|megpie71 (megpie71) wrote,|
@ 2008-02-17 05:44:00
Fic: Steele. Part 1 of ?
Fandom: Final Fantasy VII (approx 10 years pre-game).
Title: Steele 
Rating: Pretty much worksafe; some swearing.
Warnings: Crime, corruption, and Midgar water.
Summary: My name is Steele. I work the streets of Midgar as a private investigator, finding lost items, missing people, or figuring out where the bodies or the booty might be buried.
Night in Midgar is noisy. Noisy and frightening. Above the plate, below the plate, it doesn't matter where you are, night in Midgar is worrying. Below the plate it's dog eat dog, and devil take the hindmost. Above the plate, things are a bit better, but you take your chances with the Shinra Military Police. There isn't anything said, but it's well known some of the MPs will arrest people for such crimes as "being female and unaccompanied in a quiet area" or "looking at me the wrong way". Again, nothing is said, but it's equally well known the "fines" for these so-called crimes tend to be either monetary, or if you're pretty enough (regardless of gender), sexual.
Midgar is a city which doesn't sleep - or at least, if it does sleep, the sleep is a light cat-nap, easily disturbed. Wall Market, under the plate in Sector Six, has shops and clubs open at all hours - it's said you can get everything sold anywhere, provided you're willing to risk Corneo's thugs. Above the plate, the ritzier districts tend to close, but the outlying edge bars stay open all day and all night, pumping out loud music and drunks in a steady flow. If you know who to speak to, or the right word to say to the man on the door, there are places you can get anything you want, provided you have the right amount of money. Drugs, women, men, children. The only thing which varies is the cost.
Street vendors are everywhere, above and below the plate. They sell food, drinks, anything at all. The ones above plate look as though they have more regular access to soap and water than the ones below the plate, but that's the only way to tell the difference. Certainly the merchandise doesn't vary in quality.
Throughout the day, the city swarms with people who either work for Shinra, work for people who work for Shinra, or sell things to the other two types. In the evenings, when Shinra lets out the corporate types at five o'clock, the city is packed solid with a swarm of office workers rushing to their apartments, townhouses, or squats (depending on their salary levels). By seven o'clock, most of the streets are left to the night walkers. Oh, the hotel and entertainment districts are usually busy with people rushing to see the latest play, or have a fine meal. There are crowds of kids around the ritzier cinemas above the plate, hanging out and pretending to be so tough. Below the plate, the kids are working by the time they've reached that age - shop assistants, hired toughs, runners for Corneo's gang, couriers, delivery workers, all the typical jobs of the young and unskilled. The one and only cinema below the plate (sector one, the only one to survive since the Plate was put in) shows old movies, and only one day a week. The top-plate mall rats might venture down there, but they soon venture back to their safer turf. The bruises usually heal inside a week or two.
A lone walker on the streets of Midgar is easy game for the pickpockets, the muggers, the thugs. Providing, of course, the lone walker isn't working for Shinra. The criminal elements have learned early and well: Turks and SOLDIERs aren't easy prey. If you want to hit either a SOLDIER or a Turk, you'd better make sure they die and stay dead. Unfindable dead. Neither group allows a mugging or a pocket picking to go unpunished, and one of the easier ways to get an argument started in the seedier parts of sector eight is to raise the question of which is worse. The Turks have a minor edge - not all of them wear the suit all the time, and none of them have the glowing eyes that mark a SOLDIER. You could find yourself jumping a Turk, and only discover it when you were shot, shocked, slugged, or stabbed. Of course, you never have to worry about it again... unlike SOLDIERs, the Turks tend not to leave you alive to learn from the mistake.
My name is Steele. I work the streets of Midgar as a private investigator, finding lost items, missing people, or figuring out where the bodies or the booty might be buried. I've done my share of work for Shinra, but these days, I'm freelance. I have an office above the plate, and an apartment below it, and I commute, like just about everyone else in Midgar these days. Hey, it's better than the alternatives.
Tonight, I'm working late, so I'm above-plate, looking for one of my information sources. A food vendor, this one is. Usually Mimi's working this end of town, hawking cheap noodles with meat sauce – more noodles than sauce these days, and it's wise never to ask what the meat was. She has third-hand ties to Corneo's operation, and she tends to be able to get information about who's been ticking the Don off lately, and why. It's useful for someone in my line of business – at least I know which bodies I should search for, and which ones I shouldn't bother with. But I haven't seen her for a couple of days.
I make my way to her usual patch, and find it occupied by a guy selling watches which could be kosher, might be first-hand, and may not be stolen, but I wouldn't bargain on any of those. There are lots of small workshops in Wutai churning out replicas of the good stuff with cheap materials for low prices, and lots of second-storey men here in Midgar who make a nice living out of finding lost watches on people's bedside tables.
“Where's Mimi?” I ask him, glancing over the collection. He's at least indifferent honest, selling the Wutain replicas at about a fifty percent markup.
“Who?” He reaches down and picks up an example from his display. “Have a look at this one, genuine craftmanship. Three year guarantee. To you, just fifty gil, whaddaya say?”
“No thanks,” I tell him, moving on to one of the regulars in this area. This one's a bloke who's selling watered down Cosmo Canyon bootleg rocket fuel from a keg. I know he pays his cut to Corneo, which is why he's allowed to operate – well, that and there's no pub for three blocks in this area, and he's supplying the public with a service. Absently I wonder how much gil Corneo is paying the Shinra family for the privilege. “Hey, Jackie,” I greet him. “How's things?”
