I aimed for the nearest set of cross-ropes as I jumped out into the light-well, felt my stomach drop when I sailed out and fell into nothing, and stretched out both hands.
My vision tunneled, focusing only on the rope in front of me, everything else blurred and fuzzy, noticing for some reason that the rope was light blue with pale red and white stripes.
And then my fingers caught the rope.
Curled them tight, momentum swinging me down then out toward the second set, felt the rope give a little, but stay taut.
I managed to suck in a breath.
Then the line bounced, hard, threatening to throw me off.
I gripped the rope tighter and craned my neck to look.
Mouse clutched the cross-rope a meter and a half to my left, her eyes wide, nostrils flaring as she panted.
"Holy fuck!" she said.
"You okay?" I said.
Her eyes widened even more. "Shit!" she said.
Turned my head.
Saw two Trogs at the far railing looking at us.
One of them had a hatchet. He drew him arm back to throw.
The nearest drop rope was less than a meter away.
Swung out, caught it, and dropped.
Thank god I was wearing gloves. I only hoped the cowhide leather on the palms would hold out for the sixty-plus meter controlled fall to ground level.
Air rushed past me, my jacket flapping at my torso as I raced down the rope.
And then I was at the bottom of the light-well, catching myself on bent legs, cushioning the impact.
Thank god for bone lacing.
Heard Mouse land near me in a flapping of leather, her trenchcoat billowing around her like a cape.
Then we bolted for the car.
* * *
Mouse and I were back in the Shelby when my phone chirped.
I showed the display to Mouse.
Put it on speaker and set it on the dashboard holder.
"Jade," I said.
"You went inside, didn't you," she said.
"How would you know?" I said.
"Sending you a picture," said Jade.
My phone trilled.
The first was of a bald man in a dark suit lying on the ground, an AK-47 with a folding stock in his right hand, and the top of his head blown off.
The second was one of a blond-haired man lying face down in a pool of blood.
"Who are they?" I said.
"Muscle I hired," Jade said, "to help me with Gold."
"Who killed them?" said Mouse.
"I did," said Jade. "Baldy there was the one who opened fire on you in the room. That's how I knew you went inside. The other guy was his backup."
"Not very good backup," said Mouse.
"I was there," said Jade.
"So where's Gold?" I said.
Jade said: "Made the exchange with our contact twenty minutes after we left the hotel."
"Then a wild goose chase for us."
"Son of a bitch," said Mouse, throwing her hands up.
"Was that unit one of your safe houses?" I said.
"It was," said Jade. "Not any more."
"Did Michelle call you there?"
"Trogs and Demons," I said. "Did you send them after us?"
Jade snorted. "I wish I had that kind of pull. Maybe you pissed them off by walking onto their turf."
"You killed those two mooks," I said. "Why? If they were working with you--"
"Michelle mentioned you two getting greased. Told me where. Only problem was I wasn't doing the greasing. That's unacceptable."
"Unacceptable?" I said.
"Yeah. So I thought I'd give you a heads-up."
"How nice," I said.
Jade gave a small chuckle. "When you two finally go down, it'll be when I say so."
And she hung up.
Mouse looked at the phone, then at me, her eyes wide. "Psycho," she said in a sing-song voice.
I had to agree.
* * *
When I finished talking, Specs just stared at me, brow furrowed, mouth agape, the overhead lights glinting off his bald head and round-framed mirrorshades.
We were in the Red Dog's back office half an hour later. I was seated in the highback chair behind the desk. Mouse was perched on the desk's corner. Revell stood by the beat-up mustard yellow couch, thick arms folded across his barrel chest. And Specs sat on the edge of the couch's cushions, leaning forward, elbows on his knees.
Revell's eyes narrowed and he nodded, digesting the story. Then he gave a small grunt and looked at us. "Eto plokho," he said, his basso voice rumbling. "This is bad."
"Bad?" Specs said, straightening, his reedy voice going up several octaves. "Bad? This is beyond bad. This is a fuckin' tragedy! We're out fifteen grand!"
"Really, Specs?" said Mouse. "That's all you care about? The money? We had the Trogs and the Dragons to deal with and still try to get to this Gold guy--"
Specs gave a strangled yelp, threw up his hands, and shot to his feet. "Don't you two fuckin' get it yet? This is Biz. Money talks in Biz. It's a goddamn fuckin' yardstick of how good you are. And you two are the top of the fuckin' list. Alpha predator. Ask any ronin out there. Doesn't matter if they're first-rate or some small-time piece o' shit. If they don't know from workin' with you, they know you by rep. You two are the shit of all shit." He jabbed a finger toward the office door. "But this? This fubar that just happened? Word's gonna spread. An' that's gonna kill your rep. An' if we don't fix it pretty goddamn quick, those runs you're used to are gonna dry up. Fast."
I stood up and held up a hand. "Okay, Specs. We get it."
Specs shook his head and let out a long breath. "Look," he said, "I'm gonna have to do some damage control. I'll see you later." He turned and stomped out of the office.
The three of us looked after him as the office door closed.
I collapsed into the highback chair.
Mouse turned to me. "Well, crap," she said.
"I know," I said.
"He's really pissed."
Revell approached the desk, arms still folded, eyes still narrowed. "Tell me again," he said. "When did Jade bring target to her contact?"
"She said about half an hour after they left the hotel," I said.
"And when were you and Mouse to bring target to you contact?"
"By 20:00. But what does that--"
And then my stomach dropped.
Sharp intake of breath from Mouse. "Fuck a duck," she said.
Revell nodded, his expression grim. "You did not fail," he said. "You were set up."
NEXT TIME: "Sub Rosa"
NEXT TIME: "Sub Rosa"