BY ABNER SENIRES

ABOUT | ARCHIVES | NEWS | SUBSCRIBE | SUPPORT | MERCHANDISE
THE WALL OF FAME
SPONSOR OF THE MONTH: gold star Pete and Karen Smyth

"Babysitting Blues" - Part Six

Natalia and I finished prepping with less than a minute to spare.

Now, under a blanket of shadows atop a Marina warehouse, we watched as two black ChrysFord luxury sedans parked at angles next to a long row of rust-colored metal shipping containers in front of Pier 42. The doors of the first sedan opened and a man in a gray suit emerged. The contactman.

The sedan's driver and a second man followed Gray Suit out of the car. Both wore dark suits.

Two more got out of the second sedan, also wearing dark suits. Muscle. Kelly's men.

Not impressed. Not after what I'd seen so far.

A few seconds later, a silver Mitsubishi sedan pulled up and Renaldi stepped out. I heard a gasp beside me. I looked.

Natalia had clapped a hand to her mouth, eyes wide. I put a finger to my lips.

She mouthed, "Sorry."

I nodded, glanced toward the pier, then turned to a duffel bag sitting next to me, something I'd lifted from the aerodyne. I reached in and pulled out a parabolic mike. Aimed it at the gathering below and pulled on the earphones. I'd be taking my cue from whatever happened below but I needed to hear what was going on.

In this biz, timing counts.

As Renaldi started toward Gray Suit, the three muscle spread out. One stepped back behind Gray Suit and stood to one side. The other two flanked Renaldi.

Their jackets were unbuttoned. Ready to draw.

When Renaldi got within three meters of Gray Suit, he said, "Far enough, Mr. Renaldi."

Renaldi stopped. "Let's get this over with."

"Payment first."

"Where's my daughter?"

"She's safe."

"Show me."

"I assure you, Mr. Renaldi. She's safe--"

"Show me," he said and his voice echoed off the shipping containers.

Gray Suit looked at him for a long moment, then glanced toward the second sedan.

The car's back door opened and Kelly stepped out. She yanked a blindfolded Mouse after her, a hand gripping my partner's right arm.

Just as I thought.

"Not very trusting, are we, Phillipe?" Kelly said.

"Deborah?" said Renaldi, surprise in his voice.

Kelly pushed Mouse in front of her, still holding her right arm, and the two of them joined the others. "Here's the little brat," Kelly said. "Satisfied?"

Beside me, Natalia sucked air in through clenched teeth.

"What's going on, Deborah?" Renaldi said.

"The money," Kelly said.

"I demand an explanation."

Gray Suit unbuttoned his coat, drew it back, exposing a pistol in a crossdraw holster.

"The money," Kelly said again.

Renaldi nodded and reached into his jacket.

"Slowly," Gray Suit said.

Renaldi pulled out a creditchip and held it up between his thumb and forefinger.

"Put it on the ground," Kelly said, "and take two steps back." Renaldi complied.

Kelly nodded to Gray Suit.

He walked to the chip, picked it up, then pulled a chipreader from inside his coat. He swiped the chip and studied the display. "Ten mil," he said to Kelly.

Kelly smiled. "Thanks, Phillipe. You're a doll."

"You've got your damn money," Renaldi said. "Now let my daughter go."

"Of course, of course," Kelly said, stepped to one side of Mouse, and kicked her in the back of the legs. Mouse yelped and dropped to her knees. At the same time, Kelly drew a semi-auto from inside her coat and shoved the muzzle against Mouse's temple.

"What are you doing?" Renaldi said.

"Nice try, Phillipe," said Kelly. "Thought you could pull a fast one on me?"

"What are you talking about?"

"This little bitch isn't your daughter. Biometrics don't match. And she was carrying weapons." She shook her head. "You set me up, you bastard."

Shit.

I dropped the parabolic and ripped the headphones off as Natalia clipped a line to an anchor bolted into the warehouse roof.

