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On Break

And now, Folks, it's time for me to take a breather and recharge the Creative Batteries (which is just AuthorSpeak for "planning out the next few episodes and getting them written ahead of time after Real Life made recent things a tad busy").

So we are hereby on break and will return with more of the Duo's escapades in mid-/late-September.

I'll post the exact date on my blog so check over there for details around late August or thereabouts.

See ya then!

"Payback" - Part Ten

She kicked the door of our flat open shortly after 18:00 and stepped in, a pistol leveled at us.

Just as Duncan described. Petite. Close-cropped red hair. Dressed in dark jeans and a hip-length black leather coat. Almond-shaped eyes narrowed, nostrils flaring.

Mouse and I stood at angles to the door. I trained the Twins on her. Mouse, my Remington 870 pump-action 12-gauge.

"No clear shot," I said. "This could get messy."

"I like messy," she said with a grin.

"We don't."

And Revell stepped up from behind and cracked her in the back of the head with the stock of his SPAS-12 shotgun.

She dropped face down with a thud and the pistol clattered away toward the couch.

"Nice hit," said Mouse. "She out?"

I looked.

Redhead didn't move.

"Out," I said.

Revell had the shotgun pulled to his shoulder and was aiming at her back. "You need cover, da?"

"Da," I said. "Good idea."

While Revell and Mouse kept Redhead covered with their weapons, I holstered the Twins then went to the couch and picked up Redhead's pistol from the floor. A Glock 40. Popped the magazine and thumbed out rounds onto the low coffee table. Then racked the slide and ejected the round in the chamber.

Five minutes later, Redhead stirred, groaned, rolled over onto her back, blinked a few times, and stared up into the barrel of Revell's SPAS-12. "Hello," she said.

Revell said nothing.

She craned her head back to look at me and Mouse, wincing a little. "Sneaky," she said. "I like that."

"We thought you'd be showing up," I said. "Since the job's not done."

"Escaping the building," she said. "Good one. How'd you manage that?"

"Trade secret," I said. "How'd you get out from the Bison?"

She grinned. "Trade secret."

I returned the grin.

"Good one, by the way," she said. "Getting some gangers to cover you."

"We thought so," said Mouse.

Redhead looked at Revell and the shotgun barrel then back to us. "How do we want to do this?"

"You leave," I said. "Consider the job finished."

She shook her head. "No chance. I've got a rep. And I haven't gotten paid."

I took my phone out and dialed the number Vittorio had given me earlier.

"Hello," said a voice on the other end.

"One sec," I said then put on the phone on the floor where Redhead could reach it.

Redhead regarded me for a long moment then reached for the phone and put it to her ear. "Yes?" she said, then, "Yes, I am." She listened for a minute or two, then said, "Agreed. Nice doing business with you." She hung up the phone and looked back at me. "Done. Can I get up now?"

"Phone back on the floor," I said.

She set my phone back down on the floor.

"Okay," I said.

She sat up and got to her feet then looked around for her pistol.

I handed the pistol and empty magazine to Redhead.

"I'll walk you out," I said.

She took the pistol and magazine and said, "I'll let myself out."

"I'll follow along and watch," I said.

* * *

Outside the Red Dog, I waited until Redhead got into the battered eight-year old Nissan-Volvo pickup truck parked across the street. She gave me a small nod then drove north on Garner Avenue and disappeared into traffic after a few minutes.

Heard the Red Dog's front door open.

"She gone?"

Mouse.

"Yeah," I said.

"Think we'll see her again?"

"Not the type. Biz is Biz."

"You sure about that?"

"No."

"Hunch?"

I nodded. "Plus," I said, "she took whatever Vittorio offered her as compensation. No argument."

"True," said Mouse. "Wonder how much it was?"

"Don't know."

"Must've been good compensation."

"Must've been," I said.

Then I remembered something.

* * *

We sat in the Shelby behind the Red Dog.

The leather valise sat opened between us.

Empty. Except for three thick bundles of fabric tightly wrapped with duct tape. Enough to give the valise some weight.

"Set up from the start," I said. "That's twice. First, Sakura. Now this."

"That's Biz, Kat. You know it."

"Yeah, I know."

