Roger hopped out of the van, looked both directions, and then approached the folding card table.
"You again," the gypsy said, watching him approach.
"What have you got this time?" Roger asked. "Tchagran video games? Bootlegged Centauri action films?"
"Pokemon cards," the gypsy replied. "Strictly legit. I got them from eBay."
"What's the real reason you're here?" Roger asked.
"SAG won't let me have my dental coverage if I don't show up in at least four episodes a season."
"Shame about these cards," Roger said, picking one up. "That fad's over. You're out whatever you spent on them, I guarantee."
The gypsy growled a burst of profanity that would make Phil do a double take.
"You really don't have anything illegal on your person?" Roger asked.
"What, and ruin your day?" the gypsy quipped. "I've got a half a cube of Warban jerky in my pocket that I've been using to keep myself from starving to death. You want to take it from me? Go ahead. At least, if I starve to death, I won't have to put up with this miserable planet anymore."
"A little touchy?" Roger asked. "I just need some information and I'll leave you alone."
"Sorry, I'm fresh out."
"You weren't near the Rideau Canal Wednesday night, were you?"
"If I was I didn't see anything," the gypsy said. "No boats, nothing."
"That's a shame," Roger said. "Apparently a shipment of Tamarlin nova grenades made its way into Ottawa on Wednesday, destined, no doubt, to end up in the hands of humans who would actually put them to use."
"You're crazy," the gypsy said. "Nobody I know would deal in those things. They're too dangerous. One little coating of wax seperating the explosive core from swift and loud combustion. Uh-uh."
"Well, if you're sure," Roger said. "Still, it would be a shame if someone cooked one of them off in the Capital here. Especially if you're still here."
"Nobody's that stupid," the gypsy said.
"Haven't you been watching the news?" Roger asked. "Wait, forget I said that. I wasn't thinking about who I was talking to."
"Ok," the gypsy said. "Suppose I did hear something about a shipment, assuming I didn't know what was in it. What's in it for me?"
"Beyond saving your own skin?" Roger asked. "I might be willing to overlook the twelve cases of Carffee you've got on order to trade with the Pidarians."
"How did you know a-" the gypsy stammered. "Wait. I don't want to know. It's more fun when you show up unannounced. Ok, here's the deal. There's a Slax working out of an apartment above Zaphod's. He sells anything he can get his hands on, and I've done a few runs for him, but nothing dangerous. Anyway, he wanted me to do a run on Wednesday, pick up a few dozen crates from a private boat that was supposed to be in the Canal. I couldn't do it because I had a shipment of bootlegged Team Canada World Cup jerseys coming in."
"Your timing is impeccable," Roger noted.
"Regardless," the gypsy replied. "That's who you want to talk to. That's really all I know."
"You're sure?" Roger asked.
"Ok, I'll be right back," Roger said.
"Where are you going?"
"Back to the van," Roger replied. "To get Phil so she can make sure you're telling me everything."
"I swear!" the gypsy yelled. "Don't get Phil! I don't know anything else! I swear to the maker that I know nothing else!"
"You know," Roger smiled. "I'm going to believe you this time. Of course, you do realize that, if this doesn't pan out, Phil's going to want to express her displeasure, right?"
The gypsy blanched and nodded.
The floor beneath Rhino's heels was thumping with the rhythm of the club downstairs as he reached the top of the stairs. He rounded the corner and threw his back against the wall, pointing his rifle down the hallway. Phil swept in behind him and ran to the end of the hallway. She pressed her ear against the door, then nodded in Rhino's direction. Rhino nodded back and Phil stepped aside. Running down the hallway full speed, Rhino picked up a good head of steam before plowing into the door with his forehead. The door, not willing to debate the matter, gave way and Rhino tumbled into the room.
It was a small apartment, a living room and dining room in one rectangle, with a kitchen area leading off of one end and a bedroom off the other. There were two young men sitting on pillows on the floor. One was holding a pipe and a lighter; they were both staring at Rhino when Phil came in and drew their attention.
