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"A Family Affair" - Part Three

"Holeeee shit!!"

A typical reaction, especially when the person reacting just had his Uptown hotel room door blown off its hinges and he's caught on a king-size bed butt-naked and sprawled out under a hooker. Add to that the eighty kilos and meter-ninety of dark-haired Amazon toting a pair of .45-caliber hand cannons waltzing into the room.

The first muscleboy sprang from the shadows, a dark-suited wall with legs and mirrorshades.

A well-placed boot cracked into his crotch. He did a little hop and dropped to his knees with a keening wail, clutching himself. Then a backfist spun him into a room service cart with a loud crash.

Footsteps behind me.

A second muscleboy.

I started to spin around, the Twins rising to play, then caught a dark shape hit the floor.

Mouse had things well in hand. She stood next to the other bodyguard with one foot on his throat and the point of a wakizashi dancing happily in front of his face.

"Always there are two," she croaked.

"What?"

"Yoda. Little green guy. Old movie."

"You watch too many, you'll go blind."

"I'll buy me a pair of Nikon-Zeiss."

I shook my head. "Under control?"

She nodded. "Five by five. He moves, I give him a facelift."

I grinned at the muscleboy as his eyes widened. "I wouldn't try anything," I said.

Mouse gave another of her maniacal giggles.
"She means it."

I turned to the yahoo on the bed and frowned.

He had grabbed a pistol from somewhere and had pointed it at me.

I regarded him for a moment: nineteen, maybe twenty, a vid heartthrob gone bad--far too handsome for his own good and no doubt flaunted it. He reeked of money spent on fast living. "Hi, Jimmy. Nice digs. You are Jimmy, right?"

"Who the fuck are you?"

"A very pissed off bitch. You have something that belongs to me and I want it back."

Fabric rustled.

I looked.

The hooker had gotten off the bed and was collecting her clothes.

Jimmy gaped at her. "What the fuck do you think you're doing?"

She snorted. "Leaving before I get greased." A nod toward me and Mouse. "You pissed them off? Jesus, you are one sorry bastard. Just give them whatever you took and live. Maybe." She snickered and headed out the door.

Mouse giggled. "You hear that? We're famous."

"Never doubted it for a second." I turned back to Jimmy. "You should take your girlfriend's advice. Give me back the case and you'll live."

"I don't even know you." The pistol wobbled in his grip. "You better just get the fuck out of here or I swear to Christ I'll blow you the fuck away."

"You kiss your mother with that mouth?" Mouse asked.

"Fuck you, too, bitch."

Mouse sighed loudly. "Bored now."

I shook my head at Jimmy. "Now you've done it."

He gaped at me, then at Mouse.

The muscleboy on the floor yelped as Mouse whipped out an ornately-handled Bowie knife from a hidden sheath under her trenchcoat. She plunged it into the bodyguard's left shoulder with a wet thunk, pinning him to the floor.

He screamed.

She quickly drew a second Bowie and did the same to his right shoulder.

He screamed again.

Jimmy let out a gurgled whine and backed up against the headboard of the bed.

Mouse loves her pointy toys.

"I make it a point never to piss her off," I said to Jimmy.

Then Mouse drew a pen-sized cylinder from a pouch at her belt and thumbed one end. A small red light on the pommel of each knife started to blink happily.

She stood over the muscleboy. "All right, choom. There's a gram of C4 and a motion sensor inside those knife handles. You move, you go kablooey. Scan?"

The bodyguard started to nod, thought better of it, mouthed a "yes."

"Wicked." She strode up to Jimmy's bed, sat down on the edge of one corner, and leveled her wakizashi at him.

Jimmy attempted an impression of a naked man trying to crawl backwards up a wall.

"You--you crazy bitch--!" he sputtered, bug-eyed.

Mouse looked at me over one shoulder and grinned. "I say we fillet him and see if we can sell the pieces."

He turned the gun on her. "Fuck that!"

I shook my head. "Sorry. We need him to sing about the case."

