Pearl gets an invitation – Jake’s Joint – Good evening Mr. Jones – Parking lot misunderstanding
“Vivian is in fine form today.” thought Pearl as Vivian prattled on about the health inspector coming a week early for his monthly payoff. Vivian’s place, “Elements Salon” was not dirty and everything Vivian did was up to code. Payoffs were just a cost of doing business in star-town. “Star-town” was what the locals called the neighborhoods surrounding New Hope City’s star port, neighborhoods that had seen better days.
The value of Vivian’s “prattle” was that she kept Pearl up to date on what was happening on the streets. Of course, that also meant listening to the mundane details of the salon. Pearl rented a small office for her security consulting business in the same strip center and had been Vivian’s client for years. Lately, it seemed that it was taking longer for Vivian to do Pearl’s hair. The front door chimed and Pearl tensed. “Relax,” said Vivian, “Denise will take care of it. You know, you really should think about a different color for your hair.”
“Yes, you’re hair is getting that ‘ashen’ color and the blonde highlights you like draws attention to…”
“Are you saying I’ve got gray hair? Spit it out, Viv.”
“Not grey yet, but getting there.” replied Vivian. Pearl could feel her skin flush with disbelief and anger. She was about to give a scathing retort about how someone should mind their own business, when Denise, Vivian’s receptionist and nail technician walked into the room.
“What’s up, Denise?” asked Vivian.
“It’s ‘Chardonnay’.” said Denise with ice in her voice. “There’s a messenger here for…”
“Chardonnay is a name for strippers and hookers. I swear, since you started dating that ganger, whats-his-name. Only strippers are named after liquor.” ranted Vivian.
“Whatever, anyway, there’s a messenger here for Pearl.” said Denise as a young woman, girl, really, no more than eighteen or nineteen, skated into the room.
The streets around New Hope’s star port were such that most street operatives didn’t accept phone calls or email from people they didn’t know, and they certainly didn’t do business on the net. This created a niche business for couriers. This perky young woman wore the LFL Couriers uniform. “LFL” stood for “Lesbians For Life”, a reputable company started by an energetic lesbian couple that hired only women and trans-women. The couriers wore skates, but it wasn’t the skates that attracted Pearl’s attention. Pearl eyed the police-grade stun baton hanging from the girl’s belt along with a small holstered .22 automatic as a reminder as to what kind of neighborhoods surrounded the star port.
Pearl read the message and raised her brows in surprise. “Do you have the reply slip?” Pearl asked the courier. “Yes ma’am.” she replied. Vivian snickered. Pearl jotted a quick reply and returned the slip to the courier. “Well, Vivian, how do you feel about going out tonight?”
The motorcycle roared into the parking lot. Pearl circled the lot and chose a parking space where the entrance to “Jake’s Joint, a Steak & Chop House” could be watched. “Jake’s Joint” was an upscale restaurant in mid-town, an island anchoring the corner of a shopping center filled with huge boxy stores. The Suzuki-Bandai Shadow Reaper coughed into silence and the headlight went dark. Pearl could never really tell if her bike was a deep red with black mica flakes or black with red flakes. She had decided that the bike was red, but the parking lot lights made it look black.
Pearl removed her helmet and shook out her hair. She removed her gloves and ran her fingers through her hair and remembered how miffed she was at Vivian for her “ashen color” comment. She took a good look at the building. It was a simple square building. Kitchen and offices in the rear. A front door, fire exits on each side, and a back door. There was a minimal amount of landscaping around the building and a large dumpster about 15 meters from the back door.
The dumpster required special attention. Wherever mankind travelled through the universe, he brought with him four ancient companions: the dog (his faithful friend), the cockroach, lice, and the rat. Sometimes one or more of these companions would cause ecological disasters on a planet. On desolate dry New Hope, the rat found a mate with a hardy desert rodent and produced huge offspring with a particularly nasty vicious disposition. They were commonly called “mu-rats”, short for “mutant rats” and could get as large as a small dog.
Pearl locked her bike and set the charge under the seat. She didn’t relish the thought of blowing up her bike, but she wasn’t about to allow it to be stolen. Besides, the thought of some thief having his crotch blown apart gave Pearl a bit of perverse pleasure. She usually wore her pair of pearl handled Matheson TL9 pistols on her hips. However, for a meeting in a public place, she chose to bring only one of the pistols in a shoulder holster under her duster. The duster was lined with GenWeb armor fabric and in her favorite color, red. She usually carried a small Hussert Compact Needler pistol for backup. The needler’s all plastic construction made it able to pass through most metal detectors unnoticed. Again, she felt it wasn’t needed for this meeting. Her little black dress was accented by her knee-high boots concealing a 20 centimeter ceramic knife. She pulled the message out of her pocket and read it one last time: “Would like to discuss a business opportunity with you. Jake’s 9pm tonight. — Mr. Jones” Pearl smiled, put the note back into her pocket and strode to the door.