"Where's the Slax?" Phil asked, leveling her weapon at them.
"The what?" the holding the pipe gasped, obviously terrified.
"Big guy," Rhino shouted. "Three arms and a tail."
Before they could get a reply, a beam of cyan shot from above the island seperating the kitchen and the dining room. Rhino hit the floor and rolled behind the couch; Phil took shelter behind the door frame, halfway into the hallway. The Slax fired again, this time at Phil. Rhino leapt up from behind the couch and pumped a round into the kitchen, blasting a large hole in the island. The Slax dropped to the floor and Rhino fired again.
Phil rounded the corner again and opened fire with a fully automatic weapon that chewed large holes in the far wall of the kitch. While she had the Slax pinned down, Rhino got to his feet and continued pumping round after round into the island until all that was left was a pile of particle board and a stream of water shooting up where the kitchen sink had been moments before.
Phil pulled a small object off of her belt and pulled a ring out of it before throwing it into the kitchen. Rhino fell down behind the couch again and Phil ducked into the hallway seconds before a loud pop shook the apartment. Before the noise even subsided, Phil and Rhino were in the kitchen, weapons readied.
The Slax was laying on the floor holding his ears and wiggling his jaw. A dozen or so small, green rodents zipped around inside a cage, obviously terrified by the noise.
"Gobliaks," Rhino said, pointing to the cage.
"Don't move," Phil growled, kicking at the Slax. "I said get DON'T MOVE! Unless you want me to take practice shots at your tail."
"Bloody 'ell!" the Slax shouted. "I can't hear a bloomin' thing!"
"Good," Phil said, reaching into her shirt pocket. "Here's a pamphlet listing your rights."
"And who the feck are you?" the Slax yelled, then looked at the pamphlet. "Galactic Customs? Get knotted, bint!"
Phil swung the back of her weapon down, catching the Slax across the jaw.
"I don't have time to play with you today," she said. "Otherwise I'd give you three new elbows on your third arm there. Where are the grenades?"
"The what?" the Slax asked. Phil raised her weapon again and the Slax shied back. "Oh, those grenades. They're gone."
"Gone where?" Phil asked.
"You let the bird do all yer talkin', mate? Where's yer nadgers?" the Slax said to Rhino.
Phil stomped her foot down, the tip of her boot in the Slax' crotch and the pointed heel pushing down on the base of his tail. The Slax gasped in pain as his eyes crossed. When he could see straight again, he was looking directly down the barrel of Phil's weapon.
"Mine are a bit further down than that but, that's about the same general area." Rhino said casually.
"We don't take kindly to arms dealers," Phil said. "I can blow yer head off right now and not even get a reprimand."
"Right, right," the Slax said, holding up a hand. "The grenades are on their merry way into the States, innit? A bloke by the name of West. S'all I know. I dumped 'em as soon as I saw what they were, and dumped to someone who would take 'em far away from me."
"Where was he taking them?" Phil asked.
"I dunno. He said something about Idaho, that's all I know."
"That doesn't give us a lot to go on," Jack said, standing at the podium at the front of the meeting room. "What do we have in Idaho?"
"Besides the largest chemical warfare stockpile in the world?" Shimo asked, rhetorically. "Nothing."
"That's not entirely true," Roger said. "There's a small arms dealer in Boise. Annie Perry."
Roger tapped a few keys on the keyboard set into the table in front of him and the image of a pudgy, androgynous face with thin, stringy hair filled the projection screen behind Jack.
"Who's she?" Rhino asked.
"He," Roger replied. "Er - as far as we can tell. Annie's House of Bondage is a front for a recycled super-weapons shop. Annie sells new, used, and unusual items to superheroes in the greater Boise area and sometimes deals nationally."
"Wait," Jack said. "Is this the same Annie Perry that's wanted in San Francisco for selling super paraphernalia against city regulations?"
