"Devil's Night" - Part Four

We were jogging out of the noodle house toward the bus, our package in the duffle bag slung over my shoulder, the FN at low ready, Mouse slightly behind and to my right, the MP5 pulled to her shoulder and sweeping, when I heard glass breaking and the bounce-clatter of metal. Spotted it skittering under the length of the bus.
Spun and bolted back toward the noodle house, Mouse half a second behind me, managed to cross the shattered doorway.
The bus exploded.
Shockwave shoved me forward and I twisted enough to land on my side, keep from going sprawling.
Saw a sleek shape flash past the noodle house, eastbound.
And another.
Then heard it.
Crotch rockets.
Double shit.
"Company," I said, rolling up to one knee, pulling the FN to my shoulder.
"Goddammit," said Mouse.
Another crotch rocket flew past and I caught a glimpse of colors. Red and black.
"Howlers," I said, crouch-walking forward, FN sweeping.
"Since when did joyboys pack grenades?"
"Devil's Night," I said.
"Fucking Devil's Night."
Stepped out onto the street, angling myself away from the crackling flames of the burning bus, and looked to my left, the FN following suit.
Three Howlers sat side-by-side in half-shadow at the intersection of Ellicott and Truxton to the east, their headlamps off. Around us, grotesque dancing shadows from the bus fire flitted between the sides of the surrounding buildings.
"Mouse," I said.
"Three more just beyond the bus," she said.
"How far?"
"Halfway down the block on Truxton. West of us."
"Should've brought the M4 for you."
"You weren't planning on a long firefight, were you?"
"Not on foot at least."
"Kat and Mouse!" a voice called out, singsong and echoing. "Come out and plaaaay!"
Mouse and I exchanged looks.
She quirked at eyebrow at me. "How'd they know our names?"
"No idea," I said.
"Fuckin set up," said Mouse
We watched the Howlers at the intersection, FN and MP trained on them. Then Mouse glanced over her shoulder at the Howlers in the other direction.
No one moved.
Seconds passed.
"Dammit," said Mouse. "Just go already."
"I hate waiting."
"I know."
Then the middle Howler at the intersection raised a closed fist over his head.
And the two on either side gunned their engines and raced toward us with a squeal of tires.
Took a bead on one, then caught sight of it first.
Subvocal. World into slo-mo.
The Howler on the left had whipped out a subgun from behind his back and started to unload on me in a wide arc, the weapon's barrel flashing.
Half a second too slow.
Side-stepped right, the FN on target and chattering a pair of three-round bursts.
His shots sparked off the pavement, walking toward me.
My shot slammed into his torso and folded him in half.
Howler and rocket went down and skidded to one side in a long squeal of metal.
Pivoted right to take the next Howler and another subgun, already flashing.
Felt three hard slaps against the side of my right thigh, then two more in my gut, the impacts rocking me back a step.   
Thank god for dermal armor.
Fought back the discomfort, got him back in my sights, and squeezed off another pair of bursts.
One burst ripped through the front of his rocket, blowing apart his wheel, forks, and headlamp. The second burst punched through his upper torso and took out the the lower half of his helmet. Rider and rocket pitched forward and the bike's back end flipped up and over and crunched the joyboy into the street.
Swung the FN back to the last Howler.
He drew a katana from a back scabbard, held it high, the nearby lamplight glinting off the polished blade, then levelled it, point-first at me.
Centered the front sight at the Howler's helmeted head, let out a breath, and waited.
He gunned his engine and rocketed toward me.
Flap of leather, and a shape flashed past me and bolted toward the oncoming joyboy, saw metal flash outward.
Dropped the rifle to low-ready.
Mouse, wakizashis trailing at angles to either side of her, black trenchcoat billowing like a comet's tail as she sprinted head-on toward the joyboy.
The Howler extended his right arm sideways, the katana blade flashing as he sped forward.
Mouse veered left, and hurled her wakizashi, then angled back, head-on toward the Howler.
Quick glimpse of the Howler's right arm missing a hand and katana, blood spray arcing out.
Then Mouse went airborne, cannonballing over the rocket's front wheel, trenchcoat tails flapping, smashed into the Howler, and both of then flew off the rocket. The bike flopped left, right, left, right, then roll-bounced twice before going sprawling toward the sidewalk.
Mouse and rider hit the pavement, the Howler tumbling, limbs flailing, Mouse in a tuck and roll. She came up in a low crouch, a Bowie held out to one side in a kind of graceful dancer's pose.
The Howler lay on his back, head to one side, a wakizashi jammed through the base of his neck and sticking out the back.
Mouse flashed me a feral grin.
And the ground around me exploded with gunfire, pavement geysering concrete chips, air buzzing with a hail of bullets.

