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THE WALL OF FAME
SPONSOR OF THE MONTH: gold star Pete and Karen Smyth

"With Cat-like Tread" - Part Eleven

We were inside the lot and halfway to the middle office/warehouse unit when its door swung open toward us and a mook wearing a brown leather bomber jacket and carrying a pair of duffel bags emerged, heading toward the parked cars. The door closed behind him and he got a few steps from the unit when he spotted us.

His eyes went wide.

He dropped the bags and started to reach inside his jacket.

Then a pair of throwing blades erupted from his throat. He staggered back a step, then crumpled, blood gushing from his neck.

We sprinted for the door.

It started to swing open again.

I reached it first and slammed my shoulder into it.

Someone on the other side grunted and the door slammed shut, shaking the front of the unit.

I pulled the flash-bangs out of my cargo pocket, yanked the pins. Mouse pulled the door open partway and I rolled both grenades inside, ducked to one side.

Mouse shut the door and drew a wakizashi.

I drew the Twins.

A muffled shout, followed by a double clap of thunder.

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

Mouse yanked the door open and we darted inside.

Two mooks stood in the middle of the open space taking up the front half of the unit. Both had one arm over their eyes, their free hands holding a pistol.

I closed the gap on the nearest mook in two long strides, swatted the pistol out of his hand, hit him with an elbow strike under the chin.

His head snapped back and he staggered.

I swept his legs and he dropped onto his ass with a grunt.

Behind me I heard metal whistle through the air twice, followed by a meaty thunk and a gurgled yelp.

Mouse loves her pointy toys.

Movement to my right.

Pivoted, the Twins tracking.

The back half of the unit had two offices, each with fixed windows facing the door. The one at ground level had lights on inside. The second level on top didn't.

Another mook was on a metal staircase heading up to the upper level office. He stopped, started to turn toward me, swinging the MP5 submachinegun in his hands into firing position.

The mook from the library.

I sidestepped left and fired twice, the Twins roaring.

The rounds caught him high in the chest, shoved him back against the wall. He bounced off, pitched forward, and toppled over the railing, and landed with a wet thud on the ground below.

Another subvocal command shut off the stims.

Turned back toward the mook I'd dropped.

He was still sitting on the ground, a dazed look in his eyes.

I shoved Bonnie against the side of his head. "Stay," I said.

He nodded.

"Mouse?" I said. "You okay?"

"Five by five," she said behind me.

I holstered Clyde and checked the floor.

"There," said Mouse and pointed.

The gun I had swatted out of the mook's hand sat in the far corner of the unit.

I turned back to the mook, took a couple of steps back, still keeping Bonnie trained on him. "Check the offices," I said to Mouse.

Mouse went to the window of the ground level office and looked in, then turned to me and shook her head.

"Upstairs."

She nodded and jogged up the metal staircase. Tried the door. Frowned. Then stepped back and kicked it in.

Through the window, I saw Mouse walk into the office then disappear toward the back. A few moments later, three women came out of the office. Twentysomethings, from the look of them. They started down the stairs. Mouse followed just behind.

Two were brunettes, medium height, a bit disheveled, red-eyed, and taking long shuddering breaths.

The third was a statuesque blonde, long hair pulled back in a tight ponytail, a grim set to her face.

"Raya," I said.

The girl nodded.

"Revell sent us."

Her body relaxed and she gave me a thin smile.

I said to Mouse, "Take them to the car. I'll be right there."

"Let's go, ladies," she said and started for the front door.

Raya followed last. When she passed the mook, she stopped, turned, and cracked a sneakered foot into his face.

He yelped. Cartilege crunched and the mook's head snapped back, blood flying. He fell back and bounced his head against the floor.

"That's for tasing me, you shit," said Raya.

Mouse snorted a laugh.

I shot Raya a grin.

She nodded at me, then followed Mouse and the others out of the unit.

I looked down at the mook. He lay curled on his side, one hand covering his nose, moaning. Blood covered his shirt front and dripped large splotches on the floor.

