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"Easy Money" - Part Thirteen

The sun had begun its drop toward the horizon as we drove back to the Red Dog, throwing crimson bands of light across the sky.

Mouse was quiet during the drive. Didn't blame her. Probably feeling as tired as I was. Adrenaline rush from a fight only lasts for so long. Afterwards, your whole body starts to shut down.

Or feels like it's shutting down.

We turned from Garner Street into the alley nest to the Red Dog and drove toward the back of the bar. I shut off the car then checked my optic clock.

"A little over an hour," I said to Mouse. "We've got time to--"

She got out of the car, closed the door, and went in the back entrance.

What the hell--?

I got out and went after her.

She was halfway down the hallway heading toward the stairs when I finally caught up with her.

"Hey," I said, putting a hand on her shoulder. "What's going on?"

She stopped walking and turned to face me. Her eyes narrowed.

Ah.

"You know Eddie's in good hands," I said. "Doc'll patch him up. No worries."

"I'm not worried about Eddie," she said.

"Then what?"

"I need to know you're going to stay focused."

I frowned. "What are you talking about? Of course I'm focused."

"I mean it."

"I mean it, too. Hey, what's the deal?"

"The deal's this--there's ten million credits out there with our name on it. Just waiting. But it won't be there if you pull the same shit as the last six times."

"There is no shit. I told you--"

"Bullshit, Kat. I don't believe you."

"I'm not going to listen to this." I started to turn around but Mouse grabbed me by the arm and spun me back toward her.

"Yes, you are. You are going to listen to me. We are a team, goddammit. What happens to you happens to me, too."

"And you listen to me. I know what I'm doing."

"Do you? Do you really?"

"Really."

"What about your minor glitch?"

I felt my face grow hot but pushed the thought of it from my mind. "What are you making such a big deal about that for? It was nothing!"

"You wanna tell that to Eddie? Jesus Christ, Kat. The next minor glitch could be me in a body bag."

My gut tightened and I swallowed. "Don't go there," I said.

"Why not?"

"Just don't."

"Well maybe it's time I did go there. If this is the only way to get through that goddamned thick head of yours--"

I started to pull away but she tighted her grip on my arm. "Just leave it alone, Mouse."

"Dammit, Kat. When are you going to get it?"

"Just shut up now."

"I miss him, too. But it's done. It's over. Do you hear me? It's over."

The roaring began in my head. "Shut up, Mouse. Just shut up."

"Murphy is dead, Kat!"

"Shut up!"

My fist flew, cracked Mouse across the cheek and she stumbled back against the wall. I felt my chest constrict, heard the roaring through my skull.

Mouse launched herself from the wall, snarling, and tackled me around the waist. We went down in a sprawl of limbs, swinging, kicking, gouging, grabbing. I took a knee in the chin then struck out with an elbow and connected with bone. A fist thumped me across the temple and my vision blurred and swam.


Then hands yanked us apart.

A pair of arms closed around me, held me in a vice grip.


I started to struggle.

The arms tightened. I stomped down with the heel of my boot. A grunt, then I collided with the corridor wall. The wind rushed out of my chest, but not before my nose picked out the faint scent of soap and gun oil.


Jake.

"Enough!" The rumbling basso thundered in the corridor.

When my vision cleared from its haze, I saw Revell restraining Mouse.

I could hear my breath, low, rasping.

"Ease off," Jake said into my ear.

"What is going on here?" Revell said. He turned to Mouse. She met his gaze, then turned away.

Revell looked at me, eyes slitted. "Katya?"

"Nothing," I said. "It's nothing.

"Nothing," said Revell. "You are certain."

I nodded. My jaw protested the motion and pain stabbed into my head. I winced.

Revell said something to Mouse. She nodded and looked at me for a moment then walked past and disappeared into the bar. Revell let out a long breath, hands on his hips, and turned to me, his brow furrowed in irritation. He inclined his head at Jake.

Jake let me go and stepped back.

"I will ask again," said Revell. "What was that about?"

I rubbed my arms. "I said it was nothing."

"Come on, Kat," said Jake.

I whirled on him. "Stay out of this, Jake."

He held up his hands.

I turned back toward Revell. His furrowed brow went from irritation to concern.

I shook my head, turned, and left the bar.

(to be continued...)


"Easy Money" - Part Twelve

We ducked back inside, slammed the door behind us.

"Shit!" said Mouse.

A hail of gunfire came up the stairwell.