"We could just stick to muscle work."

"We could," I said. "But you'd get bored."

"Yeah," said Mouse. "I would. You, too."

"Yeah. So scratch that idea." I gestured to the 'chipreader on her lap. "What's the verdict?"

She tapped the display. "Still there. Five thousand."

"At least we got paid," I said.

"And made new friends."

I gave a snort. "For now." I stared at the fabric bundles for a moment, suddenly feeling very tired. Ilooked at Mouse. "I think we need a vacation."

She smirked. "Vacation? What's that?"

"A week off. Maybe two. What do you think?"

"I always wanted to go to San Angeles," said Mouse, her face brightening. "Visit the vid studios. Get a look at Old Town. See the original remaining handprints. I heard they saved 6 blocks worth from the quake."

"We'll have to go as civs."

"Where's the fun in that?"

I pulled out my phone and called Specs and put it on speaker.

"Run go smooth?" he said.

"Yeah," I said. "Now we need plane tickets to San Angeles."

"San Angeles? There a run you're doin' that I don't know about?"

"No run," I said. "We're going on vacation."


--END--

NEXT TIME: "Skeletons"

"Payback" - Part Nine

The run at 15:00 was a pick up and delivery from the East End to a three-story walkup in Northwood that us took twenty minutes and dropped ten thousand Creds in our hands.

When we got back in the silver ChrysFord loaner I took out my cellphone and dialed Righetti.

Franco answered.

"Vittorio," I said. "I need to talk to him."

"Just a moment," he said.

Then: "Still with us, I see."

Righetti.

"Si, Don Righetti," I said. "Takes more than a bunch of shooters to end us."

He chuckled. "Murphy would've said the same."

"How can I contact Vittorio?"

"About Daniela."

"Yes."

"I will have him call you."

"Grazie."

"Of course," he said and hung up.

Two minutes later, my phone chirped.

Blocked number.

I answered.

The voice on the other end said, "Don Vittorio."

"This is Kat," I said. "I need to find your daughter."

"I'm afraid, signorina, that my daughter died two months ago."

His tone of voice sent a chill slithering up my spine.

"Really," I said.

"Yes. A car accident."

"I see."

"I'm sure you do." A pause. Then: "A silver Mercedes Benz will be leaving the parking lot of the Forest Hill Country Club in half an hour. There's only one exit to the main road." He recited a vehicle ID.

"Thank you," I said and hung up.

"So?" Mouse said.

I started the car, put in it gear, and told her.

She blinked and gave a start. "He serious?"

"Yeah."

"That's..." She frowned. "Wow."

* * *

The Forest Hill Country Club occupied two hundred acres of prime southern Highgate real estate and catered to the glitterati's elite.

I turned the loaner off Gloucester Road past a pair of stone lions and onto a paved two-lane road flanked by well-manicured hedges that wound around a low hill. Halfway up, I stopped and parked the car at an angle so we blocked the road.

Checked my optic clock.

14:00:00.

And the silver Mercedes came around the bend.

Right on time.

It pulled to a stop three meters away from the loaner and honked its horn.

"Kat?" said Mouse.

"Not yet."

The horn blared twice, three times. Then gave a long, shrill blast for several seconds.

A dark blue MistuAudi sedan pulled up behind and to the left of the Mercedes.

The driver side door of the Mercedes flew open and Daniela Vittorio stepped out.

The last time we'd seen her, Daniela had auburn hair pulled in a bun and had been dressed in a dark business suit. Now, her hair was blond and she wore a white blouse, cream-colored pants, and a matching blazer.

She had her hands on her hips, a scowl on her face. "Move that hunk of junk!" she said.

Behind her, a slim brunette in tan pants and a khaki blazer got out of the MistuAudi and walked up to Daniela.

Daniela turned her head, said something to the brunette, and gestured toward us. Brunette held up both hands, palms open, in a conciliatory gesture, and replied. Daniela shook her head, turned, and started toward us, grim-faced.

Brunette called out: "Daniela!"

Daniela waved her back.

Brunette followed a few steps behind.

When Daniela got halfway to the loaner, I got out of the car.

Heard Mouse do the same.