I raised the grapnel launcher and fired the line at the shipping container behind the tableau. The spear point hit home with a clang and the line went taut.

Everyone below turned toward the sound.

I reached for the handle of the speed pulley and caught a glimpse of Mouse ripping the blindfold off, and bolting toward Renaldi, her trenchcoat flapping out behind her.

A subvocalized command flooded my body with adrenaline stimulators and the world slid into slo-mo.

I drew Bonnie from my shoulder rig and jumped off the roof.

Air blasted past me as I sped down the line.

Forty meters.

Gray Suit pointed at the line hanging above them, yelled something I couldn't hear, and went for his pistol.

Thirty meters.

Bonnie spat at the closest muscleboy as he went for his gun. He went down in a spray of blood.

Twenty meters.

The other two muscleboys started to spin toward their fallen comrade, hands moving toward their sidearms. Bonnie roared four times. The second muscleboy fell back in a cloud of gore, arms flailing.

Fifteen meters.

I spotted Gray Suit, pistol in hand, moving in time with me. Shit. Bastard was boosted, too.

He disappeared behind the second ChrysFord sedan.

Ten meters.

The last muscleboy raised his pistol. Bonnie cut him down.

Five meters.

Gray Suit popped up from his hiding place and unloaded, spraying bullets at me.

Damn. Modified pistol. Set for fully automatic.

Thank god for implanted dermal armor. Keeps your torso from getting shot full of holes. Only problem: doesn't work on your face.

I threw my right arm up across my face, hoping my armored jacket would be enough protection.

Rounds sledgehammered into my chest, knocked the breath from my lungs, and catapulted me off the pulley handle. I tumbled to the concrete, dropping Bonnie, but managed a tuck and roll. I came up in a crouch, gasping for air.

Bonnie lay two meters away. In front of the first sedan.

I sprinted toward her, keeping low. Gray Suit's pistol chattered again, bullets stitching the ground just behind my feet. I closed on Bonnie, scooped her up, and dove across the first sedan's hood. Dropped to the ground on the other side, rolled to one knee, and put my back to the side of the car.

Another burst of gunfire punched through the sedan's windows, spraying glass around me. Popped a magazine out of Bonnie, reloaded from the mag pouch at my belt, then drew Clyde.

Then I heard him.

Clatter of footsteps. To my right.

Gray Suit bolted around the trunk of the first sedan at a dead run, pistol coming up to bear. Fast.

I was faster.

The Twins belched fire in a thundering stacatto, ripping into Gray Suit's torso. Blood geysered. He stumbled in mid-stride, and went sprawling across the pavement.

The cry reached my ears then.

"No!"

Kelly.

I popped out from behind the sedan. She was firing at the Mitsubishi, rounds stitching along the opposite side of the car.

Then Mouse darted out from behind the car's trunk and her hand flashed.

A pair of slim throwing knives lodged themselves in Kelly's left shoulder. She howled,staggered, but managed to swing the pistol toward Mouse. She fired.

Pavement exploded around Mouse. She dove back behind the sedan.

I was already moving, the Twins rising into position. They each roared three times. Kelly's chest exploded. She gurgled blood and crumpled. The pistol clattered away.

I kept The Twins up and did a quick scan of the area.

Blood pooled beneath the bodies. The smell of cordite mixed with bay sewage hung in the air. In the distance, a buoy clanged.

"Mouse?" I said. "You okay?"

"Five by five, Kat," she said.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Mouse help Renaldi to his feet with one hand, another pair of throwing knives in her other hand. Nothing else moved on the street.

I stood and holstered The Twins. "Clear," I said to Mouse.

She nodded and resheathed the knives. She walked over to Kelly, retrieved the first two, and wiped the blood off on Kelly's coat. "Nice play," she said to me.

I grinned.

Renaldi looked at Mouse, then at me. "She looks just like Natalia. But that's not my daughter."

"This," I said, inclining my head at Mouse, "is my partner, Mouse."

Mouse nodded at him.

