This story is based on the 'Gunsmith Cats' manga by Kenichi Sonoda, with a few elements from the 'Riding Bean' OAV (1989). It is set after the last published manga in English as of March 2005.
Tell me what you thought of it, no matter what you have to say. I'm a big girl. :) I always welcome reader reactions, especially ones that go into detail. Please email me at MmeManga "at" aol dot com (address spelled out because this site strips all email addys and URLS) or leave your comments here.
NOTE: The complete version of this story is housed at my Livejournal, which is linked on my main page on this site. I have removed large sections of chapters Two, Eight and Thirty from the postings here because of the current site rules, although this story existed on the site long before those rules went into effect. I am sorry for any inconvenience to readers; this factor is unfortunately not under my control. The complete version will also be posted at Mediaminer. My former dedicated Gunsmith Cats site no longer exists.
DISCLAIMER: Characters of RALLY VINCENT, BEAN BANDIT, MAY HOPKINS, ROY COLEMAN, KEN TAKI copyright Kenichi Sonoda. All other characters, and story, copyright 2000--2005 by Madame Manga. Contact by email at MmeManga "at" aol dot com. Do not sell or print for sale without the express written permission of the author. Do not archive. Permission is granted to circulate this text in electronic form, free of charge and with this disclaimer and the author's name attached. Do not plagiarize, alter, or appropriate this text in any way. This story is intended for personal entertainment purposes only. No infringement of any copyrights or other rights is intended.
ADULT CONTENT WARNING IN BOLD CAPS!
This story is not for kids or the easily offended. It contains explicit violence and extreme profanity. If you object to reading such things, do not read this story.
Chasing the Dragon
by Madame Manga
One hundred and twenty-seven miles per hour.
The speedometer needle inched steadily upward as Rally Vincent leaned on the accelerator of her Shelby Mustang GT-500, hoping fervently that California Highway Patrol officers were not more vigilant than their Illinois counterparts. Cotton fields blew by in a dusty blur, the hills that had seemed distant half an hour ago now looming close to the west. An orange Toyota in the left lane ahead—she whipped the wheel to the right and blasted past him. The indignant honk quickly died away with the Doppler shift.
She inched the window down for a jet of air and wished that she could turn on the A/C. It was hot out here on Interstate 5: level, brown and treeless on the southern approach to Sacramento. But right now she needed every ounce of acceleration her engine could give her.
Was that him at last? Rally squinted through the bug-splattered windshield and rolled the window all the way down. She reached for the rifle that lay securely crosswise in the passenger seat well, its long deadly slimness adorned with her Schmidt and Bender sniper scope.
Steering with the right hand, she gripped the rifle in her left and slipped it out the window. She aimed it at the distant blot, hardly larger than the little black fatalities on the windshield, and took a quick look through the scope.
Crosshairs right on him. Low and black, glinting in the late-afternoon sun. That was the back of a 1968 Corvette Stingray 'shark', distinctive even at this distance. He must have changed cars since his escape, but it had to be him. He was still a mile and a half ahead of her, doing maybe a hundred and ten, but she could see to the horizon. This part of the Central Valley was considerably flatter than the Great Plains. Rally pulled the rifle back through the window and replaced it in the seat well. It wouldn't be long before she might be able to put it to use.
One hundred and thirty-nine miles per hour, and she barely had to steer to stay on the straightaway. This four-lane divided section of I-5 had to be the one of the greatest drag runs in the lower 48. The perfect stretch of asphalt for a muscle-car showdown. And she was racing with Bean Bandit for half a million dollars in cash.
Only six hours ago she'd been in West Hollywood, choking on greenish-yellow smog and the scent of cheap Mexican food.
"How can you eat that stuff, May? It...it's vile!" Rally waved the smell away with one hand.
"Whaddya mean, Rally? I like it!" said May through a mouthful of bean burrito with tomatillo salsa and extra cheese. She took her change from the pushcart vendor. "Gracias. Buenos tardes, amigo!"
"But you said this morning that your stomach felt like a grenade had gone off in it. Aren't you afraid you'll get sick again?"
"It's one P.M. Why would they call it morning sickness if you got it in the afternoon?"
"I think that's just an expression, May." Rally sighed and looked up at the billboard on the rooftop above them: a Pam Grier revival movie ad reading DON'T MESS AROUND WITH FOXY BROWN! SHE'S THE MEANEST CHICK IN TOWN!
"Not right now, she's not..." Rally chuckled and patted her shoulder holster through her jacket. Although they were nearly impossible to get, she had obtained a California concealed carry permit just in time for the trip. She didn't anticipate any gun-play, but her native caution and native passion for firearms dictated that she be armed at all times.
"Can we go to Universal Studios now, Rally? I want to see the Terminator 3 show! Ken said they do pyrotechnics right over your head, and the sound effects are MONSTER!"
Rally rolled her eyes with a smile both exasperated and affectionate. "I think that baby's going to be born with his fingers stuck in his ears..."
"I'm going to teach him everything I know about explosives. He's going to be the most popular kid in junior high school!"
Rally sighed. "I know you're having your last fling before motherhood, but don't you think you're overdoing it, May? You ought to be resting more."
"I'm not tired! I feel great!" May took another large bite of burrito and slurped up half her soda through the straw. "I want to do every amusement park in Southern California in one week!"
"Wasn't Disneyland enough? Do we have to go to Magic Mountain?"
"Hey, I didn't insist on Knott's Berry Farm. Pleeease, Rally?"
"Hey!" said a passerby. "Bitchin' car, lady!" He cast an envious glance at Rally's Mustang. "Is that a GT-500? Muy macho!"
"You got it." Rally beamed and patted the blue-and-white striped hood with affection.
"Hey, Raoul, check it out!" said the man to his companion. "This one will give your Firebird a run for its money!"
"Firebird? Don't insult the wheels!" scoffed Rally.
"Yeah, it's OK," said the second man.
"OK?" Rally's blood pressure rose. "This is a 1967 Shelby Cobra Mustang! Original 428-cubic-inch Police Interceptor, dual four-barrel Holley carbs! The real thing, buddy! Not one of your post-emissions-standards wimp machines!"
"Sure, but I saw something this morning that makes yours look like that pushcart." The man bobbed his head at the burrito vendor and grinned. "Custom job. Five hundred ponies, he said, which I'd say leaves this jalopy in the dust."
