Labor and Delivery
A Newton's Gate Series
Series: The Delivery Mage
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Kurt Carter winced as the steel-toed boot caught him square in the chest, propelling him backward. He slammed into the building behind him. His head cracked back into the brick wall and rebounded causing him to see stars. Kurt’s vision swam and he worked to keep focused as he almost blacked out.
Shaking his head, he reacted on pure instinct and reached out, blocking an incoming punch with his forearm. Kurt followed up with a jab outward with his other fist, plowing it into the attacker’s solar plexus.
The scaly, reptoid gangbanger doubled over as the punch drove the wind from his lungs.
Kurt took the opportunity to dance backward, putting some distance between himself and the massive humanoid in a leather vest sporting the Hell’s Gate Clan colors. He needed a few seconds respite to regain some of his composure.
“I’m really getting tired of these little meet up’s with you and your friends,” Kurt said as he tried to focus on catching his breath. “I don’t know why we can’t work this out in some other way.”
“Blood spilt requires blood in payment,” The Hell’s Gater hissed. “You killed four of our brethren so we have to kill you.”
“Yeah, about that, there’s got to be a price you accept to compensate your gang for your lost friends. After all, aren’t gangbangers like you getting killed all the time?”
A snarling growl answered Kurt’s comment and the creature charged in at him.
Kurt ducked under a roundhouse right cross from the scaly humanoid. He dodged to the left and jabbed a punch into the guy’s ribs as he bent around behind his attacker.
The rough, scaly hide scraped a layer of skin from his knuckles but Kurt ignored the pain. He shoved with his other hand, knocking the Hell’s Gater off-balance.
“It’s been four weeks since you guys trashed my apartment. I was hoping to find some other way to handle this besides having to deal with random assaults while I go about my day to day business.
The gangbanger growled in reply and spun around, charging back in for another attack. He moved faster than Kurt anticipated and this time a clawed hand managed to grab ahold of Kurt as he spun a way to dodge the incoming assault.
Holding onto Kurt’s arm with an iron grip, the two-meter reptoid swung the smaller man around in an arc slamming him back into the brick wall again.
Striking the rough bricks face-first this time, Kurt felt his nose break as his face crunched against the unforgiving surface of the wall.
This is getting old, Kurt thought. He needed to end this before the gangbanger’s friends arrived.
Kurt had been taking a different route to and from his apartment on his daily chores as well as using surveillance drones to scout around before he left for the day.
It didn’t matter.
Invariably a few of the ones set to watch out for Kurt caught up with him. He’d been attacked six times in the last two weeks as the Clan managed to catch him while out on his rounds.
Kurt ignored the blood pouring from his nose and pushed off the wall, spinning around and blocking an incoming punch with his arms crossed in front of him. The block raised the other man’s arm high and the blow struck nothing but air.
Scissoring his arms so that he grabbed the other guy’s wrist, Kurt took his turn to spin his attacker around. He kicked out with one foot so that he tripped the reptoid so he fell to the sidewalk.
Continuing his spin move, Kurt lifted an elbow and came down on the back of the guy’s neck with all of his body weight behind it. There was a guttural groan and then the creature went limp, lying facedown on the sidewalk.
Kurt let out a sigh. He’d managed to knock out the creature.
Climbing into his feet and wiping at his bloody nose with the back of his hand, Kurt glanced around, scanning the street, making sure no one else was nearby. It wouldn’t do for one of this guy’s comrades to show up and catch him unawares.
There were no signs of any help coming from other Hell’s Gaters and Kurt let himself relax a bit. As the adrenaline started to leave his system, he winced at the pain signals flooding his mind. He’d managed to get himself beat up pretty well this time.
Kurt shook his head. He was going to need some time to recuperate before he’d be ready for another one.
With no one else nearby in the alley where the fight happened, Kurt headed back out to the main street and turned right, heading back towards his apartment.
Knowing the front of the building was being watched, he altered his course to take a spin around the nearby reservoir and come in from the back side of his street.
It had been two weeks since he returned from his last, pretty routine courier run. The trip had been uneventful and the delivery went off without a hitch. Ordinarily, Kurt would have taken satisfaction at a job well done.
That afterglow disappeared when a pair of gang members jumped him as soon as he arrived home. The repeated attacks since had Kurt hoping Trent had another job for him soon. He looked forward to an opportunity to get out of town for a few days and give things a chance to cool down here.