"Let's talk," I said. "What were you going to do with the girls?"

"Eat shit and die," he said.

I tapped the hand covering his nose with the side of my boot.

He screamed.

"Wanna try that again?"

"Fucking bitch!"

"Once more," I said. "What were you going to do with the girls? I already know you were trying to get two more at the BCU library a little over an hour ago. Your buddies are dead. You could be next. So I'll ask again. What were you going to do with the girls?"

He was staring up at me with wide eyes. He swallowed visibly. "Waiting," he said, his voice croaking.

"For what?"

"Pick up."

"When and who?"

"At 1900 hours. Guy named Dixon was coming to get them. Then he'd pay."

"How much?"

"Twenty grand."

"Per girl?"

He nodded.

I said, "You working with Red Farrell?"

"Yeah. He'd point out the girls. We'd get them."

"Pretending to be sim producers."

"Yeah."

"What was Dixon going to do with them?"

"Dunno."

"You sure?"

"Yeah. We just got the girls. He'd take 'em somewhere else."

"Thank you," I said. "Been nice talking."

I holstered the Twins.

"You're not gonna kill me?" said the mook, propping himself up on one elbow.

"No," I said. "You get to tell Dixon you failed."

He blanched.

"I don't think he'll be happy," I said.

I heard the chuff of propellant from behind me. The mook gave a start, looked down at the dart sticking out of his chest. He looked up at me, then his eyes rolled up into his head and he dropped back to the floor.

I turned.

Mouse stood in the doorway, lowering the tranq rifle. She grinned and tossed me a pair of plastic restraints, then went back out.

(to be continued...)

"With Cat-like Tread"
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6
Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 12

"With Cat-like Tread" - Part Ten

Revell, Mouse, and I stood in a circle in the middle of the Red Dog's back office with the mook in the center. He sat in one of the metal folding chairs, still out cold, his head down, hands cuffed behind him, ankles duct-taped to the chair legs.

"What do you think?" said Mouse. "Scare him first? Or do we just start slicing off body parts."

"That's starting to get inefficient," I said.

"Got a better idea?"

"I beat him until almost dead," said Revell, rubbing the knuckles of one ham-sized fist.

"He won't be any good in that condition, Rev," I said.

Revell shrugged. "Make me feel better."

A thought struck.

"Let's make him do the work for us," I said.

"How?" said Mouse.

"Dots," I said.

Mouse cackled with laughter.

* * *

Thumbnail-sized, self-adhesive GPS transmitters. Three mile range.

Tinker made them.

Murphy called them "dots."

I had stuck a dot on the inside of the mook's belt, toward the back, and secured it with a bit of duct tape. Then we'd left him in an empty booth at Wang's Fish and Chips next door to wake up.

The restaurant's patrons had ignored us.

Wang never said anything but flashed us a toothy grin and conspiratorial wink when we left.

Now, ten minutes later, Mouse and I were sitting in the Shelby in the alley next to the Red Dog, watching the display screen of the GPS receiver I had balanced on my right knee.

The screen showed the dot's current position: corner of 45th and Garner, two blocks away, and moving northeast.

I handed the receiver to Mouse and started the car. "You navigate," I said, put the Shelby into gear, and pulled out of the alley onto Garner.

* * *

We followed the signal to the light industrial district of Northwood, just south of the airport. Gray concrete buildings and rust-orange corrugated metal warehouses dotted the area, each with its own fenced-in lot.

I spotted a gray sedan ahead of us turn left at the intersection and glanced at Mouse.

She nodded, eyes on the GPS receiver. "That's him," she said.

I followed.

The street dead-ended on a salvage yard. Halfway down, the sedan turned into a lot and disappeared behind the fenceline.

I pulled the Shelby to the curb on the other side of the street and shut off the engine.

A brown-slatted chainlink fence surrounded the property. Between the slats I could make out a line of three office/warehouses. The gray sedan pulled into a slot across from the builidng next to two other cars. Two figures got out of the sedan and went into the middle unit.

