Cyberpunk Challenge – Detective Rickard Varriano 7

*** I recently posted on Reddit and see new traffic coming through. For newcomers, here are a couple of links to get you started. ***

The original Write This! post, with version 2 of the e-book available as a free PDF download:

The intro to the Story Archive:

And the unfolding story arc featuring Detective Varriano:


You’re Fucking Hired!

“Mr. Engstrom, this is Hound Rover Four.”

“I’m here.” Engstrom snatched his phone up off the carpet. He was so tense he’d dropped it when he’d taken it out of his pocket. Things were critical at Stem Corp, had been critical for over a week now, so much that everything he did was hurried. Even answering the phone was like responding to an emergency. “Spit it out, man! You need to have some good news for once!”

“It’s not what you want to hear, but it is a start.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“I’m at EFH. A man just walked in off the street with a Golden Egg. We just checked it. The Golden Egg is genuine.”

“Did you arrest that bastard son?” Engstrom demanded.

“Negative. I am forwarding his credentials over to you right now.”

Engstrom pulled his phone away from his ear to check its screen, soon scrolling over the image of a glum, unremarkable face and going right into the history. A detective? Shit! His CEO Delucca hated detectives! What’s this? The guy’s honesty rating was off the charts. Off the fucking charts!

“Mr. Engstrom?” HR-Four asked, when he took too long to answer.

“Explain to me how this sorry fuck got a hold of a Golden Egg?”

“He’s claiming client privilege on that. We are holding him in case you want to speak with him. You should know he already pepper sprayed one of our guys and he’s threatening to punch the rest of us. He says he’s a good Samaritan doing his duty by turning in our Golden Egg.”

“I can be there in ten, fifteen minutes. Keep him there until I arrive!”

“He said he wants to stroll down to the park. Something about grabbing a hot dog because he hasn’t eaten all day.”

“A hot dog?”

“Yes, sir. A hot dog.”

“Listen to me carefully, Rover Hound whatever the fuck number you are…”

“HR-Four, sir.”

“Let the guy have his fucking hot dog, for God’s sake! I want you to escort him to the park. Two guys, no, make that four in case he tries to take off on us. You buy him as many hot dogs as he wants until I get there to talk to him!”

“Affirmative. We’ll keep you updated with our position, sir.”

Detective Varriano was having a chat with the hot dog vendor when the black limo pulled up. It wasn’t a stretch job like the richies rented for their big parties, only about as long as a regular car and a half. While Varriano chatted, he loaded up on the condiments for his latest hot dog, halting when the limo’s passenger window slid open and some executive dick poked his head out. He was a well-groomed dick, the detective noticed, unlike the hot dog vendor, who was more of a sour puss.

“You and me, we need to talk.” The dick in the limo said. “Get in the car.”

“Normally, I don’t refuse limo rides.” Varriano replied. “But in this case I feel I must.”

“Why, you don’t talk to strangers or what? Stranger danger?”

The detective held up his stacked hot dog. “You want I should drop relish on your carpet? How ‘bout some diced onions? You don’t want to step on diced onions later, do you?”

“You have a point.” The man in the limo got out and glanced at Varriano, the vendor and the cart. To the vendor, he said, “Let me have one with everything on it.” He noticed that his four security people had formed a box perimeter around the detective. A couple of snaps from his fingers got them to move closer. “When this hot dog is ready, I want you to bring it to me.” He pointed a short distance away. “We’ll be right over here.”

“You should make sure it’s Texas beef.” Varriano cautioned. “Don’t eat that plant-meat dog. It tastes like old veggies.”

“Right, right.” The man turned toward the vendor. “Like the man said, all natural beef. Get me a mineral water while you’re at it.” He put his hand on Varriano’s shoulder and started steering him away from the small crowd. “Let’s be friends, you and I. No pepper spraying and no punching, okay?”

“As long as I am not unlawfully detained.” Varriano mentioned.

“We’re friends.” The man replied, holding out his hand. “I’m Drake Engstrom, CFO at Stem Corp. And you are my new buddy Rickard Varriano.”