She lowered her sword's point to his exposed crotch. "Bass or soprano?"

Jimmy gave a strangled yelp.

"Neither."

"Okay. A tenor. Like that opera guy Murphy always liked. Tortellini or something."

"Pavarotti. But he was fat. This guy is a little scrawny."

"Fuck this shit!" His voice cracked. He gripped the shaking pistol with both hands and shoved it in my direction.

Some people don't learn.

I eyed him critically. "You really don't want to do that. What you want to do is give me my case."

The gun wobbled some more. "What case?"

"The one you had your friends take from me."

"What friends?"

"Don't you remember?" I asked. "The Three Stooges and the blond army brats?"

His face blanched, eyes darting between me and Mouse. He slowly licked his lips. "I don't know nobody like that," he lied.

"Getting old really fast, Jimbo," Mouse muttered. She looked at me with pleading eyes. "Lemme gut him and read our fortunes on his insides. I saw a thing on the vid about it."

When I shook my head, she pouted. "You never let me do anything fun, Kay."

"Now Jimmy--your pals down at the Black Rider were really helpful. Why can't you be helpful, too?"

"I told you, you deaf bitch. I don't know nobody at the Black Rider."

I switched my optics to display the clock.

19:17:55.

At least fifteen minutes to get to the drop-point from the hotel.

I let out a long, slow exhale. "We can do this the easy way, or the hard way."

"Ooh! Ooh! The hard way!" Mouse offered. "So I can play pin cushion on him. He's making me miss Angel City. It's the new episode where the condo blows up--"

Silverware clattered.

I turned, saw the first muscleboy rise up from the fallen room service cart like some culinary monster.

He roared and charged.

The Twins flew up and roared too, gleefully belching fire and .45-caliber slugs into the food-covered yahoo in a thundering stacatto. He staggered back from each successive impact, his torso erupting in bloody craters, then flew backwards through the window.

"Fine," I said, turning back to Jimmy. "You picked the hard way--"

Thunder boomed twice in the room and a big rig slammed into the center of my chest, shoving me backwards into a nearby wall.

At least, it felt like a big rig.

Then something whistled through the air.

Jimmy screamed.

A clatter.

I finally caught my breath and got to my feet. Thank god for dermal armor. I had enough implanted under my torso to stop an assault rifle round, but I still felt the impact from the shot.

I looked toward Jimmy.

He was bent over, whimpering and clutching a bloody arm where three slim throwing knives protruded.

Mouse looked up at me, pointed to Jimmy, and grinned. "See? Pin cushion!"

I fought back a laugh and holstered the Twins, then crossed to Jimmy in a few quick strides.

He saw me, let out a pathetic cry, and shrank into the headboard.

I saw the fallen pistol near the bed, kicked it away.

"Okay, Jimmy," I began. "If you don't want to end up like a porcupine, do a swan dive out the window, or end up like him"--I gestured to the pinned muscleboy--"you're going to be just as helpful as your friends were back at the Rider."

He stared at the broken window, then at the muscleboy on the floor. "The little shit don't deserve it," he muttered. "She gets everything. I get shit. Fucked up..."

"Jimmy!"

He yelped, looked at me with wide, blank eyes.

"Your friends. You remember your friends at the Black Rider now, don't you."

A slow, weak nod.

"Very good. I'm glad we're finally getting somewhere." I put a foot on the bed and leaned toward him.

Another whimper.

"Now, you put my case where?"

* * *

We made it to the drop-point with just a few minutes to spare.

Righetti--slight, hatchet-faced, silver-haired, wearing a tailored double-breasted dark gray suit--greeted us from the doorway of his study with open arms and a wide, toothy smile. "Welcome to my humble home."

"Humble" was a two-story mansion on two acres in the hills just east of Bay City. Gated, walled, and probably better protected than an Excalibur client.

"Nice place," I said to Righetti, a quick nod at the hallway decor that probably cost ten times as much as all my mods put together.