"I'll bet this is where they would've taken the girls," I said. "I'll bet Raya's still here."

"You sure?"

"You heard Farrell. He said they were about to leave when he called to arrange the pick up."

I got out of the car. Mouse followed.

Went to the trunk and popped it open.

"They didn't get the girls," I said, "so they're gonna be heading out."

"We don't let them," said Mouse.

"Nope." I reached in, opened one of the duffels I had in there, and pulled out four flash-bang grenades. Gave two to Mouse. Put the other two in my cargo pockets.

Then patted myself down.

Eight reloads on my gear belt.

Checked the Twins. Full load. I'd reloaded back at the Red Dog.

One hundred fifty rounds total.

Plenty.

Mouse was grinning when I turned to her. "Slice and dice?"

"Yep," I said.

(to be continued...)

"With Cat-like Tread"
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6
Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 11

"With Cat-like Tread" - Part Nine

Mouse and I were sitting in the Shelby at one corner of the overflow parking lot behind the BCU library, a drab gray, five-story stepped pyramid on the west side of campus. Beyond the lot to the west was a perimeter road edged with trees that ran parallel to Stratford Avenue. Except for a dozen or so cars parked close to the building, much of the lot was empty.

Tanya and Natalie sat on the edge of a rectangular stone planter near the corner of the library. We had a good view of the girls. If anyone approached, we'd know.

Mouse had the wheel. I was in the passenger side, the seat moved back to give me enough room to use the CO2-powered tranquilizer rifle with currently sat between the seats.

I checked by optic clock.

16:20:06

Ten minutes 'til go time.

The radio sitting atop the dashboard crackled and a voice said, "Kat."

Martin.

I picked it up and pushed the talk button. "Incoming?"

"No."

"Need something?"

A pause. Then: "If Natalie gets hurt, I'll make you pay."

Ballsy kid. I'll give him that. "I told you before," I said. "They'll be fine."

"You better hope so." And the radio clicked off.

Mouse and I exchanged looks.

"Way to go on the people skills," said Mouse with a smirk.

"Ha ha," I said.

* * *

On the dot, a silver, late model BMW with two mooks rolled into the parking lot and pulled to the curb near the girls. A mook with slicked-back dark hair, black leather blazer, jeans, and cowboy boots got out of the passenger seat and started toward Tanya and Natalie.

I checked.

Then checked again.

I couldn't see the driver clearly.

The plan had been to wait until the car stopped next to the girls, take out the mooks inside with the tranq rifle, and nab one for questioning.

But the driver had parked at an angle so that I was in the car's blind spot.

"Shit," I said.

"What?" said Mouse.

I told her.

"Shit," she said, drew the Bowie from beneath her trenchcoat and slid out of the car.

I grabbed the rifle from between the seats, pulled it to my shoulder, and sighted on the mook talking to the girls.

The radio crackled. "Kat," said Russ. "Campus cops coming toward the library."

Shit.

The mook gestured toward the waiting BMW.

The girls nodded.

I squeezed the trigger.

The rifle burped.

The mook gave a jerk of his head, swayed, then staggered forward and collapsed to his knees.

Both girls stepped back, hands to their mouths, eyes wide.

I lowered the rifle. Saw Mouse at the driver's side door. She waved the girls back. They nodded, and bolted toward the library.

Mouse signaled to me.

I tossed the rifle into the back, climbed into the driver seat, and pulled the Shelby up behind the BMW.

Mouse came around to the passenger side and yanked the door open.

Got out and went to where Mouse was standing and we shoved the tranqed mook into the trunk.

Mouse got back out of the car as I came around to the driver's side and went toward the BMW.

I followed.

The driver sat pinned to the headrest with a Bowie through his throat. Blood blanketed the front of his gray pullover.

Mouse reached in and yanked the knife out. The driver slumped sideways.

We got back into the Shelby in time to hear Russ on the radio: "They're almost there! Next parking lot over!"

I grabbed the radio. "Get gone."

Ten seconds later, we passed the patrol car on the perimeter road and continued south, exited campus onto 38th Street, and headed back to the Red Dog.

