24 Hour Story: part 3

The sun was still well below the horizon when Lloyd backed his Ranger out of the apartment carpark. The rain shone in the headlights and made its usual drumming sounds on the car roof, but didn’t cause any inconvenience; Lloyd had the wipers on before he’d even cleared the exit. It was always raining in Tretton City.

The town had been slapped together in the months before operations began on Providence, as somewhere to house transient workers stationed on the moon. The port it grew next to was on the equator, in a rain belt between the mountains and the sea: the weather was consistently wet and warm throughout the year. Tretton itself was at least a little cooler than Earth; the tropical latitudes were only lukewarm. It was all that kept the place tolerable, in Lloyd’s opinion.

He pulled out of the side streets and turned right onto Hartnell. The street lights were doing their job, at least; he’d almost had a crash two weeks ago during a brown-out. Another problem with a town run by mobsters: there were no corners that would not be cut. The infrastructure, barely two decades old, was already falling apart. There was a fair amount of traffic at this hour – heavy freight carriers mingled with commuters, and Lloyd even saw the odd shiny imported vehicle. The contrast between the sleek, self-contained cars and the internal-combustion-engine bombs the locals drove was Tretton in a nutshell, really: deeply unequal but filled with opportunities.

Lloyd certainly owed a lot to that; most civilised worlds didn’t have many niches left for private snoops. “Nice” worlds had police, social security, infrastructure that ticked like clockwork – hell, infrastructure that largely was clockwork – and a million and one little safety nets to help people who fell through the cracks. They were, by and large, run for the benefit of the people living on them. Tretton wasn’t a nice world: it was run for the benefit of its owners, and a world without modern civilisation needed people like him. People would come to him to solve their problems – victims of identity theft, straight cops who couldn’t deal with a cover-up, spouses worried about infidelity – and now, Gabriel Luis Rojo, Mr Big himself. As much as he hated the man, Lloyd couldn’t have asked for a bigger sign that he’d hit the big time.

Pulling into Central, he turned the obvious question over in his head. What exactly did Rojo want him for? The man had an army of relatives, lesser lieutenants, bent cops, tame P.I.s; the only reasons to take Lloyd on were his unique skills (few, bordering on none, he muttered, keeping his ego in check) and his outsider’s perspective. Lloyd knew that outsiders rarely fared well in family matters, but his not-yet-broken kneecaps persuaded him that the risk was worth taking. The Rojos owned half of the spaceport, anyway – the only way to skip town would be to hide out in the jungle.

The Royale loomed at him, garish neon lights forming a skinny, twisting frame set inside the bulky brick-and-mortar one. Lloyd pulled over, checked his pockets twice for his wallet and his Marino, and told the Ranger to head to a local carpark until he was finished. He had credit with several right now; it would figure out which would give him the best deal on the way there. He swung the door open and stepped into the rain.

His hat and jacket deflected most of the deluge, but drops inevitably got through the cracks and got to work soaking through his cotton shirt. The thing was a nuisance, really – everyone else on the damn planet wore waterproof synthetics – but Monica had bought a dozen of them for him when she’d found out how he paid the bills. She’d dismissed his objections instantly; “you look more convincing when you’re a bit disheveled anyway, Rick,” had shut him up fast, and he hadn’t found the spite to dump them in favour of something better suited to the local weather. Sticky shirts were another thing he’d learned to put up with on Tretton.

The car took off, growling with hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide, and Lloyd looked up at the neon display in front of him. Six fifty-two, ante meridian: he was early. Wills had better appreciate the fact.

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