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THE WALL OF FAME
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"Easy Money" - Part Twenty-One

White, almost sterile looking corridor.

Pan and scan.

Five doors, evenly spaced out, on the left side. Two doors, also evenly spaced, on the right and a third door nearly three-quarters of the way down. All unmarked.

Two ball cameras sat behind and above me, occupying both corners. One halfway down the corridor in the middle of the ceiling. Two more at the far corners.

What now?

As if in response, the first door on my right swung open toward me and I saw someone's leg step out and hold the door open.

"That'll be the day, Smitty," the leg's owner called back through the door. "I'll whip your ass again and take your money."

"Only if you cheat, Wierzbowski," a voice replied.

"Tomorrow at your place," Wierzbowski said. "I'll bring the suds." He stepped out into the corridor, his back to me, and let the door swing shut.

Close-cropped hair. My height. Leanly built. Dressed in civvies. A duffle bag in his left hand.

Didn't notice me until Bonnie nuzzled his right temple.

Sloppy.

"Shhh," I suggested.

He froze.

"Drop the bag."

He did.

"Good boy. Now you're gonna answer some questions. Stay put, and you might live." I saw the faint line of his implant commo and touched it with Bonnie's muzzle. "Squeak, and I take your head off."

His eyes slid toward me. "Big mistake, lady."

"Where is she?" I said.

"You don't know who you're dealing with, do you."

"Do you?"

"Yeah," he said. "Some bitch who's gonna get herself killed."

"Wrong."

I brought Bonnie back toward my left ear and launched a hammerfist into the back of his head. His face cracked against the corridor wall with the wet crunch of blood and breaking cartilege and he dropped to his knees, moaning. Blood poured from his broken nose.

"One more time," I said. "Where is she?"

"Fucking slut," he said.

"Wrong answer."

I slammed his face against the wall and heard the wet crunch again.

He made a small noise and doubled over.

I looked around.

Had to get out of the hallway.

Door across from me. I tried the handle with my elbow. It swung in. I holstered the Twins and grabbed the duffle bag then picked up Wierzbowski by the back of his shirt and dragged him into the room.

The overhead lights flickered on as we entered.

A conference room with a huge rectangular mahogany table dominating the center. Padded armchairs ringed the table.

I shut the door with my foot and shoved Wierzbowski into a nearby chair. He collapsed into it with a grunt.

"Ready to talk yet?" I said.

He craned his head toward me and spat.

I spun away and the blood glob narrowly missed my jacket.

"Had to pick the hard way, didn't you," I said.

He glared at me.

I pulled a gray and blue bandana from my back pocket and wadded it up into a fist-sized ball. Then I tapped his nose with it.

He opened his mouth to scream.

I jammed the bandana into his mouth, put my hand over it, then drew the KaBar and plunged it into his shoulder.

I let him scream.

When it started to die down, I pulled the knife out of his shoulder and looked at him.

"Ready now?"

He looked up, tears streaming from his eyes, and nodded.

I took my hand off his mouth and pulled out the bandana.

"Where is she?" I said.

"Burns's office," he said, his voice breathy and congested.

"That better be down here."

He nodded. "Next door down. Through it, down that hallway, through the door at the end. First door on your left."

"Better not be lying."

"Not lying. But you're gonna need a keycard."

"All taken care of. Zip-ties are where?"

"In the duffle."

I rummaged through the bag and found them. Used one to bind his ankles together. A second for his wrists, behind his back. Then I grabbed the soggy bandana from the table.

"Open your mouth," I said.

He did and I shoved the bandanna back inside, then used another zip-tie as a gag to secure it in place.

Then I took a step back and fixed him with Look Number Two. He flinched.

"You're not going to follow me," I said.

He shook his head and mumbled something.

"Nope. Don't believe you."

I pulled the baton from my belt, shucked it open, and whipped it across his kneecaps.

The snap-crack echoed in the room.

He screamed behind the gag and fell off the chair.

"Now I believe you." I collapsed the baton and put it back in my belt. I checked him and found what I wanted.

Keycard.

I let out a breath, adjusted the straps of the two wakizashis I'd slung across my back.

Then I drew the Twins and went out the door.