The hostess greeted Pearl with a huge smile that seemed genuine and fake at the same time. “How many in your party?” the hostess asked. “Uhm, I’m here to meet Mr. Jones.” replied Pearl. “One moment, please.” she said as she checked her seating chart. “Oh, yes, follow me please.” She began leading Pearl through a maze of tables and diners. Pearl quickly assessed avenues of attack and escape. The bar was to her right and she noticed a blonde in a low cut dress enjoying the attention of two men. She caught the blonde’s eye and she smiled at Pearl. Pearl turned her attention back to where the hostess was leading and noticed another blonde. This blonde was tall and very slender wearing a black suit and shades. She also smiled at Pearl, a rather sadistic smile. The blonde was standing behind a seated man wearing a gray suit.
The man rose with a broad smile and said “Ms. Lemay, how delightful. Please, please be seated. I’m so glad you could come on such short notice.”
“Mr. Jones? It was kind of you to invite me. You are Mr. Jones?” asked Pearl as she shook his hand.
“Oh yes, yes, I’m so sorry. I am Mr. Jones and this is my associate, Ms. Anderson.” he said gesturing to the tall woman. Ms. Anderson smiled that same thin sadistic smile and nodded. “Please, Ms. Lemay, be seated.”
“Please, call me Pearl.” she replied as she took her seat across from Mr. Jones. Pearl realized that it had been a long time since she had heard “please” used as much. She noticed that Ms. Anderson continued to stand. “Is she going to sit down?”
“Perhaps later. Ms. Anderson’s task is to insure that our meeting is safe and discrete. Think of her as watching my back, much the same way as your friend at the bar.”
“Oh, so you’ve noticed Vivian? I’m afraid at this point she is paying more attention to the men around her than my backside.”
Mr. Jones laughed. “Actually, Pearl, I think she is doing a good job. But since you let us see you backup, can I also assume that you have another asset here that we haven’t identified?”
“Another asset? Please, Mr. Jones, the only way I was able to get Vivian to come was to promise I’d pay her bar tab.”
He laughed again. “I already like you, Pearl. I hope the opportunity I have will be acceptable to you. But first things first, what can I get you to drink?”
“Tea, please. I can’t drink anything much stronger than tea or coffee these days.” she lied.
“I fully understand.” he replied, “I know too well what it is like to climb out of a bottle.”
His statement took Pearl completely by surprise and it stung. She felt her skin flush and hoped that it wasn’t too noticeable. She also didn’t know what to say. She looked up at Ms. Anderson. She swore to herself that the bitch’s smile had gotten even broader.
During the awkward silence, Mr. Jones placed the order with their waiter. “In our research, Pearl, we’ve found that you have built quite a business providing security to… let’s say ‘working girls’. You’ve helped them secure their homes and places of business. You’ve resolved issues with pimps and other predators. We’ve also looked at your personal life to determine if you can be of service to us.”
“Hmmm, then you must know a great deal about me.”
“And my past?” Pearl added quietly.
“I’m afraid it was necessary, but I assure you, your past remains very confidential.”
“Thank you, I’ve heard that you are very thorough. I… I just wasn’t prepared for just how thorough you are.”
The waiter brought their drinks. Hot tea for Pearl and coffee for Mr. Jones. Pearl added two packets of sugar and stirred it into her tea. “Isn’t she going to sit down?” Pearl asked pointing her spoon at Ms. Anderson.
“I’m sure she will once she identifies your other backup.”
Pearl laughed. “Well, I guess she’ll be standing all night, because I only brought Vivian.” Pearl lied of course and hoped that Ms. Anderson wouldn’t notice that the new waitress being trained was Denise.
“We have someone in need of watching, a young woman. She is using the name “Sara Reid”. Ms. Reid dropped out of university on Gaea Prime a few years ago and has apparently been doing mission work of sorts for the last few years.”
“So she isn’t who she says she is and she’s on a back water planet doing missionary work? That isn’t exactly illegal since she is of age.”
“True, but her family would like to have her back. And her family may have enemies that would love to hold the young lady hostage. We need someone to watch her for a few weeks until the family arrives to reunite with their daughter. Of course, I can’t tell you who she really is for her safety.”
“So you are hiring me to be a baby sitter for a rich kid?”
“No, Ms. Lemay, I want to hire you because you have a knack for keeping wayward young women alive. I’m thinking 1,000 creds a week.”
“Creds” or credits was the preferred form of payment because credits could be used off-world. Paper currency was still used on many worlds but seldom had value in other systems. Not only that, but paper currency was tied to the local banks and government. On New Hope, that meant that the currency, the “dollar”, fluctuated wildly from one extreme to another without any warning.
