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"Ghosts Of The Past"

20 July 2042 - Three days later

"Our intel was correct," Harada said to the man on the monitor in front of him. "She's the one."

Takeshi Hosaka,
oyabun of Hosaka-gumi, frowned, creasing an otherwise unlined face. "How did we miss it?"

"We never saw this coming, Hosaka-
san."

"Does she know?"

"I don't think so."

"We must be sure."

"My men will continue to watch her."

"And the boy? Takahashi?"

"Single minded. He only wanted revenge. I don't forsee any problems."

Hosaka looked at him with slitted eyes. "But..."

"But he will continue to be watched."

"I thought as much." Hosaka leaned back. "To other matters. Has there been any word?"

Harada frowned. "None for the past two weeks."

"Your men?"

"Three dead. No sign of the other two."

"Five."

"
Hai."

"Where?"

"Seattle. Nothing after that."

Hosaka gave a slow nod. "Do what you can, but ensure this is a priority. She must be found."

"You have my word, Hosaka-
san."

* * *

Inside her father's study, Daniela Vittorio threw up her hands and slumped back in the armchair, the leather creaking beneath her slender figure. "
Perchè, Papa?" she said. "Why?"

Giovanni Vittorio, a balding, heavy-set man wearing a gray polo shirt, leaned forward, elbows on his desk blotter, thick fingers laced in front of him. "You don't need to rush this,
tesoro."

"It's been almost a month. Should've been taken care of by now.
I can take care of it."

Vittorio arched an eyebrow. "Like you took care of Renaldi?"

Daniela frowned and looked away.
You won't let that alone, will you. "I had that under control."

"You rushed it. It was only a matter of time before he gave in. Now he's found a new lease on life. And you gave it to him." Vittorio let out a long exhale. "Patience, Daniela. When will you learn patience?"

"To hell with patience. The time was right to strike, Papa. I knew it.
You knew it. And it was my call."

"And you got shot for it," said Vittorio. "Six times."

Daniela gritted her teeth, felt acid rise in her throat.
Damn you, you old fool. "You'd deny me payback?"

"I deny you a second death," Vittorio said. "Have you even taken a look at those two? They're connected. Heavy hitters."

"We can handle
ronin--"

"They're connected to Righetti."

Daniela blinked.
Merda.

Vittorio smirked. "Didn't see that one, did you? We go after them, Righetti's going to see it as an attack on him and his people. There would be blood."

"And you're afraid of a little blood?"

"
Ragazza stupida! Of course I'm afraid. So should you. It would be war." He jabbed a finger at her. "You don't know what you're dealing with here. Let me handle it."

"Papa, don't you see--"

Vittorio made a dismissive gesture with his hand. "Enough. I don't want to hear anymore about revenge on this Kat and Mouse. Are we clear?"

Daniela looked away.

Vittorio slammed a meaty hand onto the desk top. "I said, are we clear?"

She nodded, still looking away. "
Si, Papa."

I'll find another way.

* * *

Jade stood in front of the bathroom mirror under the hazy light of the bare bulb above the sink and glared at her reflection.

"You look like shit," she told herself.

Her reflection stared back, an angular faced woman with short, blond hair.

Short. When it used to be long. Braided in a single plait, down to the small of her back.

Then that little bitch sliced it off and left in the middle of a Southside flophouse.

Now she looked like shit.

And the little bitch would pay.

Soon. Very soon.

In the other room, her cell phone chirped.

Again.

She yanked the pullcord on the bulb and turned off the light, then went to pick up her phone from the low table cluttered with stained shop rags, half-loaded pistol magazines, and tools.

"Jade!" said the singsong voice.

Her info broker.

"Michelle," said Jade.

"That's Mee-chelle," the other woman said, emphasizing the first syllable. "Been two years, girl. When you gon' get it right?"

Jade gave a small grin. "Mee-chelle."

"Now that's better. I been trying to call for the last half hour. You not avoiding me, are you?"

"Was taking care of some things."

"Well, sound like it's all taken care of now so listen here--I got one for you."

"Is it good?"

"Ain't they all good, honey?"

