Okay, New Madison did have some flaws. Remy didn’t really care for the Redcaps but that’s what you get in Federation territory, and they loved their blood sports a bit too much. He didn’t care for how far it was from some of the other Federation cities, and all the green space in the city had been overbuilt by towering condominiums eating up every bit of free space. The Ghostfence kept them safe, but it also kept everyone inside. However, out of all New Madison’s annoyances, Remy hated the elevators the most. Each one creaking like a motel bed in the room next door. Remy didn’t much like the smells either. Same example. But if you needed to get to the Undercity, it was the best way if you didn’t want to fight through someone’s spice den. He made that mistake at the School exactly once. The elevator rattled to a stop and the metal gates creaked open.
“Enjoy your stay in Lower Madison.” A female’s metallic voice urged him from a speaker. He stepped out and a few other folks stepped aboard. The undercity - “Lower Madison” as the tourist brochures called it - was like any other pre-war city. Full of life, vibrant, and utterly detested by most folks who didn’t live there. Didn’t help that the feeling was usually mutual. Joke was on the outlanders after the bombs dropped. City-folk just built a new city but it was hard to stop the radiation without a shield. Outlanders eventually managed, in their own way.
Remy exited the elevator terminal in front of half-propped up ruin of the old capitol building. It hadn’t been used since before the first revolution, but squatters liked it and Redcaps avoided it so everyone seemed to get along fine. He tugged his collar close and hunched his shoulders as he walked away from the ruin. Small as possible, and not a target. Just another guy. Fights in the undercity escalated quickly with unregistered Vascs and old-style percussion weapons under every cloak. He passed a small pawn shop, and a short row of seedy bars ending in a brothel. Neither the elderly woman nor the girl who could’ve been barely more than a child in the window were very enticing, despite the hype man’s efforts.
It was dark in the undercity, but what else could you expect from a city under a big box. The streets here hadn’t seen sunlight in two centuries, but the street lamps lit things well enough, and flashing neon signs filled the rest. He wrinkled his nose against the smell of burnt oil and sewage. There was just no way to get used to that without living here.
He walked on for the better part of an hour, pausing only on the pretense of buying cigarettes while two boys wearing Happy Jack’s colors walked past. He didn’t think they would recognize him but his mom had always said it was better to be safe than sorry, and mom’s didn’t lie about stuff like that. Usually because they’d be the ones making you sorry. Remy flicked one lit and pulled deeply. He spat and coughed. Maybe this was where Tyreese bought his cigarettes. Disgusting.
The street ended and he turned right down a narrow side street toward one of the monstrous concrete walls surrounding the largest of New Madison’s lakes. Water had been pulled from outlander lakes to fill the lakes up to the height of the new city. A wiry man missing most of his teeth leaned outside a doorway with a flashing blue sign above, lit in ancient neon-tubes. The Sapphire Lounge, just as he remembered. He spit as Remy approached and looked over him like you’d look at a piece of spoiled meat.
“Yeah, what’s it be?”
Remy cleared his throat. “I’m looking for someone, you gonna let me in?” Remy found that the truth was often the easiest lie to remember.
“Heh, who’s that yer looking for? I never seen you here so you must be mistaken.”
“It’s been a minute.” Remy grunted. “I’m looking for a man named Colin, looks like this. Seen him?” Remy pulled the folded picture from his pocket and held it in front of Three-tooth’s face. He scratched his chin and spit a glob of black phlegm onto the pavement.
“Well, she’s a pretty one. Bring her by and maybe he’d show up then, eh?” He laughed like a wheezing sack. He looked over Remy’s shoulder and smiled. “Hey, Shannon, good to see you guys. How’s the baby?” Two women walked past Remy and gave Three-tooth a hug. The fat one patted his cheek.
“She’s beautiful, Tommy, you have to come see us again! Javik playin’ tonight?”
“Every Saturday. I’ll let him know you’re here.”
Shannon and her friend entered the Sapphire Lounge and left Remy standing outside. Three-tooth turned to him again and his craggy smile disappeared.
“As I was saying, ain’t seen him. You tried the Redcaps topside? They might care if a fella like that went missing.”
Remy reached for his wallet. This was all part of the dance. You ask; they deny; they distract; and then you open your wallet. C’est la vie. He pulled out a hundred credit chip and passed it to Three-tooth. The man looked at the picture again and stroked his chin.
“Might’ve seen him before. It’s been a while though.”
“I’m just going to go have a look, alright?” After a bribe, it was best to just get to the point. The dance was over and their cards played. With a shrug, Three-tooth jerked a thumb toward the door and stepped aside. Remy brushed past him and down the stairs.
The Sapphire Lounge was a place you went to forget. Blue skinned girls danced on stages in each corner. The talent wasn’t bad. The Sapphire Lounge had a main bar populated by a few regulars who ignored the dancing girls and focused on their rail drinks in their hands. Several smaller rooms scattered off on all sides, where Remy couldn’t see into. His feet peeled off the sticky floor as he sat at the bar and a young girl wearing way too much make-up and far too little clothing approached.
“Gin, rail, no ice.” There was no way it could be any worse than what Luis offered. She wrinkled her nose and spoke loudly over the music. Did they have to play it so loud?
“You sure? Half off all whiskeys tonight.” She leaned forward on the bar and smiled at him.
“Nah, gin please. Thanks.”
“Alrighty, then.” She bobbed off to get his drink. She might’ve been a topsider. Student looking for an extra job that tipped a little better, maybe.
