"Payback" - Part Six

I came to with Mouse kneeling over me, concern etched on her face. Everything behind her looked fuzzy.

"Kat?" she said. "Can you hear me?"

"Yeah," I said, although it sounded like "Gahh" to me. I blinked a few times, trying to get the fuzziness to stop. After a few minutes, everything came back into focus.

Mouse was still looking down at me. "You home?"

Then I remembered: the other shooter.

I inhaled sharply and sat up.

Or tried to.

Mouse had a hand on my shoulder, keeping me down. "Whoa," she said.

"Shooter," I managed to say and sound vaguely coherent.

She inclined her head to one side and shifted.

I turned my head. Slowly.

Duster lay on his side, looking at us, wide-eyed. Mouse's wakizashi stuck out from his throat, Duster's hands hanging limply off the blade. Blood pooled around his head and shoulders.

"How'd you manage that?" I said.

"I'm skilled," said Mouse.

I shot her a grin and sat up, slowly. A dull throb pulsed in the back of my head and in the middle of my chest. Looked down, saw three bullet holes in my shirt. Pulled the collar out.

Thank god for dermal armor. I had enough implanted to stop a assault rifle round but the impact from the hit still hurt. The shots formed a trio of red and purple spiderwebbed impacts in the middle of my chest, each within two-and-a-half centimeters of each other.

Something wasn't right.

I let go of the shirt collar and stood up.

Mouse walked over and handed me the Twins. I checked them over. Bonnie was down four rounds. Clyde, down six.

Mouse must've seen my frown because she tapped my arm and nodded at Duster. "Had to make sure."

I looked back at the shooter.

The side of his head sported a pair of bloody craters.

I nodded and reloaded with fresh magazines, put the used ones in my jacket pocket. Slid the pistols back into my rig.

"Got one more out there," said Mouse.

"I know," I said and looked at Duster again. Then turned and looked over at Mask.

"Kat?" said Mouse.

I said: "Something's off."

"Something's always off. Wouldn't be normal if it wasn't."

"Why weren't they using AP rounds?"

Mouse gave a start and frowned. "Good question."

"They were trying to kill us, right?"


And a thought struck.

My gut dropped.

Herding. Like Sakura.

I saw Mouse's expression. She must've had the same thought.

And we spun and bolted for the far side of the warehouse, for the blacked-out windows.

Drew Bonnie and emptied a magazine, shattering glass and snapping metal panes.

Crossed arms in front of my face.

And dove through.

A distant crash of glass. Then a dull whump.

And the world exploded in a double flash of heat and twin roar of thunder.

The concussion wave pitched me across the street and I skidded to a stop lying sideways near the far curb, Bonnie no longer in my hand, clattering away beyond me.

Debris rained down around me and I got a quick look at the warehouse as fireballs blew out all the windows then punched through the roof.

And the building collapsed on itself with a ground-rumbling crash, spraying a thick plume of dust into the air.

"Holy shit...!"


I turned.

She was propped up on her elbows, staring at the pile of smoking rubble that had been the warehouse.

"Coulda' been us," she said.

"Yeah," I said.

"You two should be dead," said a gravel voice behind us.

(to be continued...)

"Payback" - Part Five

I reached her in a knee-slide, just as she hit the ground curled in a fetal position, clutching her left shoulder, face twisted in pain.

"Mouse--" I began.

"Fucking son of a goddamn cock-sucking pus-nuts shit-for-brains asshole--"

I choked back a laugh and blinked away watery eyes. "You're okay."

She sucked air between gritted teeth and nodded. "You're the one who's supposed to get shot. Not me."

"I'll remember for next time."

"That was a warning shot, ladies," said a voice from outside.

We were three meters from and below the level of the windows so I raised my head high enough to peer over the edge of the broken window.

Two figures stood in the middle of the street.

One was medium-height, bald, in a dark blue suit. Armed with a pair of semi-autos.

The other was tall wearing a wide-brimmed hat, long brown duster, red and white kerchief around his neck, and a pair of old-fashioned leather gunbelts slung across his waist, each with a revolver. He stood to one side of Baldy, duster pulled back behind the guns, hands open at his sides, fingers poised. Like those gunfighters in Mouse's old vids.