"Yeah, they are. And what's this good one?"

"Corpgeek."

Jade sighed and sat down on the edge of a battered off-white floral print couch, avoiding the exposed springs on one cushion.

"Another one?"

"No, no," said Michelle. "Not like that last one. Look, I know babysittin's not your style but they were paying damn good."

"Good thing they were."

"Now this one," said Michelle, "is the geek's family. Client wants you to delete his wife and daughter."

"Haven't had one of those in a while."

"So you game?"

"Of course I'm game. Why wouldn't I be?"

"Well...the last few weeks--"

"Personal time."

"Why didn't you tell me? Got me all worried you got yourself greased or something like that."

"Not in a million years."

"I gotta watch out for my people, you know."

"I know," said Jade.

"So I can tell the client we good?"

"How much is the good?"

"Thirty large."

Jade smiled. "Yeah. We're good."

"Fill you in later."

She hung up.

Then caught movement out of the corner of her eye.

He hand flashed to her left side then whipped out toward the wall.

The tanto struck the gray mouse scurrying along the floor and pinned it to the baseboard with a wet
thunk. It squealed, twitched three times, and died.

Jade put the phone down on the table and looked at the pinned rodent. "That was practice," she said.

--END--

NEXT TIME: "Rest Stop"

"The Price of Vengeance" - Part Seven

We were in the back office of the Red Dog when I made the secure line call to Takeda's office and left the message. Then I hung up, turned to David, and said, "Besides bone lace and the optics, you're not chromed. But you move like you are. I'm guessing bioware, right? Top line stuff?"

"Yeah," he said. "They gave us the works."

" 'They' meaning 'Spartan'."

He nodded.

Mouse said, "Thought you already knew that?"

I shrugged. "Never hurt to make sure." I turned back to David. "And you're here. Not with Spartan. AWOL?"

"Yeah," he said. "Three months ago."

Mouse chuckled. "Christ, I bet they're pissed."

The secure phone rang. I picked up. "Agreed?" I said.

"Agreed," said the voice on the other line.

I hung up.

"We good?" said Mouse.

"Yup," I said.

Then I geared up. Eight spare mags in four double-mag holders at my belt. The Twins, Bonnie and Clyde, combat loaded--a full twelve in the magazine, one in the chamber.

Pulled on my black leather biker jacket.

I heard the swish of leather as Mouse pulled her coat on.

"Showtime," I said.

* * *

Beneath a bloated blood-red moon, six figures crossed King Meadow and headed toward the circular marble fountain at the center of Civic Park.

If things went south tonight, the moon wouldn't be the only thing blood-red.

I checked my optic clock.

21:00:00

Right on time.

They stepped onto the concrete walkway that formed a square around the fountain. Takeda, medium height and surly faced, led the group. On either side, a pair of black suited, broad-shouldered corp muscle. Two more just behind them. One of the back pair held Staci by her upper arm.

Takeda stopped on the far side of the fountain, directly across from us. The muscle fanned out on either side, partially backlit by the walkway lampposts.

"Where is he?" Takeda said.

I gestured.

David stepped forward.

"The girl," I said.

One of the muscle, furthest to my left, stepped forward with Staci.

She gasped and went wide-eyed when she saw us.

"Good," I said. "We take the girl. Then he--"I nodded at David--"settles with you."

Takeda grinned without humor. "Other way around."

The muscle went for their guns.

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

The Twins leaped into my hands and swung toward the muscle holding Staci. His gun had just cleared its holster when the Twins thundered twice. Four slugs hammered into his chest. He staggered back, let go of Staci, recovered.

Torso armor.

I moved forward, fired twice more, both guns.

He folded.

Staci dropped to her knees and tucked herself into a ball when I reached her.

Concrete exploded just behind me.

I planted myself between Staci and the shooter.

Pivoted, the Twins tracking.

Caught a glimpse of Mouse gutting one of the muscle, her wakizashis flashing.

Saw David slam another muscle into the edge of the fountain and blood sprayed a misty crimson halo when the man's head cracked against the marble.

Spotted my shooter. Moving backwards and firing, badly aimed shots blasting the ground around me.