(to be continued...)

"Devil's Night"
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
Part 5

"Devil's Night" - Part Three

We were ten meters away when I realized the streetlamps and signal light at Jewell Street and Truxton Avenue were all out and my gut clenched and the hairs on the back of my neck saluted.
Mouse said, "Holy shit!"
And the yellow unlit brick of a school bus barreled into the intersection from our left just as we crossed Jewell.
White-knuckled the wheel and mashed the accelerator to the floor.
The Shelby roared, lurched forward, slamming us back into the seat.
Flash of yellow, then a crunch of impact that shook the car, shoved us sideways, and we went sliding, spinning, tires screaming across the pavement.
Yanked the wheel hard left, turning into the spin, fighting to control the Shelby, felt a chassis-shaking jolt when we leaped the curb, then bamboo panels loomed in front of us. I managed to swear under my breath through gritted teeth before we plunged sideways into the front doors of a noodle shop in an explosion of glass and wood. Half-spun inside, plowed through the serving counter, and came to a sudden body-jarring stop.
Gasped and winced from the bite of the seat restraints against my shoulder and the middle of my chest.
"Fuck me with a blowtorch," said Mouse with a groan.
"I know the feeling," I said.
"Was that a bus? That was a bus. A school bus. A fucking school bus."
"Yeah," I said and looked out the windshield and rearview mirror.
We were angled toward the intersection again, the Shelby's back end jammed into the middle of the noodle house's counter, the back window covered by a shallow spray of cooked noodles. Sparks arced overhead and I spotted several broken light globes on the floor. The headlights splashed across a few busted chairs and tables littering the interior and the gaping hole in the front entry where we had crashed through.
Beyond the noodle house sat the schoolbus, stopped just past intersection.
Then four figures sauntered into view. Skeleton body suits with skull masks. AK-47s held loosely against their sides. They stopped next to the bus, still on the street, and watched us.
"Death Lords," I said.
"I hate cos'gangs," said Mouse. "There goes an easy run."
"You spoke too soon."
"Yeah, yeah. Did I mention I hate cos'gangs?"
The Death Lords were one of five cos'gangs in the city. They called a small corner of Southside their turf.
Which was where we happened to be at the time.
I had hoped not to be there for long.
The Death Lords were strictly B-Listers, more annoying than dangerous.
But it was Devil's Night, it was past 20:00, and B-Listers sometimes got carried away on that night.
Three more Death Lords appeared, coming up behind the first four. Also armed. MAC-10s.
"Dammit," I said.
"Run 'em down?" said Mouse.
"Gonna have to," I said.
She chuckled. "They're making it easy."
"Not for the Shelby's bodywork."
"Stop worrying," said Mouse. "Worry gives you gas."
I cranked the igntion.
The Shelby gave a whine, sputtered, then went silent.
Mouse and I swapped looks. Her brow was creased.
So was mine.
Tried again.
Whine sputter sputter--
Whine sputter.
"Kat," said Mouse.
Heard her tone.
Looked up.
Seven armed skeletons fanned out in a loose semi-circle and began to walk toward us. Slow, easy steps. As if they had all the time in the world.
Turned to Mouse, gave a nod.
She grinned. "Slice and dice."
Drew the Twins from the double-holster rig under my jacket and popped my door, subvocal at the same time.
The world slid into slo-mo.
Stepped out sideways, rising up over the door frame, the Twins tracking toward the masked mooks.
They reacted at almost the same speed, their guns swinging up, the four in the middle starting to scatter to either side.
Boosted. Of course.
But a full second slower than us.
Doom on them.
The Twins bucked and roared, starting with the nearest Death Lord on my left, sending four rounds into the middle of his chest. He jerked with each hit, staggered a moment, then surged forward, raising the AK to his shoulder.
The bastard.
Shifted aim, stroked Clyde's trigger, and he belched fire. The round punched through the middle of the mook's face, the back of his head spraying crimson mist.
He crumpled.
Gunfire exploded around me, sparking off the Shelby's hood, windshield, and driver's side door.
Silently thanked Tinker for the car's armor.
Pivoted slightly and the next Death Lord jogged straight into the Twins's sights even as he took a bead on me. Squeezed off two rounds and blew the top of his head off.
The next hail of Death Lord fire spanged off the door and  walked up the window, spiderwebbing the glass. Ducked below the window to keep from getting my head blown off, waited until the inevitable lull of reloading, then popped up, the Twins ready to play.
Caught the shooter just as he was about to slap a mag into his rifle, two rounds in the right shoulder that jerked him back, spoiling his reload, making him drop the mag. He looked up. The next round from Bonnie plowed into the middle of his forehead.
Shifted aim at another Death Lord, crouched and crab-crawling to my left, AK coming up to fire. Two rounds blasted away the right side of his skull, and he went sprawling across the pavement, painting the ground in a splash of blood and gore.
Pivoted toward Mouse as she carved through another Death Lord, wakizashis spinning, twirling, slashing, leaving arcing blood trails in their wake, two other mangled bodies at her feet.
Spotted a Death Lord as she popped out from behind the end of the bus, MAC-10 held two-handed and aimed at Mouse
The Twins rose up, tracking, then checked fire as a waskizashi rocketed toward the ganger and plunged into the base of her throat. She jerked with the impact, dropped the subgun, crumpled to her knees, and toppled over.
Shot Mouse a look.
She flashed me a thumbs-up.
Pan and scan.
Seven ganger corpses lay scattered around us amid a haze of gunsmoke.
Subvocal, and the world slipped back to norm.
"That all of them?" said Mouse, retrieving her thrown wakizashi and wiping the blade clean on the Death Lord's suit.
"I'll check." Loaded fresh mags into the Twins, slipped the partials into my jacket pocket, and jogged to the bus door.
The bus itself was half-rusted and pale with age, its side window glass long gone, the faded remnants of lettering still plastered across the side.
Counted two, then bolted up the steps, the Twins tracking.   
Empty, except for the lingering odor of unwashed bodies.
Popped to thermo and checked again.