He was right—her engine pulled more like 400 horsepower. Rally frowned. "Oh yeah? Friend of yours?"
"No, I never saw him before. I'd'a taken notice of that hombre even without the car." He scanned Rally up and down with an appreciative air. "I'd love to see a drag race with the two of you, conchita. Assuming you can really drive that thing!"
"Can I DRIVE this thing? I'll show you driving—just tell me where Mr. Custom Job is hanging out!"
"Ral-ly!" squeaked May. "Universal Studios!"
"I dunno where he is now—he was cruising along Melrose. Asked me for directions and said he was looking for some coke dealer. Boy, I feel sorry for that guy if he finds him!"
"Madre de Dios! He was huge!" The man described an expansive shape in the air with both hands. "Shoulders like that. And teeth. And a jaw like the front end of a Humvee. I said, no, I ain't seen him, SIR!"
"Uh, Rally..." said May. "That sounds kinda familiar." They stared at each other for a moment.
"Two things." Rally's teeth set on edge. "Was the car bright red? With a spoiler and really thick glass?"
"Yeah, it was."
"And did you see a scar over his nose? Like an X?"
"Yeah...you know him?"
"What the hell is he doing in California?" Her fists clenched; her heart pounded. "This isn't fair. I drive for a week to get away from all the crap in Chicago, and Bean Bandit turns up in the same NEIGHBORHOOD?"
"Bean Bandits?" said the first man. "Aren't they some drag racers from San Diego?"
"No, Bean Bandit! He's a courier, and that's his best car—the bulletproof one."
"He must be on a job," said May. "He doesn't use Buff for just driving around."
"A job in California? Well, maybe, but usually New York is as far as he ever goes!"
"Hey, it might be kind of nice to see him." May shrugged and smiled. "It's been months since we talked to Bean."
"Yeah, it has, and for damn good reason." Rally scowled at her. "I don't want to talk to him, and you'd think taking a trip out here would have guaranteed that! He's got NO business visiting the same state!"
The two men looked at each other in a speculative way. "Old boyfriend, huh?" said one, and they raised their brows at each other. "Too bad for him, conchita!"
"He is NOT my boyfriend, and thank goodness, he never was! But, uh…thanks for the info, guys. Can I treat you to lunch?" She gestured at the burrito vendor.
The two men exchanged looks. "From Manuel's cucaracha coach?" said the first one. "No thanks. I like my stomach the way it is."
May was just swallowing the last bite of her burrito, and looked a little green.
"I'll tell Señor Bandito you're looking for him, bonita," said the second man with a wink. "If I was him, I'd come running." They ambled off and Rally got out her cell phone.
"You're still holding that against him, huh?" May wiped her mouth and threw the burrito wrapper into a trash can. "When does he get forgiven for thinking you're good enough at what you do to go into business with him?"
"That's not the point. The point is…" Rally selected the first quick-dial and put the phone to her ear. "I am not a crook, that's what the point is. And Bean IS a crook, no matter what rationalizations he likes to use about his line of work. Thinking I'm too good to stay on the straight is NOT a compliment!"
The line picked up after the first ring. "Detective Coleman."
"Roy! Hey, it's Rally."
"Rally? Thought you were on vacation, girl. How's the weather out there in sunny California?"
"Hot. And smoggy. May loves it."
"Great. What's up?"
"I just got a good report that, uh, someone I've run into before has been seen out here. Roy, would you have any idea why a Chicago underground courier would be cruising Hollywood looking for a coke dealer?"
"None at all. Courier? If you're talking about who I think you're talking about, he doesn't exactly report in to the Chicago police department." Roy chuckled.
"Uh…yes, that could be who I'm talking about." She flushed slightly; Roy had never met Bean, but knew she and May had encountered him on a few occasions. What he didn't realize was that several months ago their communications with Bean had been friendly and even cooperative. If she could possibly help it, Roy would never know that. "I'm just wondering if this could tie into something at home. Has anything happened in the last ten days you could tell me about? Any loose ends having to do with a cocaine deal?"
"Hmmm...well, there was a big drug shipment rumored to be coming through from New York. Not coke, though. Heroin, right off the boat from Asia. We didn't track anything down. Got an anonymous phone tip to be at a certain warehouse last Monday, but the chickens had flown the coop."
"A tip? That's interesting." Rally frowned, scanning the street. "I wonder…"
"Maybe. I can't pin it down quite yet. Just a feeling."
"I've learned to pay attention when you get a feeling about something. You think this guy came all the way out there to deliver a load from Chicago?"
"Could be. Or maybe this dealer owes him money." Rally rolled her eyes. "Now that I think about it, that could be the most plausible reason! Still, I'm going to keep my eyes peeled for this guy. I really do want to know what he's up to."
"Not such a bad idea. If you need any help on the spot, you can call my cousin Steve in the LAPD. Tell him I'll vouch for your expertise."
"Thanks, Roy. Give my best to your wife."
"Mine too!" chirped May. "Bye, Roy!"
"Thanks, kids. Will do."
May had retrieved her camera and was taking pictures of the sidewalk stars. "So you really want to know what Bean's up to, huh? You could just call him and ASK! You've still got his cell number saved."
It was third on her quick-dial list, as a matter of fact, right after Roy and May. Rally hurriedly put her phone away. "Why would I want to do that?"
"You tell me. Why spend time hunting for ol' Bean in the first place? We're on vacation!"
"Because this strikes me as weird, that's why. There has to be something going down. Two thousand miles from his stomping grounds?"
May crossed her arms and stuck her lower lip out. "You just don't want to go to Universal Studios!"
"So I'll drop you off. You're going to want to spend the rest of the day there anyway. I'll pick you up later and we'll go for dinner. Huh?" Rally smiled with an edge of guilt. "C'mon, May—don't look like that. We'll go to Magic Mountain later, I promise."
"You said you wanted to get away from bounty work for a little while. From all those crooks who'd like to skin you alive. You said you wanted to have fun."
"This IS your fun, isn't it? You aren't happy unless you're chasing people and shooting at them!" May cocked her camera and took a picture of Rally. "Bang! You're dead!"
"Really! You ought to get yourself a boyfriend, Rally. Then you'd find out about something better than big guns!" She giggled and waggled her hips.
Rally looked at May's round stomach. "Better? At least my CZ75 won't knock me up and run off to New York!"
"Ken's only going to be gone for a month! He'll be back in plenty of time for the baby."
"Sure, sure. How about marrying you in time for the baby?"