(to be continued...)

"With Cat-like Tread"
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6
Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 10

"With Cat-like Tread" - Part Eight

I called Tanya and told her to meet us back at the townhouse in ten minutes.

"Already here," she said.

"Fantastic," I said. "Are the two troublemakers with you by any chance?"

"You mean three."

"No. Natalie doesn't count."

I heard her choke back a giggle. "Yeah. They're all here."

"Good. Keep them there."

I hung up, then called Specs and told him what I needed.

"I think I can get one of those," he said. "Gimme half an hour. Where do you want it?"

I gave him Tanya's address.

"See ya there," he said. "Oh--didja hear 'bout Farrell? Got his ass blown to kingdom come. Hope you got to him before that."

* * *

Back at the townhouse, in the downstairs living room, I finished telling Tanya and Natalie the plan, then said: "Well?"

"Are you crazy?" said Martin from the staircase steps.

I shot him The Look, the one that made people nervous.

He recoiled, as if I'd slapped him.

"Been called worse," I said.

His face wrestled between fear, panic, and determination. Determination won. "They could get hurt," he said.

"I know, Martin," Natalie said, leaning forward on the couch. "But if it'll help Raya, I'm game."

"Me, too," said Tanya. "Whatever it takes."

"You saw what happened at Mike's, Nat," he said. "The two guys in the hallway. The two dead guys--"

"Martin!" said Natalie, her voice like a thunderclap.

Martin gave a start and stared at her.

"I'm doing this," Natalie said.

"This is getting nuts," he said.

"Welcome to our world," said Mouse.

Martin turned to me. "Call the cops."

I shook my head. "They'll take too long. We'll lose out on time. Besides, this is our job."

"This is bullshit."

"You said you wanted to help Raya," I said. "Here's your chance. Now you either help out or you stay the hell out of our way."

Martin threw up his hands, got up from the steps, and stormed out the front door.

"I'll get him," Russ said and headed for the door.

I stopped him. "What's his deal?"

Russ let out a breath and jerked a thumb at Natalie. Then he mouthed, "He likes her."

"Ah," I said.

"Yup," he said and went out the door.

I quirked at eyebrow at Mouse. She returned the gesture.

Great. College romance and a missing co-ed. I swear there had to be an award for this.

Turned back to Natalie. "You sure you're okay with this?"

She nodded. "Yeah."

I gestured with my head toward the door. "And him?"

She let out a long exhale. "He'll be fine. He's just--"

"So will you," I said. "Both of you."

"Promise?" said Tanya.

"Promise," I said.

Been a lot of that lately.

* * *

Russ came back into the townhouse ten minutes later.

"Martin?" I said, leaning against the wall by the staircase.

"Took a walk," he said. "Still cooling off. Where are the girls?"

"Upstairs. Did you talk to him?"

Russ nodded. "Doesn't like it but I got him to understand. I think he's miffed that the girls are doing something and we're not." He gave me a questioning look. "Is there something we can do?"

I thought for a moment, then turned to Mouse. "We still have the radios in the trunk, right?"

Mouse stopped cleaning dirt from her beneath her fingernails with a folding knife and looked up. "I think so."

To Russ I said, "You get to be lookouts."

"Lookouts?"

"Find high ground as close to the library as you can and keep an eye for campus police. If you see them, you get us on the radio."

He nodded. "Okay. And I think I know the perfect spot."

Mouse gestured me over to the armchair.

"Yeah?" I said.

"What was Plan B if the girl's didn't go for it?"

"We dress up as coeds."

"Oh, hell no."

I grinned. "Good thing they said yes."

A sharp rap on the door.

I went to the door, and checked the peephole.

Bald head. Round-framed mirrorshades. And a Hawaiian shirt the color of a paint factory explosion.

Specs. Everybody's favorite infobroker.

I opened the door.

Specs gave me a quick nod and set a long, black, hard-sided equipment case inside the doorway. "Here ya go."

"Coming in?"

