With a roar of the Shelby's big block and a squeal of tires, we peeled out from Eddie's shop, slid around the corner of King Street, and rocketed up Edge Avenue.
Edge Avenue ran the entire length of Bay City and marked its eastern border. To the east, the roads snaked through the northeast stretch of the San Marino Hills, eventually leading to Newcastle and Essex.
The glitterati who didn't already make their home in Uptown's condos and penthouses had their palatial estates in the hills, protected from the masses by walls, gates, and private muscle.
West of us lay the Southside District, also known as the "Combat Zone."
The opposite of the glitterati.
We flew along Edge Avenue passing semis, delivery vans, and utility trucks. Good thing it was the weekend. Otherwise, traffic on Edge Avenue would've been at a slow crawl.
Eddie stuck his head between the front seats. "Those were corp shooters," he said.
"How could you tell?" said Mouse.
"Who else would come in fully loaded?"
"MaxTac," said Mouse.
"MaxTac would have patches," he said.
"Point," I said. "So who?"
"You ladies piss off a megacorp recently?" Eddie said.
"Not that I know of..." Then a thought. I swore.
"What?" said Mouse.
"The disk," I said. "It's gotta be the disk."
"Who was your client?" said Eddie.
"You know we don't ask," I said. "Need to know only."
"Plus," said Mouse, "he's kind of dead now."
"Bloody hell," said Eddie.
A high-pitched whine caught my ears and I glimpsed a blood-red crotch rocket speed up behind the Shelby then cut over to our left and begin to pace us.
"Kat..." Mouse began.
"I see him," I said.
"Fuck," said Eddie.
Red biker leathers.
Could be bad.
Scarlet Razors were joyboys. Biker gangs. One of five who called Bay City 'home'. They usually travel in packs so a lone joyboy was a rare sight.
The Razor turned a helmeted head to look at me--no.
To stare at me.
I flicked glances at him, still trying to keep one eye on the road ahead.
He kept up the stare for at least ten seconds.
His mirrored visor threw back my reflection.
He glanced at the road ahead, turned back to me, and touched a gloved hand to the side of his helmet. The visor popped up and a pair of slitted dark eyes stared at me.
I caught the quick glimpse of face tattoos before he lowered the visor.
Then he looked over his shoulder, turned back to the road, and sped past us.
"The hell--?" I began.
And the delivery van in front of us did a small hop and exploded.
Inside the fireball, I saw Murphy.
My throat tightened. Couldn't breathe.
Then the image of Murphy vanished, replaced by a burning wreck two meters in front of the Shelby.
I gasped. Sucked in air. Cut left on squealing tires, missing the van by centimeters.
"Incoming!" said Mouse.
"Bloody fuck-all!" Eddie said.
Glanced at the rearview.
The aerodyne. Three meters long. A gray, metal brick suspended by four ducted vectorthrust engine pods. Chin-mounted 30mm chaingun. Side-mounted pepperbox rocket launchers.
Bad. Very bad.
Concrete geysered behind us.
"Jesus Christ!" Eddie said.
"Hang on!" I said, floored the accelerator, and slalomed through traffic.
As we slipped past a fuel tanker, its trailer burst into flames. It jacknifed and blew apart, sending a roiling fireball into the sky.
The concussion shook the Shelby.
In the rearview, I saw the aerodyne rocket through the rising flames and speed toward us.
Dammit. Had to lose them.
Then I saw it.
The towers of Winn Town, rising up from the middle of Southside, to the west. Two hundred-plus high-rises spread across ten blocks, packed with some ninety-thousand souls behind multi-bolted doors, hiding from the predators that roamed the Zone.
We hit Railroad Avenue and I yanked the wheel left. We fishtailed across the intersection amid a yowl of protesting horns and screeching brakes.
"What the hell--!" Mouse said.
"We can lose them in Winn Town," I said, racing the Shelby through the streets of Southside.
"We'd better," she said. "They're gaining."
"I know," I said. Most of the buildings in Southside rarely topped five stories. An aerodyne typically had a ceiling of 20 meters. Cake around here.
Not among Winn Town's 20-story towers.
"Almost there," I said as we turned right on Winchester.
Three blocks away, Winn Town loomed.