"Oooh, Rally, you are such a prude! No wonder you'd rather play with cars than with men!"
"I like cars. Cars do what I tell them to do! I understand cars." She opened the driver's door and slid behind the wheel of the Cobra. "Come on, get in. I'll take you to Universal Studios and then come back here to find out what I can. I'm going to have to hurry..."
"Oh, Ral! Can we stay somewhere near the speed limit this time?" May got in and buckled her seat belt.
"Oh, come on! It takes forever to get where you're going around here unless you step on it! California drivers are so polite—they wait and wait for the other guy to go first and no one gets anywhere."
Rally peeled away from the curb and darted into traffic, inserting herself between a pair of shiny SUVs. May lurched forward and back with the acceleration, her face beginning to turn green again. Rally checked her mirrors and stamped on the gas to pass the forward SUV.
The light at the next intersection turned red and she braked with a sigh of annoyance. "I liked the drive out here. Lots of interstates! But Los Angeles is a mess." The light changed and she roared forward again. "May, navigate for me—which freeway is it? I see some kind of on-ramp coming up..."
"Uhh...oh, I hate reading in a car!" moaned May, struggling with a large folded map. "It makes me...urrrp...uh, I think you want to take 505—no, wait, it's—"
Rally whipped into the left lane, took a turn and started up the on-ramp to the elevated freeway span. Traffic had backed up on the ramp nearly down to the street, and she had to stop at the bottom of the incline. A low guard rail along the side of the ramp to her right had lost a few spans to a sideswipe.
"Rrrr!" She rapped her fingernails on the steering wheel. "Let's get MOVING!" Traffic inched up the ramp. Rally waited for a car-length gap to develop in front of her before she let the brake out. The Cobra's engine was so powerful it tended to make the car surge forward, and she didn't want to deal with a fender-bender on top of everything else.
"Rally!" shouted May. "There he goes! It's Buff!" Rally whipped her head around to the right to see what May was pointing at, and saw a bright flash from a well-waxed car. Red, long, low. With a spoiler, and glass so thick the driver was only half-visible.
Down at street level and on the other side of the center island, he had just drawn abreast of them,. Then he changed lanes and sliced through the pack of cars he had been trailing, so quickly and neatly Rally could barely register how he had done it.
"Well, guess we missed him." May laughed and sat back. "We can't get off the on-ramp now, so we'll just have to go to—"
Rally had a six-foot gap in front of her and a missing section of guard rail to the right. The drop to the street increased as the on-ramp rose to the freeway. But it wasn't more than ten feet down—
She threw the car into gear, pulled the wheel sharply to the right and rammed the gas pedal to the floor.
"AAH!" May clapped her hands over her eyes. The Cobra shot through the gap in the guard rail, clipped the next section, rocketed off the on-ramp and went airborne. "RALLLLLY!"
The Cobra sailed over an approaching Honda and landed with a crash on all four wheels, sliding across lanes at an angle. Cars in front of her braked and skidded. Rally straightened the wheel and floored the gas again. May slid halfway off the passenger seat, her skirt up around her waist and her seat belt under her armpits. In pursuit of the red car, Rally jumped the traffic divider with more hard jolts to her suspension and gained the right-hand side of the street.
Buff took a left turn under the freeway three blocks ahead. Traffic blocked her way forward and the cars ahead stopped for a light. Rally slewed to the left, bounced up on the center island again and straddled it, racing past the stopped cars. She jumped off again to the left when a light standard popped up.
Now she was driving the wrong way, dodging cars into the left lane and approaching the intersection filled with heavy cross traffic. Rally took a hard left turn and slid the Cobra into a gap, scanning for Buff. "Damn! Where did he go?"
"Rally! Are you completely NUTS? You're going to get arrested!" May hitched herself back up on the seat and pulled her belt tight.
"Ha! There he is!" The red car was two blocks ahead, going straight in the left lane. This was a warehouse district, filled with grimy-windowed concrete and corrugated metal buildings. Buff took another left turn and then a right into a smaller street.
No sidewalks, just gravelly ruts off the pavement. The heavy traffic didn't conceal them any more—only a few cars moved up and down this street. Rally braked and pulled to the right before she passed the corner where Buff had turned, creeping along the curb. When she reached a spot between a dumpster and a parked panel truck, she braked and peered through the gap.
About thirty yards away, Buff slowed and turned around. The hair rose on the back of her neck—if he'd taken a wrong turn and came back into this street, Bean might spot her. Buff rumbled to a stop near the corner and the engine cut out. Rally quickly shut off her ignition as well, since the deep growl of the GT-500's engine was no longer camouflaged by Buff's thunderous powerplant. The driver's door opened.
One long leg, booted and blue-jeaned. A long arm, leather-jacketed and attached to a huge shoulder. His head dipped under the door frame and Bean Bandit stood up, all six foot seven of him, crowned with a thick shock of dead-black hair and a red headband.
Rally gave an involuntary shudder and drew in a sharp breath. A long time since her last sighting of Bean, and that had been an unfriendly parting. He'd probably been avoiding her as carefully as she usually avoided him. Even when they had been on good enough terms to hold casual conversations in the street, they usually met under tense circumstances: gun battles, car chases, life and death and speed in the balance. Perhaps that was why his entrance to the scene always seemed to grip her like a strong hand at her throat.
Bean took off his sunglasses and tucked them in his jacket. Even at this distance, Rally could see the sharp scowl on his face. He hadn't changed at all, except to seem even bigger and more intimidating than she remembered. Rally gulped, a strange quiver going through her. Bean's hard-edged profile and measured movements brought back vivid associations she had assumed would fade to insignificance with time.
"Geez. I think he's mad about something..." May looked a little sick.
"He looks ready to kill someone." Rally's combat senses crackled; she seized on that feeling and let it amplify to cover any other sensations less invigorating. "If he's feeling that mean, I sure hope he doesn't spot my car." She felt under her jacket and unsnapped the security strap of her shoulder holster.
"Uh, maybe we shouldn't have followed him…?"
Bean didn't look in their direction. He glanced behind him, consulted a piece of paper in his gloved hand and headed up the small street out of their line of vision. Rally let her hand fall from the butt of her gun. "He's parked for a quick getaway, you notice? He didn't want to take the chance of getting stuck in the ruts."
"Well, that sort of fits with the being ready to kill someone thing. I guess you were right—something big IS going down."