I scooted toward the top of the steps, aimed the Twins down the stairwell, and let off several rounds. The slide locked back on an empty magazine, I reloaded, fired again, then sat back against the wall next to the door.

I checked on Eddie.

Blood soaked his right pants leg. He gave me a weak smile, his breath coming in short gasps.

"How you holding up?" I said.

"I've felt better," he said.

Mouse looked at me. "Med kit?"

I shook my head. "In the trunk."

"Gotta stop the bleeding."

"Give me a knife."

She drew a folder, flicked the blade, and passed it to me, handle first.

I took the knife. "Sorry about this," I said to Eddie.

He inhaled sharply, his face scrunching up. "What're you--"

I grabbed the tail of his labcoat and sliced off two large strips. Gave the knife back to Mouse. "Remind me to pick up a folder from Specs," I said, then wrapped the strips tight around the wound.

Eddie sucked air through gritted teeth.

I finished tying the knot. "Should hold for a while. But we need to get you to Doc."

"How?" he said. "We're a little trapped."

Mouse checked the MP5's magazine then slid it back into place. "We might have enough ammo. Shoot our way out?"

Eddie made a strangled noise.

"No," I said.

"Voice of reason," said Eddie. "Thank god--"

"We blow our way out."

"What?" said Mouse and Eddie.

I took the duffel from Mouse, pulled out what I needed, took a long breath.

"Kat," said Mouse.

"I know," I said.

"You sure about that?"

"Yeah."

"That's the same way--"

"Mouse," I said and felt my throat tighten.

Mouse flinched at my tone. Her brow furrowed. Then she nodded. "Okay."

"Okay," I said. "Watch my ass."

Eddie looked at Mouse, then at me. "You're fucking nutters," he said.

I shot him a grin. "Damn straight," I said and yanked open the roof access door.

* * *

When the aerodyne's chain gun didn't turn me into shredded meat, I let out the breath I'd been holding but kept my hands up. In my right hand, the disk. Attached with electrical tape around a block of C4 with detonator in place. In my left hand, the remote relay switch.

"That's right," I said, pitching my voice toward the aerodyne. "I know you've got pickups on me. And I know you can see what's in my hands. You drill me, I blow your disk into next week. And you don't want that. So let's talk."

Seconds passed.

Only the tinted front windshield of the craft stared back at me like a huge one-eyed metal insect.

Then the aerodyne's external speakers clicked on. "All right," a tinny, melodious voice said. "Let's talk."

"You the man in charge?"

"I am."

"Good. First, call off your goons. The stairwells. The parking lot. And any snipers."

A pause. Then: "Done."

"Mouse," I called back over my shoulder. "Check them."

"Hang on," she said. Then: "Gone from the stairs."

"Parking lot?" I said to the aerodyne.

"Gone," said the voice. "As you requested. Snipers, too."

"Better be," I said. "Here's the deal. I have something you want and I'm going to trade it for something I want. Meet me at the Marina in front of Pier 13 in two hours. Alone. No undercover muscle. No snipers. We have ways of checking. Bring ten million on a certified cred chip. Again, we have ways of checking. Do we have a deal?"

"Tall order," said the voice. "How do I know you won't double-cross me, give me a blank disk."

"I'm sure you have ways of checking."

"I do."

"Then no worries," I said. "You're a businessman. I'm a businesswoman."

"Is that what you call yourself?"

"We both deal in types of currency."

"You have a point."

"Do we have a deal?"

Another pause.

"Well?" I said.

"We have a deal," the voice said.

"Good. Now, you're going to let us leave this building unmolested. You're not going to follow us. I see any sign of trouble?" I gestured with the relay switch. "Kaboom."

"What do you take me for?"

"A businessman," I said.

* * *

We got to the Shelby without incident.

Mouse and I helped Eddie into the passenger seat. I got the medkit out of the trunk, popped Eddie with an airhypo of painkillers and sedatives, slapped a hemo pad on the wound. His eyelids fluttered. The sedatives were kicking in.

Once Eddie was settled, Mouse and I got in.

"You think they'll come through?" said Mouse.

"They're not stupid," I said and started the car. "We'll take him to Doc, then head back to the Red Dog."

My phone chirped.

It was Revell.

"Katya," he said. "We need to talk. But not on the phone."

"What's wrong?"

"I will tell you when you get back."

"Red Dog?"

"Da."

"Give us forty minutes." I hung up.

