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.
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."
"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...)