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"Easy Money" - Part Four

A ringing phone at 0800 is far too early for me, especially when bedtime is at or around oh-dark-hundred.

I answered.

Specs.

"Do you know what time it is?" I said, my voice croaking.

"Early bird catches the worm."

"And people who wake me up before noon catch a bullet."

"Who is it?" Mouse said from across the room, her voice partially muffled by a pillow.

"Specs."

"Does he want to die early?"

"I heard that," said Specs.

"Good," I said. "Call back later."

"Scored a run for you."

"Call back later."

"It'll get Kincaid off your ass."

That caught my attention. "I'm listening."

"Guy wants protection," said Specs.

"That's gonna get Kincaid off our ass?"

"He wants the best of the best."

"Still doesn't answer my question."

"He's willing to drop five hundred grand."

I sat up in bed. "Say again?"

"Five hundred grand. Want me to draw pictures, too?"

"When?"

"Meet's at 1100. No Smith. You're meeting the client directly. 'S what he wants. Name's Collins."

"Where?"

"Veronica's. At the Ascot Arms."

I winced and likely made a noise because Specs said: "Yeah. That Ascot Arms."

Two weeks earlier, Mouse and I had a run-in with some corp hitters that resulted in a corner penthouse and part of the floor below going up in smoke.

"Try not to blow anything up this time," Specs said.

"You think that was intentional?" I said.

"No comment."

I hung up.

Mouse was sitting up in her bed. "What's the run?"

I told her.

She made a face. "That's Uptown."

"That's Uptown."

"Fuck!"

* * *

Doc was perched on a barstool, a barrel-chested fiftysomething black man with curly white hair cropped close to his head, an old pair of spectacles perched low on his wide nose, and a large paunch hanging over his beltline that suggested too much good food. He looked up from the chessboard on the bartop when I walked in from the back hallway. "You, young lady," he said to me in his melodious, rumbling basso voice, "are overdue for a maintenance check."

"Since when do you need glasses, old man?" I said as I walked up to the bar. "Don't tell me those optics of yours went to waste.

"They're top-line Nikon-Zeiss," he replied. "Don't change the subject."

Revell stood up from behind the bar and wiped his hands on the apron he was wearing. He inclined his head at me then jerked a thumb at the back counter.

I saw the coffee maker, came around the bar.

Then spotted the photo on the counter.

Murphy and Revell in camo fatigues, standing in front of an Apache gunship. Revell, years younger but still bear-like, holding an M4 assault rifle at port arms. Next to him stood Murphy, square-jawed and sporting his ever-present smirk, boonie hat at a rakish angle atop his head, twin pistols in drop-leg holders.

The surging noise hit me like a blast of gale-force wind then vanished.

"That was in '12," said Revell.

I blinked and looked up at him. "What?"

He gestured to the photo. "Outside Bogota." A grin creased his face. "Photojournalist from Boston took picture. Can't remember her name."

"Changing the subject again," Doc said. "So when are you and Mouse coming to the clinic?"

"As soon as we can," I said. I grabbed a mug from the stack below the bar, poured coffee, and took a sip.

"Soon's too late," he said. "Come in today." He turned back to the chessboard and moved a piece.

"Can't," I said. "Busy day."

"You keep putting this off and bad things will happen."

"And you know that we can't afford the checks right now."

Doc nodded. "I know. Revell mentioned Kincaid."

I let out a long breath and drank more coffee. "Yeah. Kincaid."

"You could work off the payment."

I threw him a small smile. "You willing to do that for the other stuff we owe you?"

"Ah."

"Didn't think so."

Revell moved a piece. "Check."

Doc turned back to the board and frowned. "Damn."

* * *

Bordered by Imperial Avenue to the west, Archer Street
to the east, Front Street to the north, and Midway Avenue to the south, Uptown housed everything Bay City's gliterrati could ask for. This was a whole other world, one of gleaming towers and golden people. It made even the nicer parts of the city look like a shithole.

And the parts Mouse and I frequented?