Eddie mumbled something.

I looked over.

He had passed out.

I checked my optic clock.

An hour and forty-five minutes until the exchange.

Three hours until Kincaid's deadline.

I checked the rearview mirror to back out of the parking slot and saw Mouse watching Eddie.

"He's gonna be okay," I said. "Doc'll fix him up."

"I know," she said. "It's just..."

"Just...what?"

She shook her head. "Nevermind."

* * *

We made it to Doc's medshop in ten minutes.

He took one look at Eddie and called out two assistants. They put him on a gurney and hustled him into the shop and to an empty operating theater.

"He gonna be okay?" I said to Doc.

"He should," Doc said. "Doesn't look too bad, but I won't know until I examine him." He turned and went after his assistants.

"We'll check back in a couple of hours," I called out, then turned and started for the door.

It opened and Jake Steele walked in.

My breath caught and I had to fight down the heat that suddenly exploded in my belly.

"What are you doing here?" I said.

"Revell sent me," he said. "Wanted to check on you two."

The heat in my belly suddenly went cold. "How'd you know we were here?" I said.

"I didn't. Needed something from Doc. Lucky running into you here. Don't have to wander 'round the city."

"Tell Revell everything's under control," I said and started past him.

He stepped in front of me. "You sure? I just saw them put Fast Eddie on a gurney."

"Got shot in the leg."

"You call that under control?"

"He's gonna be fine," I said. "Doc said so. Now if you'll excuse us." I pushed past him and opened the front door, then stopped in the doorway and turned around.

Mouse was still standing in the corridor, looking back toward the doors to the operating theater.

"Mouse," I said. "Let's move."

She turned toward me, looked back down the corridor, then walked to the door.

(to be continued...)

"Easy Money" - Part Eleven

I grabbed the receiver clipped to my belt.

"Where?" said Mouse.

"Hallway," I said.

Eddie popped the disk from the portable, slipped it back in the small hardcase, tucked it into an inside pocket.

Mouse leaped toward the foot of the bed, scooped up the SMGs, and tossed one to Eddie. Then she slung the duffle with the plastic explosives, detonators, and magazines over her shoulder.

I drew the Twins, double-checked their magazines, then took up a spot to the inside left of the door.

Mouse and Eddie racked the charging handles of the SMGs and took up a staggered position on the other side of the door.

We watched and waited.

Several seconds later, the motion sensor on the door buzzed and the indicator light went red.

"I know you're in there," said a voice on the other side of the door.

Mouse and I exchanged looks.

"Jade?" I called out. "What are you doing here?"

"Guess the rumor's true," Jade said. "You two aren't doing very well these days."

"What do you want?"

"Kincaid sent me. I'm here to collect."

"You're early," I said.

You know what they say. Early bird kills the cat."

"Gets the worm."

"Whatever. Let's make this easy. Hand over the money and everything's wiz. I don't want to break down a door if I don't have to."

"You're all heart," I said. "But Kincaid knows we've got time. You don't want this right now."

"But I do. Tangling with the famous Kat and Mouse. Right up my alley."

"I'm telling you, Jade. For your own good, walk away right now."

Something slammed against the door.

"What--you think I can't take you on? You think you're that good?"

Mouse threw me a look. "You pissed her off."

"That's bullshit," said Jade. "Bull. Shit. I got a hundred grand says I can take you both."

"A lousy hundred grand?" Mouse said.

I shot Mouse a look.

She shrugged. "We're worth more than a hundred grand."

Glass shattered behind us and something metallic bounced into the room.

I saw it.

Flash bang.

"Down!" I said and dropped to the deck.

White light and thunder exploded in the room.

More glass shattered and a pair of boots hit the floor.

I raised the Twins and emptied both magazines in the direction of the sound. A pair of submachineguns chattered nearby, joining the stacatto boom of my hand cannons.

Someone gave a muffled yelp.

Then something thudded to the floor.

I opened my eyes and spotted a pair of crumpled bodies in front of the window. Both in black fatigues and loaded tactical vests.

More secmen.

I reloaded the Twins and was turning to check on Mouse and Eddie when the door burst inward and Jade strode in, pistols blazing, stitching a line of rounds at the far wall.

When she got partway into the room, I slammed into the back of her legs, hitting low with my right shoulder and pistoning up, lifting her off the floor, and knocking her onto the bed. My momentum carried me with her. I hit the foot of the bed, tucked and rolled across the bed corner, hit the floor on the other side in a crouch, the Twins coming up on Jade.