"Those guys said he was looking for a coke dealer. If he's been running drugs again, I am going to kill him." Rally gritted her teeth, then got out of the car. "You stay here, May. I'm going to check this out."
May's big blue-green eyes looked troubled. "You really think Bean would have taken a drug run? He promised you he'd never do it again. I don't think he'd try to get out of that—I mean, I always thought he almost hoped he'd lose that bet just so he'd have an excuse to quit."
"Oh, come on! He's a goddamn crook. How could he ever change his spots?" Rally popped her trunk and took out her shotgun. "Ha! Maybe he thought I wouldn't catch him!"
"He always keeps his contracts. He takes penalties from anyone who tries to cheat him. That kind of thing's important to him, Rally!"
Rally checked her holster; the CZ75 sat snugly in its place against her ribs. Her heart beat rapidly against it, both from the adrenaline of the stunt she'd just pulled on the street and from anticipation of what might await her. "Yeah, well, it's important to me too! He gave me his word. If he thinks he can revert to his old tricks way out here in California, he's got another think coming." She hefted the shotgun and moved around the corner.
One hundred and fifty-some miles per hour: her speedometer didn't register past one hundred and forty. The Cobra wasn't even straining, though the road noise was deafening at this speed. She was well within pistol shot now, the rear of Bean's Corvette clearly visible. He'd put on a vintage black and gold California plate that certainly didn't belong to this car.
Obviously the 'Vette was superior for this longer-distance run; Buff's heavy armor plate probably reduced both its top speed and its range. Someone else had come into play, a white Lamborghini Diablo about five hundred yards ahead. Its peculiar squat shape and huge spoiler were unmistakable. Those things cost about a quarter of a million bucks. She didn't know why the guy hadn't just let Bean have the dough if he was that rich. It would have been a lot easier for him in the long run!
She coasted into bumping distance and matched Bean's speed, watching his face in his rear-view mirror. His expression was obscured by his sunglasses, but she saw him nod at her and smile into the rear-view mirror. Rally knew he must have spotted her chasing him at least fifteen minutes before, but he hadn't yet called her cell phone. She picked it up and hit the third program button.
Bean answered immediately and tucked the phone between jaw and shoulder, keeping both hands on the wheel.
"Hey, girl. Stay back. It's gonna get interesting, and I wouldn't like to bang up that pretty car of yours."
"How interesting do you mean? You planning to kill him?"
"Not in my book, it ain't. No man sets me up like that and lives. Hell, Vincent, I guess you saved my life." She heard a dry chuckle. "I felt the wind from that bullet kiss my cheek. Besides, he's got my money."
"Bean, I'm going to take him in. I called and the reward's a hundred thousand. Help me out, and I'll split it with you. Fifty thousand bucks!"
"He owes me ten times that, babe. Quintuple damages, or his life. He knew that."
"I heard some of the conversation. I know he has half a million with him. But it's drug money, Bean!"
"I didn't say I wouldn't take drug money. I said I wouldn't haul drugs. You oughta be flattered I'm taking so much trouble to keep my promises."
"You're splitting hairs!"
"Civilian coming up!" said Bean, and clicked off the phone. He instantly swerved to the left and revealed a Ford Taurus in the lane ahead of him. Rally followed suit and they both roared past the shocked driver, missing his rear by inches. The Diablo was only a hundred yards ahead now.
Rally looked up at the grimy facade of the warehouse that sat at the end of the small street. The only obvious entrance was the front door, and of course that was not the entrance she wanted to use.
Thirty seconds ago, Bean had walked through it and slammed it with a force that still quivered the entire building like aftershocks of an earthquake. On the right side of the warehouse was a chain-link fence, and parked in the shadow behind it sat a white Lamborghini Diablo. That might well be a drug dealer's car—a very wealthy drug dealer.
She could see a side door sitting ajar, but decided to check further. She darted into a narrow alley along the left side of the warehouse, squeezing past a rusty dumpster and piles of moldering cardboard boxes. At the back of the alley, a sagging wooden staircase clung to the building and led up to a landing at second-floor level.
Rally ran lightly up the steps and tried the door. It was locked. The small awning window next to it was broken, however. She peered through and saw a dim office, the furniture disarranged. This place hadn't been used for legitimate business in years.
Rally took off her jacket and wrapped it around her arm. Quietly she elbowed out the shards of glass until the frame was empty. She unlatched the window, opened it, put her shotgun through and grabbed the frame to boost herself up. Her slim body was a tight fit, but she got through and clambered onto a dusty desk top. She put her jacket back on—it was Kevlar-lined and she knew it was probably about to come in handy.
The office door had a dirty wire-reinforced window that she looked through before emerging. Nothing was visible except an elevated walkway that circumnavigated the building, and part of the concrete floor of the warehouse with a few empty pallets scattered across it. She opened the door, shotgun in hand, and listened for activity.
Someone was talking loudly down below, but no one was in sight. Rally slipped out and went to the outside door that led to the landing. It was dead-bolted. She shot the bolt back and set the door slightly ajar.
One escape route established. Rally crept to the railing of the elevated walkway. The loud voice continued, a deep baritone with a smoky harshness to it. It was Bean.
"...compensation, like in the contract. But after chasing you cross-country for three freakin' days, I'd rather take it out of your freakin' hide!"
Something hit a support pillar with a thunderous clatter. The walkway vibrated under Rally's feet. Bean sounded just as angry as he had looked. The sounds echoed off the concrete and the corrugated metal walls, but appeared to come from her left and at floor level.
"Be reasonable, dude. I've got the dough. I wasn't going to stiff you, right? It's all a misunderstanding, huh?" A smoother voice, with a California accent and a false friendliness.
"Hey, I got it here—put the knife away, for chrissake. My man's getting it now. You did a good job, man. You deserve it. No hard feelings, huh?"
So the dealer did owe Bean money. Rally began to creep along the walkway in the direction of the voices, trying to find a vantage point from which she could observe the conversation.
"I told you my conditions first thing. Pretty hard to misunderstand that."
"Oh, dude, they wouldn't believe me, man. I mean, the Roadbuster? He doesn't run the shit any more? Who's gonna believe me when I say that?"
"I'll be glad to explain it to them."
He hadn't broken his promise! Rally was startled at the rush of warm relief she felt. But she hugged her ten-gauge even tighter to her chest.
