Delilah didn’t like this one bit.
It wasn’t the bar itself. Tarmac Bourbon was typical of its kind: a place that served overpriced cocktails to sararimen wanting to make a statement about their expense limits. It had the mood lighting. It had the plush might-just-be-real-leather seats, couches and chairs and privacy booths arrayed around the interior. Her link was still up, overlay on just fine. No one had dropped an EMP on the place to shut people like her down, although that would have been extreme for an interview. It wasn’t even the doorman, a big guy who packed enough metal under his skin to be closer to an industrial loader than a person. Her overlay picked out his mods, enhanced strength, sub-dermal armor, EM shielding, the works. It might seem a lot for a bar in the central business district of Seattle until you figured the corporate takeover incentives. The Syndicate Compact wasn’t for shit anymore, and everyone was fair game.
She wasn’t worried about the doorman. He was just insurance, a visible measure of Tarmac Bourbon’s dedication to customer safety. What she was worried about was that the doorman didn’t have much to do. Not tonight. Not standing tall outside this bar with expensive drinks. He stood in the rain, looking like his field of fucks on the weather was barren, doing nothing. Because there was no one to do anything for, or to, or whatever. There was no one here at all. The street was empty, aside from what might have been a cat but was probably a rat, emboldened by the lack of the usual gorging of foot traffic. This street should have been wall-to-wall with sweaty people getting angry at each other in the seething humidity brought by the rain. There should have been an air car or two, a bunch of street vehicles, and more people than you could kill with a bandolier full of grenades. There was none of that. The doorman. The rat. The rain. That was it.
Reed wanted this to go smooth. Reed didn’t want interruptions.
What Reed wanted, Reed often got, or they did before the ass fell out of their company. That kind of stock price drop drove a set of, in Delilah’s view, reactionary behaviors. As she let the door slick closed behind her, cool air conditioning welcoming her like a forgotten lover, she took in the two people seated in the middle of the bar. A man and a woman, under normal circumstances just the kind of people this bar was for: suits, slicked-back hair, faces clinic-perfect. No privacy booth, because there were only a few people in here. There was the barman, tall guy with a decent waistcoat and a nice smile, which meant he was black ops all the way to his perfect teeth. There was a woman lounging against the bar, with the look of someone who’d just had her conversation interrupted, a martini glass in front of her, olive still intact. At the back, red neon advertising where a cavalier drinker might relieve their bladder, was another huge man like the bouncer out front. Delilah let her optics scan the room, overlay giving her the low-down. It was what she expected: everyone in here was modded. The two suits had the least metal under the skin; while they weren’t as clean as they’d been on their incept date, their link architecture and optics said non-combatants. The barman, on the other hand, was riddled with metal. Not as much as the doorman, but enough to show he wouldn’t need to call outside help to deal with a customer too stupid to know when to stop sucking back Mai Tais. The woman still working on her cocktail olive was about the same, which suggested they were a matched black-ops pair. Good to know. The man bathed in red light at the back was like the doorman: a machine with a human brain still giving instructions to circuits doing all the hard work.
One of the suits — the man — cleared his throat. “Miss Griffiths?”
“Are you asking that because you’re not sure, or are you being polite?” Delilah took off her coat, shaking water onto the polished wood floor. Under the coat she wore laminar body armor, a sidearm at her hip. She hadn’t worn heels and a dress because she hadn’t expected it to be that kind of night.
“Scott’s being polite,” said the woman suit. “We know who you are.”
Delilah’s overlay flickered as her link updated her with information on the two of them. “Fantastic,” she said. She looked at the bartender. “Whiskey sour.” He nodded, starting on the drink while she walked to the two suits. She held out a hand. “Since we’re being polite. I’m Delilah Griffiths.” She was waiting to see which suit would take her hand first because that would be the one in charge.
The woman reached first. “A pleasure. I’m Lily Clarke. This,” and here, she released Delilah’s hand, gesturing to her companion, “is Scott Reynolds.”
Delilah shook Scott’s hand. “Likewise,” she said. She eased herself into the seat opposite them. It was the tiny details you noticed, like their lack of drinks, and their lack of weapons. When the real job interview started, they didn’t expect to be a part of it, and they wanted to be sharp enough to get out of the line of fire in time. “What’s Reed want?”
Scott winced. “Reed? This isn’t—”
“Hey,” said Delilah, “I’m just going to cut you off there. You and I both know this is a Reed gig. The barman is Reed black ops. The woman across from him pretending to flirt over her martini is his partner. The asshole down the back is one of your company enforcers. I’m not a hundred percent sure on the guy out front. I figure him for a night-only rental. Might have come with the Bourbon.”
“The what?” said Lily.
“The Tarmac Bourbon,” said Delilah. “It’s the name of the bar you rented for your interview circuit.” She looked around. “It’s a nice place.”
