Mouse and I stood in the middle of the main aisle.
I caught his eye and nodded at him.
The box went airborne, showering the aisle with blister packs of electronic components, and Wagner's gangly form bolted for the back of the store.
I tossed the loaner's keys to Mouse. "Car. Out the back."
Then sprinted after him.
Wagner tore through the stockroom and out a rear exit that led into an access corridor. He caromed off the walls, shoes squeaking, arms flapping wildly as he ran.
He skidded around a corner at the far end of the corridor, stumbled, caught himself at the last moment, and scrambled away.
I rounded the same corner five seconds later just in time to see him go through a set of double doors leading out of the Galleria.
The cat had been an easier chase.
The doors emptied me in an alley between two of the mall's stores.
Wagner was near the alley mouth. He slowed and looked back over his shoulder at me, panic scrawled all over his face. Then he turned away, picked up speed, raced out of the alley.
And slammed right into the loaner's driver side door.
Bounced off. Fell back on his ass.
He started to get up.
Mouse slugged him with the door.
He dropped and lay still.
I jogged to the car and yanked the rear driver's side door open. Grabbed Wagner underneath his arms and hauled him into the back seat.
"Kat," said Mouse.
I looked up.
A hundred yards away I spotted a white pickup truck with lightbars heading in our direction.
"Time to go," I said.
Mouse scrambled into the passenger side. I slid into the driver's seat, put the car in gear, and peeled out of the parking lot.
"Where to?" said Mouse.
"Red Dog," I said, speeding up the freeway onramp and onto Highway 42. "How's he doing?"
Mouse craned her head toward the back seat. "Still out."
"Hope he stays that way until we get to the bar. Or it's gonna get a little complicated in here."
* * *
My optic clock read: 14:22:10.
Mouse slouched in the highback leather chair behind the desk, cleaning her fingernails with a throwing blade.
I sat on a folding metal chair in front of the desk.
We both watched Wagner.
He was sprawled on his back, one arm and one leg dangling from the edge of the seat cushion. He still wore the red vest with the CompuWorld nametag pinned to the left breast.
He'd been out for over half an hour.
The leather chair creaked.
Mouse leaned forward, elbows on the desk. "How much longer do you think--"
We both turned.
He was sitting up now, feet on the floor, elbows on his knees, head in his hands. "What the hell happened?"
I got up, folded my arms across my chest. "Hi, Todd."
He looked up and squinted at me.
"It's Todd, isn't it," I said.
His eyes slowly widened and color drained from his face.
Then he leaped to his feet, bolted for the door.
I grabbed the folding chair and hurled it at him. It crashed into the back of his legs and he went down in a heap.
"Wrong answer, Todd," said Mouse. "They always pick the wrong answer."
I strode over, grabbed Wagner by the back of his shirt collar, hoisted him to his feet, and threw him toward the couch.
He yelped, hit the cushion, bounced back to his feet, tried to bolt again.
The Twins, Bonnie and Clyde--my pair of Colt-Springfield M2001 .45-caliber high-capacity pistols--leaped into my hands from the double-holster shoulder rig under my jacket and leveled themselves at Wagner's face.
He squeaked and fell back on the couch.
"Less running," I said. "More talking."
Wagner held up a hand. "Okay okay okay okay." He let out a loud exhale. "Tell Duke I'll have the money for him tomorrow. I swear."
"This isn't about Duke," I said. "Or his money."
His jaw dropped. "What? Then you two aren't--"
I shook my head.
"We want to know about the White Rabbit," I said.
Wagner's brow furrowed. "White Rabbit?"
"Club over on Mason," said Mouse. "You were there last Thursday."
Realization dawned on his face. His eyes widened and he shrank in on himself.
"Oh," he said.
"You remember," I said.
He nodded. "You two were in that office upstairs."
"Give the man a prize," said Mouse.
I indicated the Twins. "Do I still need these two?"
"No," said Wagner.
"Good." I holstered the pistols. "And just in case you get any ideas? Mouse?"
I heard a snap of fabric and three throwing blades thunked into the wall next to Wagner's head in rapid succession.
"More where that came from," said Mouse.
Wagner looked at me, past me toward Mouse, then back at me. "What do you want?"
"Don't make me ask again."
"Make her ask again," said Mouse.