And found her in the same position, her guns trained on me.

"Nice," Jade said with a grin.

I returned the grin. "This could get ugly."

Jade's grin widened a notch just before the ammo can clocked her in the temple. She grunted, staggered sideways.

I dropped Bonnie on the bed and slugged Jade, an right uppercut that tossed her backwards. Her head bounced off the wall and she folded.

Mouse leaped off the bed and landed beside me, a wakizashi in hand. "I got her."

I put a hand on her shoulder. "Nice throw, partner."

"Can we go now?" said Eddie from the doorway.

I scooped up Bonnie from the bed. "Let's bounce."

Mouse shook her head. "Hang on." She went over to Jade, rolled her onto her stomach, and sliced off her braid.

I rolled my eyes skyward. "And you said I pissed her off?"

Mouse held up the braid, grinned at me, then tossed it into the middle of the room.

I waved her to the door. "Let's go before--"

The motion sensor buzzed again. I checked the receiver.

"Kat?" said Mouse.

"Staircase," I said. "Go."

I herded Eddie and Mouse down the hallway just as the stairwell door near the room popped open. I glanced over my shoulder, saw a pair of secmen stride through, one high, one low in a crouch, both with SMGs at the ready. I skidded to a stop, pivoted toward the pair, the Twins tracking.

Their first shots went high.

The Twins responded with thunder and fire.

The low man took four slugs in the chest and fell backwards into the second man and knocked him off-balance.

A third stepped through the door, filling the spot the first two vacated, and swung his his weapon into play. Gunfire walked up the hallway toward me. I sucked wall.

Someone screamed behind me.

I whirled, saw Eddie on the ground, Mouse pulling herself out from under him.

Spun back toward the trio. The Twins roared and bucked in my hands. I emptied both magazines at the third secman. He jerked and flailed then crumpled. Popped the empties and reloaded. Swung back to target. The other two secmen raised their guns to fire but the Twins hit them first, slugs ripping them to ribbons. They fell back in a heap.

The Twins went to slide-lock.

"Mouse?" I said, trying to catch my breath, my heart triphammering in my chest.

"Eddie's hit," she said.

I reloaded the Twins, still watching the stairwell door. "How bad?"

"I can walk," Eddie said, his voice strained. "Sort of."

I started to backpedal, still keeping the Twins trained on the door. "End of the hall. Other stairwell."

Seconds later, we reached the stairwell landing and started down.

And two more secmen rounded the landing below.

Mouse yelped, raked her MP5 at the lead secman, and a hail of rounds blew his head open.

The other secman scrambled back down the stairs.

"Now what?" said Mouse.

I scanned the landing, then gestured with my chin. "Roof. I'll cover."

Mouse slung her MP5 over her shoulder and adjusted her grip on Eddie.

He grunted at her effort.

"Sorry," she said and they started up the steps.

I stepped back from the stairwell door and got halfway up the steps, the Twins at the ready, when chunks of the door exploded into the stairwell.

I returned fire through the door.

Another barrage came up the stairs from down below.

Goddammit.

Return fire down the stairs.

Someone grunted and metal clattered onto concrete.

Good.

I turned and went up the steps, taking them two at a time, rounded the bend, and ran into Mouse and Eddie.

"What--" I said.

Then saw past them.

An aerodyne sat on the roof ten meters from the roof access door.

(to be continued...)


"Easy Money" - Part Ten

While Eddie worked, Mouse and I loaded the SMG magazines. Every few minutes, muffled gunfire crackled in the distance and I looked toward the dirt-smeared window only to find a gunmetal-gray sky staring back at me.

My stomach felt tight. The hairs on my arms prickled.

Mouse gave me a questioning look. I shook my head and went back to loading.

After finishing a dozen mags for the SMGs, I started loading magazines for the Twins. Another dozen magazines later, I let out a long exhale, leaned back against the foot of the bed, and checked my optic clock.

16:17:22.

Little over four hours left.

Mouse must've seen the expression on my face. "Time?"

I told her.

She winced.

"We'll negotiate for more time," I said.

"Think he'll listen?"

"He'd better."

"Dunno if he works like that."

"He knows we're good for it."

"I doubt he plays favorites."

"Come on, Mouse. The biz is all about favorites."

Mouse shrugged and went back to loading. "I hope you're right."

"How many you got left?"

