Somehow, impossibly, the Butcher looked larger than ever before to Durham. It had been at least two years since he had seen the mercenary, but being this close to Butcher still sent a sensation of panic through him that felt like a supersonic palsy, a vibration that rang through every molecule in his skull. But Durham had come a long way since he had gotten into the cowboy game with Tony Birddog watching his newbie moves. He put a control down on his agitation fast enough that he doubted the Butcher saw it was there.
So he sat in silence, looking at the big man. He let that go on until the situation felt more like a Japanese negotiation, both him and the Butcher opposite each other like Buddhas. Not the Butcher, Durham corrected, Hatcher Aspen. Just a man. While a part of him screamed that the man across from him was a mass murderer, Durham internally put a lid on that voice. Soon the only thing that kept it from seeming like a civil discussion was the restraints binding him to the chair.
Other than his apparent increase in size, Hatcher seemed no different. The skin across his face was a criss-cross nest of ghostly scars from whatever operations had gifted him with his implants. The leather jacket, puffed up over hard-trained muscles and cybernetic limb, could have passed as being hopelessly outdated or fashionably second-hand, depending on the wearer’s location. He was like a rhino that could walk amongst men without notice, an exotic, like one of the genetically engineered floating whales that were all the rage in Barcelona.
Wanting to look at something else, Durham made a show of examining his new surroundings. He had half-expected to wake up in a self-contained surgery or medivac unit, all trauma professionals and hanging, self-sealed plastic. Too much time on the GT dime and too much time away from the Street. In his defense, he thought, the other half of him hadn’t expected to wake up at all. The protective blanket of the corporation hadn’t made him forget what a simple thing death was, how you blinked and it was standing right beside you. Just ask Nixon. Or all those folks in the 54 floors of that South American high-rise.
Instead of the sterilized room or morgue he had expected, he found himself in a chamber that felt deeply subterranean, the walls concrete and lined with steam pipes. A few hard resin crates sat on the floor, Hatcher using one as a chair, but there wasn’t anything else but a junction box and a sealed door. Durham wasn’t entirely sure where the light that allowed him to see was emanating from.
“We don’t have a lot of time.” The diesel engine Durham had heard from the land of his unconsciousness spoke. It came from a tall, wiry man that appeared to be composed of a crewcut, sharp angles, and scar tissue, with a prominent radial of the stuff surrounding one eye that glowed faintly in the dark of the room. He wore a t-shirt and technical pants, both crisp in way Nixon would have approved of. For Durham, though, his dress reminded him of an interrogator he had once encountered in Pretoria. It wasn’t a good association. He calmed this with further observation: The cut of diesel’s clothes might be casual, but they were high-end, and would have fit right in on the streets of Salamanca.
“How…?” Durham couldn’t quite finish the sentence.
“I spotted the Bumblebee and I remembered when you used one in Uruguay.” Hatcher crossed his arms. “I set my EMF scanner to look for the Hertz you rode yours on, just on a gamble I could track the operator. You didn’t shut off the transponder after I shot it down. So here were are.”
“You knew it was me?” Durham croaked out the words. Despite all his internal meditations, his throat was dry to the point of cracking.
Hatcher looked at Durham in a way that was almost sympathetic. “Course not.”
More as a comment on his own condition than one of scruples Durham said, “You killed Nixon.”
“Which means your employers are probably panicking.”
“He was my friend.”
“You don’t have any friends.” Hatcher narrowed his eyes as if checking Durham for signs of a head injury. “None of us do.”
Durham gestured towards the diesel with a nod. “He looks like he’s your friend.”
“We don’t have time for this.” Worth noting, Durham thought, that diesel didn’t like being brought into the conversation.
“Fair enough,” Hatcher said, seemingly to no one in particular. “Durham, why don’t you ask the question you really want to ask?”
“Why didn’t you kill me?”
“I was going to,” Hatcher leaned forward on the crate. “Then I recognized you. Manoloff bringing in Street help for protection wasn’t strange. But you? He couldn’t afford you Durham.”
“Plus, an old associate showing up in an ice squad just as I go active outside again? That’s a hell of a coincidence.”
Durham found that his re-entry into consciousness was being accompanied by a ringing in his ears. It increased in pitch as he asked, “Now what?”
“Whoever your working for probably has you tagged. We’re deep enough underground right now that it won’t matter, but the second you leave they’ll start to zero in on you. Is that something you want?”
“Why do you care? You could have left me at the hotel and that’s as close as a tracker would have gotten them to you.”
“I already have the U.S. government on my back, as ineffectual as those sons of bitches might be. And we both know you don’t work for Sammy anymore.” Hatcher leaned in closer, taking up all of Durham’s field of vision. “So who do you work for?”
“Corporate.” Durham shrugged. “You know the drill.”
“GT?” Hatcher asked without hesitation. Durham blinked. How did he know that?
Hatcher nodded. “That’s what I thought.” He glanced back at the diesel, passing some token of confirmation, then back to Durham. “How does it work?”
Some receded and small portion of Durham’s brain told him he was in shock, possibly drugged, and he should proceed with caution. If he gave Hatcher too much, GT would only finish him somewhere and sometime outside this room. If he gave him too little, he would never leave. Balancing out these two, Durham replied, “Strict plausible deniability. We worked through an agent that communicates to us through a blackbox protocol. Orders come down, we do the job, an after-action report goes back up to the mothership. 3rd party verification happens through outside resources or handoffs.”
Hatcher rubbed one on the nearly invisible scars that ran into his hairline. “OK. So we’ll bring you your rig, lay some fiber optic down to here, and you upload the after action report, reporting both Nixon and me are dead.”
Before he thought better of it, Durham shook his head. “They’ll have the police reports, extract from those that one of the victims was Nixon. It won’t take them long to figure out you’re not dead.”
“Long enough for me to get out of Madrid. And you’ll be alive to let them know you were forced to upload a false report under duress. Deal?”
Durham pretended to think about it, but he knew this was his best shot at staying alive before Hatcher finished the question. “Deal.”