Daniela stopped in mid-step, gasped as if she'd been punched in the gut, and went saucer-eyed.

"Hi, Daniela," I said.

She stumbled backwards, jabbing a finger in our direction. "You're dead. I killed you."

I shook my head.

Daniela bumped into the Mercedes' front grill.

"Didn't have to be like this," I said. "You should've left it alone."

"I had him," she said, lips pulled back, teeth bared. "I had Renaldi where I wanted him. And then you two meddling bitches had to fuck it up." She shook her head. "No. Nobody beats me. You got that? Nobody!"

She flung her blazer open and reached toward her hip.

Subvocal.

World in slo-mo.

Bonnie leaped into my hand.

Daniela's pistol came up.

And Bonnie roared twice.

Both rounds punched through Daniela's right shoulder. She cried out and fell back against the hood. The pistol clattered to the pavement.

She lunged for the fallen weapon.

Bonnie roared again and I blew her hand apart

Daniela screamed, fell back against the front of the car, and crumpled to the ground, clutching her bloody hand.

Heard metal sing out.

Looked, the Twins tracking.

Mouse had drawn her wakizashis as Brunette stepped forward to the front of the Mercedes, a pistol leveled at us

"Don't," I said.

"Shoot them, you idiot!" Daniela said to Brunette, her voice a high-pitched wail. "Shoot them!"

Brunette pivoted and put two rounds into Daniela's face.

Daniela's head jerked, splashing blood and gore against the front grill, and she went limp.

"Holy shit!" said Mouse.

I looked at Daniela's body, then at Brunette.

Brunette turned to us, her face blank. She lowered her pistol, reached into her jacket pocket with her free hand, pulled out a cellphone, and put it to her ear. She said: "It's done."

Then she held out the phone to me.

Mouse and I exchanged looks.

I holstered Bonnie and came forward, took the phone.

"Yeah?" I said.

"As I told you before, signorina," Vittorio said on the other end of the line, "my daughter died two months ago. I hope you understand."

"I do. I'm sorry for your loss."

"So am I. We are finished here, yes?"

"No."

"I'm listening."

"There's one more shooter your late daughter hired. She may expect compensation. And proof."

"I see."

Silence.

Then: "You'll see this shooter again?"

"Yes," I said.

Vittorio rattled off a phone number. "When you see her again, have her call that number. It will be taken care of."

"Grazie," I said.

(to be continued...)

"Payback" - Part Eight

I took the pistol and slipped her back in my shoulder rig. "Thanks," I said. "Now--those guys you saw. Do you remember what they looked like?"

Duncan thought for a moment. "Two pairs. Short guy and tall guy. They were setting up the charges along Jacques."

"Bald short guy? Gray suit?" I said.

Duncan nodded. "Yeah. Other guy looked like a cowboy?"

"That's them."

"The other two were an Asian guy in all black. Japanese, I think. And a short redhead."

"Both men?"

"Redhead was a woman. Nice figure. Petite." He inclined his head at Mouse. "About her height."

Mouse and I exchanged looks.

We hadn't seen the redhead.

"Thanks, Duncan," I said.

"Sure thing."

* * *

I dialed Specs.

"Yo, Kat," he said.

"Any luck on those shooters?"

"I ain't found shit," he said.

"We got descriptions," I said.

"How the hell did you do that?"

I told him what we'd found out.

"Holy fuck!" he said when I finished. "Those were the Marshall Brothers."

"Who? Duster and Baldy?"

"Yeah. Castor and Pollux Marshall. Castor has this cowboy thing. Likes to suit up in the whole shebang. His brother, not so much. Both of 'em are big with the pistols, though."

"Top talent?"

He barked a laugh. "Up until they ran into you two."

"What about the others? The Asian guy with the blades and the redhead."

"Don't know about them. I can ask."

"Do that."

"What about that run at 15:00? You two good for it?"

"Sure."

Specs gave us the details then hung up.

Two distant explosions, one after the other.

Duncan, sitting on the edge of a nearby desk, a cellphone to his ear, grinned and turned to me. "Almost there."

Mouse turned to me. "So?"

I repeated what Specs said about Duster, Baldy, Mask, and the redhead.