He shook his head. "Got another thing to do." He gestured at the case. "That'll be on your tab."

"Still good for it."

"Things can change."

"You're as bad as Mouse."

"I heard that!" Mouse called out from inside.

"We're practical, that's all. Enjoy." He turned and headed back up the walk toward the street, whistling.

(to be continued...)

"With Cat-like Tread"
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6
Part 7 | Part 9

"With Cat-like Tread" - Part Seven

Mr. Malibu lay face up and sprawled out on Farrell's office floor, groaning. He'd gotten on the bad side of my fist.

Mouse stood by his head, the point of her wakizashi hovering over his Adam's apple.

Farrell sat stiff-backed in his chair behind the desk, hands raised to his shoulders, eyes wide as hubcaps. His terminal monitor was missing a corner where one of the Twins, Bonnie, had put a slug through it.

Bonnie now stared Farrell in the face. And she was hungry.

"One more time," I said. "Why did you lie to us? And why did you send your goons?"

"What goons? What're you--"

Bonnie roared twice more and half the monitor blew apart in a spray of plastic parts and electronic components.

Farrell screamed.

"Wrong answer."

"Okay okay!" Farrell sucked in a long wheezing breath. "He didn't pay. I told him he didn't have to."

"You're not that forgiving. Not with ten grand on the line."

"I got it from some people," said Farrell.

"What people?"

"These guys. From the Fed States. Ran into them at Muldoon's about two weeks ago. Said they were talent scouts. Looking for girls. Sims work. I told them I worked near the college. I might know a few. They offered a finder's fee. All I had to do was point them out or set up a meeting."

"Easy money, right?" said Mouse.

"You wild and crazy showbiz types," I said.

Farrell gave a weak smile.

"How much?"

"Fifteen grand," he said.

"How many girls?"

"Three."

"Including a tall blond?"

"What?"

I fired two rounds past his left ear, taking out chunks of plaster from the wall behind him.

He scream again. "Okay okay! Mike was here last Saturday. The blond was with him."

"That's why you let him walk," I said. "You told your people about her."

"So what," said Farrell. "You must've been desperate for cash at one point or another."

"Not enough to sell out another human being," I said.

"You're one sick puppy," said Mouse.

"Bullshit. You're both edgerunners. Don't pretend you're fucking holier than thou."

"Let's gut him," Mouse said, raised her wakizashi, twirled it once, and leveled it at Farrell.

He stiffened, sucked in a loud breath, saucer-eyed, and flattened himself against the wall.

"Got a better idea," I said. To Farrell: "Get on the phone. Call those guys. Tell them you found two more girls. Set up a meeting in two hours." I told him where.

"Why the hell should I?"

"Desperate for cash," I said. "Righetti, right? Owe some money?"

He flinched.

"You're alive right now because I asked Righetti for your cooperation. Takes one call for that to change. Wanna give me another answer?"

"You could be lying."

I pulled out my phone. "You willing to chance it?"

He glared at me.

I glared back.

And won.

Farrell grumbled to himself and reached for his cellphone, made the call. After a heated discussion, he finished and dropped his phone onto the desk. "Two hours. They'll be in a silver BMW."

"What was the argument about?"

"You got lucky. They were getting ready to pull up stakes."

"That's us," said Mouse. "Lucky."

Farrell looked at me. "You satisfied?"

"One more question. Why did you send your goons after us?"

"The hell you talking about?" he said. "I don't have any goons. Unless you count him." He gestured to Mr Malibu on the floor.

"Fair enough," I said.

"You done now?"

"I am"

"Bitch."

Mouse gave a snort.

* * *

Outside Farrell's office, Mouse said, "So if he didn't send those mooks after us, who did?"

"He could be lying," I said.

"True."

"Moot point now."

As we walked away, I pulled out my phone and dialed Righetti. When Franco answered, I said, "He's all yours."

"Grazie," said Franco and hung up.

Twenty seconds later, we were getting inside the Shelby a block away when a fireball blew out the windows of Farrell's office.

(to be continued...)