Downright cesspools.

I stopped the black ChrysFord sedan at a light. A loaner, courtesy of Specs.

Mouse let out a long hissing exhale in the seat next to me.

"What?" I said.

"I look like an idiot in this getup."

I glanced over at her.

We were dressed in similar outfits: blouse, blazer, and slacks. Black for me. Dark gray for her.

"It's what they wear," I said.

"Then they look like idiots."

"Gotta dress the part, Em."

"What's wrong with our gear?"

"We'll stand out. When we stand out, the cops show up. And I don't feel like shooting it out with BC MaxTac today."

Mouse leaned back in her seat and folded her arms across her chest. "Fine. Have it your way."

The light changed. I put the car into gear and drove on.

I said: "You're just pissed because you can't wear your sheaths under that blazer."

"I'm not talking to you right now."

"I thought that's what the briefcase was for? They fit in there, don'tthey?"

"This is me not talking to you, Miss Shoulder Rig."

"You've got one, too."

"Yeah, for a pair of dinky six-inchers."

"What about your forearm sheaths? Six throwers? You forget those?"

"Just keep driving."

I grinned. "I thought so."

As we continued north on Garner Street and into Midtown, sunlight barely peeking through gunmetal gray sky, street conditions went from rundown and garbage-strewn to well-kept and litter-free. By the time we crossed Midway Avenue, the whole world had changed. The streets looked as if they were scrubbed down and polished daily until they turned to chrome and sparkled. In the space of two blocks, we passed a police cruiser and a pair of roving sky-eyes.

The hairs on the back of my neck snapped to attention.

"Kat..." Mouse began.

"I know," I said. "Here we go."

Welcome to Uptown.

* * *

Veronica's occupied the ground floor of the Ascot Arms's west wing, near the main entrance, and boasted high-ceilings with ornate chandeliers and tall picture windows that fronted 15th Street. Mellow piano music floated by. As the hostess led us through the restaurant, Mouse nudged me and gestured toward a nearby table.

"Last time I saw that much silverware was when Caitlin went to a dinner party with Kara."

"Who's Kara?" I said.

"Angel City," said Mouse. "Ep seven. Season two. When Kara gets into that car wreck."

"You watch too many vids."

Mouse shrugged. "Girl's gotta have a hobby."

Joshua Collins, thirtyish, round and ruddy-cheeked, sat at a table near the picture windows.

He looked up when we approached the table.

"Are you--?" he began.

I nodded. "Mr. Collins, right?"

"Yes." He motioned for us to sit down.

I sat to Collins's right side, angling my chair so I could see the rest of the restaurant. Mouse did the same on his left side.

"You have a job for us?" I said.

A shadow fell across the table.

I started to rise, my hands going for the Twins, when I noticed it was the waiter.

"Can I start you folks off with some drinks?" he said.

"Give us a minute," said Collins.

The waiter nodded and left.

"The job," I said to Collins.

He folded his hands on the table. "A flight leaves Bay City for Seattle Metro in two hours. I need to be on that flight when it lands at Sea-Tac."

"What about--" Mouse began.

"You'll be a company team assigned to oversee me," he went on. "Full clearance on...on equipment."

Mouse and I exchanged looks.

"Okay by me," I said.

Collins slid a creditchip across the table.

"Here you go," he said. "Certified."

Mouse took the chip, pulled a 'reader from inside her blazer, and slid it home. "Two hundred fifty," she said looking up from the reader's display.

"Half now," said Collins. "Balance when I reach Sea-Tac."

A shadow fell across the table.

Damn waiter--

Then the hairs on the back of my neck bristled.

Collins said: "I said give us a minute--"

"Good morning, Mr. Collins."

Collins looked up and paled.

A bald man, thick and broadchested in a dark suit stood in front of us. Just behind him and to either side, stood two more dark-suited men.

Muscleboys.

Damn.

I caught sight of Mouse's hands slipping beneath the table.

"Excuse me," I said.

