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"Easy Money" - Part Seventeen

The chanting died, fast.

As the adrenaline started to wear off, I looked up.

A bearded figure in full leathers stood near me, a huge wheelgun in his hand, barrel pointed in the air.

"Everybody's finished, right?" he said, a gravel voice that rumbled.

The other Razors muttered agreement.

"Good. Now you're gone."

They walked away, back to their rockets. Then the street rumbled with the roar of engines and the squeal of tires. A moment later, it was silent again.

Bearded Man lowered the wheelgun to his side.

The hands holding me let go.

I looked over my shoulder.

Jake.

"You okay?" he said.

"Fine," I said. "But you look like shit."

He grinned.

I turned back.

Tattoo was now on his hands and knees, groaning, struggling to get up.

A pair of Razors flanked him. One was a bald giant. The other, a woman with close-cropped dark hair.

Beard Man stood in the same spot but had turned his attention to Tattoo. "The hell were you doing, Bobby?"

"She's the one," said Tattoo/Bobby. "Killed Seth."

"So?"

"So I found her."

"And you rounded up the crew for this?"

Bobby looked up. "She hadda pay."

"You rounded up my crew for this?"

His brow creased. "But I thought..."

"Because you're my one of my lieutenants, you had free reign?"

"Yeah..."

"To a point, Bobby. To a point."

Bobby got to a kneeling position and sat back on his haunches. "I don't understand..."

Beard Man started to circle him. Slowly. "I left you in charge thinking you knew what you were doing. You've demonstrated that in that past. That's why I made you a lieutenant. But this." He stopped and pointed a finger at me without looking.

"This. Not very smart."

"But she--"

"I know. She killed Seth."

"Yeah--"

"So why didn't you bring it up to me."

Bobby opened his mouth to answer but no sound came out.

"Well?" said Beard Man.

"I..." Bobby began, then stopped.

"I can't hear you, Bobby."

"I...it was my responsibility," Bobby said, finding his voice. "He was my brother."

"He was a Razor, too. That meant he was our brother."

"That's right. That means we look after our own. That's why I--we went after her."

"Conveniently while I was gone," said Beard Man.

The bald giant and the woman snickered.

Beard Man resumed circling. "You decided to deal with it by yourself. No word to me. You were in charge for the day. You call the play."

"Y-yeah..."

"But you made two mistakes. First, you went after her without telling me about it. Second, you jumped my brother."

I felt my shoulders tense. Brother?

Bobby went wide-eyed. "W-what brother--"

Jake stepped toward Bobby. "Hi. Remember me?"

Bobby made a strangled noise in his throat and fell back, shaking his head wildly. "Jesus, Mick. I didn't know."

Beard Man/Mick shook his head slowly. "No, Bobby. You know Jake. I've introduced him to you. To all the lieutenants. I've said before that he's not to be touched."

"Jake's a ghost," said the woman. "Ignore him. Those were his words."

"But you didn't do that," said Mick.

"He--he got in the way," Bobby said. "When we were tailing the woman, he showed up. Tried to stop us."

"So you beat the shit out of him?" said Mick.

"He got in the way, Mick! Goddammit, don't you see? He got in the fucking way!"

Mick stopped circling and faced Bobby. "You disobeyed my orders, Bobby," he said. "I don't like disobedience."

Bobby rose to a kneeling position, hands out in front of him, reaching toward Mick. "Oh, fuck, Mick. Don't do this."

"And you, a lieutenant," said Mick. "Did I choose wrong?"

"No, you didn't. You chose right, Mick."

"I don't think so. I think I chose someone who can't handle it."

"No..."

"I choose people who are strong. I thought you were strong, Bobby."

"I am--"

"No. You're weak. You're selfish. And you made a big mistake."

Bobby surged to his feet.

Mick leveled the huge revolver at him. "Good bye, Bobby."

The revolver thundered twice. Bobby jerked, his chest cratering, stumbled back a step. He started to say something and blood gushed from his mouth. He folded.

A moment later, Mick turned to me. "So you're Kat."

I nodded. "Yeah."

"I thought you'd be taller." He inclined his head toward Jake. "Way he puts it, you're ten meters tall and shoot laser bolts from your eyes."

"Oh really?" I shot a glance at Jake.

"What is this? Pick on the injured guy night?"

"You don't look that injured," Mick said.

"I heal quick." He winced. "Kind of.."

