Bob's side ached as he darted around the stairwell and took the flight two steps at a time. His mind tried desperately to put together all the pieces of the last few minutes. Under the adrenaline rush he had no hope. Stumbling onto the seventh floor he glanced between the two figures.
Spike still lay motionless, sprawled at a cocked angle on the debris. His chest moved up and down. He was alive, but his eyes were closed. Jackson's shaking limbs edged him up off the ground, he panted hoarsely. The light in his eyes gleamed even in the growing darkness. A guttural howl left his throat as he shambled across the ground.
Darting between them, Bob's heart raced. He met the insane gleam in Jackson's eyes and he took several steps back. The hollow stare seemed more akin to beast than man. Every step Jackson took shuddered. Blood seeped from half a dozen wounds, but the man heeded none of them, not even the awkward kink of his ankle.
"Don't … " a raspy voice came from behind. Bob took a glance over his shoulder. Spike's half open eyes stared straight at Jackson. Every breath he took was a tight gasp. "Don't approach … Close now … Let it … fall out."
Bob edged back, closer to Spike. The fire in Jackson's eyes intensified as the distance gradually closed. Spittle from his harsh breathing pelted Bob's face. So close now he could see every micro-fire of the man's muscles.
Jackson threw his fists into the air and screamed as if to throw a tremendous punch. His body jerked tense, every muscle locked before he dropped like a limp rag.
Blinking, Bob let his own tension go. He flopped back against the iron support column for the construction elevator and fought to catch his breath.
A tight laugh escaped Spike. "Jackass didn't even know when to quit. Owww!" He held his side. "Hey Bob … can I stop pretending to be a raging dick now?"
He cocked an eyebrow and glanced between the two, the unconscious cop and the rogue bounty hunter. Spike offered him a half-hearted grin before a twinge of pain stole it. He hadn't even tried to get up. Carefully, Bob edged up onto the platform and offered a hand to him.
Spike shook his head. "Not yet. Just give me a bit longer, ok? Didn't exactly land the best."
"Are you alright?"
"From this? For starters, this was a lot shorter than the cathedral window." He shifted each foot experimentally. "Ehh, well … not paralyzed. So, I'll walk away from this. Wasn't entirely how I planned on wrapping this into a neat little bow. But overall that was the desired effect."
"Wait," Bob scratched his head, "what?"
Carefully, and with a few grunts, Spike edged himself up to a sitting position. "Heh, if I had you and Jet convinced I'd gone back to syndicate life, I could convince anyone. That was the plan."
"But the armored vehicle theft, the ring, the warehouses … Spike, you set up a—"
"Monopoly. That was the idea." This time his full lazy-grin was on display. "How else do you get someone like Jackass's attention? I figured pretty early on in he'd needed help. And the best way to get him to show his hand was to force it. Best way to do that was staging a rather public hostile take-over of the trade. His greed did the rest once I had a target painted on my back."
"Then, you knew this was a trap?"
Spike laughed, then winced. "Oh yeah. Smelled it a mile away. That's why I sent the crew off, didn't want them to get caught in the cross-hairs. A guy on that shit … well you know … not just anyone can stand the time in the ring. I've had practice," he sighed, "unfortunately."
Glancing over at the unconscious cop, Bob shook his head. "Damn. I better call this in."
Spike nodded and winked. "By the way, you're welcome for collecting all the Red Eye into one easy access warehouse."
In mid-dial, Bob's jaw hung loose.
"Just wait a bit to raid it, let the guys get clear. Seriously, I didn't school them enough to be able to do this shit on their own." He plucked a cigarette out of his jacket and lit it. Listening as Bob stuttered through the report.
After Bob hung up he shuffled over to Jackson and cuffed his hands behind his back just in case. "Well, shit, Spike. I honestly thought we'd have to bring your ass in after this. I can't believe you let this go so far."
He shrugged. "You asked someone who knows the ins and outs to flush your game. How did you think this was gonna go, Bob? You can ask Jet, going to far is one thing I have alotta experience in."
A snorting laugh escaped Bob. "Guess so. But you really had us."
"That was the idea." Spike winked. A split-second later his head snapped up in an expression of shock.
Bob turned just in time to see Jet bull rush across the floor. He didn't have time for anything besides holding out a hand. Jet drove the fist of his synthetic arm into Spike's right eye. Spike's body flopped back, driven by the force. He exhaled in a violent rush as Jet grabbed his shirt and yanked him back up. Spike didn't resist. His already swelling eye half closed and turned toward Jet's potential assault. Jet's raised fist shivered with fury.
Spike rasped, "I know! I know, I deserve it!"
Without even thinking, Bob grabbed Jet's shoulders. "Stop! He's with us!"
"The bastard shot me!" Jet snarled.
"I didn't want to shoot you, Jet. I had to. So... go ahead, do what you gotta do." Spike shut his eyes and visibly braced.
In that singular plea Jet's grip slackened. Spike toppled backward onto the pile with a groan, the remainder of cigarette God knew where. "Had to?"
Bob nodded. "Your partner didn't betray us, Jet. He saved my ass and he set this whole trap up to catch Jackson and his cohorts. Ease off him."
"Spike, explain to me why in the hell you had to pull the damn the trigger on me. And I better like it! You know this is the second time I've been on the other side of a partner's gun."
Shivering, Spike cupped the side of his face. His eyes remained closed. "You weren't supposed to be in the warehouse. No one was supposed to have seen me yet. It was too early. But there were others, my men, in the wings of the warehouse. If they had seen me not do it … they would have smelled a rat. They would have killed me. Trust me … I aimed for a shot that would do the least damage. And it almost killed me to do it."
Jet leaned back, his hands opening limp. He stared without uttering a word.
