"Requiem" - Part Two

20 October 2042 - Five days later
11:12:27 PST

I was standing behind the bar pouring myself another steaming mug of motor-oil thick coffee when Revell set down the plastic tray of pint glasses on the bartop.
"No Mouse yet?" he said in his Russian-tinged basso.
"Nope," I said and took a long pull of the coffee, felt the warmth slither down my throat. "Still buried under her covers when I left the room."
"It has been five days."
"I know."
"She has eaten something?"
"Some of the leftovers in the fridge are gone," I said. "I know I didn't eat them. Must've been when I wasn't there."
"At least she is eating." He came around the bar, picked up the tray, and stacked it beneath the bar. "And you are okay?"
I cradled the mug in both hands and leaned against the back counter. "As okay as possible, I guess. Considering."
"He was good man."
"Helped me and Murphy many times on runs. Even stuck neck out for us one time."
I blinked. "Eddie?"
Revell nodded. "We had to bring Eddie with us for run. Closed network. Had to be onsite. We got what we needed but ran into problems. Eddie ran interference while Murphy and I got out."
"What kind of interference?"
"Grabbed Murphy's Remington," Revell said with a small grin, a wistful expression creasing his bearded face. "Started screaming, shooting at secteam, and ran off down other hallway. Gave us time to get out."
"How the hell did Eddie get out?"
Revell gave a chuckle-snort. "Jumped out of second floor window."
"Holy shit," I said.
Revell nodded. "Landed in bushes. He was lucky to only get broken ankle, broken arm, and lot of bruises."
"Damn lucky."
"Da," said Revell. "He stuck with friends. With colleagues.  He was to be trusted."
I nodded, blinking away suddenly clouded vision.
"This thing he did,” said Revell, "at Double-Deuce..."
I thought back to the call from Eddie that night, felt a small twinge of nausea in my gut that quickly vanished, and let out a long breath. "No choice," I said finally. "They had him by the shorthairs. Just wished there'd been some other way."
"Doc told me," said Revell. "Was too risky to try removal. Especially if they were monitoring."
"They," I said, "will pay."
"Speaking of pay," said Revell. "Have you heard more from Specs? About runs?"
"Earlier this morning," I said, feeling a knot begin to clench in my gut.
I made a face. "Nothing yet. But he says he has some more good leads."
Revell quirked a bushy eyebrow at me. "Leads that dry up at last minute are not good leads."
"I know." Took another big swig of coffee, sloshed it around my mouth, swallowed. Then I dumped the rest in the bar sink, rinsed out the cup, and left it. "I'll wait to see what Specs comes up with. Then make some calls. If it comes to that. Meantime, I'm gonna finish in the office."
"I will order lunch," said Revell. "Then you"--he clapped a bearpaw-like hand on my shoulder--"will check on Mouse. Da?"
"Da," I said.
He gave me a toothy smile. "Horosho."

*   *   *

One hour later

With the Twins, Bonnie and Clyde, now cleaned and oiled and snug once again in my double-holster shoulder-rig, I took my toolbox cleaning kit back up to the arms locker in our shared flat about the Red Dog.
When I opened the door and stepped inside, Mouse was sitting on the edge of bed, her back to me, facing the still-shuttered window, sporting a week's worth of bed hair, and staring at something in her lap.
"You're awake," I said.
"Three hundred," said Mouse, "and seventy-five."
I closed the door, set the toolbox by the wall, and turned back to her. "Three hundred seventy-five?"
Mouse held up a data disc in a small clear jewel case, her back still to me. "Movies," she said. "Three hundred and seventy-five of them. One per disc."
A memory struck.
"The pile of cases on his workstation," I said, then stopped short.
Mouse said nothing but half turned, and tossed the case onto my bed.
It landed with a muffled clatter among the sheets.
I went over to my bed and looked down at the case. Saw the note attached to the case cover, hand-written in block letters.
I wish we could've watched these together.
Heard myself suck in a breath through my nostrils, and the middle of my chest knotted, and for a moment I couldn't breathe, and my vision blurred, like water cascading down a window, then it sharpened, and then I was staring at the note again, and at the data disc inside the case.
One among three hundred-plus.
Blew out the breath that had been sitting in my lungs, long, slow, heavy, then folded my arms across my chest, and looked up at Mouse.
My partner. Fellow ronin. Friend.
My knuckles brushed against the worn leather of my holster rig and an image of Murphy flashed across my mind, square-jawed with a day's worth of stubble, face beaming as he handed my the velvet-lined mahogany box with the Twins inside, and then another image of Murphy again, now tossing the keyfob for the Shelby, and again the smile.
And then the image vanished.
The Twins. The Shelby.
I stood, silent, arms still folded across my chest, watching Mouse as she sat on the edge of her bed, still facing the window, still looking at something on her lap, surrounded by a few stray shafts of sunlight.
"Kat?" she said after a while, and her voice was low and gave a slight flutter.
"Yeah, Mouse?" I said.
"Eddie," she said. "Those people. We're gonna find them, aren't we."
Statement. Not question.
"Damn right," I said. "I promise."
"Good," she said. "And Kat?"
"I get first dibs."