"Next shots," said Baldy, "will probably be your last ones."

"Cocky shit," Mouse said to me.

I nodded.

"You're that good?" I called out to Baldy.

"Lady," said Baldy, "we're the best."

I said to Mouse, "He is cocky."

"What now?"

A thought struck. "I have an idea."

"Are you doing what I think you're doing?"


"Two against one, Kat."

"I know," I said. "They haven't got a chance."

"Easy or hard," Baldy called out.

A subvocalized command and the world slid into slo-mo.

The Twins, Bonnie and Clyde--my pair of Colt-Springfield M2001 .45-caliber high-capacity pistols--leaped into my hands from the double holster rig under my jacket.

I rose to a low crouch, the Twins tracking, stroked the triggers.

Both guns spat fire and thunder in an explosive stacatto.

Six rounds hit Baldy, walking up from gut to head, and a misty crimson halo erupting from the back of his skull. He crumpled.

Duster was already moving, side-stepping to my right, revolvers up and blasting, rounds slamming into window and building, a few whizzing past me.

I ducked back beneath the level of the window.

"Tell me you got one," said Mouse.

"I think so," I said. "How're you doing?"

"Round hit dermal. Didn't go through. But hurts like hell."

"Can you move?"


"We gotta go."


The warehouse door burst open.

I spun, the Twins rising to target, saw Duster in the doorway, his revolvers raised, leveled at us.

Thunder boomed, echoing off the warehouse walls.

The sledgehammer plowed into the center of my chest.


And again.

The Twins managed a roar each, then I was no longer holding them, and I pitched backwards, hit the floor, skidded.

White light exploded behind my eyes.

And everything went dark.

(to be continued...)

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
Part 6

"Payback" - Part Four

Hit it again, pistoning forward and up with my legs.

It howled open, the bottom scraping along the stone floor.

I ducked inside, Mouse right on my heels.

As soon as she cleared the doorway, I shoved the door closed.

It slammed shut with a dull boom that echoed off the walls.

We were in an empty, cavern-like warehouse, the ceiling at least 20 meters up and lost in shadows. The only light came from the few uncovered windows several meters above us on each of the four walls. The rest of the windows were at street level and either painted over in black or boarded up.

"That's gotta be Vittorio's shooter," Mouse said, her voice low. Even then, the sound echoed.

"One of them at least," I said.

"Four," said Mouse. "So where are the other three?"

A window three meters to our left exploded inward in a shower of blackened glass.

The figure hit the stone floor in a dive roll and came up in a fighting crouch.

Male. Masked. Clad in a black tactical jumpsuit. A sword handle peeked out over his shoulder from a back scabbard.

"There's two," I said.

Mouse gave a feral grin and drew her blades. "He's mine," she said and strode forward, her wakizashis--Japanese short swords--at the ready.

Mask side-stepped and drew his sword. Black-bladed katana. He settled into a combat stance, blade tip angled toward Mouse.

They stood five meters apart, weapons poised.

Stare down. Two full seconds.

Then struck. A blur of movement and a clash of steel.

Then they backed off.

Same places as before.

Like they hadn't moved.

They circled right. Slow steps. Watching each other.

Then struck again.

And backed away.

Again, circled right.


They weren't breathing hard yet but I could see beads of sweat on both foreheads.

Two seconds of stillness.

Then Mask struck first, and Mouse answered.

Blades spun, struck, twirled, struck, slashed, struck.

Advance. Withdraw. Advance. Withdraw.

Spinning and moving, blades arcing in elaborate mid-air shapes, colliding in a ringing of steel on steel, snapping back before crashing forward again.

An elaborate dance of death.

And Mouse missed a step.

My breath caught in my throat.

Mask spotted the opening and lunged.

Mouse caught the mistake at the last possible second, twisting and moving, and the black blade missed her torso by centimeters. She hit the floor, rolling, one of her wakizashis clattering and spinning away from her. She came up on one knee and flung out an arm.

Four long and narrow glints of metal caught the light overhead and sailed toward Mask.

He ducked aside.

Two of Mouse's throwing blades zipped past him.