* * *

I found Mouse in Burns's office. Just like the guard said.

She grinned up at me when the blindfold came off. "About damn time you got here."

Her lip was cut. A gash ran across her left cheek, still showed blood streaks, now dried. A bruise had begun to swell under her left eye.

"Gonna be okay?" I said.

"I will now."

I unslung the wakizashis and passed them to her.

Her face lit up. "Wicked."

"Time to bounce," I said.

* * *

The two secmen came around the corner, not expecting us. They were reaching for their sidearms when the Twins barked twice. They folded.

"So much for stealth," I said.

"You gonna take all the fun?" said Mouse.

"Next one's yours."

We went around the corner and jogged down the hallway to the door at the far end.

I holstered Clyde, took out the keycard, and stood to the right of the door.

Mouse had both blades drawn. She nodded.

I swiped the card.

The door wooshed open.

A secman rushed through and into Mouse's blade, just below the solar plexus. Mouse shoved the rest of it into his chest, angling up. He groaned, shuddered, and died.

Bootsteps nearby.

I yanked the dead secman off the short sword and shoved him out the door.

Small arms fire chattered. The body jerked and flailed as a hail of bullets punched through him, shoving him backwards.

"Shit!" said Mouse.

"Back!" I said. "See if there's another exit!"

Mouse took off.

I crouched low, shoved the Twins out the door in the direction of the gunfire, and let off several rounds.

Bursts replied, gouging out chunks of the door frame and the wall across from me.

Damn.

I stayed crouched, Twins levelled at the door, and backpedaled the way we came. "Mouse!" I called out. "See anything?"

I turned, rounded the corner and skidded to a halt.

Jade held Mouse like a human shield, a pistol against Mouse's head.

"Hi, Kat," Jade said with a grin.

(to be continued...)

"Easy Money" - Part Twenty

Half an hour left.

I turned the dark blue ChrysFord sedan--another loaner from Specs--up Imperial toward Corporate Plaza, its 'scrapers looming over the city.

A glance at the rearview showed the white utility van with Jake and Mikey about two car lengths behind me and a lane over.

After another few minutes of navigating downtown traffic, I turned right on 14th Street and came up toward the Lazlar building.

Eddie had pulled the layout. According to the plans, the parking garage was on this side of the building. At this time of night, I'd probably need a passcard to get in.

I had something better.

A ramp led down to the garage. At the bottom sat a guard shack and a black and yellow striped barriacde that identified the gate. As I approached, the guard came out of the shack, a short skinny guy with a prominent nose, clipboard in hand, his uniform cap sitting askew on his shaved head.

"Evenin' ma'am. Can--"

That was as far as he got before Bonnie leaped into my right hand and waved her muzzle at his face.

The clipboard clattered to the ground.

"Nice and slow, friend," I said.

He nodded, his eyes the size of saucers.

"Keep your hands in the air and step back from the car."

He obeyed.

I got out of the car and took his sidearm. A Sig 9mm. Nice, but useless to me. I checked to make sure the safety was on then put it in the passenter seat of the car.

"Back in the shack," I said, "and lie down on your stomach, hands laced behind your head, ankles crossed."

"Are ya gonna shoot me?" he said, his voice shaky.

"Not if you do what I say."

He did what I said.

I holstered Bonnie and pulled the pack of zip-ties from my jacket pocket. I bound the guard's wrists and ankles then crouched next to him. "I've got friends behind me. They're gonna keep an eye on you. Don't make them mad."

He shook his head.

"Good." I stood up, found the controls that raised the gate, and let myself then Jake and Mikey through. We parked the cars in some empty slots near the gate.

"We'll put the guard back on duty," Jake said. "But Mikey'll stay in the shack with him. Out of sight. He peeps, he's history."

Mikey shot me a grin and winked then walked to the shack.

Jake tapped his ear. "Call if you need us."

"I will," I said.

"Good hunting."

I pulled out my phone and dialed the Red Dog. Kid Tachyon answered.

"I'm in," I said. "Start the party."

* * *

I stood in front of the elevator bank at the far end of the garage. All three accessed the entire building, but only a specific set of passcards could gain entry to the restricted levels below.

