"Tell me you're working on something," Mouse said, pitching her voice low.
"I'm working on something," I said, my brain racing, sorting through possibilities, each looking grimmer than the last.
"Work faster," she said. "You saw, too, right?"
"Yeah," I said.
"Chrome-ninja assholes," said Mouse.
When a quartet of Lotus mooks had taken our guns and gear and cuffed us, I had popped to thermo and checked out the samurai, trying to figure out how they'd gotten the drop on us.
What I didn't see made my gut clench into a knot.
Just like Kitsune.
Which meant bioware.
And if they were Lotus, they'd be fitted with the high-end stuff.
Which explained how they got the drop on us.
The office door behind us clicked open.
Mouse and I turned.
Harada entered, flanked by two dark-suited mooks, strode to the side of the oak desk in front of us, and stopped, hands folded behind his back.
He looked the same as the last time we'd seen him. Tall, lean, and silver-haired. He wore a tailored dark gray suit and a small closed-mouth smile crept across his face as he looked at us.
"The last time we met," he said, "was also just after a gun battle."
"Fancy that," I said.
"Do you remember what happened after that?"
"We walked away?"
His smile went up a notch. "Richard Takeda died."
"So he did," I said.
Harada took a folded silk handkerchief out of his inside jacket pocket, placed it over his mouth and nose, and made a small gesture with his free hand.
One of the mooks stepped to a nearby bare wood-paneled wall, rapped on it with his knuckles, then stepped aside.
A section of the wall slid open revealing a doorway and a short corridor beyond.
And the smell that wafted toward us made my eyes water.
Kitsune slumped in a chair in the center of the doorway, her arms hanging limp on either side, her head resting forward on top of her chest.
Then the mook rapped on the wall again and the wall section slid closed.
Before it did, though, I caught a quick glimpse.
Kitsune's left temple and base of her skull were missing chunks of tissue.
As if they had exploded outward.
Mouse and I exchanged looks.
"That's correct," said Harada.
We turned to him.
"Cortex bomb," he said. "A small precaution we take with certain...employees. Quite useful. And now it's your turn, Ladies."
"You're gonna stick us with cortex bombs?" said Mouse
"Oh no," said Harada. "Nothing that fancy. The old-fashioned way will suffice." He turned to the two red samurai. "Kill them."
Then the tall windows behind the desk exploded under a rolling burst of automatic weapons fire.
I dropped to one knee and a subvocalized command dropped the world into slo-mo.
Saw both samurai already diving out of the line of fire, moving fast, rolling, coming to a crouch near the far walls of the room.
Goddamn bioware showoffs.
And then Sakura was in front of us, standing between me and Mouse and the two sams.
The office door was wide open.
I bolted toward it.
Heard the flap of leather just behind me.
Mouse. On my heels.
A dull thunk near my feet and a grenade bounced past, then another, both rolled to a stop, and began spewing thick smoke.
Then we were through the door, into an outer hallway, and around a corner, skidding to a stop in front of a wide-eyed twentysomething Japanese woman in a dark blue business suit, an H&K MP5K in one hand, a duffle bag slung over her shoulder.
My duffle bag.
Another subvocal command and the world slid back to normal.
The woman set the duffle bag on the floor, took a step back, gestured us to follow her, then turned and jogged down the hallway.
I scooped up the bag and went after her.
* * *
We were huddled behind one of two pool tables in the mansion's second floor game room, strapping our gear back on.
The woman had introduced herself as Natsumi, Harada's executive assistant, then raised the MP5K into a ready position, and faced the game room's entrance.
Just in time.
A quartet of dark-suited mooks came around the bend in the staircase.
Subvocal, and the world slipped into slo-mo once more.
Side-stepped out from behind the pool table, the Twins bucking and roaring.
The first mook to reach the top of the stairs took six rounds in the torso and folded. The one just behind him took four in the face, whipped his head back, and pitched backwards down the steps.
The third mook got to the top and cut to one side, his pistol coming up to fire, and four throwing blades erupted from his throat. He gurgled blood and crumpled forward.
The last mook barely made it to the top step before Natsumi unloaded the MP5K in a long, rolling burst that walked up his torso. He jerked and flailed under the barrage then fell back against the staircase wall, smearing blood as he slid down in a heap.
Then: a ping and a soft woosh.
Hurried footsteps padded across the carpeted floor.
And Harada bolted around the corner, a pistol in hand, ran across the game room entry, and skidded to a stop at the sight of the bodies by the stairs.
He whirled, going wide-eyed when he saw the three of us.
Everything happened at once.
Natsumi squeezed the trigger of her MP5K and I heard it jam.
Harada swung the pistol up to fire just as a pair of throwing blades erupted from his left leg. He collapsed to one knee, screaming.
The Twins roared three times each, six rounds catching Harada in the middle of the chest. He jerked with each impact then crumpled onto his side.
