Scharnhearse found the narrator’s voice appealing to be sure, but it still somehow felt like an intrusion – like starting from a nap and finding yourself in the arms of a stranger. He acknowledged and dismissed the message with a twitch of his optical muscle. Beyond the interface’s data foreground the Island Terminal was resolving into a distinct form out of the thin ribbon of haze that hung over her harbor. Presently the ferry’s engine power was cut to a burble as the craft swung about to face the idle Port Authority hands whose only job it was, Scharnhearse was sure, to make the ferry fast to its moorings six times a day. Nice work if you could get it and all, but it chafed him not a little to think that these guys basically drew the same public-sector benefits he did. They may as well have been baboons who’d learned to tie a sailor’s knot, yet somehow it was right that they should be put on a level with the guardians of the law and the defenders of the peace. Scharnhearse didn’t get it, but that didn’t stop him from giving them a collegial wave as the ferry came to. You never knew when you might come to need these guys to have seen something or roll on someone. And the mooring specialists were only too glad of the opportunity to wave back in dumb pantomime and delay by a few seconds the slender task, indeed the only task, the city required of them. Truth be told it was a toss-up as to whether he was disgusted most by these overcompensated, overperked port bozos or by the peanut-shelling slob down below whose body sat blobbed on the bench like a sundae running to cream.
Before the workers could make her fast the ferry’s stern surged up against the dock bumpers. The hull shuddered and was still. Scharnhearse remained immobile at the prow and stood facing the city as the passenger mob began to stream off on their appointed courses. He noted with interest when the slob he’d locked onto reached beneath the bench and slung over his shoulder a laundry bag bulging with lightweight bulk before waddling in the direction of the gangplank. Scharnhearse was kitted with the technology to see what the bag held. All he had to do to activate x-ray mode was give a trained twitch of the eye, he but preferred the thrill of playing out the string. In words his own, he thought that the spider does well to let the fly do most of its work for it. Besides, he had a good hunch that the proud slob wouldn’t make it more than a hundred yards before all was revealed.
And so it was. Within a minute or two the man had plopped himself down onto an upside-down beer crate and arrayed a number of oblong shapes on the crate opposite. The camera zoomed in instantly in response to Scharnhearse’s squint. Why the fool – cigarette cartons! He was vending black-market cigarettes in the open, in the light of day, as if imploring the fury of the law to come crashing down on his head.
Scharnhearse turned smartly on his heel and strode for the aft stairs, the decking thrumming to the beat of his bootheel. He reached up in stride and pulled off the heads-up shades, slipping them into his shirt pocket. The world was bright and naked without them, not to mention stripped of all the contextual and playbook information provided by the display, but that was the way he liked it when confronting a malfeasor: Just him and whatever poor fool dared spit on the law with nothing in between to soften the edges or impose protocol.
The man was seated just past the terminal gates, facing away from Scharnhearse’s approach. Scharnhearse was practically sprinting when he commenced yelling: “Hey bud what kind of deal you got there?” The man wheeled to face this alarming customer, and had no time to react before Scharnhearse clobbered him across the jaw with the heel of his hand. A jet of saliva arced from the corner of the man’s mouth. Only after did the force of the blow seem to cascade down his neck and into his trunk, and it was by an oddly delayed reaction that the inertia of his body was overcome. He wobbled first, tottering at the edge of the beer crate before pancaking into the concrete, a yowling disorder of sweatshirt fabric and rolls of fat. Scharnhearse’s feeling of superiority in that moment was tinctured by resentment at the man having stood up so well under the blow, all things considered.
“You got a license to be operating as a tobacconist in the Bipartisanship State, you fat son of a bitch? Huh? Answer me! Do you or do you not –”
“I ain’t got no license” the man groaned. “The hell you doing comin up on me from behind like that?”
“Shut the fuck up. I ask the questions here, and you’re the sadsack who answers them.”
The man had struggled to his knees and was working on planting a foot in a position favorable for receiving the weight of his body. He looked at Scharnhearse. “Look Officer, just make this easy on me and give me the citation would you? I’m having a rough day and sure would appreciate it if you could see your way clear to not dragging me down to the station. I’ll just go make a few sales somewheres else and then I’ll go see my old lady. I’ll get out of your hair this instant is what I’ll do. Can you do that for me?” The man was indefatigable. Scharnhearse said nothing, instead sidestepping and locking his arm around the man’s neck. It felt right. “Whoa, what you doing? Get off of me man!”
Scharnhearse flexed into the man’s trachea and he wheezed for help. Still Scharnhearse said nothing, tightening his hold ever so slightly with every twitch of the man’s struggle. Presently the man fell onto his stomach, pulling Scharnhearse on top of him in a heap.
“Oh God,” the man rasped. “I can’t breathe.”
Scharnhearse’s face was red with fury and he was shaking from exertion.
“Shut the fuck up!” he screamed. “Shut your goddamned mouth.”
Having made his point, Scharnhearse was ready to let go and hop to his feet when he both heard and felt the man void his bowels. The body under him shuddered and was still. Scharnhearse rolled off and scurried clear of the stench. The man didn’t move. “Oh shit,” Scharnhearse whispered, suddenly concerned. “What have I done?” He fumbled for his standard-issue shades and plastered them into place to help him make sense of the situation. It took only a second before the heads-up identified the target as a fresh corpse.
“Oh God, what have I done?” Backup was summoned automatically to isolate the witnesses. Then the narrator from that morning came on. “Officer Scharnhearse you have nothing at all to be sorry for. This is what happens when strength confronts defiant weakness. Remember Callicles. ‘The justice of the weak is no justice at all. True justice is the articulation of strength unopposed.’ You have done well Scharnhearse. You will go far. All that is at all that is asked of you now is to get a hold of yourself.”