"Oh, man, they tell me the shit has to be in Chi-town on Wednesday and they are not whistling Dixie. And they tell me, contact the Roadbuster because he is the man, he can do it and he don't get picked up and he don't skim the goods. There is no one better—no, there is no one even in the man's class. He got to run the shit, man. They tell me, pay him what-so-ever he asks and it's a fucking bargain, man."
"Scrape the bullshit off your tongue, Brown. You can kiss my ass all you want and it ain't going to make one cent's worth of difference to this deal."
"Look, dude, here it is." A heavy thump, and the catches of a suitcase springing open. "Half a million. Five hundred Gs. Your compensation for your trouble, five times the original fee. All in used hundreds, my man. And hey, I got a bonus for you. Here's some expenses for the vacation trip. Five thousand in the envelope, dude. Find yourself some fine L.A. lady and party down, huh?"
Half a million dollars! Maybe he hadn't broken the promise, but wasn't this stretching the point? Had he only told his clients he wouldn't run drugs in order to extort a higher fee?
Rally lay prone on the cold metal and peered over the edge of the walkway. In a small pool of electric light far from the darkened windows stood one big man and two smaller ones. Bean's back was turned to her, but she could see the faces of the other two. Both in their middle to late thirties, one blond and one dark. The blond man was slim and dressed in casual Southern California expense, and the dark man wore a creased suit with sweat stains at the armpits and one button undone over his pot belly. Not fighting men. Nothing like Bean.
"Shit," said Bean, with meaning. He raised the bowie knife he held and the blond man cast a quick glance upwards, to the right and above Rally's head. Bean tossed the knife in the air and caught it again by the handle with a metallic clang. "You lied to me. Those packages were stuffed and you took me for a damn fool. I saw your man test 'em at the dropoff, and you can bet I checked it out. I know smack when I see it, asshole. And you know the penalty for breaking my contracts."
Both men swallowed hard, but stood firm. Rally began to wonder: why were they not more visibly frightened? In their place, she might have lost bladder control.
The blond one smiled and opened his hands wide. "Believe me, dude, I know you are not the man to be crossed. I told them that, huh? They told me I got to have the shit off the boat and into distribution in twenty-four. China White, man, too good to wait for. They got their own debts to pay and I don't ask what they are."
Half listening, Rally examined the dim rafters to her right. What had Brown been looking for, and what had assured him that he was not in danger? What was a good backup defense if a man knew he was about to go up against an angry Bean Bandit?
"Yeah? Either you figured I was just thick in the head, or something else is goin' on. Whatever the hell it was, you can shove those bosses of yours right up your—"
"Hey, uh, let's not get personal here. I do my job, man. I know you do your job. Hey, man, you got a family? A nice lady?"
"What?" spat Bean.
What about a sharpshooter stationed high above the meeting place? With a scope and a high-powered rifle? Rally stared hard, shielding her eyes from the bright pool of light and letting them adjust to darkness. Slowly scanning along the ceiling, she caught a movement and a glint at the darkened far end, then gradually made out a crouching figure on the rafters.
A man, compactly built and easily balanced in his precarious perch. He wore a balaclava and a dark track suit. In the crook of his right elbow, just lowered from his eye, was a long black weapon. Rally smiled, more or less in gratification.
With the greatest care and silence she could manage, she laid her shotgun flat on the catwalk and drew her CZ75 from her shoulder holster. Up against another marksman, the fine-machined accuracy of the pistol seemed more sporting than a heavy spray of buckshot. Though if she could, she would ruin the man's sharpshooting career for him. Instinctively she checked the safety and the hammer—she always kept the weapon cocked and locked with a round in the chamber, ready to fire with the flick of a lever. She eased the safety off and held the pistol ready.
What was that rifle? The outline wasn't apparent in the gloom, and the man's body blocked most of her view of the weapon. But since he was a sniper who needed perfect accuracy, to pick off one man from a group at a long distance, it might be a large-caliber hunting piece.
That would have three shots, probably .308s or a custom round like a Lazzeroni Saturn. He'd get only one good shot anyway, and the .223 rounds of an AR-15 or a similar semi-auto didn't have the stopping power of a heavy round meant for big game. Big game indeed—a .308 through Bean's head would splatter his brains twenty feet across the concrete. And if the sniper went for the easier torso shot, even Bean's flak jacket could not stop its deadly trajectory.
Brown kept up his inane patter; she turned her attention to him again. "I got a wife, dude. Yeah, me. And we got us one cute little girl, I'm telling you. I do my job for my family, because I am a family man. And they take care of me and my family as long as I do my job, you get me? I don't do my job, they don't take care of my family any more."
What did she know about this fast-talker? His name was Brown, he worked for an unspecified criminal organization, he usually ran coke but had just graduated to heroin—Rally mentally snapped her fingers. She had seen a file on this man in Chicago. The organization was a shadowy one, probably based in Asia. The FBI was trying to get information on Brown and on his employers, and certainly would appreciate it if she turned him in with half a million in drug money. He could be the biggest catch of her life.
Brown went on, touching his heart and gesturing towards Bean. "Or...they tell me they know I love my family, you know? They say, you love your family and we know you do your job for your family. So do your job, man. What-so-ever it takes. Even if you gotta get someone to take a job he told you he didn't want to do any more. Because he is the best at his job and this job is going to take the best. My little baby, man, I look in her eyes and I know I got to do my job. Huh?"
"Aw, hell." Bean's posture lost some of its tension.
Was Bean actually falling for that crap? She knew he had a soft spot for kids, but really!
"Take that case, man. And the five grand, too. That's just a present from me to you, huh? This is a fine town if you got the green to spend. Have yourself a good time before you head on home."
Bean let out a long sigh and scratched his head, as if confused at his own loss of will. "All right, Brown. I'll take it and I'll call it square."
Of course, he could just have remembered he liked money better than anything else, including revenge. The sniper in the rafters still held his rifle at the ready, though his body had relaxed slightly.
The crisis was over—Bean wasn't set on murder. Now, how could she bag both Brown and the money? First that rifle had to be taken out of commission. The CZ's tapered grip settled firmly into the palm of her hand, the crisp edge of the trigger denting the flesh of her right forefinger.
Bean sheathed his knife, put the envelope in his jacket and gestured for the second man to close the case, then picked it up. "But you tell those bosses of yours that the Roadbuster is not hauling any more drug shipments. That don't mean I do it for a higher price. That means I don't do it at all."
"Your funeral, dude—hey, figure of speech, huh? Take care."