"This is just like the place Hilary went to for that producer's party," Mouse said, looking around wide-eyed. "Wicked slick."

"Who's Hilary?"

"Ep ten. Season three."

"Angel City?"

"Duh."

"Nevermind."

Righetti's dark eyes gleamed when he saw the case in my left hand. His smile got toothier and he gestured us into his study.

Two huge, oak-panelled doors swung slowly open and we stepped into a book lover's wet dream. Floor to ceiling mahogany shelves filled with books lined three walls.

I gave a low whistle.

"Totally wicked," Mouse said under her breath.

"One of my great loves," Righetti said from my left. "Especially the classics. And all in the original paper editions." He frowned. "There's something very wrong about reading it on a little datachip."

Spotted the two shapes that lingered on either side of the opened doors and the two at the opposite corners from us. A quick nod, a nod from them. Professional.

"I guess Shakespeare just isn't the same on a plasma screen," I said, turning back to Righetti.

"No, he's not," he said.

"That Aussie did a Shakespeare," Mouse said. "Saw it once. Late show on the vid."

Righetti clapped his hands together. "I see you two ladies have come through for me again."

"As usual," Mouse said.

"Magnifico. I knew I could always count on you two."

I held the case out to him. He snapped his fingers and one of the shapes stepped forward, took the case, and held it in front of Righetti.

Righetti drew something from the inside pocket of his suit, touched it to the front of the case.

Jimmy had given us the case along with a string of obscenities about not being able to open it. I hadn't seen a visible lock on the case when I first took it at the pick-up and that's probably what had Jimmy's panties in a twist.

So his cronies, a bunch of well-paid fraternity kids from BCU, headed off in costume once more. This time, to the Black Rider to find someone who could pop the case.

And ran into the very person they stole from.

Two soft clicks and the case popped open.

Righetti smiled. "Look at that. Isn't it beautiful?"

Mouse and I exchanged puzzled looks.

He nodded and the shape turned the opened case in our direction.

Inside the case's foam-padded lining sat a blond-haired doll wearing a blue, uniform-like dress with an apron in the front. Her hair was held back from her face with a white ribbon.

"Handcrafted by an old friend in Italy," Righetti said.

I raised an eyebrow. "Yours?"

He laughed. "Oh no. Not for me."

Just then: "Poppa!"

Followed by running feet.

I whirled toward the doorway.

A small girl with a cascade of chestnut hair wearing a cute party dress with lots of frills stood in the hallway outside, saucer-eyed, frightened.

I tend to have that effect.

Righetti came toward her at once, arms held out. "It's alright, stellina," he said. "These two women are just some old friends. They've brought your present."

The girl's eyes lit up. "They brought Alice?"

"Yes. She is there." He pointed to the case.

The girl ran toward the case. The shape knelt to one knee and presented the doll to her.

She picked the doll up in her hands and squealed. "She is so pretty, Poppa! Thank you!" She threw herself at Righetti, hugging his waist and laughed.

He smiled, kissed the top of her head. "Now go back to your party. Poppa will be there shortly."

She nodded up at him, threw a puzzled look at me and Mouse, then ran back up the hallway, laughing merrily.

Righetti watched the girl go, then looked at us, beaming. "My daughter, Isabella. It's her birthday today. She's ten. The doll's from her favorite book, Alice in Wonderland."

"Lucky kid" Mouse said. "A dad like you. I never had family."

Righetti nodded. "That's the world for you
. But sometimes, you'll find people you can call a family." He spread his hands. "We're family here." Then at the two of us. "You, too. And it might be outdated thinking but I believe a family always helps one another. Always. Am I right?"

I looked at Mouse and we grinned at each other. I thought about Revell.

And about Murphy.

Righetti had a point.

I regarded the little puzzle that was Vincent Righetti.

Family boss. Father.

The sound of his daughter's laughter sailed toward us.

"Yeah," I said. "You're right."

Righetti beamed.