NEXT TIME: "Devil's Night"

Part 1

"Requiem" - Part One

Eddie's place was an abandoned auto-body shop off Edge Road, near the southeastern tip of the Southside District with a barbed-wire topped cyclone fence surrounding the property.
We drove through the opened gate into the gravel lot and pulled up by the front entrance.
Which was standing open.
My stomach churned at the sight and I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand to attention.
"That's not good," said Mouse, gesturing toward the opened door.
Valkyrie pulled herself forward between the front seats and peered through windshield. "No, it's not."
"Let's go," I said, opening my door and stepping out of the car.
The Twins, Bonnie and Clyde, leaped into my hands and I heard Mouse's wakizashis sing out as they cleared her back scabbards.
Glanced over, saw Valkyrie with her Colt-Springfield XD-II  .45-caliber compact pistol at low-ready, her face grim.
"Eddie!" I called out and waited.
No answer.
Walked to the padlocked roll-up door that led into the shop area, one eye still on the opened entrance, and gave three quick kicks with the toe of my boot. The door rattled, the sound flat.
"Eddie!" I said. "You in there?"
Still no answer.
The three of us exchanged looks.
"Call it," said Mouse.
"You two," I said, "on the right of the door. Break left. I'll go in first and take the other side."
Mouse nodded and motioned for Val to follow.
We crouch-walked forward and took positions on either side of the entrance.
Mouse and I locked eyes as I counted down with nods.
"Go!" I said, ducked through the opening, and cut to my right, the Twins already up and tracking.
Heard Mouse and Val dart inside and move to the left of the door.
Pan and scan.
We were inside the small waiting room and former mini-mart. The room was bare except for a dust-caked and rust-stained metal desk near me, a discolored square patch on the tile floor where a vending machine once stood, and a metal folding chair sitting by the front window beneath long-forgotten shelf brackets. Toward the back was another door that led to the shop area, this one closed.
Quiet, except for the faint hum of the ventilation system.
I holstered Clyde and inclined my head at the door.
Mouse and Val nodded.
"Same as before," I said.
They nodded.
Moved toward the door, Bonnie at the ready, tested the knob, then yanked it open and darted inside and to the right, Bonnie already up, Clyde clearing his side of my double-holster rig and rising into place.
Inside the converted repair bay, beneath exposed metal rafters and two rows of flickering flourescent lights, past a worktable at the center piled high with parts, coiled cables, and tools, a high-back leather chair sat in front of three tables connected in a U-shape set up against the far wall opposite the roll-up door. Empty soda cans and assorted electronic equipment trailing wires and cables occupied the two side tables. Three flat-screens, two keyboards, and a cyberdeck dominated the middle table.
I saw it at once.
The bank of monitors on the workstation had been blown apart by gunfire.
Eddie's highback leather chair still faced the workstation, its back to us.
The queasiness returned, boiling up in the middle of my chest.
"Eddie," Mouse said, brushing past me, wakizashis still in her hands. "We're talking to you."
"Wait--" I said, holstering Clyde and trying to grab for her shoulder.
"Eddie, you shit," she said, ignoring me, sheathing her blades, and striding toward the workstation. "You've got some explaining to do--"
And then she yelp-screamed, saucer-eyed, and staggered back.
I was at her side in seconds, took one look at the chair and the air rushed from my lungs.
Eddie was slumped in the chair, head canted, chin to his chest, a bloody crater in the back of his skull, crimson gore splashed across the headrest. A pistol sat in his lap.
A gasp.
Val, standing next to the chair, eyes wide, hand to her mouth. "Oh god..."
Holstered Bonnie and turned toward Mouse
She was staring at Eddie, nostrils flaring, slowly shaking her head.
"Mouse?" I said.
She said nothing but continued to stare.
"Val," I said, hearing my voice go hoarse. "Get Doc."
"On it," said Val, her voice suddenly hoarse, too.
And then Mouse pounced on Eddie, grabbed him by the lapels of his rumpled lab coat. "You fucking ungrateful thoughtless piece of shit why the hell did you do this you goddamn self-centered bastard I'm gonna beat your ass until you fucking bleed out--!" She shook him with every word, hard, slamming him back against the chair, her voice rising in pitch until she was just shrieking wordlessly, and I was grabbing her around the shoulders, yanking her off and away, and she fought me, squirming and wriggling, her hands clawing at him, toward him, and then I caught her in a bear hug and we crashed to the cold shop floor, and she was pounding her fists into my upper back, trying to shove me off, trying to get to her feet, her wails piercing my ears, and I could smell the blood on her hands, and I pinned her to the ground with my body, and she buried her face into my shoulder and her torso shook and shuddered, and I told her over and over and over and over it would be okay and but I knew it wouldn't and then I couldn’t hear my voice anymore and everything around us disappeared.