She held up three empty SMG magazines.

I dug back into the duffel bag for the next ammo can, popped the lid, and gasped.

"What?" said Mouse.

I pulled out the contents of the can: two blocks of C4, detonators, and a remote control relay switch.

"Hot damn," she said. "He wasn't kidding about the goodies."

I grinned. "He comes through again."

Eddie's chair creaked.

I looked up, saw Eddie straighten. "News?"

He blinked then grinned. "Collins," he said.

Mouse and I got up and went to him.

"Go," I said.

He tapped the keyboard on the portable and an image appeared onscreen. "Him?"

"Him," I said.

Eddie read from the display. "Collins. Joshua Elliot. Born 10 March '04. Thirty-eight. Not married. Lives--lived--in Oakwood. Bit heavy. Watches adult movies--"

"Eddie."

"Right."

"Thank you."

"Studied engineering at university. Dropped out to work for RGS Tech in '23. Network Systems Admin. More systems work at two other small companies. Tech guy."

He typed for a moment then studied the results on the screen. "Now here's the bit you won't like." He looked at me. "Collins worked for Lazlar Industries."

"Shit," said Mouse.

I frowned.

Lazlar Industries, along with Western Microsystems and AstraNova, made up the Big Three in the electronics world of the megacorporations. That meant global influence, nearly unlimited resources, and power.

And that meant trouble.

Really big trouble.

Dammit.

Eddie leaned back in his chair. "Stirred up a bleeding hornest's nest."

"Didn't stir up anything," I said. "More like walked into one." A thought. "What did Collins do at Lazlar?"

Eddie scanned the screen. "Listed as Director of Special Projects."

"Which means?"

"Anything. R&D. Software or hardware development. That sort of thing."

"Okay. He told us he was headed for Sea-Tac. One way trip, from the sound of it. Wanted us as bodyguards."

Eddie frowned. "Seattle."

"Yeah. Then some mooks showed up, wanted something back from him."

"That's when the shit hit the fan," said Mouse. She mimed a gun with her thumb and forefinger and held it to her temple. "Blammo."

"You know the rest."

Eddie inclined his head at the other portable. "The disk."

I nodded. "So the question: What would a tech guy like Collins be doing on a one-way to Seattle? I'm guessing it's not a company-sponsored seminar."

"Corporate espionage stuff?" said Mouse. "Selling company secrets and all that."

"But the other two competitors are here," I said. "Doesn't make sense for him to go all the way to Seattle."

"Self-extraction then," Mouse said. "He's jumping ship..." She frowned. "But again--why Seattle?"

"Any electronics in Seattle?" I said to Eddie.

"Been thinking that," he said. "Just a handful. Nothing like the big boys."

"Small scale," I said.

He nodded.

"Who?"

"Five in the area. Softworks, Digital Solutions, Emerald City Industries, VRI, and Northwest Tech."

"Think Collins was scaling back?" said Mouse. "Getting tired of the grind?"

"Maybe," I said. "But there's the disk. If Collins was stealing corporate secrets, would they be of use to any of those five companies?"

"Only two," said Eddie. "Softworks and Digital Solutions. They deal with network system applications. Right up Collins's alley. The other three are consumer-based."

"Mouse could be on to something," I said.

"Damn right," said Mouse.

"What if Collins was scaling back? Maybe ran into problems at Lazlar as Projects Director. Decided to go somewhere else. Take some company goodies with him as revenge."

"So which one?" said Mouse. "Softworks or Digital?"

Eddie keyed commands into the portable. After a moment he said: "Softworks."

"Why Softworks?"

"Digital Solutions is a subsidiary of Lazlar," he said.

"Softworks would be Digital's direct competitor, right?"

"Yeah."

"That's it then," I said. "Collins was jumping ship to Softworks. Now--what's so special about the disk? What would make Lazlar send secmen after him?"

"Blackmail," said Mouse. "He got goods on someone high up at Lazlar."

"Maybe." I looked at Eddie. "Disk?"

Eddie leaned toward the other portable. "Almost there."

"How much longer?"

"Give me another ten minutes."

"It's been almost forty," I said.

"Doing what I can," Eddie said.

"Can you do it faster?" said Mouse.

Eddie shot her a look. "You want to take over this?"

"No."

"Then let me work."

"Fine."

I looked at Mouse. "I need you to chill it."

She held up her hands, palms out.

The other portable made a series of electronic noises.