"Uncanny," he said. Then his brow furrowed. "But I don't understand--"

"Kelly was trying to kidnap Natalia," I said. "To use her against you. But she got Mouse instead."

"Figured I'd run with it," Mouse said. "Let them think they had Natalia."

"But I knew Kelly would figure it out," I said. "Run a scan."

Mouse nodded and held up her thumb. "Print. After they found my gear."

"Thought so," I said. "Kelly probably figured she had me played."

The furrow on Renaldi's brow deepened. He shook his head slowly. "I don't understand--"

I bent down, reached inside Kelly's coat pocket, and found the recorder I knew would be there. I stood and showed it to Renaldi.

He frowned. "A vid recorder?"

"Kelly was going to document how you gave her control of AstraNova," I said.

"I could've denied it," Renaldi said. "Say the vid was fabricated."

I shook my head. "She had too many safeguards in place. Fake memos. Reports. The good stuff. All detailing how you handed over the reins of the company to her. This was just a backup."

"But why?" Renaldi said, eyes narrowed.

"The Vittorio Family was interested in your company," I said.

"They sent Kelly as their mole. Built up influence through her. Those contracts she won for AstraNova? Companies fronting Vittorio interests. I'm pretty sure some of your employees are actually Vittorio plants."

He clenched his fists. "My god..."

"When the time came," I went on, "they were going to buy you out. But when your wife died two years ago and AstraNova's profits started dropping, Kelly saw an opportunity. Play off your grief. Force you to hand over the company and use your daughter as a bargaining chip. Then, during the exchange, she'd grease the two of you. Ransom payment gone bad."

Renaldi shook his head and made a dismissive gesture with his hand. "Enough." He exhaled loudly, unclenched his fists, and looked at me, his face suddenly tired. "Where is Natalia?"

"Daddy!"

Natalia burst around the corner of the warehouse, pulled off the ball cap, and sprinted toward Renaldi, catching him in a hug that nearly toppled him. Renaldi just laughed, hugged her tight against his chest, and kissed the top of her head.

Then he raised a tear-streaked face at me.

"Natalia was with you earlier tonight," he said. "When you were at AstraNova."

I smiled.

"Ingenious," he said. Then he turned to Mouse, his brow furrowed. "Remarkable. Near perfect likeness."

Mouse looked away.

Renaldi started to say something, stopped.

I looked at my partner. She continued to stare at the dark bay waters, her eyes distant.

After a moment, Renaldi cleared his throat and turned to me, still holding Natalia close. "Thank you again," he said. "I knew you'd come through."

I grinned. "So did I, Mr. Renaldi. So did I."

God, I love my job.

--END--



"Babysitting Blues"
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
Part 4 | Part 5


"Babysitting Blues" - Part Five

"You sure about this?" Natalia said, her voice echoing in the empty office.

"Yup," I said.

"How do you know?"

"Worked once."

"Worked once? And you expect--"

I gave her The Look.

"Okay, okay!" she said, sitting back in her chair. "Don't freak."

I turned back to look out the palm-sized clean spot on the dirt-caked window of the abandoned office building.

Two blocks north of us loomed the southeast towers of Winn Town, Southside's ten-block collection of 20-story residential high-rises. Six stories below me sat abandoned storefronts and the occasional gutted metal hulk that would've passed for a car in a nicer part of town.

Not here. Not in Southside.

At the end of the block a hundred
meters away, Renaldi's BMW sat half-on, half-off the curb at the corner of the intersection, its trunk angled toward me. In the front seat, a pair of figures.

Good. Everything in place.

"So where--?" Natalia began.

Then I felt it. A dull thrum that rumbled up from the floor and through my legs.

"Right on schedule," I said and turned to look up the street.


The aerodyne swung around the corner at the other end of the block. It hovered above the intersection, level with the tops of the other buildings along the street, two stories above me. I could see the faint outline of the pilot in the cockpit, lit by the amber glow of the instrument panel. Its searchlights raked across the outside walls and finally swept up the street and found the sedan.

