The Know Circuit

Chapter 1

November 2, 2028
01:20 a.m.

“Come on, Bridge, I know you know a guy,” the lithe Puerto Rican/Chinese vlogger whined to Bridge, pointing a finger directly in his face. Bridge just leaned back in his seat with that bemused smile of his, confirming the girl’s assumption without a word. “I just need the hookup, yo!”

“Look here, Anna,” Bridge said, intentionally using her real name, knowing that would get her goat. The smoldering stare and arched brows of her 16-year old face was a minor victory for him, a sign that he had gained the upper hand. “Sorry, Ms. Angst. What you are asking for is… well, it’s pretty goddamn impossible.”

“Bullshit, Bridge. You’re the bomb. I know you got Fez that in with Raging D-Bags. Did you see his numbers on that story? Cuz went stratospheric, yo!” She was trying damn hard to butter him up and if he went in for smoking hot jailbait, he’d have bit. She had the flawless skin of a teenager with the taut body of someone who spent their nights chasing celebrities in limos to get that one hit video clip. When not busy hounding celebs, she worked the crime beat. Bridge wondered when she ever got the time to go to high school. He figured her for smart enough to pass without ever seeing the inside of a classroom though, so her attendance was likely immaterial.

“You’re asking me to get the urine of a pop icon with more security than the fucking Mayor. And trust me; the mayor’s got a metric fuckton of security. All so you can break the story that she’s pregnant, which by the way, she may not even be pregnant. What do you do if she’s not?” It wasn’t the most disgusting thing Bridge had ever hooked up for someone. But it would be damned hard to find a bodyguard who not only had access, but was willing to risk his job to get the sample.

Of course, Bridge knew a guy. He’d gotten Rick the job with Ms. Shawnee when Rick was at his absolute lowest, two steps from getting his hands chopped off by the recently deceased Nicky Sharver. Rick owed him a whole lot more than just two working flesh hands. But Bridge knew better than to give in too easy. After all, a good businessman set the price as high as the market would bear.

“If she ain’t preggers, at least I got the scoop on that too. It just won’t get as many hits. Anything with Shawnee’s name trends upwards, yo. My advertisers like dem trends.” Bridge put on his best thinking face, selling his effort for all it was worth. Angst was smart enough to recognize the game. “You DO know somebody!”

Bridge pretended to give up with a sigh. Leaning over the table and pulling her closer with a conspiratorial whisper, he said, “All right, I know a guy. But this is major big-time bad mojo for him if he gets caught. You have got to be completely anonymous on this one. I mean it, no names, nothing more specific than sources close to the subject.” Finally, he leaned back, his dance reaching the climactic flourish. “But it’s going to cost you.”

“Yo, I pays, brau. You know I pays.” She did pay, and more reliably than most of his repeat clients. Value was established, and the two parties began haggling out the particulars. As he finalized the details, he noticed a figure over Ms. Angst’s shoulder, the towering bulk of the ex-footballer Paulie. The giant spotted Bridge. He aimed his shiny new cybernetic fingers at Bridge in the shape of a pistol, fired a pretend shot and headed for the door with a predatory smirk on his lips. Time was running out on that debt.

After Ms. Angst had left the table, Bridge’s gigantic bodyguard Aristotle walked over and sat down with a loud exhalation. “Are you really going to get that diminutive paparazzi wannabe a urine sample from a pop princess? Isn’t that a little scuzzy, even for you?”

Bridge smiled back. “Have you seen Ms. Angst’s numbers? That little half-breed pulls down huge uniques every time she opens her mouth. Hell, even that bit she did when Matt’s place got raided was competitive with the Misogynist Theatre preview vids in the teen/tween demos. She’s a hot property.”

“My word, you sound like a television executive pitching a smoking hot pilot. Mr. Thames would be proud,” Aristotle replied with a devious grin on his face. Bridge’s memories of the slick Chronosoft executive who had forced him into leaking a scandalous video of the former mayor were bitter ones. The comment was without malice however, so Bridge just returned his friend a one-finger salute.

