The thick beard, of which he'd been proud, was gone. They'd shaved it at the hospital so they could stitch closed the wound where his teeth had gone through his lip. His nose had been set, but a livid bruise spread outward from it. Matthew Cross glared at these reflected reminders in the bathroom mirror.
With a low growl, the bodybroker left off contemplating his reflection and left the bathroom and flung himself down on his bed. He'd only just gotten home from getting treated, and a better look at the damage did nothing to lighten his black mood.
The thing that angered him the most was that Aaron Brozek was never supposed to have survived long enough to get to Cross. There had been assurances. The broker remembered every word.
"Have you considered our proposal, Mr. Cross?"
"Yes. I even have a candidate in mind. But I need a promise."
"A promise? What promise is that?"
"That when the Joyride's over, he won't come looking for me."
"He will never have a chance to get close to you, Mr. Cross. NDS will offer a substantial reward for him, alive or dead. Most consumers will jump at the chance. And if he somehow evades the common citizens, there are the police. And, of course, the Patchworks. You need not fear for your safety where the lender is concerned. He'll never get anywhere near you."
So Cross agreed. He had Brozek in mind from the start. He knew that the man was desperate for money to save his daughter. Cross had heard about it until he was sick. It was all Aaron ever talked about when he came in looking for a new lending contract with a Joyrider. The fees Brozek collected were never enough to cure his brat, just enough to slow down the progress while waiting for a big enough windfall.
When Cross dangled the Joyride in front of Aaron a few days later, it was almost pathetic how fast the man jumped at it. The fee that the broker had dangled in front of Brozek would cure the brat once and for all, even with some left over.
And then Aaron signed what he thought was the insurance agreement on the contract. He'd been the lender in so many Joyrides that he never even read the contracts anymore. He never caught the fine print he signed his name to; the fine print that put all the fees directly into Cross's pocket, instead of the percentage that the broker usually took. That fine print had been the bodybroker's own inspiration. Once the man was dead, what use would he have for that money, after all? As for the daughter Brozek was always moaning about, well, them's the breaks.
Then the gutter trash showed up at the casino, reeking in filthy clothing. So much for assurances. Cross was never supposed to be touched. They owed him something more for what he'd been put through!
Cross swung his feet to the floor and sat up, scowling. Those two owed him compensation, that's what. It was only fair that they pay up for their breach of promise.
The broker stood and went to the videophone console. He dialled the number he'd been given, which went only to a v-mail. The message he left was simple and above suspicion, as it must be on this unsecured line. Cross simply asked for a call back to discuss details of a special Joyride contract.
Ten minutes later, the console signaled an incoming call requesting scramble and encryption. When Cross accepted the call, it was audio only. Nothing new in that.
"Yes, what is it?"
"What is it? I thought you said that I'd be safe. Do you know what that gutter trash you were supposed to put down did to me?"
"Cross, you picked him. Perhaps you should have found a lender who was less resourceful."
"What? Look here-"
"I can't look there. I do not choose to use video. Nor," with definite distaste coming through the secured line's voice distortion, "would I want to."
"Damn it, you owe me some compensation for this!" Cross balled his hands into fists, glaring at the dead black of the console screen.
"I would submit that you have been more than adequately compensated. Particularly with the fine print you chose to add to the contract."
For a moment, Cross was too angry to speak. Didn't they understand that they owed him? He'd set it up for them, he'd gotten hit for them, he was keeping his mouth shut for them...
Keeping his mouth shut. That was it. If they wouldn't make good on their breach of promise, then maybe he couldn't make good on his promises either. "I guess that's it, then." The broker put every ounce of resignation he could into his voice. "I guess I'll have to just accept that. But I keep thinking back to the look on Brozek's face at the casino. It keeps... tugging at me." Cross silently congratulated himself on his acting. He was quite good, really. Maybe he should have gone into film instead of brokering Joyrides. "I know he only attacked me out of desperation. This is going to wear on my conscience, I know it. I don't know if I'll be able to fight off the urge to go to the police and explain that it wasn't Brozek's fault. That he was lending for a Joyride."
A long pause followed Cross's little speech. Finally, "And I suppose you'd need some incentive to fight off this impending attack of conscience?"
"Well, it'd be hard, but for you, I could probably manage it. With, as you said, some incentive."
"This is something we should perhaps discuss face-to-face. I would prefer that the... incentive... not have any kind of trail that could be traced back. This incentive will need to be delivered in person."
The bodybroker grinned despite the way it tugged on the stitches in his bottom lip. Finally he was getting somewhere. "And where would you like to discuss further incentive?" He asked, thinking he could be generous - as he thought it - in victory.
"Your office is set up to give your Joyride clients privacy, correct? Only the lenders' entrance is under surveillance? Then I will meet you there in half an hour's time." With that the connection broke.
The foul mood now completely gone, Cross left for his closed office.
* * *
Bodybroker Matthew Cross is missing and presumed dead. Police responded to reports of suspected vandalism at the broker's office. Witnesses reported sounds of breaking glass along with other sounds of possible destruction. The PD arrived to find the patron's entrance standing open, and obvious signs of a struggle in Cross's private office. An anonymous source inside local law enforcement told our reporter that a significant amount of blood was found at the scene and has been matched to Cross.
Cross was attacked earlier tonight at the Eden Hotel and Casino by Aaron Brozek, who is also linked to the murder of Eli Trammel. Our anonymous source says that Brozek is suspected of returning to finish the job he started at the casino.
With this latest attack, the price on Brozek's head has increased by another 5,000 credits. The suspect is considered to be extremely dangerous.