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"Double Down"

8 November 2042
09:07:22 PST


   
Miss Renee scowled at her desk blotter, hands clenching and unclenching on the desktop, her stomach going sour

Three girls? Gone?
   
"Ma'am?"
   
She looked up at Dani standing on the other side of the desk. The younger woman gnawed on her lower lip, her brow furrowed, and she hugged a clipboard to her chest.
   
"And you're certain about Sheena?" Miss Renee said.
   
Dani nodded. "She didn't check in last night. And Janna's been trying her phone for the last hour."

   
Dammit.
   
"What are we going to do?" said Dani, her voice small.
   
Miss Renee stared past Dani, past the glass windows of her private office, toward the partitioned work stations beyond. She sucked in a long breath, smoothed out her crimson skirt and adjusted the cuffs of her suit jacket, then looked back at Dani.
   
"We'll need help on this."
   
Dani gasped. "The police?"
   
Miss Renne gave a humorless chuckle. "No, my dear. Not the police. They won't help us."
   
"Then who--?"
   
"This is Biz now," said Miss Renee. "And I know just the people who can help."


*   *   *
   
Specs finished paying the pimple-faced teener working the register and exited the Harbor Cafe, his lips still tasting of too much pancake syrup.
   
He adjusted his round-framed mirrorshades despite the overcast skies and crossed the gravel parking lot to his well-loved vintage midnight blue El Camino. The car was over seven decades old when he'd found it in a Northwood salvage yard and he'd spent a good chunk of creds to have Tinker refit the engine to run ceetol.
   
"Why not just spring for a Mitsu or a BMW?" she'd asked. "This is a junker."
   
"This is a classic," he'd said.
   
"Your money," she'd said with a shrug.
   
As he neared the car, his phone chirped for attention. He tapped his earbud. "Go."
   
"Hello, Specs."
   
Specs grinned, recognizing the slightly husky voice on the other end. "Miss Renee," he said. "Good morning."
   
"Not so much on my end."
   
Spec's grin vanished. "Well, shit. What can I do for you?"
   
"I need Kat and Mouse," she said.
   
"Done."
   
"Five hundred thousand," said Miss Renee. "The usual way. My offices ASAP."
   
"They'll be there," said Specs and hung up. He fished his car keys out from one pocket and his phone from the other, unlocked the door, and slid inside.
   
Five hundred K.
   
He gave a low whistle.
   
Must be big.
   
That'd put them back on the map.
   
He tapped his earbud then dialed a number.
   
Two rings, then: "Yeah."
   
Kat.
   
"Rise and shine, Ladies," he said. "I got a hot one for you."
   
"Do you know what time it is?" Kat replied, her voice gravelly.
   
"It's five hundred thousand creds o'clock. Miss Renee's got a job and she wants you both at her place ASAP. Move your asses."
   
A brief, muffled conversation, then: "We'll be there. Car."
   
"You still have the one from last night."
   
"Has bullet holes. Not good for Uptown."
   
"Fine. I'll send another one over. Twenty minutes."
   
The line clicked off.
   
He dialed another number. When he heard the beep he said: "Loaner. Red Dog."
   
Then he hung up and slid his phone in the breast pocket of his Hawaiian shirt--the good one with the red and blue palm trees.
   
"Back in the game," he said with a grin and drummed a short rhythm on the leather wrapped steering wheel. Then he put the key in the ignition, started the car, and exited the lot, heading south on Harbor Boulevard.
   
Twenty minutes later, Specs pulled the El Camino to a curbside parking spot on Sterling near 50th just outside his office-flat above a laundromat. He cut the engine and got out, humming to himself.
   
He saw Kat's reflection in the El Camino's door window as it shut and gave a start.

   
The hell--?
   
She and Mouse were supposed to be at Miss Renee's. That was all the way in Uptown.
   
He started to turn to ask what the hell she was doing down here and when the hell she decided to get the nose stud when he felt the sharp sting at his neck, then a hand at the middle of his back.
   
His vision blurred.
   
He got one look at Kat, now seemingly close and looming over his face, her features going hazy.
   
Only--
   
--that wasn't Kat.
   
And he remembered. Chinatown. Shooting up Global Mercantile.
   
The woman called Hiller.
   
Fucking hell--!

And then he blacked out.



*   *   *

Hiller caught Specs under the arms just as the infobroker's legs buckled and steadied him a moment. Then she dragged him back until she was next to the El Camino's rear cargo bed and deposited him inside.
   
Then she looked around.
   
No one else on the street.
   
Good timing.
   
She pocketed the jet injector, picked up the dropped car keys, opened the car door, and got inside. She pulled out her cell phone and dialed. Carter answered on the second ring.
   
"Got him," she said.
   
"We're all set here," said Carter. "Come on down."
   
"There in ten," she said and hung up.


12:30:27 PST
   
Revell pushed open the Red Dog's back door and nearly dropped the garbage bag he'd been carrying.
   
A figure lay sprawled face up next to the blue dumpster in the bar's back lot.
   
Chto vadu?
   
What in the hell...?
   
He set the garbage bag down just inside the back hallway, toed the doorstop into place, then went over to the figure, his eyes narrowed and scanning the back lot and the opening to the alley that ran beside the bar.
   
No one around.
   
As he got closer, he noted the figure--male, bald--had been badly beaten. The man's face was covered in blood, both eyes swollen shut, cheekbones swollen and red.
   
Then his breath caught in his throat as he looked over the rest of the figure.
   
The shirt.
   
Brightly colored Hawaiian-style with palm trees now drenched scarlet.
   
Specs.

   
Bozhe moi.
   
My god.
   
Heat flare up his neck and into his face as he clenched both hands into fists.
   
He knelt beside Specs and a gave him a quick cursory inspection.
   
A nasty gash over the left eye continued to ooze blood. His mouth hung open, bottom lip cut, and Revell could see missing front teeth. The 'broker's breathing came slow and ragged. Blood bubbled out of both nostrils.
   
Revell winced.
   
He was still alive.
   
But for how long?
   
Revell felt his stomach sour.
   
He grabbed Specs under both arms, pulled him into the Red Dog, and shut the door after him. He knelt down next to him again and touched a hand to his shoulder. "Specs? Can you hear me?"
   
No response.
   
Revell noticed that Specs's shirt had ridden up slightly, then saw the mottled burgundy skin on his torso.
   
Broken ribs.

   
Proklyatiyeh.
   
Damnation.
   
Revell stood, pulled his phone from his pocket, and dialed Doc.
   
"We have emergency," he said. "Come to Red Dog now."
   
When he hung up, he noticed something in Spec's breast pocket. He knelt down once more and reached inside.
   
A folded photoprint.
   
He unfolded it.
   
Acid boiled in his gut.
   
It was a photoprint of Specs, the same one that had been in the briefcase Kat and Mouse had opened afer the Halloween run in Southside. Surveillance photo.
   
And it had a red "X" across Specs's face.

   
Sukin sin.
   
Son of a bitch.


*   *   *

Carter stood in the alleyway next to the Red Dog and listened. When he heard the clang of the back door closing, he smiled. He pulled the phone from his inside suit pocket, dialed, and walked out of the alley onto Garner.
   
"Yes?" came the voice on the other end.
   
"It's done, Mr. S.," he said walking south toward 48th and the waiting MitsuAudi sedan. "We've dropped off the package."
   
"And it was received?"
   
"It was."
   
"Good. I'll be making some arrangements and will give you instructions. Then it's Hiller's turn next. Have her contact me."
   
"Understood," said Carter.



--END--

NEXT TIME: "Born of the Blade"



"Double Down"


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