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.
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.
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.
"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."
"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."
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.
"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...)
Part 1 | Part 3
Part 1 | Part 3