"Clear," I called out, stepping off the bus.
"What next?" she said. "Shelby's a bust."
In the distance I could hear the crackle of gunfire and the dopplering whine of crotch rockets. Then the dull crack-boom of detonations, followed by scattered flame columns erupting from various sections of Southside and strobing light flashes of small arms leapfrogging across the distant rooftops.
Optic clock.
Devil's Night. Right on schedule.
"Bounce," I said. "Before we get caught up in more festivities."
More gunfire in the distance.
"Leave the car?"
I nodded. "I'll set her to active. Then we grab the case, load up from the trunk, and take the bus."
"The bus?" Mouse frowned. "That's not gonna be inconspicuous or anything."
"Big enough to plow through any roadblocks between here and Railroad."
She brightened. "Plowing through things is good."
"We'll get a loaner once we're out of Southside."
"Sounds good," said Mouse. "Especially the plowing."

(to be continued...)

"Devil's Night"
Part 1 | Part 2
Part 4

"Devil's Night" - Part Two

Eight minutes later we came down the second tallest of the Three Sisters and crossed Railroad Avenue into Southside and the change was immediate.
Even the sky looked darker.
I knew it was just a trick of the light by the Three Sisters blocking part of the glow emanating from City Centre but it wasn't helping.
Especially tonight.
The hairs on the back of my neck were already at attention.
Edge Road ran the entire length of Bay City and marked its eastern border. To our left, the roads snaked through the northeast stretch of the San Marino Hills, eventually leading to Newcastle and Essex. The glitterati who didn't already make their home in Uptown's condominiums and penthouses had their palatial estates in the hills, protected from the masses by walls, gates, and private muscle. To our right, Southside District, with Winn Town rising out of the middle like a small forest of concrete towers.
Popped optic clock: 19:00:12.
About twelve minutes to get to the site. Then a little over forty-five minutes until the actual time.
On schedule.
Turned my attention back to Edge Road, the Shelby's headlamps splashing across the asphalt ahead, hoping the rest of the night would be on schedule, too.
And the little twinge in my gut came back.