That was Eddie's job.

On cue, the middle doors toned and wooshed open.

I stepped into the elevator car. It wooshed closed, hummed, the shook a bit before heading down.

According to building layout, there were two sublevels. The first was another set of tech areas, separate from the two floors of lab space above ground. The bottom level housed the security operations center.

My destination.

Ten rooms. One of them held Mouse.

Eddie's last check before we headed out showed at least a dozen secmen on location. Two pairs on rotating patrols through the building. Another pair walking perimeter. One in the garage and another in the main lobby. Two in the ops center.

That would cover building security.

But the meet tonight would no doubt bring in more muscle.

If I were Burns, I'd have at least eight men with me for the exchange.

That made twenty.

Lot of bodies to get through.

The elevator toned and came to a halt.

One body at a time.

The doors wooshed open.

Inside the foyer, a security station faced the elevator. A guard popped a bored-looking face over the counter.

"Can I help you--" he began.

I whipped out the KaBar and launched it at the guard.

The knife rocketed end over end and the pommel slammed into his face.

He fell over.

Shit.

I scrambled forward and vaulted the station.

The guard had fallen backwards over his chair and was on his hands and knees, shaking his head.

I cracked my boot into his ribs. He grunted, did a little hop, and folded.

I spotted the knife on the floor a few centimeters from the guard, started toward it, felt a weight slammed into the back of my left leg, and I crumpled forward, broke my fall with both forearms, and craned my head back.

The guard rose to a crouch, a collapsible baton in hand. He lunged. I kicked back with both feet, caught him in the chest and threw him back against the station's counter. He crashed into a terminal and keyboard, knocked them aside.

My hand found the knife handle and I surged to my feet, knife held low, and threw myself at the guard. He pushed off from the counter, raised the baton for an overhead smash.

I had him beat by two seconds.

The blade sank into his upper abdomen and under his ribcage.

He spasmed under me and blood gushed from his mouth. The baton clattered to the floor. He looked at me, wide-eyed, and grabbed my wrist with both hands.

I shoved the blade forward again, knocked him back into the counter.

His breath bubbled blood and his grip on my wrist slackened.

I twisted the blade.

He gave a strangled, gurgling sound.

I stepped back, yanked the knife out.

The guard fell to the floor with a wet squelch.

I stepped back, panting.

Blood pooled beneath the dead guard.

One down. Eleven to go.

I think.

Movement caught my eye. Above and to my left.

A security camera swung its lens toward me.

"Eddie? That you?"

The small red light beneath the lens blinked repeatedly.

"Anybody hear that? One blink, no. Two, yes."

The light blinked.

"Good. Keep it that way."

Two blinks.

I sheathed the knife and checked the guard's duty belt.

Sidearm. Spare mags. Case of zip-ties. Tactical flashlight. Cellphone.

Something was missing.

I rolled him over, careful not to get blood on my clothes, examined his face, and found it. Along the right jawline.

Implant commo.

I looked up at the camera. "Eddie."

Two blinks.

I turned the guard's head so that he could "see" the implant. "He had a commo. Did he get word out?"

One blink.

I thought for a moment. Between getting smacked with the pommel of a knife and kicked by me, he probably didn't get enough time to radio anyone.

"Okay."

I ejected the magazine from the guard's sidearm and thumbed the rounds out of it. Did the same with the spare mags then popped the remaining round from the chamber of the sidearm and set everything on the counter. Like the guard in the garage, this one had 9mm rounds. AP. Armor piercing.

Nice.

But couldn't use it for the Twins.

I left everything else on the guard but picked up his baton, collapsed it, then went to the door.

Maglock with keycard access. Palm print and retinal scanner.

I glanced back at the guard, and the widening pool of blood beneath him. Could be messy.

Then had a better idea.

"Eddie," I said and pointed to the door.

A few seconds later, the door clicked and wooshed open.

"Thank you" I said, drew the Twins, and stepped through.

(to be continued...)

"Easy Money" - Part Nineteen

Jake met me in the hallway. "I just finished talking to Kid," he said.

"Tachyon?"

