Checked my optic clock.
Two hours and eighteen minutes left.
Back to square one.
And a thought struck. One I really didn't like.
"Who the fuck was that guy?" said Mouse. "Jade Dragon? Payback on Johnny for sending us there?"
"Not unless they outsource," I said. "That guy wasn't Asian. And how would they have known Johnny sent us?"
"Somebody overheard us talking to him, maybe? Told Chen after the dust-up at the White Crane?"
"But he was already at Johnny's apartment before us, " I said. "And if it was payback they would've greased Johnny right after he talked to us." I shook my head. "Something's way off here. Why would Johnny send us to a Jade Dragon hangout when he said he'd heard we were after Wei? It doesn't make any sense unless--"
"--unless it was a set up," said Mouse.
"Sonofabitch!" Mouse slammed the heel of her palm against the Shelby's dashboard. "Fuckin' again!"
"We need some intel," I said, reaching for my phone.
"No. Valkyrie again."
"We've got, what, two hours left?"
"Just about. Let's hope she can work fast."
Val answered on the third ring.
"Me again," I said. "Tell me you're at your place."
"You're in luck," said Val. "I am. What's up?"
"Sure. On one condition."
"Other alternative is Kid Tachyon," said Val, "but I hear he's in the Central Free Zone for the next couple of weeks. So you'll have to wait."
I closed my eyes, let out a long breath.
Tap on my arm.
Opened my eyes, saw Mouse looking at me with a furrowed brow.
"She helping?" she said.
I held up a hand to Mouse and turned back to the phone. "Okay, Val. Fine. What about him?"
"When you two get here," Val said.
After I hung up, another thought struck. I said, "Did you notice the blues got to both places pretty quickly?"
Mouse thought a moment then went wide-eyed. "You're right. They were fast."
"It's like they were waiting."
Mouse made a face. "I don't like the sound of that."
I shuddered. "Me either."
Ten minutes later, Valkyrie, datarat extraordinaire, petite and willowy, red hair falling across her face, looking as if she'd just stepped out of the shower, skull-and-crossbones eyepatch fixed to her right eye, opened the door to her flat and stepped to one side to let us in.
Despite the shitty-looking exterior of her building, Valkyrie's loft apartment was done in sleek chrome and black furniture. Like something from one of Mouse's space adventure vids. Dark gray shutters covered three large picture windows that looked out onto Sheffield Avenue. Kitchenette to the right of the front door. To the left, black leather sofa and armchairs facing a big-screen. Directly across the front door at the far end, a set of stairs leading up to a balcony level.
"Time crunch," I said, walking past Val, "so we should get started."
Heard Val close the door.
"Not yet," said Val.
I stopped, turned to face her.
And found a pistol leveled at my face.
"Shit, Val!" Mouse said, taking a step back.
I also took a step back, fought down the instinct to got to boost, to draw the Twins and let them rumble, and held up both hands, palms out.
Long, slow inhale, counted three, let it out just as slow.
"Easy," I said.
"First I talk," said Val. "And you both listen."
"Fine," I said. "Talk about what?"
"Fast Eddie," said Val.
I gritted my teeth.
Heard Mouse fight back a low growl.
Popped my optic clock.
Shit. Didn't have time for this.
"Well?" said Val, cocking her head to one side. "You two gonna listen?"
"Time's wasting," I said. "A woman's life is on the line."
"So is a friend's life. My friend. Your friend, too. Or was that just bullshit? Just Biz?"
Her tone made my gut tighten.
"Wait a minute," said Mouse. "Friend's life? You mean Eddie?"
"Yeah," she said. "Eddie."
"What are you talking about, Val?" I said.
Val's good eye narrowed. She lowered the pistol. "You don't know."
The knot in my gut tightened.
"What?" I said.
"Two days ago," said Val, "Eddie got nabbed by some people."
Mouse and I traded looks.
"Who?" I said.
"Eddie doesn't know exactly," Val said. "Someone with a bone to pick. Anyway, they nabbed him and implanted a new switchbox. On command, it would basically buzz his true ident all over the 'Net."
"Shit," said Mouse.
"They said if he didn't do what they told him to do, they'd activate that command." She snorted. "Can't be a datarat if everybody knows who you are and where you are. Fucking bastards. And the kicker? Micro-explosive implants. Base of the spine. Poke around or try to remove them? Boom."
"Goddamn," said Mouse.
"Was it true?" I said.
"Oh yeah," said Val, nodding. "Doc checked him out. Ultrasound probe. Other testing. All there. New switchbox. The explosives. Two of them, would you believe that? One severs his spine. Second blows out his heart."
The tightness in my gut morphed into queasiness.
"What was Eddie supposed to do?" I said. "In order to not set off the command or the charges?"
Val shook her head. "He didn't know. At least, not when I last talked to him. But I'm worried."
"When did you last talk to him? I said.
"Late last night. Almost midnight, I think."
"And since then?"
"Tried calling him this morning. Around 0800 hours. Just vmail. Left at least a dozen messages. No call back."
"I don't like the sound of that," said Mouse.
"Me either," I said.
A thought struck.
And the queasiness bubbled up into the middle of my chest like boiling water.
"Last night," I said, "Eddie told us he checked on a phone call between Jade and her infobroker, Michelle."
"Jade?" said Val.
I nodded. "We had a little run-in with her last night."
"So what was the call?"
"Eddie traced the call to one of Jade's safehouses in Winn Town. Michelle was supposed to have called a phone number at that location."
"When we mentioned it to Jade, she said Michelle never called her."
Val quirked an eyebrow at me. "And you believed her?"
"Kat," said Val. "We're talking about Jade. She hates your guts with a passion."
"That's the thing," I said. "She sounded really surprised about Michelle's call. Like it wasn't S.O.P."
"You sure she wasn't faking it?"
"Reaction was real."
Val's face blanched. "Then that was it. These people had Eddie lie to you."
The queasiness bubbled into the middle of my throat and I fought back the rising bile.
"They used him," said Mouse. "The fuckers used Eddie."
"Under threat of occupational death," I said.
And fifteen hours earlier, Mouse and I had just cut him out from our lives.
(to be continued...)