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the legs on that dame

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“I don’t know about this,” Enriette said.

Sophie kept her eye on the dude with fins standing under a yellow street lamp. “You’re the one who wanted to shoot something.” He was heavyset for a finny; he had a fedora Sophie coveted and a briefcase. He was twitchy. Maybe he knew they were out there; maybe he only guessed someone would be, sometime. That’s what bad living earned you: paranoia.

Behind her, Enriette snapped a magazine into place. Then another, and another, and four in all. More than that made her unsteady on her feet, she said. Made her trigger-happy, Sophie thought. She’d played laser tag with Enriette, and she’d died of friendly fire twice. When Sophie brought it up, Enriette told her she whined.

“I don’t know,” Enriette repeated. Something in her tone made Sophie glance behind her. Enriette stood in the alley’s shadow, peering at her brainburner. Her face was lit by its bulb’s green glow, and it cast a deep green shadow in the furrow in her forehead.

“What’s up?” Sophie asked.

Enriette shrugged and slid the weapon into its holster at her waist. “I know what Halvor would say about one of those fuckers.”

Sophie didn’t know if she meant brainburners or mobster accountants with fins or something else. She didn’t get the chance to ask. Enriette took a sharp breath and jerked up her chin: look.

Finny had a friend. The friend was a white seal who would’ve come up to Sophie’s knees, and he was wearing a fedora, too, which just wasn’t fucking fair.

“Yeah?” Enriette said. Something clicked – the safety on the homer.

“Yeah.”

Sophie stood very still, and then, so brief it could have been a trick of the light, the back of the seal’s finely molded hat blazed with an orange shimmer. Sophie blinked at the spots it left in her vision. “Now we’ve got ‘em,” Enriette said, smug as she ever was during laser tag.

A bystander could have noticed the flare, raised an alarm. None did. The men across the street kept on talking. Maybe they struck some kind of accord, or maybe just realized what a stupid idea it was to stand there lit up by that brilliant yellow lamp, because then they were on the move, and that meant Sophie was, too.

“This is it,” she hissed. She sidled out of the alley onto the sidewalk. This time of evening, the day’s last workers mixed with the night’s first carousers. No one would notice one more, so long as she kept her gun out sight.

They’d notice Enriette, though, gun or no, and she was stuck taking alleyways. She’d crabbed about that.

Sophie’s quarry hung a right, crossing the street right in front of her – none too fast, because the little guy’s legs were none too long. They took another right, into a door tucked next to a cigar shop with stairs behind it.

Sophie paused to look for Enriette. She caught no glimpse of her, and she hesitated, just a moment. Then she headed in and up, following the finny and his friend.

It wasn’t a nice place. It wasn’t the kind of place you’d think a fine-suited accountant like that would spend his evenings. Waterstains pattered the ceiling, some with a cyan tinge. The color meant kelp dens; the smoke tended to react with anything damp. No wonder the whole city was a little bit blue.

The footsteps above her head stopped. A doorknob rattled. A door creaked open, slammed shut. Sophie slid up the stairs, silent in her patent leather shoes. It was a trick she’d practiced a lot. She listened for voices, and when she heard the burble of a finny pausing for a seal’s rumbling bass, she tried the doorknob. It was locked, no surprise, so she took out her heat pistol. A steady aim, a steady finger on the trigger, and it melted through. Mark that one down on the expense account.

She drew her pistol. She shoved, and the door flew open.

“Oh, god, no,” the finny said. The seal thrust his paw into his jacket.

“I wouldn’t,” Sophie said.

The seal eyed her with big, dewy eyes, and slowly he withdrew his paw.

“I’m not,” the finny said. “I didn’t, I swear. Ask anybody. Ask Eden!”

“Ask her yourself,” Sophie said. “Get over against the wall, both of you. Hands above your head.” She had cuffs, if she had two free hands to fasten them with. Where was Enriette? She had plenty of goddamn hands.

“I don’t think so,” said a voice. It came from over her shoulder. It crawled up her spine like a shiver.

Oh, fuck.

A gun fired. Glass shattered. Finny screamed, and the high, burbling scream of a panicked finny wasn’t a sound Sophie needed repeated any too soon. The seal moved, and Sophie shot him square in the head. He collapsed on the floor without one, the wall behind him down splattered in bright, decorative red.

Finny sat huddled against the wall. A sharp, sea scent rose up; the guy had pissed himself. Behind Sophie was a seal sprawled across the floor, blood seeping into his trench coat underneath.

Sophie checked herself over to see if she had any holes or wet patches. So this was the Freelance life, is it? How do you like it, Soph?

More falling glass, and then Enriette ducked her torso carefully through the window. “Everything all right, darling?”

“Fuck me,” Sophie said, heart still rabbiting.

“Mm,” Enriette hummed speculatively. “So let’s get the wethead back to his boss. You’ll have to get him downstairs. I climbed up the fire escape but I can’t fucking fit through this window.”

--

It wasn’t so hard, dragging the finny – Alister was his name, he explained tremblingly but clearly, like Sophie didn’t already know – down the stairs. Enriette met them at the door. They needed less stealth than speed, now, so Enriette spun a quick web around him and hauled him on her back, and then they hustled to the rendezvous.

Enriette handed over Finny and Sophie handed over their invoice and a list of expenses Eden would need to pay if she didn’t want burglary insurance coming after her for calling the hit. Her eyebrows drew together as elegant as two champagne flutes in a toast. “The union doesn’t cover these?” she burbled sweetly, oh so sweetly.

“We’re not union,” Sophie reminded her. “Yet.”

Eden pursed her lips. “Well. If you need a referral, you have my card.”

“We’ll keep it in mind,” Enriette said smoothly. “Thanks so much. Have to go now, prior engagement, sorry.” And then she took Sophie by the arm and hauled her away.

When they were out of earshot, Sophie said, “What was that? We can use a referral.”

“We don’t need a referral. And I don’t like how she looked at you. Or how you looked at her.”

Sophie would have argued, but there was a gleam in Enriette’s eye she wasn’t going to ignore. “Oh, yeah?”

“I’m tired,” Enriette said pitfully. “We should get some sleep, head off-world tomorrow.”

Sleep.”

“Well.” Enriette shrugged her slim shoulders.

The last dregs of adrenaline still hummed in Sophie’s veins, mixed up with something else, something sharper and hotter, full of promise like the venom in Enriette’s sting. Still, she had to ask, “So this was okay, right? You’re not flaking out on me. We're doing this.”

“Hell, yes, we're doing this,” Enriette said, showing all her teeth.

“I'm only saying, you sounded like you weren't on board—”

The night lights glowed in Enriette’s eyes, as many and as bright as Phang’s moons. “Are you kidding me? This was the best fun I’ve ever had. They’re fucking never dragging me back to that half-assed half-planet. Now come on.” Her hairy, white fingers closed around Sophie’s. “Let’s find a place to land, and you can fuck me like you mean it.”

Like Sophie would say no to that.

[end]