But the other two slammed home, catching him in the shoulder.

He hit the floor with an audible grunt, rolled to a low crouch.

A flapping of leather.

And Mouse landed on top of him, rode him to the floor.

Her other wakizashi flashed and she slashed his throat.

Mask landed on his back, mouth open and gurgling, blood gushing in pulses from the wide slit in the front of his neck, his hands clutching at his throat.

Mouse straddled him, still crouched, her blade poised to strike.

Mask convulsed twice, three times, four.

Then lay still, blood pooling beneath his head.

Mouse rose, cleaned off her wakizashi on Mask's clothes, and stepped back from the body.

"Mouse?" I said.

She turned to me and grinned. "Five by five, Kat," she said.

"That. Was wiz."

She saluted me with her wakizashi.

A nearby window went crunch.

Mouse crumpled.

And I heard the gunshot.

(to be continued...)

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 5

"Payback" - Part Three

The headless body slumped back against the BMW's front grill, splashing blood and brains across the hood and windshield.

I spun, dropped to a low crouch, and scrambled for the Shelby's driver side door.

Heard Mouse carom off the hood and drop down next to me in a flapping of leather.

From the corner of my eye, past her, I glimpsed one of the Smith's muscle bring a pistol up to bear on us.

Then his head blew apart.

"What the fuck--!" Mouse began.

A rolling burst of automatic fire from across the street.

I yanked the driver's door open.

Mouse dove in.

I followed a second later and slammed the door shut.

Through the windshield, I saw the other muscle bounce repeatedly against the side of the BMW, torso convulsing and arms jerking as a concentrated hail of bullets tore him apart and gouged out chunks from the car.

I cranked the engine.

The Shelby roared to life.

Dropped her into reverse, half-turned to look out the back window, and mashed the accelerator.

Tires screamed and we lurched backwards.

Five meters from the end of the block, the world erupted in a blast of thunder, fire, and dust and an avalanche of rubble dropped into the middle of the street.

I slammed on the brakes.

The Shelby squealed to a stop centimeters before plowing into the two meter-high pile of debris.

"Sonofabitch!" said Mouse.

I spun forward, put the Shelby into gear.

Two more blasts shook the ground.

At the intersection of Jacques and Allen ahead, past the BMW, clouds of smoke and dust rolled in from either side of the street.

"You're shitting me!" Mouse said.

Then another blast.

At the far end of the block ahead of us, past the intersection, the upper floor walls of the warehouses in either side of the street blew outward and rained debris and chunks of concrete into the middle of the street.

Then: a loud woosh.


The LAW rocket sped down from the third story window of the office building to our right and slammed into the BMW, ripped it in two, and sent both burning halves spinning across the street.

Boxed in.

Easy targets.

Fuck. A. Duck.

Mouse let off a string of profanities then stopped to inhale. Before she started again, I held up a hand.

"I know," I said. "This is bad."

"This is beyond bad," she said. "We are seriously fucked."

"We've seen worse."

"I think this one tops all the others. Ideas?"

A dozen jumbled images flashed through my mind. "Working," I said and tried to focus on one.

And the back window spiderwebbed with a loud crunch.

We both flinched but the armored glass held.

"Work faster," said Mouse.

"I know."

"I meant it."

"We need cover," I said. "Besides the Shelby."

Another round spanged off the car's right front corner.

Again, the armor held. I silently thanked Tinker.

"He's either a bad shot or he's fucking with us," said Mouse.

"He's fucking with us," I said.

"I get to kill him first," Mouse said.

Not enough time to get to the FAL in the trunk--

An idea struck.

I reached into a cargo pocket and pulled out the one smoke grenade. "Got smoke?"

Mouse pulled one from her trenchcoat pocket.

I gestured toward the warehouse on our left. "Pop smoke and run for that."

"Right behind you," said Mouse.

I yanked the pin on the grenade and cracked the door open just enough to drop it on the ground. It rolled toward the back of the Shelby spewing a steady stream of white smoke that quickly covered the car.

"Go," I said, shoved the door open, and sprinted for the warehouse.

Reached the door, shouldered it open. It groaned--

--and stuck.


(to be continued...)

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 4