"Dust Up" - Part One

The bad news: The 108 and the Jade Dragons had orders to shoot us on sight if we ever came into Chinatown, the Shelby was still out for repairs, we still didn't know who had set us up at Double-Deuce or caused Eddie's suicide, and we hadn't had a lead on a run in over a week.
The good news: we had just gotten a lead on a run.
Just another day in the life of a ronin. Street mercenary. Gun for hire.
Me. Name's Kat.
"Thanks, Specs," I said over the phone.
"Don't thank me," he said in his reedy tenor. "Five other leads dried up before this one. You two got lucky."
"We could use some luck right about now."
"I'll say. At least it's only a week since the last run. Better'n last time, am I right? More than two weeks. I thought you guys were finished. This is a big improvement."
"We'll take whatever we can get."
"I hear ya."
"So where is it?"
He told me and added: "At 22:00 hours."
Checked my clock: 18:42:12
"Loaner," I said.
"Jesus, you really busted up the Shelby good this time."
"Goddamn buses. Even Tinker was surprised."
"She say how much longer?"
"Not yet."
"Gimme twenty minutes," said Specs. "Have one there then."
I thanked him again and hung up.
Mouse looked up from where she'd been slumped on the beat-up mustard yellow couch in the Red Dog's back office.
"Where to?" she said.
I told her.
She scowled and shook her head. "Fucking glitterati." Then she made a face. "Do we have to change?"
I looked at our outfits. Work clothes: dark t-shirt, black BDU trousers, knee-high lace-up motorcycle boots, and black leather biker jacket for me. Black leather trenchcoat for Mouse.
"I'm comfortable," I said. "You?"
"Yep," said Mouse.
"Then no."

*   *   *

An hour later we drove through the gated entrance and pulled up in front of a two-story mansion in the San Marino Hills. The loaner from Specs--a gray ChrysFord Royale--looked drab compared to the house's stonework and columned front. The house wasn't as ornate as Righetti's and its gargoyle-topped roofline or as lavish as Hosaka's with its driveway fountain and expanse of manicured gardens but it definitely fit the neighborhood.
Unlike us.
"So who are these people?" Mouse said as we got out of the car and headed toward the marble steps to the tall front doors.
"Besides fucking glitterati?" I said.
She glared at me.
"No idea," I said. "Specs didn't say. Just that they were hiring."
"At least they can afford us," she said, gesturing to the four thick columns that formed a semi-circle in front of the entrance and held up an ornate stone canopy.
"Of course they can afford us," I said. "They're fucking glitterati."
"Say that again and I will stab you."

*   *   *

The heavyset butler in a black cutaway coat barely flinched when he opened the door and ushered us with comment into a wood-paneled library dominated on three walls by massive floor-to-ceiling bookshelves packed with books.
A tall barrel-chested man in his mid-fifties wearing a dark gray three-piece suit stood in front of a large antique mahogany desk. He nodded at the butler. "Thank you, Carson. That will be all."
"Sir," the butler rumbled and closed the door behind us.
The man looked at us hesitantly at first. A normal reaction when a meter-ninety of dark-haired Amazon in black biker leathers enters a room accompanied by a petite spitfire in a leather trenchcoat boasting twin swords on her back.

After a moment he approached and offered his hand, a nervous smile twitching across his face. "I'm Robert Rowley," he said. "And you two are...?"
"Here to help you, Mr. Rowley," I said.
Rowley stopped abruptly, a startled look crossing his face, and dropped his hand. Then he gave a sheepish grin. "Ah. I see. Discretion."
"Discretion," I said. "How can we be of service?"
He straighted and tugged on his suit's lapels. "I have--"
The door behind us burst open and a petite eightysomething woman with high cheekbones and a halo of silvered hair strode into the room. She wore all black--skirt suit, shawl wrap, and formal gloves--and her blue eyes flashed as she took in the scene.
Mouse gasped.
The woman leveled her gaze at us. "You've both been briefed, I take it?" she said in a strident and formal soprano.
"Ma'am?" I said.
She rounded on Rowley. "I thought you said they were professionals, Robert."
"Mother, please," said Rowley.
Mouse jabbed me in the side with an elbow. "That's Violet Rowley," she said, her voice pitched low but exuding awe. "Holy shit."
Violet Rowley shot us an imperious look. "I am perfectly aware of who I am, young lady. Who you are still remains to be seen." Her eyes narrowed. "And please refrain from using profanity. It's damned undignified." The corner of her mouth twitched up in a grin for a brief moment before resettling into her imperous expression.
I felt my eyebrows start to shoot up, caught myself, and fought back an involuntary grin.
"Sorry, ma'am," said Mouse.
Quirked an eyebrow at her.
"What?" she said.
"Apology accepted," said Mrs. Rowley. "Now, you two are...?"
"Discretion, Mother," said Rowley. "The less we know--'
Mrs. Rowley flinched, as if she'd been slapped. "Pish posh, Robert. I realize the need for discretion in these situations, thanks to Cousin Sharkey. But if they are professionals, as they claim to be, they no doubt operate under sobriquets or monikers. Or handles, as it were."
"Kat," I said.
"Mouse," said Mouse.
Mrs. Rowley quirked an eyebrow, sniffed, and clasped her gloved hands in front of her waist. "My, my. How colorful. And no doubt applicable given your profession?"
"Yes, ma'am," I said.
"Very well. Your demeanor has convinced me." She turned to Rowley. "As to my ealrier question about the situation..."
"I was just getting to that before you came in," said Rowley.
"Carry on, then." She gave him a prompting wave of her hand.
Rowley looked at us. "I've a package that requires delivery. Under the circumstances, I decided to avail myself of more discrete couriers than usual and my inquiries led me to you ladies. The package needs to be delivered to Pier 22 at the Marina by 22:00 tonight."
"Understood, Mr. Rowley," I said. "And the package?"
Rowley turned toward the desk and grabbed a large black plastic hardsided equipment case from the desktop. Half-meter long and wide, half as tall, with a rubberized handle and thick pull latches. "Is here," he said picking up the case with a huff and holding it out with the handle facing me. "The contents are--"
"Discretion, Robert," said Mrs. Rowley.
"No further details necessary," I said and took the case from Rowley. It had weight to it, at least five, six kilos.
"And as promised," said Rowley, reaching back toward the desk, then presenting a cred'chip to me. "Half your fee. Unsecured, as per your man."
I took the chip and handed it to Mouse.
She took it, drew a 'chip reader from an inside pocket of her trenchcoat, swiped the 'chip, and studied the display. "We're good," she said.
"The rest upon delivery confirmation," said Rowley. "I'll have it here upon your return."
"Not a problem," I said.
We turned to leave.
Mrs. Rowley slid into our path. "It is imperative the package reach its destination. I have your word it will see safe delivery?"
"You can count on us, Mrs. Rowley," Mouse said with a grin. "We're the best in the Biz."
Mrs. Rowley's eyebrow shot up. "Indeed."

*   *   *

As we headed down the front steps toward the Royale I said to Mouse, "So who is Violet Crawley? One of your vidstars?"
"Might as well be," said Mouse. "She's just one of BC's biggest socialites."
"Queen of the glitterati?"
"Pretty much. All the big parties you hear about on Net12? Hers. And we're talking big. Fancy as hell."
"Surprised her house isn't bigger," I said, gesturing at the mansion.
"Isn't hers," said Mouse. "Probably her son's. She's got this huge private estate out in Lakeshore. Gated. Big fancy gardens with statues. Husband was some big deal financial type."
"Died last week. She inherited his fortune."
"Lucky her."

(to be continued...)

"Dust Up"
Part 2

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