Five minutes later, we were seated around a pair of tables in the middle of the bar area. Sakura sat at one end facing the bar's front door. Mouse and I, on either side of her. Jake, next to Mouse. Revell, next to me. Specs stayed on a stool at the bar, sitting with his elbows perched along the edge of the bartop.
Sakura drank from a large plain white mug, paused, set the mug back on the table, swallowed, and smiled. Then she looked at Revell, nodding slowly. "Still good," she said.
Mouse made a face. "You talking about his coffee?"
Sakura nodded. "Best stuff on earth."
"Yeah," said Mouse, "if you like drinking hot motor oil."
"I've missed it."
An expression flashed across Revell's face. Something I'd seen before but never expected to see given our present company.
"Time to talk, Sakura," I said.
Her smile widened. "No nonsense. Direct. And probably doesn't take any shit." She glanced at Revell. "Really takes after Murphy."
"Don't you dare say his name," I said, feeling my face grow hot, the edges of my vision suddenly tinged with red. "You don't deserve to say it."
Sakura fixed me with a steady look. "But it's true," she said. "I can see it." She gestured at me and Mouse. "I can see it in both of you. And I need to say his name because all this involves him, too."
I slammed a fist onto the tabletop, then felt a hand on my arm.
Strong. Firm. Comforting.
Revell fixed me with the same steady look Sakura had just given me. Then he gave a small nod.
I let out a long breath and sat back in my chair.
Revell turned to Sakura. "Say what you need to say."
Sakura took another sip of coffee, then folded her hands on the tabletop.
"The woman who hired you two," she said, "is the same woman who hired your friend Steele. She goes by the name 'Kitsune'."
"Boszhe moi," said Revell. "She's involved, too?"
"Who's this Kitsune?" said Mouse.
"An assassin employed by White Lotus," said Sakura. "Just like me."
Steele leaned back in his chair and folded his arms across his chest. "This is getting good."
"I thought you said you already took care of someone who'd been gunning for us?" said Mouse.
"I did," said Sakura. "But that was completely unrelated to this. I only found out about Kitsune yesterday."
"So Kitsune was sent to kill us," I said.
"And that was her at the business park?"
"Sloppy hit," I said.
Sakura smiled. "That was me."
"You shot at us?" said Mouse.
"I shot around you three," said Sakura. "That was meant to ruin Kitsune's shot."
"'Cuz if you wanted us dead," said Mouse, jabbing a finger at Sakura, "we'd already be dead."
"That's right," said Sakura.
"How was I bait?" said Steele.
Sakura said: "Kitsune was betting that if she'd sent a Smith for her pretend job, Kat would be the only one to get out of the car. By sending you"--she inclined her head at Steele--"she was certain both Kat and Mouse would get out of the car to find out what was going on."
"Which we did," I said.
"Sonofabitch," said Mouse.
I said to Sakura: "You ruined her shot. Why?"
Sakura sipped her coffee. "Kitsune was hired by Kunio Harada to get rid of you and Mouse."
I sat up in my chair, the hairs on my neck bristling.
"Who's Harada?" said Steele.
"Lotus second-in-command," Sakura and I said at the same time.
Sakura quirked an eyebrow at me.
I ignored it and went on: "You still didn't answer my question. Why did you ruin her shot?"
"Because I need you two," Sakura said, looking at both me and Mouse, "to help me take down White Lotus. Specifically, to take down Kunio Harada."