Mick walked up to me. "Bobby's full of shit."

"I know--"

Mick shook his head. "I mean about that night. When Murphy was killed."

I felt my jaw tense.

"Yeah, I knew Murphy. Lots of folks knew Murphy." He put a hand on my shoulder. "But Bobby didn't see shit. I should know. I was there. We were there."

I looked at him. "We?"

"Five of us. Me. Laz." He gestured toward the bald giant and the woman. "Mondo and Casey. And Bobby. Had a meeting with the Teknos about biz. We were heading back when we heard the blast. You were leaving when we came around Sunset and Price, a block over. I saw the..." He inhaled deeply, let it out. "I knew it was Murphy. I'm sorry."

Jake came up next to Mick and held out a phone.

Mine.

"Been going off the last few minutes," he said.

The voicemail indicator flashed.

I checked it and my heart leaped into my throat.

(to be continued...)


"Easy Money" - Part Sixteen

Tattoo smiled. "Better," he said. He let go of Jake's head and Jake slumped to the ground.

Someone pressed the barrel of a gun to the back of my head. "Walk forward," a gruff voice said.

I did.

Tattoo stopped at arm's length from me and put his hands on his hips.

I looked at him, searching my brain for a hint of his identity.

He shook his head. "Don't bother. You don't know me. But I know you."

"That a fact?" I said.

The gun barrel tapped me. Hard.

"Watch your mouth, bitch," Gruff Voice said.

"Enough," said Tattoo, slitted eyes staring over my shoulder. After a moment, he turned his attention back to me. "Yeah. I know you. They call you Kat."

"Very good," I said. "Next time, we'll do shapes."

Tattoo sucked in air through gritted teeth. "See, that was funny the first time. Ain't funny no more."

"Then you need a better sense of humor."

Tattoo stepped forward and kicked me in the crotch.

Pain shot up between my legs, through my belly, froze my lungs, and squeezed my throat shut. I gasped, unable to catch the breath lodged in the middle of my chest. My legs went rubber and I folded to my knees.


Tattoo screamed something at me but I heard nothing except a rushing sound echoing through my skull. As if my head were underwater.

Time crept forward.

The pain soon dulled to a throb and my vision started to clear a little.

Someone grabbed my hair and yanked my head back.

Tattoo. Nose to nose. A sour smell like vomit filled my nostrils and I felt bile rise to my throat.

I fought back a gag.

"Not so funny now, are ya," said Tattoo. "Were ya funny when you killed my brother?"

Brother...?

He saw my expression. "Yeah. Brother."

I started to shake my head but he tightened his grip on my hair.

Pain lanced through my scalp.

"Two weeks ago," he said. "The Black Rider."

I remembered.

Two weeks ago, Mouse and I were in the midst of a delivery when I got jacked by a couple of joyboys and lost my package. The joyboys turned out to be wannabes who recently started strutting their stuff at a bar called the Black Rider in the Hillside District. We went there to have a talk with them.

Unfortunately, a group of Scarlet Razors decided to walk in at that point.

All hell broke loose.

Mouse and I took out the Razors.

Then found out about our package from the wannabes.

"You remember now, don't you," said Tattoo.

"There were a lot of them," I said.

"I don't care how many there were. He was there. And you killed him."

"Then he was at the wrong place at the wrong time," I said, my voice raspy.

"Yeah? Well now that's where you're at. The wrong place at the wrong time."

He let go of my head and took a few steps back.

"And you're gonna pay," he said. "Pick her up."

Hands grabbed my arms and yanked me to my feet.

"Time to dance, girlie," Tattoo said. "You and me." He turned and walked up the street.

Someone patted me down, removed the spare magazines from the holders at my belt, and tossed them into the front seat of the Shelby. Then they marched me halfway down Sunset where Tattoo stood and stopped three meters from him.

The other Razors formed a wide circle around us.

Tattoo shrugged off his jacket, exposing a well-muscled frame covered only by a leather vest. Scars on both arms. He'd seen action. Up close action.

He saw me looking at me and grinned. His fists snapped out to either side and three fifteen centimeter blades popped out between his knuckles.

Claws.

Shit.

He took a fighting crouch and his grin widened. "Get some," he said.

And he launched himself at me.

I sidestepped and rabbit punched him in the kidneys.

A chant rose up from the other Razors. I couldn't hear what they were saying, just the rise and fall of voices. Like a drumbeat.

