"Payback" - Part Two"

Since the meet was in Southside near the Gibson Street Tunnel, I dropped four extra pistol magazines in my cargo pockets, grabbed a frag grenade, a smoke grenade, and made sure I had the FAL fully loaded with several extra magazines in the Shelby's trunk.

Yeah, it was still daylight.

But it was Southside.

And it never hurt to be prepared.

Mouse also grabbed a pair of grenades and slipped them into the pockets of her leather trenchcoat.

"Can't let you have all the fun," she said with a grin.

I returned the grin and we headed out.

As we rumbled west on 47th toward Gibson Street and the tunnel, I found myself checking the rearview every few seconds, expecting the back window to suddenly explode from gunfire or an aerodyne to drop in right behind us and open up with its chaingun.

Specs was right about one thing. We'd faced off against some pretty rough characters in the past four months and survived. Bashed, battered, and bruised, but breathing.

But we hadn't yet faced anyone paid to go gunning for us.

And now we had four of them.

Lucky us.

Mouse said: "Did we miss something about Daniela? 'Cuz how the hell did she walk away from that?"

"I don't know," I said. "I don't remember checking her for mods. You?"

She shook her head. "They had me blindfolded up until we all met at the marina. I took the blindfold off when I was out of the car, just before the shooting started."

My phone chirped.


I slipped it into the holder on the dashboard.

"You got something?" I said.

"Nope," said Specs. "Nothing yet."

"You ask everybody?"

"Yeah. Nobody knows who they are. Or they know but they ain't talking. If that's the case and I find out, I'll kick their ass for holding out on me."

"Keep trying."

"Got a few more to check on. I'll keep you posted."

I hung up.

"Dammit," said Mouse.

"I know," I said.

Ten minutes later, we left the yellow glow of the tunnel and emerged in Southside.

Around us, the world took on a seedier, darker look. Occupied buildings boasted bars and metal shutters on windows while unoccupied ones were boarded up. Graffiti covered everything in swirls and sharp angles of color. Where there wasn't a building, large fenced-in lots overgrown with weeds or cemented over and littered with paper and garbage, dominated the space.

Peds shuffled past on stained and dirt-caked sidewalks, heads down, shoulders hunched, avoiding eye contact with anyone. Dark figures lurked in the shadow of doorways, and at a few street corners, groups of young men gathered, talking loudly and gesticulating, or staring slit-eyed at older model cars chugging along the main street in either direction.

In the near distance, the random pop or rapid chatter of gunfire.

A chill crawled up my spine and I gritted my teeth, fighting back the feeling.

Five months earlier, my mentor had died in Southside.

Three months earlier, I nearly died here.

The weight of the Twins in my double-holster rig gave me a little bit of comfort.

Four blocks later, I took a final glance at the side mirrors, the rearview, and the surrounding street, then turned down Jacques Avenue.

"Here we go," I said to Mouse. "Into the belly of the beast."

Mouse snorted and added: "And out the demon's ass."

* * *

11:00:00. On the dot.

We were parked in the middle of Jacques Avenue in an area of long abandoned office buildings and brick warehouses, their windows either boarded up or painted over. A slight breeze brought the smell of burned metal.

Four-story office building on our right. Warehouse on our left. Two meters directly in front of us was the Smith, short, swarthy, and balding, wearing a pastel blue blazer and plaid pants. A light blue collared shirt opened to mid-chest exposed gold chains and a sparse tuft of dark chest hair.

He leaned against the front of a gray BMW, hands in his pants pocket. Flanking him were a pair of cookie-cutter muscle--dark suits, dark mirrorshades, buzz cuts, grim faces.

Mouse turned to the nearest muscle and said, "Do you guys all come out of the same vat or what?"

The muscle looked at her, face blank, but said nothing.

The Smith snorted. "Makes you wonder if they're all cloned or something, am I right?" He straightened and held out his right hand. "How you doin' today, ladies?"

"You have something for us," I said.

He held up both hands, palms out, and grinned. "Okay okay," he said. "Just being friendly, making with the small talk, shaking things up." He turned and brought out a worn leather valise that had been sitting on the hood behind him and held it out to us.

"On the ground between us then step back to the car," I said.

The Smith complied and placed a cred'chip next to the valise before stepping back to the BMW.

I went forward, eyes still on the Smith and the muscle, picked up the valise and the cred'chip, and walked backwards toward the Shelby. Handed the 'chip to Mouse.

A moment later, she said: "Half's here. Checks out."

"The rest pays on delivery," said the Smith and gave us an address in Northwood. "You got one hour."

"Done," I said.

He grinned and gave us a small salute.

And the top of his head exploded in a spray of skull fragments and gore.