She nodded. "Redhead's the last one."

"Yeah."

"How did we want to do this?"

"If she's supposed to be top talent, she'll want to make sure we're dead. She'll probably want to check the rubble. And if she sees the Shelby getting moved, she'll know something's up."

"Think she'll take us down on the move?"

I shook my head. "She'll wait for a better moment."

"Like when?"

"Not sure. Which tells me she'll try to track us."

Mouse frowned. "Isn't that bad for us?"

"Well, she'll at least try."

Mouse quirked an eyebrow. "What're you planning?"

"Get hold of the dogboys," I said. "We need a screen."

* * *

Twenty minutes later we had said goodbye to the Slammers and were back in the Shelby rolling northeast on Gibson Street toward the tunnel.

I'd been keeping my eye on the rearview as we drove along and when we crossed Harbor Boulevard, I spotted the dark blue ChrysFord SUV.

"Got her," I said.

Mouse said, "Two car lengths back? Dark blue Bison?"

"Yeah."

"Good tail."

"So far," I said. "Call 'em."

Mouse pulled out her cellphone and dialed, then put the phone on the dashboard holder.

"Yeah," said the voice on the other end.

"It's us," Mouse said.

"We're standing by. 50th and Cameron."

"Dark blue ChrysFord Bison," I said. "You good?"

"We're good."

The line clicked off.

"Wonder what they're planning," Mouse said.

"We'll find out soon," I said and we headed into the warm yellow glow of the Gibson Street Tunnel.

* * *

We crossed the intersection at 50th and Cameron heading north.

A dark brown sedan in the southbound lane lurched forward with a squeal of tires and rocketed past us.

Heard tires squeal. Then the crunch of metal

Quick glimpse in the rearview. The Bison fishtailed with the brown sedan's front end jammed against the SUV's side and both vehicles did a half-spin.

Automatic weapons chattered close by.

Saw the Bison's front and side windows blow out under the hail of bullets.

I mashed the accelerator and we roared north on Cameron.

* * *

Back at our shared flat above the Red Dog, I sat on the battered rust-orange couch reloading magazines for the Twins while talking to Tinker about the Shelby. Then I called Specs for a loaner.

"Gimme half an hour," he said. "Where you at?"

"Red Dog."

"See you there."

I hung up and turned to Mouse.

She was sitting on her bed talking on the phone. When she finished, she looked at me. "We're seeing Doc in the morning. He said we should be fine 'til then. Long as we don't get shot in the same place."

A knock on the door.

"Yeah?" I said.

The door swung open and Revell stood in the doorway. "Shelby does not look very good."

"You should see the other guys," said Mouse.

"Is finished, da?"

"Nyet," I said.

Revel arched an eyebrow.

"One more left," I said. "She's tracking us."

"Trying to," said Mouse.

"Does she know you are here?"

"She might," I said. "If she's any good."

Revell nodded. "I will keep eye out."

"Short redhead," I said. "Woman."

"Nye strashno," he said. "No problem. Now, there is lunch downstairs."

"Thanks, Rev."

Revell turned and headed back down the hallway.

"That takes care of Redhead," said Mouse. "Sort of."

"Sort of."

"What about Daniela?"

"We need to find her," I said.

"Now?"

I checked my optic clock.

12:42:31.

"Eat first," I said.

My stomach rumbled in agreement.

"I heard that," said Mouse.


(to be continued...)

"Payback" - Part Seven

We turned.

Gravel Voice was a giant bald black man with a cleft in his chin crouched near us. Over two-and-a-half meters standing up. Muscles straining against his brown leather bomber jacket.

Behind him and to one side stood a woman in black with a thick halo of blond curls, a pistol-grip 12-gauge shotgun leveled at us.

Both sported black berets.

Great.

Slammers. Guardian gang who patrolled this end of Southside, from Ellison Avenue eastward to Knight Street, and from Railroad south to Sunset.

Guardian gangs were self-appointed neighborhood vigilantes. Bad news to gangers.

And to anyone else who invaded their turf.

I popped my optics to thermograph.

Biomods on both. Dermal mesh. Headware. Optics. Gravel Voice had one cyberarm, right side. Shotgun Woman, implant claws.