Bald Man swiveled his head at me, eyes slitted. If it was meant to be an intimidating gesture, he failed.

"This is a private conversation," I said.

"This matter doesn't concern you, ma'am."

I glanced at Collins.

He had stiffened in his seat. A light sheen of sweat on his forehead.

Looked at Mouse.

She made a tiny motion with her head.

Bald Man turned back toward Collins. "You have something that belongs to us. We'd like it back."

Collins shook his head, almost violently.

"Afraid I'll have to insist," said Bald Man.

He started to reach into his coat.

A subvocalized command dropped the world into slo-mo.

Bald Man's hand started to clear his jacket lapel.

I kicked the table over, spilling flatware. Drew the Twins. Bald Man stumbled back a step, confusion crossing his face.

The Twins barked twice. Slugs punched into Bald Man. He folded.

Swiveled to my right, saw the other muscle, gun clearing his jacket. Stroked the triggers. The Twins barked again. He crumpled into a nearby table.

I holstered Clyde, freeing my left hand, grabbed Collins by the back of his collar, and surged to my feet, pulling him with me.

Mouse had finished with the third muscle, rising from the floor with a blood-drenched wakizashi in hand. I nodded at her to follow.

Glass exploded behind me. Something slammed into my upper back, shoved me to the floor. I half-turned, taking the fall on my shoulder. Caught sight of Collins falling, too. He landed next to me, wide-eyed. He pushed himself up, arms shaking, then fell again and that's when I saw it.

Exit wound.

Sirens wailed in the distance.

An engine roared and tires squealed.

I sat up and Collins reached for me and suddenly I was looking at Murphy's face.

I gasped.

Then blinked, and it was Collins again.

His groping hand latched onto my wrist and he gurgled something.

"What?" I said.

Blood bubbled at the corners of his mouth. "Don't let them..."

"Don't let who?"

"Them..." He licked his lips. "Don't let them..."

His body spasmed and he let out a ragged wheezing breath.

Then he was gone.

The sirens got closer.

Outside what was left of the huge picture window, a spy-eye hovered over the middle of the street, its camera lens panning across the scene.

A hand on my shoulder.

Mouse.

"Same way as last time?" she said

I nodded.

We bounced.

And ran smack into trouble.

(to be continued...)


"Easy Money"
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 5

"Easy Money" - Part Three

Murphy set the mahogany box on the bartop and raised the lid.

A pair of handguns sat inside the red velvet interior.

I gaped at him. "Your .45s--"

"They're yours now," he said. "Good job."

"But--"

He shook his head. "It's okay. I have to go. There's something I need to do."

Bright white light exploded behind him. A concussion wave slammed me backward.

And Murphy shattered into a million pieces--


* * *

I woke, gasping for air. Heart triphammering in my chest. Cold concrete against
my back. The smell of the city in my nostrils. Sharp, cold, and metallic.

On the roof of the Red Dog.


In the distance, the lights of downtown pulsed and flickered against the flat black sky.


I popped on my optic clock.

I'd been up here for fifteen minutes.

Then something crunched nearby.


I lurched into a crouch, the Twins already in my hands, tracking the sound.


"Katya," said a rumbling Russian-tinged basso.


"Revell." I lowered the guns. "Did Mouse send you up here?"


The bearded, bear-like owner of the Red Dog Bar shook his head and walked toward me. Despite his size, he moved easily. Like a dancer. "I am getting some air."


"You could've gone out the back door."


"Much better view up here."


I holstered the Twins. "I don't want to talk about it."


"All right." Revell reached a spot next to me and leaned back against the roof parapet, arms folded across his chest. He chuckled.


I looked up at him. "What's so funny?"


"I was just thinking. The first time I saw those two guns was in CentAm. Murphy got on the chopper with his rifle and had those pistols in thigh holsters. I told him he looked like a cowboy. From the vids. He laughed. Told me I should call him 'Cowboy' from then on."


"CentAm. Long time ago."


