Special thanks to M. Laverty and J. Ferrara
My mother was still yelling at me to come back inside and that I'd better not so much as touch that front gate if I knew what was good for me, but somehow that didn't impress our guests. The two goons out front continued smashing my little brother's windshield and generally destroying his scarlet paint job with a couple of tire irons. I wasn't in any mood to listen to Mom right then, so I gathered up the momentum I'd picked up running down the front steps and hurdled over the waist-high wrought-iron fence without touching it. My former boyfriend, the jock, would have been very proud of me; my leap, while not graceful, took me within five feet of the little low4ifes. Close enough.
Jimbo probably would have corrected my grip on the Louisville Slugger, but I doubt that many athletes normally bat one-handed. Then again, most ball players are looking to get a piece of horsehide.
"Bastard!" I screamed, swinging low and inside. He twisted, instinctively raising his left knee to protect himself from a permanent position with the Vienna Boy's Choir. I caught his kneecap edge-on and felt it pop out of place with a satisfying crunch, and he screamed and fell.
That got the other guy's attention, and he reached into his jacket. I was already diving under the big white Samaritan when the first shots ricocheted off the undercarriage. I thanked God for the millionth time that I'd had the extra armor installed in its rear.
Busting up Andy's "damn fool" car was one thing. Shooting up Lucy MacLaine's favorite (and only) daughter was quite another. The next thing I knew, there was a deafening crash somewhere above me, and the sound of shattered safety glass tinkling to the ground. I heard the Kneecap dragging himself into the street, then a squeal of tires as old Peacemaker barked a second time. Before they screeched off Avenue T onto East 37th street, Mom was kneeling beside the Samaritan, reloading my dad's double-barreled shotgun. For a woman who claimed never to have fired a gun before, she was pretty good. "Are you all right?"
"Yeah," I grunted, rolling out from under my unit and dusting myself off. "Fine."
She took a deep breath and actually looked relieved to see me alive and whole before she slapped me across the face. Is wasn't a hard slap - didn't hurt or even redden the skin -just surprised me. How could you pull a stunt like that?! Isn't it enough you brother's lying in the hospital without you trying to get yourself killed?"
I bit down hard on my answer, knowing that it would only make things worse to argue with her. Mom was already half-wild with worry over Andy, and I certainly wasn't going to add any more by telling her what I planned, but I'd finally had enough. Attacking Andy's car was adding insult to injury, and that final insult I was not going to let pass.
Shaking with rage, I turned away from her, running my hand gently over the trunk of Andy's car and the striking rattlesnake painted there. Someone would pay for wrecking Andy's car, just as surely as someone would pay for leaving him lying broken and bloody on the Belt Parkway.
I was the older, and therefore more sensible of Lucy MacLaine's two offspring. After all, only an idiot would consider being a duellist if he lived at home and his own mother was rabidly anti-AADA, right?
Well, there was Andy in a nutshell. Big friendly smile, a shock of raven hair and twinkling blue eyes that could charm a snake. He certainly got along on miracles and blarney, because his mind rarely shifted out of first gear. People who didn't know him believed that he truly knew what he was doing, and people who knew him believed he'd never run out of luck.
To be fair, he was a good duellist - in fact, he'd won a lot of prestige in what was, frankly, the least inspiring crate I'd ever seen. In one of mother's less composed moments, she proclaimed my brother to be 'just like his father," a remark not received kindly by either side of the family, because that meant he was either going to end up a useless auto-duellist (Mom's side) or a dead, unsung hero (Dad's).
I was the odd one. It seemed I favored no one in particular, and the family joke said I was either sent to balance Andy's recklessness, or I ought to be calling the mailman "Dad." Different as we were, Andy and I were inseparable through childhood, and we stayed that way as adults. When it came time to select a profession, I chose a natural. What better job than samaritan, to bail my little brother out of trouble? When he asked why I'd ever want to do something as stupid and dangerous as that, I remember how I kidded him that someday I'd be the only thing preventing him from duelling with Dad. Somehow, the joke lost its humor.
Speaking of jokes, people listen to the ones about what kind of victims we find (for instance, a "hoser" a victim one simply rinses off the pavement) and think Grizzly and I are cruel and heartless. We're not. We're survivors. The job description for samaritan stresses the idea of rescue and life-saving. It never mentions the other two jobs involved - coroner and janitor.