“That is generous, Mr. Jones, but I’m assuming the young lady will need watching 24/7 and that means I’ll need additional personnel. How about 2,000 creds a week to cover personnel and expenses?”
“I don’t think the young lady will be that much of a problem. Yet, I see your point and can offer 1,200 creds and 500 dollars a week. A more than fair offer.”
“Agreed.” said Pearl. “After all how much protection does a missionary need?”
“I’m afraid it’s not the kind of mission you are thinking of, Ms. Lemay. Sara isn’t a street preacher or a holy Jane.”
“Oh?” inquired Pearl raising an eyebrow.
“Here, you will need to familiarize yourself with this.” he said pushing a small red book across the table to Pearl. “What do you know about intergalactic neo-Marxism?”
They finished working out the details of the assignment. Pearl’s cover would be that her team was a security detail selected by a party member concerned that the New Hope corporate community would react against anyone championing workers’ rights. Ms. Anderson never did sit down. Payment arrangements were made and after concluding their business, Pearl rose from the table and started for the door.
Passing the bar she checked on Vivian who was still engaged in conversation with two men. Vivian winked at Pearl and waved her on. Pearl chuckled to herself and wondered which one she would go home with, probably the one that would spend the most money on Vivian. Pearl then realized that knowing Vivian, she might go home with both men. That was a mental picture Pearl didn’t want to dwell on.
The way he was shuffling around her bike with his hands in his pockets indicated that he knew about the explosive charge under the seat and was waiting for her. He didn’t look like the sort who could have figured the bike was booby trapped, so Pearl assumed there were others in the parking lot.
Pearl waited until a party of four was leaving the restaurant. She slipped in right behind them hoping whoever was in the parking lot would see her as only a fifth wheel. She stayed close behind them as she crossed the door’s threshold, she saw one man standing by the door. He was ganger. They walked across the parking lot toward Pearl’s bike. The ganger standing by her bike stared at the party as they approached, but said nothing. Pearl’s luck held and they walked past her bike. Pearl slowed and let the party move further ahead of her. She reached into her duster and pulled her pistol.
She pulled the slide back and released it chambering a round. She flicked off the safety. Holding the pistol down by her side and slightly behind her, Pearl turned around and started walking back toward her bike.
“Hey, is that your bike?” she barked with her heels clicking on the pavement drawing closer to the ganger.
“Get lost, bitch.” he responded.
“Wrong thing to say.” She brought up the gun and put a round into the parking lot at the ganger’s feet.
“Shit. You crazy?” shouted the ganger as he hopped back. The ganger by the door began running toward Pearl with a bat. Without pausing, Pearl turned and fired another shot and the running ganger slumped to the ground. Three figures stepped from behind a car and moved beside the ganger standing near her bike. Two men and a girl. The girl was leaning heavily on one of the men. The man she was leaning on was wearing a ludicrous top hat with feathers. He was most likely the leader.
“Whoa, lady, no need to get violent.” said the one with the hat. Of course that was the stupidest thing he could say because violence had already occurred, just not on the terms the gangers were expecting. “Go check on Tommy.” he said to the other ganger. “My mate here just wanted to take your bike for a ride. If he likes it he’ll buy it.”
Pearl knew he was stalling for time trying to think up a way to turn the tables on her. “I’ve got seven more rounds. You want them?”
“Ray, how’s Tommy?” hat man asked.
“He’s breathing, but the bitch got him good.”
“You have me at a disadvantage lady.” said hat man. “First a booby trapped bike that’d blow my balls off. Then you cap one of my best men. And now it looks like I brought knives and clubs to a gun fight.”
“Just not your night, eh, sweetheart?” replied Pearl.
“I guess not. Oh, oops, guess what I have?” he said as he brought a small pistol out from behind the girl. He grinned, “I think I now have the edge.” The girl was so doped up she couldn’t stand. When he brought the gun up, she lost her footing and sat down hard pulling on hat man as she fell. Hat man looked down at the girl and Pearl squeezed off another round striking hat man in the chest near his shoulder. It was hat man’s turn to fall. The ganger standing next to her bike ran.
Pearl walked to where hat man lay. She picked up his gun and tossed it across the parking lot. He looked up at her and blinked. “You’re one tough old bitch.”
“Yeah, and tonight is still not your night.” Pearl said and then kicked him in the groin. She disabled the charge, straddled the bike, turned the key, and the Shadow Reaper roared to life.
“Ray” was still attending “Tommy”. Hat man had curled up on his side. Pearl smiled, she hoped the kick was hard enough that he was tasting his balls in the back of his throat. She folded up the kickstand. The girl was now on hands and knees retching her guts out. Pearl could hear sirens. Time to call it a night and go home. She revved the Shadow Reaper a couple of times and sped out of the parking lot.