"Da?" he said.
I heard a long exhale. "Spaseba. Thank you."
"Did you want to see her?"
A pause. Then: "Nyet. Not this way. There will be chance later."
He hung up.
I started to put the phone away when it chirped again.
"What've you got for me?" I said.
"Building was rented a month ago to a company called Champion Media," he said. "Sim producers."
"If by 'legit' you mean 'quite dodgy,' then yes. Got them renting small offices in San Francisco, Sacramento, and San Angeles. Plus at least thirty other cities from the Northwest Free Zone to the NorFed States."
"What did you mean by dodgy?"
"They only stay for a month, then pack up and leave."
"I don't get it."
"I didn't either. 'Til I dug some more. Champion's owned by a company called Alliance Entertainment. Second-tier adult entertainment company. Sims. Toys. Net movies. Typical stuff. Run by a bloke named Douglas Jackson. And Jackson's just one of many names. Better known as William Sikes."
I felt my breath catch in my throat. A prickling sensation crept up my spine and my pulse thudded in my ears.
"Kat? You there?"
Took a deep inhale, willing away the images that started to take shape in my mind.
No. Not now.
"Kat?" said Eddie. "Everything okay?"
"Fine," I said, my mouth dry. I licked my lips, tried to swallow.
"You've heard of Sikes, haven't you."
"Yeah. White Brotherhood. Traffickers."
"Champion and Alliance, they're just fronts for them," said Eddie.
"And we just stuck our foot in their door," I said.
* * *
Mouse met me outside the unit. "Everything okay?"
I told her about the White Brotherhood connection.
She winced. "Oh, fuck."
* * *
We drove back toward BCU in silence.
The two brunettes lived on campus so we dropped them off near the residence halls on the north side. They thanked us profusely before heading off toward one of four red-bricked buildings.
Ten minutes later, we pulled up in front of the townhouse.
Raya leaned forward between the front seats. "I wanted to say thank you."
"Glad we could help," I said.
"Uncle Revell's probably not coming, right?"
"Didn't think so."
"Don't misunderstand--" I said.
She held up a hand and half-smiled. "It's okay. I know why. It's just the way it is. And besides"--her smile widened a notch--"he sent you two. I'll take that."
"He said there'll be a chance later."
"I know. I'll be waiting."
I got out of the car. Mouse got out, too, moved her seat forward, and let Raya slide out.
"I'll wait here," said Mouse.
I nodded and walked with Raya to the townhouse's front door.
"Thank you again," she said. "And tell my uncle I said hello."
"I will," I said. "Until you two meet up."
She grinned, turned, and knocked on the door.
It opened. Tanya stood in the doorway, saucer-eyed, and gasped.
"Hi, honey," said Raya. "I'm home."
* * *
When I got back in the car Mouse turned to me and said, "What're we gonna do about the White Brotherhood?"
I gripped the steering wheel with both hands, squeezed hard, and tried to steady my pulse. "Let it sit for now," I said.
"They'll find out eventually."
I turned to Mouse. "We'll handle it then."
Her eyes narrowed for a long moment. Then she nodded and said, "Works for me."
I started the Shelby, put her into gear, and headed back to the Red Dog.
When we turned east on 47th Street, Mouse swore under her breath.
"What?" I said.
"I still have that damn song in my head."
"With cat-like tread, upon our prey--"
I clapped a hand over her mouth. "Never. Do that. Again."
NEXT TIME: "Pop Quiz"
NEXT TIME: "Pop Quiz"