A few days before the attack on Andy's car, we'd been kidding around, as usual, about a pick-up called in from the Belt Parkway. From the description, we didn't think we'd have much to do - it sounded like a street-cleaning assignment. Everything was fine until Relay checked her data. "Mercy-1, Mercy-1, the Belt's top priority."
"Huhn?" my partner, Griz, snorted through a mouthful of doughnut and into the mike. "Listen, Ree, we like payin' customers, and so does Kings County, so what's the deal with the hoser? Dead guys don't tip."
I'd never heard Relay lose it so bad before. She didn't even use our handle. "'Gale, you'd better haul gears down there now!"
I'd already thrown the Samaritan into gear so hard she jerked forward with an ominous clunk. "Base, this is Mercy-1. Please advise."
"Nightingale, it's Andy."
I swore softly and turned on the sirens. It took only a few minutes to get there. I'd never seen Griz drop his coffee to hang on to his armrests before.
When we got to Andy there was still a pulse and respiration. I tried to believe that it wasn't as bad as it looked, but all my training and experience said otherwise. Coupled with Griz's lack of conversation, except for what was absolutely necessary to get
Andy out of the wreck and ready for transport, I realized that things, to put it mildly, were not looking at all good. Neither was I, apparently; Grizzly didn't trust my ability to drive, and so I ended up sitting in the uncomfortable fold-down seat he usually occupied when we had a customer.
I held Andy's hand tightly, keeping up a steady stream of one-sided conversation, hoping that the sound of my voice might focus his attention on staying alive and tip the scales in our favor. I was shocked when he uttered a low, raspy moan and opened his unevenly-dilated eyes. "'Gale?"
"Hold on, baby brother, I'm right here."
He coughed a fine red mist. "Pretty bad. .
"Don't talk, 'Drew," I said, my voice breaking and ruining my best authoritative style. "We're almost there."
"Not... my fault, 'Gale."
I felt a white heat behind my eyes and he blurred suddenly. "Damn it, do you always have to blame everyone but yourself?" I heard myself snap.
He smiled slightly, painfully. "Can't be too bad . . . still yelling."
"Don't move." I couldn't believe I was forgetting all the basics. Those should have been my first words to him. I swallowed hard, tried to concentrate, and got back to business, squeezing his hand firmly. "Feel this?"
He fought, unsuccessfully, to focus his eyes, then closed them wearily. ". . . Mean. . . the hand you're squeezing?"
My heart tripped a little lighter. Maybe it wasn't as bad as I thought. Maybe everything was going to be all right.
''No. I don't.''
I tried my best to remember that Diamondback was a close personal friend. Most of the time, it wasn't any problem. Unfortunately, Diamondback was the designer of the very fast, very armed and very crashed prototype Andy had been driving, a car nicknamed the "Cherry Bomb" for its flashy red, laser reflective/fireproof armor. While fighting to keep Andy breathing long enough for the emergency room team to work on, I'd noticed mechs busily readying Diamondback's precious prototype to be towed, and it had infuriated me no end.
As I stormed past the guards and into the garage a week later, I found it very easy to imagine both my hands around Diamondback's throat. I breathed deeply, looked him straight in the eye and asked calmly, "Diamondback.. . why did you put my brother out on the Belt in a deathtrap?"
It couldn't have been my tone of voice, because even I was surprised at how level-headed and quiet it sounded in the noisy garage. The mechanics kept working calmly, but the test drivers who always hung around seemed to pale considerably and disappear fast. I guess all of them had driven Diamondback's prototypes at one time or another.
Diamondback looked more than a little worried. If he hadn't known me so well he might've thought the sight of a five-foot-three woman bristling in front of all six-foot-five of him ludicrous. "Take it easy, Nightingale. It wasn't my fault."
"I see." I hopped up to a seat on the nearest workbench. "Then I guess I didn't scrape Andy out of the Cherry Bomb?"
He came over and put an arm around my shoulders in that fatherly fashion he knew I couldn't resist. "'Gale, come on. You know better than that." He gently steered me off the table and over to the corner where the Cherry Bomb was up on a lift, and walked me under it.