"Thirty years. Ever since that day, he used nothing but those two pistols. I told him he was crazy. Even a submachinegun holds at least thirty rounds. But no. Only those." He shook his head. "Never without them. Except when..."


"When what?"


Revell gave a small smile. "No. Another time." He took a deep breath, exhaled loudly, and pounded both fists on his barrel chest. "Nothing like fresh night air, eh?"


I snorted and gestured around me. "You call this fresh?"


He shrugged and pushed off from the parapet. "We will be downstairs if you need us. Don't stay too long. Gets very cold up here."


I nodded.


He took a step, stopped, and looked back at me. "Murphy had a favorite saying. 'We will either find a way or--"


"--or we will make one'," I finished and felt my throat tighten. "I know. Said that a lot."


Revell nodded, then turned and headed back down the roof access
stairs.

I stared after him.


We will either find a way or we will make one. A quote from an ancient general, according to Murphy.


Hadn't heard those words in two months. Not since Murphy had gone to that meet in the Zone.


Not since the explosion.


My old mentor. My friend.


A father to me.


I closed my eyes and inhaled through my nose. Deep. Fought back the surging noise in my head. Noise like a million voices screaming. Louder and louder and louder. Until I could feel it reverberating through my body.


Then silence.


Except for the distant hum of the city.


I opened my eyes. Noticed the weight of the pistols in my shoulder rig.

Comforting.

Then I heard Murphy's voice in my head: "Find a way. Or make one."


* * *

I walked into the Red Dog's back office just as Specs said: "And what if you can't pay him back by then?"


"We will," I said.


Specs looked up from where he slouched in the worn leather chair behind the desk. "Well, fuckin'-A. She finally decided to grace us with her presence."


Mouse, sitting on the battered mustard yellow couch, fixed me with narrowed eyes. "We will?"


I nodded.


"How do you figure?"


"We've got at least, what, two hundred thousand?"


"Two-fifty," said Mouse.


"And we owe five hundred. Halfway there."


"Your point?"


"Give him half now. Maybe it'll buy us a little time."


Mouse frowned. "I don't know..."


"We'll tell him it's 'good faith' money."


"He look like a 'good faith' kinda guy?" said Specs.


"Money talks," I said. "This is the part where you come in."


"Gotcha. Lemme see what I can dig up for you two." He got up from the chair and left the office.


Mouse said, "That mean you're back in the game, Kat?"


The noise began to surge in my head again. I gritted my teeth and fought it down. Gave Mouse a small smile.


"I'm back in the game," I lied.


(to be continued...)

"Easy Money"
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 4

"Easy Money" - Part Two

It took twenty minutes to get from the East End warehouse in Bay City to a business park in Newcastle just off Highway 610. I called our contact on the way and they were waiting for us when I pulled my re-fitted dark gray 2008 Shelby GT500 into the parking lot.

Two muscle flanked the silver-haired Smith standing in front of a dark
sedan with its parking lights on.

Mouse and I stopped two meters away.


"The items?" the Smith said.


I raised the duffle bag I was carrying.


The Smith inclined his head. "If you please?"


I stepped forward, set the bag on the ground, then stepped back.


The Smith gestured and one of the muscle walked over, picked up
the bag, and brought it back to the Smith. He opened it, peered inside, then looked up at us, a frown creasing his features. "We have a small problem."

"Cosmetic," I said.


He looked inside the bag again. "Perhaps. It will have to be verified."


"Of course," I said.


"Under the circumstances, your compensation will have to wait
pending verification."

Mouse swore under her breath.


"We understand," I said.


He zipped up the bag and handed it to one of the muscle then turned
to us. "However, since we have done business before and you both have demonstrated excellent follow-through, I will overlook the matter of your compensation."

"We appreciate that."


He snapped his fingers.

The muscle with the dufflebag reached inside
his suit jacket and pulled out a thumb-sized metal card. A creditchip.

"For services rendered," the Smith said.


"Thank you," I said.


Easy money.


* * *

We waited until the Smith and his muscle left before I pulled the
Shelby out of the lot and headed west toward Bay City and the Red Dog Bar.

