"Mornin', luv," he answered in his bright Cockney-laced tenor.
"Need info," I said.
"In the middle of something right now. Can it wait?"
The crunch of snacks--no doubt greasy potato chips--greeted my ears. Then: "Two hours."
"Not local. I'm on min gear."
"Fine," I said. "Buzz when you're back." I hung up.
"I was thinking," Mouse said, examining another of her wakizashis. "Maybe David's like that Aussie in the vid we saw last week. With the bone lace and the claws."
"I'm leaning more toward top line bioware," I said. "Expensive as hell, though."
"How'd he get it?"
"Don't know, but we'll find out."
A knock at the door.
"Yeah?" I said.
"Are ya nekkid?" a reedy voice called out.
Specs. Everybody's favorite info broker.
Mouse snorted. "Yeah, we are!" she called back. "Nekkid and oiled up."
The door popped open and a pair of round-framed mirrorshades topped by a bald head peered in. "Liar," Specs said. "Kill my dream, why don't you."
"Pervert," said Mouse.
I sat down on the battered rust-orange couch and put my feet up on the low coffee table. "What do you want, Specs?"
He walked in, clad in a Hawaiian shirt the color of a paint factory explosion, and perched on the arm of the couch. "Do I have to want something? Can't I just make a social call?"
"You don't make social calls."
"So what's the deal?"
"Possible run," he said. "Some suits are lookin' for experts. Sounds like a retrieval."
"You don't know?"
"They didn't mention details."
"They mention anything?"
"Fifty thousand per."
I whistled. "Nice take."
"You two in?"
I looked at Mouse.
Her brow furrowed. She mouthed: "Staci."
I mouthed back: "Later."
She shrugged and nodded.
I turned to Specs. "In."
"Fab. I'll tell 'em and get you details." He got up and started toward the door, then stopped and turned back to us. "Oh yeah. One more thing. Somebody's been nosin' around about you."
"Who?" I said.
"No idea. But one of my guys passed the word to me."
"When was this?"
"Can we talk to your guy."
"Sure. I'll tell him you're comin'."
* * *
We found Specs's guy, a fiftyish, balding, skinny bartender named Eli, in the alley behind Muldoon's Pub on 47th Avenue in the Lower East Side.
Eli lobbed two filled garbage bags into the dumpster, wiped his hands on the back of his rumpled pants, then turned toward us. "You from Specs," he said with a drawl.
"Yeah," I said.
"Heard 'bout you two." He sniffed, his walrus-like mustache twitching. He squinted at me. "Y'ain't so tall."
I grinned. "Tall enough."
"Way some folks tell it, you're four meters tall and shoot fire out yer eyes."
Mouse snickered. "Been known to happen."
I shot her a dirty look then turned back to Eli. "Specs said somebody's been asking about us."
"Yep," said Eli.
"Young feller. Dressed like a suit. Smelt like trouble."
"What'd he look like?" Mouse said.
Mouse and I exchanged looks.
"He give a name?" I said.
Eli grinned. "That'd be too easy."
"No name," Eli said. "But he described you two."
"What'd he want?'
"Never said. Just asked if I knew 'bout you. Said I didn't. Then he left."
"Just after we opened. 'Bout two hours ago."
Eli nodded. "No problem." He turned and went back inside Muldoon's.
* * *
"What'd you think?" said Mouse as we walked the two blocks back to the Mustang.
"I think it's David."
"Could be somebody else."
"He described us."
"So could anyone else."
"Staci lives in this neighborhood."
"Okay. Narrows it down a bit. But it still doesn't say 'David' to me."
"Just a hunch, Em," I said.
When we got to the car, I put my hand on the driver's side door handle.
The hairs on the back of my neck saluted.
"Kat--" said Mouse. I heard the tone in her voice.
"You, too?" I said.
Pan and scan.
The sidewalks teemed with peds ambling past storefronts, eyes taking in shop or restaurant windows, or focused on some downstreet destination. Hawkers, manning portabooths loaded with trinkets or eats, fought for attention, their calls and voices mingling with the sound of traffic.
Scanned the rooflines.
Save for a few pigeons, empty against a dead channel-gray sky.
"The hell...?" Mouse said.
"I know. I don't like it."
My phone chirped. I got into the car, answered it.
"I talked to those suits," he said. "They wanna' meet."
"They give you more details?"
"It's a retrieval. Like I said. But they'll talk details in person."
"Little Tokyo. Place called Kyoto House. Two hours."
"We'll be there."
I told Mouse. Then said: "Enough time to go back to the Red Dog, gear up, and scope out the site."
"Let's do it," she said.
As I started the Mustang, I took a final look around.
And it smelled like trouble.
* * *
The dead cat hung off the women's bathroom door, pinned in place with Mouse's broken wakizashi blade from the previous night.
In a bygone era, it would be called "a bad omen." I call it "a threat." Plain and simple.
I don't appreciate threats.
"David," I said, inclining my head at the dead animal.
"Bastard," Mouse said. "That was a good blade, too. I'll take it out on his balls."
Revell, the Red Dog's burly and bearded owner, came out of the kitchen, wearing a pair of rubber gloves and carrying a dish towel. "Lock on back door was bypassed," he said in his Russian-tinged basso. "No forced entry." He wrapped the towel around the blade, took a grip, and yanked. The corpse flopped to the floor.
Mouse made a face. "Nasty."
Revell picked up the dead animal and went out the back door.
"David's trying to change our minds," I said.
"That'll be the day," said Mouse.
(to be continued...)