Just then, a door in the hallway slammed shut.

Righetti's smile faded. "Then again, there are exceptions." He looked at his watch. "My son."

Heavy footsteps sounded in the hallway outside.

"You are late," Righetti said, his tone sharp.

"I got delayed, but I'm here, ain't I?"

"Hi, Jimmy," I said and threw him my Smile.

Jimmy froze at the study's doorway, bug-eyed, gurgled in protest, and fainted.

Mouse burst out laughing.

I sighed.

God, I love my job.

* * *

INTERLUDE ONE

The black sedan slowed as it neared the gates of the estate. The driver glanced out the side window, smiled, then continued up the road heading north.

When the sedan reached the next intersection a quarter-kilometer up the road, the driver turned right and pulled to the curb then drew a cellphone and made a call.

* * *

A few minutes later, the gates of the estate slid open and a dark suited figured waved a gray Shelby through. The car rumbled onto the street, turned, and headed south down the road.

--END--


NEXT TIME: "Easy Money" - Part One


"A Family Affair"
Part 1| Part 2

"A Family Affair" - Part Two

Before Mouse and I started working together a year ago, she'd been a member of a punker gang who called themselves "The Wolfpack." She'd left them to work with me after Murphy and I helped her out of a tight spot--whenever the White Lotus Syndicate is involved, it's always a tight spot.

Seemed Mouse and some enterprising Wolfpack members were trying to earn creds for the gang by dealing joyjoy pills to some suits. The pills turned out to be bad and the the suits turned out to be Lotus boys.

The others got greased. Mouse was next.

That's when Murphy and I walked in.

Didn't really seem fair, six against one. So we evened the odds a little.

After that, Mouse decided she wanted to sign up with me and Murphy. Wanted to learn how to handle herself in case more Lotus boys came calling.

I'd done a similar thing three years earlier and Murphy had taken me under his wing.

My teacher. Best friend.

Like a father to me.

Then two months ago, Murphy had been--

No. Not now.

I shook myself out of my thoughts and looked down into the alley.

I spotted Mouse and a couple of Wolfpackers huddled around a burning trash can. Light from the fire danced across their faces and tossed flickering, gnarled shapes across the alley's walls like some kind of demented shadow-puppet show.

The dog boys were great street ears, always tapped into the latest jungle chatter. Having Mouse as a link helped us immensely, especially in a recent mix-down that saved our skins but took out half of an Uptown luxury hotel and the squad of hitters on our tail.

Mouse finished her conversation and exchanged a quick, elaborate handshake with her former companions then started back up the alley toward me, the tails of her black trenchcoat billowing behind her.

"So what'd they say?"

Mouse shot a look back at the two Wolfpackers she'd talked to.

I followed her gaze and saw the taller of the two--Diesel--narrow his eyes at me. I shot him my best Smile, the one that always makes people nervous. He flinched.

Worked every time.

"Car," Mouse said, turning back to me. "Tell you on the way."

We made our way back to my re-fitted Shelby GT500 parked across the street. I shook my head, hiding a small smile. "They still don't trust me? Even though we're running together?"

Mouse grinned. "They're scared of you."

"Me? Can't imagine why."

That earned me a snort.

"Okay," I said. "So what've we got?"

"You were right," said Mouse. "Wannabes. No local colors or tags. Blew in about a week ago. Some hit and runs. Mostly tourists near Uptown. Plus, they're not sticking to one spot."

I grinned. Bingo.

Joyboys are extremely territorial. When they aren't whapping victims from behind, they're gunning against other packs for space. Marking territory in blood.

These mooks were definite wannabes.

"That it?"

Mouse grinned. "Got a place, too."

"Where?"

"Black Rider."

I fought back a shudder and nodded.

Old stomping grounds.

We reached the car and got inside.

"So what we've got here," I said, leaning an elbow on the steering wheel, "is a bunch of wannabe joyboys out for some laughs and quick cash who just happened to steal from and piss off the meanest bitch ronin to walk Bay City. And now, it's payback time."

