Chisel & Groove: Chapter One
Copyright © 2012 by Stuart Wakefield
All rights reserved by the Author
Chisel noticed the guy watching him as soon as he stepped out of the club’s washroom, despite the exuberant light show and atmospheric smoke, the levels of which the owners had spent a fortune perfecting for its fickle clientele.
He ignored the observer. He wanted a drink, not a drilling.
“Sazerac,” he barked at an alarmed barman, having to raise his voice to be heard. He wondered how he’d even managed to get to the bar considering the security team’s appetite for his ejection.
Trying to look inconspicuous among the well-dressed gaggle of gay society, he sat sideways on a stool and shielded his downturned face by taking longer than necessary to run a calloused hand through his thick, grimy hair. The memory of the ruptured oil-line made him shiver. At least his mouth hadn’t been open when he’d accidentally cut through the hose tucked out of sight in a dark recess of the Smash Suit he’d been working on. Small, metal burrs rolled between his scalp and fingers. He’d need a long shower when he got home.
As the barman slid the glass of deep, orange liquid towards him, Chisel caught the brackish scent of the whiskey beneath the medicinal profile of absinthe. He reached out to pick it up.
Next to him, a man slid a bill—a paper bill—across the obsidian marble in payment.
“Keep the change,” the man, Chisel’s observer, said. He also had to raise his voice over the bass that thundered up into Chisel’s core through his feet.
The barman took the note and looked at it with suspicion before rubbing it between his fingers. Satisfied that it was genuine, he slipped it into the till and slid a small stack of credit chips back to the man.
Chisel watched the exchange over the rim of his glass, perversely enjoying the feel of the alcohol vapour burning his eyes. At first glance, the man looked like any other sketchy party boy; immaculate hair, tanned skin, and clothes that skimmed his buff body in all the right places. He also had a sheen of sweat on his brow, oily skin, and faint traces of acne scarring. His body, Chisel guessed, had been assisted by some steroid abuse. For all his apparent confidence, Chisel knew that the guy’s physique was the result of some deep-set insecurity. But it was his watch that caught Chisel’s attention. It cost more than most people would earn in a lifetime. That, together with the rare paper bill, put this guy at the top of whatever game he was playing.
Chisel was going to enjoy this.
The man slid easily onto the stool next to his and raised his drink. “To dry glasses.”
Saying nothing, Chisel swivelled his chair so he faced into the club and leaned back on the bar. His view of the dance-floor was obscured by the throngs of posturing men, some of whom appraised him with interest, but Chisel felt reassured that they also obscured him from those who’d prefer see him leave.
One man pushed through the crowd to get to the bar but stopped when he caught sight of Chisel before whistling in appreciation. He opened his mouth to speak but Chisel silenced him with a glower before he even made the first sound.
Beside him, the observer tapped Chisel on the shoulder to get his attention.
“If you don’t like men, why are you here?”
Saying nothing, Chisel drained his glass and held it up.
He shrugged before turning his attention back to his new admirer who swayed in front of him.
“You have more paper?” said the barman, too in awe of the observer to bother hiding the fact that he had been listening in. “They’re paying you too much, Groove.”
Groove pointed to Chisel’s admirer who still stared, slack-jawed. “Why don’t you serve this guy, Jigger? And get me another round for me and my new friend.”
Chisel held his admirer’s gaze like a dog protecting its territory. He was one well-practised snarl away from open hostility. He didn’t want a scene before he finished what he came here to do. If security spotted him they’d pounce on him, fast.
Groove nudged his shoulder with a full glass. “Here.”
Chisel took it without even turning his head.
Through the drunken fog in his admirer’s eyes, a flicker of recognition surfaced. “Hey, I know you.”
Chisel blinked slowly and shook his head.
“Yeah, I do. You’re the mechanic who fixed my Bugatti!” His voice was too loud and too shrill for Chisel’s liking. “I can’t believe you squeezed another half a second’s acceleration out of it. You’re magic, man. Magic.”
He lurched forwards, his hand reaching out to shake Chisel’s but he caught the toe of one expensive shoe on the heel of the other and went down.
Chisel caught him. Crisis, and scene, averted.
As the guy’s drink flew through the air, a collective shriek rose from the throng of seething bodies. They darted away like frightened fish, revealing a member of the security team who stood taller than Chisel himself. In the moment it took for the bouncer to recognise him, Chisel’s eyes rolled up and he lurched up out of his seat to sprint towards the washroom he’d emerged from a few minutes earlier.
As he accelerated, he saw two more bouncers closing in from his left. He grabbed the arm of a startled onlooker and flung him in their direction, causing one to lose his footing and go down, taking his colleague with him.
That left Chisel and the first bouncer who’d seen him. As he closed in on the matte black washroom door, Chisel kicked it open and dove for the window he’d left ajar in case he needed a quick exit.
It was locked shut.
The door burst inwards behind him but it was Groove, not the bouncer, who stood in the doorway.
Groove pulled a gun from his jacket pocket and fired it at the window. It shattered and fell away, opening up the escape route Chisel needed.
Giving him a curt nod, Chisel jumped through the opening and ran out into the night.
“And put some damn clothes on,” yelled Groove after him.
Chisel smiled to himself as he ran on. At least one of them got what they had come for.
