Outside, it rained a black rain again.
Outside it was still dark, still the dirty gray near-night of the best-lit days of Old New York.
Cage paused in the doorway of Gotham George’s, licked the cold, tangy rain from his upper lip as he mopped it from his hair, his brow, his stinging eyes. He?d lost his umbrella somewhere along the line, hadn?t bothered to replace it yet, despite regional Civic Environmental Authority warnings not to venture out without at least level three precautions.
When he saw the flashing warning in the corner of the video billboard outside, he thought: Right. Drop everything and strap on a filter mask ?cause CEA tells us to.
His black nonreact trench coat, he noticed, had gone a dark ash over the past few months.
So much for nonreactive.
Cage had stepped into a new chuckhole in the walk between the office and Gotham George’s, and his footfalls were punctuated with a cold squish every other step.
He ventured past the tarnished, brass GG logo, into Gotham George’s and found Donatelli Three minding bar.
Old, old jazz, music from before Cage was born, filtered through the bar, a permanent cologne of cigar smoke and hydroponic tobacco 2942 and spilled beers from a hundred-plus trade zones filling the place.
Cage waved an index finger at the bartender. "One finger!" he yelled to Donatelli Three over some cacophonous sex-partnering gameshow Netcast. He chose a seat shrouded in some of the place’s permanent shadows, away from where most tavern patrons wandered. Cage pulled off the ash-colored trenchcoat, draping it over the opposite side of the booth to dry.
On the ?Net set a timer counted toward zero, a pair copulating on stage before a live studio audience as contestants vied to replace them. The audience was enthusiastic.
Donatelli Three ran Cage’s profile. "Laphroaig? A bit of the old medicinal spirit?" asked the bartender, eliciting a nod. The bartender’s memory was as reliable as that of Gotham George himself.
"A double is only one more Ennay, Mr. Cage," Donatelli Three informed him, its conspiratorial-smile algorithm running.
Smiling the smile of friendly surrender, Cage waved two fingers in the air, gesturing for the double. He tugged his brown, texture-woven vest forward, loosening the double-Windsor of his plain, black tie.
As he mulled the peaty scotch in his mouth, he felt a familiar tremor along his left hip. He ignored the summons, taking another pull on the scotch.
Gotham George’s was an all-hours joint, decades of sloshed drinks chronicled in lacquerlike layers in the ancient, worn tile of the tavern floor like rings in the tree cutaways Cage had seen in museums as a kid.
"Like to weather the storm, if you don?t mind, Donatelli," he said.
"You always like to do so when business is quiet," replied Donatelli Three’s smooth voice, a flat, nonjudgmental tone issuing from a small lamp near Cage in the dimly lit booth; Donatelli’s lips hadn?t moved, it hadn?t turned from loading glasses and pitchers into a sterilizer ten yards away, and it creeped Cage out a little when his bartender multitasked.
When the tremor came again, Donatelli Three turned, looked at Cage, sizing him up, and said, "Someone’s trying to reach your Personal."
"Yeah," said Cage.
"Do you think it’s her?" asked Donatelli; still reading my profile, Cage thought. Not like I haven?t told it the whole story a hundred times.
But his bartender prodded its regulars like this. It was in its programming.
Cage said, "Another Laphroaig."
The bartender complied. "It isn?t Cin, Cage; she’s a Climber. You know that. Someone’s trying to establish a StellarNet conference with you. Work-related, I?d wager, from the looks of the referring URL," the lamp speaker said as the bartender decanted Cage’s order. Again, Donatelli’s lips did not move.
"And you seem to have forgotten your tab recently, Mr. Cage," Donatelli’s voice issued from the bartender itself this time. "Gotham George will certainly remember."
Gotham George has enough of a downpayment in my insurance retainer, thought Cage. But he wasn?t about to say that to Donatelli Three.
Not certain whether to be relieved by the news that it wasn?t his ex, or put off with Donatelli’s candor, Cage jerked his Personal from its left-hip holster, flipped up the screen on the little hand-held unit, and set it down on the bar.
"Cage," he said.