"The last time I saw David," Staci was saying, "was seven years ago. It was nine months after our folks died in a car accident. We went out for dinner. When I tried to call him a few days later, he was gone."
"Just like that?" I said.
She nodded. "Just like that. No email. No telcom message. Nothing."
"Gone to where?"
"Don't know," she said. "Never heard from him after that."
"Did you try friends?" Mouse said. "Girlfriend? Boyfriend? Somebody he might've talked to?"
Staci smiled. "David wasn't the social type, if you scan."
"Loner," I said.
She nodded. "Standard moody little brother. Even moodier after Mom and Dad died."
I leaned back in the chair. "So if you haven't heard from him in seven years, why do you say he's in trouble?"
Staci's eyes narrowed. "Two days ago, I saw him standing across the street from my apartment."
Mouse and I exchanged looks.
Staci went on: "I had just come out of my building and...there he was. He looked at me. Right at me. Then..." She frowned.
"Then...?" I said.
"A bus went by. When it passed, he was gone." Staci looked at me. "He's in trouble isn't he."
"Maybe he just stopped by to see you?" Mouse said. "In town for a few days, wanted to see big sis?"
"With no warning?"
Mouse shrugged. "Maybe it was a surprise?"
I said: "What was your last night like? When you two had dinner together?"
"Casual," she said. "We talked about things."
"Like how we were doing. That sort of thing. We didn't exactly travel in the same circles. I was here in BC. He'd moved out the year before and was living in Northwood."
"How was he doing?"
"Okay, I guess. He said he was working for a construction company out that way. Everything seemed fine."
"Remember the name of the company?" said Mouse.
She thought for a moment. "Mc-Something and Brothers." She made a face. "Sorry."
"Don't worry," I said. "It was seven years ago. But a good place to start looking. Do you have a picture of him?"
"Got a couple back at my place."
"You mind if we borrow one?"
I got up. "We'll give you a ride."
* * *
Staci lived in a four-story walk-up on 30th Street in the Lower East Side. I pulled the Shelby up in front of the building and we followed Staci up to the top floor apartment. She unlocked her door, stepped inside, then recoiled and bumped into me.
"David!" Staci gasped and dropped her apartment keys.
Over Staci's shoulder, I saw a figure sitting at the kitchen table opposite the front door.
Her brother. Tall and dark-haired, wearing jeans and a gray sweater.
The hairs on the back of my neck rose.
Something was off.
David stood up. "Hi, sis. Miss me?"
I scooped up Staci's keys, slipped past her, and stood to the right of the door.
I heard Mouse move off to Staci's left.
David's eyes narrowed. "Who are they?"
"I'm Kat," I said, then inclined my head at Mouse. "That's my partner, Mouse."
David frowned and I saw him tense.
"They're friends, David," Staci said. "I asked them for help."
He turned to Staci, the frown deepening. "You're in trouble?"
Staci chewed on her lower lip. "No. But I think you are."
David gave her a lopsided grin. "Me? I'm not in trouble--"
"David, stop it."
"Stace, I swear--"
"I said stop it!" Her voice rang through the apartment. David blinked, as if she'd slapped him. "You disappear for seven years without saying a word? You show up across the street two days ago and vanish again? Now you're sitting in my apartment in the dark? In the middle of the night? What the hell do you call that?"
I put a hand on Staci's shoulder, felt her body shaking.
"Stace," David began, "listen to me..."
I turned to him. "David, we can help--"
He swung his head toward me and his eyes pulsed red. "This isn't your concern," he said.
I heard Mouse's blades sing out from the scabbards inside her coat. At the same time, the Twins leaped into my hands and centered themselves on David. I stepped in front of Staci.
"Stay back, Staci-chan," Mouse said.
"What's going on?" said Staci. I heard panic in her voice.
"Was going to ask your brother the same thing," I said, still looking at David. "Chase any suits lately, David? Say, f'r instance, someone named Nakagami?"
"David?" Staci said.
David's eyes glowed red once more. "I warned you," he said to me. "Don't meddle in things--"
"--things I don't understand," I finished. "Blah blah blah. You still haven't answered the question."
David smiled. Then looked at Mouse.
Mouse leveled one of her wakizashis at him.
The Twins tracked David.
Suddenly, he surged forward, raised his hand, and impaled it halfway down the wakizashi blade. Then he twisted his wrist and the blade snapped off with a loud spang.
"Holy shit--!" Mouse said.
David looked at the length of steel jammed through his palm, then yanked it out. Blood dripped off his hand onto the carpet. He leveled the blade fragment at me. "Stay away from this. And stay away from my sister."
Then white light exploded around me and thunder boomed through my skull.
* * *
Flash-bangs--concentrated thunderclap combined with supernova flash in a fist-sized canister--are great for disorienting your opponents while you rush in and beat the crap out of them.
Not so fun when they're used on you.
David had dropped one of them on us and vanished from the apartment.
I sat at Staci's kitchen table trying to stop the ringing in my ears and the sporadic double-vision when Mouse crawled in--unsteadily--through the window from the fire escape outside.
She dropped into the chair across from me, rubbed at her temples, and inclined her head. "Still?"
"Hell yes," I said. "You weren't on top of them when they went off."
"Bite me." I grinned then gestured at the window. "Anything?"
Mouse shook her head slowly, trying not to wince. "Must've cleared a couple of rooftops by the time I got out there. Not even a trail from that cut."
I frowned. "Damn."
"That's not David."
We turned toward Staci.
She sat straight-backed on the edge of her couch staring at her feet, hands folded on her lap. "That's not my brother."
"Staci--" I said.
"No." She shook her head and looked at us. "I'm sorry for dragging you two into this. You don't have to finish the job." She looked at the window. "Something tells me he's beyond help."
"Sorry, Stace," I said, "but we can't back out now."
She blinked. "You can't?"
"We can't?" Mouse echoed.
I shook my head. "No, we can't. We finish every job we take."
"Not if we get greased," Mouse said.
I shot her a glare then turned back to Staci. "Besides," I said. "You're family. We don't back out on family."
(to be continued...)