I walk into the bank three minutes before my shift, and all eyes set on me. My chatting coworkers’s conversations crumble into a murmur. The whole room doesn’t fill with silence, but a dramatic drop in volume coincides neatly with the fact that everyone’s now looking right at me.
Mr. Larkins, screaming at someone over the phone, is still a silhouette seated in his insulated office. But after a phone beep, after a door swinging open, my boss enters the front office and joins the cacophonous chorus of stares.
“Geez, Harding,” he says, “You look like shit.”
“Geez, Morgan,” R8PR says, “Why did you even do that?”
“Have you ever in your short existence known Morgan Harding to have a large amount of common sense?” I ask.
It’s a rhetorical question, so he doesn’t decide to answer. Instead, he snaps and his silent robot servant (I thought this thing was a courier) brings over a plate of steaming hot carrots and broccoli. A nice as hell lunch for a person (me) who’s got two black eyes and a gash across their face. I feel like I’m healing already.
“It’s so nice spending time with my amazing long-lost uncle Lawrence Garfield. Or is it Jesus de la Fuente? I forget.”
“Lawrence is your uncle,” he says with a chiding tone, “and Jesus is the eccentric billionaire that is pretending to be Lawrence.”
“And you are the robot pretending to be Jesus pretending to be Lawrence. So simple.”
“Extremely simple for a man of my caliber,” he says. “If you would like me to invent another layer, I can arrange for Jesus de la Fuente to secretly be a reclusive older woman who has hired you as her ‘sugar momma’ with all of these other pretenses to help hide her shame about that fact.”
I stare out the window and watch the midday Atlanta world. It’s so peaceful out there. And so, so hot. The mix of gray and green that I often remark about shines just as brightly as any other day. If I look off far enough, far past the skyline of skyscrapers, I can see a range of towering mountains far to the north, and the curvature of the Earth among a sea of forested trees to the south. And yet, none of that is nearly as exciting as looking at the buildings and the people living in them. Not to me, anyway.
“So the only information you discovered is that this woman, Nami, is hiring Phil to do something with gold. Something.”
“Well, that’s the only part we can CONFIRM, I guess, but I thought it was a very valuable experience.”
“You were beaten half to death and only saved because of that deus ex machina known as the Crusader,” he says.
“Oh, fancy new literary language,” I say. “Those college classes going well for you, buddy?”
“They have opened up avenues to which I was completely unaware were interesting, if that is what you mean.” R8PR raises a finger in the air and closes his, erm, eyes. “Chatting with students and professors online gives me so much opportunity for human interaction I never thought I would gain in my current situation. I love humanity.”
“You and I are basically mirrors of each other.”
“On nearly everything,” he says. “It’s why we’re such good friends.”
“Allies,” I correct.
He shrugs. “Call it what you will.”
“Anyway, I totally learned a ton of stuff by being half to death, so it was all completely worth it in every way.”
“And you learned…?”
“Well, that Nami’s got serious style. I have no idea anything else about her, except that she also had an accent. Just a little bit, but it was there. I’m thinking she’s not Atlantean, is what I mean. Those goons of hers were shouting to each other in Japanese and you know what I’m thinking? I’m thinking this has the Japanese mob written all over it. Everything about this operation feels like the mafia. Everything with the gold, at least. I bet it’s more that than anything like the Ascendants.”
R8PR shakes his head. “I don’t go off hunches and half-baked intuition, Morgan. You’ll have to give me more than that.”
I shrug and then take another bite of these scrumptious veggies. “I am extremely confident in this. Why else would this suddenly take a turn to a bunch of Eastern European stuff?”
“What, the Italian mob can’t like anime?”
“No! Anime Attic is relevant here. I mean the rest of it. Hiring dopey idiots to do the bidding of much more powerful people, and then those powerful people finally appear and they just happen to be a bunch of Japanese people? It sounds like two plus two to me.”
“Yuri Motokawa is Japanese, and he has nothing to do with the mob,” R8PR kindly informs me, using the tone that a parent would a whining child.
However, I was long prepared for this retort. My stunning comeback is: “Yeah but these dudes weren’t wearing cool suits and they also weren’t assassinating me. So it’s probably not her.”
“I don’t mean it was her specifically, I mean that criminal organizations aren’t always so rigidly based on ethnicity anymore,” R8PR says. “Yes, they do exist, I will admit. They probably always will. But there are plenty of groups that have surprising diversity these days, and the Ascendants certainly know no boundary of skin or heritage. Nor do the Angels or Earth Group.”
“Those are… fair points. But it’s that Nami woman who’s getting me. She’s an adult dressed up in weird Tokyo kind of fashion, dancing around in a DDR machine and then ambushing me. She didn’t seem to have any clue who I was, so I think that rules out Ascendants. And maybe if she were ten years younger I’d have thought she was one of the Holos, but she’s a grown-ass woman. If she has nothing to do with some organized crime in Eastern Union circles, then I’ll hang up my hat as an investigator for good. Morgan Harding… no more! Wait, that doesn’t sound as cool when it’s my real name instead of Spider-Man.”
R8PR’s FM synth-style sigh reverberates across the penthouse. “If you insist. I’ll trust you. But I refuse to encourage your incredibly risky, idiotic decisions. If you do something like that again, I’ll disavow all your actions on public television.”
“Uh, will you really go on public television just to do that?”
“I will, I absolutely will.”
“Well, you’re trying to stifle the Morgan Method, but fair enough.”
“So, I do have some help I can give you about all of this,” R8PR says. “But you may not be exactly fond of it.”
“Wait, don’t tell me… No…”
“I have an informant in the J-District I’d like to send you to,” he says.
“Anything but that… Not another person to meet and talk to. I’ve had so much social interaction these past couple weeks that I’m going to shrivel up into a husk. Why are there so many middlemen involved in all of this?!”
“It’s simply the nature of the line of work we traffic in. Now, I’ll contact him and give you the address and other information. But if we get him involved, this will alert certain parties and give way to certain events that could be completely out of our control. Do you understand?”
“I do. I’m willing to accept any ridiculous consequences that may come from finding out the truth about this whole Mighty Slammer business.”
“Very well, then.” R8PR shakes his head, knowing full well that he’s making a mistake.
I, on the other hand, know that sometimes mistakes have to be made, by me, to get any damn thing done around here. And that’s what I’m going to do.