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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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...)