“If it feels so good, why don’t you stick it up your own—oof!” gasped Ally, as Jaden pinned her.
The syringe glinted in the moonlight. Ally knocked it out of his hand and it flew just out of his reach.
Ally tried to break loose, but Jaden subdued her. He straddled her stomach and held her hands above her head, grinding them into the threadbare rug.
“This is for your own good.” He latched both wrists together with one hand and stretched for the syringe with the other. “I’m trying to help you.” He caught the syringe with the very tips of his fingers, but it tumbled out of reach again. Jaden rocked and leaned, lessening the pressure on Ally’s stomach.
It was just enough. Ally rolled on her side and kneed him in the gut, pushing herself away from him.
Jaden doubled over in pain, watching Ally flee. As she opened the door, she took one terrified glance over her shoulder. The duress, shock, and horror in her expression jolted Jaden out of his rage. What had he done? This wasn’t him.
“Ally, wait!” he yelled.
The back door slammed in response.
Jaden limped to his feet. He had to follow her, to find her before the cops did. In her addled state, she’d tell them everything. They’d take her in for addiction, and he’d be arrested for misfeasance—splitting services outside an authorized facility.
More than any of this, though, he had to apologize to her. What kind of reprobate had he become, forcing his treatment on someone like that? He had always seen himself as laid-back, on the side of the addicts rather than the authorities. How had he suddenly become worse than Reth?
A new and troubling thought occurred to him. What he’d just done—wasn’t that what rippers did? They forced treatment on imprisoned incorrigibles. Would his new job, if he got it, be any different than the wholesale rape of addicts’ minds?
No, that was different. It wasn’t a fair comparison. Prisoners who’d committed serious crimes, like murder, deserved to be treated whether they asked for it or not. It was nothing like forcing Ally to have her addiction to music expunged.
Jaden gathered his equipment and tried to erase any signs that he and Ally had been there before he rushed out into the night to find her. She could be anywhere, except home. She’d never go home high. So where would she go to feel inviolable and protected?
A rave. She had to be heading back to that rave. But raves were covert affairs. Only those in the know could find them. And normal employees treated splitters like cops. He couldn’t just waltz up to some lowlife and say, “Hey, which way to the illicit rave?” It didn’t work that way.
Well, he couldn’t just stand around and wait for a rave to appear. He had to at least try.
He cruised his stupid flying car through the darkened streets of Tamlando, figuring that since she was on foot and he had the car, he might find her if he drove around the bungalow in ever-widening loops. The infrequent streetlamps glowed faintly, leaving nebulous circles amid patches of asphalt. After an hour, he hadn’t found a single clue. She must have caught a cab and hightailed it. She could be anywhere by now.
He glanced at his watch. Dammit! Twenty minutes until curfew. He had to head home immediately, or he’d miss bed-check.
Then he saw his answer. A short man in a maroon derby loitered beneath a neon sign outside a shady restaurant. If anyone could help him find Ally, it was Squeeze. If he was still the same miscreant Jaden knew from the old days, there wasn’t a single person more tapped into the seedy underbelly of Tamlando than Squeeze.
But was that really what he wanted? Did he want to be associated with the criminal element he’d spent the last five years trying to distance himself from?
Jaden paused, wrestling with the internal dilemma. Well, it wasn’t like he was going into business with Squeeze or anything. He just needed him to help him find Ally.
Jaden landed his car next to the dealer and leaned out the window. “Yo, Squeeze!”
Squeeze peered into the car, then seeing who it was, leaned nonchalantly against the wall and tilted his derby down over his eyes.
“It’s me, Amsterdam! What’s up, Squeeze?”
“Are you addressing I?” Squeeze asked with mock hauteur, his thick eyelids drooping.
“Okay, dude, I deserved that.”
“Well . . . maybe I should let my money do the talking for me, bro.”
Squeeze tipped his derby back on his head revealing his high, creased forehead. “What exactly would you be needing?”
“What makes you think I need something?”
“Because you’re offering me money, Nimrod. Besides, it’s the way of the streets—everybody needs something.”
“It’s your way, too. You could help me get something, if I needed it.”
“Stop busting my chops, Squeeze. I said I was sorry.”
“Well, I’m saying it now. I need your help, Squeeze. I need to find a girl—”
“A fine young boy like you should be drawing them like marshmallows to gators,” Squeeze said, his gold-toothed grin curling up as he gave Jaden a leer. “Or are your dreads not working for you like they used to?”
“A particular girl. She was with me at the Detention Center. Her name is Ally Fayre.”
“What makes you think I’d know where this trollop of yours might be?”
“She’s not a trollop. She’s an addict, and right now she’s in peril. I’ve got to find her before the police do.”
“Ah, now that’s the challenge, isn’t it? If time is of the essence, the rate goes up.”
“The rate? Can’t you just help me for old time’s sake, dude? Think of how many times I helped you out of a jam.”
“You were always better at intricating yourself into jams than extricating others from them.”
“There’s no such word as intricating, Squeeze.”
Squeeze frowned. “Cash, smartass.” He unclipped his portable money changer from his belt. “Give it up, narc,” he said, tapping the money changer.
Jaden sighed. “How much?”
“Two months’ salary.”
“A trifle exorbitant, don’t you think?”
“It’s the going rate.”
Squeeze smiled. “You still have plenty of street left in you, Amsterdam. One month it is.”
Jaden transferred the money to Squeeze. He barely had enough to cover it.
“So take me to her,” Jaden said.
“Never heard of her.”
“What the blast! You said you knew where she was!”
“I said nothing of the sort, my boy. I simply said finding her in a timely fashion would be difficult.”
“You bilked me! Not a smart move, bro. I could have the cops down on your fat face in about five minutes.”
“I somehow doubt you’ll do that, Amsterdam.”
“Relax, Amsterdam, I was just messing with you a little. I’d be happy to point you in the right direction. What’s this girl’s poison? Drugs? Alcohol? Sex?”
“A raver, eh? That’ll be easy enough. Only one really big party going on tonight. I’ll take you there.”
“Get in,” Jaden said. “I’ll drive.”
“We’d better walk. It’s the only way to get there without calling attention to yourself and me. And if you’re going incognito you’d better cover up.”
“Cover up what?”
“Your plate, doofus,” Squeeze said, throwing him the grimy maroon derby from his head. “Don’t want to broadcast the fact that you’re a splitter. The cybernetics give you away.”
Jaden reached for his own cap in his jeans pocket, but it was gone. Must have fallen out in the struggle with Ally. Reluctantly, Jaden took the hat Squeeze offered and pulled it over his dreads. It had a rancid smell.
Squeeze led him through the back streets of the old Port Authority on Tampa Bay. Surrounded by monotonously similar, obsolete, no longer used ships and abandoned warehouses, Jaden had no idea where he was or where he was going.
Finally Squeeze stopped at a rusted-out fuel tanker.
“What on earth would she be doing here?” Jaden asked.
Squeeze took a dark object from his pocket. Jaden heard a crack and a pink halo enveloped Squeeze. He tossed Jaden the luminescent rod. “Hold this in front of you and say ‘Ibiza’ as you walk into the tanker.”
“Then what happens—I smash my face into the tanker and you laugh your ass off?”
“If you want to find your girl, say the word and walk in,” Squeeze said.
“I don’t know,” Jaden said, holding the glowing pink rod in front of him. But it wasn’t like he had much of a choice. Taking one last deep breath, he strode forward.