Her whiskey sour arrived, a stubby glass full of ice and fruit. The egg white wasn’t overdone. The barman had made it with bourbon, a nod at the name of the place, and Delilah figured that while he might want to kill her in about five minutes, he still served a mean mixer. “Thanks,” she said, not turning to face him, because it wasn’t time to pay attention to the other hired help yet. “Back on target. You’re Reed. The people around you are Reed. The only person here that isn’t Reed is me, because you want to hire someone for a job and your target knows all about you. I’m guessing they’re so balls-deep in your network you’re swapping paper pulp notes like dinosaurs, not trusting shit to the silicon. About right?” Delilah took a sip of her whiskey sour.
A slow nod from Scott. “About.”
“I’m also guessing that no one knows you’re doing this op. Which is fine by me.” Delilah put her hands on the table between them. “The only thing I care about is getting paid.”
Lily spoke this time. “There will be the usual stock incentives—”
“Fuck off,” said Delilah.
“Fuck,” said Delilah, leaning forward, “off. Your stock is so tanked it looks like sewage. Hell, sewage looks good compared to Reed stock. You can’t buy a loaf of bread with your stock these days.”
“I feel like we’re getting ahead of ourselves,” said Lily. “We don’t know if we want to hire you.”
“Sure you do,” said Delilah. “You need someone specific, or you wouldn’t have contacted me.”
“We’re interviewing multiple candidates.” Lily spoke a little too fast, a little too smooth, so Delilah just stared at her, saying nothing. “Well. We will interview multiple candidates.”
“You might,” agreed Delilah, “if this interview goes badly. You’re betting on it working out though. Hell, you want it to work out. You want to be done with this whole shitty mess. You want,” and here, she traced a gloved fingertip through the wet circle her glass had left on the table’s surface, “Sampson dead.” Sampson was how you said the hacker’s name, but he — like a lot of his childish clique — wrote it with a little flair. Samps0n. Slashed zero glyph and all. The asshole.
Silence. Martini Olive girl paused, her toothpick frozen en route to her still-open mouth. The bartender had stopped shaking whatever cocktail he was pretending to make, the silver metal sweating in his hands. The man at the back of the bar hadn’t been moving much to start with, but he was moving even less now. Scott and Lily were also still, like stones, mouths open. Delilah’s overlay noted heightened heart rate in both of them. An increased blood flow through their faces too. It was hard to lie with today’s tech. It was also harder to not show surprise.
“Uh,” offered Scott.
“I wouldn’t be great at doing the job if I didn’t know who you were after,” said Delilah. “You don’t even need to apply the thumb screws here. You know, and I know, that it was his hack that left my brother trapped in a chair. Sampson’s link subversion tech left a man who’d done tours for Metatech rusting out the rest of his life, watching free streaming trash instead of holding a rifle. You know, and again I also know, that I would do the job for free if I didn’t need to pay his med bills. So now we all know what we all know, let’s get on to the interview itself.”
Lily recovered fastest, which wasn’t surprising for the person in charge. “How do you know this isn’t the interview?”
“No one’s shot at me yet,” said Delilah. “I figure it’ll start with Martini Olive over there. She’ll do some dick move like pulling out a plasma weapon. You’ll both be ghosts by then, slipping through the back door where Red,” and here, she nodded to the man at the back, who nodded in return, “will make sure you don’t get turned into grease stains. If Martini Olive misses, Captain Jack,” and Delilah pointed at the bartender without looking, “will pull some kind of Howitzer from behind the bar, trying to turn me into smaller pieces of me. If I’m still moving and talking and in full control at that point, Red will come back in and try to end the shit permanently.”
“What about the doorman?” Scott’s question was surprising, but it told Delilah everything she needed to know.
“Well. Until now I wasn’t sure he was on a retainer, but that seals it. Ranger Rusty, well, I figure he’ll come in at the beginning, make his play before Red gets back. What you’re hoping for,” said Delilah, pushing herself back a little way from the table, “is that I will survive. You’re hoping that I don’t hospitalize these guys, because you need them for, I guess, things like this. So you’ll make me an offer. Up the odds.”
“We need to find out just how capable you are,” said Lily.
“That too,” said Delilah. “Look, I’m not averse to it, but we need to talk incentives. Cash up front, and cash when the job’s done. You’re about to shoot at me in a perfectly good bar, and I haven’t even finished my whiskey sour.” She took another sip, then nodded at Captain Jack. “This is good.”
“Thanks,” said Captain Jack. “I paid my way through college as a—”
“What we need to work out,” said Lily, trying to regain control of the conversation, “is whether you can do what you say you can. Because it would be of great benefit to the syndicate if you bring in Sampson alive.”