*   *   *

Bay City, California Free State
Palace Hotel
Ten minutes later

"The Chinatown segment is in full swing?" said the voice on the other end of the line.
Carter set the glass of whiskey back on the small hotel room table, leaned back in the chair, and stretched his feet out in front of him. "It is, Mr. S.," he said into his phone. "And they've set it in motion."
"Good. And I'm sure they've found their dear departed friend by now?"
Carter grinned. "They have. I just got the call a few minutes ago."
"Then we're done there. Have the team clean up and pull back. When they've finished, begin the next phase."
"Understood," said Carter. "And if you don't mind my asking, sir..."
"How did you know he’d kill himself?"
"Resign himself to life without running the 'Net?" A small chuckle. "I believe Mr. Howard made the best choice."
"So you took a chance?"
"I never take chances, Carter. If he hadn't killed himself, I would've ordered you to detonate his charges."

(to be continued...)
Part 2


Change in plans, Dear Readers.

We're gonna move ahead with the next episode, "Requiem." It's a short two-parter. Then the serial will go on break while I continue working on the next episode.

I don't have a solid date on when we'll be back but I'm hoping it won't be too long of a hiatus. Just enough time to allow me to finish.

Check back here for an update on the return or keep an eye on your your email/RSS feeds for you subscribers. You can also check to see if I've updated about it on my blog.

Watch for part one of "Requiem" next Monday.

A Short Break

And now we'll take a short break for the holidays.

Seasons Greetings to you and yours.

We'll be back with "Requiem" on January 4th.

See you then!

