Once Maxine was asleep for the night, Brody kissed Jillian goodbye and ventured out into the dark streets of Sector 25. He wore a thin, bulletproof vest beneath his coat and thermal shirt. In a backpack were two pistols, ammo, a revolver, a grenade, and a couple of sights and silencers. He had his rifle across his chest.
On Mars, he had a license for the revolver and the rifle. On Ptolemy, that type of regulation didn’t exist. He kept a stockpile of equipment at home locked safely away.
He went down to the basement of the building where he kept his motorcycle in a storage unit. The bike was decent, considering what was available on the rebel planet. A reliable ride and high-quality guns had been necessary when his only form of employment was killing. He was good at it. The money was tempting.
And that’s why he was here now, despite his wife’s pleas. Even an easy kill could bring them a month closer to buying an apartment on Mars. He knew he wasn’t invincible; there were risks, but he hadn’t died yet. She just needed to trust him.
Brody hauled the bike up to the first floor and rolled it outside. Then he secured his goggles and took off into the night. His destination was about five miles away, in the worst part of the sector, the one he’d been born in. He slowed as familiar buildings came into view. The potholed streets were bright from neon signs and the light pouring out of open doors, but the corners were dark. The governor had guards. A couple might be seen patrolling, but they were only good as cleanup crew.
No one could stop crime in Sector 25. Residents just found the type of crime that suited them best and protected their own as best they could. It was survival of the fittest. Kill or be killed.
Brody parked next to some other bikes outside of Leo’s Bar and pulled a fuse to deter theft. The bar was busy, smoky, and smelled like sweat and spilled beer. He’d spent much of his boyhood in this bar with his father, learning about guns, drink, women, and—most importantly—how to secure a job.
Leo was the man to talk to, and Brody squeezed his way between the tables and past the serving girls, nodding at a few familiar faces, until he made it to the bar in back. He sat on an empty stool between two men.
“Shots!” Leo greeted from behind the bar. “Lookin’ for a whiskey? Or has that fancy kingdom in the sky, er, refined your tastes?”
Brody glared at the squat man but didn’t dignify the jeer with a response. Leo put his hands up in mock surrender and poured him a double shot of cheap whiskey. Much as he hated to admit it, Mars had affected his taste. He’d never recognized the drink as cheap before.
Still, he slugged it back and tapped the bar for another. As Leo poured his second round, he leaned in close, demanding the other man’s attention.
“I’m lookin’ for work. Anything come through?”
Leo stole a glance at Sledge, the short, wiry merc next to him. He sported a shaved head and didn’t seem very intimidating at all—until a person saw his face. Besides the Glasgow grin, his eyes were near-black; even when he smiled it looked like a sneer. At the moment, he was deep in conversation with the woman on the other side of him, Spinder, who was a skilled assassin in her own right.
“All I got’s left is a rough-up job for somebody in the next sector.”
Brody clenched his jaw. If he’d gotten there earlier, he might have gotten something better, but he’d wanted to see Maxine off to sleep. She deserved that much. He’d be gone by the next evening.
“What’s it pay?”
“That’s it?” Brody growled, frustration making his fists clench.
“Don’t shoot the messenger, Shots,” Leo warned. “You want it or not?”
Brody considered briefly, but he already knew it wasn’t worth it. That was the kind of work for odd-job men, who had nothing to lose and would do anything for a quick buck. Brody needed more to make it worth the risk.
“No,” he said finally.
“Come back tomorrow. You never know when somethin’ll come in.”
“I’m leavin’ tomorrow night.”
“Sorry, Shots. Maybe one of the others’ll go in with you.”
Brody only grunted as he sipped his second glass of whiskey. A scuffle broke out to his right. Sledge was getting into it with Spinder, and he jostled Brody’s elbow, making him spill his drink. He grabbed the other man by the back of the neck and slammed his head down on the bar. It was an automatic reaction, especially in his agitated state. Sledge slumped to the floor. Conversation paused for a moment, then returned to normal.
Spinder had a knife drawn, and her gray eyes narrowed. She was annoyed. Brody had stolen her thunder.
“I guess you can have his half of the job,” Leo said, glancing down at the body over the bar and refilling Brody’s glass.
“It’s mine now.” Spinder turned the tip of the knife towards the sixty-something bar owner, even though she knew better than to actually try and hurt him. His security was top-notch. She wouldn’t get two feet out the door.
“You know damn well that’s a two-person job if there ever was one.” Leo smirked.
Spinder glowered at the small man but lowered her weapon. She eyed Brody, sizing him up. They only knew one another by reputation. Hers was good. His was better.
“What’s it pay?” Brody asked, addressing Leo.
“Thirty thousand. Sector 72.”
Fifteen thousand each, minus the cost of a plane and Leo’s cut. That was more like it. He’d have the money to get on a waiting list for an apartment in four months. There was a good chance they’d have one before Jill delivered the new baby.
He grinned and turned to Spinder. “You got a bike?”
“Then let’s get goin’. You can tell me the details on the plane.”
Spinder was still annoyed that this change in plan had been decided for her, and she hesitated.
Brody leaned in close to her round face, which was framed by short, black hair. “Do you want the money or not?”
She shoved him away from her, being sure to dig her nails into his forehead. Brody was unfazed; relief tasted too sweet. Spinder turned, pulled a warm cap over her head, and stalked out, expecting him to follow.
Brody glanced back at Leo. “Take the drinks and damage out of my pay.”
“Will do.” Leo tipped an invisible hat, and Brody went to catch up with his partner—and one hell of a payday.