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."
"Where's my daughter?"
"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."
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.
Gray Suit pointed at the line hanging above them, yelled something I couldn't hear, and went for his pistol.
Bonnie spat at the closest muscleboy as he went for his gun. He went down in a spray of blood.
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.
I spotted Gray Suit, pistol in hand, moving in time with me. Shit. Bastard was boosted, too.
He disappeared behind the second ChrysFord sedan.
The last muscleboy raised his pistol. Bonnie cut him down.
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.
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.
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?"
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."
"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.
NEXT TIME: "Life Goes On..."