Her nose was a twisted, tortured sculpture, one I hadn't been able to forget since I'd first seen it wrapped around a stanchion under the Bay 8th Street overpass. It made me nervous to be so close to the machine that almost cost my baby brother his life. "What now?" I asked. "You gonna drop her on me?"
"'Course not," he said, touching the enameled red cross pin on my lapel. "You're in uniform. If word got around that I'd started squashing samaritans I'd be history. Ancient history. Even more ancient than you."
"Thanks," I replied dryly, pushing his hand away from my chest. "That's very reassuring." He was one of the very few people who could remind me that, as a medic, I was at least five years older than most duellists. EMT courses tend to keep one out of the way of cars and crossfires.
Diamondback guided me past the nose to the rear axle, then pointed to the undercarriage. "Take a look at that, 'Gale."
I looked, impatiently. "Busted brake cables and steering linkage. So what? They should've been stronger."
I suddenly found myself suspended by the scruff of my neck. "Look harder."
"Look harder? What's the point, Diamondback? The linkage will still be busted and so will those lines."
"Look at the car, 'Gale. Look at the car!" Diamondback lifted me practically nose to rear axle, and suddenly I saw what he was getting at.
Cut. The damned brake lines were cut, and that steering linkage was no accident, either. I could see file marks all over the place.
"Sonuva. .." I whistled low, under my breath.
Diamondback let go, and I landed on the balls of my feet. I didn't need to look at him to know he was giving me his patented look of hurt innocence. "Looks like I owe you an apology," I said grudgingly.
"Looks like." He was merciful enough to leave it at that.
I studied the steady drip of transmission fluid as it trickled red on the floor. "Diamondback, I want whoever did this to Andy."
He was quiet a long time. "You'd better cool that, Nightingale. Medics are sworn to save lives, not take them. Remember?"
"I don't care!" I whirled on him. "My brother is lying in a hospital bed, and I don't even know if he's going to live or die. It'd be one thing if he bought it in a fair fight, but this. .
"'Gale, I'll take care of it. I want them just as badly as you do
"No, you don't. You can fix your damn prototype. This is my brother we're talking about." I paused only long enough to draw a breath. "If you won't help me nail them, just stay out of my way."
"You're serious, then."
"You're damn right I'm serious.
He looked thoughtful. "What does Grizzly think?"
"Not much and not often." It was an old joke, but somehow it sounded cold and nasty in the big garage.
"He know you're looking to off these guys?"
"Are you crazy?!" Griz dragged himself off the stretcher he'd been snoring on, and grabbed me by both shoulders. "Nightingale MacLame, you've finally lost it. If word gets around you're drumming up your own business, you'll give samaritans a bad name. We'll never pick up any more work. We'll be marked!" Typical Grizzly. Barely articulate most of the time, melodramatic now that I'd decided on a course of action.
"I didn't ask you to come with me. I'll put out the word you had nothing to do with it. You'll have a new partner in no time." I stood on the stretcher opposite him and calmly loaded the top turret-mounted Vulcan with a mixed bag of tracer, armor-piercing and explosive rounds.
"You can't drive and gun at the same time!"
"I don't plan on gunning unless I have to. And if I have to, I'll manage." I jumped down, walked up front to the passenger seat, and flipped on the targeting computer to check the VMG. When I turned, I slammed into his broad chest. "Uh, Griz, you mind getting out of the way?"
He looked down at me. "You can't drive and gun at the same time," he repeated stubbornly.
"I said, I'll manage."
He leaned over, and still towered over me. "I have a share of this Samaritan, you know."
"I know. I'll pay you off."
"You think I'm gonna let you drive off with my third share?" he growled, squeezing past me to drop into his seat. "I'm comin' with you."
"Grizzly . ." I knew what he wasn't saying - that he wouldn't let me go it alone. I didn't want him to get involved or hurt.
"Strictly a business proposition," he continued gruffly. "If you get killed, I want the Samaritan."
He strapped himself in, ignoring my protests. "I'm the gunner. You're the driver. You do your job, and let me do mine."
"Thanks. From a strictly business point of view," I replied, simultaneously struggling to suppress a smile and tears. "And by the way, Griz, that's your quarter share.