Kurt also needed the money. The cash would come in handy if he ever found the right Hell’s Gate Clan leader with whom he could negotiate the blood price.
While he walked towards the reservoir jogging trail, Kurt tapped the stainless steel cuff on his wrist containing, among other things, a mini-computer and checked his comm for any sign of a text message or incoming call. There was nothing.
He shook his head and kept walking, checking over his shoulder frequently to make sure no one came up behind him.
In addition to Kurt’s own efforts, Trent was also supposed to be looking into getting a brokered price for the blood debt. So far, Trent said he hadn’t had any luck. The job broker suspected that was because the price was still too high.
Trent’s advice was to keep beating up Clan members who attacked him until the gang decided payment was the most cost-effective way to decide the debt.
“Just whittle down their numbers a little bit,” Tent told his friend and business partner a few days before. “If you cause serious injuries to enough Hell’s Gaters, you will make the price too high for them to keep coming after you. That’s when they’ll settle things and give us a price.”
Kurt grunted a wry chuckle as he recalled the conversation. It would be a great suggestion if it was Trent’s body getting a routine beating while trying to deliver a message to an underworld gang. He’d have to remember to offer to use Trent as a possible body double sometime.
Almost to the path circling the reservoir, Kurt reached a cross street about a block away. He checked among the few pedestrians he could see on the other side of the road. None of them looked much like a biker gang member, but you could never tell for sure these days.
The Hell’s Gater Clan seemed to have reached into parts of society Kurt hadn’t suspected. Three days before, he was jumped by a guy in a business suit. That had caught him completely by surprise.
The street looked clear of any suspicious individuals and Kurt crossed the street to continue down the boulevard until he reached the turnoff to use the jogging path around one of the Baltimore city central reservoirs. If all went according to plan, he’d be able to circle the lake and get a good look at the building where his apartment was before he approached it.
The dry cleaner who owned the business below his apartment was supposed to leave him a message if anyone strange it was hanging around, but Kurt suspected that some members of the gang had already corrupted that potential source of intelligence for him. Kurt didn’t blame the guy. He wasn’t the one under the blood feud and couldn’t afford to have his business trashed or firebombed in retaliation for siding with Kurt.
Continuing around the reservoir while he pondered his options, Kurt wondered what would happen if he chose not to proceed with trying to pay off the blood debt. It didn’t look like it was just going to go away on its own. He thought about the option to relocate.
With thousands of gates open on or around the Earth, there were only a few worlds that didn’t have one or another criminal organization associated with them. From his experience, they often ended up working together at one point or another. If he wanted to go anywhere that was worth going to, it was likely he’d be spotted and identified by someone who might be interested in collecting a bounty for turning him over to the Hell’s Gater Clan.
Kurt sighed. It didn’t seem like there was any right answer to the situation. He liked where he lived. Baltimore was ideally located to give him access to gates up and down the east coast of the United States. He could be in New York City or Boston in a couple of hours travel north. In the opposite direction, he could reach Atlanta, Charleston, or even northern Florida in a few more hours travel.
None of that mattered, though, if he couldn’t live here safely. Something had to break his way and soon.
Kurt rounded the final turn in the reservoir path and gazed down on the street where the dry cleaner’s building sat. He could see no sign of anyone else in the vicinity other than normal pedestrian traffic. He decided it was worth making the final approach and returning to his apartment.
He came around from the rear of the building to the side door leading up to his apartment. Reaching the door, he activated his wrist computer and typed in the code on the keypad which started deactivating the series of new security measures he put in place since his apartment was ransacked weeks before.
As the door sequence unlocked and Kurt pulled it open, he shook his head. He still wasn’t any closer to figuring out how they got past his previous security measures. What he had put in place now was nothing short of what would be found in a top government facility and it had cost him a pretty penny. Just another thing that put him in debt so that he couldn’t pay back the gang.
Pulling the door shut behind him Kurt heard the magnetic locks click back into place. Multiple door bolts slide out to lock into the doorframe. It would take nothing short of a significant military-grade explosion to blow that door open. Putting these additional security measures in place had been almost the only thing that kept him feeling safe enough to even stay in the second-floor loft right now.