*   *   *
The pick up address was a salvage yard occupying most of York Street between Hurst and Booth.
We were parked one block east, past Booth, halfway down the street, on the opposite curb, with an unobstructed view down both directions of York, a diagonal view of the yard, and no activity to mention in the past forty minutes.
Much of the area was light to medium industrial with one- and two-story gray concrete block buildings set behind three meter tall barbed wire-topped cyclone fences. The yard itself was surrounded by a three-meter tall red brick wall topped with barbed wire. Behind the wall rose varying peaks of misshapen metal mountains stretching from one end of the yard to the other.
Only a few streetlamps were working on our stretch of York and the nearest one to us sputtered its pale yellow cone of light as if it were drowning in the darkness that blanketed much of the street.
"Die already," said Mouse, her voice a whisper.
"Focus," I said, pitching my voice low, and returning my gaze to the side mirrors.
"I'm trying."
"Don't try. Do."
Mouse snorted. "You got it wrong."
" 'Do or do not. There is no try.' "
"We're five by five," she said. "No one's home."
"Could change."
"Hope not. Hope it's easy. We deserve easy. Why can't we have just one easy run?"
"You're the one who--"
"Yeah, yeah. I know. Shut up."
"Fine," I said, fighting back a grin. "Now focus."
"Fine," said Mouse.

*   *   *
Five minutes later, at 20:00 on the dot, two pairs of SUV headlights rounded the corner of Hurst and York and rolled east toward us. The first pair of headlights pulled to a stop in front of the salvage yard. The second pair came around and stopped at an angle just behind and to one side of the first vehicle.
Mouse and I exchanged looks.
"Two cars," said Mouse. "Must be important."
"Must be," I said and started the Shelby.
The big block growled to life. We rumbled forward, rolled past Booth Street, and pulled to a stop in front of the salvage yard four meters away from the first SUV, a black Range Rover.
The doors of the second SUV--also a black Range Rover--popped open and disgorged three burly men with short cropped hair and a slender woman with a severe bun. All four were blond and stony-faced, wore dark suits, and carried MP5s now pulled tight to their shoulders and sweeping left-right left-right. The man and the woman took positions in front of the SUV facing east down York. The other two went behind both vehicles, facing west.
"Valhalla," I said.
Mouse grunted agreement. "Out-of-towners, y'think?"
"Or expensive. Really expensive. Otherwise it wouldn't be Valhalla."
"Hence important."
I quirked an eyebrow at her. " 'Hence'?"
"Heard it on a vid. Period Brit drama. Flowy skirts. Bowler hats."
I shook my head.
"What?" said Mouse.
"Nevermind," I said.
The passenger side door on the first Range Rover opened. A broad-shouldered man with slicked-back dark hair wearing a double-breasted navy blue suit got out, walked to the rear door, opened it.
The Smith--a petite black woman with close-cropped red hair sporting a charcoal gray pinstriped pant suit--slid out of the car, came around Navy Blue in smooth gliding steps, and stopped the SUV's right front bumper.
Light from the nearby streetlamp glinted off her glossy black pupil-less eyes and the gray aluminum hardcase in her left hand.

