"Anybody runs, they die," Bald Guy said.
Just another day in the life of a ronin.
Street mercenary. Gun for hire.
Me. Name's Kat.
The run in Vegas had ended with two gun battles, an exploding delivery van filled with sex toys, and seven hundred fifty-thousand credits.
Not to mention a happy client.
We'd just spent two hours avoiding border patrols crossing into California from Nevada.
I let out a long breath.
Rat-Face spun toward the dark-haired waitress behind the counter and motioned with the rifle. "You--close the shutters."
As she ran toward the windows, I heard the wail of approaching cruisers. One, maybe two.
Mouse, my partner and fellow ronin, gave me a pained look from across the booth and set down her cup of coffee. "Fuck," she mouthed.
I glanced out the window next to us. Just before the shutters slid down, I spotted two pairs of headlights pulling off Highway 119 and heading toward the diner, red and blue lightbars strobing in the darkness.
There were two others in the diner besides me, Mouse, and the waitress. The cook, stoop-shouldered and paunchy, stood behind the counter. He'd been talking to the heavyset trucker wearing a black watch cap and pea coat seated on the other side.
Their eyes were on the duo, faces pale.
Bald Guy swept the rifle from side to side, trying to cover us and the pair at the counter. Rat-Face kept his weapon trained on the waitress who was now locking the diner's front door.
"That's right," Bald Guy said, toothy grin pasted on his face. "You're ours now. Do what we say and nobody gets hurt."
Rat-Face shoved the waitress toward the counter. She stumbled against the stool and yelped.
"Take it easy, buddy!" the trucker said, rising from his stool.
Bald Guy swung the AK at him. "Sit the fuck down and shut up."
The trucker held up his hands. "Just saying--"
"Don't say a fucking thing," Bald Guy said. "You'll live longer."
The trucker frowned but said nothing.
"We don't got a lotta cash," said the cook, "but you can take--"
"Shut up!" said Bald Guy, spit flying from his mouth. "We don't want your goddamn money."
The cook flinched.
Bald Guy gave him a dagger-filled look.
Then Rat Face clapped a hand on Bald Guy's shoulder and whispered something to him.
Bald Guy turned to Rat Face.
Rat Face gestured and the two of them stepped to one side, heads close together, Rat Face whispering.
I took another look at Bald Guy, just to make sure what I was seeing.
I checked my optic clock.
Six minutes had passed since they walked through the doors.
I turned to her.
"Take 'em?" she said, pitching her voice low. She reached into her left trenchcoat sleeve. "I got a clear shot."
Her throwing knife sheath was on her left forearm. A flick of the wrist would send one, two or all three into either Rat Face or Bald Guy.
Mouse loves her pointy toys.
I gave a small shake of my head. "Civvies. Don't wanna chance it. You saw Baldy?"
"Yeah. What do you think? Black Crystal?"
Black Crystal was the latest form of methamphetamine to hit the streets. Made its baby brother feel like a stroll on the beach.
"This could get ugly," I said.
"Your call," said Mouse.
Bald Guy was staring at us, the AK-47 leveled in our direction. "The hell do you think you're doing?"
"Talking," I said. "And wondering."
"Wondering about what?" Rat Face said.
"How you two are gonna handle the cops outside."
"Fuck 'em," Bald Guy said. "We're carryin' the big guns." He gestured with the AK. "'Sides, there's only one car--"
"Three," I said.
"Who gives a fuck how many there are?" Bald Guy said. "You're all human shields and shit."
"Yeah," I said. "But those are Bakersfield cruisers out there."
"So?" said Bald Guy. "So what?
Mouse shook her head. "Aw, shit..."
Rat Face swung the rifle at us. "What?"
"You guys really don't know?" I said.
"Just fucking spill the goods, sister," said Rat Face.
"Bakersfield is a corptown," I said. "Owned by Demeter Global. Which means corp-owned cops. Which means most of them are ex-military. Not quite Excalibur or Valhalla. But close enough. Corps always hire experience. They'll eat you alive and shit out your bones."
"Fucking sonofabitch!" said Rat Face.
"You went from pursuit to hostage situation," I said. "Changed the rules big time."
"She's bluffing," said Bald Guy.
"It's been about ten minutes since you waltzed in here," I said. "I say you've got another fifteen, maybe twenty, before SWAT shows up."
"Fuck," said Rat Face. "Fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck--"
"She's bluffing, goddamit!" Bald Guy said. He jabbed the AK's barrel toward me. "How the fuck would you know? Who the fuck are you?"
"Someone you don't want to mess with."
"Big talk, bitch. So what--you a cop?"
Rat Face put a hand on Bald Guy's shoulder. "Let's just bail, Dutch--" said Rat Face and Bald Guy cracked him across the face with the AK's stock.
Rat Face hit the floor on his ass and spit blood.
Bald Guy--Dutch--stalked toward him. "I told you! No names! You're gonna get us killed."
"If you hadn't shot that cop," said Rat Face, "we wouldn't be in this shit storm."
"How the fuck was I supposed to know he was a badge?" Dutch said.
Mouse looked at me. "Now?"
And the trucker tackled Dutch.
(to be continued...)