"Into The Woods" - Part One

Mouse and I had just walked into our shared flat above the Red Dog bar at 20:30 and flipped on the lights, when my phone chirped.

I set the duffel on the floor by the battered rust-orange couch and dug the phone out from inside my black leather biker jacket.

Specs. Everyone's favorite infobroker.

"Got a run for you," he said.

"What happened to 'Hi Kat! How was the two weeks in San Angeles? Get any autographs for me?' "

"Renaldi's asking for this one. Special request. Fifty large at the end of it."

I perched on the arm of the couch.

Philippe Renaldi was the president of AstraNova, one of the leading electronics manufacturer on the West Coast. The last time he had hired us was a little over two months ago.

Mouse quirked an eyebrow at me.

I mouthed: Wait one.

She nodded.

"Okay," I said. "What's the run?"

"I don't know," Specs said.


"Renaldi wanted to tell you himself. You're supposed to call him after you talk to me."

"What's the number?"

He gave it to me.

"Now hurry up and call the man," he said and hung up.

I lowered the phone.

"Well?" said Mouse.

I told her what Specs had said.

She gestured with both hands. "So call already," she said.

I shot her a look.

She stuck her tongue out at me.

I dropped into the couch, dialed the number Specs had given me, and put the phone on speaker.

Renaldi answered on the second ring. "Kat and Mouse," he said.

"Mr. Renaldi," I said.

"I need you for an extraction," he said.

"Right to the point."

"Habit," he said.

"Who's the target?" I said.

"Name's Matthew Beck," said Renaldi. "A programmer. Currently working for Lux Technologies."

"When and where?"

"When is tomorrow. Where is Redding."

Mouse and I exchanged looks. I glanced at the duffel buags sitting on the floor next to my feet and frowned.

"Redding?" I said to the phone.

"Your flight leaves tomorrow morning at 900 hours exactly."

"Morning, huh," said Mouse, also frowning.

"Yes," said Renaldi. "Morning. My private jet. Bay City airport. A car will pick you both up half an hour before. Pack what you think you'll need."

"What can we expect?" I said.

"My information says low security. Maybe three to four guards on the property."

"And this Beck?"

"I'll have more info tomorrow. I realize you just got back from a trip and I apologize for the inconvenience. Be certain I will make it worth your while."

"You're very generous, Mr. Renaldi."

"You did me a great favor once. I never forget."

"Thank you," I said.

"The extraction needs to be completed within 24 hours. Beck must be in Bay City by 900 hours Wednesday morning."

Day after tomorrow. "Understood," I said. I gave him our location, thanked him, and hung up.

Mouse let out a breath. "Back to work."

Yup. Back to work.

* * *

When our black ChrysFord sedan pulled up next to the sleek private jet parked on the airport tarmac the next morning, Renaldi, tall and darkly handsome wearing a fitted dark gray suit, emerged from inside the plane and came down the airstairs followed by a dark-suited muscle.

Mouse and I got out of the sedan, gear bags in hand, and met Renaldi at the foot of the stairs.

"Good morning," he said. "Thank you again for accepting the job. I know this is a bit early for you both. There's coffee, pastries, and breakfast waiting inside the plane for you."

"Hot damn," said Mouse.

Renaldi reached into his suit jacket and drew out a datadisk. "Information about Beck. The plane has a terminal you can use. When you land, you'll be meeting with a man named Sam Cutter. He'll fly you to Beck's location."

"Fly?" I said, taking the disk.

The corner of Renaldi's mouth turned up. "Beck's a bit of a hermit. Works remotely from a cabin in the middle of the woods just outside Redding."

Mouse made a face and quirked an eyebrow at him. "Woods? Are we talking bears and wolves and all that?"

"I don't know about bears and wolves," said Renaldi. "Maybe mountain lions."

"Somehow that doesn't make it any better," Mouse said.

"Remember," said Renaldi. "By 900 hours tomorrow. The jet will stay at the airfield until then."

"We'll be there with Beck."

"Good hunting," he said.

(to be continued...)

