Cover: C.T. McMillan
Model: Megan Crawford (ING: @mleighmoon)
Copyright 2018 by C.T. McMillan
All Rights Reserved
In accordance with the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, the scanning, uploading, and electronic sharing of any part of this book without the permission of the publisher constitute unlawful piracy and theft of the author’s intellectual property. Thank you for your support of the author’s rights.
Also By CT McMillan
Back to Valhalla: A Military Fantasy
I could not have come this far without my family encouraging me to pursue my ambition to be a writer.
To Razor’ and ’19 for providing inspiration.
The girl was rendered in three frames. The first started with a stand and a slightly raised knee, followed by a higher knee with her spiked heel out, and ending with her leg pointed to sky. Her dance blinked with every frame change in orange and red. Beneath her the real merchandise was on display. Against red curtains behind windows the women looked out onto the street, showing off as much skin as legally possible. They were Andies, Flesh, and Modded; every kind to fit any taste.
The hash parlor next door was bleached in green. Perched on balconies, grasshoppers took long pulls from hookahs and hand wrapped joints. The smoke drifting from their lazy maws was colored green by the sign bolted just below the roof. The rest of the street was lined with a garden variety of clubs and bars. There were the usual places mixed in with Goth ballrooms, oldies houses, Steampunk pubs, and pirate themed dives. They flashed their colors toward the packed sidewalks, painting the crowd in shades of neon.
Like I said: you had to wait till dark to see all the color.
Kiddo pushed her way through the drunks and oblivious hipsters, her face locked forward. Le Speak was painted in blue and white, the sign so big it lit the whole face of the building. The line waiting underneath was dressed up like flappers. They weren’t too authentic with designer prints and saturated colors fit for the modern aesthetic.
Takashi stood to the far right of the awning as a large Modded bouncer carded prospective patrons to the left. He was staring at the curb with a cigarette in hand, the paper nearly burned to the filter. Out of his peripheral he spotted Kiddo making her way his direction, the look in her eye like a spotlight in blackness. Takashi flicked the cigarette into the street and put himself in front of her.
“Pink,” he said with his palms out, “think real hard about–“
She walked past him like he wasn’t there, pivoting down the steps to the club beneath the awning. Kiddo almost knocked over a couple moving too slow before she reached the doors.
The kind of crowd that waited in line for hours to buy overpriced cocktails didn’t come to Le Speak for the typical nightclub experience. They couldn’t stand synthesizers, ear-bleeding bass, and pockets of young adults rubbing against each other on the dance floor. No. They came to Le Speak to sit at tall round tables under dim lights for the chaotic sax, bellowing trombone, and drums bashing out an incoherent tune.
The place had plenty of space for Kiddo to work her way to the office. Takashi caught up with her before she was ten feet away from the door.
“You gotta stop and think about what you’re about to do.”
When she tried to walk around, he moved to block her.
“You’re gonna get more trouble than you can imagine, Pinkerton. The last thing you should do is jump to conclusions that Cici–“
Kiddo shoved him into the packed bar, making a patron spill on herself. Takashi was late on the recovery when she opened the door. Cicero was at his desk crunching the numbers in a book while glancing at a tablet. He looked up to Kiddo with a smile.
“Hey ya, Kiddo! Job done?”
“I don’t know, Boss,” she said taking the chair. “You tell me.”
One of Cicero’s sharp eyebrows went crooked before he put down his pen and closed the book. Takashi busted into the office, looking like he was expecting a scene from a horror movie.
“Tak,” said Cicero, “would you mind shutting the door and standing by? I get the feeling Pink’s got something on her mind.”
Takashi swallowed hard and closed the door on his way to Cicero’s rear flank.
“Okay. We’re all ears. How’d it go with the stooly?”
Kiddo leaned forward, resting her elbow on one knee and holding herself up on the other, her eyes daggers pointed square at Cicero’s.
“Someone got to her before me and put a hole in her face.”
Cicero didn’t move a muscle.
“Yeah. Couldn’t get a single line of code from what was left.”
“That puts us in quite a pickle. Now the Yaks have god-knows-what on us and we’re left with our trousers round our ankles. I take it you wanna know who pasted her, right?”
“I have an inkling.”
“Would love to hear it.”
