Pearl pulled up to the main gate of the Preston Arms Apartments. The entrance gate was closed. The exit gate was open. The light was on in the guard station, but there was no guard in sight. Pearl beeped her bike’s horn. There was no response. Pearl thought it odd. The Preston Arms always had a guard on duty. It was one of the reasons Pearl’s client, Trudy Morgan, had chosen to live there. Pearl pulled her motorcycle through the exit gate and stopped alongside the guard station.
She removed her helmet and got off of the bike. She immediately noticed that the door to the guard station was wide open. “Hello?” she asked. “Anyone there?” Stepping inside the tiny station, she immediately saw two bodies on the floor. One man lay in a large pool of blood. She started to take his pulse, but it was obvious that the man was dead. She moved to the next man. He was breathing, but was unconscious. His scalp was sticky, he’d taken a heavy blow to the head. The patch on his uniform read “Netscan Security”. He had a radio microphone clipped to his left shoulder above his name badge which read “T. Drake.” Pearl picked up the microphone and said “Netscan Security, this is Preston Arms. You have an officer down.”
A voice responded, “Who the Hell is this?”
“Look, I’m here to see a client. The entrance gate was shut so I entered the guard station and found your man on the floor. He’s been clubbed and needs help.”
“What? Is this some kind of joke? Let me speak to Drake or I’ll call the police!”
“No joke.” said Pearl. “And if you were doing your job and monitoring your locations, you’d know that the police are already on their way.”
“What? Stay there, I’ll get the other on site guard to come to your location.”
“Is your other guard named Thornton? Has gray hair and mustache?” asked Pearl.
“Yes. How do you know?”
“Thornton’s dead. Stabbed.”
“Sorry, I can’t do that. Someone has broken into my client’s apartment. I’ve got to check on her.” Pearl put down the microphone. She hated to leave Drake in his condition, but she had to check on Trudy.
Pearl stepped out of the guard station and took a deep breath. The air had an acrid almost fetid smell. It was hot. Ten o’clock in the evening and it was still hot. It was hard to believe that in a few short hours the temperature would be near freezing. She walked over to her Shadow Reaper. Just as she bent over to pick up her helmet, a bullet whizzed over her head shattering the glass of one of the guard station’s windows. A loud report from a large pistol followed. Pearl dropped to the ground beside her motorcycle. Another shot was fired. This time the bullet struck the pavement in front of Pearl. The shots appeared to be coming from the second or third floor of apartments. It suddenly dawned on Pearl as to why the lights were left on in the guard station. She couldn’t see the shooter, but he could certainly see her. The gunshots had aroused the curiosity of the residents. The lights of the third floor apartment near the stairs came on revealing a man at the railing with a gun. Pearl fired twice at him forcing him to duck back into the stairwell. Pearl took the opportunity to run for cover among the cars parked in front of the apartments.
“Damn!” Pearl thought to herself. She had instinctively run for cover deeper into the apartment complex instead of running for cover outside of the gate. The shooter could easily just come down the stairs, jump the fence and get away. Pearl wanted answers. She wanted to know who was trying to kill her and what did Mudd Street have to do with it? It was obvious that if she was going to catch whoever was shooting at her, she had to get to the stairwell before he reached the bottom. She ran to the apartment building and flattened herself against the wall. She hurriedly moved to the stairwell. She was in time, she could hear him coming down the stairs.
Just as he ran past her, Pearl shouted “Stop, right there and put your hands up!” He was a tall man with a broad chest. He whipped around with a mad grin on his face. Pearl saw the gun in his hand. Her eyes went wide. At this range, no one would miss.
The gunshots were near simultaneous. The pain was excruciating as Pearl fell. She hit the ground so hard, she dropped her pistol. She was fighting to remain conscious as her head struck the sidewalk. She felt a rush of nausea as the world began to black out. She was sinking toward oblivion. She screamed to herself “Stay awake! Get up! Move, damn it, move!” She sobbed as she lost consciousness.
Pearl’s eyes snapped open. A med-tech was holding a capsule of the nastiest most pungent thing she had ever smelled. He smiled and said “Whoa, take it easy, miss. You’re pretty banged up.”
