BAD DAY FOR GOATS
“Hold still, Kat.”
Katja Mannis wiped the back of her uninjured arm across her sweaty, clammy face. She sat at the dining table on the main floor of a Brooklyn brownstone with her roommate, business partner and unofficially adopted sister, Penelope.
“Well, it fucking hurts, Pen.” Katja drank deeply from her second beer. The first had been consumed in less than a minute.
Dissatisfied with the illumination, Penelope had donned a headlamp. She adjusted it so that the light was aimed directly at the wound on Katja’s other arm. The room wasn’t dark – it was only mid-afternoon – but it also wasn’t adequately equipped for illicit medical procedures.
This wasn’t the first time Penelope had patched Katja up, and it wouldn’t be the last.
“I’m trying to save this tat you said was so damned important, so quit moving.”
A bullet had taken a small chunk of flesh from Katja’s arm right on the edge of a stylized falcon’s head in profile. Penelope pressed folded gauze soaked in cleanser around the edge of the wound.
Katja closed her eyes against the latest wave of nausea and tried to slow her breathing. The arm hurt, but it wasn’t that bad all by itself. The soft tissue wounds in her torso, though, made everything else worse.
“Why don’t you tell me what happened?” Penelope leaned closer, injectable anesthetic in hand.
“A goddamned goatfuck. That’s what happened.”
Penelope sighed. “Work with me, here, Kat.”
Katja exhaled shakily. She relaxed her shoulders, eyes still closed, as she tried to sink herself into the pain pounding through her arm and body.
“The meet started smoothly enough.” As she spoke, she felt her voice lower. “No feds in sight, nothing on the airwaves. Clean. We checked the area beforehand, and there was nothing.”
Her breathing evened out as the pain in the area around her gunshot wound dulled. “Renault was talking with Morales when some bastards showed up out of nowhere and started shooting.”
Penelope began the slow process of stitching the remaining flesh.
Katja continued. “I was one of the closest, but I got some cover behind Renault’s fort of an armored car and took three of them out. Another one rushed me, though, and thought he could take me.”
“Yeah. I took a couple of hits to the gut from the base of his rifle. Guess he wanted to beat me to death more than he wanted to shoot me. It proved to be a fatal error in judgment on his part.”
Most of the blood on her clothes had been his.
“Any idea who they were?”
Katja winced, but tried not to move her arm. “None. No markings, no yelling, and we didn’t stick around long enough to try to ID any of the corpses.”
“How do you think they knew about the meet?”
“Somebody snitched, but I don’t know who. When I do, though…”
Katja would make sure that was their last mistake.
The deal was supposed to be a simple one. Renault’s crew would provide the goods to Morales and his people, then go about their merry way. The feds would pick up Morales, just like they’d been tipped off to do, and Morales would eventually turn on Renault and help bring him down.
None of it would touch Katja or Penelope. All part of the plan.
Except something somewhere had broken.
Katja’s wristband vibrated, and her phone emitted a low tone.They both looked at the phone, then at each other.
“Here we go,” Penelope said. She didn’t sound pleased.
Katja tapped the band on her wrist, and the phone engaged the call.
“You are uninjured?” Renault’s French accent was thick, and his tone all business.
Katja glanced at Penelope and arched an eyebrow. “Correct.”
“Excellent.” He continued without asking anything else about her personal welfare. Not that she would have answered him honestly.“Paris. Standard location. 72 hours.” Severity slipped into his tone. “When you arrive, I’ll want to know who did this.”
He terminated the connection without another word. Katja thought the silence was so heavy, it felt like Renault was in the room.
Penelope removed her nitrile gloves and tossed them into a nearby bin. “Dick.” She took off the headlamp, loosening a few strands of dyed black hair, and tossed the lamp on the table.
“When are we taking this guy out, Kat?”
Katja closed her eyes with a sigh. This was an old argument.
“When I’m sure I can cover our tracks and half the underground doesn’t fight for the privilege of executing us slowly in retaliation.” She opened her eyes to look at Penelope. “He’s scum, but he’s well connected scum and has made a lot of bad people a lot of money.”
“Hey.” Katja wasn’t up for this right now. “We are nothing like that monster.”
Penelope looked away.
Katja raised a heavy arm and wiped at her eyes. She’d come so far from where she’d started, she wasn’t sure she recognized the landscape anymore, but she knew one thing for sure.