There were no rules saying topsiders couldn’t visit the undercity, they just usually didn’t want to. The undercity was a hip place for topsiders a few times each year. Students from the various academies would come down for their homecomings, or their graduations, or their “slum parties” and see how the other half lived. Seeing coeds making a fool of themselves onstage had been one Remy’s favorite reason to come to the undercity. The bartender brought him a gin with a wink. Tips must be slow today. He took the drink and handed her a twenty credit chip.
“Say, have you seen this guy recently?” Remy flashed her the picture thought he didn’t expect much.
“Looks familiar. I think he’s a friend of JD’s.” She stretched over the bar and pointed to a far corner. She smelled like sweat and sugar.
“JD’s?” He knew JD. Other than Jack, he ran the biggest game in town. The girl nodded.
“Yeah, he’s the owner. Decent enough guy if he thinks you might suck his dick but never forces anyone or anything.”
“That so?” Remy drank his gin. In his experience most guys could be nice under those circumstances so it didn’t really mean much. “What’s your name? I’m Remy.”
“Haely.” She was probably an academy student. He hoped, at least. Undercity folk didn’t pay much attention to age restrictions for employment or anything else really.
“Hi Haely. Do you mind asking him if he’ll have a word with me? I’d hate to intrude.” He slid another twenty credit chip across the bar. She snatched it up and slipped it into her tights. Haely hopped onto the bar and swiveled over to his side and gestured for him to help here down. She was delightfully light. Maybe after this case was through, he’d come back down sometime. If things with Stefanie didn’t work out. He wrinkled his nose. Stop that, you lecher. You’re working, and she’s almost twenty years too young for you, he told himself.
Haely grabbed his hand and pulled him through the crowd. They moved through one room, and then another one before Haely knocked on a door and pushed it open. “JD? Man here to see you from up top.”
She opened the door and Remy stepped through. Smoke hung low in the dim lit room and it smelled like rich tobacco. Pure, and unreplicated. Couches lined each side and a slim man in a white suit sat between two blue women on the opposite.
“Thanks Haely, you can go. Come have a seat friend.” Haely pushed him further into the room and whispered into his ear while shutting the door.
He kept himself from gulping, but only just. Good luck. The best omen for going into a dark back room at a known gangster’s bar.
JD stood slowly and extended his hand. He wore sunglasses though it was the middle of the night, he was inside, and deep below the city’s surface. Though they’d never met, Remy had a good sense of what JD was. Remy took his hand and gave it a firm shake.
“You asked specifically to see me, I see. Well, what can I do for you? I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name.”
“Remy. Remy St. Claire.”
“James Dotrey, but call me JD. What’re you here for Remy?” He sat back down between the women. One puffed at an elaborate vaping machine, and passed it to the other. Remy tried not to cough from the fragrant smoke.
“I’m looking for a man.” He passed the creased photograph over to JD. “Heard he was a regular here and that you might know what he was up to.”
JD looked at the picture carefully. One of the girls leaned over his shoulder and squinted to get a better look. Remy’s fingers twitched. God, Stefanie’s pay was good, but was it this good? JD and Jack were peas in a pod. A snap of JD’s fingers and Remy’d be back bumming cigarettes from Tyreese.
“She’s cute,” she said to Remy.
“You seen him?” He asked JD. JD shook his head and handed it back to Remy.
“Nah, not familiar. Girls cute though. If he don’t come back, maybe you could send her my way if she’s looking for a job. Always looking for new help.”
Remy sucked his teeth. Imagining Stefanie here, painted blue and hanging over men and poles for a cheap buck or a quick fix. He’d rather she be with Colin than that.
“You sure? Your name is on the back.” He flipped the image over and showed JD the scribbling on the back of the photo. JD was a professional. He didn’t flinch, and his only tell was to smile. Remy clenched his other hand into a fist at his side. This was a gamble, but gamblers always hit the biggest paydays.
“Never seen him before.” He stood up and offered a hand to each of the girls who took it to rise. They wore less clothes than Haely and even more make-up. “However, Mr. St. Claire, I do have some business to attend to, and I think it’s time for you to go.” JD clapped his hands and the door burst open behind Remy. Two men wearing the same sunglasses as JD and black Sapphire Lounge shirts grabbed Remy’s arms before he could react. JD smiled sadly.
“Sorry you had to come all the way down here. It was nice to meet you.” He pulled the two girls through another side room and the two large men lifted Remy from the floor to escort him out. Remy struggled against them feebly.
“Hey, let me know, I know the way out.” He protested and they released him but stayed at Remy’s side. He stalked out of the club trying to catch Haely’s eyes for a moment. She was twirling a bald man’s tie between her fingers at the bar and didn’t pay him the slightest bit of attention. He hoped she wouldn’t be punished for bringing him there. Guys like JD liked to hurt people to set an example.
Remy found himself next to Three-tooth and a short line of derelicts trying to get into the club for the night.
“Find your friend?” He asked. Any smile Three-tooth tried was a craggy horror.
Remy tugged his collar up and made his way back up the street toward the elevator to New Madison. He flicked a cigarette lit and considered the trip. It hadn’t been a total waste. Haely immediately recognized Colin from the picture and JD’s placid face said even more. He’d been in here, alright. Recently. And JD didn’t want him to know about it.
He smiled as he entered the creaking elevator and plugged in his coin. It was time to pay a visit to the Keymaker.