Mouse pulled a chipreader from the glove compartment and slid the
creditchip into the slot at the bottom.

"Shit," she said.


I glanced sideways. "Shit?"


Mouse held up the reader. "Fifty thousand."


"No. Should be one hundred thousand."


"What the 'reader says."


Dammit. I pulled my phone out and dialed.


"I thought you'd call," said the Smith.


"The deal was for one hundred thousand," I said. "And you told me
we wouldn't have to wait."

"That's correct. But I never said you'd get all of it."


"That's bullshit."


"That's business. You should know. Your mentor did."


I gritted my teeth. He was right.


And Murphy would've told me the exact same thing.


"When we confirm the second 'deck is undamaged," the Smith went
on, "we will remit your balance."

I hung up.


"Well?" said Mouse.


I told her.


"Son of a bitch..."


"Tell me about it."


Mouse started to say something, then stopped, and stared out the
passenger side window.

"What?" I prompted.


"Nothing," she said.


* * *

When I pulled the Shelby up to its spot behind the Red Dog Bar and killed the engine, Mouse said, "You sure you're okay?"

"Fine," I said.


"Bullshit, Kat. Bull. Shit."


I shot her a look.


"You heard me. Bullshit."


I felt my stomach bubble. "I'm fine."


"No, you're not."


"Yes, I am."


"No. You're not." She turned in her seat toward me. "You missed
grabbing the catwalk even though you were less than half a meter away. Then you drop the package and we almost lost the payout because of it."

"It was a minor glitch."


Mouse's jaw dropped. "Minor glitch?"


"Yeah."


"Jesus Christ!" Mouse threw up her hands, then got out of the car,
slammed the door, and stalked toward the Red Dog's back entrance.

I got out after her. "What's the deal? We got half the payout."


Mouse grabbed the back door handle then looked at me. "Half, Kat?
Half? When this kind of run is a no-brainer? And you're telling me you feel fine?"

"I am fine."


"You fucking liar." She yanked the back door open and went in.


Not the time. Not the place. Not for this.


I followed her into the dimly lit back hallway toward the stairs at the
far end that led to the second floor room we shared. "I'm telling you there's nothing wrong. Why're you getting so bent out of shape over this--?"

She stopped halfway down the hall and whirled on me. "Kincaid."


I skidded to a halt, felt my jaw tighten.


Mouse put her hands on her hips and arched her eyebrows. "Well?"


Just then, the door to our left popped open bringing in the sound from
the bar beyond. A bald head poked through the doorway and a pair of round mirrorshades looked at us.

Specs. Everyone's favorite infobroker.


"Tell me everything's okay," he said.


"Everything's okay," I said.


"Ha!" Mouse said.


Specs stepped into the hallway, clad in one of his trademark Hawaiian
shirts the color of a drug-induced fireworks display. He shut the door behind him and came toward us. " 'Ha!' doesn't sound okay. Neither does the call I just got."

"Sounds like trouble in paradise," said a husky voice down
the hallway.

We all turned.


She stepped out from the shadows, a smirk painted on her face, hands
in the pockets of a knee-length leather coat. A few centimeters short of my meter-eighty. Long blond hair still pulled into a tight braid that fell halfway down her back.

Jade has the uncanny knack of showing up whenever we have biz.
Sometimes, she's an observer. Other times, she's in our way. Mostly, she's a pain in the ass.

I wouldn't call her a thorn in our side.


More like a sharp stick in the eye.


I popped to thermograph. She packed, but had nothing in her hands.


"Jade," I said.


"Kat," said Jade, inclining her head.


Mouse snarled, a low throaty sound.


Jade's smirk twitched.


I stepped between them and folded my arms across my chest. "What
do you want?"

"Rumor has it you two haven't been doing very well."


"What's it to you?" Mouse said.


"Call it professional concern."


"Call it 'gloating'."


She feigned shock. "Me? Gloat?"


"We're fine," I said.


