A woman wearing a black blouse and long skirt sat in a wheelchair in the corner of the room by the door. Her silver hair was pulled back in a bun and her eyes were closed.
"What the hell--?" I said. Then recognized the face.
"Is that--?" said Mouse.
"Yeah," said Val. "Olson's mother. Embalmed, I think." She shuddered.
"You've been in here all this time with her?" I said.
"Delusional, psychotic, and now this?" Mouse shook her head. "Triple freak show."
"We're getting you out now," I said. I holstered Bonnie, unslung the shotgun, and walked over to the wall ring. Loaded the last four rounds. Fired two at the ring and blew it to pieces.
"We'll get the rest of it off at the Red Dog," I said. I reslung the shotgun and coiled up the cable.
We got Val to her feet and started toward the staircase when the upstairs hallway light came on and a woman's shadow appeared on the staircase wall.
"We have guests, Sammy," an older woman's voice said. "You should've told me."
"I didn't know, Mother," said Olson.
I glanced toward the figure of Mother Olson in the wheelchair, then looked at Mouse and Val.
Val went saucer-eyed.
Mouse mouthed: Fuck.
"I don't know who you are," Olson said, "but you can't stay."
"Yes, they can, Sammy," Mother Olson said. "They can watch your wedding to the whore."
"She's not a whore, Mother," said Olson.
"You saw her. Soiled by the world."
"I've cleaned her up, Mother. She's fine now."
I looked at Val, at her empty eye socket.
Val lowered her head and looked away.
"Don't contradict me, boy," said Mother Olson.
"Let me handle this, Mother," said Olson.
"Goddamn psychos," Mouse said under her breath.
Mother Olson's shadow moved away. Then Olson's shadow appeared on the wall, a shotgun in hand. He pumped a round into the chamber.
I drew the Twins and leveled them at the stairs.
Val stepped behind me. "I'm back here. You're armored."
"Good call," I said.
Olson went down a few steps then stopped so we only saw him from the knees down. The shotgun's muzzle poked through the railing supports toward us.
I slid left, taking Val with me.
Mouse did the same.
"Doesn't have to be this way, Olson," I said.
Silence. Then: "You're the cop from earlier."
"Put the shotgun down and let us leave. Or this could get ugly."
"I'll let you go," Olson said. "But Valkyrie stays."
"No deal. She comes with us."
"I'm trying to be nice."
"So am I."
"You're going to make me lose my patience."
"Same here," I said.
"Let them stay," said Mother Olson. "It'll be a whore party."
"How dare you, boy!"
A loud slap.
Olson staggered partway down the staircase, caught the railing with one hand, and stopped himself, his back to us.
"Hey, Olson!" Mouse said from behind me.
Olson looked over his shoulder and howled.
Mouse had wheeled Mother Olson out of the inner room and was holding one of her Bowies under the embalmed woman's neck.
I looked back at Olson.
He had spun around, his back to the wall, the shotgun leveled at us through the railing supports.
"Do something, boy!" said Mother Olson.
Correction: said the Mother Olson Voice.
It came from Olson.
"Let her go," said Olson, his voice shaking.
Then his face shifted slightly. Still Olson, but not quite Olson.
And the Mother Olson Voice said, "This whore is hurting me, Sammy. Are you going to let her do that?"
"Dirty whore. I told you, Sammy, but you didn't listen."
"Little boys who play with whores never listen to their mothers."
"Shut up, Mother."
"But I'll make you listen before she hurts me."
"Mother, I said be quiet!"
"Before she hurts you, Sammy. She's not taking you away from me. She can go to hell."
Olson's expression froze halfway between a scream and a snarl. His face twitched and shook.
Three seconds later, he snarled and said, "Mother! No!"
Then he screamed, a piercing wail.
The world slid into slo-mo.
Olson raised the shotgun barrel.
I crab-crawled left, the Twins tracking. Caught a quick glimpse of Mouse tackling Val.