Behind him, Takeda bolted toward the grassy field beyond the fountain.

No clear shot at Takeda so I went for the muscleboy.

The Twins bucked and roared, caught the muscle six times in the chest. His momentum pitched him backwards into a crumpled heap.

A figure closed on my right.

I spun.

Then checked fire.

David ran up to Staci, slid to his knees.

I went after Takeda.

Correction.

I tried to go after Takeda.

The flash of headlights and the roar of a car engine told me otherwise.

I skidded to a stop on the wet grass just beyond the fountain walkway, dropped to one knee.

A black sedan barreled across King Meadow.

Toward me.

I raised the Twins, squinted against the headlights, and stroked the triggers. Both guns spat fire and lead in a booming staccato. Metal spanged and glass crunched. One headlight winked out.

Then the Twins went dry to the clack of slide lock.

Fuck!

The car closed.

I dove right, hit the grass in a shoulder roll.

The sedan blew past, tires kicking up dirt and grass.

Came up in a crouch, saw the car head straight for David and Staci.

A scream cut through the air.

Then a sickening crunch of metal. The sedan's back end popped into the air, hung there for a moment, then crashed back to earth.

I got to my feet, reloading the Twins as I did.

David came around the front end of the sedan, slit-eyed, his lips pulled back in a soundless snarl. He strode to the driver's side door, grabbed the handle, yanked it off its hinges, and tossed it aside. He reached in, pulled Takeda out by his shirt front, and dropped him on the grass.

Takeda got up on all fours, started to crawl away.

David stepped forward, put a boot onto Takeda's back, and shoved him down.

Takeda gave a pained yelp and collapsed to the grass.

"David!" Staci cried.

"No, Stace," said David, fingers clenching and unclenching. "He killed them. Set them up and killed them. Now it's payback time."

Something whistled past.

An X-shaped net materialized in mid-air, wrapped itself around David's torso, and threw him backwards against the sedan. The net flashed. Sparks arced across his body in a miniature lightning storm.

David threw his head back, face contorted, and roared. His body jerked and spasmed.

I spotted the connecting line.

At the same time, a blade flipped past and sliced through it.

I spun, the Twins tracking.

A figure stood facing David, a futuristic-looking rifle tucked at his shoulder. Five meters away.

I shot the rifle. The barrel exploded in a fiery flash.

The figure dropped the rifle as if it were alive, jerked his head toward me.

Then reached for his pistol.

Wrong move.

The Twins boomed twice. Caught him high and right. He half-spun and staggered back a step.

Damn body armor.

I drew a bead on him again.

"Enough!"

The voice echoed across the meadow.

I kept Bonnie trained on the figure, half-turned, and leveled Clyde at the man approaching us from behind.

Kunio Harada, lean and silver-haired in a fitted double-breasted suit, stopped at the far edge of the concrete walkway, hands behind his back.

White Lotus's second in command. Looking just like the picture on Eddie's computer.

Harada said something in Japanese.

The figure I had shot nodded and went to stand between David and Takeda's prone shape.

I spotted two more figures past Harada, just beyond the reach of the walkway's lampposts.

"Harada-san," I said.

He looked at Mouse, then at me, and inclined his head. "I know you and your companion by reputation."

"We're flattered."

Harada turned toward Takeda.

The other man rolled onto his back, chest heaving.

"It appears we misjudged this one," Harada said.

"I'm surprised," I said.

"So were we. When we learned of the situation at Nomura six years ago, the Takahashis were offered compensation for their...discretion. They accepted."

"But they never got the money," I said. "Takeda killed them, doctored the personnel records, and probably took the money."

"Exactly."

"How much?"

"Three million credits," said Harada.

I heard Staci gasp. I looked at David but his face remained blank.

"Genius plan," Mouse said to Takeda. " 'Cept you got caught."

Takeda had propped himself up on his elbows.

Harada shook his head. "The children, Takeda," he said. "You forgot to silence the children."

Mouse grinned. "Bit you right in the ass, didn't it."

Harada said, "Nomura started receiving threats about three weeks ago. We looked into it. Found out what had happened six years ago."

