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"Babysitting Blues" - Part Two

Back to the Red Dog. And to square one.

Revell, owner of the Red Dog, sat down next to Natalia and offered her a
steaming mug of tea which looked out of place in his bear-like hands. She said nothing. Just sat lodged into the corner of the beat-up mustard yellow couch, knees tucked against her chest, arms wrapped around her legs, staring intently at her sneakers.

Couldn't blame her. Somebody just shot at her with a chaingun and, most likely,
70mm rockets out of a pepperbox launcher. Typical in my line of work.

Not typical for her.


Revell stood up and turned to me, a frown on his bearded face. "Shock," he said
in his Russian-tinged basso.

I nodded, finished slipping rounds into the fifth magazine, set that down on the desk in
front of me, and began loading a sixth. "She'll be fine."

"Ya znayu. I know." He set the mug down on the other end of the desk. "What
about Mouse?"

"Next order of business." Bad move. Whoever you are.


I started to top off the magazine, but my vision suddenly went fuzzy. Like looking
through a rain-drenched window.

"Katya?"


Revell. His hand suddenly on my shoulder. Comforting. It reminded me of
Murphy.

Revell's best friend.


My old mentor. My friend. A father to me.


Before he went to a meet in the Zone two months ago.


For the last time--


No. Not going to happen to Mouse.


Blinking brought the world back into focus.


I cleared my throat, finished loading the magazine.


Just then the office door flew open and everyone's favorite info broker, Specs,
burst in, resplendent with his circular mirrorshades and a Hawaiian shirt the color of a really obnoxious fireworks display. The overhead light glinted off his bald head.

"Can't a guy even enjoy a cold frosty one out there without bein' summoned like
some goddamned manservant?"

I nodded at him. "Hi, Specs. I'm fine. How are you?"


"This enlightened warrior shit is really starting to piss me off, Kat."


"I need info."


"And what the fuck do I look like?"


"Specs--"


He held up his hands and grinned. "I'm kidding! Jesus! Lighten up, will ya? All
that stress'll give you a heart attack." He pulled up a chair and sat down across from me, propping his feet up on the corner of the desk. "You two already done? I thought that Rambaldo guy--"

"Renaldi."


The three of us turned. Natalia sat upright on the couch, hands on her hips,
looking imperious. She threw Specs a dagger-filled stare. "The name," she said, "is Renaldi."

Specs looked at her, dropped the mirrorshades to the end of his nose, and
looked again. "You ain't Mouse."

I looked at Revell. "Give the man a prize."


Specs squinted at Natalia. "Goddamn. You look like Mouse, though. Fuckin'
weird." He turned back to me. "What the hell?"

I told him what happened.


When I finished, Specs whistled and shook his head. "Son of a bitch. So you got
stuck with the package--"

"I'm not a package." Natalia said.


Specs turned to her. "Take it easy, kid. It's just bizspeak--"


"I don't care. I'm. Not. A. Package."


I raised an eyebrow at Natalia.


She stared at me. "I have a name, thank you," she said.


I said, "Natalia, this is Specs. He's a broker."


Specs grinned at her. "How ya doin'?"


"Watch out," I said to Specs. "She's feisty."


"No shit." He turned to me and sat back in his chair. "So whadda ya need?"


"You brokered the run. Who's your contact?"


He scratched his head. "You know I can't divulge that info."


I gave him The Look.


He cleared his throat. "It's a professional thing. You know, broker-client
privilege."

The Look continued.


Three seconds later he threw up his hands. "Deborah Kelly. Her name's
Deborah Kelly. She works for whatsisname."

"Renaldi."


"Yeah. Him. She called the run. You happy now?"


"Thank you."


"I'm gonna lose my license for that."


"You don't have a license."


He shrugged and gave me a lopsided grin.


"Oh," I said. "I need a car."


"You're killin' me, Kat."


"I love you too, Specs."


He went back into the bar with Revell in tow leaving me with Natalia. She looked
at me expectantly.

"Do you know Deborah Kelly?" I asked.


"She works with my father," Natalia said.


"What's she like?"