He nodded. "He's on his way with gear. He and Eddie are gonna be your 'net support. Mikey's on his way, too. We'll be backup."

"Backup."

"It's your show, Kat. We're just here to cover your ass."

"Thanks." I dug the car keys out of my pocket and tossed them at him. "Trunk. I need the bag and the SMGs."

"Got it." He turned to go.

I put a hand on his shoulder. He winced a little before turning back.

"You sure you're okay for this?" I said. "Maybe Doc should check you out."

"He's fine," Doc called out from behind me.

I turned.

Doc was leading Revell down the hallway. "Bruised ribs. Broken nose. Little road rash. Nice shiner. But his dermal mesh held out, kept his ribs from getting cracked." He jabbed a finger in my direction. "Which is more than I can say for you, Kat. I want to see you and Mouse in my shop when all this is over. And no more excuses about money. This one'll be on me."

I managed a smile, probably the first one all day. "You're all heart, Doc."

"Ya damn right."

Revell and I exchanged a look. "You will get her back safe, da?"

I nodded. "Da."

"Udachi," he said. "Good luck."

Then Doc and Revell went past us and headed out the back door.

Jake turned back to me and shrugged. "You heard Doc. I'll be fine."

"Make damn sure of that," I said.

Before he could answer, I turned and walked quickly toward the stairs
to the second floor.

* * *

I yanked the footlocker out from under my bed and popped the lid. Rummaged through the collection of spare gear and clothes. Grabbed two drop leg pouches then picked up the sheathed Ka-Bar knife Mouse had given me a few months ago.
Blades were never my thing. I never wanted to get that close to anyone. But tonight's scuffle with Bobby made me reconsider my hesitation to use a blade.

I may not like pointy toys as much as Mouse but I can see how practical they can be.

For a moment, my vision fuzzed and I felt wetness on my cheek.

Gotten something in my eye. Dust.

I wiped my eyes with the back of my hand. My vision cleared.

Then I clipped the sheath to my gear belt, added the drop pouches and secured them, and slid the footlocker back under the bed.

* * *

The clock on the wall of the Red Dog's back office read: 18:12:33.

A little over forty-five minutes before the meet.

Kid Tachyon and Eddie were working on their equipment on the office's desk and on a folding table that Kid had brought in.

I knew him by reputation but hadn't met Kid Tachyon until tonight. Round and jovial, with dark hair and closely-trimmed beard. Underneath a dark green overcoat he wore a t-shirt that bore the insignia of a big cat roaring, done all in red.

"Old vid show," he'd said at my puzzled look.

"You and Mouse should get together," I said. "She's big into vids."

He threw a sidelong glance at Eddie, then leaned toward me, hand cupped by his mouth. "No can. Eddie likes Mouse. But don't tell him I know."

"Is he that obvious?'

He grinned. "Does a bear shit in the woods?"

Jake and Mikey had laid out weapons on the floor--four submachineguns, four handguns, two pump-action shotguns, and two battle rifles--and were loading magazines.

Mikey and I had met two months ago. Jake's "go to" guy for run assists. Short and solid, a boulder with support column legs. Glossy black optics instead of eyes. Trademark olive-drab commando sweater.

He greeted me tonight the same as our first meeting: "Dude."

I finished putting my pistol magazines into the drop pouches and closed the flap. Each pouch had slots for four magazines, total of eight. Plus the eight on my gear belt, two in each of the four magazine holders. And the four loose magazines in my jacket pockets. Twenty reloads.

Two hundred rounds.

That didn't count the twenty rounds in the Twins.

Ready for a small war.

And I hadn't even gotten to the submachineguns.

"Kat."

I turned. Eddie was sitting up in his chair. "Tell me you got something," I said.

He shook his head and my stomach did flip flops. "I got fuck all," he said. "Street cams on Imperial, MacArthur, 13th, 14th, and the spyeye I borrowed. Checked them twice. Big fat nil."

I looked at Kid Tachyon. "Getting anything from Lazlar?"

"Got some possibles on safehouses they've used," he said. "Address on three of them. Rest is behind some good ICE. Gonna take a while."

Damn.

"Can't we just wait until the meet to find out where?" Kid Tachyon said.

"Do I look like I wait?"