I sped up.
"Do you see it?" I said.
"No--" Mouse began.
And the aerodyne dropped in front of us.
I yanked the wheel, threw the car into a bootlegger reverse.
The ground exploded around the Shelby.
I stomped the gas.
Tires squealed and we lurched forward.
I cut through a nearby alley.
"Sonofabitch!" said Mouse.
"Had the same idea, didn't they," said Eddie.
"We gotta lose that bird," I said.
"How?" said Mouse. "Seems to know exactly what we're going to do next."
We came out of the alley and the corner of the building next to us exploded in a shower of dust and concrete.
"Shit!" said Mouse.
"Damn rocket pods," I said and swung the Shelby down the next street.
Another rocket screamed past and plowed into a nearby storefront.
Glass and debris showered the car as we sped past.
"Fuckin' hell!" said Eddie.
Around the next corner and up the street, missing another rocket that slammed into the ground just behind us.
"Rocket launcher," I said to Mouse as I fishtailed the Shelby around another corner.
"You keep a rocket launcher in your trunk?" Eddie said.
Mouse scrambled into the back seat and squeezed next to Eddie.
Heard the click of the latch near the top of the backrest.
"Now I've seen fuck all," said Eddie.
One of Murphy's ideas had been to replace part of the rear seat with a folding backrest that provided access into the trunk.
Times like these when such ideas came in handy.
"Not there," said Mouse.
"You sure?" I said.
Mouse leaned forward. "Everything but."
"Shit. I swore I put it there the other day."
The intersection in front of us erupted in a geyser of fire and concrete. I yanked the wheel and we rounded the corner, nearly on two wheels.
I sped to the end of the block, pulled another bootlegger reverse, and stomped on the brakes.
The Shelby shook to a stop.
At the other end of the street, the aerodyne banked around the corner and hovered above the burning intersection.
"What's in the trunk?" I said to Mouse.
I heard her rooting through the contents. "Gear bags, toolbox, ammo cans, an FN, and a pump-action."
"Cans for the FN?"
"Bring 'em out. Rifle and ammo. Then get behind the wheel."
"Ah, shit," said Mouse.
I put the car in "park" then climbed into the passenger seat.
Mouse pulled out the FN-FNC assault rifle and an ammo can and handed them to me. I set the rifle butt-first on the floor of the footwell, popped the can, and fished out a magazine.
And with AP--armor piercing--rounds.
"Wiz," I said and slapped the magazine into place.
"What're you doing?" Eddie said.
"You don't want to know," Mouse said. The latch on the backrest clicked shut and she clambered into the driver's seat.
"Oh, bollocks!" said Eddie. "I don't do this! I'm supposed to be behind the fucking scenes!"
"Duck," I said, rolling down the passenger side window. I racked the charging handle, brought the rifle to my shoulder, and leaned out the window. Steadied the barrel on the side mirror.
"Kat?" said Mouse.
Along the sights. Aerodyne. Front windshield.
"Go," I said.
The Shelby lurched forward. Wind whipped at my face.
The aerodyne opened up with its chain-gun, rounds stitching along the street toward us.
Mouse swerved right, let the shots pass us, then cut back to the middle of the street.
I stroked the trigger.
A three-round burst struck the aerodyne's windshield.
The craft wobbled in midair.
Another burst. Same spot.
The windshield shattered and the aerodyne lurched. Sparks flew inside the pilot's cabin.
It shuddered. Then plunged earthward and slammed into the street, blowing apart like rupturing fruit.
Mouse stomped on the brakes and we slid to a screeching stop.
Twenty meters in front of us sat a burning hulk of twisted metal.
Eddie gave a low whistle.
I eased back inside the car and turned to Mouse. "Nice driving."
"Nice shooting," she said.
My phone chirped. I pulled it out.
"Where the fuck are you?" he said. "I got your message and I've been tryin' to call for the last half hour."
"We're in Southside," I said.
"The hell you doing in Southside?" said Specs. "I thought your meet was in Uptown?"
"Later. Right now we need to go someplace quiet."
"Where are you in Southside?"
I told him.
"I know a place," he said and gave me an address.
I recognized it.
"We'll call from there," I said and hung up.
(to be continued...)