"But you let things runs their course," I said.

Harada nodded. "Naturally. The wheel of fortune ever turns."

"No intervention."

"Only when necessary," Harada said. "Such as now."

Takeda got to his feet, still unsteady. His clothes were rumpled and a cut above his left eyes bled down the side of his face. "Please, Harada-san," he said. "I can make amends."

Harada looked at him. "Amends, Takeda?"

"Hai. Let me regain my honor."

"Of course you can make amends," Harada said. "By dying."

David surged forward, struck cobra fast with both hands, and snapped Takeda's neck.

Takeda twitched.

Then crumpled to the grass.

Harada looked at the body. "You are forgiven."

David went limp and collapsed to his knees. Staci ran up to him, knelt down, and embraced him.

Harada looked at them. "We are finished here?"

David raised his head. "I have no fight with White Lotus."

Harada turned to me. "And you?"

I shook my head.

Harada nodded. "Good."

Then he turned and disappeared into the night.

I holstered the Twins, let out a long exhale, and turned to Mouse. "You okay?"

"Five by five," she said, resheathing her blades. "You?"

"Second wind."

Mouse grinned and shook her head. "Showoff."

"Hey, Kat?"

I looked at Staci. "Yeah?"

She smiled. "Thank you. You and Mouse. For everything." She looked at David. "I got my brother back."

"Like we told you, Stace," I said. "You're family. And this is what we do for family."

"Damn straight," said Mouse.

God, I love my job.

--END--

NEXT TIME: "Ghosts Of The Past"

"Price of Vengeance"
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

"The Price of Vengeance" - Part Six

A curvy brunette in bright pink exercise tights and an oversized gray t-shirt stood at Staci's front door, listening. Then she knocked. "Stace? It's Donna."

"Hi," I said. "Everything okay?"

Donna turned to us and shrugged. "Guess so. She told me to come over at 18:00 and here I am."

"And no Staci?"

She shook her head. "Who're you two?"

"Friends of hers," Mouse said.

"From the Red Dog," I said.

Donna nodded and smiled. "You're bartenders there, too?"

"Yeah," I said.

"Wiz," said Donna. She held out her hand and introduced herself. "I live on the first floor.

I shook her hand.

"She said I could borrow one of her outfits but..." She hooked a thumb at the door.

"We were supposed to give her a lift to work," I said.

Donna exhaled and knocked again. "Stace! Come on, girl--"

The door popped open inward.

We looked at the figure in the doorway.

"Hey there, tall, dark, and handsome," said Donna.

I grinned. "Hello, David."

Donna looked back at me and arched her eyebrows. "You know him?"

"Staci's brother."

"I didn't know Stace had a brother."

"They've been out of touch," said Mouse.

Donna turned to David. "Where's Stace?"

"She had to go," David said, his tone flat.

"So much for her ride," Mouse said.

Donna pushed past David and strode into the apartment. "Stace said it was wiz to borrow her little black number and her makeup case. Tell her I'll bring it back tomorrow." She disappeared into the bedroom.

David started after her.

Mouse and I stepped inside and closed the door.

David stopped, turned to face us.

"I wouldn't try anything," I said.

"She's expendable," he said.

"Then I won't tell you where Staci is."

His eyes narrowed. "You know?"

"When she's gone, I'll talk."

Donna came around the corner, a red and gray makeup bag in one hand, a black cocktail dress on a hanger draped over her shoulder. She stopped in front of David, put the makeup kit on the floor, and put a finger on David's chest.

"And you, hotness, I want to see again." Her voice dripped sex.

David blinked.

"Tell your sis to keep you around." She picked up the makeup kit, pivoted on her heel, and headed for the door.

I heard Mouse help her out of the apartment.

The door closed behind me.

And David moved.

Too fast for me to register until he had picked me up by my jacket front and slammed me against the nearest wall.

The back of my head bounced. Light exploded behind my eyes and air flew out of my lungs.

I blinked to focus and saw Mouse lunge at David and drive something long and pointy into his upper back.

David drove his elbow back without looking.

Crunch of contact.

Mouse flew backwards into the armchair.