He grinned. "Good point."

"Besides--that's playing by their rules. Don't do that either."

"I told you," Jake said to Kid.

Kid shrugged.

I folded my arms across my chest. "Good ICE?" I said to Kid.

He nodded.

"Eddie can do it," I said.

"Double-team it?" Kid said. "Sounds good--"

I shook my head. "Not double-team. Just Eddie."

Kid's brows went up.

"Kat--" Eddie began.

"Work your magic, Eddie," I said. "You know what I'm talking about."

"I...what..." He cleared his throat and gave a weak laugh. "Double-team's a good idea. Like Kid said."

"Eddie," I said and shot him Look Number Two, the one that makes people nervous.

He swallowed visibly. "Come on," he said. It was almost a whine.

"I know you, Eddie," I said. "Use it."

"All right," he said.

Kid turned to Eddie, his brows still up. "Eddie?"

"Tell ya later, mate," he said. He dug into an inside pocket of his lab coat, pulled out a hardcase, popped the lid, and pulled out a datadisk. He inserted the disk into his terminal. "Still gonna take a little time."

"But less time than if you didn't, right?" I said.

He nodded. "Back in a bit."

Then he jacked in.

Kid looked at me. "You gotta share."

"I'll let Eddie do the honors. It's a little over my head."

Jake came up next to me. "Problem," he said, his voice pitched low.

"Which is?"

"Three addresses. Gonna take time to recon and search."

"So?"

"So it'll eat up time we don't have."

"Then we just go in--"

"--with guns blazing?" He shook his head. "Do you hear yourself?"

"We can't just let her sit there."

"We're not. But we also can't go in without prep. You know that." He tipped my chin up and stared into my eyes. "You okay?"

"I..." I found myself drowning in his eyes, felt heat spreading down through my gut. The smell of gun oil and soap wafted into my nostrils and my breath caught in my throat.

Dammit, Kat. Head back in the game.

"Kat?" Jake said.

I tore my gaze from him, focused on the far wall, and counted to ten. Slowly. Very slowly.

"Kat?" he said again.

I nodded. "You're right," I said and met his gaze again. "I wasn't thinking it through."

Jake's eyes narrowed. He studied my face for what seemed like a long time, then nodded. "Okay."

"BIngo," said Eddie. "Got three more sites."

"That was quick," Kid Tachyon said.

"Change of plans," I said.

"What?" said Eddie. "After I spent all that time?"

"Did it work?" I said. "The magic?"

His face lit up. "Bloody fucking genius."

"What now?" said Mikey from his seat on the couch.

"Jake just reminded me we're short on time," I said. "We can't hit all six addresses."

"So what do you reckon?" said Eddie.

A thought struck. I said: "We let Jade tell us where they are."

"How do you figure?" said Jake.

I looked at Eddie and Kid. "You can trace a cell signal, right?"

"No sweat," said Kid. "Just need the digits."

I pulled out my cellphone and dialed.

Specs answered.

"I need Jade's number," I said.

"Are you fuckin' nuts?" said Specs. "You know I can't give out that sorta info."

"You're not in a union, Specs."

"It's a client privacy thing. You know how it is. What, you want me to buzz your number around town?"

I gave him the scoop. The short version.

"Sonofabitch," he said and gave me the number.

"Thanks, Specs."

"Anything for you and Mouse," he said. "And you'll make sure she doesn't slit my throat, right?"

"Right." I hung up.

"And?" Kid Tachyon said.

I gave him the number.

He turned to his terminal and jacked in.

"Here," said Jake.

I turned and he lobbed a phone at me. I caught it. "What's this for?"

"Was gonna use it for something else," he said. "Go for it. At the very least, she won't know your real number."

I dialed.

Jade picked up on the third ring. "New phone, Specs?"

"Hello, Jade," I said.

She said nothing. Loudly. Then: "Nice. Very nice. I'll have to remember that trick. What do you want?"

"I need more time."

"I don't know."

"Another half hour won't hurt."

"Might hurt Mouse."

"Then it turns personal. You don't want personal, Jade."

A pause, then: "How do I know you're not jerking me around?"

"My word," I said.

"You're kidding, right?"