I shifted aim.
Harada jabbed the pistol toward us and fired twice.
The rounds missed us completely, taking out chunks from the side of the pool table closest to him.
I strode toward him, the Twins tracking.
Harada swung the pistol toward me.
The Twins roared first.
Four rounds slammed into Harada's gun hand and flesh exploded in a spray of blood, tissue, and bone.
The pistol dropped to the floor.
I closed on him.
Harada snarled, crimson froth spilling between his teeth, his nostrils flaring. He reached down toward the throwing blades embedded in his leg with his left hand, yanked them free, and struggled to a crouch.
Then Mouse was next to him, and her wakizashi flashed twice.
Harada's left hand fell from his wrist, still gripping the throwing knives. He tried to scream, but he only gurgled and blood gushed from the slice across his throat and spilled down his suit front.
He dropped to his knees and sat back on his haunches, his head lolling to one side, eyes wide.
I reached Harada, raised Bonnie to his temple.
And put a bullet through his head.
Harada fell over with a thud, spasmed once, then went still.
I holstered both pistols and let out a long shuddering breath.
Mouse put a hand on my shoulder.
I turned to her.
I turned back toward Harada's body.
* * *
Mouse and I were seated on tall stools around an island in the house's kitchen. Natsumi was rummaging through the refrigerator.
"Let me guess, Natsumi," I said. " 'Executive assistant' isn't the whole story."
Natsumi stepped back from the refrigerator holding a pair of Mitsuya Cider bottles. "You're right," she said. "I answer to Hosaka-san." She held up the bottles. "Want one?"
"Sure," I said.
"Me, too," said Mouse.
Natsumi crossed to the island and handed us the bottles. "My job was to keep an eye on Harada," she went on, "and report anything out of the ordinary."
"Like his takeover plot," I said and took a drink from the bottle.
"Hai," she said. "And he actually told me."
"No shit?" said Mouse.
Natsumi grinned. "I'm a good executive assistant. I guess he thought he could tell me anything."
"What happened to Kitsune?" I said. "And I don't mean the cortex bomb."
Natsumi shook her head. "She confronted Harada last night. Told him she knew about his plan. And that was it."
"That was it?" said Mouse.
She nodded. "Charge went off. One minute Kitsune was standing there. Next minute, she just drops to the floor. Like someone knocked her across the back of the head."
Mouse gave a low whistle.
"And the guys in the red armor," I said. "Some kind of Lotus spec ops?"
"You should have nothing to worry about from them," a melodious raspy voice said behind us.
We turned in our stools.
Hosaka stepped into the kitchen accompanied by the same bull-necked muscle we'd seen the day before.
"Thank you for waiting," said Hosaka. "And thank you again for your help in this matter."
"Doitashimashite, Hosaka-san," I said.
Hosaka reached into an inside jacket pocket and drew out a cred'chip. "Your compensation," he said. "As promised."
I got off the stool, walked up to him, took the 'chip, and bowed deeply. "Domo arigato gozaimasu," I said.
"You're sure about the red guys?" said Mouse.
"Very certain," said Hosaka. He gestured to Natsumi. "Natsumi-san will show you the way out."
"Still having your party?" I said.
"Of course," said Hosaka. "You are only eighty years old once."
"And Sakura?" I said. "Wasn't she with you?"
"She has gone now," said Hosaka. "Her business is complete. As, I assume, is yours."
"Hai," I said. "Finally complete."
Natsumi gestured toward the kitchen door. "This way, please," she said.
Mouse and I started toward the door.
I stopped, remembering something.
"One more thing, Hosaka-san," I said.
He turned toward me.
"We know who your assassin is," I said.
He nodded. "Kenichi Fuchida," he said. "My personal chef."
Mouse and I exchanged looks.
"How'd you know?" I said.
"I didn't," he said. "Sakura told me. He's been dealt with."
"But she said she didn't know," said Mouse. "Yesterday. At our little meeting. You were there."
"She told me when we were talking a moment ago," said Hosaka.
"How'd she find out?" I said.
"Sakura did not say. Only that she heard it from a particular net jockey extraordinaire."
"Sonofabitch," said Mouse. "Did she bug us? She bugged us, didn't she."
Hosaka smiled. "Sayonara, Kat and Mouse."
* * *
As I put the loaner in gear and we drove away from the mansion, Mouse said: "I really hope that's the last we see of Lady Deathtrap."
"Me, too," I said. "I could use a little less excitement."
"But you realize--less excitement means more boredom. Is that what you really want?"
I thought for a moment, then said: "Point."
"Boredom leads to crappy ronin," Mouse said.
"And I'd have to listen to you complain all day about having nothing to do," I said.
"Bite me," Mouse said with a grin.
God, I love my job.
NEXT TIME: "Stand Off"
NEXT TIME: "Stand Off"