The crunch of the stale fried pork fat helped drown out the repetitive unce unce that the dimly lit local bar had called music. The salty gob of fat kept her mind occupied for the next few seconds, Mrav the barkeep could wait a bit longer.
"Well what's it gun' be?". Mrav barked, his left artificial eye flared red with impatience. "You're not my only customer, Keera."
"Citron Exploder," Keera replied stonefaced. "Two."
Mrav grumbled then turned around and did what he did best. Keera actually didn't mind Mrav, in fact she considered him as close as one could be without being related. He spun back around with two shot glasses full of bright yellow syrupy liquid.
"Bounty hunter special," he grinned. "Now tell me who the lucky guy is."
"Ricco Gutter," she said with a bitter taste on her tongue. "Some scumfuck. Human trafficking and other small assault charges. Got any info? Does his name ring a bell?"
Mrav rubbed his two bristly chins with a huge hand and shook his head. Mrav was Keera's personal contact to the sleezy underworld of the San Perinado region, nothing got by him without him knowing or at least he knows a guy who knows a guy. Information and running his ramshackle of a bar was his way and only way of life. Everyone knew Mrav and Mrav knew almost everyone.
"Well so much for the waste of time,". Keera said after she slammed her last shot. She fingered the revolver at her waist and stood up. "Time—"
"Why the pigs?". Mrav interrupted and shook his head, which caused his chins to sway. "You know they pay shit and they usually frame the unlucky, or should I say dumb Merc who jumps at the offer. You need to back out of this one, Kee. Just sayin'."
Keera chuckled and slid Mrav her credcard. "Maybe. I need the dough and you know it. You know nothing about this job or the guy I'm looking for, so why are you wiggin' on me?"
"Ricco Gutter! The name sounds fake! No thought into an actual name." sneered Mrav. "One moment, Kee."
Mrav wobbled over to the other end of the bar and went to his usual business with a needy customer. Keera sat back down and checked her watch, she needed something to do before the music in the bar made her go berserk.
"Have you seen the new implant by OccuTech?" Mrav asked as he came back to Keera. "From what I hear all they have to do is insert a tiny chip under your cornea. Thinkin' of gettin' one in my right eye. You ever gun' get chipped, Kee?"
"Never. I happen to like my organic body, and I plan on keeping it that way." said Keera.
"You ain't in your prime anymore, Kee. Eventually you're gun' have to hang up your holster and settle down. I could always use you down here at the bar." Mrav stifled a laugh then went back to another tipsy customer, who was slurring his order and was using his hands as he attempted to form a sentence.
Keera turned the corners of her mouth up slightly, her rare lopsided grin and threw down a few spare change and called out. "Keep the change. Till next time, Mrav."
"Yep. Till next time." said the overweight bartender to the departing bounty hunter. He scooped up his tip before any unsavory type had the chance to snag it and resumed his daily routines at the bar.
Keera left the shady, dilapidated bar with a smile on her pale narrow face. It wasn't very often that she allowed herself smile, but Mrav usually had a way of cracking it, though she would openly admit that it hurt her face.
Mrav seemed more worried than usual. The older they both got the more hesitant and cautious he became, at least when it came to her wellbeing. She had known the old bartender for over twenty years but lately she wished that he would back off. It didn't help that she came to him everytime she had a bounty.
Eventually she would have to give up her profession, but there was no way she would go work with Mrav. When that time came she decided she would look for something with a different "pace". Maybe look into something that involved hacking, or something that would keep her out of the public eye.
Thunder rumbled across the hazy neon lit sky, indicating a storm nearby. When Keera was at the bar she saw warnings on the screens of a severe storm coming in from the West. Supposedly this was going to be 'the storm of the century' but she hardly believed the meteorologists she saw on screen. These days it was all for show, just something for ratings.
Everything revolved around on how many followers, or fans one could amass. Since the beginning of social media back in the 21st century people constantly uploaded ridiculous or self absorbed content online while they eagerly waited for someone to 'like or respond', it had not evolved except the devices, chips or implants one could use to view the nonsense that was constantly uploaded to the net.
Keera despised every aspect of social media, she constantly referred to it as the 'festering slimepit'. Though these days it was necessary to have if one wanted a honest decent paying job, that was one of the main reasons why Keera chose her line of work. She liked her privacy.
Another crack of thunder caused Keera to jolt and nearly miss her step, she felt that roll through her body and shake the pavement beneath her leather sneakers. She looked up and beyond the brightly lit skyscrapers that surrounded her, loomed a wall of menacing jet black clouds. Maybe the meteorologists were correct for once, she mused as lightning split open the sky, reflecting off the many catwalks, cargo freighters and cables that crisscrossed over the glowing megalopolis.
She pulled a metal case out of her faded purple denim jacket and pushed a small button on the top. A cigarette sprang forth, she needed this smoke before she had to deal with her other contact. After a few drags she tapped the fist sized watch on her wrist and reluctantly dialed up her sleazy acquaintance. Resisting the urge to vomit was common everytime she gave this guy a ring and she almost hoped that he didn't answer. Almost.
"What up, Keera."said a raspy, hard voice over the speaker of her watch. The symmetrical square face of an unshaven man with short tousled dark hair appeared on the holo of her watch. His aviator sunglasses were halfway down his straight nose and he wore a look of amusement on his face. "You only want one thing when you call me, though this time I was hoping it might be different. Right?"
"I will never fuck you. So drop the act. Ricco Gutter, you got any info on this guy." Keera wanted to end this conversation as quick as possible. The less words with this guy the better.
"Well maybe one day." said the man with a smirk. Her rejection didn't seem to faze him in the least. "I may know a guy by that name. Will I give it to you? No."
