"Pop Quiz" - Part One

"I think," I said, putting my refitted 2008 Shelby GT500 into gear, "that was our very first cake run."

Mouse, my partner and fellow ronin, held up the cred'chip between thumb and index finger. "Twenty thousand cred payout right here," she said. "I think you could be right."

I pulled the car into traffic heading north on Cameron Avenue, just past 50th Street.

At the next intersection, the light turned red. We stopped.

And the ivory Metro Cab in front of us bucked under a rain of machinegun fire that punched through the hood and blew out the windshield.

Then the rain of lead walked across the cab's roof toward us.

"Oh shit!" said Mouse.

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

Me. Name's Kat.

I yanked the wheel hard left and mashed on the gas.

The Shelby flipped a U-turn into the southbound lane in a screech of tires, back end fishtailing.

Clipped part of the cab, felt the jolt shudder up my arms.

Concrete exploded around us.

Then the wheels caught, we lurched forward, and sped south on Cameron.

"Okay," I said to Mouse. "Maybe that wasn't a cake run."

She grunted in reply.

* * *

I took the long way back to the Red Dog, circling some blocks twice, just to make sure no one tailed us.

Mouse had been keeping watch out the back window. When I rounded Garner at 48th, she turned back toward the front of the car.

"Clear," she said.

"Good," I said.

"Any idea who that was?"

"Nope. You see where they were?"

"Second or third floor. Building further up Cameron. Was a crappy angle. They had to adjust."

"Good for us," I said. "Bad for the cab."

"Who was it, you think?"

"Not our delivery. That'd be stupid. And bad for biz."

"Then who?"

"We'll figure it out later."

* * *

We had just walked in through the Red Dog's back entrance when my phone chirped.

Tinker. Genius gadget-girl and all-around techno-wizard.

Mouse gestured toward the main bar area. "I'll get us some eats."

I nodded and answered the phone. "Hiya, Tink."

"Updates about the house," Tinker said.

After the incident with Danny and his aunt two weeks earlier, Tinker had come out to assess and repair the damage. "Good news, right?"

"It is for me," she said.

I groaned. "I don't like the sound of that. How much?"

"Not very."

I could hear her smile. "Says you."

Tinker chuckled. "Grand total comes to five hundred thousand. That's the gate, back door, and rebuilt safe room."

"What was the good news?"

"Ashe already installed a new gate. Back door'll be ready in two days. Take another week, week and a half to finish the room."

"Sounds good," I said and made a mental note to check our funds later. "I'll get that out to you." I hung up and went into the bar area.

Mouse was perched on a stool at the bar, a plate of sandwiches and screamer chips in front of her. She saw me, gestured at the plate.

"Turkey," she said, and took a sandwich.

I came over, sat on a stool next to her, and picked up the other sandwich. "Real?"

She nodded. "Rev got them from an importer."

My stomach gurgled. I took a bite.

A nice change from the soymeats we usually ate.

"Who called?" Mouse said, grabbing a handful of screamer chips. Muffled wails came from her hand.

"Tinker," I said and told her the gist of the call.

She swallowed, gave a low whistle. "Pricey."

"Gotta be done."

She held up her half-eaten sandwich. "Enjoy this while it lasts."

"We just got paid," I said.

"I'm being practical."

"Cynical, more like it."

She stuck her tongue out at me then bit into her sandwich.

My phone chirped.

Specs. Everybody's favorite infobroker.

I put the phone on speaker and set it down on the bartop. "Specs!" I said. "What's up?"

"I just heard back from your client," he said.

"From this morning?" said Mouse. "That was quick."

I checked my optic clock, then said, "Was barely an hour ago."

"Yep," said Specs, "and he's got another run for you. Another delivery."

"I'm starting to get tired of running errands," I said.

"Yeah," Mouse said. "Got anything else?"

"Too tired for a fifty thousand credit payout?"

I straightened in the stool.

Two payouts in one day. Nice change.

"We're in," I said. "Details?"

Specs told us.

"Shit," said Mouse. "I hate changing."

"Gotta look the part," I said.

"Yeah. Look like an idiot."

"I'm more worried about where we're going."

The final delivery was at the Ascot Arms hotel in Uptown. The last time we'd been there, we ended up in a shootout in the hotel restaurant with some corp secmen. The time before was another fracas, also with corp secman, that resulted in a corner penthouse and part of the floor below going up in smoke.

"That, too," said Mouse.

Specs said, "You got two hours."

"More than enough time," I said. "Got a car for us?"

"Be there in five minutes," said Specs. "Oh yeah. There's some chatter you oughta know about. Somebody's gunning for you two. Actively."

"We know," said Mouse.

"Bastard tried to hose us with a machinegun," I said. "Just after we made the drop this morning."

"Chatter's saying it's a local ganger. Ring any bells?"

Mouse and I exchanged looks.

"Dreadlocks," we said at the same time.

"Who?" Specs said.

I reminded him about the incident with the cat and added the run-in with the Wyld Boyz.

Wyld Boyz (and their female halves, the Wyld Grrlz) funneled Aguila rec drugs to BCU students and were rumored to drink the blood of their enemies. They tended to dress in tattered clothing like streeters--if streeters sported tattoos and piercings, ran in packs, and hunted tresspassers on their turf.

Said turf covered everything between Hancock Avenue west to Steiner, and from 38th Street south to Hillside.

The last time Mouse and I encountered them we'd been after a runaway cat inside Wyld Boyz territory. Mouse cornered the cat in an alley. Three Wyld Boyz cornered Mouse.

I cornered the three Wyld Boyz.

They didn't like that very much.

Especially their leader, a big hulking bruiser Mouse and I called Dreadlocks.

"Sonofabitch," said Specs. "How you two always manage to stir shit up is beyond me."

"But we get the job done," I said. "And you get your percentage.

"And that's why I love you guys."

"Greedy bastard," said Mouse.

Specs laughed. "Damn straight. Now you two watch your asses, y'hear? And for chrissake, don't blow up the hotel again."

"Thanks, Specs," I said and hung up.

"Not good," said Mouse.

I nodded. "Be the second time he's crossed turf."

When Mouse and I were investigating fellow netjockey Valkyrie's disappearance, Dreadlocks had fired on us from the mouth of the alley next to the Red Dog. Lucky for us, we'd been near the armored backdoor and were able to hit cover in time. Otherwise, we'd have been filled with holes.

"Let's tell the dogboys," I said. "Let them know someone's sneaking around their patch."

The dogboys were the Wolfpack, a punkergang that controlled the Hillside District from Wisher Avenue eastward to Waterman Avenue, and from 36th Street south to Hillside Avenue. Mouse had run with them before hooking up with me and Murphy.

The Red Dog was right in the middle of Wolfpack territory.

Mouse grinned. "They're gonna love that."

(to be continued...)

"Pop Quiz"
Part 2

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