Raya and Tanya shared a street-facing two-bedroom townhouse in a small complex three blocks northeast of campus.
Tanya led us upstairs to Raya's room and took a seat at the desk set against the opposite wall next to the window. I stood in the middle of the room, Mouse off to one side. The room was well-ordered and tidy. Pale blue comforter covered a made bed. Abstract art print on the wall above the bed. Bookshelf to the left of the door packed with textbooks, trinkets, digiframe, and gold Sony musicstik in a docking unit with detachable cube speakers. Closet with bi-fold doors to the right of the bedroom door. Portacomp on the desk, lid closed. Next to it, maroon and white BCU mug filled with pens and markers. On the wall above, a poster of a band called Vanilla Chasers.
Nothing off here.
I turned to Tanya. "Do you have a picture of Raya?"
She nodded and pointed to the digiframe on the shelf. "That's us. Visiting Portland."
I picked up the digiframe. Tanya stood next to a girl who had at least fifteen centimeters on her. Probably my height. Broad-shouldered. Athletic. Thick long blond hair, down to the middle of her back.
"How old is this?" I said.
"Three months ago. We went up on her birthday--"
The front door clicked open.
I motioned her to keep quiet and to stay at the desk.
Mouse opened the closet doors, left them open, and we ducked inside and waited.
Then: hushed voices. Three of them.
I looked at Mouse.
She held up three fingers.
She drew a Bowie from inside her trenchcoat.
Someone padded up the stairs and a moment later, a voice by the door said, "Hey, Tanya."
Tanya gave a weak grin.
Then a lanky figure in a hooded dark blue sweatshirt strode through the door and into the bedroom.
I grabbed the figure by the back of the sweatshirt and threw him toward the bed, then spun toward the doorway.
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 beneath my black leather biker jacket.
The duo in the hallway froze in mid-step, saucer-eyed. One was a short, dark-haired, round-faced guy wearing an untucked red and black flannel shirt. The other was a slim girl with a burr of blond hair and eyebrow piercings.
"Oh shit!" said Flannel Guy.
Typical reaction, especially when a meter-ninety of dark-haired Amazon double-draws with a pair of .45-caliber hand cannons.
Then Tanya sprang between me and the duo, hands up, palms out, her eyes wide. "Wait wait wait!" she said.
Stepped back, lowered the Twins, and noticed someone was wailing behind me.
Looked over my shoulder, found Mouse on the bed with our first intruder. He was lying face down while Mouse straddled his back, Bowie knife held against the side of his neck.
"Stand down, Mouse," I said.
She looked at me, then at Tanya and the pair in the hallway, and got off the bed. The Bowie vanished into her trenchcoat.
The guy on the bed stopped wailing.
I turned back to Tanya. "You know them?"
She put her hands down and nodded. "Friends of ours." She turned to the pair in the hallway. "It's okay, guys. They're here to help."
The pair nodded and came inside the bedroom. Blond Girl went to the desk and sat down on the chair, eyeing us warily. Flannel Guy leaned against the edge of the desk and just stared.
The guy on the bed said, "Can I move yet?"
Tanya raised her eyebrows at me.
"Get up, Russ," she said.
The guy on the bed rolled over and sat up.
"You okay?" said Blond Girl.
Russ nodded and looked at Mouse, eyes wide. "She was gonna cut me, wasn't she."
Mouse flashed him a grin.
Russ put a hand to his throat and gave a choked yelp.
Tanya introduced us to the pair. Blond Girl's name was Natalie. Flannel Guy was Martin. "What're you guys doing here?" said Tanya.
"We heard about Raya," said Natalie. "And we wanted to help."
"We followed you to that bar and then back here," said Russ. He gestured at me and Mouse. "With them."
Martin snapped his fingers. "I knew it," he said. "You two are edgerunners, right?"
"Been called worse," I said.
"Real edgerunners?" said Natalie.
"Only kind there is," said Mouse.
"Frickin' wiz," said Martin, a grin on his face.
"What do you three know about Raya?" I said.
"Something was up," said Martin. "She didn't show up for class the last two days."
"Which class is that?"
"L and P."
"Literature and Performance," said Natalie. "Raya's in class with us."
"Yeah," said Martin. "We're working on a presentation of Pirates of Penzance. Old play. With songs. They used to perform it live and everything."
"Raya's supposed to be singing one of the songs," said Natalie.
"Does she have any enemies?" I said.
"Raya?" said Natalie. She shook her head. "Everybody liked Raya."
"No one she might've pissed off?"
"Maybe someone in class," said Natalie. "She liked to debate."
"Enough that she'd go missing?"
Natalie shook her head. "Nothing like that."
"Unless there's something we didn't know," said Russ.
"What about Mike Mitchell?" I said.
Natalie made a face. "Guy's a muscle-bound jerkoff. Raya could do so much better. I heard they had a fight couple of nights ago. At the White Rabbit."
"White Rabbit?" I said.
"You know the place?" said Natalia.
"Been there once or twice."
"You don't look the type," said Martin.
"We like to surprise people," Mouse said.
Russ said, "I heard he's got a habit."
"How big a habit?" I said.
"Enough to get into trouble."
"Sounds like enough to start with." I looked at Mouse. She nodded. I said to the trio, "Thanks for the info." To Tanya: "We'll be in touch."
Tanya nodded. "Thanks again."
Mouse and I started out the bedroom door.
"Wait a minute."
I stopped and turned.
He took a step toward me, a frown on his face. "That's it?"
"For now," I said.
"You don't need us to watch your backs or anything?"
"Got that covered," said Mouse.
"There's gotta be something we can do. Raya's our friend and we wanna help."
"You can help by letting us do what we do."
"We can do it too!"
Mouse inclined her head at Russ. "He screamed."
Martin's shoulders fell. He stepped back and leaned against the edge of the desk again. Natalie and Russ both let out a sigh and stared at the floor.
I looked at Mouse.
She shrugged. "Your call."
I turned back to the trio, let out a long breath. "Okay," I said. "Keep your eyes and ears open. If you hear something that might be related to Raya, have Tanya call us."
Martin's eyes brightened. "Surveillance work."
Natalie and Russ perked up.
"We can do that," said Natalie.
"They'll never know we're there," Martin said. He and Russ exchanged a look, then linked arms and stood ramrod straight.
"With cat-like tread," they sang at the top of their lungs, "upon our prey we steal..."
I turned to Mouse, saw horror etched on her face.
(to be continued...)