The shotgun boomed, the muzzle blast lighting up the basement.
Mother Olson's head blew apart in a shower of embalming fluid and gore and the blast pitched the chair and the body backwards.
The Twins roared and bucked four times each. Rounds splintered the railing, punched into Olson's chest, slammed him against the wall.
He crumpled onto the steps.
The shotgun slipped from his hands, fell over the side, and into a pile of black garbage bags.
I stood up, Twins still trained on Olson. "Mouse?"
"Five by five, Kat," she said.
Quick glance at her. She was helping Val to her feet.
"I'll take point," I said. "Val between us."
Mouse drew her other Bowie. "Check."
We headed up the staircase.
Olson sat slumped against a blood-smeared wall, legs splayed out on the steps, head down over his chest.
Val turned away when we passed him on the steps.
"Bastard," she said under her breath.
We made our way down the small hallway, through the kitchen, and into the garage.
Mouse stopped and gestured to the tarp covered car. "Her runabout."
"Drive it out," I said.
Val said, "Extra keys under back bumper."
Mouse nodded and retrieved them.
I pulled the tarp off the car.
My phone chirped.
It was Eddie.
"What happened?" he said.
"It's over," I said. "Any outcalls?"
"A few. Got them all."
"Good. We're heading out."
"Tried calling when the car was heading back toward the house. Kept losing the connection."
"Bad signal inside. How's it out there now? We clear?"
"Wait one." A short pause, then: "Clear."
I nodded to Mouse and Val. "Let's go."
* * *
Forty-five minutes later we were back at the Red Dog.
I had just finished talking to Doc on my cell phone when Revell came out of the bar's back office carrying goggles, leather gloves, and a plasma cutter. He stopped next to me in the back hallway.
"Cable is off," he said. "Mouse is getting her big cup of tea."
"Spaseba, Revell," I said. "Thank you."
He nodded and headed toward the stairwell.
I went into the office.
Val was sitting at the desk, staring at the far wall, hands folded on the blotter in front of her. A white gauze bandage covered her right eye.
I sat on the corner of the desk. "Absinthe's on her way."
"Called Doc and told him. You've got surgery at 0900 tomorrow. Replace your optic. And Tinker'll re-key the roundabout."
The door opened and Mouse came in with a steaming mug. She went to the desk and set it down in front of Val.
Val gave her a weak smile and took the mug with both hands.
"Need anything else?" said Mouse.
Val shook her head.
Mouse nodded and dropped herself into the couch.
Val sat and sipped her tea.
The only sound in the room was the creak of the chair whenever Val moved.
Ten minutes later, Val let out a long exhale, and said, "Two and a half years. Always met with clients. Always the personal touch. No more. Not after that."
"Not necessarily," I said.
"Kat," said Val, "I just got--"
I held up a hand. "I know. What I meant was, you could still go. You'd just have muscle."
I nodded. "Mouse and I could stand in. Or if we're not there, I'm sure Jake and Mikey would be game."
Val thought for a moment. "That's true."
"And," I said, "something tells me that Absinthe would be more than happy to lend a couple of the boys from the White Rabbit."
She quirked at eyebrow at me.
The door opened and Absinthe strode in. She stopped just inside the room.
Val stood up from the desk. "Abs," she said and a hint of a smile turned up the corners of her mouth.
Then Absinthe went saucer-eyed and sucked in air through her teeth. "Your eye--"
"Taken care of," I said. "Doc. Tomorrow."
Absinthe let out a long exhale and nodded. "Okay. You ready, Val?"
Val said, "Ready. Let's go home."
They started out the office door. Then Absinthe stopped and turned to me and Mouse. "Thanks again."
"Anytime, Absinthe," I said. "It's what we do."
After the door closed behind them, Mouse turned to me and said, "Remind me never to accept presents from strangers."
"Will do, partner," I said.
God, I love my job.
NEXT TIME: "Little Boy Lost"
NEXT TIME: "Little Boy Lost"