"This is biz. My word."

Another pause.

"Well?" I said.

"All right," said Jade. "Done."

"One more thing."

"Don't push it."

"I need to know Mouse is okay."

"Mouse is okay."

"Not good enough."

"My word," said Jade.

I clenched my jaw.

"Biz, Kat," she said. "My word."

Then a voice in the background: "Kick her ass, Kat!"

Good enough for me.

"Your partner's got a loud mouth," Jade said. "Maybe I should shut it for her."

"Wouldn't try it."

"Personal?"

"Yeah."

"Fine."

"That goes for Specs, too. That trick is off-limits. That was biz. I hear otherwise, it turns personal."

"Personal can be bad for you, Kat."

"Be bad for you, too, Jade."

"Bitch."

"Thank you." I hung up and looked at Kid. "Was that enough time?"

He grinned. "You didn't need to do that."

"I thought..."

He shook his head. "That's the vids. All I needed was her number and to make sure her phone was on."

"Is Mouse okay?" Eddie said.

"Mouse is fine."

"Good."

Kid Tachyon gave him a sidelong glance.

"She's part of the team, mate," said Eddie. "Don't you want to know if she's okay?"

"You're blushing, loverboy," said Kid.

"Sod off," said Eddie.

"Kid," I said. "Where's Jade?"

"Lazlar."

I looked at Eddie. "Go."

"Right." He turned to his terminal.

Kid waved his hands over his head. "Hey hey--! I thought I was on assist, too?"

"Eddie's gonna work the magic," I said. "You are running interference."

"Interference." Kid's eyebrows went up. "As in raise hell?"

"Hell. The Apocalypse. Whatever you want to call it."

Kid jabbed a finger at Eddie. "You and your magic can kiss my pale white ass. I'm gonna blow shit up."

"I take it you're game?" I said.

Kid ignored me and grabbed his terminal, put the screen almost up to his face. "Fear me, Lazlar," he intoned, deep and gravel-voiced. "I come for your souls."

Eddie said, "Crazy fucking bastard..."

One more call.

"Again, Kat?" said Specs.

"One last thing," I said.

(to be continued...)


"Easy Money" - Part Eighteen

Revell had been shot, Mouse was gone, and I'd spent the last ten minutes pacing the back hallway of the Red Dog.

"Not helping," Jake said as he leaned against the wall.

"Helping me," I said.

Two meters away, behind the door of the office, Doc was working on Revell.

Jake said something.

I stopped and turned to himl. "What?"

"I said he's gonna be fine. We're talking about Doc here. Revell's in good hands."

Don't worry, I said to Mouse. Eddie's in good hands.

Eddie. How was Eddie? I wondered.

How was Mouse...?

A knock came from the rear door.

I reached for the Twins.

And Jake was suddenly there, holding my wrists, gently, pointing the guns at the ceiling. I never saw him move.

We locked eyes, his blues staring down at me, drilling deep into my head.

"Easy," he said.

After what seemed like forever, I nodded and he guided my hands back to the shoulder rig, guided the guns back into their holsters.

I realized I'd been holding my breath and I let it out.

Jake looked me over for a moment, then turned and went to the rear door and pushed it open.

Eddie hobbled through, saw me, and grinned. "Just the woman I wanted to see--" He must've seen my face. His brow creased. "What happened?"

Jake told him about Revell and Mouse.

"Bloody hell," Eddie said. "Who did it?"

"Don't know," said Jake.

"Kat?" said Eddie.

"Planning to find out," I said. "And then I grease them."

The door to the back office opened and Doc stepped into the hallway.

"Well?" I said.

"As expected."

"Meaning?"

The corner of his mouth twitched up into a small smile. "Meaning he's gonna be fine. Took two in the shoulder. Blew his rotator cuff. Dermal would've absorbed the damage but whoever shot him used AP rounds. Lost some blood. Lucky he got to the hemo pad when he did. Stopped the bleeding."

Relief flooded through me.

Doc's smile went up a notch. "He's a tough old bastard. Seen worse than this back in the day."

"I know. Can I see him?"

"He wants to see you."

I nodded and went into the room.