The aerodyne's chaingun swung into place and howled, spitting fire into the sedan. The car bucked under the impact, spraying chunks of metal into the air.

Then the gas tank caught and a fireball rocketed out of the trunk with a dull whomp, flipping the car up and over.

I squinted against the flash and made a mental note to pick up flare compensators for my optics when this was over.

The sedan fell back to the street on its roof, flames licking the chassis. A moment later, the aerodyne dropped altitude and started up the street toward the car.

Bingo.

The first time around, these guys assumed Mouse and I were dead. They weren't going to make the same mistake twice. They would make sure they had prepared for every possibility. Of course, they'd never dealt with me.

I tugged at the window latch and yanked. It slid open, grinding along its runner, and a blast of cool air mixed with the sweet-sour reek of garbage whipped at my face.

The aerodyne passed under the window.

"Stay here," I said to Natalia. Then jumped out.

A vertical fall is one thing.

A vertical fall onto a moving object is another.

I could hear Murphy's voice in my head: "What the hell are you thinking?" Murphy preferred simpler approaches. But I was never a simple kind of gal.

I landed on top of the aerodyne in a crouch. It shuddered under me and suddenly came to a stop. I heard a door slide open to my left, saw a pair of black-gloved hands grip the edge of the roof and a helmeted head pop up. The secman went saucer-eyed -- not everyday that a meter-ninety of dark-haired Amazon lands on the roof of your aerodyne.

He stared. I cracked my boot into the middle of his face. His head snapped back and I heard his scream fade as he plummeted to the street below.

I swung into the cabin just as another helmeted, black fatigue-clad secman went for his sidearm.

Too late.

One of The Twins, Bonnie, leaped into my hand and spat four times, thunder echoing in the enclosed space.

He crumpled in a heap against the bulkhead.

The other Twin, Clyde, sprang into my left hand as I spun toward the cockpit.

Both Twins nuzzled up against the heads of the pilot and co-pilot.

"Hi, choom," I said. "Come here often?"

"Fucking bitch--!" The co-pilot reached for his gun.

They never learn.

Bonnie roared again, belching fire. The co-pilot's head sprayed gore and gray matter onto the cockpit wall. He slumped in his seat. The pilot whimpered and threw his hands up. The two-way radio at my belt crackled.

I slid Bonnie back into my shoulder rig, keeping Clyde trained on the pilot, and pulled the radio out.

"Oh my god!" Natalia's voice said. "It worked. Those stupid mannequins in the car worked."

"Told you," I replied.

I still don't know what Fast Eddie was doing with a bunch of department store mannequins. Not my business.

At least he came through for me and Mouse. Again.

"Meet us below," I said into the radio then clicked off and turned to the pilot. He whimpered again. I gave him The Smile. Slightly less threatening than The Look. It just makes people uneasy.

"Set us down," I said.

* * *

The pilot told me everything I needed to know. He was surprisingly cooperative.

Then again, the threat of serious bodily injury from twin hand cannons and a scattergun pointed at your face can loosen just about anyone's tongue.

My cellphone chirped just as he finished talking. I motioned for Natalia to keep the shotgun trained at him, holstered The Twins, then pulled out my phone and stepped into the aerodyne's cabin.

Renaldi.

"The Marina," he said. "Pier 42."

"We'll be there," I said and hung up.

Then I picked up the equipment-filled duffle bag I'd found next to the body of the secman in the cabin.

"What now?" Natalia asked.

"We take the aerodyne."

Natalia nodded then gestured to the pilot. "What about him?"

I thought a moment.

Through the cockpit windows, Winn Town stared back at me. About as inviting as a trip to the bowels of hell.

I drew Bonnie and aimed her at the pilot's head. He recoiled.

"You're going for a walk," I said. "But first, take off your clothes."

"What!" he said, spit flying from his mouth.

I shot him The Look.

He peeled off his uniform.

(to be continued...)

"Babysitting Blues"
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
Part 4 | Part 6

"Babysitting Blues" - Part Four

"Who?" I said.