(to be continued...)

Part 1 | Part 3

"Payback" - Part One

Franco Bianchi, Righetti family consigliere, stood in the middle of the Red Dog's back hallway near the rear entrance, hands folded in front of him, and looked at us from beneath bushy eyebrows. "We have a problem, ladies," he said.

I felt the hair on my arms prickle.

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

Me. Name's Kat.

I traded looks with Mouse, my partner and fellow ronin, then said, "Is this going to get ugly?"

"It might," said Bianchi.

"With the Family?"

"Not us. Vittorio."

I was about to say something when Franco held up a hand.

"Daniela Vittorio," he said.

I shook my head. "Impossible."

Two months earlier, Daniela Vittorio, posing as Deborah Kelly, tried to take over AstraNova from owner and CEO Phillipe Renaldi on behalf of the Vittorio Family. She kidnapped Renaldi's daughter to use as leverage. Except her mooks grabbed Mouse instead. When the smoke finally cleared from the ensuing argument of flying lead, Deborah/Daniela had taken six rounds and gone down.

"She's dead," I went on.

Bianchi shook his head. "No. She's alive. And she's put out a contract on you both."

"How in hell did she survive six shots to the chest?" Mouse said.

"What does Don Vittorio have to say about this?" I said.

"He's washed his hands on the matter," said Franco. "As far as he's concerned, this was all Daniela's doing."

"Throwing his own daughter to the wolves?" I said.

Bianchi nodded. "It appears so."

"And Don Righetti?"

"Don Righetti agrees with Vittorio's assessment. There's been no breach of the agreement. But he did ask me to pass on the information and to let you know the shooters have arrived."

"Shooters?" said Mouse. "As in more than one?"

"Four, according to our information."

Mouse leaned against the wall. "Sonofabitch."

"Grazie, Franco," I said.

He gave us a quick nod, turned, then went out the rear door.

Mouse looked me. "Four of 'em," she said.

I nodded.


My phone chirped.

Specs. Everyone's favorite info broker.

"Did you know there's a hit on us?" I said.

"What the fuck are you talking about?" Specs said.

I told him about Bianchi's message.

"Shit," he said. "News to me. I was calling to see if you had time for a second run today."

"Maybe," I said. "Unless we get greased on the way to this one."

"Other one's at 15:00. Call me when you finish and we'll set it up."

"Thanks for the concern, Specs."

"The kind of people you two have taken down? Four shooters is bupkiss."

"Is the other run worth being out?"

"Ten thousand up front."

"I'll call you. And find out about the hit."

"Will do," Specs said. "Watch your ass out there."

I hung up.

(to be continued...)

Part 2

"Taking Care of Business" - Part Three

Righetti turned off the speaker phone, swiveled his desk chair, and raised a questioning eyebrow at his consigliere. "What do you think?"

Franco Bianchi, bald and rawboned with an angular face and thick eyebrows, leaned back in his chair on the other side of the black walnut desk, elbows on the chair arms, and steepled his fingers in front of him. "We know Vittorio didn't instigate this. It's all Daniela."

"È vero," said Righetti, nodding. "That's true. Plausible deniability."

"And our response?"

"The Family won't do anything. She's after Kat and Mouse. I see nothing here that would constitute a breach of the agreement." Righetti drummed his fingers on the desk top for a moment, then said: "But in the interest of courtesy, send a couple of the boys to the airport to watch. When the shooters get in, have them call back here. We'll call Kat and Mouse then."

Bianchi shook his head. "Two against four."

Righetti chuckled. "Don't sell them short, my friend. They're not that easy to get rid of. Daniela has no idea what she's gotten herself into."

* * *

"You doing okay?" I said to Mouse.

"Yeah," she said, holding one of her wakizashis--Japanese short swords--up to her eye and peering down its length. "Why shouldn't I be?"

We were in our shared flat above the Red Dog Bar. I sat at the edge of the battered rust-orange couch, the low coffee table pulled close. Atop the table, on an oil-stained white towel lay the field-stripped parts of the Twins, Bonnie and Clyde, my pair of Colt-Springfield M2001 .45-caliber high-capacity pistols, a bottle of cleaning solvent and a stack of cleaning patches. Mouse sat cross-legged with her back against the side of her bed, her assortment of carry blades spread out on a large towel in front of her. Next to her was a bottle of oil and a hand-held sharpening tool.

I put the bore brush and Bonnie's barrel on the table. "White Lotus," I said.

Mouse set the wakizashi lengthwise in her lap, picked up the sharpening tool, ran it along the blade's edge.


"I know."


"I'm trying not to think about it."

"Don't you start."