"The same," Roger said.
"Why haven't we moved on him?"
"Because, so far, he's worked only for the good guys," Roger said, tapping a few more keys. A list of sales replaced Annie's face. "Most of what he carries is legal Earth tech. Nothing that violates GC regs. And anything he's bought from off world has been minor enough to not matter. Plus, Annie's pretty careful about the things he sells and who he sells to."
"How often do we hear that?" Rhino chuckled.
"You think Annie's moving up in the potency of his wares?" Jack asked.
"No," Roger said. "But he's our only lead. Boise's not exactly a hotbed of intergalactic trade. At least, as far as we can tell."
"Fine," Jack nodded. "Roger, you and Shimo get down there and do a little spying on this Annie. See if he knows anything. Carla, I want a list of every bus, plane, train, rickshaw, and bicycle carrying goods out of Ottawa and headed for the states."
"Er -" Carla said.
"Phil, Rhino," Jack continued. "I want the two of you to ready every piece of heavy hardware you can find. I'm giving you full jurisdiction to use whatever means necessary to recover those grenades. If even one of them goes off in the states, we're looking at a major problem. I don't like getting involved in Earth politics, but the GC's responsible if anything happens."
The GC agents nodded solemnly, their eyes looking down.
"Well let's go, people," Jack said. "Move!"
"Ringing," Shimo said, holding an earpiece in up against the side of his head. "Answer. Another 900 soap opera hotline."
"What's that, four calls this morning?" Roger asked.
"Annie likes his soaps," Shimo replied.
"I'll log it, but I think we're wasting our time here," Roger said. "This is the most boring stakeout I've ever been on, and that includes the time we were looking for that Carpolin Sloth in Springfield."
Shimo put the earpiece down as the computer in front of displayed a status bar, letting him know it was recording the phone call. He leaned back in his chair and rubbed his eyes, then stood up. The inside of the van was cramped, but Shimo was short enough to stand almost completely erect.
"I need some air," he said, opening the back door.
Shimo hopped off the back of the van and stretched his back out. The pest-control van they'd been sitting in was parked at the end of the block that housed Annie's House of Bondage, and Shimo could see, down it's lazy, tree-lined sidewalks, the front of the store. He turned around and closed the van door almost completely as a Maxima pulled out of the driveway next to Annie's and approached them.
"We know who that is?" he asked through the crack.
"Annie's neighbors," Roger replied. "They live in the apartment upstairs."
"Clean," Roger said. "As far as I can tell they wouldn't know a super weapon if it bit them in the ass."
Shimo nodded to the driver as the car rolled silently past the van.
"Someone reads a bit too many comics," he said, noting the passenger's outfit.
"Annie's got some customers," Roger said.
Shimo noticed a pickup that had just parked in front of Annie's. Two men left the vehicle and headed inside the store. Back inside the van, Roger was watching the display of a cleverly hidden camera that Shimo had hidden inside the store while pretending to browse an hour or so before.
"Terry, Mick," the tiny Annie on the screen said, squeezing his way out from behind the counter. "Any news?"
"A shipment of pocket-sized vibroguns," one of the men replied.
Annie raised a finger to his lips, then reached behind the counter. He must have turned on some sort of jammer because that very instant the video display went black. The audio, however, kept coming in.
"Well, the secondary shielding held anyway," Shimo said, taking the chair behind Roger again.
"How many?" Annie asked.
"Thirty," one of the men replied.
"A few shock whips."
"Shock whips are so Eartha Kitt," Annie said. "Gimme some good news."
"All he told us was 'other stuff' when we got the call."
"Damn," Annie said. "I really hate dealing with freelancers. If this West guy didn't come so highly recommended from my friends in Ottawa -"
"Ottawa?" Roger and Shimo said at the same time.
"- I swear," Annie continued. "So when and where?"
"Five thirty at the warehouse on Muldoon."