Eddie's face lit up. "Got it." He pulled the portable toward him, typed some commands, and studied the stream of alphanumerics on the screen.

"Bloody hell," he said.

I inclined my head at the screen. "What is all that?"

"Collins has--had an icebreaker," Eddie said. "And not just any icebreaker."

"Translation?"

"Ice. I-C. Stands for Intrusion Countermeasures. Systems use it to protect against illegal entry."

"From your type," I said.

Eddie nodded. "Right. When one of my type gets hit by ice, one of three things can happen. The simplest is, your avatar--your visible representation on the 'Net--is kicked off. Worse, the ice fries your console. Worse than that--"

"There's worse that frying your console?" Mouse said.

"Yeah. It fries you."

"That's unhealthy," I said. "So what's this icebreaker?"

"Icebreakers are programs that bypass or defeat ice," he said. "But this doesn't just bypass or defeat. It turns you completely invisible. Nothing in the system sees you. Nothing touches you. The best bit? You don't leave a trace. A real ghost in the fucking machine. No wonder those wankers want this back. It's worth fucking millions..."

"Yes it is," I said.

Mouse gave a whoop. "Easy fucking money!"

She and I traded high-fives.

"Okay," I said. "Here's what we're gonna do--"

And the motion detectors went off.

(to be continued...)

"Easy Money" - Part Nine

If there was ever a shithole of shitholes, the Raffles Motel in Southside would be it. It was worse than I remembered it--and that was just six months ago.

I finished setting up the motion detectors on the stairwell one flight down, the stairwell doors, and the middle of the hallway, made sure they were working, then walked back to our room.

We were holed up on the the fourth floor, furthest room back, near the stairwell.

Mouse was unloading the two gear bags. Eddie paced the room.

"Know where I should be right now?" said Eddie.

"Where's that?" I said.

"Jacked into a console and stealing data like taking a lolly from a baby," Eddie said. "But no. My shop gets blown all to fuck by a bunch of corp shooters, thank you very fucking much."

"Want some cheese with that whine?" said Mouse.

Eddie made a strangled noise and continued to pace.

I pulled out my cellphone. "Relax. Specs can get new gear to us in about an hour. Maybe less. And he can get us more AP rounds. In case those mooks come back."

"I've got specialty pieces," said Eddie. "He might have trouble. I'll call Kid. He should be free now."

Eddie stopped pacing, sat on the bed, pulled out his phone and made the call.

I called Specs and told him what I needed.

"Gimme half an hour," he said.

"Something else," I said.

"Yeah?"

"Can you ask around, see if anybody's missing anything they desperately want back?"

"Can you vague that up a little more? You're talking about biz here. That pretty much covers everybody who might hire you."

"No details. At least not yet."

"You ain't givin' me much to work with, Kat."

"Just ask around."

"I'll see what I can do. Can't promise you nothing."

When I got off the phone, Mouse had both hands on her hips and was looking at me with slitted eyes.

"What?" I said.

"An SMG?" she said.

"Yeah. So? FN's too big for hallways," I said.

"Screw that."

"You'd have to go hand-to-hand to use your blades. They'd cut you down before you even got close."

"I've still got my throwers," Mousesaid.

"And you're gonna use those behind cover? Get real."

"I can handle myself--"

"Just do it."

"Kat--"

"Please."

Mouse let out a loud exhale. "Fine."

"Thank you," I said and turned to Eddie. "Got Kid?"

He sat up and nodded. "Be here in twenty."

"Good. How long will it take you to crack that disk?"

"Kid's letting me borrow some of his toys," said Eddie. "Reckon half an hour once I get going. Three-quarters of an hour at the most."

"Any chance you can do double-duty?"

"As in?"

"Infodump on our client."

His brow furrowed. "If Kid brings an extra portable, I should be able to." He pulled out his phone. "I'll check."

"Tell him I'll be forever grateful."

"How much is that in credits?"

"Call."

Eddie grinned and dialed.

Mouse said, "What about Kincaid?"

"Hold on, Kid," Eddie said and looked at us. "What about Kincaid?"

"We kinda owe him money," said Mouse. "A lot of it."

"Bloody hell," said Eddie. "You tell him I'm an innocent third party. I'm not looking to get dead." He went back to his phone call.

"We'll deal with Kincaid later," I said.

"We don't have much time."

I check my optic clock. 14:58:35.

"We've got a little under five and a half hours."

"Not much time."