"Into The Woods"
Part 2


8 September 2042 - 1 hour later
Chicago Metroplex, Northern Federation of States

Detective Sgt. Ellen Calhoun was seated in her kitchen picking through the bowl of flash-cooked left-over Thai food and listening to the rumble of the passing Metra train through the condominium windows when the phone on the table next to her buzzed for attention.

She swallowed the bite she'd been chewing, left the fork in the bowl, and reached for the phone.

Tyler. One of her informants.

She pushed the TALK button and put the phone to her ear. "What've you got for me?" she said.

"What you've been waiting on, Sarge," Tyler said in his pinched, nasally-voice. "Info about your sister."

Ellen felt her breath catch in her throat.


She took a deep breath, exhaled, then said, "And?"

"Turns out was a couple of ronin," said Tyler. "Out of Bay City. Call themselves Kat and Mouse."

Ellen snorted. "Stupid names."

"Don't laugh, choom. They're SOTA."

SOTA. State of the art. Ellen frowned but pushed the thought out of her mind and said, "I'll make a note of that. And you're sure about this. They're the ones that did it?"

"They were there," he said. "What my people tell me."

Putting them at the scene of the crime.

This was good.

"That it, Sarge?" said Tyler.

"For now."

"My money."

"Tomorrow, as promised. Same place. Same time."

Ellen hung up, put her phone back down on the kitchen table, and sat back in the chair.


She gave a snort.

Closed case, my ass.

She'd talk to Hellisen in the morning. There was vacation time she hadn't taken yet and the Captain had been harping on her to go take a trip.

"It's been three months, Ell," Hellisen had said. "Go."

Tyler's news was good timing.

She'd head for the coast.

But first, she had a call to make.

She picked up her phone and dialed.

SOTA, eh?

See you, and raise you.

* * *

10 minutes later
Bay City, California Free State

Kunio Harada, wakagashira--second-in-command--of the Hosaka-gumi yakuza family, walked to his reserved space in the parking garage beneath the Takamura Industries building, remotely unlocked the door of his silver MitsuAudi from the key fob, and had just set his briefcase in the back seat when his phone beeped at him.

He shut the back door, got into the driver's seat, and pulled the phone from his inside coat pocket.

"What is it, Natsumi?" he said. "I thought I said to hold all my calls until--"

"I'm sorry, Harada-san," said the voice on the other end, "but this was urgent."

He blinked. It didn't sound like-- "Natsumi?"

"I know what really happened to Kim Murphy."

Harada felt his gut clench. "Who is this?"

"You don't remember?" A chuckle. Low. Almost a purr. "I'm surprised. After you sent me to Chi-Town to be killed?"

Harada heard himself gasp. He hung up, dropped the phone on the passenger seat, and stared at it, eyes wide, as if it were about to bite him. He could feel his heart pounding in the middle of his chest, a bass drum boom that echoed in his ears.

No. Can't be. It was impossible.

I know what really happened to Kim Murphy.

His throat went dry.


* * *

2 minutes later
Setagaya Business Square
Yoga, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo

Takeshi Hosaka, oyabun of Hosaka-gumi, said to the phone on his desk: "You're sure it's her?"

"Positive," came Harada's voice from the phone's speaker. "It's her. She mentioned Chicago. And the incident there."

Hosaka nodded. "Find her. And see that it's taken care of."

"At once."

Hosaka clicked off the line, then tapped another button on the phone. "You heard?" he said.

"Hai," said another voice. "I did."

"So you know what he's planning."

"I've got a good idea. But I think I'll be a step ahead of him."

"Then do what you must," said Hosaka.

"I'm sorry it had to come to this."

"And I'm sorry I didn't see it sooner."

"He hid it well. I'll give him that."

"But not well enough," Hosaka said.

"Fortune's wheel turns."

"It does," said Hosaka. "I'll leave it in your capable hands."

"Arigato gozaimasu."

Hosaka shook his head. "No, Sakura. I thank you. And so does my daughter."


NEXT TIME: "Into The Woods"