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.
"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?"
"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."
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.
"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.
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.
"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"