"That supposed to hurt?" David asked.

"No," said Mouse, rolling to her feet.

"Thought not."

"But the block of C4 attached to the spike'll hurt like a sonofabitch."

David turned to her.

I looked past David's shoulder.

Mouse held a pen-sized cylinder in her left hand, her thumb poised over the top.

Remote detonator.

"You'll take us all out," he said.

Mouse nodded. "Most of the building, too."

I said: "She does that, you won't be able to finish what you're here to do."

He turned toward me, eyes slitted.

I smiled. "We know about Nomura. And your folks. Put me down and we can talk."

"And the C4?" he said.

"Stays," I said. "Think of it as insurance. For us."

"Fine."

He let go of my jacket. I dropped the half-meter to the floor, put a hand to the wall behind me to steady myself, then straightened and adjusted my jacket.

"Thank you," I said, then looked to Mouse. "You okay?"

She flashed me a "thumbs-up". "Five by five."

David folded his arms across his chest. "Talk. First, where's my sister?"

"Don't know," I said.

"You said--"

I held up a hand. "I don't know, but I have a hunch. And it's connected with Nomura. Specifically, with the White Lotus Syndicate."

"White Lotus?" He gave a start.

"Betcha didn't see that one, didja Mr. Spec Ops Man," said Mouse.

"What are you--"

"We know about Alpha Team, David," I said. "And Spartan. That you're listed as K.I.A. And Staci never knew because you didn't identify any next of kin."

"She wasn't supposed to get involved."

"She's involved now."

"What makes you think White Lotus has anything to do with this?"

I told him. About Takeda. About the man at the restaurant. About their connection to White Lotus's second in command.

David's brow creased and he suddenly looked ill. He turned away.

"Not supposed to happen like this, was it," I said.

He didn't answer.

"You were so concerned with avenging your folks that you forgot one of the cardinal rules. 'Know your enemy.' "

"I've killed her, haven't I," he said. "I've killed my sister."

"Depends on what you do next," I said. "Play it straight, Staci lives. Fuck up, and her blood's on your hands."

"How do you know she's still alive?"

I told him about Revell's call to me, how Staci thought I was dead. Then Staci's scream, and the voice on the phone telling Revell to bring David. "They're using her to get to you," I said. "Not worth much if she's dead."

He turned around and said, "Okay. What do we do?"

"First," I said, "we clean you up." I nodded to Mouse.

She went over to David, yanked the throwing spike out of his upper back. David grunted.

"Didn't hurt?" Mouse said.

David shook his head.

"Bled some, though," said Mouse.

David shrugged, then watched as Mouse slipped the spike back into the sheath at her belt. "No C4."

Mouse grinned at him. "Nope. Just foolin'."

He shook his head at us. "Ballsy move."

I smiled. "You ain't seen nothin' yet."

(to be continued...)

"Price of Vengeance"
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
Part 5 | Part 7

"The Price of Vengeance" - Part Five

"How bad?" said Mouse.

Eddie typed a series of commands on one of the keyboards. Two pictures appeared on the center monitor.

Mouse pointed to the picture on the right. "Corpgeek from last night."

"That is Tetsuo Nakagami. Works for Nomura Financial. Investment company. Company's controller."

I gestured toward the surly-looking type on the left. "The other one?"

"Richard Takeda. Nakagami's boss. Chief Financial Officer. Takeda's related to this bloke--"

Another picture appeared.

"Shit," I said.

"Ah, fuck," said Mouse.

Eddie craned his head back at us. "What?"

I pointed to the new picture and told him about Kyoto House.

"Bloody fuck," said Eddie. "If he's dead, then you're really not going to like this."

"Just spill it, Eddie," I said.

Eddie tapped Big Man's picture on the monitor. "The dead big guy is Joseph Watada. Nomura's assistant Vice-President of Finance. Takeda's brother-in-law. And this is their cousin..."

He tapped out another command.

A new display popped up.

I looked at it. "Son of a bitch."

Mouse saw it, too. "Ah, double fuck!"

The screen showed a file from BCPD's Vice Squad. Subject: Kunio Harada. The wakagashira--second-in-command--of the Hosaka-gumi yakuza family.