He looks at me and nods. “Steele,” he says. Never says much, does Jackie.
“Gimme a mug of grog?” I ask.
“Ten gil,” he says, turning around and drawing some of the stuff off into a paper cup. I take it from him, and hand him a fifty. He looks at me, all wary.
“What's that for?”
“Ten of it is for the grog,” I say, wetting my lip with the stuff. The fumes are strong enough to make my eyes water. “The other forty's in the hope you'll be able to tell me where Mimi's at.”
“Can't help ya,” he tells me, and fishes two crumpled twenties out of his pocket. “Have yer change.”
“Keep it,” I say. “If you hear anything, let me know, eh?”
He looks at me, distrustful. I can't tell whether or not he knows where Mimi is, or if he suspects something, or if he's just having a bloody rotten night. I raise my paper cup of the grog toward him, and head off. There's another patch Mimi works about six blocks over.
I take a sip of the grog as I move away. The Cosmo Canyon booze is notorious in Midgar for being strong enough to clean spoons even when it's been watered down, and it's the best way to have your daily intake of Midgar water. Top-plate types have fancy water filters. Under-plate folk have grog, or they buy water from the tankers shipping the stuff in from the river north of Junon. Grog's usually cheaper. Clean water in Midgar is a luxury item.
Mimi's not at her second location, nor yet at a third. I leave messages with a few of her friends, but deep down, I don't have any real expectations of finding her. Either Corneo's got sick of his information coming to my ears, or her boyfriend's got a bit too handy with his fists, or else she's finally had her last shot of joy – joy addicts tend to last a while, but they die young, same as all the rest. Which blows, since I'm trying to find out whether Corneo's gang is responsible for the disappearance of a particular item a client wants retrieved.
The item itself isn't anything fancy. It's a small, carved box, with a couple of Wutain characters on the inside of the lid. But the client says it has great sentimental value, and she's paying well to have it brought back to her. So far, I've put the word out to some of the pawnbrokers above and below the plate – the ones I know I can trust. It's pretty standard these days, for me. I offer them ten percent of my cut for turning in stolen stuff, and they get to keep the name of the person who hocked it to themselves. I'm no thief-taker – I leave it to the Shinra goons, if they want to get involved. Besides, I know most of the folks who take up thievery tend to do so because there's a lack of other options open – why deny them the gil they need to survive?
I've done my other usual thing, too, and checked around a few people to find out information about my client. Last thing I want is to get involved in the middle of someone's private feud – I gave up partisanship when I gave up Shinra. But this one's checked out well – she's part of the admin pool at Shinra, says the box is an heirloom from her great-grandmother, and doesn't appear to be involved in any conflicts that anyone's willing to mention. Which reminds me, must remember to drop off some cash to my Shinra contact.
I pause in an alleyway to light up a smoke. I get it lit, take that first drag, and then it's gone from my hand. I look up, to see a familiar red-haired figure leaning over the edge of a fire escape at a rather dangerous angle. “Reno, get your own,” I say to him.
“Just keepin' an eye on ya, boss,” he says. “These things'll kill ya, y'know.” He takes a long drag from the cigarette, while I light up another.
“Anything new?” I ask.
“Nah. Y' might wanna have a look at the Honeybee Inn – they kicked me away from th' place again.”
“Yeah? And how many times did you annoy the bouncer?”
He grins, and in the glow from the cigarette butt in his mouth, I can see the two red tattoos the kid got done on a whim one day. He thinks they're cool, I think they're conspicuous, but then, he's a conspicuous kid anyway, with that bright red hair standing out at all angles. It sometimes surprises me he survived long enough to reach puberty. “Only the once,” he says, trying to look innocent.
I snort. Reno grew up in the Midgar slums, and he lost any innocence he might have had long ago. He's been pestering the bouncers at the Honeybee to let him in since he was old enough to understand sex, and from what I've heard, that was when he was about ten. He's precocious intellectually, too – smart as a whip, and a fairly nimble mover. If he survives to see sixteen, he'd be good in the Turks. At present, he works as a runner for me, taking messages and using his own contacts to find out things from people who don't want to be seen talking to me. I've no doubt he does a certain amount of breaking and entering and hired thuggery on the side, but so long as I'm not going to have to catch him at it, he's welcome to do what he likes.
Reno finishes the cigarette he stole from me, and disappears somewhere into the rooftops of sector three, topside, probably in search of an open window or an unlocked door. There's at least three upper managers from Shinra living somewhere in this sector, and somehow, I just can't bring myself to give a damn. Shinra lost all my loyalty when they dumped me like a dead rat after handing me over to one of their tame sociopaths in the science division. What that got me was a set of shiners like a SOLDIER, but without the strength to back it up; a collection of nightmares that leave me insomniac most of the time; and a facelift most society bitches would kill for – twenty years, and I haven't aged a day. The society bitches want the facelift, they're welcome to it, but for me the cost was way too high.
I finish my cigarette, and grind the butt out on the hard concrete of the alleyway. Tonight's a washout. I'll start again in the morning. Yawning, I turn around, and head toward the station. Time to go home.
 This is a tentative title, since I really don't know what to call this story, and probably won't until I get the final part finished.
The first five paragraphs were published separately as "Night in Midgar". Then ciceqi said it resembled the beginnings of a hard-boiled detective novel, and I promptly had this hard-boiled detective telling me their story. There's more to come, but it has to be written first.
As always, all feedback is welcome. Let me know what works, or what doesn't work, so I can improve the story.