"Hardcase," said Mouse. "Shades of Righetti's doll."
Five months earlier I'd been on similar pick up involving an aluminum hardcase.
A memory struck.
"Watch our six," I said, opening the Shelby's door and swinging my legs out. "And keep an eye out for joyboys."
"On it," said Mouse, opening her door.
Got out of the car, shut the door. As soon as I did, the duo in front of the second Rover trained MP5s at us.
On the mark.
Pan and scan.
Besides us, nothing else moved on the block. Just our little tableau caught beneath the broad cone of lamplight surrounded by darkness.
"Mouse?" I said.
"Six is clear," she said.
"Good." I locked gazes with the male and female muscle and gave a small nod.
They returned it, still stone-faced.
Professional courtesy.
"Let's go," I said and started forward, staying on the street, Mouse on the sidewalk trailing slightly behind and to my right, our bootsteps echoing off the pavement. We stopped two meters from the front of the first Rover.
"On time I see," said the Smith, her voice a melodious contralto. "Impressive."
"Lot of muscle for a little package," I said.
She gave me a thin-lipped humorless smile. "I thought you types never asked questions."
"I didn't. Observation."
"Observant, too," the Smith said. "They were right about you two."
They? Who were they?
The thought had come quickly and I quashed it before it showed up on my face or out of my mouth. Refocused on the Smith.
"Shall we?" I said, keeping my voice steady and indicating the hardcase.
"We shall." The Smith crossed halfway toward us, steps measured and precise, set the hardcase on the ground, reached toward her right suit jacket pocket, then stopped and flashed us a small smile. "Reaching for a cred'chip," she said.
I gave her a nod.
She reached into her pocket and drew out a cred'chip, held it up for us to see, the metal glinting under the lamplight, then set it on the ground next to the hardcase.
"Voila," she said, straightening and spreading her arms out with a theatrical flourish.
I sketched a small bow.
The Smith glided backwards until she was at the SUV's front bumper once again.
"Mouse," I said.
"Still clear," she said.
I stepped forward, picked up the hardcase and the cred'chip, and stepped back to our spot.
"Your fee's on the 'chip," said the Smith. "Per the agreement. You'll check, I'm sure."
"Of course," I said, shot Mouse a glance, then lobbed the 'chip in her direction.
A few seconds later Mouse said, "It's there."
The Smith said, "And you know the drop point?"
"Marina," I said. "Pier 12. Midnight."
"Wonderful." The Smith sang the word and it made the small hairs on my arms salute. "I do hope we meet again."
I gave her a nod.
She smiled, turned, glided back to the rear of the Rover, and got inside. Navy Blue closed the door after her, gave us a brief nod, then got back into the passenger side. At the same time, the other muscle vanished into the second Rover in a chorus of slamming vehicle doors. Both pairs of headlights flashed on and the two vehicles hummed to life.
We watched as they rolled past us, eastbound on York, turn north on Drexel two blocks to the east, and vanish into the night.
"That was easy," said Mouse. "We need more like that."
"We still have to last until midnight," I said.
"Buzzkill," said Mouse.

*   *   *
We were ten meters away when I realized the streetlamps and signal light at Jewell Street and Truxton Avenue were all out and my gut clenched and the hairs on the back of my neck saluted.
Mouse said, "Holy shit!"
And the yellow unlit brick of a school bus barreled into the intersection from our left just as we crossed Jewell.

(to be continued...)