She shrugged. "I met her once."


I nodded and pulled out my cellphone to call Fast Eddie, our favorite console
jockey. Two rings, then a cheery Cockney-laced voice answered: "Hello, luv. Miss me, did you?"

"Need you, choom."


"Don't let Mouse hear that. She'd be jealous."


"Kinda' why I called." I told him what happened.


"Bugger..." he said.


"You on board, then?" I asked.


"Anything for Mouse," he replied, then quickly added, "And you, too."


"I know."


Eddie'd been jonesing for Mouse since they first met three years ago. The boy'd
go through hell and back for her. And has. Twice. Second time nearly flatlined him. This time around wasn't quite hell, but I knew he'd come through. As always.

For me and for Mouse.


He cleared his throat. "Right. What's the crack?"


"Infodump."


"Mark?"


"Deborah Kelly. Works for Phillipe Renaldi."


Keyboard tapping in the background. "Renaldi? The AstraNova bloke?"


"Yeah. Full dump. Anything you can dig up."


"On it. Ten, maybe fifteen. I'll call."


"Thanks, Eddie. By the way, how's the magic working for you?"

"Bloody thing went dodgy on me. Dropped me into the middle of a shite storm two days ago."

"What happened?"

"Dunno. Checking it out. Mean time, I'm staying away from it."


"Probably best. We'll be waiting." I hung up.


"What now?" Natalia asked.


I loaded up. Topped off The Twins, Bonnie and Clyde -- my pair of Colt-Springfield
M2001 .45-caliber high-capacity pistols -- before slipping them snugly into my double-holster shoulder rig. Then pulled on my black leather biker jacket, started for the office door, and looked over at Natalia. "Let's go."

"I'm not going anywhere," she said.


I stopped. "You need to be with me."


"Why? 'Cause it's safer?" She snorted.


"It is safer."


"We almost got blown up. You call that safe?"


Good point. "Look," I said, "it's my job to make sure nothing happens to you."


"Oh yeah. I forgot. I'm your 'package.' Well, screw that. And screw you!"


"Your father hired us."


Natalia snorted. "As if he cared." She folded her arms across her chest and
looked away, lower lip trembling.

"Those men wanted you," I said. "They picked up my best friend instead. I plan
to get her back. Your father paid us for a job. I plan to do that, too. Either way, that means you stay with me."

"Says who?"


I sighed. Patience, they say, is a virtue. One I usually have.


Not this time.


One of the Twins, Bonnie, suddenly pointed herself muzzle-first against Natalia's
forehead. Natalia went saucer-eyed.

"Says me," I said.


* * *

"This," Natalia said, pouting, "is called kidnapping."


"This," I said, "is called 'keeping you alive'."


"Almost blown up?" she said. "Remember?"


" 'Almost' is the operative word."


We were headed up Sterling Avenue toward Corporate Plaza in a gray
ChrysFord sedan, a loaner Specs had rustled up. He'd also arranged a meeting with Deborah Kelly at the AstraNova building. We joined the steady stream of sedans, compacts, and runabouts headed into City Center. Just your average pair of women with business among the suits.

"How do I know this isn't some kind of plot?" Natalia asked.


"Don't flatter yourself," I replied. "You just stick with me and you'll live."


"Fine," she said. "Do it your way." She folded her arms across her chest and
glared at the windshield.

I turned back to the road. Four blocks away, the 'scrapers of Corporate Plaza
loomed over the city, jagged steel and glass giants clawing at the sky. Something about the situation reeked like a Sprawl alley. I couldn't put my finger on it. Not yet. But I wanted answers. And fast.

Talking to Kelly would be a good start.


As we neared the AstraNova building, a thought struck.

I said to Natalia, "Let me
do the talking. Whatever happens, not a word. And" -- I gestured to the ballcap -- "keep that over your eyes."

"I know."


"I mean it."


She turned to me and opened her mouth. I gave her The Look. "Scan?"


Natalia glared at me but said nothing.


Then she looked away.

(to be continued...)

"Babysitting Blues"
Part 1 | Part 3


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