The other thing that kept him there was Kurt was just plain stubborn. He didn’t like getting pushed around. He also didn’t like thinking that people could run him off of his land or out of his apartment just because they wanted to scare him a little.
All right, he admitted, not scare him. They wanted to kill him. Still, it was the principle of the thing.
Heading upstairs and wiping more blood from beneath his nose, Kurt went to the first-floor bathroom and grabbed a towel so that he could try and clean up his face a little bit.
He looked into the mirror and winced. He was going to have two black eyes again. He had just healed up from the last ones.
Kurt made a mental note to check with the urgent care center a few blocks away to see if they had any openings in their stem cell regeneration suite. He was going to need his nose and a few other bumps and bruises fixed once again.
He didn’t like to use the advanced health services there, preferring to heal up the old-fashioned way, but given the number of attacks he’d withstood over the last few weeks, he’d never have survived if he hadn’t made sure to heal up as much as possible, as quickly as possible in between beatings.
Finishing washing up and tossing the bloody towel in the laundry chute leading down to the cleaners below, Kurt headed to the kitchen to figure out what he was going to have for dinner when the embedded comm chip behind his ear chirped. Working the muscles attached to his mastoid bone in a particular combination activated the incoming signal. Kurt said, “yeah, go ahead.”
“Kurt,” Trent said. “Just the guy I wanted to talk to. Are you around your place right now?”
“Yeah, I just got back as a matter of fact. I ran into a little trouble though so I’m still trying to get cleaned up. Are you close?”
“I’m a few blocks away. I’ll stop by if you don’t mind. This is something I’d rather not talk about over the open comm system.”
“Sure just buzz when you get here and I’ll let you up.”
“Sounds good. See you in a few.”
The signal cut out and Kurt decided he needed to put on a fresh shirt. He headed back upstairs and stripped off his shirt. He splashed water on his face to clean up the rest of the blood dried there.
Kurt slipped on a fresh t-shirt and heard a chime sound indicating Trent was downstairs. He tapped the mirror in the bathroom activating the integrated holo-display to make sure it was his friend before opening the door. The camera showed his job broker and one-time CIA handler standing there on the sidewalk looking up at the camera and giving him the middle finger.
Kurt smiled and pressed the virtual button on the display to open the door. He headed out into his bedroom, grabbed a fresh shirt out of the drawer, and pulled it on over his head as he headed downstairs to the first floor of his loft apartment. Trent stood waiting for Kurt when he reached the main level.
Trent Took one look at him and winced. “Geez, you weren’t kidding. Someone beat the crap out of you.”
“Yeah, well you should see the other guy.”
“I hope so. You didn’t kill him did you?”
“No, I’m meticulous about that. You know that. I did leave him unconscious in a dark alley, though. Hopefully, he doesn’t get rolled by somebody else along the way.
“Well, try not to kill anybody else, at least in that gang. You know how much trouble I’m having finding out the price for four bodies let alone adding another one or two to the tally.”
“I’m acutely aware,” Kurt said. “So what brings you by? Based on your comment, you’re not here to tell me you’ve worked out a deal with the gang.“
“Got a new job you might be interested in.”
“So, no movement at all on the blood debt?”
“Still working on that,” Trent said, shaking his head. “For now, though, a job would manage to get you out of the city for a few days, maybe up to two weeks.”
“Yeah, I was just thinking about something like that myself. I thought it might be worth getting out of town for a little while.”
“Perfect, then I’ve got the best job for you.”
“What is it?”
Trent shook his head. “I can’t tell you much about it. The client swore me to secrecy. They asked for you by name but only asked me to verify you were available. They gave me no details.“
“They asked for me by name?”
“Yup, and believe me I was surprised who it was, but you’ll figure all that out soon enough. The only thing I need to know is are you available and open for the next week or two to take a high-risk job that has the potential for a major payout.”
“How big a payout?”
“Big enough, I think. I’m not really sure, they were intentionally vague. Given who the client paying the bills is and who contacted me, I think they have the pull and the resources to get just about anything they need for payment if the job gets done to their satisfaction.”
Kurt didn’t like all the secrecy surrounding it, but he also knew that beggars couldn’t be choosers. He’d take just about any job out there right now because he needed the money. The extra security measures had just about bankrupted him. “Do they just want me or am I able to bring somebody else along.”
“If you’re thinking about taking my daughter, I’m not sure I want her going on this particular job.”