“…Okay,” she said grabbing her knife. “While I was tracking down the stooly, you cut a deal with the Shogun. Maybe you got scared about what that Andie broad was going to leak and decided to bend the knee. Only problem is you knew I’d kill half our own boys before I bowed to friggin’ Japs. So, you staged a murder to peg me for the fall guy to get snatched by the cops. My guess is you told Tak to plug her and lie to me over the phone.”
Takashi’s face turned scarlet.
Cicero put up his hand to shut him up.
“Once I was outta the way,” she went on, “you and your new friends could move forward unchallenged. But here I am, Cici.”
“…And here you are, Pink.”
Cicero had a smirk on his face since she started talking. It bent into a small smile when he took off his glasses and interlocked his fingers on the desktop.
“’Member when we first met?”
She gave him a slow nod.
“I was checking on an arrival of pills at the docks from Nampo. The boys cracked open the box and out you came, biting at ‘em like a rabid dog. Somehow ya got in with the merch and survived the whole trip across the pond and put two of my people in the hospital. My first thought was to turn you over to the state an’ let ‘em deal with it, but when you looked at me, I knew I found someone special. Those wild blue eyes of yours lookin’ at me were like an epiphany from the Almighty.”
As he talked, Kiddo realized she’d done wrong.
“I had a use for a crazy Russo-Nork bitch like you. All ya needed was a bit of elbow grease. People called me nuts for how much I was spending on ya. Even this guy,” he said gesturing Takashi, “barely a hair on his sack at the time, was telling me you were a bad investment. But I took the time and money to sharpen you up into a proper Gorinni. I got ya good an’ clean, citizenship with a new name, and fresh arms right from the factory floor. That’s lot of dough to spend on one person in short period of time, more than I spend on my own kids, for Christ’ sake.
“Now let me ask you this: knowing how much I poured into making you my best bruiser, why would I throw that away to submit to the Yaks? Do you think I would ever make a deal with those jerks while I have the biggest chunk of the town in my pocket? Doesn’t make whole lot of sense, does it?”
Like flipping a switch she went humble, dropping the knife with bright red cheeks. Kiddo sat back in the chair, her eyes on the verge of spilling over.
“–I forgive you, Kiddo. You were just following your instinct. That’s why I keep ya around.”
She wiped her eyes on her sleeve.
“But I came here to kill you.”
“Who hasn’t? The only difference is you bothered to say your piece and hear my side. You may be vicious, but ya got enough sense to think twice.”
Kiddo sniffled and returned her knife to her belt.
“I’m sorry, Cici. I’m so sorry.”
“No more apologies,” he said sitting up straight. “We gotta get to the bottom of this ASAP.”
She made a quick nod.
“Now, the only people who knew about our stooly problem was us. Is that right?” he asked looking to Takashi.
He replied with a nod as he unbuttoned his jacket.
“There was that footie I sent to take over after I was relieved,” said Kiddo, “but I never told him what was going on. And we don’t give the lower ranks firearms.”
“Was he keeping track of who was coming in an’ outta that place?” asked Cicero.
Kiddo touched her chin then dug through her pocket for her phone.
“Let me get him on horn. See if he remembers–“
The spray was near burning hot when it splashed across her forehead. To cooled instantly, creeping down her furrowed brow as it slowly coagulated. The thump made Kiddo jump in her seat, but it was Cicero hitting the desktop that made her go statue. All she could see was his head lying on the desk, blood pooling atop the leather desk pad. Soon the whole picture came into view with Takashi holding a suppressed pistol where Cicero’s head used to be.
He broke the silence with a sigh.
“Wow. I really screwed this one up.”
He holstered the pistol into his jacket before daintily picking Cicero’s upper body off the desk.
Everything but her eyes struggled to catch up with her brain. Kiddo’s lips started to quiver when she found the strength to speak.
“What did you do?”
Takashi looked only a tad guilty when he glanced from his cleanup.
“It was me. I cut a deal with the Yaks in exchange for Cici’s life. They agreed to let us keep our territory and run our operations for a 10% cut. I killed the stooly to get you snatched by the cops so I could keep you outta the way until I saw fit. Obviously, that didn’t happen.”
Kiddo kept her gaze on the bloodstain before a blue handkerchief wiped it up in long strokes. It gave her time to focus on him.
“When you escaped the guys Mitty sent over, I thought I could exploit that Pinkerton rage. Over the phone it sounded like you thought Cici put together the frame and were out for his blood. Seemed like I was on to something until he had you near bawling like a baby.”
The only sounds she made came from whining servos as she held a pair of tight fists and a squeak of her gloves reaching their breaking point.
