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"Little Boy Lost" - Part Three

Danny McGee, age 9, son of Jack and Katherine McGee, no siblings, previous residence Stafford, Virginia, Northern Federation of States, sat with his hands folded on the desktop. He stared at the blotter.

I stood on the other side of the desk, arms folded across my chest. "Is it true?" I said.

Danny nodded.

"You sure? You're not lying again?"

"No," Danny said. "It's the truth." He swallowed visibly. "Are you gonna kill me?"

"Yes," said Mouse.

He winced and shrank back in the chair.

I looked at Mouse. "Be nice."

"Fine." She turned to Danny. "No. We're not going to kill you. Maybe hurt you a little--"

"Mouse!"

"Okay, okay! But he was yankin' our chain! I don't like people yankin' our chain. Makes me want to stab things."

"I was doing what my dad told me," said Danny.

"What, lie?" said Mouse.

"No. To not to tell anyone who we were."

"Why not?" I said.

"So those men wouldn't be able to find us."

"Who are they, Danny?" I said.

"I think they're with the company my dad worked for."

I turned to my phone sitting on the desktop. I had set it down with Eddie still on the line. "Eddie?"

"His dad worked for Hart International Laboratories," said Eddie from the phone's speaker. "Private research firm just outside Fredricksburg."

"What kind of research?" I said.

"Tech and military contracts."

"Vague much?" said Mouse.

"They're off the 'Net," said Eddie. "Unless I go out there, I can't get into any of their systems.

"What about the mom?" I said.

"Died," said Eddie. "Car accident."

"It wasn't an accident," said Danny. "The same men following us killed my mom."

"How do you know?" I said.

Danny looked at me. "Because my dad found her in the basement."

"Shit," Mouse said under her breath.

"What about Aunt Mo?"

Tapping of keys, then: "McGee's sister. Maureen Donovan. Six years older. Widow. Professor of Literature and Media Studies at B.C.U."

I looked at Mouse. "Guess we're going to school today."

She nodded toward Danny. "And him?"

I turned to Revell, seated on the couch behind us. "Mind watching him for a bit?"

"Not a problem," said Revell.

I turned back to the phone. "Call you back, Eddie."

"Sure."

Hung up, then dialed a number.

Mouse gave me a questioning look.

"Getting another set of eyes," I said.

Jake Steele answered on the second ring. "Kat."

The sound of his voice made the butterflies in my stomach go nuts. I gritted my teeth. "I need a hand."

"Sure."

The way he said it made my throat go dry. I licked my lips, forcing moisture back in my mouth. "Got a client who needs watching for a couple of hours while Mouse and I check out a lead. Can you and Mikey spare some time?"

"Usual rate," he said. "And it'll just be me. Mikey's helping Val with a meet."

"That's fine," I said. "Revell's watching him, too."

"What's the other side look like?"

"Hardcore mooks."

"My favorite kind. There in ten."

I hung up and realized I'd been holding my breath. I exhaled.

"You're leaving?" said Danny. "Can't I go with you guys?"

"Be safer here," I said. "We'll come back with your aunt."

"Promise?"

"Promise."

* * *

In the hallway outside the office, Mouse said, "Guess you and Jake'll get some practice?"

"What?" I said.

"For when you two have little ronin of your own."

"I'm not listening to this."

"Mama Kat. Doesn't that sound maternal?"

"Don't make me hurt you."

She gave a hearty cackle and went out the back door.

(to be continued...)

"Little Boy Lost"
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 4

"Little Boy Lost" - Part Two

"This can't be good," said Mouse.

We were back at the Red Dog, standing in the hallway outside the back office.

"What was I supposed to do?" I said. "Leave him there? He's just a kid."

"We're still a business, Kat, remember? We can't take on every charity case that comes along."

"This isn't a charity case."

"Bullshit. This has charity case written all over it. Have you looked at our funds recently? We haven't been paid for a job since the consult with Absinthe. And that was barely anything."

"That was five thousand creds," I said.

"So we're back to eating kibble."

"Pessimist," I said. "We're fine. We've got our reserves."

The door to the back office opened and Revell came out. The burly, bearded owner of the Red Dog had a grin on his face. "Boy is eating like champion," he said in his Russian-tinged basso. "Already eaten two jumbo burgers from Grill Palace."

"Maybe he'll explode," said Mouse, "and we can forget about it."

"Be nice," I said.