“How bad?” Pearl asked.
“You were lucky. Your coat stopped the bullet, just barely. Can’t say the same for your opponent. What kind of armor, GenWeb?”
“Yeah, type four body armor. Still hurts like hell, though.”
“Scanner doesn’t show anything major. Lots of bruising. You might have some internal bleeding from the impact. Maybe even some bone damage. We can’t be sure until we get you to a hospital with better scanners.” the med-tech replied. He was a handsome well-built young man, the kind of man Pearl would have swooned over when she was younger. “The bullet struck lower left quadrant of the torso.”
“What?” asked Pearl.
“The bullet hit your hip above where the leg connects.”
Pearl looked down at her hip. There was a huge bruise where the med-tech had pulled down her pants. It was then she noticed she was laying in a big puddle of urine.
“The shock from the impact caused the bladder to empty.” said the med-tech.
“Shit.” said Pearl.
“No, just urine.” replied the med-tech. When Pearl glared at him, he said “Sorry, an attempt at medical humor.”
“Well, well. It’s about time you woke up.” growled a familiar voice. Detective Hulce was standing over her and the med-tech. He was holding Pearl’s pistol. “It always amazes me the size of the hole a bullet makes in a man. There’s a particularly large hole in our dead friend over there. If I pull the clip, what will I find? Hollow points, armor piercing, frag, or something nastier?” Before Pearl could answer, Hulce said “Never mind. You’ve got a conceal and carry permit. With what witnesses have said, it’s one less hoodlum on the streets.” He handed the pistol back to Pearl.
“Thanks.” she said. “How about Drake, will he make it?”
“The first unit is on its way to the hospital. He’s stable. He has a good chance.” said the med-tech. “Now we just need to load you up and get you on the way.”
“No.” said Pearl. “I’ve got to check on Miss Morgan. I’ve got to stop whoever it is who is attacking my clients.” Pearl winced as she pulled her pants up. The med-tech instinctively helped her stand up while telling her she needed to lay down. Pearl felt a whole new sensation of pain as she put weight on her left leg.
“Miss Morgan is fine.” said detective Hulce. “That was smart thinking converting her walk-in closet to double as a safe room. As for your other clients, if you will give me a list, we can set up patrols to keep watch.”
“So now you have time for my case?” asked Pearl.
“Well, after I entered my report, seems your name attracted the attention of a certain blue haired sergeant. And I’ve learned that whatever piques the sergeant’s interest is something I should look into.” replied Hulce.
“Still, I need to speak to Miss Morgan, myself.” said Pearl.
“You are going to the hospital.” insisted the med-tech.
“Tell you what.” said Hulce. “If Miss Lemay can walk to Miss Morgan’s apartment building and then up two flights of stairs to the apartment, then I would say release her to her own care. Sounds fair?” Pearl nodded. The med-tech looked at Hulce and then at Pearl. Finally, he shook his head and said “Ok.”
Pearl reached inside of her coat pocket and pulled out a stim patch. “Good grief, lady.” said the med-tech. “Put that back.”
“I’ve got to stay up and sharp until this is over.” said Pearl.
The med-tech rummaged through his bag and handed Pearl three patches. “Here, use these. They are much stronger. Be careful, stronger means bigger chance of addiction or worse.” Pearl nodded, peeled the backing off of one of the patches and stuck it to the right side of her neck. She turned from the two men and started toward Trudy’s apartment. Each step was a painful limp, but she had to go on. She was determined to find who was trying to kill her.
Pearl pulled out her phone and dialed her office. “Yes, mistress?” Nina responded.
“Nina, whatever constraints or programming barriers are on your heuristics, I’m ordering you to remove them. I need the full potential of your mind, Nina. I want you to find anything at all that ties Miss Morgan, Miss Winters, myself, the perpetrators, and Mudd Street together. I’ve got to have answers before they strike again. Do you understand?”
“Yes, mistress. I will devote my full resources.”