"Vittorio," said Eddie.

The Vittorio Family, one of the oldest of the Families still remaining in Bay City. "So she's connected," I said. "But that still doesn't answer my question. If Kelly -- the real Kelly -- is dead, who were we talking to at AstraNova?"

"Getting there, luv, " Eddie said. He spun back to the console and opened another display.

A photograph of Kelly appeared, except she had shoulder-length blond hair and wore a black, sequined cocktail dress, a drink in one hand. She was talking to a trio of similarly dressed women.

Eddie looked over his shoulder at me. "Kelly, right?"

"Or whoever she really is," I said. "But yeah. Except the hair is different..."

"File photo. BCPD Vice."

"Vice?" I said.

Eddie nodded. "Taken twelve years ago." He tapped the monitor. "Daniela Sorensen. Husband is Charles Sorensen, senior VP at DigiTech. Corp out of SoCal." Eddie sat back in his chair and swiveled around to me and Natalia. "Her maiden name is Vittorio."

"Wait a minute," Natalia said. "Kelly is really this Sorensen woman."

"Vittorio," Eddie said.

"Whatever," said Natalia. "So what, she's some kind of industrial spy?"

"Got it in one, luv," Eddie said.

"But that's crazy. She's been with my dad's company for all that time. If she was just going to steal information for that crime family, wouldn't she have done it already?"

A thought struck.

"What's AstraNova's track record for the last five years?" I said to Eddie.

He turned back to the console and typed some commands. A set of graphs popped up. Eddie studied them for a moment, then said, "Not bad, until about two years. Profits started to sag." He looked at me. "Why? You planning to invest?"

"What happened two years ago?" I said.

"Mom died," said Natalia.

I looked at her. "I'm sorry, Natalia."

"It's okay. You didn't know."

"Your father had a meeting today," I said to her. "Who with?"

She shrugged.

"Eddie?"

"Right. Wait one." He plugged a gold-tipped cable into the datajack just behind his right ear and slumped in his chair. Three minutes later, he jerked awake and shuddered. He wiped sweat from his forehead and grinned at Natalia. "Your dad's packing pretty hard core ice for a personal calendar."

"What'd you find?" I said.

Eddie typed some commands then studied the monitor. "Meeting in San Angeles. With DigiTech."

Natalia looked at me. So did Eddie.

"Contact name, by any chance?" I said.

Eddie typed some more then stopped. "Well, bloody hell."

"Let me guess," I said. "Charles Sorensen."

"Bang on," said Eddie.

* * *

My optic clock read: 16:57:03. Close to an hour until the meet and Mouse was still missing. But not for long. I wasn't sure where she was, but I had a good idea who had her.

I stood outside Spec's shop, staring into the trunk of Renaldi's car. The duffel from the Mustang sat open on the trunk floor. A old pump action Remington 12-gauge. Bandolier with 50 shells. Extra box of ammo.

Damn. I'd unpacked the MP5 the day before to clean.

My cellphone chirped. Specs. "Anything?" I said.

"Big fat nothin'," Specs said.

"You try everyone?"

"Everyone I could. Even called in some favors. Zip. No teams went for the girl."

"Thanks."

"You thinkin' what I think you're thinkin'?"

"Yup."

"Figured. Just don't get dead."

"You're all heart, Specs."

I hung up and looked back at the shotgun. It would have to do.

Footsteps shuffled toward me.

"Kat?"

I turned.

Natalia stood behind me, hands in the bomber jacket's pockets, ballcap still pulled low over her face. For a moment, Natalia looked like Mouse did when she first walked into the Red Dog and asked to join Murphy and me.

"What now?" she said.

I thought a moment. "In about half an hour, your father finds out where the meet takes place. Which leaves us waiting around."

"So?"

"Do I look like I wait around?"

She smiled.

"I figure Kelly ordered your capture," I said, "and her own sec team hit us back there."

"How do you know?"

"No freelancers were hired to pick you up. I checked with Specs."