Mouse's eyes lit up. "Can Mean Bitch Ronin Number Two tag along?"

"Of course. Kat and Mouse. Meanest bitches in the biz."

Mouse gave a maniacal giggle. "They are sooo screwed..."

* * *

The Engineer was dead, Sikes was still out there, and the Black Rider brought everything back in one cold chill that slithered up my spine.

The Rider was just one of the dozens of wall-crack dives scattered throughout Bay City that reeked of stale sweat and beer and catered to the typical assortment of punkers, wireheads, and razorjocks. This dive sat on South Harbor Boulevard, south of the Gibson Street Tunnel.

On the edge of Southside.

The weight of the Twins beneath my jacket relaxed me a little.

Still, being this close to Southside made me just a bit jumpy.

Unfinished business in the Zone...

First things first.

I shook myself back to the present and did another quick scan of the place. From our seats at the back, I could see the door and the rest of the bar amid the curtain of cigarette smoke and the knots of bodies.

Unfinished business...

"You all right, Kay?"

Mouse.

I nodded. "Occupied."

"Better get unoccupied. Here come our boys."

I straightened in my chair.

Mouse nodded toward the huge grimy front window. Past the crowd I caught the flash of color and chrome as five crotch rockets fishtailed to a stop across the street.

They definitely looked the part. I gave them that. The rockets were bright, flashy. They were decked out in leathers, piercings, tattoos.

But something was off.

The quintet strode through the doors, nodding to the other denizens as if they owned the place. The bartender inclined his head at them. A few others nodded. A nearby table cleared fast and they claimed it like a pack of vultures on carrion.

Still...

"Kay," Mouse began.

I heard the tone in her voice. "You too, huh."

"Yup."

Walked and talked--

I popped my optics to thermograph mode and looked.

Then looked again.

"Cakewalk," I said, then got up and headed for the table of five.

Other than their bikes, joyboys love toys. Implant blades. Monowhips. Pop-ups. Anything that can be hidden--literally--on their person and used to take an opponent down while they're on a rocket. Name it, they have it.

Not these guys.

My therms showed them with minor biomods. All flash, but no joyboy substance.

Oh, and they also packed.

But then, so did I.

I reached their table, put hands on my hips, and peered at each one of them over the tops of my mirrorshades.

The two on my left were twin square-jawed blonds who sported short, military-style cuts, but I doubt if they ever served. The bruiser on my right had a shaved head and animal tattoos up and down both hugely muscled arms. Next to him sprawled a matchstick with a mohawk and nose studs, a cigarette hanging off his lip.

The last sat directly across from where I stood, his long hair in a ponytail, sporting studded fingerless gloves. He looked up at me and his eyes went to slits--but not before they betrayed him.

By then I knew.

Suddenly, Baldy rose from his seat, all muscular, tattooed, and sweaty two meters of him, flexed his arms, and cracked his knuckles. "What the fuck do you want?" he said.

Wrong line.

I grabbed him by the throat and slammed him down onto the tabletop. The back of his head hit like a thunderclap. He gurgled in meek protest then went limp.

The others snapped to their feet.

Four gun barrels shoved themselves in my direction.

Conversation in the bar squealed to a stop.

I looked at each of them again.

One by one.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Mouse standing near the bar and I could tell that she was ready to move.

Good ol' Mouse.

"I just came over here to get something back from you boys," I began.

Mohawk looked at Ponytail, his brow furrowed. "I thought the whole deal was tight," he said.

"Shut it," Ponytail said.

"You said no one knew! Not even the old--!"

"Shut it!" Spit flew from Ponytail's lips and he turned to me, the pistol still pointed at my face. "Let him go or I plug you."

"I came over here to get something back from you boys," I repeated.

Ponytail licked his lips. "Let him go, bitch."

"That's right. I am a bitch. Now give me back what belongs to me."

"What makes you think we've got your case--"

"I never said it was a case." I gave him my Smile.