"Devil's Night"
Part 1 | Part 3

"Devil's Night" - Part One

Mouse, my partner and fellow ronin, leaned forward from the edge of the beat-up mustard-yellow couch and shot slitted eyes at Specs. "Have you lost your goddamn mind?"
Just another day in the life of a ronin. Street mercenary. Gun for hire.
Me. Name's Kat.
Before Specs could respond from his spot leaning against the jamb of the opened doorway to the Red Dog's back office Mouse whirled on me, jabbed a finger toward Specs, and said, "He's lost his goddamn mind. Will you talk some sense into him?"
Specs stepped through the doorway, hands held up to shoulder level, palms facing outward, brow furrowed. "What gives?" he said in his reedy tenor. "This is good stuff!"
"Yeah," said Mouse. "If you've got a death wish."
"You've already pissed off the two biggest Triad gangs in the city but you're gonna let this stop you?"
A slim throwing blade popped up between Mouse's right thumb and forefinger. "Don't make me stick you."
"You call that gratitude?" Specs threw up his hands and shook his head, then turned toward me. "Talk some sense into her, will ya?"
"He's the one," said Mouse, jabbing her finger again toward Specs, "who wants us to go into Southside on Devil's Night. Devil's Night, for cryin' out loud!"
"Devil's Night, Shmevil's Night," said Specs. "It's a good break, fer Crissake! First one you two have had in what, almost three weeks? And for five hundred fuckin' grand. Five hundred! That's good! That means there're still people out there willing to pay."
Mouse fixed me with a look. "Are you really gonna go for this?"
I leaned back in the leather swivel chair behind the desk and looked over my boots perched on the desk corner, first at Specs, then at Mouse, then back at Specs.
Specs folded arms across his chest and his Hawaiian shirt the color of a paint factory explosion and quirked an eyebrow at me. The overhead lamplight glinted off his bald head and his round-framed mirrorshade lenses. "Well?" he said.
All we had to do was pick up a package and drop it off.
Pick up from an address near the southeastern corner of Southside. Drop it off at Pier 12 in the Marina.
Standard stuff on the surface.
Of course, nothing was ever standard in the Biz.
Today happened to be Halloween.
And Halloween night in Southside was known as Devil's Night.
The one night out of the year when all hell broke loose.
No matter what the blue boys or MaxTac did, the punkergangs and the joyboys of Southside always went on a rampage Halloween Night. Knock-down, drag-out skirmishes and running gun battles down nearly every street and alley. Abandoned buildings torched. Parked cars overturned and set aflame.
Some twisted sense of decency kept them from invading residences. But any civvie still out on the street after nightfall was fair game.
War zone turned hellhole.
And we were considering entering that.
"Kat?" said Specs. "You still with us?"
I looked at Specs. "Five hundred grand, right?"
"Yep," he said.
"Up front?"
I swung my boots off the desk corner, leaned forward, elbows on the desk top, hands folded. "Pick up and drop off."
"Kat..." said Mouse and I heard the tone of her voice.
I turned to her. "We need this. Rep."
"Devil's Night," she said.
"Kibble," I said.
Mouse frowned and looked at the floor. After a moment, she let out a loud exhale and glared at me. "Fine," she said. "Just so we stay away from kibble."
"We'll manage," I said. "Always do."
"I hate kibble," she said.
"I know," I said.
"We're gonna need a tank."
I turned back to Specs. "You said the pick up was at 20:00?"
Specs nodded. "Bingo. And drop's at midnight."
That made me straighten in my chair. "Midnight?" I said. "Four hour wait?"
"The hell?" said Mouse. "Takes twenty minutes to get to the Marina. Thirty tops."
"Sounds a little sketchy," I said.
"Sounds like a set up."
"Who cares?" said Specs. "Five hundred grand. Dry for three weeks. Beggars, choosers, yadda yadda. Besides, it's their money and they're willing to pay."
I held up a hand. "Okay, okay," I said. "We're in."
Specs clapped his hands and rubbed them together, grinning. "Hot damn," he said. "I'll confirm." He reached for his earbud, turned, and headed out into the back hallway.
Mouse slumped back into the couch, grumbling about kibble, and reached for the cheeseburger she'd been working on before Specs came into the office.
I popped my optic clock.
Under six hours to go.
I let out a long breath and turned back to the foil-wrapped burger sitting on the desk.
It was the waiting.
I never liked the waiting.

*   *   *
"Finally!" said Mouse, shifting in her seat. "That last hour was gonna kill me."
It was just after 18:50 and we were in my refitted 2008 Shelby Cobra GT500 rumbling east on 48th Street toward Edge Road. Timed right we'd get to the pick up address with enough time to recon the site and make sure there wouldn't be any trouble.
Or at least not too much trouble.

It was Devil's Night.
We'd spent the last three hours prepping, cleaning and oiling weapons, and gearing up. The Twins, Bonnie and Clyde--my pair of Colt-Springfield M2001 .45-caliber high-capacity pistols--were loaded with full mags plus one in the chamber. Spare mags on my gear belt. One hundred twenty-two rounds. FN-FAL and MP5, each with six extra mags, in the Shelby's trunk.
Mouse had her back scabbard with twin wakizashis, her pair of Bowies in hip sheaths, plus whatever assortment of pointy toys were hidden in various places on her person.
We were as ready as we could be without needing a tank or an aerodyne with a nose gun.
At least I hoped so.
I felt a slight twinge in the middle of my gut but I shook it off.
Focus, Kat.
The signal light at 48th and Waterman Avenue flashed to red and I slowed to a stop.
Mouse gave a grunt.
"Yeah?" I said.
"Thinking," she said.
"That four hours."
"I mean, isn't that a little weird?"
"A little," I said. "Maybe whoever's collecting at the drop won't get there until midnight?"
"Why not have the pick up be closer to the drop time?" said Mouse. "Why a four hour gap?"
"No idea. Could be a timing thing on the pick up side."
"Or a set up."
"How about we look on the bright side?"
"Fine. It's not a set up."
"Doesn't that feel better?"
"Bite me."

(to be continued...)

"Devil's Night"
Part 2