I couldn't believe our luck. Cruising down Ralph Avenue, a midnight blue Firepower swerved into my lane. Flipping me the bird was none other than good old Kneecap. Mom was right all these years - when you go out looking for trouble, you do usually find it.
"Nightingale. . ." Griz cautioned as I sped up.
"Geez, Griz, I only want to talk to them," I said innocently, flipping on the P.A. system. "Afternoon, boys. Wanna pull over and have a cup of tea?"
Their answer was not unexpected. What ticked me off was that their slugs chewed through the customized mural of the bear and songbird along the left side of the samaritan, so I floored it. Just because I don't have a T-Cat under the hood doesn't mean I can't catch anything I want to catch. . . it just takes me a little longer.
The Firepower did a right 90-degree skid through the Flatlands Avenue intersection, past the abandoned high school with its circular library. Griz took careful aim, grunted, and fired as I followed, my tires screeching.
Dead on. Score one against South Shore High School.
"You know, Griz, unlike laser jocks, we do pay for each round of ammo."
"Drive." He growled.
I didn't bother to answer, just hung onto the Firepower's tail the best I could as Griz and the VMG slowly but steadily chewed through their rear armor.
Griz swore as I swerved unexpectedly. Apparently things were getting a little hot for Kneecap and company - they had dumped all of their mines in tbe space of a quarter block. Grizzly's shots went wide, tearing through a mailbox and floating shredded paper on the wind.
"Keep on him!" I yelled to Griz.
"Keep on him yourself!" he snarled, as I pulled a hard left through the intersection of Remsen Avenue.
"Would you take him out already?"
"They reinforced their rear armor!" he snapped defensively.
That's what you get when your partner bases his attack on the AADA Vehicle Recognition Guide without taking into account their warning that all bets are off on customized cars. "Forget the rear armor, just take out a tire!"
"Tires?" he sneered, and I knew what was coming. It was one of the unwritten rules that convinced everyone else that Brooklyn drivers were the craziest in the world. "Only wimps shoot out tires!"
"It's that, or I ram. And you know we don't have a ram plate!"
Griz shot the tire, and they swerved and rolled. I felt my heart catch with momentary guilt as I slammed on the brakes and skidded to the right. By the time we stopped, the Firepower had almost - but not quite - stopped rocking on its roof.
Griz groaned, and I turned. He was clutching his forehead, and I realized that there was blood seeping between his fingers.
"Fine," he grunted. "Just a scalp wound, you know how they are." He winced as a drop of blood splashed in his eye. "Damn radio, hanging there waiting to brain someone! I'll be no good to you out there, 'Gale. Let's call for back-up."
"May be too late." I grabbed my portable med-kit.
"I admire your dedication," Grizzly growled, grabbing some gauze pads and applying direct pressure to his forehead, "but those two were trying to kill us. Why risk your life for them?"
"Risk my life for them, hell. I'm getting some answers."
By the time I got outside, Kneecap and his driver were no longer inside their car. One look told me they'd been lucky to drop their mines when they did - their rear armor was nearly gone.
I crouched down by the driver's side of the Samaritan, my eyes scanning the abandoned warehouses across the street uneasily. Where had they gone?
Then I heard it. Kneecap had invested in a brace that went from mid-thigh to upper calf and was either vain or wealthy enough to buy a brand new one. I'd had to fit plenty of drivers with them, including Andy, and I was all too aware of the equipment's quirks. Between the creak of the stiff, new leather and the squeal of the metal side bars, I'd have had to be on the third night of a three-day binge to have been unaware that he was sneaking up behind me. It was no challenge at all to swing around suddenly and deliver a resounding roundhouse kick to - you guessed it - his other knee. For the second time in as many days, he went down, howling with pain.
When I heard the loud, metallic snap just behind me, I realized what, or rather who, I had forgotten. Raising my hands, I turned slowly. Sure enough, it was Kneecap's buddy and his autopistol. I cursed myself silently for forgetting about him.
"Too bad, grandma. You were a pretty good driver."
I forced myself not to react to his jibe about my age, and chinned the red cross on my lapel instead. "I wouldn't do that if I were you. I'm a medic, you know." I hoped that would convince him it was worthwhile to find a less lethal means of dealing with me. It was common knowledge that anyone who fired on, much less killed, Ambunaught or Samaritan crews usually lived just long enough to regret it. We're avenged with extreme prejudice, and not just by our own. Drivers everywhere owe us their lives.