Tattoo staggered and dropped to one knee then spun and slashed out. I jumped back. The claws caught the edge of my coat, slicing through a corner of leather.

He advanced, slashing in wide arcs.

Swing, slash, advance. Again and again. Lamplight glinting off razor edges.

Duck, dodge, weave.

Twice, I saw an opening. Moved in. Quick jabs. Made his head snap back.

Then out.

Duck, dodge, weave.

Anything to stay out of the range of those claws.


My last dodge threw me into the crowd. Hands shoved me back into the melee.

Into Tattoo's swing.

I brought up both arms in a block, caught the swing in mid-arc. At the same time, I shuffled forward, rammed my left hip into his crotch. He doubled over with a grunt and I felt his balance shift, center of gravity moving. I grabbed the bend of his elbow, pivoted my torso.

He flew over my right leg with a yelp and hit the ground.

I jumped back, putting a little distance between us.

He rolled to a low crouch, claws still extended.

We circled each other.

"This place remind you of anything?" Tattoo said, wiping blood from the corner of his mouth.

"What're you talking about?"

He grinned and mimed an explosion with his hands. "I kinda remember some guy buying it on this street two months ago."

I felt my chest tightened.

"You were there. I saw you."

My vision started to blur.

Tattoo gave me a toothy smile. "Wasn't it fan-fucking-tastic?"

A subvocalized command and the world slipped into slo-mo.

I bull rushed him. Closed to arm's length. That's when he saw me and he went saucer-eyed.

Slammed into him, right shoulder low, caught him in the gut. Heard him grunt with the hit. His feet caught air and he flew back a full meter, landed on his ass, his head lolling, a stunned look on his face.

Then I was on him, slammed him to the ground, straddled his torso, screaming and snarling, pounding my fists into his face, his head bouncing off the pavement, his tattoos vanishing under crimson splotches.

Then hands grabbed me, yanked me backwards.

I snarled, squirmed out from grasping hands.

Tattoo started to sit up.

I kicked out and my boot toe cracked him under the chin.

He spit blood and fell back.

Hands grabbed me again. Yanked backwards.


Then a howitzer went off next to me, the crack-boom echoing off the walls of the surrounding buildings.

(to be continued...)


"Easy Money" - Part Fifteen

There's a reason Southside is called the "Combat Zone."

Southside in daylight teaches heightened alertness.

Southside at night teaches paranoia. That's when the monsters come out. That's when the streets turn into killing fields.

We sat in the Shelby half a block east of Camden, smack in the middle of Southside. Four of the six streetlamps on our stretch of Sunset threw wide cones of pale yellow light onto the garbage-strewn sidewalks. The storefronts on our side of the street were dark, their entrances barricaded by drop-down steel gates. Across the street, an office building sat at eastern end of the street. A vacant lot surrounded by tall cyclone fencing occupied the rest of the lot. Four blocks north loomed the towers of Winn Town, lording over all like some storybook giant.

Nothing moved.

In the distance came a string of muted pops.

Murphy cocked his head. "Who would that be?" he said from the passenger seat.

Mouse leaned forward between the front seats. "Could be the Demons. Tonight's the Blooding."

"Or Dragons and Trogs," I said. "Street chatter from Diesel is they're having turf issues."

Murphy grinned. "I've taught you well."

"Getting a big head, Murph?" I said.

Mouse snorted. "Don't encourage the man."

Lights flashed at us from across the intersection.

I looked.

A sedan pulled to the curb on the other side of Camden.

"That's it," said Murphy. He popped the door and got out.

"Watch yourself, old man," I said.

"I can still kick your ass on the mat," he said and closed the door then headed up toward the waiting car.

"Cake run as your last," said Mouse. "Nice end."

"After all the shit he and Revell have been through, even I would welcome a cake run for my last."

"Think he'll stay at the Red Dog?"

"He might. He always talked about taking a road trip."

"Can't see him not running. It's like Candi Fields not playing Veronica on Angel City."

"You keep watching vids, your eyes'll go bad."

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

A car engine started.

We looked up and saw the sedan's headlights come on. Murphy turned toward us, a briefcase at his side, and started walking back along Sunset. The sedan made a U-turn and rolled off in the opposite direction.

Murphy crossed Camden.

At the far western end of Sunset, red brake lights snapped on.

I sat up in the driver's seat, my pulse suddenly racing, the hairs on the back of my neck bristling.