He flinched. The pistol wavered in his grip.

"Oh, fuck...!" said Mohawk.

Glances shot between the foursome.

Baldy chose that moment to wake up and be sneaky. His hand snaked toward the pistol tucked into his pants and he started to sit up.

I grabbed him by the throat again and slammed his head back onto the table. He let out a strangled sigh and went limp again.

Mohawk jumped, nearly dropping his gun. "Jesus Christ!"

"He can't help you now," I said. I kept my grip on Baldy's throat in case he got stealthy again and looked directly at Ponytail. He shrank back a little and his pistol wavered again. "This can be really easy. All you have to do is hand over the case and I let your friend go. Piss me off some more and"--I nodded down at a dazed Baldy--"he dies."

"Okay," said Mohawk. "We'll give you the case--"

"No, we won't," Ponytail said.

"Fuck that! Let's just get our cash and blow!"

Suddenly the doors flew open and six leather-clad figures strode in.

Red leather.

That meant one thing.

Scarlet Razors.

Real joyboys.

Shit.

The Razors got a few steps inside the bar and stopped when they spotted our little six-gun soiree.

The lead Razor's eyes went to slits. "Beat feet shitheads! You're on our turf!"

The foursome spun around, guns still raised.

Bad move.

Lead Razor went saucer-eyed.

Then the six joyboys went for their weapons.

Time to end this.

With one subvocalized command, I pumped my body full of adrenaline stimulators and the world slid into slo-mo.

The Twins leaped into my hands and spat thunder and fire at Lead Razor even before he drew his pistol from the waistband of his pants. He caught four slugs full in the chest, gurgled blood and obscenities, and folded.

I shifted aim toward the two Razors on my left as their guns cleared whatever hidden holster they had, but saw Ponytail standing in my line of fire.

Their guns started to rise.

I shoved Baldy off the tabletop with an elbow, then, with a swift kick, slammed the table into the small of Ponytail's back.

He went down with a yelp.

The Twins roared again, bucking in my hands. The two yahoos sprayed blood in protest, fell back against the door, and slid down leaving a sloppy trail.

Three more on the right.

I turned toward them.

Their guns had just started to come up when I heard fabric rustle.

Mouse catapulted through the air from her spot at the bar, her coattails billowing behind her like a comet's tail. She landed in the middle of the trio.

They managed a brief cry of surprise before metal whipped through the air and blood geysered.

Mouse stepped back, a wakizashi--Japanese short sword--held out in a kind of artful dancer's pose.

Before her, the three joyboys dropped their pistols. Then heads slipped cleanly off two necks, followed by the wet thump of the bodies crumpling to the floor.

The last Razor looked dumbly at Mouse. Then blood gushed in a torrent from the neat slice across his neck and spattered his shirt. He pitched forward into a pool of scarlet.

Mouse turned toward me and grinned. "Slice and dice."

The Twins retreated into their holster rig. I turned to Mohawk who stood beside me, pistol still raised, panting, and smelling like piss. I grabbed his shirtfront with one hand, pulled him toward me and gave him the Smile. He looked at me with eyes the size of hubcaps and gulped loudly.

"Jimmy," he croaked. "Jimmy's got your case."

(to be continued...)

"A Family Affair"
Part 1 | Part 3

"A Family Affair" - Part One

They hit hard and fast, knocked me cold, took my package, and pissed me off.

I came to squinting up at a small sun, my head feeling like it had been part of a concert of jackhammers. Beethoven's Fifth it was not.


Just one of the many perks of being a ronin.

Street mercenary. Gun for hire.

Me. Name's Kat.

God, I love my job.

I blinked a couple of times and the world slowly came into focus. The small sun turned out to be a swing-arm lamp that hung directly over my face. I found myself sprawled out on the beat-up mustard yellow couch in the back office of the Red Dog bar.