"Shanghai Squeeze" - Part Nine

We waited until we got to the side door before I gave the M4 to Mouse. Then I pulled the FAL to my shoulder and we went in.
A dimly-lit short corridor ended with another door propped open with a plastic crate wedged in the doorway. The light panels overhead buzzed and flickered.
I frowned at them and looked at Mouse.
"They're waiting," she said.
"Stay frosty," I said.
Crouch-walked to the door, Mouse moving to my left.
I took position at the doorway, keeping away from the opening, while Mouse went for the door handle with a free hand, the rifle stock tucked to her shoulder.
Signaled with a nod.
Mouse yanked the door then stepped forward to brace it open.
I stepped through and hooked left. Mouse ducked right.
Pan and scan, the FAL sweeping left-right, left-right.
We were in one of the auditoriums, dimly-lit like the corridor we just came from, pale-yellow light thrown up against the dark red walls from wall sconces even placed along the length. A carpeted aisle ran down the middle of the auditorium separating the seats.
A musty odor lingered in the air.
Caught Mouse's eye and nodded toward the EXIT sign flickering at the far end.
Crouch-walked up the left side of the aisle while Mouse did the same on the right side, FAL's muzzle sweeping left-right and toward the projectionist box above as we went.
No one shot back.
Not yet, at least.
I stopped at the auditorium entrance.
Mouse leaned in toward me.
"In the lobby waiting?" she said, pitching her voice low.
"Only one way to find out," I said and indicated the door.
Mouse nodded, took hold of the handle, looked at me.
She yanked the door open.
I ducked through, pan and scan, the rifle sweeping, tracking.
The lobby had been all but gutted leaving only the black-and-white checkboard tile floor intact.
In the middle of the lobby lay a figure curled up in the fetal position illuminated by the cone from a single overhead flourescent light panel.
A woman.
"Cover me," I said.
I fast-walked toward the figure, the rifle sweeping, and reached her in a matter of seconds.
Heard Mouse approach to one side then stop and slowly pivot three-sixty, the M4 tucked to her shoulder.
Slung the FAL over one shoulder, went to one knee near the figure, and looked.
Mei-Lin. Unconscious.
Still wearing the same clothes we saw on the security feed.
Checked for a pulse at her neck.
"Alive?" said Mouse.
"Alive," I said. "Slow pulse. Shallow breating. Might've been drugged. Movement?"
"Not a fucking thing," said Mouse.
I checked around Mei-Lin, patted her down without moving her, then slid my hand underneath.
"Clean?" said Mouse.
"Good," said Mouse. "I hate booby traps. Let's bounce. Place is starting to give me the heebies."
Took another look at Mei-Lin.
Then looked around the nearly bare lobby. What wasn't in the path of that single overhead light panel sat in darkness.
Popped optics to thermo and looked again.
Nothing. Just cold hard concrete.
Shut my eyes and listened. Hard.
The light creak of Mouse's boot leather as she pivoted, watching. The low buzz of the flourescent.
Could feel the pulsing in the middle of my chest.
And then felt it.
The chill blossoming at the base of my spine, radiating outward, surrounding my hips, then slithering up my back.
My eyes popped open.
"What is it?" Mouse said, her voice tense.
I held up my free hand, panning, scanning.
"We know you're there," I called out and my voice echoed in the empty room.
Silence replied.
I waited.
A few seconds passed but they felt like hours.
Still silence.

The chill settled between my shoulder blades and began worming its way toward the middle of my chest.

What. The. Hell.
"Kat," said Mouse, her voice low. "Heebies."
"Okay," I said. I picked up Mei-Lin, got her over my shoulder, stood.
"I got our six," said Mouse.
We headed out.

*   *   *
Back in the Shelby I called the number Lee had left.
"Hello?" said a voice on the other end of the line.
"Councilman?" I said.
"Yes. Is this--?"
"It is," I said. "We have her."
"Oh my god," said Lee. "Is she...?"
"She's fine," I said. "But she may have been drugged. You'll need to get her checked out."
"No hospitals," Lee said. "Too complicated. Bring her to my house. I'll have my doctor see to her." He gave us an address in the Bayside Heights district.
"There in fifteen," I said and hung up.

*   *   *

We arrived at Lee's three-story Victorian in a gated property near the top of Mount Wyndham overlooking most of Bay City to the east, San Marino Bay to the north, and Bayside Valley to the west.
A severe-looking portly Chinese man with sideburns, thick salt-and-pepper hair, and badly-fitting suit was first out of the front door accompanied by an equally severe-looking short-haired Chinese woman in a badly-fitting pant suit. They got to Mei-Lin before I could get out of the driver's side and hustled her back into the house.
Lee passed them on the front steps, exchanged a few quick words, then watched them go back inside before turning and approaching us.
"I owe you my thanks," he said.
"That's not all you owe us," said Mouse.
"Mouse," I said.
She shot me a look. "What? It's Biz."
Lee held up a hand. "Your companion is right. It's Biz. But thank you all the same." He reached into his inside jacket pocket and drew out a cred'chip, handed it to us.
Mouse took it, pulled a 'chip reader from her trenchcoat pocket, then slid the 'chip into the slot and read the display. "All there," she said to me. "Twenty grand. Rest of our fee."
"My uncle was right about you two," said Lee. "You are the best."
"Damn right we are," said Mouse.

*   *   *

Five minutes later were were rumbling west on Wyndham Boulevard.
I dialed Val, put the phone on speaker, and slid it into the dashboard holder.
"Yeah," said Val.
"Coming to you now," I said and the queasiness leaped back into my gut, my mouth suddenly tasting sour. "Let's go see Eddie."