Something was off.

"Murphy," I said.

"Kat?" said Mouse.

I leaped out of the Shelby and sprinted toward the intersection.

The blast from the briefcase illuminated the entire block and ripped Murphy apart--

* * *

I jerked forward in the driver's seat, unsure where I was for a moment.

The line of headlamps at the end of the block snapped me back to the present.

Crotch rockets. Four of them. Barricading the far southern end of Camden.

Shit.

I started to throw the Shelby into reverse when three more rockets zipped around the corner and slid to a stop several meters behind me.

Shit shit shit.

Seven. I could handle seven joyboys.

More bikes came up behind the group behind me.

That wasn't good.

I turned to check on the first bunch.

More behind them, too.

Not good.

I popped optics to thermo. Despite the interference from too many heat sources, I had a rough count. Ten in front. I checked behind. Another ten.

Twenty joyboys.

What the hell was this?

The rumble of bikes died and an voice called out, "You ain't going nowhere."

Think, Kat. Think.

I looked at Clyde, sitting in my lap. One handed. Thirteen rounds. Take out the group in front of me, with rounds to spare. Reloading would be a bitch, but I could always draw Bonnie.

Problem would be the windshield. Bulletproof for a reason.

Shooting out the side windows would throw off my aim.

One of the joyboys in the front group stepped forward, arms held out on either side. Tall and broad-shouldered. Bald. Half his face covered with tattoos.

Tattoos.

Him.

The biker.

Pacing us when the aerodyne had been on our tail.

Who the hell--?

"You and me, girlie," Tattoo said. "Out here. Now."


The thought made me grin.

I gripped the Shelby's wheel and gunned the big block, hand poised over the gear shift.

A crotch rocket answered with a whine of its engine.

Tattoo stepped aside.

A rocket popped a wheelie and roared forward. Halfway down the street, it swung into a tight turn and skidded to a halt.

The body tied by rope to its back end slid across the street in a wide arc and rolled to a stop between me and the group.

My gut tightened.

Tattoo threw his head back and laughed then jogged over to the body and crouched down next to it. He looked in my direction. In the Shelby's headlights, I saw him throw me a feral grin. "Do what I think you're gonna do and you'll squash your friend." He stood up and pulled the prone figure to a kneeling position.

Jake.

My throat went dry.

Jake's right eye had nearly swollen shut. Blood dripped from his nose and mouth. I imagined broken bones, or worse, but his eyelids fluttered for a moment and my pulse slowed. A little.

"Glad I got your attention," Tattoo said. "Now get out of the car."

My grip on the wheel tightened.

Tattoo's eyes narrowed. He pivoted and kicked Jake in the face.

"NO!"

I jumped out of the car, Clyde in my hand.

But Tattoo had turned back toward me. He had Jake's head pulled back, throat exposed, the blade of a Bowie knife pressed against it.

"Put it down," he said. "Or he dies."

Everything started to go fuzzy, as if I were staring at the world through a rain-streaked window. Clyde's front sight wavered.

Tattoo slid the blade along Jake's throat. A thin crimson line appeared and blood trickled down his neck.

"Okay," I said and tossed Clyde into the driver's seat.

(to be continued...)


"Easy Money" - Part Fourteen

The signal light at 47th and Imperial turned red and I slowed to a stop.

The Shelby's big block rumbled through the car's frame, up along the steering columnn to the wheel and down my arms. My pulse, which had still been racing when I left the Red Dog, started to slow and I felt a wave of calm slowly wash over me.

* * *

As Mouse and I stepped out of the Red Dog's back door the ring of keys slapped me in the center of the chest. I caught them before they fell to the ground, saw the key fob glint under the building's rear lights.

"Keys to the kingdom."

I looked up.

Murphy leaned against the hood of the Shelby, arms folded across his chest. He was grinning.

"You're joking, right?" I said.

He shook his head. "No joke, kiddo. She's yours. Like the pistols."

* * *

The honk of a car horn broke my reverie.

The light had turned green.

I put the Shelby into gear and crossed the intersection.

A few minutes later, I passed the southern entrance to Civic Park and crossed. Foot traffic picked up, mostly students, iridescent colors bobbing up and down the sidewalks. The latest fashion, no doubt. Student housing dominated the area. Eight blocks north sat Bay City University

Past Oxford Street I spotted a trio of black-clad figures. Two were tall males sporting leather trenchcoats and high boots, their hair styled into crimson crests. The third was a willowly woman with jet-black hair and blood-red highlights wearing a thigh-length leather coat, knee-high lace-up boots, and a black skirt. They walked with predatory strides.

