Vincent Lam had won the war against sleep a long time ago. Now he lay on his bed, staring at the ceiling, counting off the hours and the minutes before Mad Max Wong summoned him.
He got bored at exactly seven minutes past midnight. Time to do something more productive, he decided. He rolled off his bed and clambered to his feet. He didn’t bother switching on the lights. His window faced Building H of the Kowloon Arcology, and greedily drank the spilled golden glow of the unsleeping city within a city.
He took the eight steps to his fridge and grabbed the first can he found. It was, of course, Tsingtao Liquid Amber. The man he pretended to be favoured that beer. The rationale was simple: Vincent hated it, therefore Bobby Song loved it.
He popped the tab. Closed his eyes and sucked down a mouthful of mild bitter brew.
The alcohol had a heartbeat to slosh through his bloodstream. Then his medical implants awoke, diagnosing the poison and releasing neutralising agents. The suite was standard issue for all Hong Kong police officers. The perfect defence against ingested job hazards and off-duty self-medication.
He gulped down the rest of his beer. Vincent wouldn’t do that, so Bobby would. He had to be Bobby now, not Vincent. Today the machines were merciful, granting him a very slight buzz that lasted for all of a second.
He dumped the empty can in the recycling bin. He returned to the fridge. Bobby always drank at least two cans of beer. Always. It’s the little things build a cover, and the little things that remind you of it.
Right. Cover. If he drank enough he might even believe it.
He grabbed another can of Liquid Amber. Set the beer down on his bedside table, next to his tablet, a grey Aether N8. He walked to the foot of his bed and flipped it up with a clean and jerk. The bed rolled along hidden bearings, sliding up flush against the wall.
The new wall revealed a folding sofa, held in place by a pair of bolts. He unbolted the sofa, sat down, and sidled up against the table. His hand hovered over the beer, but landed on the Aether.
One of the perks of undercover life: approved ownership of open-access computers, the real deal from America and Europe. The gwailo had finally rejected the folly that was information access control technology. But the old men in Beijing decreed that Chinese markets and Chinese minds must be protected. Every electronic device that enters the Middle Kingdom must have firmware restrictions, limiting access to Chinese content. Bobby Song was overseeing deals to import American and European open-access information technology on the black market. He would never use anything white market closed-access machines. Commercial Crimes Bureau didn’t like it, but swallowed it as a necessary evil.
Not that Vincent cared. He worked for Organised Crime and Triads, after all.
Bobby Song tapped the home key. The screen sprang to life, demanding the unlock pattern. He slid his finger over the screen, writing a parody of calligraphy. The Aether accepted his offering and jumped to his last open window: Sing Pao Daily Breaking News.
Neither Bobby nor Vincent trusted Sing Pao Daily. It slobbered over Beijing’s pronouncements on the evils of the open-access movement and gloried in Beijing’s maintenance of Great Firewall 3.0. But SPD was the only newspaper covering the one thing Bobby and Vincent was interested in.
“Gangsters feud in Kowloon”, the headline said. A twenty-second video clip followed. The thumbnail showed a shophouse burning to the ground, with firemen racing to position their hoses. No fire trucks here. The shophouse was in a cranny on the fifth floor of the urban sprawl politely referred to as the Kowloon Arcology Complex Building C. The floor was someone’s ceiling; it wouldn’t hold the weight of a fire truck and there was no vehicular access anyway.
Vincent skipped the clip, read the text transcript. No update since his last visit. A group of gunmen shot up the shophouse with automatic weapons and threw Molotov cocktails through the windows. The shophouse was owned by Francis Poh, suspected by Commercial Crimes of selling illegal 3D printers and known to have triad links. The gunmen were suspected to be members of a rival triad unhappy with Poh. There was no sign of Poh.
Of course not. Max Wong was meeting Poh when the attack began. Shortly after the hit, Max checked in with the crew. Poh took a bullet, but the men escaped through a secret hatch in the back room. Max brought Poh to a very special clinic, the kind that worked only on underworld denizens and citizens who wanted off-the-books cybernetic surgery.
Vincent had passed the contents of Max’s call to his handler at the Organised Crime and Triad Bureau. Sergeant Eugene Loke acknowledged him with a terse response, and a promise to follow through.
But Max was mad. And when he was maximally mad, madness follows.
With a couple of swipes and presses, Vincent activated his cloak app. It erased his Aether’s online presence in real time, turning it nearly invisible to the all-watching eyes of Cybercrime and white-collar triads. He slipped through the Great Firewall, and entered a covert HKPF online resource site. There he accessed Hong Kong’s surveillance camera network for the fifth time tonight.
The cameras used facial, clothing and gait recognition patterns to identify persons of interest, and their networked intelligence tracked suspects from place to place. But the cameras still could not find Max or Poh. The shooters disappeared shortly after the attack. Vincent wasn’t surprised. No surveillance net is impermeable, and disposable full-face disguises were increasingly common in the underworld.
Presently his cochlear implant vibrated. It fed data to his retinal chip, splicing a photograph into the upper right corner of his sight. Max Wong was calling.
Bobby tapped a very specific spot on his neck twice.
“Dailo,” he said. Boss. “You need something?”
“Bobby!” Max said. “Come to the cafe now! I’ve got a surprise for the crew. You’re going to love it!”
Vincent knew that tone too well. Max was too joyful, too energetic. Mad Max had snorted something. He only did that when he had a plan. And wanted blood.
“All right,” Bobby said. “I’ll be there in twenty.”
Bobby double-tapped the spot again, and the photo vanished. Vincent put the tablet away, and fired up the implant, this time keeping his finger against his skin. A white rolodex of names and images appeared where Max Wong’s face was. He thought Eugene Loke. The rolodex flipped to the name and turned blue. He put his finger away.
Moments later, Loke’s voice entered his ear. “Vincent. What do you have for me?”
“Max is gathering the crew at the cafe,” he said. “He said he has a surprise for us. I think he’s planning a revenge hit.”
“Okay. Keep me updated.”
“I think it’s time to roll them up,” Vincent said. “This is going to get out of hand, and I have all the evidence we need to convict them.”
Loke sighed. “It’s not my call. Cybercrime and Commercial Crime want a piece of the pie too. I can’t terminate this operation without their approval.”
“Call them. Burn up their lines. Do whatever it takes. We need to end this tonight, before any more people get killed.”
“You sure about this, Vincent?” Loke asked. “If it doesn’t—”
“It’s the only explanation. Look, Mad Max got hit tonight, but when he called me, he sounded over the moon. Only way he’d act like that is if he’s planning something big.”
“Okay, Vincent, I got it. I’ll talk to the other bureaus. Go to the cafe, gather intel, and keep me in the loop.”
Loke signed off. Vincent stood. He noticed he’d left the beer untouched. He smiled, and raised it in a mock-toast.
“Good luck, Bobby Song,” he said.
He returned the beer to the fridge.
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