NEXT TIME: "Requiem"

"Shanghai Squeeze"
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5
Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9

"Shanghai Squeeze" - Part Eight

I threw the Shelby into reverse and floored it. She screamed backwards. Stocky lost his footing, bounced off the hood, and went sprawling on the pavement by the van. Wiry dropped to his stomach, lost his hatchet, but managed to grab hold of the top edge of the hood near the windshield wipers.
Ten meters out from the back of the van, stomped on the brakes, squealed to a stop. Then threw her into gear and floored it.
The Shelby roared and lurched forward. Stocky had just enough time to get to his feet and go saucer-eyed before two tons of steel slammed into him and crushed his torso into the back end of the van.
Wiry was still white-knuckling the top edge of the hood when I reversed, gunned it again, slewed around the van into the southbound lane, scattering incoming traffic amid yowling horns and screeching tires, then slid back into the northbound lane, and swerved back and forth, Wiry's lower body swinging left-right in wide arcs across the hood top, his legs flapping, his mouth working double-time in frenzied screaming and swearing.
Then a hard right onto 43rd Street. The Shelby fishtailed across the intersection, I heard an air horn blasting, caught the flash of metal from the grill of a large truck barreling toward us, juked left then hard right, sliding into the right lane, and Wiry flew off the hood, spread-eagle and spinning like a launched disc, into the path of the truck.
A wet, bone-jarring crunch dopplered past, heard the truck howl and squeal and skid to a thudding, tire-smoking stop.
Quick whiff of burned rubber through the Shelby's air vents.
Then popped gears and mashed the accelerator to the floor, and the Shelby bellowed thunder, slammed us to the back of our seats, and rocketed eastward on 43rd.

*   *   *

It took another ten seconds to realize Specs was still on the phone and had been yelling for our attention.
"Sorry," I said. "We were kinda busy."
"I heard," said Specs. "So can you please tell me what the holy hell is going on?"
I told him. About Lee and Mei-Lin, the incident at the White Crane tea house, Johnny and the mystery shooter, and ended with Hiller.
"Jesus H. Christ on a bicycle!" said Specs.
"More or less my reaction," I said.
"So this ex-dead Hiller woman probably shot up the Mercantile Exchange."
"If witnesses said they saw me, then yeah."
"And now instead of Lotus gunnin' after your asses you've got both of the biggest Triad gangs in the city."
"I'm guessin' somebody's settin' you two up."
"That's what Revell said after we told him about the botched run last night."
"Oh shit," said Specs. "You sayin' that was part of this clusterfuck?"
Mouse and I traded looks and her eyebrows shot up.
"Maybe," I said and glanced at a passing street sign.
Front Street.
Five blocks from the end of Industrial.
"Listen, Specs," I said. "We have to go. We'll be in touch. In the meantime, keep your ear to the ground and let us know if you hear anything we need to know about."
"Sure thing, Kat," said Specs.
I hung up.
"This is bigger, isn't it," said Mouse.
"Looks that way," I said.

*   *   *

The Grand Palace sat at the far end of Industrial Avenue, a two-screen movie theatre that had long been fenced off and boarded up. I recalled Murphy had mentioned going to see his last movie there when he was a teener before they closed it down. Which meant at least thirty-plus years since it had been a working theatre. Tall weeds sprouted from the cracks in the theater's parking lot pavement and angular and cursive whorls of graffiti covered the outside walls.
The rest of the block was given over to several boarded-up storefronts, a coffin hotel, a Shiro's noodle stand, a cheap bodymod parlor, and a corner E-Z-Shoppe.
There weren't many peds at this neck of the East End and even less on the far end of the street past the noodle stand.
That was good.
I parked the Shelby halfway down the opposite side of the street in front of the hotel where we had a angle on the theatre building.
Mouse tapped my leg and inclined her head out the passenger side window.
The gate into the parking lot had been left open, the sedan was still in the lot, and a side door had been left ajar.
"They're expecting us," I said.
"So they'll be hunkered down," Mouse said and swore under her breath. "I hate it when they do that."
"Me, too."
My phone chirped.
It was Val.
I answered.
"There you are," she said. "I dug deeper on Hiller. It's all legit. In addition to the death cert I'm looking at a police report, and a news story. She was killed in a car crash. Ruled an accident."
"It's gotta be a fake," said Mouse. "We saw her on that security feed."
"Like I said," said Val, "it all sounds real hinky."
"Thanks, Val," I said. "Give us half an hour."
"And then Eddie?"
"And then Eddie."
"Good luck, guys."

(to be continued...)

"Shanghai Squeeze"
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5
Part 6 | Part 7 |Part 9