“Yeah, sure, I can be your buddy. You know, I always say you give people the benefit of the doubt until they prove you wrong.”

“Right, right. Do you mind if we walk about ten strides from the cart? You know what I have to say is highly confidential.”

“Yes, I do know that.” Varriano nodded. He went along with Engstrom’s herding arm.

They ended up on a nice stretch of manicured grass with a soft breeze blowing in from the ocean. It was a nice place for a picnic, the detective decided. A nice place to bring a lady.

Engstrom didn’t say another word until he used his phone to scan for snoopers. “What do you have on you? Is that a scrambler?”

“It is.” Varriano confirmed. “I’m legally allowed to have it on account of how the cops were giving me a hard time not too long ago. They kept trying to entrap me, illegally, by recording my statements and taking them out of context.”

“That sounds very interesting.” Engstrom replied. “Let’s cut to the chase, shall we? How did you get hold of one of our drives?”

“A client of mine handed it to me, no questions asked.”

“How flexible are you on that last part?”

“I am duty-bound not to reveal my sources.”

“How did you figure out it was an EFH Q-drive? It’s not exactly public knowledge that those drives even exist.”

“I was able to access the drive through a third party. I spoke with the individual… I guess the right term is ‘living’ inside that drive. This individual gave me the details I needed. I have to say something about that poor guy. He is… let’s just say starved for physical attention.”

“The people on Q-drives are all created from specific instructions given to EFH by their clients.” Engstrom gave the company line. “The clients specify what the creations can and cannot do. I’m sorry, but that is our legal requirement.”

“Too bad for that guy, I guess.” Varriano shrugged. “I want you to know that I paid for my first hot dog, because I was going to eat one anyway. I charged the other two to Stem Corp since I was kept waiting for you to show up.”

“I don’t care about that! Is there anything else you can tell me about the drive, other than the guy living in it needs to get fucked?”

“No, not really. I do have a question for you. How come EFH hasn’t cut off doing business with the C.C.U.?”

“The Chinese Communist Union? Why would we do that? They’re one of our biggest customers when it comes to buying cloned stem cells.”

“I’m just saying.” Varriano replied, taking a big bite of his dog.

Watching him chew made Engstrom want to do the same thing. He observed one of his Rovers coming over with a hot dog and went to meet him halfway. Engstrom had his mouth full by the time he rejoined Varriano. Both men masticated slowly for the next couple of minutes. They watched a couple of joggers with animated shorts that pulsed lime green and pink, on the man and the woman respectively. The joggers were both attractive people.

“Good dog.” Engstrom said. “Why would you mention the C.C.U.? You don’t think they have anything to do with the out of place Q-drive, do you?”

“Let’s not mince words here.” Varriano answered. “Those drives are kept in highly secure places and guarded by ultra-reliable people. This incident has inside job and collateral damage written all over it.”

“You’re right, but that doesn’t mean China is responsible.”

“Sure it does.”

“No, it doesn’t. We checked into that angle and we didn’t find any evidence for it.”

“You didn’t look hard enough.” Varriano replied. “The details are right there if you know where to look. China stole your Q-drives and I can prove it.”

“Would you care to enlighten me?” Engstrom sounded annoyed.

“The person who gave me the Q-drive would like to know if there is a reward for turning it in, but…” Varriano said. “But I do not want to talk about any reward until our conversation about the guilty party is over. I don’t want you to think that I’m using my information as leverage to up the reward. You following me?”

“Yeah, sure. You’ve got me in suspense here, buddy. Lay it on me!”

“How many people got wasted during the caper?” Varriano asked.

“That’s confidential. Wait, I’m not saying there was a caper. I’m not saying anything.”

“All right.” Varriano shrugged. “If we’re not going to talk about the caper, let’s talk about this hot dog. This comes close to being in the top three best tasting dogs I’ve ever had…”

“You can’t prove China had anything to do with this.” Engstrom decided.

“I guess we’ll never find out, will we?”

(To be continued.)

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