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"With Cat-like Tread" - Part Six

Mike lived in an apartment complex on Essex, one block west of campus. He answered the door wearing a stained white t-shirt, pale blue boxers, and white tube socks. "Yeah?"

"Hiya, Mike," I said.

He went saucer-eyed and and started to close the door.

I kicked it open.

Mike yelped and fell back on his ass.

Mouse and I strode in. Mouse closed the door behind us.

Absinthe was right about Mike. Well-muscled, but all show. Big bulging upper body. Scrawny legs.

The front door opened into a long hallway that ended at a door. Mike started to crawl backwards down the hallway, still on his ass. "Don't make me call the cops."

We followed. Slowly.

"Don't want to do that," said Mouse. "She"--inclined her head at me--"could get mad. Not a good idea."

Mike finally scrambled to his feet and bolted for the far door.

Mouse's trenchcoat sleeve flapped and a pair of throwing blades thunked into the door in front of Mike. He gave another yelp, tried to skid to a stop but his legs flew out from under him and he crashed to the floor again.

"You're not doing so good," I said, looking down at him.

He raised his hands, as if to ward us off. "He swore everything was square! That fat lying bastard!"

I reached down, grabbed him by the shirt front, yanked him to his feet, and shoved him against the wall. "Who?"

"Farrell," he said, wide-eyed. "Ask him yourself."

"Ten grand's a pretty hefty chunk of creds," I said. "What'd you do? Use your student loans? Ask Mom and Dad?"

"What?"

"How'd you pay Farrell back?"

His face screwed up in confusion. "What are you talking about? He said he was going to forget the money."

Mouse and I exchanged looks.

I turned back to Mike. "Just like that?" I said.

He nodded. "Said to forget I owed him. That he doesn't do this but he was making an exception on my part."

"He didn't say why?" said Mouse.

"I didn't owe ten grand anymore," said Mike. "I wasn't gonna press my luck. Would you?"

I let go of his shirt. "Where's Raya?"

He gave me a confused look. "What about Raya? I thought you came from Farrell's?"

I shook my head. "We know about Farrell. But we're looking for Raya."

He hung his head. "She's not talking to me."

"Incident at the White Rabbit?" I said.

"You heard."

"Yeah."

"All she had to do was mind her own business and stay out of things."

"Things that involve ten grand, right?"

He glared at me. "What's it to you anyway? Who the hell are you people?"

Then: noise. In the hallway.

"Incoming," I said to Mouse.

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

Dropped to a crouch and pivoted, the Twins already leaping into my hands, rising toward target. The door flew open and the mook in the doorway was just raising his pistol to fire. The Twins boomed twice each and four rounds slammed into the mook's chest. He got off one shot and crumpled back into the corridor outside.

A second mook stepped into the doorway, a pump-action shotgun leveled. The Twins boomed again and four more rounds caught him high in the chest and blew the bottom half of his face away. He folded and joined his companion.

I crouch-walked forward to the doorway, the Twins still tracking.

The two dead mooks lay in a heap against the corridor wall. Both were in dark street clothes, one in a button-down long-sleeved shirt, the other in a hip-length leather jacket.

Another subvocal command shut off the stims.

And I heard a gasp from my right.

Turned.

The trio from Tanya's stood in the hallway, eyes wide.

"Holy shit," said Martin.

Behind them, doors were opening and curious faces peered out into the hallway.

Dammit.

I holstered Bonnie, pulled a wallet from inside my jacket pocket, and waved the badge overhead. "BCPD Vice! Everyone back inside your apartments. We'll get to you one a time."

Muttered voices, followed by closing doors.

They bought it.

Mouse came out of the apartment, saw the trio, and stopped. "What the hell are they doing here?"

"No time," I said to her, pocketed the badge, and turned to the others. "Outside. Go."

The trio nodded and ran for the stairwell at the other end of the corridor.

I turned back to Mouse, and noticed the blood droplets on her cheek.

She saw the look on my face and nodded. "Mike's dead."

Dammit. Again.

* * *

We had timed it right, rounding the corner at the end of the block just as the first cruiser skidded to a stop outside the apartment building, sirens still wailing.

Now the five of us were standing next to the Shelby in an alley on Avon and 38th, three blocks down and one over from Mike's apartment building.

I looked at the trio. "Go back to Tanya's," I said. "Stay there until we call."

"But we--" Martin began.