“Usually some of the best outcomes come from botched jobs,” said Takashi taking Cicero’s seat. “I was gonna ask you when you were behind bars, but I don’t have much a choice. I need a good right-hand-gal to help deal with whatever comes up. Someone who knows their stuff; preferably someone I know can get the job done no matter what. How ‘bout it, Kiddo? Wanna help me run the Family?”
The servos made a pathetic revving sound when she relaxed her hands, struggling to make the simplest of motions. Kiddo looked at her faux leather gloves, the material crumbled with a split seams. Her phone was sitting on her thigh, the screen facing up. She saw her bloodstained forehead in the reflection and her cheeks wet with fresh tears.
“What do you say, Kiddo?”
The blood rushed to her face.
“…You should’ve kept your gun out.”
Takashi was too slow when her chair flipped backwards. Kiddo launched herself over the desk and pinned him to the bookcase, knocking over the chair. One hand on his neck she drew her knife.
“Okay! Okay! Go easy, man–“
“Long past the point of easy, Tak. I would’ve liked the sound of your offer without the gunshot.”
“I had no choice! They wanted him outta the picture for good. No other option.”
“In Pyongyang there were plenty of options; just had to learn ‘em. I didn’t have arms, so I had to learn a lot.” With a stiff jerk Kiddo slammed Takashi onto the desk, leaning hard with her knee to his chest so he wouldn’t move. “You had every opportunity to fight back and it looks to me like you didn’t even try. They must’ve scared you good.”
She made sure he saw the knife upside-down in her hand before resting the edge on his throat.
“The worst part is you didn’t think how this would destroy your honor.”
Takashi’s eyes darted back and forth, trying to find the right answer.
“Think about Enzo! Your trip to San Fran! How’re you gonna get your hefty bonus if you kill your boss?”
That last word was all it took. Kiddo’s eyes went wide as she bared her teeth in a hard grimace. Her other hand pressed to Takashi’s forehead, she twisted her body to raise the blade to the side, her aim fixed on his Adam’s apple. She would have sliced all they way through if her phone didn’t start to vibrate.
It’d landed on the corner of the desk when she dove. As it rang the screen was alight with the photo of Enzo smiling with Kiddo’s lips to his cheek. She couldn’t take her eyes off the image, still holding Takashi. You could see the fury slowly drain from her face, leaving a solid bleak mask. It felt like a hole was suddenly bored into her chest, like a piece of her spirit evaporated into nothing.
Kiddo’s body was stubborn, her knife hand shaking as it relaxed to her side. Takashi was bug-eyed when she pulled her other hand away to pick up the phone. With a tap of her thumb the vibration ended.
“Hey,” she managed with a low tone.
“I just got home,” said Enzo. “Long day.”
“…Yeah,” she said pulling her knee away from Takashi. “Me too.”
He dropped to his hands and knees, trying to catch his breath.
“Are you almost done?”
Kiddo looked down at her knife.
“Nearly, babe.” She retracted the blade.
“Okay. So, I went through the list and brought it down to three. They fit our preferences, but only one is open to meeting in person.”
As he spoke, Kiddo walked back to her seat, Takashi straightening himself out on his feet.
“That’s fine. I’ll take a look when I get home.”
“Are you alright? You sound a little lethargic–”
“–Just worn out is all.”
“Okay. I’ll be waiting when you get back. Love you.”
Kiddo turned to Takashi putting a small ream of hundred dollar bills on the desk. She looked at Benjamin Franklin staring back and couldn’t say a word.
Blade Runner, Directed by Ridley Scottt
Deus Ex: Human Revolution/Mankind Divided, Created by Eidos Montreal
Blade Runner 2049, Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Altered Carbon, Created by Laeta Kalogridis
Ghost in the Shell, Directed by Mamoru Oshii
Neuromancer, By William Gibson
Metropolis, Directed by Rintaro
R.U.R., By Karel Capek
Yojimbo, Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Westworld, Created by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy
A Touch of Evil, Directed by Orson Welles
Battle Angel Alita, By Yukito Kishiro
On the Waterfront, Directed by Elia Kazan
About the Author
C.T. is a Florida native and proud gun owner. He is a fan of all things military, comic books, and a self-proclaimed movie buff. In his off-time C.T. reviews movies on a blog no one reads and writes screenplays that will never get made, but enjoys it nonetheless. He hopes this book thing will actually pay off so he can do it forever.