The music thumped at us from all sides, keeping time with the strobing flashes of red and blue from the rigging overhead and the undulating bodies that packed the dance floor.
At 21:45 she walked in. Valkyrie. Petite and willowy, red hair falling across her face, looking as if she'd just stepped out of the shower, skull-and-crossbones eyepatch fixed to her right eye.
A thought tugged at me, then vanished.
Then Valkyrie was standing in front of us, a grin on her face, hands on her hips. "You ready to go to Valhalla, ladies?"
Mouse barked a laugh.
"Not yet," I said, "but when we are, you'll be the first to know."
"It's a deal," she said. "So what brings you here? I didn't think you two were the type for this scene."
"We like to keep people guessing," said Mouse.
"Bet you a hundred creds it's biz," said Valkyrie.
"I only gamble with my life," I said. "Never with my money."
Valkyrie's grin widened. "You sound like one of her old vids." She gestured to Mouse.
Mouse brushed back stray locks that fell across her forehead and grinned. "The one with the British girl and the creepy bald Egyptian guy."
"You really gotta try the sims," said Val. "The intense factor's through the roof."
"Get enough of that in the biz," Mouse said. "Vids're fine with me."
Val nodded. "Good point."
Absinthe walked out of the crowd, came up to the bar, and inclined her head at us.
"Gang's all here," I said. Next to the three of them, I was a giant--a meter-ninety of dark-haired Amazon in black biker leathers.
"Biz," said Valkyrie with a snap of her fingers. "I knew it."
"Can we talk?" I said to Absinthe.
"Upstairs," she said.
* * *
"Not him?" Absinthe leaned against the edge of her desk and quirked an eyebrow at me. "You're sure?"
"Not a hundred percent," I said. "Just a hunch."
"The gifts stopped coming."
My turn with the eyebrow. "Really."
"Nothing's come for her since last Thursday. I'd say he was the guy and there's nothing more to do."
"Humor me," I said.
"Copy of the security cam feed from that night."
"Send it to Fast Eddie."
She nodded. "That's it?"
* * *
Mouse and I left the club and headed back to the Shelby.
My phone chirped when we reached the car.
"I got movies from Absinthe?" he said in his Cockney-laced tenor.
"Security cam feed."
"The bouncers take down a guy at the deejay's console. See if you can ID him."
"Depends on the feed quality," Eddie said. "I'll do what I can, luv."
"Also, see who bought an MBV convertible recently and shipped it to the White Rabbit."
"MBV? Didn't think Absinthe was the type."
"She's not. It's something else."
"Got one of those on my queue at the moment. Get to this as soon as I can."
"Call me when." I hung up.
Mouse said, "You're still not buying what Absinthe said."
I shook my head. "Still smells."
"That's a first."
"No," I said. "Not that kind of waiting. My kind of waiting.
Mouse grinned. "Oh goody."
* * *
Valkyrie left the club a little after 01:00, walked half a block north on Mason Street, and got into a four-year-old ToyoHonda Atom, a two-seater runabout that resembled a cube with four wheels and rounded corners.
The car pulled away from the curb and zipped north.
The Shelby rumbled after her.
Twenty minutes later, we turned off Sheffield, six blocks south of the Wyndham Arena, near the elevated section of Highway 610.
The Atom went down a semi-deserted street and pulled in front of a darkened loft building. Graffiti covered one entire side and the entrance had several boarded up windows.
I parked half a block down from the building, killed the engine and the lights.
Valkyrie got out of the car, locked it, then walked toward us and stood outside Mouse's side of the car. She tapped a knuckle on the window.
Mouse opened the door.
"Can I sit?" Valkyrie said.
"Sure," I said.
Mouse got out, went into the back, and Valkyrie took her place in the passenger seat.
"So what's the idea, ladies?" Valkyrie said to us.
Mouse leaned in between the front seats. "Friendly visit," she said.
"At this hour?" She shook her head. "Absinthe's involved. This is about those emails and the flowers, right?"
"Need to know basis only," I said.
"Absinthe had you two keep an eye on me, didn't she," said Valkyrie and laughed. "I'm fine, you guys. Honest. This guy is harmless. Okay, so the presents were a little much, but he'll be like the others. Get bored soon and go away."
"Positive. Happened the last six times. Besides, I've got building security courtesy of Tinker and Jake."
My stomach did a flip-flop. "Jake?"
"Yeah," said Valkyrie. "Hired me for a couple of runs. Gave me a 12-gauge for protection." She looked at me. "He likes you, you know."
Mouse slapped me on the shoulder. "Told you."
I ignored the slap and said, "Jake's an idiot."
"An idiot with the hots for you," said Valkyrie, grinning.
"He told you."
"No, but I can tell."
Mouse said, "I keep telling her to jump his bones already. All this sexual tension gives me gas."
Valkyrie snorted a laugh.
"We're not talking about this any more," I said.
"You're blushing," said Mouse.
"Bite me," I told her.
"Look," said Valkyrie. "I'm fine. Everything's fine. There's nothing to worry about, okay?"
I looked at her for a long moment. "Okay."
"Promise me you two'll back off and let this go."
"Promise," I said.
"Okay." She gave us a nod, then got out of the car and headed back up the street toward the building.
Mouse slid back into the passenger seat.
"You lied to her," she said.
* * *
We kept watch on Valkyrie's place for another two hours. I took the first shift.
Except for a few cars and a stray dog passing by, nothing else happened.
Mouse took over shortly after 04:00 and I leaned back in the seat and drifted off.
* * *
I woke to Mouse shaking my shoulder and a too-happy chirping coming from inside my jacket.
Sat up in the driver's seat and answered it.
"Rise an' shine," he said.
"This better be good," I said.
"I got a message from Valkyrie. She said for you two to go the fuck home. I'm paraphrasin', of course."
"She left out the 'fuck' part."
"An' just fer the record, I ain't no damn messaging service."
"Doing this out of the goodness of your heart?'
"Ya damn right. Not to mention the grand and a half she offered."
"You're a saint, Specs."
"Don't you forget it."
"Wiseass." I hung up and told Mouse about Valkyrie's message.
"Guess we're outta here?" she said. "She might use that 12-gauge on us."
I checked my optic clock.
"Let's grab some eats," I said, "then see if Eddie's got anything for us."
* * *
Eddie didn't pick up when I called so I left a message.
We got a bite to eat at a diner a few blocks down, then came back to Valkyrie's place. Her car wasn't there anymore.
"So much for that," said Mouse. "What next?"
The sky was just getting light. Through the Shelby's windshield, I could see a hazy orange glow creeping up behind the buildings, past the elevated section of highway. I checked my optic clock.
"Home," I said. "Sleep. We'll pick this up again tonight."
(to be continued...)