Dragowski watched the medical scanner pulse with the occasional light and listened to it hum. The entire apparatus now encased Hatcher’s erstwhile captive, scanning his body for anything that might have been implanted by GT to ensure his loyalty. To Dragowski, the medical scanner resembled an insect larva lit from the inside by one of Madrid’s gaudier discotheques, a stunted maggot covered in tin foil.
It was the only light in the abandoned cistern. Once a vast underground water tank, it had been converted into an auxiliary equipment room by whatever corporation had been handed the management the potable water of Madrid by Ministerio de Sanidad. Sometime after that it had been abandoned, like so many of the city’s expansions in the post-war depression. Now it served as one of the headquarters for the Mizrahic, who ran the best black clinics in Spain.
The pulse and occasionally stuttering lights of the scanner briefly illuminated the yellow and red crumbling stones that formed the arches of the room. The complex and inconsistent display bothered Dragowski in a way he couldn’t explain. It brought unbidden images of explosions, wounds received, and the plastic gowns of the men and women who had repaired him, sometimes without his consent.
Despite all of the memories the light brought up, he found the noise to be worse though. The larvae-cum-scanner produced a constant bombination that reminded Dragowski of a childhood in Minnesota, dodging mosquitoes, malaria, and the quick fists of a father drinking himself to death in the light of a bug zapper. He tuned his audio filter to screen out the noise. He had been thinking too much about the past lately.
“I guess I brought you a lot of trouble, eh, grandpa?”
Standing in the dark of the disused cistern, the younger man with Dragowski was little more than a silhouette in the asymmetric light of the scanner. Dragowski activated his vision enhancements so he could see him better. When the younger man spoke that way he had to remind himself that Hatcher was a seasoned veteran, an operator with years of experience. As the younger man came into focus, with his frame made larger by his own enhancements, his face scarred by the bomb that had taken his arm and the flash of carbon fiber that had replaced it, there wasn’t any doubt about that.
Nonetheless he replied, “I guess so junior.” Dragowski pointed at the scanner. “At the very least this is probably a waste of money. Your boy in there is just a contractor. I doubt they implanted anything in him. Corporations like GT typically rely on financial incentives to ensure loyalty.”
“The bomb your medical team dug out of my skull might say differently Dragon.”
“Wasn’t my medical team. You paid for that out of the slush fund you manage to squirrel away from Uncle Sam.” Dragowski crossed his arms, the minute sound of his joints creaking a pleasant noise in comparison to the now muted scanner. “And that’s half the reason you had the cortex charge. All that untraceable money floating around, they needed to keep your mouth shut if you went off the reservation.”
Dragowski pointed at the scanner, a faint flicker of blue from it briefly lighting his own scarred face. “Corporations don’t need that. They flood news feeds with false stories and conspiracy theories every day. How secret African empires are economically thriving because they use illicit fossil fuels, how their competitors poison children, that Hans Persson is really just a hologram projection and has been dead for years.” Realizing he had lost his point Dragon concluded, “They control the story, not the teller.”
He heard Hatcher shrug his wide shoulders in a creak of the synthetic leather jacket. “Best to be sure. He’s the closest thing I’ve got to a GT link.”
It was Dragon’s turn to shrug. “It’s your money. You’re paying for this too.”
A self-deprecating laugh came from Hatcher. “I suppose the army buddy thing only buys so much loyalty.”
“More than you know.” Dragon let that slip out. Like certain kinds of coded messages he knew Hatcher would recognize it.
“What do you mean?”
“I got an anonymous message about you shortly after you stopped by Manoloff’s. Someone knows about Malagay.” Dragon felt his brain recoil at the memory of the tiny Pacific nation with its steaming jungles, beautiful landscapes, and slaughter. He put a finger on those memories and sent them away like brushing an image off a screen. “Sounded like they wanted to put the blame on you for the whole thing, including the boys we lost. Maybe piss me off to the point I’d do something about it.”
Not surprising to Dragon this piece of information produced a long pause from the Butcher. Hatcher had earned that nickname after dispatching three guerrillas with only a monofilament garrote. The genocide of Malagay, though, had ensured that name stuck with any of the survivors. One of them had let it slip in the closed door testimonials of the investigation and Hatcher had been living with it ever since. Living up to it, in some cases, from what Dragon had heard.
As if contemplating this himself Butcher didn’t say anything for a time. Then, “I guess they didn’t know about Kingpin Chase. But it’s not like she got out alive to tell anyone.”
“Right?” Dragon chuckled in his response, wishing he had had the chance to kill the weapons smuggler himself. Only God knew how many people died because of her rifles, mortars, and mines, and that was before the Kansas City Flu.
“Why didn’t you mention this before?” Hatcher spoke from the dark.
Dragon smiled. “I guess they didn’t know that I knew. After all, I’m just a small time casino owner in Madrid.”
Without glancing Hatcher’s way Dragon could almost see his erstwhile companion thinking about the package he had brought from Moscow, the Alon Bar, and how many other underground connections and scams Dragon might be running. Whatever his thoughts he asked, “What if they come after you?
“Not likely. If they pierced my Madrid cover ID to find my service record they know I’m more trouble than it’s worth.” Dragon didn’t add that he could fold up from his casino and disappear if need be, seeing no reason to share it.
“For a man who’s seen what the Flu can do, you’re pretty nonchalant about all this.” Dragon heard a grudging respect in the Butcher’s voice.
“I don’t care if the world ends,” Dragon answered honestly, “but I’d prefer it if it does it after I kick off. I think you’ll keep whoever’s behind all this pretty busy for awhile.” He turned fully to his companion then. “So what’s your plan?”
Another shrug, the same shrug Hatcher always gave when he thought the next step in a plan was obvious. “We figure out who burned Durham and then we eat our way up the food chain.”
Ancient incandescent bulbs flared overhead and both men went painlessly blind for a microsecond as their anti-flash compensators kicked in. Even without the light, they both turned to the entrance of the room they were waiting in, having heard the click of the switch. The Mizrahic stood there, resplendent in his bushy beard, jeweled yarmulke, and robes.
“Your boy’s all ready.”