Bean only grunted. He turned to go, and Brown shot a glare up into the rafters. The sniper instantly snapped his weapon into position, peered through his scope, and tracked Bean with the muzzle as he moved out of line with the other two men. Brown made a fist, the sniper's shoulders rose with a deep breath—
KRAK exploded Rally's CZ75. A 9+Pmm round whizzed into the rafters just as the rifle kicked back with a heavy report and a blinding muzzle flash.
Rally's dark-adapted eyes were momentarily dazzled, her whole body tingling from the pistol's recoil. Someone yelled—the sniper. Had she hit her intended target—his trigger finger?
The rifle round kicked up shards of concrete from the floor a yard from Bean. She'd spoiled his aim, at any rate. From the sound, a .308. The sniper vanished from his perch. Down below Bean whirled towards Brown and his companion. His right hand flicked out from his chest to release two blurs of steel.
The men ran for the darkened back of the warehouse and an interior staircase that led to the elevated walkway. The second man stumbled on the first step, the handle of a throwing knife protruding from his calf.
Bean followed, bowie knife in one hand and suitcase in the other. Brown had made it halfway up the staircase. He stopped and turned, scanning the rafters with a snarl of real fear on his face.
Bean stepped over the fallen man and started up the steps. Rally holstered the pistol, brought up the shotgun, aimed at his skull and shouted as loud as she could.
"Freeze it, both of you! You're under arrest!" Bean jerked in surprise and started to turn towards her voice. Brown reached under his jacket and around to the small of his back.
Out came a snub-nosed .44 magnum revolver. Rally quickly switched her aim, finger tightening on the shotgun's trigger, but Brown grabbed the stair railing and vaulted over it, scrambling under the steps and out of view.
Bean instantly took the same vault, landing with a crash beside the stairs. Before he could straighten, the .44 spoke loudly.
Bean flung up an arm to protect his head. Rally could not get a clear shot at Brown from his position under the stairs. She ran along the walkway towards the stairs, trying to find a vantage point. Bean was still in her line of fire.
The .44 crashed again and again, Bean staggering under its hammer blows but not falling. He dropped the suitcase, arms crossed over his face, scraps of leather and Kevlar flying as the heavy slugs battered his armor.
Rally reached the staircase and clattered partway down it, her heart beating like cannon fire. Brown emerged from cover, still shooting. He kicked the case out of Bean's reach and backed towards it, squeezing off one more round that hit Bean square in the stomach, then took his fifth shot at Rally as she leveled the shotgun at him.
She ducked and the bullet whistled over her head. Bean grabbed the stair railing for support, gasping for breath. Brown fired at him again and missed. Six shots—his gun was empty! Brown popped the cylinder and let the brass fall, reaching into a pocket for a quickloader.
BOOM! The ten-gauge spoke loudly and Rally shot the revolver out of Brown's right hand. The gun skidded away in a shower of blood and bits of bone and flesh. He screamed in pain, several fingers gone, but scooped up the suitcase with his left hand. Rally pumped the shotgun and got him in her sights. He froze, clinging to the handle and half crouched over. The fallen man had curled into a ball and wasn't moving.
"Drop that case, Brown! Hands up!" shouted Rally. A wild smile on her face, her breasts heaving with excitement, she took a step down and reached for her handcuffs.
WHIZZ—SPANNNGG! The stair rail suddenly indented right by her hip. The sniper was back in action!
Rally blasted another shell in his direction, but had to dive under the stairs when she saw the black muzzle up in the rafters pointing directly at her.
Brown grabbed the case and ran for his life, followed by the other man hopping on his good leg. Bean lunged at him.
WHIZZ—WHACK! Concrete fragments leaped high as Bean hit the floor and rolled. He left a trail of blood—he'd been shot!
Rally frantically pumped the shotgun. The sniper had fired three times. Could he be reloading now? She jumped out and looked for him, then shrieked and jumped back under cover just in time.
BKAM BKAM BKAM went the rifle without a breath of hesitation, gouging the floor inches from Bean, who scrambled to get under the stairs. He nearly knocked Rally out of the narrow space.
"Hey! I got here first!" WHIZZ—SPANNNGG!
"How the hell did you get here at all? You miss me when I'm gone?"
Brown and the other man scrambled through a side door to the alley where the Diablo had been parked. WHIZZ—SPANNNGG! She peered around the end of one step and tried to draw a bead on the sniper as he continued to fire, bouncing slugs off the steps inches from her face.
That wasn't a hunting rifle—it was a semi-auto assault rifle with a large magazine, and a damnably accurate one. Bean knotted a bandanna tightly around his thigh, his teeth set in an intense grimace as blood spurted under his fingers. "How bad is that?"
"Straight through, pretty clean." His hands and the leg of his jeans were drenched in blood. "He ain't firin' hollow points—lucky me!"
WHIZZ—WHACK! Rally jerked back. A round zipped between riser and tread, burying itself in the concrete between them. "Damn it! He's got us pinned like butterflies!" An engine started in the alley and a car squealed away. Brown was escaping!
"He's gonna run out of bullets."
"Not any time soon! Brown's getting away!"
"Tell me what the hell I can do about it!" Bean finished tying his field dressing, tried to stand, and fell on one knee. WHIZZ—SPANNNGG! "Shit, I shoulda killed him when I had a chance."
"No chance, Bean. That guy up there had your head in his sights the whole time!" WHIZZ—WHACK!
"RAALLYY!" shouted a girlish voice from the elevated walkway. "EYES!"
"Oh, God, May!" Rally gasped. "Bean, shut your eyes!" Both of them ducked and covered, knowing full well what was coming. One of May's special flash grenades!
BOMF! The white-hot light of burning magnesium cast the shadow of her interlaced fingers against her retinas. Rally heard a hoarse shout from above and sprang up with the shotgun trained on the rafters. Where was the sniper? She thought she saw a movement and let fly. BOOM!
Bean rolled out from under the stairs and to his feet, bowie knife held handle-foremost. His arm lashed back and forward. The knife spiraled past her ear and through the latticework of spans. It hit nothing but the far wall.
"Where the hell is he? May!" May was jumping up and down on the walkway, pointing at the other side of the warehouse and a high open window.
"Shoot, Rally, shoot! He's—" BOOM! Rally emptied the shotgun where May pointed, but saw nothing. "Oh, he's gooone!"