Better than being left bleeding on a sidewalk in front of an apartment building on Maxwell, three blocks west of Civic Park. The five-story brownstone had been the last thing I remembered before white light exploded like a flash-bang behind my eyes and I ate concrete.

Not exactly the proper place for a nice young woman like me.

Then again, whoever said I was nice?

"Katya?" a Russian-tinged basso rumbled softly. Revell's thickly bearded face swam into view. "You are okay?"

I nodded--slowly--and licked my lips. Felt like some hairy mammal crawled inside my mouth and died. "Yeah," I managed, but it sounded like "Gahh" to me.

"You went to the pick-up by yourself?" a strident soprano called out.

The jackhammer concert resumed in earnest. Double-time.

I winced. "Please," I croaked, relieved that basic language skills still worked. "Not so loud."

"Loud?" My partner and fellow ronin, Mouse, popped up in front of me, a few stray locks of hair falling across her brow. "Serves you right for going without me, Kat," she said, glaring.

"Don't start..."

"You could've waited, you know."

I groaned, raised myself up on my elbows, and turned my still-pounding head up toward Mouse. She stood next to the couch, arms folded across her chest, still glaring down at me and tapping her foot. She looked taller than her meter-fifty, but I figured that was just due to my being clocked in the head.

"Look," I began. "I had to go. Specs said I had half an hour or the Smith was gonna jet--"

"Oh, so it's my fault now?" a reedy voice said. The office door slammed.

The volume on the jackhammer concert went three notches above loud.

Specs. Everybody's favorite info broker.

He stared at me over the tops of his round-framed mirrorshades, eyebrows raised, hands on his hips, lamplight glinting off his bald head. As usual, he wore a shirt the color of a psychedelic fireworks display. "This is the thanks I get for pointing you toward a three thousand cred run?"

"Nice to see you too, Specs," I said.

"Chill it, broker-man," said Mouse. "Can't you see she's hurt? Besides, I'm the only one allowed to bad-mouth her."

I turned slitted eyes to Mouse. "Gee, thanks, Mouse."

She stuck her tongue out at me.

"Hurt?" Specs said. "Hurt, my ass. Our Miss Wired Amazon? Gimme a break."

My turn to shoot him a glare. "Don't make me hurt you. I'm not in the mood for this right now."

Specs held up his hands. "Okay okay. Just tell me this--you got the package right?"

Oh yeah.

The package.

"Well?" he prompted.

I smiled weakly. "About the package..."

Specs threw up his hands and gave a strangled yelp. "Jesus Christ on a crutch..!"

"Quit complaining!" I shot back. "It's not my fault some mook on a rocket played a drum solo on my head with a sledgehammer. And you're not the only one pissed about this."

Specs continued his strangled yelping.

"What happened out there, Katya?" Revell said.

I told them.

I'd gotten to the pick-up early to scope the lay and make sure it wasn't an ambush. The Smith arrived on the dot and, after being checked by his goons, handed me the package--an aluminum briefcase--and instructions on where to go with it. I waited five minutes after their black Chrys-Ford Spectra luxury car left the area, then made my way back to my re-fitted dark gray 2008 Shelby GT500.

Enter the joyboys.

I remembered hearing the high-pitched whine of their crotch-rockets just a split-second before I got whapped.

Revell nodded. "Was one hell of whap."

I touched the spot at the back of my head and winced a little. "Tell me about it."

"You got pitched almost four feet from your car," said Mouse.

"Typical joyboy tactic," Revell said.

"Fuck!" Specs shook his head. "Righetti really needed that package, Kat. He was very firm about that."

Mouse whistled. "The old man's gonna shit bricks over this."

I sighed.

Vincent Righetti, our "client," was not the sort of person you wanted mad at you. Not when he headed the Righetti Family, one of the oldest of the Families that still retained control of this side of Bay City. People who got Righetti mad often ended up disappearing. Often underwater. I really didn't care much for vanishing acts, especially when it involved San Marino Bay.

But because Murphy and Revell did a favor for Righetti a long time ago, the old man liked us, treated us as one of his own. Just like family. A good thing in this biz.

