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Authors: M.H. Mead

Taking the Highway

BOOK: Taking the Highway
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Taking the Highway

by M.H. Mead

 

 

First Ion Productions Edition / December 2012

Copyright © 2012 Margaret Yang and Harry R. Campion

 

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed are either products of the authors’ imagination or are used fictitiously

This ebook is licensed for the personal enjoyment of the reader. It is the copyrighted property of the author and may not be reproduced, copied, or distributed for commercial or non-commercial purposes.

 

Cover Design by
Streetlight Graphics

Ebook Design by
JW Manus

 

to Elizabeth and Chi
for everything, forever

 

Dramatis Personae

The Police

 

Andre LaCroix
—Detective Sergeant, Robbery/Homicide, Detroit

Danny Cariatti
—Detective Lieutenant, Robbery/Homicide, Detroit

Caitlin Evans
—Captain, Robbery/Homicide, Detroit

Sofia Gao
—Detective Sergeant, Robbery/Homicide, Downriver

Jae Geoffrey Talic
—Special Liaison to Homeland Security, Detroit

Greer Kosmatka
—Organized Crime Unit, Detroit

Hanson Quigg
—Detective Lieutenant, Internal Affairs, Detroit

Delandra Kelso
—Coroner, contracted with the Detroit Police Department

The Jeffs
—Assistant Coroners, contracted with the Detroit Police Department

Jordan Elway
—IT Specialist, contracted with the Detroit Police Department

The Politicians

 

Madison Zuchek
—Detroit City Manager

Shonna Smith
—Mayor of Detroit

Iago Bernstein
—Economist, contracted with the city of Detroit

Oliver LaCroix
—Member of the Detroit City Council

Topher Price-Powell
—President, Council for Economic Justice

Sandor Bay
—Vice President, Council for Economic Justice

Wilma Riley
—Tech support, Council for Economic Justice

The Fourths

 

Matthew Davis Shepler

Arthur Yalna

Homer Carcassi

Douglas Ming

Russell van Slater

Bob Masterson

Walter Glass

Hugh Ingersol

Nikhil LaCroix

 

 

“G
etting crowded here these
last few weeks, hmm?”

Andre LaCroix murmured polite agreement, wishing the man would go talk to someone else. The fact that he was right didn’t matter. Chatter among fourths betrayed anxiety and the need to fit in, a hallmark of the two-bits. Talking didn’t help you get the ride.

“I’m considering working the ramp at Wixom.”

Too far in,
Andre thought, though the sound he made was non-committal, supportive. He remembered the other man introducing himself several weeks ago. Charles. Andre was good with names, they were an important part of his job—both jobs really. He wished he could stick out a hand, call Charles by name, offer the poor guy something. But that would only encourage more conversation. Downtown? Sure. In the suburbs, never.

A year-old Ford Pegasus slowed as it approached the parking lot where they waited. Andre’s unwelcome shadow turned like a puppy anticipating the throw of a ball.
Two-bit.
At least he’d stopped talking. It was easy to feel sorry for fourths like this, want to see them get chosen, pick up a little more experience. On the other hand, Andre getting the ride set a better example. Maybe chatty Charles would learn something.

The Ford’s passenger window lowered and a man with a too-dark tan and too much hair raised a hand to beckon Andre past the others.

Bon chance, Charles.
Andre leaned into the car. “There and back?” he asked.

“We were hoping.” The man’s face broke into a smile, revealing model-perfect teeth. “What’s your rate?”

The smile told him what he needed to know. Here was a carpool that knew what to expect from a fourth. There would be some lingering annoyance at the missing piece of their commuting puzzle, some blame for the inconvenience and additional expense. Most fourths would be happy to sit and take it—particularly complaints about the fee.

Andre decided to roll the dice. “Why don’t you decide that on the way down?”

A pindrop of silence from the man, then the woman behind the wheel crowed, “Sold!”

“You have a fourth.” Andre slid into the seat in a single, fluid motion, then took his time with the seatbelt configuration. He used those three seconds to assess the two young women in the car. Late twenties and early twenties. Business flair. Andre recognized girl-on-a-budget designers. The car carried no perfume, coffee, or other loud smells. Somebody was allergic to fragrance and the driver was fussy enough to enforce a ban on food in the car. He filed it all away for later.

He offered his badge for scanning, politely declined. The Pegasus moved toward the highway on-ramp with a brief crunch of gravel and the smooth hum from the tires. A mechanical voice spoke from the companel. “Overdrive is now engaged.”

The driver said, “Our first drop is at Woodward and Montcalm. That work for you?”

All the way downtown. He challenged their expectations by bitching good-naturedly about being too far from work, asking if they could drop him at Wayne State as they got off the highway. Fourths weren’t supposed to complain about drop points; you took what you could get. Exiting the car at the university would still put him twelve blocks from police headquarters at Cityheart, but mentioning
that
would raise far too many questions. A fourth riding with a powerful handgun hidden beneath the exquisite tailoring of his suit tended to make paying customers nervous.

