We walked west on 15th to the hotel, joining the crowd of peds that cruised the sidewalk in both directions, and waited for the signal light at the corner.
Another blue and white cruiser came around the corner and headed south on 15th. Five seconds later, a sky-eye swung into view, its camera sweeping the street.
Mouse and I conveniently turned away from the camera, pointing toward some distant object like a pair of tourists.
A few seconds later, it whirred past us.
The light changed.
We crossed the street toward the hotel.
* * *
The hotel interior oozed money. Marble tile dominated the huge foyer. To our left, the entrance to Veronica's, the restaurant where we'd had the shoot-out three months earlier. Directly in front of us, a path running under high columned arches led to the lobby and registration counter. Guests came and went, their conversations joining the clack-clack of passing luggage carts manned by bellhops in dark gray uniforms.
We made our way across the foyer to a discreet security station. I handed over our ID cards, showing we were armed couriers, licensed and bonded with the CFS.
The guard swiped the cards through a slot at the side of his terminal, studied the display on the screen, then said, "What room?"
"421," I said.
He nodded, handed the cards back to me, then gestured down the long path. "Straight to the counter, then make a left, then your first right. That'll be the elevators."
We thanked him and made our way down the path.
No alarms had gone off.
I let out the breath I'd been holding.
"Me, too," Mouse said.
The IDs still worked.
I made a mental note to thank Eddie again.
* * *
I knocked on the door of room 421.
Then a faint click of a lock and the door opened slightly, the security chain still in place.
A pair of dark eyes peered through the opening. "Yes?"
I held up the briefcase. "Delivery," I said.
"Excellent," said the eyes. "Right on schedule. Please set the briefcase in front of the door and step back into the hallway."
The door closed. A clack of metal as the chain came undone. Then the door opened again and a slender, red-haired man in a powder blue suit stepped forward and reached for the briefcase.
Spotted a large figure standing just behind the man.
We exchanged nods.
"One moment, please," Red Hair said and stepped back inside the door and closed the door.
Quiet settled over the hallway.
No one came out of the other rooms.
After a minute or two, the door opened again and Red Hair emerged, cred'chip extended between thumb and index finger. "Here you are. Final balance as agreed."
I stepped forward and took and proffered 'chip. "Thank you."
"Feel free to confirm the amount," he said. "I can wait in case there are problems."
I smiled and passed the 'chip to Mouse., still keeping my eyes on Red Hair.
After a moment, Mouse said, "Confirmed."
"A pleasure doing business with you," Red Hair said and smiled.
His smile struck me as being far too white and the hairs on the back of my neck bristled.
I quickly pushed the though out of my mind and thanked him again.
He disappeared back into the room.
Mouse and I turned and headed for the elevators.
As we stood waiting I said, "Was he a little odd to you, too?"
"Yeah," said Mouse. "Can't figure out why though."
"Me either. But something was...off."
The elevator chimed, the doors slid open, and we went inside.
Mouse made a noise.
I turned, saw her stumble slightly.
"You okay?" I started to say and felt the sting at my neck.
Looked behind us and saw the woman standing in the hallway beyond the elevator doors, a pistol leveled at us.
Then she went out of focus, and the world went gray.
(to be continued...)