"But he was BLIND! Shit, he's fast!" Rally felt a rush of wind behind her as Bean took off running towards the front door, his injured leg giving him an ungainly gait. Still, he crossed the warehouse in a few seconds and slammed through the door, still running. "Bean! Goddammit, I've got something to say—" He was gone as well. Rally sprinted towards the door, May sliding down the staircase behind her.
They ran out into the street in time to see Buff's door slam and Bean gun it so hard the tires skidded on the hot asphalt. He peeled out the way he had come, roared around the corner and vanished. Only a basso growl, rapidly fading, remained of the Roadbuster.
"Come on, May!" They ran to the Cobra and Rally leaped into the driver's seat. "We can catch—May?"
Her friend wobbled on the sidewalk, put a hand over her rounded midsection, dropped to her knees, and lost one bean burrito and a Mexican soda into the gutter. She smiled weakly at Rally, and collapsed.
"Goddamn it, Bean! STOP IT!" Rally yelled, though he couldn't possibly hear her. SQUEEEEEEAL! sang her tires as she swerved from left lane to centerline to head him off, trying to get between him and the speeding Diablo. "I am NOT going to let you kill him!"
She could see Bean's set teeth in her side-view mirror, large as life. Rally slewed the wheel right and left, fishtailing her rear end and bashing the driver's side of the Corvette. "That's just a warning! I'm going to force him to stop—I don't want you forcing him to CRASH!"
Bean moved to the right to avoid her, then suddenly hit his brakes and dove in behind her. The three cars, moving at about a hundred and twenty miles per hour, tore past a semitrailer moving at sixty-five. Now they were in single file: the white Diablo in the lead, Rally's blue Cobra second, Bean taking the rear in his black Corvette.
The right lane looked clear now as far ahead as she could see. Rally stomped on the gas and bumped the Diablo, gesturing to him to pull over. The driver wasn't visible through the tinted windows; it was impossible even to tell how many people were in the car. A Diablo had only two seats, however, the rear of the passenger compartment taken up by the huge engine, which left only a shelf below the tiny rear window. It couldn't be Brown at the wheel, not with his injured hand. Perhaps the other man she'd seen at the warehouse was driving and the sniper wasn't with them.
Whoever it was had a good sense of combat driving. When he'd spotted Rally and Bean coming up on his tail, he'd let them approach, then changed lanes and braked, leaving them ahead of him. They hadn't stayed there long, but it had been a good try. They were not up against an amateur—that was, she was not up against an amateur, Rally reminded herself. She and Bean both wanted to stop that car. Aside from that, their purposes did not intersect.
The Diablo accelerated again, leaping forward in a white cloud of exhaust to avoid the Cobra. But although a Diablo's speed might top 200 miles per hour on a good day, the driver seemed unable to break away—the long chase had apparently overstressed the engine.
The road began to climb the shoulder of a slight hill, rising up above the surrounding fields by about twenty feet. The Corvette tore around the Cobra and slipped into the gap behind the Diablo.
Rally growled in frustration. "Bean, you bastard!" But her adrenaline was pumping, her excitement at fever heat again.
CRASH went the Corvette's front end into the Diablo's rear. The car shuddered, but the driver straightened it out and pulled away from the edge of the embankment.
Now there was a up-slope on the left side of the road where it met the approaching hills. On the right, the embankment grew steeper and steeper. Any vehicle taking a spill down that at the speed they were going wouldn't have much room for survival.
Bean wedged the Corvette to the left side of the Diablo, trying to force it over to the right. Obviously he meant to send it down the embankment. Rally roared up to the right side of the Diablo as a barrier and scraped its side, rear-view mirrors cracking together.
The passenger side window went down and she looked into a face—a masked face protruding sideways. Despite the heat, the man wore a balaclava. The sniper! He must be perched on the shelf behind the passenger seats. She rolled down her own window and shouted above the tremendous rush of wind.
"Pull over! I'll persuade Bean to deal and nobody has to get hurt!"
Her answer was a round black muzzle thrust from the Diablo. Instantly she braked and let the car pull ahead as the rifle cracked.
The round passed over her hood. Bean bashed the Diablo's rear again. She was parallel to him now and saw him glance over at her with the same set-toothed snarl. He made a frustrated gesture, then changed it to a pointing forefinger. Miming a pistol, he jerked the finger at the Diablo while looking at her.
Rally grimaced. Shooting out the tires might be the only way to stop the chase. But at this spot in the road, it would probably be fatal for the occupants. There was no place to pull over safely with an exploded tire—it was a choice of up the slope and a flip on the roof, or down the embankment with a barrel roll.
Of course that was exactly what he had in mind. But dead, Brown would be no good to the FBI. She shook her head at Bean.
Suddenly the Diablo slewed into the right lane. Another semitrailer in the left lane ahead! Trying to pass a slower flatbed loaded with hay, it wheezed up the hill at about sixty, a brick wall in their path. The hay truck was still ahead of the semi, with a thirty-foot gap slowly closing between the two. Bean accelerated, trying to slip ahead of the Cobra before he had to move to the right. Rally blocked him and he blasted his horn at her.
"Ha!" she yelled. "Make all the noise you want!"
Bean made a feint at her, slewing his nose to the right, but she held firmly parallel to the Corvette. If he got ahead of her while the Diablo was still in the right lane next to the embankment, she could not prevent him from sending it over the edge.
She wasn't going to let him do anything of the kind! If she could hold him where he was for just a moment longer, she could slip between the trucks just before the gap closed and follow the Diablo. Bean was going to have to brake like hell to keep from plowing into the semi! Rally grinned in triumph, foot to the metal. He'd lose so much momentum that she'd be able to leave him a mile behind—
The Corvette veered to the left and leaped forward. Rally gasped in horrified surprise. He couldn't pass the truck on the eighteen-inch-wide shoulder! Was he insane?
But the Corvette lurched with its left-hand wheels on the up-slope, climbed the road cut and threw a storm of gravel. He WAS insane! And he was the best. Rally's thighs twitched, muscles clenching with the sheer thrill of the ride. If he could keep traction on loose rock with his car at a seventy-five degree angle, he would pass the semi and drop to the left side of the Diablo.
The white car was still in the right lane behind the hay truck, the driver obviously not expecting Bean's stunt. Rally gunned her engine to pass the semi on the right, the Corvette out of her line of vision now. Could she cut Bean off? The Diablo braked and held position just ahead of the semi, but still in the right lane, blocking the Cobra.
