Austin By Night – Art [Layer 3]

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Author’s note: this is part three of an on going series. If you want to read this in order, check out Layer one and two <— there.

“Forget it, dude, it’s J-Con,”

That’s what the private security guy tells me when I ask him about the swarm of cops that just came through the Omni hotel lobby. This is being told to me by a weird, hippy-ish, looking guy, with shades and a green suit, before he adjusts the strap attached to his stun-gun SMG and talks to someone else via a blue-tooth head set.

I start to get worried that the police presence might have something to do with me, but a quick look on social media tells me otherwise. My phone — which has been monitoring the anime convention newsfeed since it started — is getting reports of some cosplay models that were showcasing a V.R rig went berserk and started attacking con goers. Drugs may be involved, but that’s still just a rumor.

I look up past the banners of advertising that show pictures of anime robots, magical girls and samurai and at the Austin night of downtown that looks caged in the glass and steel wall grid that is the floor-to-ceiling entrance of the hotel. The brightly lit buildings outside against the night sky remind me of the trail of lights that Austin does every years that involves putting up giant-size Christmas trees several stories tall and lighting them up after sun down.

“Hey, Art,”

It’s Molly, a goth blond whose wardrobe is ninety-percent black leather and ten-percent black cotton, fish-nets, and combat boots. She also has a blue-tooth head-set and stun SMG snugged over her shoulder. She looks like she hasn’t slept in days, which doesn’t surprise me since she’s been part of the security detail trying to keep the con under control. This one — judging by the bags under her eyes — was not going well. She stands out among the crowd of brightly dressed anime nerds and weeabos who are cosplaying the latest ninja, demon, cyborg, robot, school girl, or whatever thing that’s trendy in that world at the moment. I look down and notice that her name tag says Amanda.

“Hi…Amanda,” I say, cocking an eyebrow, “playing someone else tonight?”

“Just until this gig is over,” she said with a shrug, “I’ve been looking for you.”

“What’s up?”

“Can you help me find someone?” she asks me, “he disappeared off the grid a few hours ago.”

“What has he done to deserve you?” I ask her.

“I sent him to check up on something while I’ve been off doing this gig, and I haven’t heard back from him.”

When she says this I start to get a really bad vibe in the building. Suddenly, it feels like every eye ad ear is trained on us and the cops wandering around the hotel are not helping. I put my hands in my pockets and start towards the door leading outside. Without either of us saying a word, we walk together, Molly just a few paces behind me, until we are outside and in the parking lot. I’m reminded just how brutal the summers are here in Texas, despite this being August.

“Should I ask what you sent him off to find?” I ask Molly, picking up the conversation where we left off.

“Not unless you want me asking what you’ve been passing along to the clients in that hotel,” she tells me.

“Being a courier is hardly illegal in this city,” I tell her.

“True, but seeing how I’m one of your biggest customers, I know about the majority of packages you pass along are illegal,” she says as she glances over my shoulder and raises her eyebrows at my backpack.

“I don’t look at what’s inside the box,” I tell her.

“Yeah, but you’re not dumb, Arty,” she says “I know you walked out of here with a lot of cash money tonight. Maybe too much cash in that backpack of yours to be a normal courier.”

I feel my body shift. Fight or flight is starting to take a hold of me again. I hate when she does this to me. I’ve been told it’s called leverage. I grimace as I unzip a compartment in my back pack and boot up a small netbook. My hands are shacking as I glance over and see the cop cars with there blue and red lights still pulsing in the parking lot.

“Let’s make this quick,”

Molly moves next to me to look over my shoulder.

“With pleasure,” she says, also eyeing the cops, “the GPS I.D is blackcandy32,”

After pulling up the Deep Web app and starting up the GPS plug-in, I type in the I.D and the map zooms in on a park in Austin. His vitals show that he is still alive, but he’s standing still in the middle of the park.

“What the fuck,” whispered Molly, “why is he in Walnut Creek Park?”

“You didn’t send him there?”

“He’s supposed to be on the other side of town.”

Molly’s about to pull out her phone until we notice the dot representing Molly’s man had disappeared. We look at the screen for a few more seconds before realizing what happened.

“Holy shit,” I whisper, “his GPS and vitals are gone.”

“Either they pulled it out of him…” her voice trailed off.

“Or he’s dead…”

The time was 11:56p.m.

Copyright © 2017 Philip N.R Hauser

 

Austin By Night – Cassandra [Layer 2]

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The sky is a pitch black nothing that carries in with it a cold wind. I cannot move my body, but I can hear waves rolling towards and away from me; a deafening tide. I lift my head to see the ocean in front of me, but it is not a body of water coming towards me, but waves of shattered glass rolling into me like giant blobs of sharp fractals. The tide hits my feet and the sting of the glass edges hitting my body can be felt as the tide rolls in and cuts into my feet and legs with and recedes again. I try to move, but my body simply will not budge. Then I hear the screaming.

The burned corpses, chard and black, crawl towards me on the beach. They are girls that somehow know me, who scream and curse my name in the tongue from the old country where I came from. They weep as they get closer, flames rising from their bodies. They grab a hold of me and claw at me. I begin to shake in fear, trying to scream as loud as they do, but I can’t. Then I look ahead and see a wave, another blob of shattered glass that will engulf us all and…

I wake up.

I’m inside my coffin: it’s cramped, claustrophobic, the only light is a screen showing me a live feed of my room. No one is inside. The ghosts are trying to get inside me again. The coffin may not protect me anymore. I may have to use a thicker coffin in the future. I press a button and the coffin slides open.

I’m back in the same place I’ve woken up to in the past eighteen months: a dark, empty, spacious room, with one of the walls replaced by a single large window overlooking the Long Center and downtown Austin. It’s 9p.m. local time. The only lights coming into the empty condo are the lights of the city beyond the trees.