Also known as the White Lotus Syndicate.


Very bad.

"The little bastard's in over his head," I said.

"Sounds familiar," said Eddie.

I ignored him.

"Think he knows how deep he's in?" Mouse said.

"Doubt it."

Then another thought struck.

"Kyoto House," I said.

Mouse shot me a questioning look.

"He's dragged us in with him," I said. "Watada's in a billion pieces. And we were there. It's a good bet those three yahoos weren't the only muscle who came down with him."

"Someone called home," said Eddie.

"Which means Lotus just entered the equation," I said.

Mouse threw up her hands, got off her stool, and started to pace the repair bay, every third step punctuated with a colorful metaphor.

"Still doesn't scan," I said. "He can't be that stupid."

"He's taking on White Lotus," said Eddie. "That's 'stupid' in my book."

"Yeah, but why?"

Mouse stopped pacing. "He's got a death wish. I don't know. And I don't really care. Let's just bug out."

"We promised Staci," I said.

"Promising's gonna get us dead."

"She's family. I don't abandon family. We don't abandon family."

Mouse fixed me with a dagger-filled glare, then spun on her heel and stalked out of the repair bay into the adjoining waiting area and mini-mart.

I sighed.

"She going to be okay?" said Eddie.

"Yeah," I said. "She just needs to let off some steam."

"Never seen her that mad."

"Bad memories."

He raised an eyebrow. "Lotus?"

I nodded.

"Bugger..."

On the center monitor, Harada's picture stared at me.

Something wasn't making sense.

I said to Eddie: "What if it's not Lotus?"

"How do you mean?"

"Suppose David has no idea Lotus is connected. Suppose he's strictly after Nomura Financial."

Eddie's brow furrowed. "What makes you think that?"

"When we first ran into David the other night, he was chasing Nakagami. Told Nakagami he was coming for Takeda. Not a word about Harada or White Lotus. How is David connected with Nomura?"

Eddie turned to his keyboard and typed. A moment later, he turned back to me. "He never worked for them."

A thought struck and I suddenly got a queasy feeling in the pit of my gut. "What about his parents?"

"I'll see." He plugged a gold-tipped cable into the datajack just behind his right ear and slumped in his chair.

"Car accident."

I turned.

Mouse stood by the door to the waiting area and mini-mart, arms folded across her chest. I raised an eyebrow. She nodded, gave me a half-smile.

"You were saying," I said.

"Staci said their 'rents were killed in a car accident."

I remembered. And didn't like it. "It wasn't an accident."

Mouse nodded. "Bumped off."

Eddie jerked awake, sat up, and shuddered. He turned to me and grinned. "Bang on, luv. Parents were Nomura employees. Died in--"

"--in a car accident. Staci told us."

"Right. But three days before, there's a notation in their files about a meeting with their personnel department."

"What kind of meeting?"

"That's the dodgy bit. The notation was erased a few hours after entry."

Mouse walked up to the workstation. "You could tell?"

Eddie waggled his eyebrows at her. "We console jocks work in mysterious ways, luv."

She turned to me. "Can I hit him?"

"Their parents," I said to Eddie. "What did they do at Nomura?"

He glanced at the monitor. "Accounting department."

Mouse snapped her fingers. "They found something they shouldn't have."

"Cover up," I said.

"But how does Lotus fit in?" said Mouse.

"Nomura's an investment company," I said. "The higher-ups are two men related to White Lotus's second-in-command. Staci's and David's parents worked in accounting. They had a meeting with personnel but the notation was erased. Three days later, so were they."

"Money laundering," said Eddie.

"Their folks found out," Mouse said. "They tell personnel and get killed for it. And David's going after the person he thinks killed them. Takeda."

"And guess who deleted the personnel file entry?" said Eddie.

"Takeda, again," said Mouse.

"Bang on," I said.

My phone chirped. I answered.

Revell said, "You answer quickly for a dead woman."

Shit. "Where'd you hear that?"

"Staci."

(to be continued...)

"Price of Vengeance"
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
Part 4 | Part 6