"You trust him?"

"He'd be stupid to jerk me around."

"Couldn't someone else have sent those men?"

"Maybe." I remembered the conversation back at AstraNova. "But my hunch says Kelly."

Natalia frowned. "Why me?"

"Why not?" I said. "Boss's daughter. Great bargaining chip."

She looked deflated. "Yeah..."

I picked up the shotgun, checked the magazine, then started loading shells. "As far as Kelly's concerned, Mouse and I are still alive. I doubt witnesses were part of her plan. Then again, I doubt dealing with me was part of her plan."

"What is her plan?" Natalia asked.

I told her.

She was quiet for a while.

I finished loading the shotgun and pumped a shell into the chamber. "That sec team's gonna be hunting us. I just hope I bought us enough time."

Natalia's eyes lit up. "So that's why we took my father's car. You knew they'd follow us in the other one."

"The switch should confuse them for a bit," I said. "But the garage cams'll show which car we took."

"So they will find us."

"Counting on it." I slung the bandolier across my chest and the shotgun over my shoulder. Then shut the trunk lid.

And saw it.

The aerodyne.

Just north of Highway 342, banking past middle peak of the Three Sisters, its belly-mounted searchlights sweeping. Heading toward us.

Then, an idea struck...

(to be continued...)

"Babysitting Blues"
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
Part 5

"Babysitting Blues" - Part Three

As Natalia and I walked into the conference room at the AstraNova building, the corp rose from her seat at the far end of the long table. All business in a dark blazer and matching skirt, her auburn hair pulled back into a tight bun.

I stopped just inside the door. Natalia followed, keeping the cap low over her face.

I said, "We're here to see Deborah Kelly."

"I'm Deborah Kelly," the woman said. "Senior Vice President. Chief Operating Officer." She gave me an appraising look, then said, "Your... associate contacted me. I agreed to meet, but something tells me this is out of the ordinary."

"Not normal S.O.P.," I said. "But under the circumstances..."

"Circumstances?"

"Miss Renaldi is missing," I told her.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Natalia shoot me a furtive look from beneath the ballcap. I kept my eyes on Kelly.

I went on. "She was abducted about an hour ago by an unknown number of persons."

"I see." Kelly took a seat at the table then settled her gaze on me. "And this is what we paid you for? To lose your client?"

"It happens," I said.

"How nice. I'm sure Mr. Renaldi will be happy to hear that."

"We will get her back, Miss Kelly. Count on it."

"Don't tell me. Tell Mr. Renaldi. Although I don't think he'll appreciate your incompetence in this matter." She shook her head. "He should've hired Excalibur, the old fool--"

Natalia inhaled sharply and started forward. I stepped between her and Kelly.

"We do just fine, thanks," I said. "But my partner is kinda touchy about that. I wouldn't get her angry if I were you."

Kelly's eyes narrowed. "Is that a threat?"

I shrugged. "A warning."

"Our security teams are very quick."

"You don't want that. Could get messy."

Kelly studied me for a long moment. Then she said, "How do I know you're not making this up?"

"Would I be here if I was?"

"It could be a trick. Some kind of ploy to get more money out of Mr. Renaldi--"

"I never said anything about money."

She gave a start, then recovered. Too late. I caught it.

She said, "Then your fee hasn't changed?"

I looked at her. Her face had become expressionless again, but something flashed behind her eyes. Something predatory.

I smiled. "Tell Mr. Renaldi he'll probably get a call from the abductors demanding a ransom of some sort. Have him contact me through my associate. We'll help out as much as we can."

"You'll do more than that," a voice behind us rumbled.

I'd heard him padding down the hallway ten seconds before he spoke. Necessary skill in my line of work. Still, I turned around with the others.

Phillipe Renaldi stood in the doorway, suit jacket slung over one shoulder, tie loosened, sleeves rolled up. He looked as he did in the 'zines: tall and darkly handsome, like the leading men in one of Mouse's vids. The Aussie who played an ancient warrior, for instance.