Revell was propped up on the couch, his left arm in a sling, bandages crisscrossing his shoulder. He looked at me and smiled.

I gave him a small smile, then grabbed the desk chair, put it next to the couch, and sat down.

"It was Jade," he said.

I sucked air through gritted teeth. "Mouse, too?"

He nodded.

"What happened?" I said.

Revell took a long breath and blew it out. "After you left, I went into bar to check on Mouse. Found Jade there. With secmen. They had cleared out bar and locked the front door. Had Mouse at gunpoint. Wanted disk. Mouse said you had it but Jade did not believe her. Had her searched. Didn't find it. Jade got mad. Took it out on Mouse."

I tensed.

"I know," said Revell. "Me too."

"Then?"

"Then she told me I was messenger."

"Messenger?"

Revell nodded and indicated his shoulder. "This was to make sure message was timely."

"What was the message?"

"Same time as you proposed. But you are to trade disk for Mouse."

I checked my optic clock. Just over an hour left.

I got up from the chair. "Better get ready." I turned to leave and Revell grabbed my hand.

"Wait. There is something else."

"What?"

"It is about Murphy."

"Revell, not now--"

"No. Now. It has gone on far too long. It must stop."

"Revell, please--"

"Katya, listen to me. You did not kill Murphy."

"I let him go, Revell. I tried to talk him out of it but he was stubborn. Last run, my ass..."

"There was nothing you could have done."

"He didn't have to go. He could've sent me and Mouse."

"Katya, you--"

"Why did he have to go?"

"He had to."

"What do you mean, he had to?"

He motioned toward the chair. I sat down.

"Ten years ago," Revell said, "Murphy's wife and daughter were killed."

"I know," I said. "Bus accident over on--"

"No. There was not accident. They were caught in crossfire between two punker gangs. One year later, Murphy found out he was supposed to have been target of crossfire."

"Trap."

Revell nodded. "Da. We also found out who was responsible."

"Who?"

"We knew him as Daniel Anderson. Former Assistant Weapons Sergeant, Third Special Operations Group, Alpha Team."

"Former?"

"Murphy found out he had been selling arms on black market through some mobsters in Alliance. Reported him. But Anderson went AWOL. Changed his name and made new life for himself."

"Like you and Murphy."

"Like me and Murphy," Revell said.

I started to get it. "But Anderson was still looking to settle the score. Changed his name. New ident."

"Now James Burns," said Revell. "From Louisiana."

"Alliance. Why there?"

"That is where he had contacts in arms business."

"Okay. So Anderson--Burns--wants payback. He finds Murphy after, what, ten years?"

"Thirteen."

"Thirteen years. Sets up a fake gangwar to get to him. Instead, he gets to Murphy's wife and daughter."

Then it came to me. "Murphy went after Burns, didn't he," I said.

Revell nodded. "One year after Kim and Eileen were killed. But somehow, Burns found out about Murphy's plan. Ambushed Murphy. Gunned him down and thought that was end of it. He was wrong, of course."

"Murphy survived."

"With my help. And Doc's. We patched him up. After that, he went under. Tried to figure out a new way to get at Burns. But never happened. Burns found Murphy again. Two months ago."

Realization kicked me in the gut. "Oh, Jesus. The meet in the 'Zone."

Revell nodded.

My shoulders tensed and I clenched my hand into fists. I said to Revell, "Why did you say Murphy had to go to that meet?"

"The package he was picking up had information about Burns."

"Oh."

"Katya, things happen for a reason. Nothing is by chance."

"You mean fate?"

"Not fate. Unless it is fate we make for ourselves. But wheel always turns."

"Wheel?"

"Of Fortune. Burns is the head of security at Lazlar Industries."

I jerked bolt upright in the chair, as if an electric shock had shot up my spine. "Lazlar. They're the ones after the disk."

"I know. Burns came by this afternoon. Wanted the disk. Actually requested it." He chuckled. "I told him what to do with his request." A small grin creased his face. "He did not care for that suggestion."

Fortune's wheel. It made sense now. I looked at Revell. "I'm supposed to set things straight for Murphy, aren't I."

His grin widened. "I always knew you were smart girl."

(to be continued...)