VELVET GLOVE, IRON FIST -- Act II - Fabian Cortez


            Staring at the barrel of the plasma revolver, Cortez came to the realization that he wasn't affected by it at all. No adrenaline rush, no tension... it wasn't just lack of fear, it was lack of concern. Babbage was a pawn in his opponent's chess game. He hadn't bee moved to threaten his person, merely to block his intended checkmate.

            "M. Babbage, I presume." Fabian didn't phrase it as a question.

            "Correct. And you better identify yourself quickly or you're going to find yourself quite dead."

            Cortez had summed him up quickly. He was a businessman, not a professional killer. Charles Babbage knew how to handle a gun; his metacarpals were evenly spaced and had none of the spasming of the nervous or ill-experienced. However, he held the revolver without aiming, which showed that he hadn't had any recent experience. The gun was intended as a threat but little more. Even if the suit fred, Fabian would know it before he did, and react unconsciously.

            In the end, he was just as ridiculous as if he was wearing a bunny suit and humming the tune to "La Traviata."

            That thought brought the grin back to his face. "I do believe that you are smart enough  not to believe I am going to haveany type of discussion with you here. I will happily go to lunch with you. How about Gino's on the corner of Sixth and Hanley? Say 11:30?" Babbage was so flabbergasted that he couldn't reply. "Great. Otherwise you're going to have to kill me. Though I'm sure you really don't want that anymore than I do. Not with what you likely know." Then Fabian pushed the lift button back to the lobby.

            "Wait..." Babbage managed to say before the lift doors shut. Cortez simply looked at his watch; so much to do, so little time. Ignore pawn, more bishop to check.


            Gino's was one of those many Italian-Albanian restaurants that had set up on the right bank of the Elysia River. The place tried to look lived in; the old furniture and the spackled walls tried for atmosphere, but it looked just as pre-fab as anything else. As Cortez stared out the tinted window, he watched where Babbage's tech squads had already been at work. There were old-fashioned audio bugs in the fake plants, video feeds in the ceiling fans, several waiters and a bartender who obviously didn't know what they were doing... security guards don't have that polished look to their movements... and O'Reilly, Inc. had probably already co-opted the tiny restaurant's security cameras.

            Before the perky waitress (real, not camoflaged security) with the fake hair implants came over to hassle him again, Babbage finally came in through the door. Fabian had managed to hold off the server for a hour while the suit took his time. As Charles moved to sit down, Cortez stood up, "You know, this place doesn't really sit well with my palette. I know a much better place..."

            Babbage looked annoyed. "I like it here," he said, reaching into his suit pocket, showing a bit the plasma revolver he had seen before, "don't you agree?"

            "Tsk tsk, M. Babbage. Not very subtle or smart."

            "Sometimes the direct way works best." The suit shifted into a better firing stance worthy of professional training.

            "A gun _and_ a threatening statement? I assume that since you are approaching me thus, you really have no idea who I am."

            "I know enough that you need to be kept on a close leash. Sit down."

            "No, M. Babbage. You can put the gun away. You won't shoot me. Why not, you ask? I know you well enough that you are smart enough not to shoot an unarmed man in public... in cold blood."

            "I have an army of spin doctors and lawyers who say otherwise."

            "Perhaps, but why don't we save yourself some money, and just go right across the street." Cortez moved to leave, but Babbage stepped closer to prepare to block; pawn to block check. "You likely don't have an adequate grasp of my abilities. I wouldn't take on some one till I had a better gauge of their abilities." Fabian dropped his omnipresent grin. "Don't you agree?"

            Charles shifted out of his way. The old ghoul led the way, watching the shocked expression of the faux bartender  as he led his boss out the door. A quick jaunt across the street brought them both over to O'Kim's, an "authentic" Irish bar run by a westernized Korean who hadn't made the run to the rim with the rest of the Eastern Bloc. The music was classical, played a little too loud, but the couple found their way to a booth, where Cortez had a good view of the waterfront.

            "So," the suit asked as he sat down, "why here."

            "I didn't like being watched by so many _eyes_." The way he emphaized "eyes" let the v.p. know that he had security personnel over in Gino's.

            "I could still have a few on me."

            "Yes, but they would be disrupted by my scrambler." In truth, Fabian didn't have a scrambler, but if he had known that Babbage was going to be this obvious with his surveillance, he would have brought one. However he could tell that the suit didn't have any bugs on him, although he was probably thinking he should have brought some. Cortez opened his coat slightly and showed him a bit of his recorder. He could think it was scrambler or an ice-cone machine if he liked. Fabian tabbed the thing on and closed his coat. "Satisfied?"

            Charles let out a sigh. "All right, mystery man, how about a name?"

            "You could ask me my name or what I'm doing but none of it would be the truth. Would you talk in my position? I highly doubt there is anything you are going to say or do that is going to change that."

            "That doesn't leave us much to talk about, does it?"

            "On the contrary, we have plenty. But now that we've gotten the formalities over, perhaps we can discuss this rationally?"

            A waiter brought over two pints of Guinness; Babbage sipped at his and shrugged his shoulders. "It's your demi-cred. Go ahead."

            "I'm looking for a business partner of sorts. I feel like you and I could work well together and come to some sort of agreement."

            "I see," Babbage replied, "so that's why you've been snooping around my files?"

            Ah, Cortez thought, he doesn't know about Malevont... at least, not yet. We'll see where we can take this. Negotiations were just like any other game. Don't reveal what you're thinking or what you have until you're ready. "I never meant any personal harm. In my searches I've learned you are a clean and well-mannered example of your company. You are described by your enemies as living in your office and squeaky clean. And what higher praise than that of an enemy? And now look how much I've distrupted it all for you with just a little effort. Honestly, I like you. I respect dedication and discipline above all else."

            "Get to your point. What are you offering?"

            "Please, M. Babbage. I respect your company's strength and interior unty. But there has to be a alpha leader. I would love to see you reach the top. As long as I was there with you. I don't want to damage you or your company. Please think about it. But do not think too long... I know that Diagram Group is planning a counter to your... fortunate accident on one of their plants. I could help you, but only if you let me."

            Cortez got up to leave but Babbage stopped him. "Wait a minute. If you're truly as _helpful_ as you say you are, you can show me some proof."

            Fabian allowed his grin turn into a smile. "Really quite a shame about that Group exec. What was her name?"

            Charles stiffened up quickly. "You're responsible."

            "An enemy of yours wants you dead. A little peon by the name of Malevont. Mind you, he was useful at first, but now he's more of a nuisence. I could arrange for a quiet place for you to... ahem, dispose of him. Eliminate another stumbling block to the top."

            "Perhaps." Cortez could see him thinking about it, but the suit's mind visibly shifted gears. "Then again, I always live by the saying, 'Better the enemy you know than the enemy you don't.' Truth is, I discounted Malevont in favor of some larger fish. Now that you've informed me about him, I'll have a better chance of staying ahead of the game." Babbage stared right at him. "What's in it for you?"

            "A powerful man such as yourself is great to have as an ally. I hope to prove that to you."

            "We'll see. If you're as good as you say, perhaps you find out about my other enemies for me. Ingolfsson, Ebran, and a few others lower on the food chain. I'm sure you can keep closer tabs on them than I."

            "Would you like them..." Fabian was still pushing to eliminating his loose end, Malevont.

            "No, just tell me what they're doing. They can be gotten rid of... in due time." Charles sipped at his beer again before getting up to leave. "Please inform me when you have something." He took out a computerized calling card and dropped it on the table. "Good day, mystery man."




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Text Copyright © 2000 by Marcus Johnston.  All Rights Reserved.