And the ground around me exploded with gunfire, pavement geysering concrete chips, air buzzing with a hail of bullets.
The other Howlers.
Crouch-pivoted left, the FN swinging back up, and side-stepped right, trying to put the still burning bus between me and the joyboys, caught a quick glimpse of Mouse bolting for cover, ground sparking at her feet.
The first Howler zipped around the back of the bus. Three-round burst caught him in the side of the torso, knocked him sideways off his rocket, and he bounced twice off the pavement in a tangle of limbs.
Second Howler swung wide of her fallen comrade and slammed into my second three-round burst, shots blowing her upper shoulders and head apart. Howler and rocket dropped sideways and went skidding, metal throwing up sparks.
And the last Howler plowed into her and bounced end over end across the street, rocket parts flying off in different directions.
Pan and scan.
Nothing else on the street moved except the flicker of remaining flames on the bus.
Audio damps dropped out and the crackle from the fires registered in my ears.
Then I heard another sound echoing off the surrounding buildings.
The rumble-whine of rockets.
Shit shit double-shit.
"Kat," said Mouse, jogging toward me, resheating her Bowie, wakizashis back in her scabbards, and I heard the tone in her voice.
"I know," I said, wiping sweat from my brow. "I make 'em at least four, five blocks out."
"Too many. And not enough ammo. We gotta get out of sight. Regroup."
She pointed past me. "There."
Looked, saw an alley sitting diagonally from us between the noodle house's next door neighbor and the next building over, cutting north toward Sunset Avenue.
"It's a start," I said, and made for it, Mouse just behind me, the package in the duffle bag bouncing against the back of my right hip.
As we ducked into the alley, I chanced one more look.
At the east end of Truxton where the three Howlers had sat side by side, five rockets rolled into view, their riders clad in blue leathers streaked with gold.
"What?" said Mouse.
I told her.
"Fucking Devil's Night," she said, exasperation in her voice.
"Go," I said and sprinted up the alley toward Sunset.
We got three-quarters of the way up when I heard tires squeal at the opposite end.
Spared a glance over my shoulder, spotted two GoBoys skidding to a stop at the alley mouth, headlamps slanted in our direction.
Stopped, spun, pulled the FN to my shoulder, and let off a rolling burst, sweeping left-right, taking out chunks of concrete from the alley wall, punching holes in one GoBoy, ripping apart the second GoBoy and his rocket.
Clack of an empty chamber.
Dropped the spent mag, let the rifle fall to my side, the three-point sling keeping it in place, and drew the Twins, then turned and ran up the alley.
Five seconds later, Mouse and I emerged on Sunset just as two more GoBoys rounded the corner nearest to us.
Mouse nailed the lead GoBoy with a pair of bursts from her MP5 and he crumpled, taking his rocket down with him.
I plugged the second, six rounds from the Twins that knocked him backward off his rocket. The bike popped a wheelie, went four meters, then fell over.
Spotted another alley across from us.
"There!" I gestured with Bonnie. "Go."
We bolted across the street, ran in, and got less than five meters when I saw it and skidded to a stop, Mouse nearly crashing into me.
Not a wall.
The back of a building. Thirty meters away. Completely windowless.
"Goddammit," said Mouse.
"I know," I said.
Rumble-whine, echoing off the buildings nearby.
GoBoys on the move, looking for us.
"What now?" said Mouse.
"We need cover."
Popped to low-light and scanned the alley.
On the left side, two doors, one a third of way down, the second just past halfway. Both with burned out lamps above them. Both metal. Closed and likely locked. Take too long to break down without breaching rounds or charges.
Right side, beneath a single dimly flickering lamp, a door, near the far end of the alley.
"There," I said and bolted the twenty meters toward it.
Heard Mouse's footsteps just behind me.
We reached the door, just as the rumble-whines closed.
Not a door. Double doors, the left side slightly ajar, a half-meter of space between them, the inner push bars chained together to keep them from opening completely outward.
Mouse ducked through without effort.
I managed to squeeze through.
Then yanked them closed.
They boom-clanged shut and plunged us into darkness.
Popped optics to thermo, the world sliding into grays.
We were in an empty windowless room the size of the Red Dog's bar area with a thick concrete support beam in the middle. Bare shelving lined two walls and a door stood on the opposite end. The door was slightly open, a thin sliver of light along its edges.
Popped optics to norm and pulled my phone from the inside of my jacket, the screen's glow lighting up the dark, and found several missed calls from Specs.
"Holy shit!" he said. "You're still alive!"
That made me blink. "What are you talking about?"
"Somebody put a bounty on you two. Five mill. And buzzed it to just about every punkergang in Southside."
"Sonofabitch," I said, my gut tightening.
Mouse tapped me on the arm. "What's up?"
I lowered the phone. "Later," I said, then put the phone back to my ear. "Who did it?"
"No idea," said Specs. "Revell called and told me. Said he heard it from a pair of Wolfpackers who came to the Red Dog looking to warn you."
"They got the offer, too?"
"Guess so. But you guys are square with them, right?"
"Rev asked me to get hold of you. Been tryin' for the past hour. Your phone been down?"
"Not exactly," I said. "But we'll be fine. Tell Revell."
"Fine? With several packs of 'gangers gunning for you?"
"Thanks for the pep talk, Specs."
"I'm just sayin' you'll be tired by the end of it."
"We also need a loaner."
"What? I thought you had your car?"
"Long story. But we need one. Railroad and Edge Road. Half an hour."
"Done. Anything else?"
"Not right now."
"Half an hour," said Specs. "Watch your asses out there."
"Thanks," I said and hung up.
"What's going on?" said Mouse.
Popped back to thermo and told her.
"Sonofabitch," she said. "I told you it was a fucking set up."
"I get it," I said, loading fresh mags into the Twins and pocketing the partials, then reholstered.
"And half an hour to get clear."
"So what's our play? We can't do a stand off."
"We need to get wheels. Something to get us to the edge of Southside."
"Which means going back out there." She jerked a thumb toward the double-doors leading into the alley. "And the bazillion 'gangers waiting to ambush us for five mill."
"And then we find the bastard who set us up and cut his balls off."
"Let's get out of this first."
A clank of metal.
Light flashed to my left, followed by metal skittering across the floor.
Saw the object and I bolted for the door at the other end, yanked it open, ducked through into a larger room with a line of mostly blacked-out windows along the front, and made for the furthest corner, Mouse right behind me.
The blast lit up the back half of the room in white light and blew out the front windows, the concussion wave pitched us forward onto our stomachs amid a rain of plaster dust, and the wall of heat washed over us.
(to be continued...)