Harmless, virtually touristic symbols for rain, for the four sacred plants (corn, beans, squash, and tobacco), for lightning and for thunder, for Mother Earth and Father Sky, abruptly gave way to an ominous mélange of glowing lines of lightning crossed with knives, spears, lasers—all dripping ethereally luminous blood. Cardenas recognized the symbols immediately. The man and woman were Inzini—the Southwest Amerindian equivalent of the Japanese Yakuza or the Italian Mafia.
Begun as a pseudo-religious organization back around the turn of the century, they had spread their influence throughout the Four Corners area and beyond, riding a wave of prosperity and illegal income born of the explosive development of the Strip. Disdaining Yakuza-style tattoos in favor of far more modern and flexible projectible symbology, they were deeply involved in illegal immigration, credit laundering, trade in endangered species, and half a dozen other antisoc activities. Essentially leaderless and free-wafting, they had proven exceptionally difficult for the NFP to suppress. Known in Navajo as the hooghan hazanigii nit’chi bee iiniziinii, or “family of evil spirits,” friends and enemies alike called them simply the Inzini.
The pistol in the man’s hand was not as versatile as the one Cardenas wore in his shoulder holster. It could not dissemble, mask, or drug a target. Packing explosive shells, it could only kill. The assassin was ready to use it, the Inspector knew. He did not have to wonder. Intent and capability were amply evident in every facet of the man’s posture, in his respiration, in his eyes.
“That’s an expensive little toy,” he began conversationally, referring to the portable projector the woman had just put away. “Usually they don’t fool me, but I was preoccupied.”
“Don’t move,” the man ordered him. “Raise your hands and put them on top of your head. Don’t lock the fingers. If you reach inside your jacket or your pants, I’ll kill you. If you move to touch your jacket or your pants, I’ll kill you. Keep your movements slow and steady. Don’t touch one leg with the other.”
As he spoke, the woman had drawn a weapon of her own. Approaching Cardenas, she gave him a thorough pat-down, removing first his own gun and then his spinner. She proceeded to check the latter.
“It’s open, but only sending location. He didn’t have a chance to get anything off,” she told her companion. As Cardenas looked on, she slapped a para-site over the unit and used it to finger in instructions. When she had finished her work, she slipped the device back into Cardenas’s pocket. She did not smile. “The override gram I entered will tell your station monitor that everything’s fine and normal for the next hour. Things will stay that way in actuality as long as you cooperate.”
“What do you want?”
He nodded. “Inspector Angel Cardenas. I wish I could say it was a pleasure to meet you, Mr. and Ms….?”
The man gestured in the direction of the real street. “You spent some time talking with a shop owner in Mocceca’s Mall. We have just come from there, where we had a short—chat—with him.” Mention of the recently visited shopkeeper jogged Cardenas’s memory. He recognized them now: they were the same couple who had been sitting on the porch behind Mashupo Mingas’s shop.
While he had been interviewing the shopkeeper, they had been watching him.
“We know that you are in charge of the search for a woman named Surtsey Mockerkin, who is wafting with her daughter. Please tell us what the proprietor of the shop told you. If you will do that for us, we will just lie you down for half a day. Straight narcolep, nothing serious or addictive.” He indicated the building to their left. “This is a comfortable place. We’ll rent you a day room and inform the establishment’s administrator that you are sleeping off a good time. No one will bother you. When you wake up, you’ll feel more rested than you have been in weeks, and no harm done. By then we will have completed our follow-up on the information you provide and gone on our way.”
The muzzle of the compact pistol shifted slightly. “If you do not tell us what we want to know, I will have to begin shooting your various appendages. Eventually, you will tell us. Why not spare yourself the pain and physical damage and save my ammunition?”
It was a nice speech, Cardenas thought. Intended to be reassuring. Except that it was a serene, efficiently delivered lie. As soon as they had the information they sought, they would kill him. Having made no effort to conceal their faces, they could not let him live to report their actions and presence. He would be shot and left in the alley to be scavenged, just as Wayne Brummel-Anderson had been. All this he could tell from the look in the couple’s eyes, from the way they held themselves, and from the subtlest of inflections in the man’s voice.
If he had half a minute he could expel the override gram from his spinner and call for assistance. Since the device knew his location at all times, help would be forthcoming within minutes. The narrow serviceway offered no place to hide, and the walls were too high and too slick to scale. The alley was a dead end in more ways than one.
Hands atop his head, he tried to stall for time. If he could somehow distract them long enough to get a finger on the spinner, or speak to its vorec—but the woman was as attentive to his movements as was her companion. If he so much as twitched wrong, they could easily shoot him in the arm that was moving. That would prevent him from reporting his position, but not from talking. He didn’t think feigning a faint would fool them. They would simply keep on hurting him until he responded to their demands.
The pistol shifted again. “Talk.” The man glanced back in the direction of the main street. “And don’t lie. If I think you’re lying, I’ll shoot something. Nothing essential—to begin with. You strike me as a reasonably fit fedoco. I would imagine you can handle six or seven carefully placed shots before passing out. They will not kill you, but you will become progressively more uncomfortable.”
“I wish I had something useful to tell you, but the owner of the shop in question didn’t know much of anything.”
This time it was the woman who replied. “So you got bored, and just decided to visit the Poremas Sexxone to relax. A long way to come, so to say. And while on duty, too.” Her expression remained unchanged. “Why travel all this way, to this particular Sexxone?” She indicated the street behind her. “What makes this xone so special? You don’t look the type, anyway.”
“No more delays.” Lowering the muzzle of his pistol, her companion aimed it at the Inspector’s left foot. “Limping is good for getting sympathy, but not for living the rest of a man’s life. Talk to me, fedoco. And this time, give me the real verdad.”
Out of options, Cardenas nudged an upper molar with the tip of his tongue. He was about to adjust its opposite number when a dull thumping sound filled part of the air. A look of mild surprise washed over the Inzini’s face as he toppled forward. His face shattered as it struck the paving. The back of his skull, the Inspector noted with interest, had been caved in as if it had been struck by a bowling ball shot from a cannon. Blood and compressed brains splattered in all directions. With an effort, he held his tongue.
Whirling, the dead Inzini’s companion raised her own weapon. As she brought the pistol up and around, something pushed her face in. The sight was unsettling enough to make even a federal Inspector with thirty years’ experience wince noticeably. The faceless body stumbled backward and collapsed onto the unyielding pavement of the alley. Stuffed in her shirt pocket was Cardenas’s own gun, ineffective until it could again be brought within range of the biochip key that was implanted beneath the skin of his right hand. He made no move to recover the weapon. He made no move at all.
Shapes began to emerge from the shadows. Two of them carried pistols while the remaining pair held long, serpentine lengths of what appeared to be tree branches. As the four men drew nearer, Cardenas saw that what he had initially suspected to be made of wood was in fact plastic designed to mimic. The tubes were decorated with colorful designs of animals and plants. Each of the men was clad in a jumpsuit boasting a distinctively different pattern of brightly colored specks and circles. The illuminated dots flashed in pointillist patterns sufficiently bold to give pause to a French impressionist.
Two of the newcomers were white and blond, while their companions were blacker than any men the Inspector had previously encountered. One of the latter boasted a kinked white beard that made him look like a dusky version of the Ancient Mariner. He carried one of the strange, ornamented tubes, a much younger blond companion the other.