She stopped and quirked an eyebrow at me.

"You busted my ass about this last time," I said. "Now it's my turn."

She stared at me for what seemed like a long time. "Murphy," she said.

I nodded. "I made my peace about Murphy."

"My turn?" she said.

"Yeah. Now, I wasn't there when it went down with those Lotus Boys. But Murphy and I made sure it ended right. It doesn't have to be that way. Not anymore. Not now."

Mouse looked down at the wakizashi in her lap, then at the other blades on the towel.

"And look on the bright side," I said. "You did fine when we were dealing with David and Staci."

"But that wasn't directly at Lotus," she said. "This time, it is. And Murphy is--was--involved."

"I know." I felt my gut tighten. "I don't like it anymore than you do. But it's there. And we gotta deal with it if and when the time comes."

Mouse chewed on her bottom lip. "Think Righetti can help?"

I frowned. "Tall order. And I don't like the idea of owing him."

"And if we get in over our heads in this?"

"When don't we?"


I held up both hands, palms out. "Okay okay. If that happens, we'll make the choice then."

Mouse looked back down at her wakizashi and was silent for a moment. Then she nodded. "Okay." She took a deep breath, let it out, then turned to me. "We ready for this?"

I looked at her, and every possible thing--every possible bad thing--that might happen with White Lotus flashed through my mind in a flicker of images.

I let out a long exhale.

"We'd better be," I said.

* * *

8 September 2042

Vittorio was sitting at the table in the breakfast nook just off the kitchen, a plate of pancakes and hash browns in front of him, when Manfredi walked in.

"Donnie just called me from the airport," Manfredi said. "They're here."

"All four?

Manfredi nodded, then said: "And Daniela?"

Vittorio frowned. No more stalling. It was time now. Should have done it years ago. He looked directly at Manfredi. "Freeze her accounts," he said. "Then move the money."

"Right away, Don Vittorio."

"And, Joseph."


"I no longer have a daughter."


NEXT TIME: "Payback"

"Taking Care of Business"
Part 1 | Part 2

"Taking Care of Business" - Part Two

At exactly 10:00, the figure slid into the booth seat at the back of the Harbor Cafe and said, "Who are you and what do you want?"

Sakura looked up from her plate of waffles and eggs and smiled at the short-haired blond in the opposite seat. She was dressed just like in the surveillance shots Simon took. Knee-length black leather coat. Black shirt and pants.

"Hello, Jade," Sakura said. "Have you eaten?"

"I said, who are you and what do you want?"

"Breakfast," said Sakura, "is the most important meal of the day."

"You're wasting my time." Jade slid out of the seat, stood, and turned to leave.

Sakura said, "Kat and Mouse."

Jade stopped, turned back.

Sakura raised a forkful of eggs. "Care for a plate? They're very good."

"I'm listening," said Jade.

"Good. Please. Sit."

Jade looked at Sakura with slitted eyes. After a moment, she slid back into the seat.

Sakura ate her eggs, took a sip of coffee, then said, "There's a hit ordered on Kat and Mouse."

"I know," said Jade.

"You take it?"

"No. But I know who."

"Not worried?"

"Should I be?"

"I get the feeling you're partial to them."

"They're a pain in my ass."

"But you didn't take the contract."

"Why do you care?"

"If they're a problem, they should be taken care of, right?"

Jade snorted. "They will."

Sakura quirked an eyebrow. "By you?"

"I didn't say that."

"Then who?"

"Sure as hell not the guys who took the hit."

"No good?"

"Oh, they're good. But Kat and Mouse are better." Jade put an elbow on the booth table and leaned forward. "Why are you asking?"

"Because I find it fascinating, Jade. For someone who hates Kat and Mouse, you're avoiding getting rid of them. Why?"

"What's it to you?"

"Tell me, Jade."

"You're a busybody, lady."

Sakura shrugged. "Been called worse."

Jade slid out of the booth and stood. "This is a waste."

"A pretty necklace you've got."

Jade gave a start. "What?"

"The necklace under your shirt. It's very pretty. A lion, right?"

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"I know where it came from."

Jade drew pistol from inside her coat and leveled it at Sakura's face in one smooth motion. "Don't start something you can't finish, lady."

Sakura looked up into the barrel of the gun, then past it into Jade's face. "I finish everything I start."

"I'll end you."

"Answer my question."

Sakura fixed her gaze on Jade, saw a tide of emotions flash across the other woman's face.

The gun wavered, then dropped away.

Jade smirked and said: "Because they're not boring."

"I think so, too," Sakura said, and smiled.

Jade sat back down.

Then she began to laugh.

(to be continued...)

"Taking Care of Business"
Part 1 | Part 3