I sipped coffee from a thermos, a strong blend of something that tasted like unsweetened syrup going down. Revell swore it would keep me up for days.
Great. Just what I needed.
Mouse was eating a bag of screamer chips. In between crunches, I could hear tiny cries of agony coming from her mouth.
I set the thermos between my legs. "Visual?"
"That's a negatory," she said. "I still think we should go inside."
"If Valkyrie's inside and sees us, she'll know we're still tailing her. And Absinthe's already written this off."
"But not you."
Mouse dug into the bag despite tiny panicked screams, grabbed a few chips, and popped them into her mouth. "I'm not sure anymore, Kat."
I looked toward the club, saw the line of people waiting to get inside stretch halfway down Mason Street. "You can bow out, you know," I said. "I won't stop you."
"We got nothing so far, Kat. The presents stopped coming, according to Absinthe. Val seems to be okay. Yeah, the guy looked a little out of his element, but maybe it's a personality quirk."
"True," I said. "True. And true." I turned to her. "Like I said, you can bow out. Want to go back to the Red Dog?"
Mouse chewed on a corner of her lower lip for a moment. Then she looked sideways at me and said, "You're staying?"
"Then so am I. Hell, somebody's gotta keep your ass outta trouble. And I'm the only one qualified."
* * *
After two hours and no sign of Valkyrie going into or coming out of the club, Mouse and I decided to try her place again.
The building sat in darkness except for the glow of the streetlamps along the sidewalk. Three other cars were parked along the street but no sign of the runabout.
I drove around the block, just to make sure she didn't park elsewhere.
We pulled to the curb a block up the street and watched the building for the next hour.
After the same BCPD blue and white circled the block twice, we called it a night and went back to the Red Dog.
* * *
Absinthe called at the crack of noon the next day and said, "Valkyrie's gone."
I sat up in bed, fighting back sleep. "Say again?"
"She's gone. I need your help."
"Better in person." She rattled off a street address. "Meet me there in half an hour."
Mouse was already pulling on her trenchcoat.
Thirty seconds later I was dressed and geared up.
The address Absinthe had given was Valkyrie's place.
* * *
Despite the shitty-looking exterior, the inside of Valkyrie's loft apartment was done in sleek chrome and black furniture. It looked like something from one of Mouse's space adventure vids. The one with the laser sword and the guy in the black helmet.
Absinthe paced the living room when we walked in.
"You were right," she said. "It was probably him."
"Probably," I said. "How do you know she's gone? She could be on a run."
"She'd call," Absinthe said. "Or leave a message. Even to check in."
"Short leash?" said Mouse.
"No. Nothing like that. Val's just good about keeping in touch."
I said, "We're not here to tell you and your lover how to--"
Absinthe held up a hand, then let out a long, hard exhale. "She's not my lover. Valkyrie's my kid sister."
"Whoa," said Mouse.
Made me blink.
Damn. Did not expect that.
Absinthe looked at us for a long moment. "I know you'll keep this quiet. It leaks? I grease you both myself."
Murphy always told us the less people know about your secrets, the better. Especially relationships. Made either party a prime target for your enemies.
Better to keep all that hushed.
"Noted," I said.
"So we go for the guy?" Mouse said.
"Yeah. We'll need Eddie." I pulled out my phone and called. He answered in two rings. "Tell me you have something."
"Not yet," Eddie said. "Late start. Got a good image, though. Running it through the CFS database. Might take a bit."
"Any chance of a rush? I know I didn't say so before but the situation changed."
"Working as fast as I can, luv."
"Val's gone missing," I said, "and the guy on the security cam feed is involved."
"Say no more. I'll--hello, hello. What's this?"
"Wait a tick." A long pause. Then: "Your bloke's a burbee."
* * *
I promised Absinthe I'd keep her posted on things and we left the building. On the way to the Shelby, I called Specs for a loaner.
"Standard rate," he said.
"No complainin'. You can afford this shit."
"Right now I can."
"So we'll live in the 'now'."
"Half an hour," I said and hung up.
Mouse said, "I hate this part."
"At least it's not doing the 180-to-corp-look from two months ago. Just dressing down a little."
"Corpgeeks look like idiots," she said. "So do burbees."
* * *
Todd Wagner, twenty-one, lived in an apartment in Bayside, the residential district west of the city proper. Occupation: stockroom clerk at a CompuWorld in the Grantville Galleria.
The Galleria sat amid a sea of tract homes and front lawns just off Highway 42, a three-level, cross-shaped concrete and glass structure flanked on all sides by a huge, tree-lined parking lot.
Two hundred yards to the west was Oakwood.
Bayside was burbee-lite. Oakwood was true burbee, where the tract home ocean was dotted with islands of minimansions.
I pointed the gray BMW loaner down the offramp, onto Grantville Boulevard, and into the Galleria's parking lot. CompuWorld was on the east side of the mall so we threaded our way past foot and vehicle traffic.
Mouse was watching the Nav-N-Speek unit on the loaner's dashboard and pointed to one of the two floating icons on the display. "Wagner's apartment's two block from here," she said. "Shouldn't we try there first?"
"Mall first," I said. "If we poke around the apartment, some suspicious neighbor might call the cops on us. At least here, we're just a couple of burbees out shopping.
Mouse barked a laugh.
* * *
The entry opened onto a vast promenade lined with trees and foilage-filled planter boxes. Kiosks and benches dotted the middle of the main walkway and overhead, skylights dominated, giving the place an open-air feel.
I was in jeans, t-shirt, and my black leather biker jacket. My boot soles clumped on the marble tile floor.
Mouse wore an oversized dark green sweatshirt that covered the Bowies on either hip. Her hightop sneakers squeaked as she walked.
Burbees passed us, young and old, all of them with that same dreamy but blank gaze. I'm in my own little world, it said.
"We sure he'll be there?" said Mouse.
"Want to call the store?" I said.
"Sure." She pulled out her cell phone and dialed the number I gave her.
I heard a faint voice answer.
Then Mouse's face changed.
Suddenly, I stared into a pair of bubbly yet vacuous eyes and an expression frozen halfway between surprise and joy.
"Is Todd there?" she said. Then: "Oh, total wiz! You are so stellar. No no. Don't tell. We're surprising him. Lates!"
She hung up.
I stared at her for a moment, then said, "Where the hell did that come from?
"Angelica's younger sister, Tawny," she said. "Angel City."
"And remembering Natalia."
"Before she got some sense."
I spotted the sign three stores down, on the right. Done in big block letters.
"Ready?" I said, inclining my head at the sign.
(to be continued...)