"I will shoot all three of you if you don't do what I say."

Martin threw up his hands.

"It was Martin's idea," said Russ with a sniff.

"And you went along," Martin said.

"Enough," I said. "I don't care who had the idea and who went along." I jabbed a finger toward the alley mouth. "Out. Now."

Natalie gave the duo a push toward the street. "C'mon guys."

Martin and Russ shuffled away, shoulders slumped.

Natalie started to follow, stopped, turned back toward me. "You'll find her, right?"

"Right," I said.

"Please do. She's a really good friend."

"We'll do our best."

She gave us a small smile, turned, and headed after the others.

I shook my head, got in the car.

"Gung ho," said Mouse.

"Can be good," I said. "Or can get you dead."

"For those three, the answer is 'b'."

Glanced at the rearview, saw them at the alley mouth.

I really didn't want it to be 'b'.

I started the Shelby, the big block's rumble echoing off the alley walls, and backed out slowly. When we got to the mouth of the alley, the trio were standing on the sidewalk jabbering at each other.

I rolled down my window. "What's the matter?"

Russ gave me a pathetic-looking expression. "We left my car back at Mike's place."

"You're young," I said. "Walking's good for you."

I backed out onto the street and headed south on Avon.

"Kinda convenient, isn't it?" I said. "Mooks show up at Mike's right after we finish with Farrell."

"A little too convenient," said Mouse.

"Thinking what I'm thinking?" I said.

Mouse let out a maniacal chuckle. "Let's go play."

* * *

My phone chirped twenty seconds later.

I pulled it out, placed it on the dashboard holder, turned it on speaker. "Yeah?"

"Well done, ladies," said a woman's voice. Measured. Precise.

Mouse and I exchanged looks. I couldn't place it. From Mouse's expression, neither could she. "Who is this?" I said.

"I'm very impressed with you both. And I don't impress easily."

"That a fact?"

"It is."

"You haven't answered my question. Who are you?"

"You two make an exceptional team and you continue to surprise me. He chose well."

I felt a chill crawl up my spine. "Who chose well?"

"We'll chat again soon. Goodbye."

And she hung up.

I stared at my phone.

"The hell was that?" said Mouse.

"Don't know," I said. "And don't like it."

Great.

Something else to worry about.

(to be continued...)

"With Cat-like Tread"
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5
Part 7

"With Cat-like Tread" - Part Five

Farrell was pear-shaped and dumpy with a double chin and thinning hair attempting to crawl across the top of his scalp. He had a squalid office sandwiched between a pawnshop and a laundromat on Grove. His bleached-blond muscle boy took one look at us, knew he was outclassed, and stayed perched on the barstool by the door.

"Who for and how much?" said Farrell without looking up from his desk terminal.

His voice, a pinched nasal drawl, reminded me of a drill bit missing its mark and sliding across a sheet of metal. I saw Mouse make a face.

"Mike Mitchell," I said.

"No team I ever heard of."

"He's a BCU student."

"I get a lot of them. Playing with Mommy and Daddy's money."

"We understand Mike's one of your regulars."

He looked up and gave us an appraising look. "You ain't Vice."

"We could be."

"No. Cops ain't that smart around here." He frowned. "You working for someone?"

"Tell us about Mike," I said.

His right hand dropped below the desktop.

Stupid bastard.

The Twins leaped from their shoulder rig into my hands and leveled themselves at Farrell.

At the same time, Mouse let fly with two throwing blades that thunked into the wall on either side of Farrell's head, pivoted, and had her wakizashi's tip in front of Blond Boy's nose.

"I wouldn't recommend it," I said. "I think you know what we are. And you're not that good."

Farrell blanched.

"How about we try this again?"

He nodded.

"Hands."

He held up both hands, palms facing me.

"Good," I said. "Keep them there."

He nodded again.

"Excellent. I think we're gonna get along really well. Now tell us about Mike."

"Tall kid," said Farrell. "Big. Yeah. I know him. Bets on games every week. Couple grand at a time."

"Since when?"

"Three, four months."

"How does he do?"

"Wins some. Loses most. Guy's got shitty luck."

"That bad?"

"Down the toilet. Owes me ten grand. Owed, I mean."

"Ten grand's pretty shitty," I said. "But sounds like his luck changed?"

Farrell frowned, blinked, then shot me a lopsided smile. "Yeah. That's right. Change of luck."