He grinned. "Who's around to see it? Ever occur to you that you caught us down in Canarsie cause I wanted a nice, quiet place to pay ya back?
It hadn't. If he killed me and Griz here, it was a good bet nobody'd find us. Nobody came down here anymore but outlaws. I heard myself telling him, firmly and very calmly, "Put the gun down."
"Sure thing," he said, aiming with exaggerated care at my chest. "G'bye, lady medic." I stiffened in anticipation of the jarring impact of being shot on full automatic.
Hearing a single rifle shot these days is a rarity, because everyone seems to adhere to the notion that more is better. Spraying buckshot or bullets is the surest way to splatter your target, but there's something exceptionally eloquent about the crack of a single rifle report. Autopistol was spun around, a spray of red catapulting away from his head, his finger spasming on the trigger. Bullets chewed into an abandoned gasoline station, into the air, into the asphalt. I didn't have to check him to see that he was very dead before he'd even hit the ground. When I saw Flashpoint lowering herself through the roof of a low-slung Wall Street Special with her high-powered hunting rifle and sniperscope, I knew I'd have to thank Diamondback, then royally chew him out, for having me followed.
I turned on Kneecap, who'd been struggling to his feet, and shoved him against the side of the samaritan. His forehead impacted with the side armor, and he grunted in pain as I jerked a thumb in Autopistol's direction. "That," I told him calmly, "was a warning shot."
"You're sure he doesn't know anything?" Grizzly rumbled, snorting with pain and cracking his knuckles threateningly as I bandaged his head. "I could ask."
Kneecap shrunk back. "I swear, I swear, man. MacLaine busted up my car. that's why we trashed his when we had the chance. I swear we didn't have nothin' to do with tryin' to kill him. Honest. But I heard Boom-Boom warned Diamondback not to release his prototype before the games next week. Said he'd regret it." He blinked fearfully. "I thought you guys were angels of mercy. Life savers."
"We haven't killed you." Grizzly grumbled.
"But you better believe," I hissed at Kneecap, "that if I find out that you've lied to me, that's it. As a medic, I could make things very unpleasant for you."
"Very painful" Grizzly added. "Never life-threatening, of course. Accidents happen." He patted Kneecap's right knee, ever-so-gently, and Kneecap blanched. "Know what I mean?"
"W-whuyagonna do t'me, man?"
"Nothin'. Get out."
"What? B-but you can't leave me here in this neighborhood, man, it's all abandoned. What about renegade cyclists?"
"There's a phone on the corner, and it even works." Grizzly picked him up under one arm, walked to the back doors, and put Kneecap gently down onto the asphalt, handing him a cane. "Between that and your buddy's gun. You have a better than fair chance of being here when your mommy shows up. Better than if you mention anything about a samaritan down here, get it?'
He got it.
In the end, we traded Kneecap two additional clips for the location of Boom-Boom's shop. It was in the old Brooklyn Terminal Markets, and one of the entrances to the complex was on Foster Avenue, a few hundred feet from us. After I patched up Grizzly, we swung out of the Samaritan quietly, climbed the fence surrounding the warehouses, made our way up to the shop's roof, and looked through a skylight.
"'Gale, are you sure about this?" Grizzly asked quietly. "After all, the Bimbo Brothers back there didn't have anything to do with hurting Andy..."
I gave him a look, laying my Ladyman Puma on the skylight. "Yeah? If they're so innocent, why'd they start shooting?"
Griz shut up.
I put on my stethoscope, then pressed it against the pane of glass, trying not to feel quite so guilty about Autopistol's demise. After all, I told myself as my hand curled around the cool butt of my pistol, they had opened fire on us first.
The voices were slightly muffled, but clear enough to hear. The mechs down below were working on a sleek, black Python parked directly under the skylight.
Shop-talk never really interested me, but this sure did. There was a powerfully-muscled guy in combat armor laughing below. "So, you hear about that awful accident last week on the Belt?"
I tensed, and Grizzly whipped out his stethoscope too.
"Yeah, heard it was real bad. After all, who would've thought the steering linkage and brakes would ever fail at the same time."