Pearl hung up the phone as she reached the door of Trudy Morgan’s apartment. She was beginning to feel a rush from the stim patch. Through the open door, she could see police taking photos and picking through rubble. On one wall “Die, Mudd Street bitch.” was spray painted in large red letters. The apartment had been thoroughly trashed. The officer she recognized as Officer Franks was asking Trudy questions and writing on his tablet. She was visibly shaken. Trudy was wearing a t-shirt and panties with a blanket over her shoulders. Trudy Morgan was a model and was most often portrayed in the media advertisements as a self-confidant in control woman with pouty lips and a pissed-off expression. Tonight, she appeared vulnerable and innocent. Pearl suddenly thought of Nina, which caught her by surprise.
“Pearl! You’re ok?” asked Trudy. “They said you’d been shot.”
“I’m ok, thanks to body armor.” said Pearl. “How about you?”
“Scared, but ok. The system worked, Pearl. As soon as they broke in, the alarms went off and lights came on. I was able to get into the safe room with no problems at all. I thought the system had scared them off, but after a few minutes, they came back. The security guards never showed up and it seemed like it took the police forever to get here.”
“I’m afraid they incapacitated the security guards before breaking into your apartment.” Pearl replied. “Did they take anything?”
“No, nothing at all.” said Trudy. “I don’t understand why they would go through all of this trouble, if their quarrel is with you. Pearl, I hate to say this, but even though the security system works, it makes me want to change security companies. I don’t feel safe knowing that your enemies will attack me to get to you.”
“I understand. To be honest, I didn’t know I had any enemies until this started. Call me in a day or two and I can give you names of a couple of guys who are security consultants, if you still want to change. I’ve worked with them and they’re completely reliable and professional.”
It stung to hear Trudy Morgan was canceling her service. But Pearl couldn’t blame her. Pearl just knew that she had to get to the bottom of this before she lost more clients. This would also effect her ability to get new clients as well.
When she returned to her motorcycle, she tried hard not to limp. Pearl noticed they had bagged the body of the one she had shot and were preparing to take it to the morgue. At least there was one less person in the world wanting to kill her. But he had come much too close to achieving his goal in Pearl’s mind. She couldn’t help but feel that people were looking at her like she was doomed, a dead woman. She nearly toppled over with pain as she put her weight on her left side while mounting the Shadow Reaper. She waited a few moments for the pain to subside, then she put on her helmet and brought the Shadow Reaper to life.
“Ok, Nina, please tell me you have something.” said Pearl the moment she entered the office.
“Mistress, you’ve been shot.” stated Nina.
“Yes, we can talk about that later What do you have?”
“Your network was attacked last week.”
“They breached the system’s security?” asked Pearl.
“Not exactly.” said Nina. “They were not able to get into the system per se. Evidently, they hit at the right time in that there was a worksheet in the deletion queue, which they were able to retrieve.”
“What was on the worksheet?”
“The worksheet contained information on the three upgrades you’ve done this month, Yolanda Winters, Trudy Morgan, and”
“and the Palace of Delights.” finished Pearl. “They’re going to hit Mrs. Chang, next.”
“Yes, mistress. There is more. I’ve been able to identify the one who appears to be the leader as a Clayton Madison.”
“Clayton Madison? I’ve never heard of him. Who is he?”
“I don’t know mistress. He has a record, but it is sealed. The police are waiting for a judge from juvenile courts to authorize access to the file. I’ve not been able to open it.”
“So far they have made their attacks when there are few people or no one around. The attack on the guards at Trudy Morgan’s apartment complex means they are getting bolder. If they hold to their pattern they will attack the brothel when there are the fewest number of people around.” said Pearl.
“That would be daybreak, mistress. The overnight patrons usually leave early, just as the morning commute begins.”
“Fine, Nina, call Mrs. Chang and tell her I’m on my way. I’ve got to stop by the apartment first and pick up more fire power and ammo.”
“I’ll call Mrs. Chang and tell her WE are on our way.” said Nina.
“We? You can’t come, it’s too dangerous.”
“I beg to differ, mistress. I know the layout of the brothel better than you and I can interface with the security system better than you. I’ll know when they attack seconds before you do.”
“Nina, you can’t go. I can barely hold up the bike in my condition.”