Jade smiled. "Glad to hear it. I was really worried. Wouldn't be any fun if you two weren't out there." She
stepped forward until the two of us were a meter apart. Her smile widened into something feral. "I'm glad we had this little chat."

My eyes went to slits.


We stood that way for maybe a few seconds.

Felt like hours.

Then Jade gave a throaty chuckle and walked past me, heading back into
the bar.

I watched as the door shut behind her, then turned to Mouse.

"You were saying?" she said.


Oh yeah.


When you need firepower and your local gun "dealer" doesn't have it,
you turn to one man.

Kincaid.


He owned the West Coast market on firearms, military weapons, and
ordnance, running the game from Bay City's Southside district. He dealt with everybody and everybody dealt with him.

Eleven days earlier, Kincaid had hired us to oversee one of his smaller
shipments headed to the Northwest Protectorate. Two hours south of the Portland Metroplex, a better armed team jumped us.

We lost the cargo. All 500,000 Credits worth.


And Kincaid wanted us to pay him back.


I exhaled loudly. "We'll deal with Kincaid when the time comes."


"We wouldn't have to worry about that if you'd just get your head back
in the game," said Mouse.

"I told you I'm fine."


"Wanna fill me in?" Specs said.


Mouse told him about tonight.


Specs gave a strangled yelp. "Christ on a crutch--! That was
supposed to be cake. Easy money. What the hell, Kat?"

"It was a minor glitch," I said.

"Goddammit, Kat," said Mouse. "That minor glitch is gonna put one of us in a body bag--"

"I'm fine," I said. "Now back off."


I turned and went down the hallway.


Mouse said something, but I didn't hear it. Just noise at my back.


I yanked open the stairwell door, slammed it shut behind me, and
headed upstairs.

It came quickly again. Like before. A sudden wave of fatigue that
made me want to curl up into a ball and hide from the world.

(to be continued...)

"Easy Money"
Part 1 | Part 3

"Easy Money" - Part One

When the carabiner snapped, the shock cord slipped off from around the rafter, and I plunged ten meters to the floor of an East End warehouse, one of Murphy's favorite expressions came to mind: "Fuck a duck."
 
Just another typical day in the life of a ronin. Street mercenary. Gun for hire.
 
Me. Name's Kat.

God, I love my job.

I don't care much for cracking my skull open.

Lucky for me, I missed the floor by half the distance and slammed instead onto a stack of wooden shipping crates that snapped under the impact of my eighty kilos, shoved air from my lungs, and left me gasping.

Unlucky for me, the cyberdeck I'd been holding popped out of my hands and clattered to the floor below.

Even more unlucky for me, the four dark-suited muscleboys down below picked that moment to open fire on me.

"When it rains, it pours." Another Murphy gem. My old mentor had a
million of them

In my case, though, it doesn't just rain.


It floods.

I rolled sideways off the topmost crate a split second before it exploded in splinters under a hail of gunfire, showering me in wood chips and fabric scraps. Dropped two meters to the next stack of crates just below, then leapt the rest of the way to the warehouse floor, knees bent to absorb impact.

Not that I was worried about the drop. Bone lacing comes in handy for situations like that. The joys of a reinforced skeleton. A perk of the Biz.

My worry at the moment: the two mooks who skidded around the stack of crates three meters to my right, pistols at the low-ready position, pointed down at a forty-five degree angle.

A subvocalized command flooded my body with adrenaline stimulators and the world around me slid in slo-mo.

Pivoted toward the onrushing pair as the Twins, Bonnie and Clyde--my pair of Colt-Springfield M2001 .45-caliber high-capacity pistols--leaped into my hands from the double-holster shoulder rig I wore beneath my black leather biker jacket.
The mooks raised their pistols.

And hesitated.

Probably expecting a slip of a girl. Not a meter ninety of dark-haired Amazon in black biker leathers toting twin hand cannons.

Typical.

Their hesitation was all the time I needed.

