The banging on our apartment door woke me up.
"This better be good," I called out, "or you're gonna get shot."
"You've got company, luv," came the reply.
I rolled over, untangling myself from the bedsheets, and sat up. "What?"
"Some corpgeek's in the bar," said Eddie. "Wants to see you."
I blinked sleep from my eyes and glanced at the clock on my nightstand. It read: 10:00.
Across the room, Mouse shifted in her bed, the springs creaking slightly. "Piss off!" she said from beneath a pillow.
I got up, padded across the room to the door, and yanked it open.
Eddie clapped a hand over his eyes.
"What are you doing?" I said.
"Averting my eyes," said Eddie. "You'll kill me if I see your naughty bits."
I looked down at myself. T-shirt, black BDU trousers, and socks.
"Eddie," I said.
"I've got clothes on."
He spread his fingers and looked out at me from between them. "Oh."
"Walk in here," Mouse called out, "and I'll stab your eyes out."
I leaned in toward Eddie. "She sleeps in her skivvies."
He turned red and his eyes went distant.
"Who is it?" I said.
I cupped his face with both hands. "Focus. Who's downstairs?"
He blinked. "Didn't give a name. But corporate. Had a couple of muscle with him."
"Sure it's not a Smith?"
"Didn't act like one."
He nodded and headed back down the hallway.
I closed the door then pulled on shoes, the Twins in their shoulder rig, and slipped into my jacket. I checked the Twins.
Locked and loaded.
Then went downstairs.
* * *
He stood just inside the door, hands folded behind his back. Fiftyish. Hawk-nosed. Silver hair combed just right.
A pair of muscle flanked him.
Eddie met me as I came out from the back hallway. "Need me to hang about?"
"I should be okay," I said.
"Right. I'll be nearby." He shot a look over his shoulder at the corpgeek. "Just in case."
Eddie went out the back.
I faced the three men inside the bar and popped my optics to thermo.
The two muscle had the standard mods. Bone lacing. Dermal sheathing. Optics. Gunlinks. Headware. Plus a few extras. And, of course, they carried.
The corpgeek had mostly headware. Nothing else.
"Can I help you?" I said.
"They call you Kat," the corpgeek said. "Is that correct?"
"My name is Richard Armstrong. I represent Lazlar Industries."
"That a fact?"
He gave me a thin smile. "Feel free to look it up."
"What do you want?" I said.
"I take it your business with James Burns has been completed?"
His eyebrows went up.
"We agreed on compensation for--"
"--for an item." Armstrong nodded. "I'm aware of that."
I remembered something. "Last night," I said. "Burns contacted you."
He inclined his head. "He did. We will discuss that promised compensation in a moment. But your business with him. It's been completed, yes?"
"Good. Which means your business with Lazlar Industries is also completed."
"I guess it has."
"I'm glad we understand each other. We are, after all, professionals. Businessmen and women. As for your compensation..." He made a gesture.
One of the muscle stepped forward and handed Armstrong a creditchip and a reader. Armstrong took both and held them out to me.
"I'm sure you'll find everything in order," he said.
I took the 'chip and the reader and checked.
My stomach jumped into my throat.
Armstrong must've seen my expression because he laughed.
"Thank you for your assistance," he said.
"Anytime," I said.
He gave me a quick nod, then turned and left the bar.
I stared at the reader's display again. Just to make sure I hadn't read it wrong.
Mouse and Eddie appeared next to me.
"Who was it?" Mouse said.
"Lazlar," I said. "One of their higher-ups, I think."
"What'd they--" Eddie began.
I held up the reader so they could see the display.
"Wicked," said Mouse.
Eddie chuckled. "Looks like we all scored."
"What do you mean?" I said.
"Last night," said Eddie. "I found out Burns had himself a hidden account. And since he probably wouldn't need it anymore..."
"You sneaky bastard," I said.
"I also thought," Eddie went on, "that since you two did help me out a bit--"
"Help you out?" said Mouse.
"--that I'd pass on a little token of my undying appreciation."
"How little?" I said.
He grinned and gestured to the reader. "Add three to that."
"Hot damn," said Mouse.
Fifteen million credits.
I returned Eddie's grin.
God, I love this job.
Armstrong waited until the car pulled away from the bar then touched his earbud. "I've just left."
"Same place?" the voice in his ear said.
"Did the payment work?"
"I think it did."
"You don't sound certain."
"What if there's a problem down the line?" said Armstrong
"I hope there will not be a problem. I hope she proves to be ignorant of...things."
"And if she should get too curious?"
"Don't you Americans have a saying about curiousity and cats?"
Armstrong grinned. "We do, Harada-san."
* * *
The man who called himself Simon shoved the piece of fish into the saucer of malted vinegar and let it soak.
"...and then BAM!" Simon said into the cellphone. "Plastered his brains all over that rooftop."
"I'm not surprised," said the voice on the phone.
"You should've seen it. Those two work tight."
"They should. They learned from the best in the biz."
"I know. He was--"
"I know who he was. Don't say anything more. There are ears everywhere."
"We're on a secured line."
"Yes, but a fish and chips shop is not secure."
Simon looked around. Wang's Fish and Chips was empty except for him and the proprietor, a stout, fiftyish Chinese man with thinning hair, who seemed to be dozing in a chair behind the register. "Lady, you're paranoid."
"Keeps me alive."
"Whatever you say." Simon popped soaked piece of fish in his mouth and licked the grease and malted vinegar from his fingertips.
"Keep watching them," the voice said.
"You're the boss."