"Real slipshod work Diamondback's doing these days."
Griz squeezed my shoulder gently. "Easy," he whispered. "It doesn't mean a thing."
"I know," I hissed back. "Shhh."
The big guy slapped a scrawny, nervous-looking little kid on the back, one of those hangers-on who dreams that someday they'll be a duellist, too. "Wonder if maybe it was a Mouse chewing through the cables?"
The kid looked away and scurried over to the prototype. "When you gonna let me ride shotgun, huh, Boom-Boom?"
The bruiser stood up, walked over, and put his arm around Mouse's shoulder. "Why don'tcha tell us about the Bomb?"
Mouse quivered. "Come on, Boom-Boom, leave me alone."
"What's'a matter, kid, you got a conscience all of a sudden?
You didn't mind when I paid ya t'break in to Diamondback's garage and fix the car." Boom-Boom swiped at Mouse with a massive paw. When he turned, cringing, Boom-Boom kicked the kid in the seat of the pants.
I yanked my stethoscope out of my ears and closed my eyes tightly, leaning on the skylight, trying to calm the tears of frustration and outrage that threatened to overcome me. How could they be laughing and joking about it?
There was hardly any warning at all - a slight creak, and then the skylight twisted inward and shattered. There wasn't time to grab anything, and all I saw was a blur of black as I twisted in midair, hugging the Puma to my chest.
I landed hard, the wind knocked out of me. The mechs, thank God, were just as surprised by my entrance as I was. I offered up a quick silent prayer to whatever designer decided to forego the roof-mounted weapon option.
"Mother o' Mercy," Boom-Boom growled, snatching up an Alamo machine pistol, "It's one o' Diamondback's lot!"
Hell of a way for a samaritan to die, sprawled spread-eagled over the roof of a car, I thought.
"GRRRRRRAARRRR!" The rest of the skylight rained down around me, and as the Mechs and Boom-Boom looked up in dumb astonishment, I rolled to my right and managed to land on hands and knees on the concrete floor mere seconds before Grizzly and his size 13 combat boots landed on the top armor. The cuts I'd gotten from my fall stung, but that was nothing compared to what I'd have felt if Griz had landed on my rib cage.
Griz lashed out, and his kick disarmed Boom-Boom quite nicely. He barely had time to avoid the mallet another mech sent whizzing by his right temple.
"Griz, lookout!" I'd popped up by the right front fender and blasted a mechanic brandishing an arc-welder, ducking my head and shielding my eyes against the intense blue-white light.
I glimpsed a reflection in the windshield, dodged. A wrench missed my head and instead bounced off the Python's side armor. I reacted instantly, twisting and ramming the heel of my hand up into the face of another mech. He staggered back, dropping the wrench, blinded with pain and his shattered nose bloody.
Griz jumped off the roof onto Boom-Boom, and with two mechs down, I still had three more and Mouse to worry about when something bumped into me from behind.
I don't know who screamed louder, the kid in his terror, or me with my martial-arts-inspired Kiai! I slammed him against the Python's side armor with my right elbow and fired blindly with my left hand. The shots were several inches off-target, so instead of killing the crowbar-wielding mechanic looming up behind Mouse, I nearly took the mech's left shoulder off. As I searched for another opponent, I shoved Mouse through the open passenger's window into the car, out of harm's way. After all, he was only a kid.
I couldn't see anyone else, and glanced over at Grizzly. He was still wrestling with Boom-Boom, and it looked like Griz could use a hand. I'd've gone to help him, but the Python I'd been leaning on roared to life and tore off, spinning me away onto the concrete and depriving me of the little cover I had. As I picked myself up, the car smashed through the wooden garage door.
A burst of flame suddenly licked across my left thigh, and I rolled instantly, slapping at my burning uniform. Another cloud of flame engulfed me briefly, and I figured out where one of the remaining mechs had gone. I held my breath and rolled under a workbench.
The fire had done wonders for my uniform, and another burst was sure to finish me. As it was, my leg had been badly burned and I wasn't sure what was left of it. I lay on my side, panting in agony and gathering my strength.
Flamethrower came looking for me, unable to see through the noxious smoke my uniform had produced. When he'd reached the area just in front of my workbench, I took careful aim, both shaking hands curled around the grip of my pistol, and pulled the trigger.