Right about now, the majority of ronin would let their gunlink biomods take over. Their firearm would collect and feed data to the targeting optics via induction pads on the pistol grips. Then point and shoot.

Sure hit every time.

Me, I'm old-fashioned.

Got me a natural targeting system. No mods.

Murphy noticed it right away. Said the braindocs called it "focalized optimuscular reflexes."

He just called it "The Eye."

Lets me put a pistol round into a five centimeter target at 50 meters.

While moving.

And with hell breaking loose around me.

The Twins each boomed twice and caught both mooks in the chest. One folded. The other slammed backwards into the crates, arms flailing.

Another mook popped out from around the crates. He raised his pistol to fire.

I plugged him between the eyes. A misty crimson halo burst from his head and he crumpled.

One more.

Footfalls to my left. Spun.

Saw the last mook level his gun at me.

Then a dark fluttering shape crashed down and slammed him to the warehouse floor. He yelped. The pistol clattered away.

Metal flashed.

The mook reached for his neck, his hands suddenly covered with blood. He twitched, then lay still.

Mouse, my partner and fellow ronin, stepped away from the body, a bloody wakizashi--Japanese short sword--in hand. She saluted me with the sword. "Slice and dice," she said.

I shook my head.

At a meter-fifty and just shy of sixty kilos, Mouse doesn't look like much. A petite twentysomething with short brown hair pulled back into a stumpy ponytail, a few stray locks always spilling across her forehead.

But the pointy toys.

Mouse loves her pointy toys.

She'd definitely come a long way since Murphy and I ran into her in an alley full of dead bodies and live Lotus Boys two years ago. Seems Mouse and a couple of her buds had tried to make quick cash selling joyjoy pills to some suits. The pills turned out to be bad and the suits turned out to be low-rung members of the White Lotus Syndicate.

Japanese gangsters.

Always bad news, White Lotus.

Murphy and I had no desire to mix it up with Lotus. But six to one was dirty pool. So we evened things up.

Two days later, Mouse showed up at the Red Dog Bar with a tightly-packed duffle bag.

"Teach me," she'd said. "I wanna kick Lotus ass."

So we took her on.

Since Day One of her training, she always gravitated to all things sharp and stabby. Folders. Fixed blades. Throwing knives and shurikens. Short and long swords. Name it. If it's got a point or an edge, she probably owns at least two. She'll use a gun or SMG--hell, even a rifle--if that's all there is, but don't expect her to like it.

But give her a blade--she's in heaven.

And heaven consisted of twin wakizashis

Murphy always said: "You don't choose your weapon. The weapon chooses you."

For me, it was the Twins. A gift from Murphy. Given to me the night he--

I pushed the thought from my mind, then holstered The Twins and looked around. Felt my pulse drop back to normal.

Four bodies at our feet, blood pooling beneath them. At the other end of the warehouse was a battered-looking white delivery van, its back doors open. Two sets of feet stuck out beneath the back bumper.

Poor guys. A pair of tech-types gone greedy. Tried to sell off goods and got double-crossed.

The way of the Biz.

Goods.

That reminded me.

I made a circuit of the area around the stacks of shipping crates and found it. The cyberdeck. One of two Mouse and I had been hired to retrieve. Mouse had grabbed one of the 'decks. I had grabbed the other.

Then the anchor on the rafter snapped and I did my swan dive.

So did the 'deck.

I'd come through relatively unscathed.

The cyberdeck hadn't. One corner had a dent and part of the case had popped off.
I sighed and picked it up.

"Kat?" Mouse said behind me.

I turned to her, the 'deck in hand. "I got it," I said. "Sort of..."

She saw the cyberdeck and shot me a look.

"What!" I said.

"You killed it."

"Did not."

"It fell apart."

"Cosmetic damage," I said. "I'm sure it still works."

"How do you know? You're not a tech."

"I'm sure these things are sturdy..."

"Back on track, Kat--"

I held up a hand. "Don't start."

"Fine," she said.

"Let's just get to the drop and be done with it."

(to be continued...)



"Easy Money"
Part 2