"It's enough to do what we need to do."

"You heard what he said. Paranoia."

"I know. Just trust me. We'll handle it."

"Fine. Whatever,"

"Fine," I said and grabbed my jacket from the back of the chair. "Gonna walk perimeter."

I left the room.

* * *

The feeling hit me again when I got to the bottom on the stairwell. A wave of fatigue. Then the roaring in my head, a million screaming voices. Tight chest. Throat closing up.

A bright white flash.

And Murphy shatters into a million pieces--

I shoved the door open and staggered into the parking lot at the side of the hotel. Leaned against the outside wall and sucked in deep breaths, ignoring the metallic taste of the city. A strangled cry fought its way out of my mouth and my vision went fuzzy. Like looking through a rain-drenched window.

Then one long, shuddering breath.

And it stopped.

Gone.

I blinked, wiped my eyes on my jacket sleeve.

The hum of the city in my ears.

Then glass clattered nearby followed by a clang of metal.

I spun. The Twins leaped to my hands, tracking.

Three meters to my left, four bedraggled kittens clustered around the foot of a rust covered dumpster. A moment later, a sleek black cat emerged from the dumpster lip and jumped down among the quartet.

Mama Cat.

The kittens started to mewl. Mama Cat nosed them forward. They turned and scampered across the lot.

Mama Cat started after them, then stopped and turned to me, green eyes shining.

I lowered the Twins.

She meowed at me.

Then padded off after the kittens.

I holstered the Twins and turned toward the driveway that led into the lot.

Specs would be here soon and--

On the sidewalk across the street, a figure sporting red biker leathers sat astride a crotch rocket. The figure turned a helmeted head toward me.

Then a truck rumbled by.


When it passed, the figure was gone.

What the hell--?

Get a grip, Kat. You're losing it.

"Tell me something I don't know," I said out loud.


* * *

Specs showed up on time, easing a beat-up ChrysFord sedan into an empty parking slot at the side of the hotel.

"Ran into Kid Tachyon on the way here," he said. "Said he had some gear for Eddie." He popped the trunk, reached in, and pulled out a pair of hardcases. Then he pulled out two large duffel bags. "And these are for you two."

We carried the cases and bags back to the room.

Eddie put the cases on the dresser and popped the lids. "Kid comes through again." He started unloading electronic equipment and setting them up on the room's only table.

I put the duffle bags on the bed and opened one of them. Inside were two Heckler and Koch MP5 submachineguns, two dozen empty 30-round magazines, and three ammo cans of 9mm rounds. There were also a dozen flash-bang grenades.

"Am I good or am I good?" said Specs.

"You're good," I said.

"Customer satisfaction. That's what I like to hear. You'll notice I threw in some goodies I had lying around."

I held up a flash-bang grenade. "I noticed."

"Rush job's gonna cost you extra though."

"Put it on my tab," I said.

"Tab's getting pretty big."

"You know we're good for it."

"Yeah, I know. I'm such a fuckin' softie."

"How's the asking?"

"Still asking. Nothing that sounds desperate. Couple calls for extractions. Some retrievals. Protection--"

"What retrievals?"

"Got five in the hopper."

"That doesn't help."

"You know how it works, Kat. All Smiths. No deets 'til you sign on."

"I know," I said. "Was worth a shot."

"This got anything to do with that glitch this afternoon?" Specs said.

"Yeah."

"Now that was just shitty luck."

"You're telling me," I said.

"I'll keep nosin' around," Specs said. "If I get anything more on those retrievals, I'll call."

"Thanks."

He started toward the door, then stopped and turned back to us. "One more thing--I picked up some chatter earlier about you two."

"What chatter?" said Mouse.

"Says you two should watch your back," said Specs.

"Fucking hell," Eddie said.

I felt my neck hairs stand at attention.

"Kincaid?" said Mouse.

"He's more direct than that," I said.

"Wasn't Kincaid," said Specs. "Came from one of my ears. But they can't place who."

I swallowed, felt my heart hammering in my chest.

That biker--

No. Had to focus. One thing at a time.

"Bloody magnets for trouble," said Eddie and he chuckled. "Hanging with you two's never boring. I'll give you that much."

"Thanks for the tip, Specs," I said.

"No problemo. I'll be in touch." He turned and left the room.

Eddie said, "Right. You wanted an infodump?"

"Yeah," I said.

"Who's the mark?"

"Joshua Collins."


(to be continued...)