"Is no explode," said Revell. "Is good for growing boy. I get him drinks." He went past us toward the bar.

I nodded toward the back office. "Let's talk to the kid. He's our client now."

"Kat--" Mouse began.

"He hired us," I said.

Mouse threw up her hands. "Fine. But I'm telling you. This'll end badly. Maybe with an explosion."

I shook my head and reached for the office door.

Then stopped.

Memories of Lazlar and the disk flashed through my mind.

"Kat?" said Mouse.

I pulled out my cellphone. "Better safe than dead," I said and dialed Fast Eddie.

"Wotcher, luv," said a cheery Cockney-laced tenor.

"Infodump, please."

"Who?"

"Joey and Alan Taylor. Virginia. Fed States."

"Ten minutes."

"Call me back."

"Right."

I hung up, opened the office door, and went in.

* * *

Joey looked up from the desk with a mouthful of fries and gave me and Mouse a small smile.

Mouse perched on the corner of the desk, arms folded across her chest.

I grabbed a folding chair leaning against the wall, flicked it open, and sat down across from him.

"Good stuff?" I said, inclining my head at the empty Grill Palace bag and crumpled food wrappers.

He nodded. "Best stuff ever."

"Need something to wash all that down?"

"The man with the beard went to get me a drink. Is he your husband?"

Mouse snorted a laugh.

I smiled. "No. Revell's kind of like an uncle."

Joey nodded. "I don't have an uncle. But I have an aunt. Aunt Mo. She lives here in Bay City."

"Do you know where?"

He looked down at the desk. "My dad knew."

"What's her last name?"

"I don't know."

"Why were those men chasing you and your dad?" Mouse said.

"I think they were mad at my dad," said Joey.

"Why?" I said.

"For leaving his job."

"What did he do, Joey?"

"He was an engineer."

"What kind?"

"I don't know. He didn't talk about it lot."

"Do you know the name of company he worked for?"

He shook his head. "But I know it had 'international' in the name."

A thought struck. "Did your dad have a badge? Some special ID card?"

"Yeah. It clipped to his shirt."

"Maglocks," said Mouse.

I nodded. "We can assume at least moderate security."

"R&D?, you think?"

"Could be."

My phone chirped.

Eddie.

"That was quick. Got something?"

"Got three possibles," said Eddie. "How old is yours? And what nationality?"

I looked at Joey. "How old are you?"

"I'm twelve."

Older than I first thought.

Something about that bugged me but I shook the thought from my head and told Eddie. "And what does nationality have to do with it?"

"I've got nil, Kat," he said. "Of the three possibles, two are too old, and the other too young. All three are not Caucasian."

Shit.

"Hold on," I said, then turned to Mouse. "Keep an eye. I'm going to check on his drink."

Mouse gave me a puzzled look but said, "Fine by me."

I got up from the chair and went out into the hallway. "Okay," I said to Eddie. "Try checking on a shooting at the QuikShop on Hamilton. About half an hour ago."

"Heard about that. You two?"

"Yeah."

"Wait one. I'll call back."

I hung up.

Revell came down the hallway carrying a 4-pack of Tsunami cola. He held it up as he approached. "Cold and frosty."

"All for the kid?" I said. "He might just explode after all."

Revell guffawed and went inside the office.

A few moments later, Eddie called back.

"And?" I said.

"Name's not Taylor," said Eddie.

(to be continued...)

"Little Boy Lost"
Part 1 | Part 3

"Little Boy Lost" - Part One

I was in the middle of an aisle in the back of a QuikShop on Hamilton near 44th trying to figure out the nutritional content in one bag of screamer chips and wondering why Mouse liked the stuff when the man in the brown leather coat staggered around the corner, reached for the shelves, missed, and crumpled with a groan.

Just another day in the life of a ronin. Street mercenary. Gun for hire.

Me. Name's Kat.

"Daddy!"

A little boy in a dark green hooded sweatshirt, eight, maybe nine years old, bolted around the corner and dropped to his knees next to the man.

I stepped back from them. Pan and scan the aisles.

Empty and clear.

Frowned.

Scam? I'd heard of kids being used as distraction while some yahoo snuck up, jammed a blade into you back, and grabbed your creds.

Hell--I was one of those kids. Way back.

The man struggled to his elbows, gurgled something, and spit blood.

Then I saw the stain on the side of his jacket.

Gunshot.

I started toward him.

"Don't. Hurt. My dad."

