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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

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