"I don't know a Valkyrie," Wagner said.
The Twins came back out.
Wagner curled into a ball, arms over his head. "Oh fuck I swear I don't know oh shit Jesus I swear I swear--"
"The club," I said. "You were calling for Valkyrie. Why?"
"I was just doing what I was told."
"What do you mean?"
"Are you gonna shoot me?"
"Not if you talk."
"I'll talk, I'll talk." Wagner put his arms down and uncoiled his legs. "This guy. Told me he'd pay for me to go to that club and say 'I love Valkyrie'."
"Who?" I said.
He shrugged. "Dunno. Some guy. Came into the store a few times a week. Never gave a name. He'd check out new merch. We talked shop a little. One day, he asks me if I wanted to make some money. I said sure. CompuWorld pays shit."
"When was this?"
"Two days before I went to the club."
"And you do your thing there," said Mouse.
"Yeah. So I do it. And get jumped by those two security guys."
"Did you get your money?" I said.
"No. Bastard gave me a bogus cred'chip."
"When was that?"
"The next day, at the store. Said I did good. Gave me the 'chip and left. I scanned it. Came out nil. Whatta rip."
"Was supposed to be fifteen hundred."
"What did he look like? The guy?"
Wagner thought a moment. "Almost as tall as you." He pointed at me. "Dark hair, slicked back. Kinda pale. Big nose. Like a beak."
Wagner shook his head.
"He ever buy anything?" I said.
"Yeah," said Wagner. "But he paid with a secured 'chip."
I nodded. As good as old-time cash.
And just as easy to follow.
The office door opened.
I glanced back.
Revell, the bearded and bear-like owner of the Red Dog bar, stepped inside and closed the door. He wore a white collarless shirt opened at the neck, sleeves rolled over beefy forearms. He came over to us.
"It is finished?" he said in his Russian-tinged basso.
"Da," I said.
"You got enough information?"
"Enough. You have it?"
He held up the airhypo.
"The hell's that?" said Wagner, his voice cracking.
"Do it," I said.
Revell stepped toward Wagner.
Wagner threw up his hands defensively. "Hey now--!"
Revell grabbed him by the upper arm with one huge hand, pinned him to the couch, then jabbed him in the left buttock with the hypo.
Wagner shrieked and grabbed his ass. "What the hell was that?"
"That was a tiny needle," said Mouse. "My toys are bigger. And hurt more."
I looked at Revell.
"Sixty seconds," he said. "Or less. Did you and Mouse eat?"
"There are sandwiches on bartop."
"I haven't eaten either," said Wagner. "Do I get a sandwich?"
His speech sounded slurred.
"That was fast," I said. "Twenty seconds?"
Wagner frowned up at us. "The hell did you do?" He started to nod off and shook his head to fight it. "The hell kind of cops are you people?"
"Didn't say we were cops," I said.
Wagner tried to add something else but his eyelids fluttered and he fell back on the couch.
"Out for the count," said Mouse. "Again."
"Cab is coming for him," said Revell. "They will take him back to mall." He picked up Wagner, tossed him over his shoulder, and left the office.
"What do you think?" said Mouse. "Is Wagner a smokescreen?"
"Yeah," I said.
"So Val's still out there. Question is, where?"
I perched on the edge of the desk and, in my head, quickly went over what Wagner had said. "She disappeared some time between yesterday morning and today. We were at her place until...when?"
"About 0600 yesterday morning," Mouse said. "Then we got that message from her via Specs."
"She was still there when we went to eat. Gone by the time we got back to her place about an hour later."
"So gone where?" said Mouse.
"I have an idea," I said. I pulled out my phone and dialed Specs.
"Hey, Kat. What's doin'?"
"Val gets her runs from you, right?"
"Yep. Ever since Michelle stiffed her twice coupla' years ago."
"You broker anything for her recently?"
"Yeah. Over at the Harbor Cafe. 18th and Harbor."
"Lemme see." A pause. Then: "0830 hours."
I told him.
"Fuckin' sonofabitch," he said.
"You think there's a connection?"
"Maybe. Not sure yet."
"When you find that fucker, give 'em a swift kick in the balls for me."
"Will do." I hung up.
"Clue me in?" said Mouse.
When I finished, she said, "Let's go."
(to be continued...)