"The motherfucker is a human trafficker!" Keera yelled at the image of her sly contact on her wrist. A gang of young party goers gawked at her as they passed by then started whispering and laughing amongst themselves. "How—"
"Gutter is a good man with a family. There is no way I would betray his trust." interrupted the man with the sunglasses. "And, just so you know, what he is 'trafficking' are people fleeing Mexico coming to America for a better life. Why would you punish someone who does good deeds for so many families, who are just trying to get by. Kinda like you n I, Keera. I'm sorry, but I just can't. You know, code of ethics and all.". He flashed her a smile, showing his perfectly straight teeth.
For the past thirty-three years Mexico had been taken over by The Mano de la Muerte, the biggest crime syndicate in Mexico. Many immigrants fled the cruelty of Miguel "El Demonio" Diaz, the ringleader of The Mano de la Muerte, or others sought his so called "protection" from the other rival cartel gangs. Mexico had become a warzone and Keera had no intention of going south of San Perinado anytime soon, or ever.
"I don't care if he has a family. He has a bounty on his head and I intend on collecting it. With, or without your help—"
"Keera, please." Her contact pulled the shades down off of his face. "I am your last resort. We both know that. Let this one go and go after another. There are plenty of 'em around in San Perinado just ripe for the taking."
"No. I will find Ricco." Keera disconnected her end of the line and pulled out another cigarette. She knew that she couldn't drop her current contract, it had to be completed. The SPPD wouldn't take it lightly if she decided to abandon a contract that they had put out. She would have to watch her back if she did, and frankly she was just too tired for that mess .
There was another way to find and she despised herself for the thought. With a few quick taps on her watch she had the website of [email protected] on her screen. Keera held back the urge to vomit once again, she was about to do something she had never done before: make a profile.
Five minutes later she was browsing the biggest social media platform of the world with a fake identity, of course. Luckily for her she didn't have to scroll through any content because of her lack of "friends", and soon she had the profile of Ricco Gutter plastered over the screen on her left wrist.
What she found slightly shook her, maybe her sleazeball contact wasn't lying after all. Gutter was a family man. Every one his pictures were of him, his wife and his three children, and all were smiles. Keera crushed out her cigarette, and with that any remorse she had for Ricco. It was either Gutter, or have the SPPD whack her when she was asleep. Both options ended in death, but only one ended in payment and she preferred the latter.
While standing in the middle of the pedway, Keera meticulously went through every picture and read every caption she could find, oblivious to the pedestrians and traffic that passed by. Seconds melted into minutes as she scanned every picture and caption one more time, hoping that she might have overlooked any clues, yet at the same time she felt like a creep, or some stalker.
A dull thud started to drum against her left eye so she turned off the screen to her watch. She needed a place where she could decompress and relax, maybe it would help her find Ricco if she had a clear head, in fact she knew that it would go her some good. A taxi was parked a few feet in front of her with no passengers, so she booked it for the cab before it could speed away.
"Where ya goin'?" came the quick response of the hunched over driver. He didn't even look back at her, and the inside smelled of sanitizer, which Keera supposed was a good thing.
"Neon Bean." said Keera over the roaring and honking of the passing traffic.
"First, hand over any weapons you are carrying.". The hunchbacked driver turned around and held out his hand. "Sorry, it's policy. Don't gimme that look, I've had women far more younger and prettier than you try and stick me with a blade, or two. If not, please proceed outta-"
"No you hold on!" barked the beady eyed hunchbacked driver. "I don't want any shit. Hand over the weapons, or get the fuck out!"
Keera hesitantly unlatched the holster for her revolver and gently laid it across his extended hand. She watched as the driver placed it in the passenger seat, and he did use caution while handling her weapon which surprised her somewhat. She always seemed to expect the worst from anybody and everybody, especially in San Perinado, which explained her small circle of friends.
"So Neon Bean it is. ETA twelve minutes."
The drive across the West Texas megalopolis was uneventful. The hunchback kept to himself the whole ride and didn't ask any questions, or had any music playing, which was alittle unsettling for Keera. She eyed her holster, waiting for the driver to try something, but she knew he wouldn't try anything stupid. But still...
"Ever heard of a fellow named Ricco Gutter," she asked with more than alitte desperation in her voice. "Eck eck eck. He's my cousin and I am in town visiting San Perinado for the first time. Only family I have in this city." She was getting desperate. Her stomach growled.
"Oh my. And you didn't bother to get ahold of him before you arrived into town? Seems alittle sloppy to me....bounty hunter." The driver's oily voice made her skin crawl, maybe silence was the better option. "That is a common lie used by amateur bounty hunters, you don't strike me as an amateur, but I can smell your desperation."
A red transparent wall appeared in front of Keera, followed by the drone of some generators somewhere behind her head. The driver had her trapped in the backseat, and she knew there was no way past the force field.
"Simple mistake, really," Keera said calmly and sat up straight, the muscles in her back were taut and needed to be stretched.
"The mistake was you asking me if I knew a certain someone. Now that puts me in danger, and that I cannot allow," hissed the driver. He turned around and Keera found that she could not look this man in the eye at this particular moment, she felt like a weak, gullible fool. "Though lucky for you, I silence any recording device that comes inside my vehicle. But don't go around town asking for that certain someone, it will only lead to death for you."
"Does he work for the Mano de la Muerte?"
The red force field that was dividing the front and backseat flickered a couple of times and then vanished. "Once again luck is on your side. No he doesn't, and looks like we are arriving at Neon Bean. Here is your weapon and the ride is on the house, just heed my advice."
"If only it were that easy." said Keera as she stepped out of the taxi and clipped her holster across her hip.
"It is, Keera." said the hunchbacked driver and he melted into the stream of traffic.
"What in the fuck. I never told him my name..."
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