Drillbit started growling long before Chisel heard the low pulsing of an approaching z-bike. Judging by its pitch, Chisel knew it was customised Skylar; one of the most expensive bikes on the market. He also knew that a man with an expensive watch would more than likely possess an expensive ride. What still didn’t add up was that the bike in question had a muffled exhaust designed for stealth. Not that it would ever get past Drillbit, let alone Chisel.
The night-hound’s nose twitched and she growled again.
“S’okay, girl,” Chisel said as he flattened the quivering spikes on her head. “Go get yourself a biscuit and stay out of sight while I see our guest off.”
She glanced at him sideways and, despite her blank, milky eyes, he could tell she was considering his instruction.
“Go on.” He stroked her head again before patting her rump.
It did the trick. Her mandibles withdrew and she padded towards the holo-wall at the back of the workshop before disappearing through it. It flickered briefly as she did so, revealing a modest kitchen behind its facade, and then snapped back into deceptive solidity.
Chisel opened the top drawer of his tool chest and pushed aside the wrenches to uncover one of the many firearms concealed around the workshop. He hoped he wouldn’t have to use it, and picked up a wrench instead. He checked the room, memorising the layout, then switched off the lights.
He hunkered down behind the counter and waited. Soon enough, the softest crunching of gravel signalled the approach of his visitor. Chisel tensed, holding his breath when the movement stopped. For the longest moment he wondered if his visitor might think he was out, and his evening would remain uninterrupted, until there was a gentle thud on the roof. If it was the guy from the nightclub called Groove then he was acrobatic as well as persistent.
Chisel also thought him foolish because the dwelling above the workshop was unoccupied. Like most of Chisel’s life, it was a facade. He lived beneath the workshop, in the basement he’d dug out himself.
The footsteps continued across the roof, towards the upper bedroom window. Just two more steps and whoever it was would step on the pressure plate.
Chisel’s hand tightened around the wrench as he exhaled, long and silent.
Sprinting sounded overhead, followed by a muted grunt, and then silence. A sudden clatter of metal on concrete, a dull pop, and smoke billowed around Chisel, forcing him out of hiding.
How could he have forgotten the ventilation duct?
Eyes streaming, he crawled across the floor, and around the counter, on his forearms and boot-tips, searching for the panel that would give him access to his secure quarters.
A supple sole between his shoulder blades pinned his broad chest to the cold floor.
“I just wanted to help you,” Groove said.
“Now I want you to help me.”
“Bike need a service?”
“Bike?” Chisel felt the pressure on his back change when Groove looked towards the doorway.
It was the opportunity he needed and he took it. Rolling onto his side, he punched the side of Groove’s knee. Groove fell to the ground on all fours but didn’t cry out. Large goggles covered most of Groove’s face but Chisel saw his jaw clench with pain. Chisel knew exactly what that pain felt like; he’d been surprised once in a hand-to-hand combat class back in the day. He hadn’t allowed it to happen since.
“No bike.” Groove swallowed hard.
That meant trouble and Chisel knew it. If Groove hadn’t arrived on that bike then someone else had.
Flipping to his haunches, Chisel scanned the room for any other movement but saw nothing. Wherever they were, they were good at staying still and out of sight. A glance over his shoulder confirmed that Groove wasn’t going anywhere. He had curled up on his side, holding his injured knee up to his chest. Chisel whistled softly and Drillbit appeared at his side in a second, her nostrils flared and venomous teeth exposed.
Groove made a tiny sound in the back of his throat when he saw her but remained still.
“Get ‘em, girl.”
Drillbit took several steps forward, every spine on her body combing the air for changes in density. This was how her species found its prey in the eternal darkness of its home planet. Back and forth her body moved, like a radar searching for a target, and then she sprung over a trolley and disappeared from view.
A snarl, the discharge of a muffled weapon, and a howl. Her howl.
Chisel started to move but Groove grabbed his arm to hold him still.
A man’s voice rang out, and the bass of Drillbit’s growl underpinned the treble of his cry.
Groove used his hold on Chisel’s arm to launch himself forwards and over the trolley. Chisel followed, simply swatting the trolley aside.
Groove crouched over a writhing body with a familiar face.
“Jigger, what the hell?”
Spittle bubbled between the gaps in Jigger’s clenched teeth as he tried to breathe through the unbearable pain of a night-hound’s bite. He held his right upper arm with his left hand. Drillbit sat a few feet away from him with his blood-stained pistol in her mouth. Jigger would be paralysed soon.
Groove held Jigger’s face in his hand.
“What are you doing here?”
Jigger said nothing but his eyes flickered in Chisel’s direction.
Still holding Jigger’s face, Groove also looked up at Chisel.
“Looks like you’re in demand.”
Chisel said it all with a shrug.
When they both looked back at Jigger he’d died.
“Fuck.” Now Groove hissed through his teeth. “I wanted to know.”
“Know what?” Chisel’s eyebrows drew together.
“Exactly why he wanted you.” Groove let go of Jigger’s slack face and wiped his hand on his sleeve.
“You followed him?”
“I was already here.”
“Yeah.” Groove stood up to face Chisel, looking up at the man who stood a few inches taller than him.
“For what you could do for me.”
“And that’s. . .?” Chisel’s head turned to one side but his gaze remained fixed on Groove’s.
Groove looked him up and down in appreciation. “What only you can do. You’re one of a kind, my friend. One of a kind.”