The last time I'd woken up like this was when some joyboys had clocked me in the head and stole a package I was delivering.
Not a joyboy this time.
At Ascot Arms elevator.
With a tranquilizer gun.
I sat bolt upright and immediately regretted it.
The floor tilted left and I slapped a hand on the floor, trying to steady myself.
"I know," Mouse said from somewhere nearby, her voice sounding tinny and distant. "I did the same thing."
I closed my eyes tight, willing the floor to stop moving.
Several seconds later, it stopped tilting and leveled off.
I opened my eyes.
Clear. No more fuzzy edges.
"Better?" said Mouse.
"Yeah," I said and got up. Slowly. Testing my balance.
The floor didn't move.
I straightened fully and looked around.
We were in a gray-walled room slightly bigger than the Red Dog's back office. A door on our right. Large video screen embedded in the wall in front of us.
Behind me, set against the wall, stood a folding metal table with a large black duffle bag on top.
Mouse stood next to the table and finished pulling on her black leather trenchcoat.
I looked down at myself.
Still wearing the suit.
Still had the Twins, Bonnie and Clyde--my pair of Colt-Springfield M2001 .45-caliber high-capacity pistols--in a double-holster shoulder rig under the suit jacket.
"Here," said Mouse.
She lobbed a bundle at me.
Caught it. Recognized the clothes. Gray t-shirt. Black leather biker jacket. Black BDU pants. Boots.
"Our clothes," I said.
"Yep," said mouse and patted the duffle bag. "All our gear, too."
I carried the bundle to the table. Spotted Mouse's wakizashis and harness. Looked inside the duffle.
Gear belt and mag pouches.
There was also a loaded H&K MP5 submachinegun with ten extra mags and six grenades: two smoke, two fragmentation, and two flash-bangs.
Mouse said, "From our friend with the tranq gun?"
"That'd be my guess. Ever seen her before?"
I shook my head and started to change into work clothes.
Mouse pulled on her harness then sheathed both blades in the back scabbards and said, "Hey, Kat?"
"Yeah?" I said.
"I don't like this."
"Neither do I."
* * *
Two minutes later, I slipped on the black leather biker jacket, adjusted the Twins in their double-holster shoulder rig, and felt more like myself.
Never did like the corporate look.
I buckled on the gear belt and checked the mag pouches. All loaded with AP rounds.
Then the wall-embedded screen flickered to life and a thirtyish Asian woman with long raven-black hair and delicate features standing in front of a non-descript off-white wall smiled at us.
"Hello, ladies," she said. "I did promise we'd chat again soon."
The hairs at the back of my neck saluted.
Well done, ladies. I'm very impressed with you both. And I don't impress easily.
"The phone call," I said.
"Holy shit," said Mouse.
"That's correct," she said. "Well done. And in case you couldn't tell, we met in the elevator at the hotel."
Mouse took a step toward the screen and jabbed at finger at it. "So you're the one who shot us. Sneaky bitch."
"What do you want?" I said.
She held up a hand. "Introductions first. My name is Sakura. You are Kat and Mouse. I've been following your exploits for quite some time."
Mouse snorted. "We've got our very own stalker."
Sakura chuckled. "I'm afraid I'm nothing like how Mr. Sam Olson was to your friend Valkyrie."
"How do you know about that?" I said.
"That's my business," said Sakura.
I folded my arms across my chest. "Obviously you're not planning to kill us or we'd already be dead."
"Very good. He was right about you two."
"Who? You've said that before."
"The reports I've received," said Sakura, "give you both high praise. But they're just that. Reports. Secondhand information. I'm here to see for myself."
"This is a test," I said.
Sakura smiled. "Again, very good."
"You mean we're gonna be lab rats?" said Mouse, a scowl on her face. "Fuck that."
"I don't think we have a choice," I said.
"No, you don't," said Sakura. "Now listen carefully."
Her image shrank to the left half of the screen. The right half showed a schematic diagram in red of a three-level underground complex.
"You are here," said Sakura. "Formerly an R and D center, now refitted to my purpose."
A section of the diagram glowed. Bottom level, all the way to the right of the schematic.
"This is your current location. You will need to get here to exit the complex."
Another glowing section. Top level, on the far left side.
Then the schematic vanished and Sakura once again filled the screen. "One more thing."
Numbers appeared on the lower third of the screen.
"Oh fuck," said Mouse.
"One hour," I said. "For what?"
"For you to get to the exit."
"There's an 'or'," I said. "What's the 'or'?"
"Or the charges I've set throughout the complex detonate and the whole place collapses on top of you."
"You're a fucking psycho, lady," said Mouse.
Sakura gave us a toothy smile. "Good luck."
Her image vanished, leaving only the time display.
Then the display blinked and changed to 00:59:59.
And then 00:59:58 as I stared at it.
I reached into the duffel bag and pulled out one of each grenade, put two in cargo pockets and one in my jacket pocket. Then shoved the duffle bag at Mouse. She slung the bag across her back, adjusting it between her harness, and nodded at me.
I checked my optic clock.
Time to go.
(to be continued...)