We had a great track record with Righetti.

Until now.

"What's he worried about anyway?" I said to Specs. "Mouse and I have run for him before. He knows we get the job done. He can trust us."

Specs fixed us with as critical a look as possible through mirrorshades. "That's three thousand on the line, ladies. Can he trust you to deliver? By 20:00 tonight?"

" 'Course he can," Mouse said. "It's Kat and Mouse you're talking about, Mister."

"Yeah," I added and threw Specs a grin. "Kat and Mouse. Best ronin in the biz."

Specs shook his head again. "We are sooo screwed..."

* * *

I looked at the wall clock above the back office door.

18:30:26.

Shit. We had an hour, an hour and a half, tops.

The joyboy hit made me lose time.

Time is money in the biz.

Righetti liked us. True enough. But Mouse and I knew his temper. And I really didn't feel like taking a swim in San Marino Bay wearing a pair of concrete shoes.

At least the jackhammer concert was over.

"What first?" Mouse said, leaning against the edge of the office desk.

I adjusted my double-holster shoulder rig where the Twins, Bonnie and Clyde--my pair of Colt-Springfield M2001 .45-caliber high-capacity pistols--sat snugly in place.

"We find out who those wannabe joyboys were," I said.

"Wannabes?"

"Yeah. Otherwise, they wouldn't have just taken the briefcase."

Mouse screwed up her face in thought. "Was wondering 'bout that. Revell and I found you lying in the middle of Maxwell. Gear and car clean. Skid marks left by a couple of rockets. That was all."

"Weird, don't you think?"

She nodded. "Yeah. Wicked weird."

Joyboys are punker gangs who like fast bikes. They travel in packs and usually strike from behind. One of their favorite tactics is to whap their intended victim in the back of the head with a blackjack or some equally handy blunt weapon--two-by-fours, pipes, pool cues, and the like.

And they always stripped valuables off their victims. That included anything they could sell for money. Anything.

Either these joyboys were ordered to snatch only the case or they weren't joyboys at all.

I'd never heard of joyboys taking orders from anybody except themselves. Even if threatened or bribed. It wasn't worth the effort. They did their own thing.

Which left the second possibility.

I slipped on my black leather biker jacket and put on my mirrorshades. "Let's see if the dog-boys know some chatter."

(to be continued...)


"A Family Affair"
Part 2
The Time: The Near-Future.

The Year:
2042 AD

The Place:
Bay City, California Free State.

Multinational corporations rule the world from their steel and glass towers, and battle each other for control through private armies and covert operatives.


Cybernetically-enhanced gangs and criminals roam the urban sprawl, preying on the weak.


Amid the shadows, cyber-hackers, high-tech assassins, and cyborg mercenaries ply their trade.


Enter Kat and Mouse, a pair of street mercenaries trying to earn a living.


They have the skill. They have the will.

And they have the bad habit of biting off more than they can chew.

But they always get the job done.


Their
way.

KAT AND MOUSE: GUNS FOR HIRE
By Abner Senires

Begins tomorrow!

When the going gets tough,
the tough shoot back.


KAT AND MOUSE: GUNS FOR HIRE
Begins December 15, 2008.
All things sharp and stabby,
All calibers great and small,
All missions crap and glorious,
Our duo takes them all.


KAT AND MOUSE: GUNS FOR HIRE
Begins December 15, 2008.
Chik.
Chik.
Boom.


KAT AND MOUSE: GUNS FOR HIRE
Begins December 15, 2008.
In the shadow biz
there are rules,
and there are rules.

And then there's
Kat and Mouse.



KAT AND MOUSE: GUNS FOR HIRE
Begins December 15, 2008.
Bullets are a girl's best friend.

KAT AND MOUSE: GUNS FOR HIRE
coming December 15, 2008.
Here comes trouble.
Times two.

KAT AND MOUSE: GUNS FOR HIRE
Coming December 15, 2008.