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