Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

The cigar from the dead guard’s pocket has a red and gold band that says it’s from Havana, the first pleasant surprise of tonight.

“Ricky. Help me.”

I look across to where Estevez lies in a pool of his own blood, his eyes over-bright with pain and anger. Nodding to him, I put the cigar down on the low wall, rise and cross to him. As he looks up, my carbon-steel spike drives through his right eye socket. He convulses once and settles with a rattling exhalation.

The cigar is twenty centimetres long and smells wonderful. I’ve just slipped the band off and put it in my pocket when a shadow rises where only the line of the wall should be.

“Puto. Mala puto.” The tone filled with trenchant disgust.

The shadow lurches before tapering and shrinking as its owner falls backwards. Determined, these people. But not very smart.

The guard who provided the cigar also provides the guillotine to clip the cap, matches to warm the beast and to my surprise, cedar spills too. This man was a purist. I salute his corpse in respect.

There is a red dot on the cigar. It slides across to join its companions on my chest.

“Do no move!”

Squinting against the glare of the spotlight. “You mean ‘do not move’, I presume?”

“Si.”

I clip the cap from the cigar as strobe lights commence beyond the wall. ‘Death fields’ are illegal for this very reason. As I roll the cigar briefly above the match flame, I hear the screams of the wounded cease one by one. It is a ‘death’ field. Things that attract its attention only lose it when they cease having a pulse or equivalent.

I ignite the spill from a fresh match, then light the cigar gently and evenly. Delicious. The unfortunate donor was a man of refinement and taste.

“Senor?” The tone is deferential and coming from some way off. A smart one at last.

“Yes?”

“Please explain why you here. Then if you take efecto diablo away, you may go.”

The societies in the southern hemisphere retain their superstitious fear of invisible things that kill. Which is why I obtained a Serenti, a lifeform from Suli Serenta that’s larval stage now shares my body, filling the ‘empty’ places in me with frogspawn-like milky nodules, and getting from me whatever a Serenti does. Until it is mature and leaves me, it dies when I die. Unique energy manipulation abilities allow it to take certain liberties with how things stick together at an atomic level. It can sense everything within twenty metres or so, and react fast enough to reduce bullets to dust and energy beams to lightshows. Tonight has convinced me that I should have got one sooner and I will never be without one again, unless the pain of a mature one leaving is agonising.

Time to give the man what he wants.

“Consigilia paid us to kill Dupare and his people. Our broker, Hester, sold us out to let Dupare take us and Consigilia. I would be grateful if you could find Hester for me. Then I will take my diablo domestico to visit him.”

There is muted activity beyond my sight before the voice replies: “Senor Hester flew to Los Angeles three hours ago.”

I stand up and smile around the cigar in my mouth. “Then I’ll be going to the airport. Call me a taxi?”

“With pleasure, senor. Please never come back to Federated South America.”

Coming, Hester. Ready or not.

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