Jake wore a black tailored suit that accentuated his broad shoulders and tapered waist. He stood on the driver's side of a gray BMW sedan, the door open, looking at me over the car's roof, a lopsided smile turning up the corner of his mouth. "No little black dress?"
Once more, I fought down the butterflies in my gut. "In your dreams," I said.
The butterflies went batshit again.
I took a long breath, opened the passenger side door, and got inside.
Jake got in. "I thought this was date?"
I turned and glared at him, still fighting the butterflies and the growing heat in my gut. "Just drive."
His smile widened another few notches. "I love it when you're serious." He gave a low chuckle, started the car, and headed north on Garner toward downtown.
"Who's the client," I said.
"Guy named Callahan," said Jake. "Small time boss with delusions of grandeur."
"Not in B.C."
"Northwood. Righetti and Vittorio would have his balls if he tried that here."
I said, "So what am I doing here?"
"Callahan knows me as a duo. Female partner. That's where you come in."
"So you've done this before."
I felt my jaw clench. "Really."
"I've heard that before."
"Last two times was with Raven," Jake said.
"Oh." Raven was another ronin who used to run in B.C. but now worked out of the Portland Metroplex. I knew her by reputation. Ex-Mossad. An efficient operator whose tastes ran toward explosives and women.
"You weren't around then," Jake went on. "She was."
"So now it's my turn."
"Something like that."
"Don't take it the wrong way. Raven was good. But you, you're..."
I turned toward him. The butterflies quivered.
Jake said: "Raven was quiet and deadly. You're loud and deadly." Another pause, then: "I prefer loud and deadly."
Then he looked over at me, eyes narrowed, and smiled.
I turned my attention to the street ahead as it rolled underneath the BMW's hood. Past the car taillights and the flashing signboards, the glass and steel 'scrapers of the Bay City skyline loomed ahead. Beyond them, the dark violet sky of evening.
I forced myself to concentrate on the upcoming meet.
But the smell of soap and gun oil wafted past my nose and the butterflies started their frenzy again.
Dammit all to hell.
* * *
The meet was at the rooftop restaurant of the Palladium Hotel.
Callahan was fiftyish and hook-nosed in dark blue pinstripes. He sat at a large round table at the far end of the restaurant, his back to the huge picture windows that looked out over 10th Street twenty stories below.
At a table behind Callahan sat a huge bald man stuffed into a badly-fitting dark suit.
He looked at us from behind a pair of mirrorshades and gave a brief nod. His face stayed expressionless.
When we reached the table, Callahan gestured to the four empty chairs around him. "Sit, sit," he said.
Jake and I sat in chairs to either side of him, angled so we could see the restaurant entrance.
Callahan reached for the wine bottle on his right and held it out to us. "Romanee Conti, twenty years old. From my own cellar. Paid over twenty thousand Creds at auction for this. Per bottle." He grinned. "Got seven more at home. Glass?"
"We're here for business, Mr. Callahan," said Jake.
Callahan chuckled and refilled his glass. "Focused. Always liked that about you." He took a sip of wine then set the glass back on the table and inclined his head at me. "She's not the same one."
Jake shook his head. "This is Marie."
"What happened to the other one?"
"Harsh business. Things happen."
Callahan nodded. "Too bad." His eyes narrowed at me. "Could pass for her sister, though."
"Business," said Jake.
Callahan turned to him, reached inside his suit jacket, and pulled out a creditchip. He passed it across the table to Jake. "Ten thousand. As promised. Balance on completion."
Jake took the 'chip, pulled the reader from his suit jacket, scanned it. He nodded. "The job?"
"It's an extraction," said Callahan.
"Who's the target?" I said.
" 'What' is a better word."
"What," said Jake, "is the target?"
"An item of value," said Callahan. "You'll need to take in transit."
"Why then?" I said.
Callahan said: "There's going to be--"
Three rapid cracks.
Then panicked voices and hurried footfalls.
I turned toward the sound.
(to be continued...)