The boy. Voice monotone and emotionless. Suddenly between me and his father, both feet planted squarely, hands at his sides and balled into fists, staring up at me from beneath lowered brows.

The hairs on the back of my neck stood at attention.

I held up my hands, palms out. "Not me, kid," I said.

The man coughed. "Please," he said, his voice a croak. "They can't get him."

Shit.

Shades of Lazlar and the disk.

"Stay still, choom. We'll get you somewhere safe."

He coughed blood.

"Mouse," I said into the subvocal transmitter fitted into my ear. "Trouble."

"I know," she said. "Two mooks heading for the store. On my way."

"Copy," I said and turned to the man and the boy. "Whoever did that to you is coming to finish the job. Odds aren't in your favor so I'm gonna level the field. Stay put."

The Twins, Bonnie and Clyde--my pair of Colt-Springfield M2001 .45-caliber high-capacity pistols--cleared the double-holster shoulder rig beneath my black leather biker jacket and leaped into my hands.

I headed to the front of the store.

The door chimes burbled their happy tune and the two mooks strode in. Standard corp muscle. Big. Burly. Close-cropped hair. Dark suits.
Unfriendly face.

There must a mook mill somewhere. Bastards all looked the same.

I leveled the Twins at them. "Far enough, gents," I said.

The two of them took a small step back.

Typical reaction when a meter-ninety of dark-haired Amazon in black biker leathers confronts you with a pair of .45-caliber hand cannons.

The clerk behind the counter made a noise between a yelp and a shriek. A buzzer went off. Then thick bulletproof glass panels dropped out of the ceiling and encased the counter. The clerk dropped out of sight.

The two mooks looked at each other.

Then stepped apart.

The Twins tracked them. One Twin, one mook.

Damn.

Shooting two guns at two different targets and hitting both only happened in Mouse's vids. I may be a crack shot even without gun linkages. And I may be ambidextrous.

But I'm not magical.

Of course, the mooks didn't have to know that.

"I know why you're here," I said, "but it'll end badly if you try it. You need to leave."

"Don't know what you're talking about, Lady," said Mook Number One, on my left. "We're just here to grab some snacks."

"Nice try," I said. "Leave. Now."

"Listen, Lady--" Mook Number One's hand rose toward the front of his suit.

The door chimes warbled happily.

A subvocalized command flooded my body with adrenaline stimulators and the world slid into slo-mo.

Mook Number One was reaching for his gun and looking over his shoulder at the same time.

So was Mook Number Two, on my right.

Saw Mouse bolt in through the front door, low, wakizashi--Japanese short sword--in one hand. Ahead of her, a trio of throwing blades arced toward Mook Number Two.

Focus on target. Mook Number One, hand disappearing into his suit jacket.

The Twins roared and bucked, spitting fire and .45-caliber slugs.

Mook Number One took four rounds in the chest and crashed backward into a window display, arms and legs pinwheeling.

Quick glance toward Mouse.

She was crouched over a prone Mook Number Two, her wakizazhi buried in the man's chest.

Back toward Number One.

He wasn't moving.

Another subvocal command shut off my boosters. "Mouse?"

"Five by five, Kat," she said. "He's toast."

"Keep an eye out. I'll be back."

"Copy."

I holstered the Twins and went back to the man and the little boy.

The boy knelt over the man's body. He looked up as I approached, his face wet with tears. "My daddy's dead," he said.

I let out a loud exhale. "There were two men who just came in to the store."

"Men in suits?" said the boy.

I nodded.

"They were after us. After my dad."

"Not anymore," I said. "But you can't stay here."

He looked back at his father's body. "We have to leave him here, huh?"

"I--"

"It's okay. You're right. There might be more of them. And the police will be here."

I fought back a grin. Smart kid.

Distant sirens.

Right on cue.

Crap.

"Kat," Mouse called out from the front of the store.

"I hear them," I replied. Back to the boy. "Let's get you someplace safe--"

The boy got to his feet. "I have to find my Aunt Mo," he said. "Will you help me?"

"What?" I said.

"You're edgerunners, right? I'm only a kid but I'm not stupid."

The sirens were getting closer.

"Kat," said Mouse.

"I know."

"Will you help me?" said the boy. "I'll hire you."

I checked my optic clock.

12:05:44

Ninety minutes into my day and I already had three dead bodies and a father-less kid wanting to hire us.

There's gotta be an award for this.

(to be continued...)

"Little Boy Lost"
Part 2