Rally hit her own brakes. Why wasn't the driver moving through the gap to the relatively safer left lane?
SCRAAAAPE went Bean's undercarriage, and he dropped down to the road in front of the truck just as the Diablo's bunker-slit rear window exploded from an inside blow.
The rifle aimed directly at Rally. To the left side was the semi, to the left ahead was Bean, to the right was the steep drop. Pinned like a target to a wall!
She hit her brakes and fishtailed wildly for a moment. The Cobra shuddered and fell back; Bean slewed to the right to bash the Diablo and the rifle tracked to the left.
The muzzle flashed, clearly visible in the growing gloom. Rally saw Bean's windshield shatter and his head snap back. His right front tire blew out simultaneously with a second muzzle flash. The Corvette skidded and turned broadside to her; she desperately yanked on the parking brake and pulled the wheel to the left.
Her right front hit his right rear, their bumpers locked in a death spiral, and Corvette and Cobra cleared the road together, a moment spent weightless in clear air before they hurtled down the embankment in tumbling, deafening, final embrace.
"Becky, just put it on the account! I can't send you the cash electronically—I'm in California, for heaven's sake! I'm calling from the hotel."
May retched into the toilet again, and Rally handed her a fresh washcloth.
"A thousand bucks? Look, I'm giving you free info here—would you have known Bean Bandit is in Hollywood without my telling you?" Rally grabbed a pad and pen out of her purse. "You did? How? Whaddya mean, that'll cost extra?"
May sat back on the bath mat and held her stomach. Rally gave her a glass of water and flushed the toilet.
"That's May. She's got morning sickness. Yes, I know it's afternoon here! 2:18 P.M., to be precise! Is that gonna cost extra too?" Rally sat on the bathroom counter and looked into the mirror, probing a small cut she had incurred on her forehead during the firefight. "How about six hundred?" She decided the cut was probably from a flying shard of concrete. "So your information about Bean is something I might like to know, huh? Throw that in with what you know about Brown and I'll consider it."
May got up and wobbled out of the bathroom.
"Eight hundred for both, Becky. I don't know if I can get Brown! I can't cut percentages here—is there even a bounty on him?" Rally began to strip off her shorts and T-shirt. "May, you gonna be worshiping the porcelain god any more? I want to take a shower!"
"No," said May faintly.
"OK, it's a deal. Now tell me everything you have." Rally listened attentively, jotting notes on the pad. "Wow, that much? Not bad. This is an FBI reward? How did a white guy end up working for an Asian syndicate, anyway? Uh-huh... And the American HQ is where? Hmm. Would he be heading up that way? Driving, probably...he's armed and he couldn't take a plane! Let's see, it's about six hours to San Francisco from here, if you don't break the limit by more than ten or fifteen...ha, if I leave now, I could catch up to him! Assuming he's driving carefully so he won't be pulled over—no, wait, he won't be the driver, so he must have his boys along. Never mind why, unless you give me a discount! Now, what's this about Bean?"
May stuck her head in the bathroom door. "San Francisco? There aren't any good amusement parks up there! Great America is so podunk!"
"Uh-huh, uh-huh...whoa, that's interesting! Wonder what he'd say if he knew that! Say, how much of this DOES he know? Hey, I'd say that was included in the price! So give." Rally listened for a moment, then shot upright and shrieked into the phone. "He DID? WHEN? Five minutes ago? Holy SHIT! I gotta RUN! Thanks, Becky!" She clicked the phone off and jammed it into her purse.
"What's going on?"
"May, I'm going to San Francisco. There's a hundred grand riding on it!" She finished stripping and leaped into the shower, turning it on at the same time. "Aaah! That's COLD!"
"You mean a reward for Brown?"
"Yep! And I didn't say so to Becky, but that suitcase of cash could be worth a lot too, if I can get my hands on it!"
"You want that half-million? Ooh, Rally, you could get—"
"I'm going to turn it in to the FBI, if I get it. And if Brown will sing, they are going to love me for it, honey!" Rally stuck her head out from behind the shower curtain. "Wouldja grab me my professional outfit? I have to get out of here as soon as possible—every second is going to count!"
"I'll get dressed too! You're going to need my expertise—these guys are dangerous!"
"No way, Minnie-May. You stay right here. I'll only be gone a day or so."
"What? I've got to come along!"
"May..." Rally stepped out of the shower and grabbed a towel. "I've already exposed you to enough danger for one day. That baby—" she put her hand on May's stomach— "deserves special handling. You can't do hazardous duty any more."
May dropped her head. "No...I guess not."
"Aw, don't look so down. You can rent a car and go anywhere you want while I'm gone!"
"I don't want to go anywhere while you're gone. I want to go with you!"
"I know. I wish you could come. But I'd just worry about you and Junior, honey. Please?" Rally dropped the towel and headed out into the bedroom, grabbing her jacket out of the closet on the way. "I need to get dressed—he's probably already on the road."
"Who is? Brown?"
"Bean Bandit." Rally strapped on her slide-mounted .25 automatic, then put on her bra. "He called Becky five minutes before I did."
"Bean uses Becky too?"
"Why shouldn't he? She's the best information broker in Chicago. I suppose he tried to catch Brown right off, but couldn't find him. Then he would have had to get treatment for that gunshot wound—he was bleeding like a pig. So he's not too far ahead of me." Rally pulled on her panties and hose, then picked up her short black skirt. "Where's my spare-magazine holster? Oh, there you are, you nifty little thing..."
"If he knows where Brown is heading, you'll run into him again. Rally..."
"Hmm?" Rally strapped the magazine holster around her thigh and pulled her skirt down over it, then buttoned her blouse.
"Be careful. You know he isn't a guy you can mess with."
"I know." She put on her shoulder holster and snapped the strap over her CZ75 9-millimeter Parabellum automatic. "I'm ready for anything." Her jacket went on over the holster, and she grabbed her purse and keys.
In the mirror over the dresser, she saw her image: tall, slim, tawny-skinned, her dark-brown hair dancing around her face as she turned. "That's a girl he'll have to reckon with." She made a pistol with forefinger and thumb and sighted on her own nose in the mirror. "Bang, bang."
"I'll see you soon?"
"Maybe by this evening! Have a good time." Rally headed for the door.
"I'll try." May sniffled slightly.
"Hey, cheer up! What could happen?" Rally smiled brightly and waved goodbye.
"Almost anything," said May as the door closed. "Almost anything."