Introductions followed, first-names only. Shaggy-haired Philippe offered an over-the-shoulder handshake. Barbara—late twenties, riding third—allowed a brief pressure on fingers bearing an array of silver rings. The driver, Margot, settled for a dimpled smile. Andre thought of them as a unit. Margot-Philippe-Barbara. They’d be appalled at being lumped into a single person, but it was the best way to remember them for the short term, and forget them once he left the car.

The Overdrive system chimed a gentle tone as it moved the car into a new lane, transferring them to Interstate 96. A pan-directional holo ad loomed over the cloverleaf. With a trace of irony and no small measure of hypocrisy, Mayor Smith wagged a translucent hand and advised them to “Make it Tangible.”

Barbara craned her neck to watch the ad. “Are they going to trot that out every election?”

“They might actually make it law this time.” Philippe turned sideways in his seat. “When was the last time you saw someone look anything but embarrassed when their phone rang in public?”

Barbara raised eyebrows at him. “Andre, would you support a public communication ban?”

And here was the test. Would he earn his fee today? His first few weeks on the job, Andre would rush to find a point of agreement, grabbing the first thing anyone said and sucking it up so hard that by the time the passengers dropped him off, they had to squeeze him out of the car like an oily weasel. He knew better now, but he also knew that waiting too long would get him labeled a dullard. He had no choice but to jump in. He could backpedal later if he had to.

His riders were young, middle-class, suburban. Of course they would like the comm ban. They might be full-blown techshuns. He hadn’t seen a single datapad. They hadn’t scanned his fourthing badge. They didn’t even have music in the car. Agreement would be easy, but hardly interesting. Time for a little measured honesty. “I’m afraid the bill is unenforceable as written. Tech is always one step ahead of legislators. Two steps, as often as it can manage.”

Philippe gripped the seatback. “Yeah, but if you’re holding a datapad, at least I can see it.”

Andre never mentioned the subcutaneous phone implanted behind his right ear. Like the gun, it tended to make paying customers nervous. “What if someone needed to call for help but they were in a public blackout area? I’d feel terrible.”

“Society existed for years without everyone being able to communicate all the time.” Barbara said. “It survived.”

“Besides,” Philippe said, “the bill distinguishes between those making frivolous calls and the truly necessary.”

Andre raised an eyebrow. “I can make every single one of my calls sound necessary.”

Philippe scoffed. “Most calls are crap.”

“Everyone can do it. Your wife calls to tell you that the baby ate peas and carrots for lunch.” Andre held an imaginary datapad in front of him. “You have to say something like, ‘I think in this situation, you can join the President’s motorcade.’ Now, let’s say your long-winded friend dials while you’re at work.” He held the invisible datapad to Philippe.

“I’d disconnect.”

“No you wouldn’t. You’d say, ‘How long can you keep the kidney on ice?’“

Margot was wearing dimples again. “No! You cut the
blue
wire to disarm the bomb.”

Barbara pretended to take the pad from Margot and spoke into it. “The most important thing is not to get it in your eyes.”

Philippe smiled and reached for the datapad. “Well, if that’s what it takes to save an entire species.”

“Now the school is completely under water.”

“I don’t care what the mayor is offering.”

“How much do you need for bail?”

“Now move the scalpel to the left . . . No, your left!”

Andre laughed along, hoping he could keep them happy for at least five more minutes of travel. Long enough to take the highway through the disincorporated zone, past the walls and over the shallow canals that separated zone from city. Staying in the car all the way downtown should be worth at least fifty bucks from each passenger.

“Yes, Mr. Ambassador, the price of world peace—”

[
ATTENTION. ATTENTION.
]

It took all of Andre’s years of experience to keep his face blank as a voice that only he could hear sounded behind his inner ear. Even so, he missed a little of what Philippe said and had to trust that his laughter was appropriate.

“Sergeant LaCroix, please respond.” The dispatcher kept her voice neutral, but Andre could swear he heard a note of mischievous challenge.

He reached up as if to scratch his ear, sent the single pulse that meant acknowledgement, and tried to get back into the flow of the conversation.

“Sergeant LaCroix, either respond or signal an emergency.”

Barbara passed him the invisible datapad.

Everyone in the car looked to him, waiting. He glanced out the window. They were still in the zone, far from anyplace. He tried to think. Hospital? No, they’d already used that one. He made his voice a panicked whisper. “No, I swear. They’re following me right now.” He handed off the pad.

The implant spoke again, the dispatcher’s voice replaced with the impatient gravel of his partner. “Quit screwing around, LaCroix. We have a body at Pinecrest and Fullerton Streets and I need you five minutes ago.”

BOOK: Taking the Highway
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