"Five thirty?" Annie yelled. "I've got a business to run besides my business. Besides, I'm going to miss John Edward."
"I think we just got our time and location," Roger said.
"Calling Jack now," Shimo said.
"What ever happened to the days of holding decent hours?" Annie asked. "What's wrong with meeting in abandoned warehouses in the wee hours of the morning?"
"Ok, Jack," Carla said, staggering into the meeting room with a weighty stack of papers in her arm. "I printed out every manifest I could find for the last four days out of Ottawa."
"Good," Jack said.
"I also cross-referenced against the name West."
"That's why we pay you," Jack grinned.
"And this," Carla said, thumping the stack of printouts onto the table, "is the best I could do. This one on the top, a guy named West got onto a train headed directly into Baker City with several crates he listed as 'Pet Supplies.'"
"Right up the highway from Boise," Jack thought, out loud. "Good work Carla."
"Thanks Jack," Carla beamed.
"Roger and Shimo just called in to give us the time and place this West guy has his meeting set up for."
"They -" Carla muttered. "Who - wha - buh? Oh poop! You mean I did all that work for nothing?"
"Not for nothing," Jack said. "We now know how many boxes he's moving."
"I so need a vacation," Carla mumled.
"You're sure that's necessary?" Roger asked, looking Rhino up and down.
"Positive," Rhino grinned, snapping into place the last bit of ffinch-ffirnian battle armor into place. "Besides, Shimo says the computer system he put into it is better than the original one that got fried."
"We also know nothing about this West guy," Phil said, walking over.
She was dressed, head-to-toe in an odd combination of Shadowrun tech gear and Wagnerian Valkyrie armor.
"No sense in taking chances," she said.
"We really have to get a transport out to pick up contraband more than once every three years," Roger noted, to nobody in particular.
"Rhino," Jack said, walking up behind him, "I'm trusting you here. You too Phil."
"Gotcha," Phil said.
"I mean it," Jack said.
"I know," Phil said. "No, really, you can trust us."
"There's a truck approaching," Shimo said, from the back of the semi they'd filled with surveillance equipment. "I think it's West."
"Five-thirty on the dot," Shimo said, watching the screen as the pickup they'd seen earlier pulled up to the warehouse. "Annie is nothing if not punctual."
They watched as Annie, Mick, and Terry got out and entered the building. Shimo flipped a switch and the view changed to inside the warehouse. Annie walked in and looked around at the dozen open crates that West had dragged in just a few minutes before. One of Annie's sidekicks picked up a sample of the wares and Annie chastised him for playing with things.
West, dressed in a cowboy hat and duster, both of which conveniently hid his face and body from the cameras, was beaming with pride as he led the three between the rows of crates. West had his own helpers, Shimo had counted fifteen of them, although the GC agents couldn't see any of them at the moment.
"Don't touch," Annie said.
"I was just looking at it," the man said.
"Don't even look," Annie said. "I don't even know what that is. Looks like a ball gag."
"It's a grenade," West said.
"Not my bag," Annie replied.
"You sure?" West asked. "These are some might powerful grenades."
"That's our cue," Rhino said, and he and Phil ran down the lane between warehouses.
"Freeze!" Phil shouted, as they ran into the warehouse.
West's henchmen immediately appeared from various hiding places around the warehouse, each had a weapon trained on the agents.
"Galactic Customs," Phil yelled. "You're all under arrest."
"Don't shoot! Don't shoot!" Annie yelled. "I'm a bleeder!"
"Kill them," West said, then ran toward the back of the warehouse.
West's men opened fire. That, in and of itself was not surprising. What caught Rhino and Phil off guard was the fact that they were firing plasma weapons.
"Hey Phil," Rhino called, from behind the pillar he was using for cover.
"Yeah Rhino?" Phil called back.
"Ready for a little fun?"
"I thought you'd never ask."
Rhino and Phil both came out of cover at the same time, guns blazing.
be sure to read Part 2 at The Grayhound Chronicles !!