“I hate the gossip mill she works, but I’ll be damned if those kind of numbers might not come in handy some day. It's all about who you know, you know?”

“Oh, indubitably,” Aristotle smiled back. He worked the pad on a PDA. “According to my records, that was your last appointment tonight, boss. Are you ready to retire for the evening?”

Bridge shook his head. “Why do you still use that relic? You need to get jacked, big guy.” Bridge pointed to the interface jack at the base of his skull, the cybernetic hub for all his chipped-in internal software from scheduling to cell phones to his internal clock. Aristotle just shrugged. Some people just didn’t like metal implants. Bridge let it drop. He knew Aristotle would never get with the cyber times. “Nah, I’m gonna hover for a little, see if I scare up any walk-ins. Besides, I like this band. You can split, if you want.”

It was Aristotle’s turn to shake his head. “What bodyguard would allow his charge even a moment unescorted through this calamitous jungle?” His smile wilted into his serious face. “I caught a glimpse of Paulie. Have you figured out how you’re to discharge that particular burden?”

“Not yet, no. I could always call up Arneson or Beach.” Bridge stared into his half-finished drink visualizing the two hired guns, mentally toting up their qualifications for such a task. Arneson was cybered-up enough to be more than a physical match for the ex-footballer. Beach claimed to be a shootist, one of the few assassins who followed some weird sort of Samurai honor by killing their prey with the most impossible displays of trick shooting. Beach’s flair was way too expensive and Arneson was fucking crazy. Come to think of it, Bridge believed they were both two steps over the line from crazy into batshit territory, but they were effective. But worst of all, Bridge really just didn’t want to kill anybody. Paulie was a thug, a son-of-a-bitch and a sadistic cunt, but he’d just been doing a job. Even the threats he’d made to Angela at the end were just how things were done. Once he started whacking guys who crossed him, Bridge became no better than thugs like Paulie or Nicky Sharver. Besides, Bridge HAD cost Paulie a couple of fingers. “I’d rather not get into the assassination game if there’s another out.”

Aristotle nodded knowingly. Though they never spoke much about it, he respected Bridge for the fixer’s hesitance to use violence. Bridge didn’t even let Aristotle fight for him, claiming that he couldn’t afford a real bodyguard. Even so, Bridge was sure that if needed, the man would take a bullet for him. Aristotle was THAT guy. Bridge wasn’t. Aristotle grinned at him and said, “We’re going to have to start calling you the Not So Amoral Bridge if you don’t watch out.”

Both men giggled. “Fuck off. I didn’t make up that nickname!”

“And yet, you use it with such prodigious frequency.” Bridge shrugged.

They sat in comfortable silence for a few minutes, letting the music wash over them. The Ardents were building their set to a crescendo, the music stacking itself in layers upon layers as if independent of the musicians’ actions. Drums fed into guitars into cowbells into bass intertwining with video snippets and found sounds. The tension between the duo was palpable, and only Bridge knew why. The tap Bobby had put on his sister’s life months ago had been discovered, and she was ultra-pissed about it. Rather than tear the band apart though, it actually improved their live performances, their anger and resentment towards each other feeding a fire of creativity that infused the music with an almost heavenly quality. Bridge wished he’d hired a bootlegger to catch this performance, but he had been too busy to think of it. He made a mental note to do just that for their next gig, if there was one. Since the Arsenal had shut down after Twiggs’ death, the Tanz was one of the few clubs that would still book them, even though the vapid celebrity clientele didn’t appreciate this kind of challenging music.

Behind the music, something was building, something at the very edge of hearing/seeing/thinking. At first, Bridge thought it was just a new psychoacoustic effect the siblings had added to the show, but as it began to tickle the interface jack at the base of his skull, he realized it was something else. Like a tide slowing rolling into a wave that fed itself into larger and larger waves until the whole sea bubbled over and buried everything underneath its watery embrace, this something radiated out from the jack through the nerves in his spine, his shoulders and hips and arms and legs and hands and feet and fingers and toes.

Bridge began to scream and he was not alone.

The Know Circuit

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