But a scowl etched itself on his features. I'd seen that look before, on the faces of people I tend to encounter.

Out for blood.

Renaldi looked at me. "You are going to get my daughter back."

* * *

Renaldi followed me and Natalia back to the underground parking garage. He told us he had gotten the call from the abductors during his meeting, half an hour before he arrived in the conference room at the AstraNova building.

"By 18:00 tonight," he was saying.

I checked my optic clock. Two and a half hours. "Where?" I asked.

"They'd tell me. Half hour before."

Typical. "How much?"

"Twenty million."

I whistled. "Lot of money."

He grunted. "Chump change. We're talking about my daughter."

"I understand."

"I believe you do."

We reached the loaner. Natalia got into the passenger seat.

I pulled open my door.

Renaldi put a hand on the doorframe. "Despite what my colleague in there said, there's no blame. I knew the risks."

"We'll get her back, Mr. Renaldi."

"I know you will. When you do, I'll triple your fee."

I started to shake my head. "Sir--"

He smiled for the first time that evening. "Chump change. We're talking about my daughter."

I returned the smile, stared to get in the car, then stopped. I turned back to Renaldi. "Mr. Renaldi," I said, "I have a favor to ask."

* * *

We came up the parking garage ramp onto 6th Street in Renaldi's black BMW sedan. Behind us, the AstraNova building disappeared among the steel and glass towers of Corporate Plaza.

My cellphone chirped. Fast Eddie.

"You got something."

"Don't I always?" Eddie said.

"Spill it, choom."

"Better if I show you. Come to the shop."

"There in fifteen."

* * *

"She's dead," Fast Eddie said to me and upended another can of Tsunami Cola. "Or she's not."

We were in Fast Eddie's shop, an abandoned autobody shop off Edge Road on near the northeastern tip of the Southside District. Inside the converted repair bay, Eddie sat in a high-back leather chair in front of three tables connected in a U-shape set up against the wall. Empty soda cans and assorted electronic equipment trailing wires and cables occupied the two side tables. Three flat-screens, two keyboards, and a cyberdeck dominated the middle table.

Natalia sat on a stool off to one side. We exchanged looks. I turned back to Eddie.

"Say again?" I said.

"Deborah Kelly," Eddie said, tossing the empty can aside, "died 35 years ago. Or she's a 96-year-old widow still living in the Alliance." He leaned his wiry frame back into his seat, adjusting his rumpled white lab coat. "I'd go with the deceased."

"You're not making sense, Eddie," I said.

He swiveled his chair toward a keyboard and typed. A display window popped up on the center screen. Medical records. "Kelly, Deborah Anne," he read from the screen. "Born 12 April 2007 at 11:25 a.m. to Martin and Dana Kelly. Boston. Premature." He looked over his shoulder. "Died of complications two days later."

"So who were we talking to half and hour ago?" I said.

"Watch this," Eddie said and displayed another window on the monitor.

AstraNova's personnel files.

"Kelly came to work for AstraNova eleven years ago," said Eddie. "Personal data matches the baby from Boston. 'Cept for place of birth. That's registered as Chicago Metroplex. But I cross-reffed." He looked over his shoulder. "Her records are blank until eleven years ago."

"Nothing?"

"Not a damned thing."

"What's her personnel file say?"

"Climbed the ladder pretty fast. Made some choice deals that got her noticed. Took over as COO five years later. One year before the previous COO stepped down. Scandal."

"Lucky her."

"Lucky nothing." Eddie typed on the keyboard. Five display windows appeared on the monitor. Company profiles. "These are the companies she won contracts with three years after starting." He spun around, looked at me and Natalia, a smile creasing his face. "Guess what they have in common."

"Besides Kelly winning the contracts?"

"Besides that."

"No idea."

"Family ties," Eddie said.

Son of a bitch.

Natalia's brow furrowed. "Family ties?"

"Crime Families, luv," Eddie said to her. "Organized crime."

(to be continued...)

"Babysitting Blues"
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 4