The canister was an older make and apparently not well armored. The shots tore right through it, and Flamethrower realized what had happened when he felt the first splatter of napalm hit his suit. He didn't get a chance to do much else before his pack exploded, splashing burning napalm as far as the eye could see. Not to mention him.
In the meantime, Griz had broken Boom-Boom's grapple and was using him as a punching bag. The other mechanic was long gone by the time I crawled out from under the bench and limped towards Griz and Boom-Boom.
Griz was holding Boom-Boom up by the front of his combat armor, and pulling back for another punch when I staggered over and grabbed Grizzly's wrist. Griz paused while I shouted into Boom-Boom's face, "Why? Why did you sabotage the Cherry Bomb?"
Boom-Boom grinned faintly, his smile bloody and gaptoothed. "Business," he answered.
Grizzly's eyes went squinty as he punched him again, and Boom-Boom's eyes rolled back as he sagged, unconscious, in my gunner's grip. Grizzly let go and Boom-Boom dropped like a sack of potatoes. "Come on, 'Gale! We have to get Out of here, thefire. .
"Grab him and let's go." I said, heading for the door.
Grizzly caught my arm, panting and outraged. "Grab him? 'Gale, he almost killed Andy. And for 'business'!"
I stumbled over to Crowbar, saw he was still breathing, and started to drag him Out. "We can't just leave 'em to burn." Arc-Welder and flamethrower were both lost causes, and Broke-nose was staggering to the door on his own. "Come on!"
Somehow we managed to stagger through the flames with our charges. Choking and blinded, I kept going forward as I heard the ominous creak of weakened beams. I tripped and fell forward, and felt someone catch me as I spun down into the darkness.
"Serves you right, Sis, you've been subjecting plenty of us duellists to those damned things."
"Oh, shut up," I told Andy good-naturedly as I limped to his bedside, leaning heavily on my crutches.
"Boy, are you a grouch," he grinned. "And I'd always thought J'd cornered the market on being stupid."
"Yeah, well if you didn't have to go test Diamondback's stupid cars for him, this never would have happened."
"Don't badmouth Di, sis. If it weren't for him you'd be dead twice over."
"How do you figure?" I snapped. "All he did was send Flashpoint to spy on us!"
"Well, he was there to catch you when you came stumbling out of the flames, wasn't he?"
"The only reason he was there was to grab Boom-Boom's prototype," I shot back, "and he did!" I was getting sick of hearing how Diamondback had saved my life. Griz and I had gotten well clear before the warehouse collapsed.
"Aw, he's not as mercenary as you think," Andy grinned with his old devil-may ~are smile. "I think he even likes you." The MacLaine luck had come through. The rat was coming along nicely, might even be duelling in another six months.
"Yeah, right. For my brilliant intellect, yet."
He turned suddenly serious. "When do you think you'll be working again, Sis?"
I knew he was wondering if I'd ever be working again; vigilantism is a quality frowned upon in samaritans. "Soon as I'm off these crutches. Officially, I killed those two mechs in self-defense. Hell, they're talking about giving Griz and me medals of honor for dragging those guys out of the fire. Especially in the shape we were in.
He looked at me hard. "How'd you happen to find the guys who sabotaged the car?"
"Boom-Boom's been charged with attempted murder." I answered evasively.
"You went looking for them, didn't you?"
"Me?" I snorted as I leaned over and gave him a big hug. "What possible reason could I have had to risk my life, my car, my partner and my job?"
He squeezed back weakly. A good sign, considering that a few days previously he couldn't return a handshake. "Thanks 3..."
"Don't say it,,' I warned. With a name like the one my mom gave me, it's no wonder I prefer Nightingale. "No matter what, Andy, you're still my little brother. And if anyone's going to kill you, it's going to be me!"
Nightingale's Custom Samaritan - Van, X-Hvy. Chassis, Hvy. Suspension, Super PP, 6 PR Radials, top turret VMG, rear HDFOJ, extra driver controls, long distance radio, 2 stretchers, medical equipment, driver/paramedic, gunner/paramedic. Armor F30, L30, B30, T15, U15. Cargo 350, Accel. 5, HC3, weight 7,000 lbs., $25,000.