“Oh, so it’s OK for me to take the high-risk job but I can’t take along a partner I trust.”
“Not when she’s my daughter.”
“I bet she’d have something to say about that.”
“I’m not sure, she’s been kind of cagey since the two of you came back from that university job last month. Neither of you will tell me much about what went on other than to say you managed to rescue the two professors. Given how distracted you’ve been and how she’s been acting, I have to wonder what else happened on this job.” Trent’s eyes narrowed. “You two didn’t do anything I’d make you regret did you?”
Kurt held up both hands, palm out. “Good grief, Trent, nothing like that. It’s something that she has to tell you about. She’s the one who found something odd on the trip. I’ll leave it at that. You have to talk to her.”
“Yeah, I was afraid you’d say that. Well, I’ll have to track her down and ask her as soon as she starts answering my calls.”
Kurt decided to change the subject. ”So, where do I go to find out about this mysterious job?”
“They want to meet you downtown. I’ll text you the address. It’s in the area of the Inner Harbor.”
Kurt waited for more but Trent didn’t add anything else. He guessed that was all the information he was going to get from Trent. His friend wasn’t usually this secretive and it made him wonder who the client might be that would get him to agree to be so circumspect with Kurt about it.
He also found himself feeling a little miffed that Marci wasn’t automatically included. He would’ve liked to have her along again. If he was honest with himself, he kind of missed seeing her after spending over a week with her on their last joint job.
Of course, he wouldn’t tell Trent that. It would piss his friend off to no end if Kurt were to get involved with his daughter in a romantic way.
Kurt smiled at Trent. ”All right, I’ll take the job. But I expect the payment to be significant or I’m turning it down. Pass that along to them so they understand that I’m not going to be doing a lot of dickering on the price once they tell me what it is they want me to do. The price I give them will be the price I expect.“
Trent nodded. “Fair enough. I’ll make sure to send my contact a message right away. I suspect they’ll want to see you first thing tomorrow. Are you good with that?”
“Yeah, I’ll just have to make sure to leave early enough to sneak out and avoid encumbrances with any gangbangers who might be waiting outside my apartment. Don’t give up on finding a way to pay them off.”
“I’ll keep working on contacting them. Don’t worry. Everybody has a price.”
“So says the guy who puts a price on everything,” Kurt said, laughing. “Can I get you something to eat or drink? If you want to hang out, I’m getting ready to make some dinner and we can talk about old times.”
“Sounds like a great idea. You go get dinner ready and I’ll head into the other room and make this call to the client to tell them you’ll see them tomorrow.”
“All right, good. Dinner should be ready in about 10 to 15 minutes.”
Trent headed to the other room and Kurt turned and pulled open the door to his freezer. He knew Trent wouldn’t mind something microwaved from the grocery store and he pulled out a pair of individual dinners and slipped them into the microwave before setting it for five minutes. He returned to the refrigerator and cracked open a couple of beers and retrieved two chilled glasses from the freezer. He kept them there just for those times when Trent came over in the evenings. It had been a while since they’d hung out together. Pouring the beer into the glasses, Kurt headed into the living room just as Trent was finishing up his call.
“…Yeah, he’ll see you tomorrow. No, that’s all. I’ll leave it to him to finish negotiations.”
Trent smiled as Kurt walked in. He cut off the call reaching out to grab the beer from Kurt’s hand. “This will hit the spot. It’s been a long day.”
“You’ve had a long day? I’m the one who just got beat up in an alley.”
“Yeah and I’ve been on the comm all day, talking to everyone I could think of to try and figure out how to pay off your debt. My voice is practically gone and I’m parched. You owe me this beer.”
Kurt rolled his eyes but smiled. Trent was one of his oldest friends and the two of them had been together since Trent was a CIA intelligence officer and Kurt was a team member in a special operations unit tasked to deal with incursions of hostiles through open gateways in the early days after the Newton’s gate incident ten years before.
The two buddies sat down and started talking about old times. Laughing about mutual friends and some of the more hilarious shenanigans they’d managed to get themselves into while dealing with some pretty dangerous situations together.
Kurt relaxed. He didn’t have to worry about any random attacks on the street and Trent had forgiven him for a big canceled job Kurt turned down a few months before. He had few people in his life that knew him as well as Trent did. It was good to reminisce.”