Absinthe and two of hers.

They turned as I drove past and Absinthe saluted. I inclined my head in response. A moment later, they vanished down an alley.

* * *

"The biz is always in flux," Murphy said as he wiped down the receiver of his pistol and set it back on the rubber mat. "Friend today, enemy tomorrow. Enemy today, friend tomorrow. You never know. Never burn your bridges. You may need them one day. And it always happens when you least expect it."

I finished wiping down the SPAS-12 shotgun with a silicone cloth. "What about Revell? Isn't he your friend?"

"He is."

"But you just said--"

He shook his head and held up one finger. "I said the biz is always in flux. The biz. Remember that. Outside the biz, you'll know who's your friend and who's your enemy."

* * *

I suddenly found myself driving past stands of trees on either side.

I straightened in my seat.

I had entered Bayside, the residential district just west of the city proper. Here, steel and glass towers gave way to row houses and front lawns. Home of the burbees.

Out of the city.

Out of my league.

As if to remind me, a blue and white cruiser poked its nose out from a nearby side street then slid into traffic two car-lengths behind me.

You are not welcome here, it seemed to say.

"Duly noted," I said aloud and at the next intersection, I made a U-turn and started back the way I had come.

I stopped at the next light and glanced in the rear view.

Still there.

The cruiser followed, discreetly but still in plain view, until I crossed Bayside Way, right at the district's eastern border, a block from the Highway 42 overpass, looming on giant concrete supports, like a watchful guardian.

When I crossed Bayside Way, the cruiser turned around and went back.


* * *

Murphy stood behind the bar and gestured for me to come over. When I approached, he set an ornately decorated mahogany box on the bartop, opened the lid, and turned it toward me.

Inside, atop a red velvet lining, were a pair of Colt-Springfield 2000 .45-caliber high-capacity pistols.

"Murphy," I began.

"Happy graduation, Kat," he said.

"These are your pistols."

"They're yours now. I want you to have them."

"But you've had these since--"

"--since my Army days." He nodded. "It's time they went to a new owner." He grinned. "And I got something to go with them." He pulled out a plastic sack and handed it to me.

I opened it and pulled out a double-holster shoulder rig.

"Thought that might come in handy," he said.

I pulled it on, adjusted the straps, and cinched it into place.

Murphy picked up the pistols and handed them to me, butt-first. I took the guns and slid them home. They felt comfortable, like a well-loved jacket.

* * *

Just past Steiner Street I saw them. A pair of headlights.

A block later, two more joined.

Not cars.

Crotch rockets.

Bad.

I was in Scarlet Razor territory and for some reason, I'd been chosen.

Great.

Just great.

I checked my optic clock. An hour and a half until the meet.

Maybe they really weren't interested in me. Maybe they were just out cruising the streets.

At Ellis I turned right and went south.

They followed.

Fuck a duck.

I drew Clyde from my shoulder rig and placed him in my lap.

There were six of them now.

"Fuck this," I said and stomped on the gas. The Shelby lurched forward. I slewed onto 50th and went west. The rockets roared after me.

I spun the wheel and headed down Gibson toward the Gibson Street tunnel, blasting past traffic in a blare of horns.

The rockets were a block behind me and keeping pace.

A moment later, we were in the tunnel heading south.

Into Southside. Into the Zone.

I raced on, the tunnel's lights strobing past me on either side.

The tunnel opened up at Railroad Avenue. I shot through the intersection and turned east on Deckard.

They followed.

I needed to lose them. I'd try the earlier tactic that didn't quite work with the aerodyne.

I'd lose them in Winn Town.

Forty-eight blocks away.

I floored the accelerator and blasted my way through the streets, blowing past signal lights amid yowling horns and squealing tires.

Minutes later, I flew into Winn Town.

The Shelby zipped through the streets, doubling back down several blocks just for good measure. I went down two more blocks, turned right onto Camden, and crossed Oakdale Street, Winn Town's southern boundary.

A quick look in the rearview showed no signs of the Razors.

Then I saw the intersection and I slammed on the brakes.

The Shelby skidded to a screeching halt.

Sunset and Camden.

And the feeling hit my gut like a roundhouse kick.

(to be continued...)