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.
Whine sputter sputter--
"Kat," said Mouse.
Heard her tone.
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.
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.
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.
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...)