stumbles backwards and falls in the trash. I'm by his side in less time than it takes for him to register the fact that he's fallen over, helping him up.

"What a terrible accident, you'll want to be going home and changing out of these clothes." I say, in a solicitous tone whilst nodding my head in a very pronounced manner "We'll take care of this."

He wants to say something, but the look in my eyes convinces him that it wouldn't be a good thing, he takes his leave, still blustering something about not being able to treat civilians like this.

I grin and pass the high five to Eve.

"Nice work." I say with an actual note of pride in my voice "You get a few of those, think that because they're a big shot in their world, it extends to the ranks of those with numbers, which of course, it never does, but they still try it on."

"I know the score," she sounds a little weary, I glance over at her "I used to get them all the time when I was on probation."

I smile to myself again, then continue around the corner.

If you've never seen one of the garbage units around lower downtown, they may come as a bit of a surprise, reinforced to withstand anything short of anti tank weaponry, and with onboard water cannons and furnaces, they're sometimes calling in to deal with pig incursions from the cannibal sectors. The crew are all stood in a line with one shiver standing over them holding a browbeater, it's not pointed at them, but it's not pointed away from them either. The other shivers are near the vehicle, forming a standard eight-man cordon.

I approach the one covering the crew, he turns as I near and I realise that I recognise this one, Owens, the dumb, drunk one from the previous kill. He's had a shave, isn't drunk, and snaps off a crisp salute as I get closer.

"Sah" I hear a Shiver boot crunch the floor to the side of me as the sergeant arrives, I turn and return the salute when it is given.

"Sergeant........"

"Argent, Sah."

"I'll not forget it, what do we have here?"

He ducks his head briefly in acknowledgement and walks back over to the vehicle, indicating the side of it. I glance around the side to see the word "disobedience" painted on the side of it, our boy's been busy again. I look over at Argent with a fixed expression.

"Where's the victim?"

He responds by tapping the side of the vehicle.

"How can you be sure there was a victim, what was left from the furnace?" Argent whistles and one of the other Shivers passes over a sealed box. "This was on the top of the vehicle, Sah, we haven't opened it yet, thought you might want the first look."

I take the box and lay it on the hood of the truck, running my scanner over it, no known explosive compounds on the lock, and no electronics inside. I turn it towards the building, opening it away from me (I've seen too many good people lose bits of themselves to shaped charges this way, and there's no point in taking chances). Inside the box is a head in cryogenic storage, don't recognise the face, but there's an I.D. card in the mouth.

I put on my gloves and pull the card out, it's been modified again, this time, the photo shows the head as it is in the box, the name on the card is Kane Doran. I know a little something about this one too, renowned for always either making the worst interpretation of his orders. Well, that or just plain ignoring them. We investigated him on a number of occasions, but he always had a good lawyer or a better excuse. Hate to say it, especially in the face of what I said to Eve this morning, but I'm not going to be shedding any tears for this man.

I look over at Eve, who's in the process of getting the crew to take out the remains that are in the furnace. A small pile of superheated ash falls into the disposal tray and I look down disconsolately.

"What were the circumstances of the kill?" I turn back to Argent.

"Uncertain Sah, the crew started their shift as usual, noticed the paint on the side, and had the presence of mind to call us before the management got in on it."

"Will wonders never cease.............."

"Not today, Sah, Owens came in this morning looking halfway near presentable, I think that the short sharp shock did the trick, and for that, I'd say thank you."

I look over to him, there's not a hint of sarcasm in his face or his voice and for the first time in a good ten years I feel some sense of comradeship with someone from one of the lower services. I extend my hand to him and he pauses a half second before delivering a good strong handshake
"My pleasure, just hope he keeps on the wagon" I leave my card in his hand.

"You call me if he needs a hand staying on it."

He nods and pockets the card with a sleight that suggests he wasn't always on the side of the angels.

Walking over to where Eve is, she's been talking to the crew of the clean up rig and seems to be in a good mood, she looks over at me and smiles. "We've got all we need here, no traces of the body remain, this one" she indicates the largest of the crew "is Luis, he called in the problem, the rest of the crew covered him while the Shivers got here."

I look the big guy over, broader than me doubled, he stands straighter and throws out his chest as I appraise him. I can see where this is going and stand in front of him, throwing my chest out in return, now don't get me wrong, I've got a good fifty inches of muscle on me, but this guy makes me look like some damsel in distress.

"Yudda bo?" I bark at him.

His chest goes down instantly as he stifles a gasp "Ya na't" guess he's never seen anyone in authority who can speak in proper LD.

"Ybo's gud?"

"Ver Bes"

"D py?"

"To"

I look over to eve who's having the whole conversation translated for her by Argent, flashing my hand at waist height. Argent notices and points out some phantom over down the street and I turn back quickly to the crew with a wad of uni's in my hand.

"Biggun pli, yuddi rit." I hand each man a hand full of tens out of the wad, and pass over 500 to Luis "kipa qit, 'k?"

"G'it" He nods once, his eyes flickering back behind me, I'm guessing that the diversion is finished, so I turn to leave. As I do, his buddies begin pushing at him and mumbling, I pause a half second in mid turn and wait for the question.

"Y bs" luis says a little more forcefully than before.

"Wa?"

"G no" he indicates his chest with both hands in a beckoning motion, I grin like a wolf and raise one hand.

"Na?"

He nods almost imperceptibly and I slam my fist into his chest, pulling the blow a split second before it hits, there's still a good solid crunch noise as my glove contacts his uniform. I make a show of pulling back my hand and shaking it, giving him the good eye.

"Yudda mn."

He nods and grins like a tiger "Ya na't biggun" we knock hands and I walk back over to Eve.

"So how much did you give them?"

Busted! Ah well "hundred a piece, five for the big man, their boss just docked them two days pay for doing the right thing, it's worth it if they even once report another crime to us rather than live in fear of their paymasters."

"Do you get that money back then?"

"No, but I get a good salary, more in a week than they get in the best part of half a year, so if I spread the wealth a little, it makes the world a little easier for the next operative who walks this way." I jerk my thumb back to the crew "And they'll spread the word that SLA is a good thing, which must be worth a hundred C of anybodies money"

Sometimes you get the good days, I'm sure that something will spoil it later, but I'm going to enjoy it for now.