The phone rings, one of twelve scattered on a towel on the far corner of the condo with several chargers and a zip-lock bag full of SIM cards. I get out of my coffin and follow the faint ring all the way to the one lite phone among the dozen and answer it.

I use the Texas accent I’ve been perfecting over the past year in order to blend in with some of the locals. Presumably, not authentic Austinite anymore, but still Texan by most standards.

“Tech support,” I answer, “how may I help you tonight?”

“Is this Cassandra?” the man asks.

“Speaking,”

“There’s a server that needs to be wiped clean,” says the man, “Malware infection,”

“Can I get its location?” I ask.

“Coordinates are being sent to you, now,”

“And payment?”

“Wire transfer,” the man answered, “the Caymen account. An asset will be waiting for you at the location.”

“Thank you,” I hang up the phone.

I check another phone where the GPS coordinates have been sent. It’s at Walnut Creek Park, just north of Austin. I know of that place: very dark, very secluded at night, the residents in the surrounding neighborhoods know to stay away. All of these choices by my employer make one thing clear to me: somebody they no longer trusted was about to die.

I changed my clothes, and look in a mirror while I watch myself take one pill after another, and swallow them with a glass of two day old water out of a measuring cup. I grab my duffle bag containing my hit kit and code the door to set me out and lock the place up behind me. As I close the door, I can see one of the girls in my dream standing next to my coffin.

The pills do not seem to be working anymore.

Copyright © 2017 Philip N.R Hauser

Austin By Night – Logan [Layer 1]

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We need to talk. NOW.

That was the text message I received just a few hours earlier after I heard the verdict come down at the local courthouse. Twenty counts of first degree murder, ten counts of conspiracy, and over fifty counts of fraud towards a single man. And what came of it? Not a single conviction.

After hearing the news via text message by the same person, followed by the the insistence that I meet with them “NOW,” I spent the next few hours wandering the Austin Hike and Bike Trail and North Congress Avenue. I tried to ignore my phone’s constant buzzing from unknown numbers belonging to God-knows-who, until I finally just decided to remove the battery to stop the calls. I watched the sun go down behind the downtown skyline as made one last lap up Congress towards the capital building. Night fall came at 8p.m. It was August.

The black limo came around the corner and followed me down west 11th street. The limo slowly moved past me until the rear was in pace with my walk. I continued to ignore it even as the tinted window rolled down. It was a woman wearing shades and a black suit.

“Get in,” she ordered.

I stopped and turned to look at her. I was still wearing my shades, even though it was dark, I could recognize the woman sitting in the backseat of the limo. Her name was Kim, at least that’s what she was calling herself. I was hoping that by wearing the shades they would’ve rendered me invisible by now, but no such luck.

“Do I have a choice?” I asked.

“You didn’t answer your phone,” said Kim, obviously angry.

“It wasn’t safe to use my phone,” I told her evenly, “they probably have it tapped by now.”

“We can talk about that later,” she said, “get in.”

I looked around and saw a trash can just a few feet away. I took out my smart phone and plugged a fire-wire app’ into the phone’s charge port and hit the kill button. I dropped the phone into the trash can, trusting that the hard drive and cell data would be burned to ashes by the time it hit the bottom, and entered the limousine. The ride started just as soon as I was sitting across from her inside leather interior of the limo and had closed the door next to me.

“Nice to see the FBI’s using our tax dollars wisely,” I said looking around the interior, “you get surround sound in this thing?”

“Logan, I’m going to need you to cut the bullshit,” she said, “you need us now more than ever.”

I looked out the window as we rounded a corner.

“Look, I’m sorry things didn’t work out, but we needed more evidence,” said Kim, “The Bureau is having a hard time trusting you as an informant.”

“It’s not easy narcing on my own family,” I said, continuing to look out the window.

“There’s no one else your father trusts, but you,” Kim said, “he was able to hide behind his business associates this time, but we can still get him with tax fraud if we need to.”

I turned to look at her.

“His business associates?” I asked, surprised by the phrase.

“Alleged,” she corrected.

“Whatever. They, along with my dad, own the fucking governor,”

“But they don’t own the Lieutenant-Governor or the Attorney-General,” said Kim, “you can’t back out of this, Logan. Your father, your whole family, is going start selling each other out the closer we get to nailing them. But that won’t matter in the end because they’re all going to go to prison for life and so will you if you don’t continue to cooperate.”

I looked out the window again. It was becoming too claustrophobic in here.

“Stop the limo,” I whispered, “I want out.”

“Logan,” Kim took off her shades and looked at me, she almost looked scared. It was the first time I ever saw her look anywhere close to being afraid, “please, don’t screw yourself over like this.”

“Why me?” I asked her.

She looked away and leaned back in her seat. She closed her eyes hard and opened them again.

“You didn’t know anything,” she said, “your family kept a lot of secrets from you, Logan. Out of any potential informants we could get, you were top on the list.”

“Was that your estimation?” I asked, “or did your analysts in Quantico make that call?”

Kim didn’t say anything for a long time.

“Stop the limo,” said Kim, yelling to the front towards the driver.

“Nice to know you’re thinking of me,” I said as I got out of the vehicle.

Kim grabbed my arm before I was halfway out.

“Get a new phone,” Kim said, “contact me within twenty-four hours or I’m going to assume you told your family about this meeting.”

“In twenty-four hours I might be dead,” I told her.

“If that gets you to work faster, then that’ll work for both of us,” she said.

I got out of the limo and watched it slowly make its way down the boulevard and round the corner. The sky was pitch black above me and not a single car could be seen on the street. It was eerily quiet as I took out a spare phone from my suit pocket and dialed for a cab.

Copyright © 2017 Philip N.R Hauser