She was going to remove Jean-Marc Renault from the earth. No one would stop her from exacting her revenge on that bastard. Certainly not a bunch of commandos throwing wrenches in her machine. [FIX NARRATIVE DISTANCE. Inconsistent in this whole section.]
Katja was too tired to figure all this out now.
“Look, can you start digging on this? I really need to crash for awhile.”
“Yeah. Go take care of you. Let me see what I can find.”
Katja stood, still shaky from the adrenaline, the pain, and the shock, and stumbled to the guest room on the main floor. She was too sore and tired to climb upstairs to her own room.
She was unconscious seconds after her head hit the pillow.
When Katja woke, it was dark outside.
Penelope was back in her office near the kitchen. She wasn’t blaring her characteristic working music, probably in deference to Katja’s condition. Katja wasn’t sure it would have woken her in her state.
She padded across the wood floors to the kitchen. She wasn’t hungry, but she knew her body needed fuel.
“How are you feeling?” Penelope called without looking away from the half dozen screens mounted on her office wall.
Katja opened the refrigerator, searching for something edible. “I’ll live.”
Seventy-two hours. She groaned and looked at her wrist. After midnight.
Correction. Sixty-three hours.
“What’s the plan?”
Penelope leaned back in her designer desk chair and swiveled around to face Katja through the office door.
“[FRENCH UNIVERSITY] is holding a software development security conference in three days. Yours truly happens to be a last-minute addition to the speakers’ list.”
Katja shut the refrigerator and decided to order in.
“Let me guess. Accompanied by your personal assistant?”
“But of course.”
“How soon do we leave?” She filled a glass with cold, filtered water and drank it down in three gulps.
Katja looked around the kitchen and dining room. The three-story brownstone had been their base of operations for nearly two years. “We haven’t been home for very long.”
She didn’t mean for it to sound wistful, but she was tired, and in pain, and not eager to follow Renault halfway around the planet. Again.
Penelope tilted her head to the side as if she understood what Katja was really saying.
“We’ll be back soon enough.”
Katja headed for Penelope’s office. “Ever the optimist,” she muttered.
“Listen, it’s probably nothing, but something weird came up in my logs.”
Katja refilled her glass. “Define weird.”
By the time she’d walked into the familiar room and gingerly taken a seat on the low couch along one wall, Penelope had returned to her work.
“I checked all the data feeds trying to get a line on those vans and found a deadspot in my feeds. Half dozen bots terminated just before the meet.”
Katja frowned. “Malfunction?”
“No. In fact, the logs say they were running fine, but then an external request just killed ‘em.”
Katja didn’t like the sound of that at all. Random glitches often turned out to be exactly the opposite.
“Were you hacked?”
“I don’t think so, but…” Penelope’s voice faded as keyed in a few more commands and waited for the results.
“But what?” Katja could be patient, but Penelope had a disturbing habit of getting lost in her data from time to time and now was not a good time for her to fade out of the conversation.
“Something’s just off, that’s all.”
Katja pondered this new information, trying to determine if it was dangerous to her and her plan. She leapt to a conclusion.
“Any chance it’s the feds?”
Penelope shook her head, and didn’t seem concerned, only curious. “Nobody’s even had a hint of us for months except for maybe Foster’s detail, and they have no idea who we are. Not really.” She made a scoffing sound. “And they haven’t got anyone on their team with the skills to track me.”
Katja couldn’t help but smile. “So cocky.”
“It’s not cocky if it’s true,” Penelope said.
“Do we need to be worried?” Katja didn’t have the strength to deal with one more thing today. Maybe tomorrow, but not now.
“No…” She wavered, then spoke more strongly. “No. We’re good. It was probably just a bad interrupt that affected that code tree. I’ll debug it once I figure out who these assholes were today.”
“Ok. That’s your wheelhouse, so I’ll trust your judgement, but tell me if we need to start doing a little recon of our own.”
Penelope let out a low laugh. “Who else am I going to tell?”
Katja watched her for a moment, wondering if Penelope was holding back information, but her friend didn’t seem concerned. Perhaps the data feed issue was as simple as Penelope seemed to think it was.
She tilted her head back and closed her eyes. Food could wait a little longer, and the sound of Penelope tapping on her computers was oddly soothing.
If Penelope said they were good, then all was well. The last thing Katja needed was one more random element affecting her plan.
All rights reserved. Don’t even think about snagging this story. ~VB