"What happened?"

He shrugged. "Paid it back."

"Must've been a really big change of luck to pay back ten grand."

"Yeah, it was. But we're all square now."

"That's good," I said. "Thanks for the info."

* * *

On our way back up Grove to the Shelby, I said to Mouse, "Something stinks."

"You mean besides that office of his?" said Mouse. "Like something curled up in the corner and died in there."

"Let's check on Mike and find out--"

I stopped a few meters from the car, felt the hairs on the back of my neck salute.

"Kat--" said Mouse.

"I know," I said.

Pan and scan.

Peds ambled by, taking no notice of us. Hawkers lounged by their portabooths. Traffic continued up and down the street.

Nothing.

Scanned the rooflines.

Just dead-channel gray sky.

But the feeling...

"I don't like this," said Mouse.

"Neither do I," I said.

(to be continued...)

"With Cat-like Tread"
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 6

"With Cat-like Tread" - Part Four

Specs, everybody's favorite infobroker, answered his phone on the third ring. "Hiya, ladies. Lookin' for a new run?"

"Not today," I said.

"I got a real good one. Delivery. Two hours max. Earn you twenty grand easy."

"You mean like that cat?"

Specs cleared his throat. "Yeah...um...about that..."

"We'll pass," I said. "Already in the middle of one and we need info."

"What do you need to know?"

"Red Farrell."

He made a disgusted noise. "The hell you want with a fat piece of shit like him?"

"Tell us how you really feel," I said.

"He gives bookies a bad name," said Specs. "Not my area of expertise, but I hear talk. And talk says Farrell's a hundred percent dirtbag. I'm surprised Righetti tolerated him for this long."

"How long is that?"

"Two years. 'Course, that might change soon. Word is, Farrell's way behind with his tributes."

"I'd hate to be Farrell right now. How behind is he?"

"Three months. Knowin' Righetti, he prob'ly let him slide that first month. Maybe a little bit the second. But you know what they say 'bout that third time."

"It's a charm."

Specs snorted. "Yeah. If by 'charm' you mean seein' the bottom of San Marino Bay up close and personal."

"We need to get to him before Righetti's boys do. Where is he?"

"Grove. By 42nd. And you might wanna check with Righetti. In case they already did something to him."

"Will do. One more thing. Do you know this gal Candi who works for him?"

"Spelled with an 'i'?"

"That's her."

"She's a runner. Messenger. Started workin' for him about six months ago."

"Thanks, Specs."

"Anytime," he said.

* * *

I called the Righetti mansion and got Franco, the family's consigliere--advisor--on the line. "I'm calling about Red Farrell."

"Mr. Farrell won't be with us much longer," said Franco.

"I need ten minutes with him," I said. "No more than half an hour."

"Why?"

"We have questions. It involves Revell."

"Just a minute."

A pause.

Then: "Buon giorno, Kat. Come stai?"

"Sto bene grazie, Don Righetti," I said. "E Lei?"

"Va bene," said Righetti. "Non mi posso lamentare."

"That's good to hear."

"Now what's this about Revell and Red Farrell?"

I told him about Raya, Mike, and the connection to Farrell. "So we need to ask him some questions."

"Very well," said Righetti. "I'll leave Farrell alone for the moment. Ask him your questions. But I want you to tell me when you've finished with him."

"Done."

"Alla prossima," said Righetti.

"Until next time," I said.

(to be continued...)

"With Cat-like Tread"
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 5

"With Cat-like Tread" - Part Three

When we got back to the Shelby, I called Eddie, put the phone on speaker, and attached it to the dashboard holder. "What'd you get on this Mike guy?" I said.

"Normal," said Eddie. "Age 26. BCU student. Hopes to be a suit one day."

"Business classes?"

"Yeah, poor little bugger." Tapping of keys, then: "Parents live in Lakeshore. One sibling. Older brother. Works on campus. Food services. Has 30,000 credits in student loans. Not very good with money."

"Accounts?"

"Personal. Less than 200 credits."

"We hear he gambles."

"Must be a bad gambler then. Or he doesn't use his account to play. Transactions are mostly petrol, food, and your typical university entertainment."

"Like?"

"Beer. Clubs. Porn. The usual. Reckon he uses cashsticks when he gambles."

"Got a picture?"

"State ID. I'll send it to your phone."

"Thanks, Eddie."

"Say--Mouse there?"