This could be bad.

I rolled to a kneeling position, both hands palms out.

The shotgun followed me.

"Not looking for trouble, choom," I said to Gravel Voice.

"But trouble found you." He inclined his head at the ex-building behind us. "That was a thermobaric warhead. Next gen bunker buster. Go through all that trouble means somebody wants you dead real bad."

"We're popular that way," I said.

He looked at us one at a time with narrowed eyes. "Modded," he said.

Statement. Not question.

"I hope this won't get ugly," I said. "We don't have time."

"Mods mean you'll be quick," said Gravel Voice.

"Kat..." Mouse said.

Dammit.

Gravel Voice jerked a thumb at the roof of the building behind him.

I looked.

Two-story office building. Gray concrete. Windows reflected the rubble on the other side of the street.

And over the edge of the rooftop, a pair of assault rifle barrels peered down at us.

"Wouldn't try it," Gravel Voice said and grinned.

I returned the grin.

"Crap and a half," said Mouse.

Gravel Voice got up and walked toward the building entrance. He rapped twice on the door with his knuckles.

It opened.

His grin widened a notch. "Step into my office."

Shotgun Woman gestured us toward the doorway with the 12-gauge.

I looked at Mouse.

"Did things just get better or worse," she said.

I frowned.

Fuck.

* * *

We went in covered by Shotgun Woman and, once through the doorway, three more Slammers, each with a MAC-10 machine pistol.

Gravel Voice led us through a reception area and into a large room with three rows of office cubicles. He pulled a couple of chairs out from their desks and rolled them toward the nearest wall.

"Sit," he said, pointing to the chairs.

We did.

The MAC-10s fanned out around us.

Shotgun perched on the corner of a nearby desk, the 12-gauge still leveled at us.

Gravel Voice stood in front of us, feet spread, arms folded across his massive chest, the grin still on his face.

"Are we missing something?" said Mouse.

The grin widened further. "Name's Duncan," he said and indicated Shotgun and the MAC-10s. "Some of my crew." He gestured at us. "And you're Kat and Mouse."

"Do we know you?" I said.

"No. But we know you by reputation."

Mouse nodded at me. "We're still famous."

Duncan's grin widened even more. "Kincaid tells stories."

Ah.

When you need firepower and your local gun "dealer" doesn't have it, you turn to one man.

Kincaid.

He owned the West Coast market on firearms, military weapons, and ordnance, running the game from Southside.

We'd dealt with Kincaid before. The last time, we owed him money after a transaction had gone awry but we soon cleared up that situation and we were now on his good side.

"He said you two are pretty wiz," said Duncan.

"We have our moments," I said.

"I can see that. Pile of rubble out there, for one." He laughed, starting as a low chuckle, building to a hearty guffaw, his head tossed back. When he finished laughing he signaled to Shotgun and the MAC-10s.

They lowered their weapons.

I looked around at them, then at Mouse, then at Duncan.

Now what?

"So," he said. "Shooters after you."

I nodded.

"Figured. We saw them earlier this morning. Probably setting those charges that blew."

"How early?"

"Around 900 hours."

Four hours before the meet.

"Any left?" said Shotgun Woman.

"We got all but one," I said.

"That was the one who hit you with the warhead," said Duncan and shook his head. "You ladies know how to stir up shit, don't you."

"It's a skill," said Mouse.

"You probably want to go after the shooter who got away," Duncan said.

"That's the plan," I said. "But our car's stuck on the other side of that pile of bricks out there."

"And they blocked up the streets on four sides," said Duncan.

"Creative," I said. "I'll give 'em that."

"We can help with the car," said Duncan.

"What's the catch?"

He chuckled. "Future favor."

I looked at Mouse.

She shrugged. "Why not?"

Murphy used to tell us: "Friend today, enemy tomorrow. Enemy today, friend tomorrow. You never know. Never burn your bridges. You may need them one day. And it always happens when you least expect it."

Turned back to Duncan. "Deal."

He nodded. "Got a guy itching to use some dynamite. Half an hour okay?"

"Okay by me."

He nodded, then reached behind his back and held out Bonnie, grip toward me. "I think this belongs to you."

(to be continued...)