I turned to Mouse.

She went wide-eyed and shook her head.

Gestured to the phone and mouthed: "Talk to him."

She mouthed back: "No."

I gestured again.

She drew a Bowie from beneath her trenchcoat and waved the point in my face.

"Kat? Still there, mate?"

"Sorry, Eddie," I said. "She's still talking to our client outside."

"Ah. Shame, then. Well, tell her I finally found those vids she'd been looking for. The one about the cop and the terrorists."

Mouse's jaw dropped. She stared at the phone.

"The one where they try to blow up the building?" I said.

"Bang on. All four. Original discs, too."

"I think she still has her player," I said. "I'll let her know."

Hung up and turned to Mouse.

She loooked at me, closed her mouth, and frowned.

"You said no."

She turned back to the phone, then put the Bowie away, and looked out the passenger side window.

"Okay," I said. "Let's talk to Absinthe."

* * *

When we pulled up outside the White Rabbit, my phone gave a trill.

Message.

I checked and found the picture Eddie sent.

A square-jawed twentysomething male smirked at us from the display. He had short cropped blond curly hair, shaved at the sides.

Eddie added a note: "1.86m, 95 kg"

Mouse frowned. "I don't like him."

"At least we got a face for the name," I said.

* * *

Marco, the huge, beefy, pony-tailed bouncer, met us at the White Rabbit's front entrance and let us inside.

In daylight, the club lost some of its mystique and looked completely bare. Tables and chairs were stacked along one wall and a black tarp covered the two giant columns of speakers that flanked the deejay's platform.

Absinthe, petite and willowy, with jet-black hair and blood-red highlights, wearing a corset, red blouse with bell sleeves, and knee-length black skirt above tall lace-up boots, stood by the bar watching two delivery guys roll handtrucks loaded with boxes into the taproom.

"Boss," said Marco.

Absinthe looked up, gave a signal to Marco, and motioned us over.

Marco nodded and disappeared into the kitchen.

Mouse and I went over to the bar.

Absinthe greeted us with outstretched arms. "Ladies," she said. "Always good to see you."

"You too, Abs," I said. "How's Val?"

"Some days get rough but she's holding up well, considering. What brings you two here?"

"Info."

"What, Specs not on the pulse of the city anymore?"

"Oh, he is, but this is about something that happened here."

"And that is...?"

"Lover's spat. Three days ago."

"Oh, him."

"Mike?" said Mouse.

Absinthe quirked an eyebrow. "You know him, too?"

"Sort of," I said. "Our current run has him involved." I took out my phone and showed him the picture from Eddie.

Absinthe peered at the display and nodded. "Same guy. He's a regular. At least twice a week. Self-proclaimed ladies man."

"Is he?" said Mouse.

"With the drunker ones. But he's been here lately with the same gal."

"What's lately?"

"Last two, three weeks."

"She a tall blond?" I said.

Absinthe gestured at me. "Your height? Long hair, down her back?"

"Yeah."

She nodded. "That's her. The two of them had the spat. No idea about what exactly, but there was a lot of shoving on her part. I stepped in when it looked like he was going to shove back. He's not a small guy."

"We have him at a meter-eighty," I said. "Ninety-five kilos."

"About right," said Absinthe. "He definitely works out. But it's pretty-boy muscle. Looks good. Intimidates the ones who don't know any better."

"And you stepped in?" Mouse said.

Absinthe smiled. "With Marco."

I grinned. Mike might be big but Marco was imposing in that "break you with one finger" way.

I said: "Then what happened?"

"She walked out," said Absinthe.

"And Mike?" Mouse said.

"Back to the bar. Caught him talking with another gal for a few minutes."

"Who?" I said.

"Another regular. Candi."

"Are you kidding?" said Mouse. "Candi?"

"With an 'i'," said Absinthe. "She tells you so."

Mouse snorted.

"Working girl?" I said.

Absinthe shook her head. "Not like that. Works for Red Farrell."

"Don't know the name."

"Bookie. Popular with the BCU kids. Sports bets, mostly."

"Righetti?"

"Of course. He'd be stupid staking out a claim here and not be."

"Our info tells us Mike has a habit in this area."

"And your info's right. I've seen him talking to Candi a lot. Especially in the last week."

"We'll check on Farrell," I said. "Tell Val we said hi."

"Will do."

(to be continued...)

"With Cat-like Tread"
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 4