Bob cleared his throat. "Hey, Jet? Your partner is looking a bit green there. You might want to get him out of here and checked for a concussion. I think you gave him one."
Spike whimpered behind closed eyes. "He did."
With a start, Jet reached down and edged Spike up letting him lean on his shoulder like he had so many times before. "Alright, you just stay with me now. You know how this works—no nodding off until we know how bad this is."
Spike moaned as he shuffled his feet towards the stairwell. "How about puking … can I puke?"
"Ehhh, prefer you didn't, pard."
The Bebop cut through Ganymede's artificial atmosphere heading for the gate en route to Mars. Bob wandered into the living room grateful for the lift back to Mars after having settled things verbally with internal affairs. Faye painted her nails as she sat on the chair. Snoring on the couch, Spike had a rather sizable ice-pack over his right eye.
Faye glanced up at Bob and snickered. "Don't worry about him. He's got a thick skull."
"That's not very nice."
"Well, Spike's not very bright. Which is why we need to constantly buy stock in bandages. So, there it is." She smiled sweetly. "Frankly, if you ask me, the loose-handed mongrel should have gotten more than this for the bite he took of Candy."
Spike shifted the ice pack and glanced at her with his one good eye, the other lid a dark purple and swollen shut. "Candy? Wait a sec, how did you find about her?"
Faye caped her nail polish bottle harder than she wished and spat, "Surprised you even remember that tramp, you were so blitzed out of your mind!"
"Blitzed?" Spike scratched his cheek. "At the casino? Hah, wow, guess I'm a better actor than I thought."
"You mean you … but you were … I saw you from behind the plant!"
He laughed. "You think I woulda been shooting high stakes craps drunk off my ass? No way. I got way more sense than you, Faye. I'd been acting drunk while swishing whiskey shots all afternoon trying to catch the eye of a mark. And it worked. The floozy was his set of eyes. A guy who doesn't melt into her is cause for alarm. I had to play along. Nothing happened, well not like in those cheap novels you like, anyway."
"Damn, you thought I was drunk. Hah!"
Bob shook his head and approached as Spike sat up rather slowly on the couch to light a cigarette. "Hey, I have something for you."
Spike put his lighter away and took the offered woolong card. "Let's see the chicken-scratch they think my service was worth. Typical ISSP will probably dock me for damages, like usual."
Faye grumbled. "You did heist an armored vehicle."
"Yeah, I needed that to speed up the process. And I also collected all the Red Eye for them and handed that over. That shit was over ten times the value." He took out the reader and swiped it. His eye widened. He blinked, looked again. Only a faint squeal escaped his throat.
Faye leaned over his shoulder and gawked. Her finger tried to wipe away total. "Is that decimal point in the wrong spot?"
Laughing a bit, Bob put a hand on Spike's shoulder. "Oh, they appreciated it, I think that's obvious. Same as me. Gonna love that promotion when I get home."
"You're welcome … " Spike whispered, still staring. "Damn, that'll buy a shitload of Peking Duck."
Mars loomed on the horizon as they exited the gate. Spike, still gazing through one eye padded up onto the bridge, a bit more sheepish than usual. Jet stood at the windows gazing down at the planet's growing surface. He didn't glace over his shoulder as Spike joined him.
"Hey uhh … Jet," his one-eyed gaze flicked to the hole in the arm. "I mean it. I really am sorry I had to pull the trigger."
Spike's head sunk a bit lower. "And I … appreciate you letting me back on the ship. I woulda understood if you'd left my ass stranded on Ganymede."
"Mmm." His crossed arms tightened.
He heaved a sigh, "When we land on Mars I want to make it up to you."
Jet huffed a breath. "I doubt you can."
Spike eyed his damaged arm. "Fix that. On me."
A slow blink widened his eyes.
"Good as gone, pard. Cause I really feel like shit having done that to you."
"You can afford it?" Jet gawked.
Spike shrugged a shoulder. "Yeah. After the huge payment the ISSP gave me for helping Bob. Hell, we could even get you a neat piece of artwork on there, if you want. Whatdya say, the Bebop's numbers?"
Jet smirked and was about to reply when the alarm sounded. The both raced back to the screen where the hanger door release displayed. "What the—who?"
A moment later Faye's Redtail soared out. "Cya boys, off to feed the ponies!"
"Ponies?" Spike scratched his head. "I thought she was... oh shit—she didn't!" He pulled out his reader and choked. "That bitch robbed me!"
Jet called out, "Oh Ed, wanna try out your new toy?"
The sound of an airplane filled the bridge as Ed and Ein came wheeling in.
Spike plastered himself on the window.
"Hold on, partner. After you pulled your little early morning vanishing act, I had Ed work on a little software."
At the window she grinned, her fingers on the joystick and buttons of a controller. "Power on. Synched. And here … we … go! Neeeeeeerrrrrrrrrrrrrrrooowwwww!"
The Redtail began to turn in a slow arc back toward the ship. Faye's irate voice broke out over the com, "What the hell? Why can't I—shit! Why am I headed back?"
"Oh, you're not going anywhere, Romani!" Jet grinned. "Not while I got Ed hacked into your MONOsystem."
Spike snickered, "Nice try, old man. Unlike Faye, I can fly mine without the system."
Jet lit a cigarette cooly before he grinned at Spike. "And we both thought of that detail."
The smirk fell off Spike's face. "Wait, what did you do to my ship? … Jet, I'm serious. Tell me!"
Ed laughed as she took Faye for a ride, turning the craft here and there all the while Faye moaned through the com. "I'm gonna be sick!"
Looking out the window, Jet puffed his chest out and smiled as he relished the last laugh. The whole lot of them, wayward children. High maintenance wayward children. But they were his chosen family after all—regardless of how he fate forced him to keep them.
See You Space Cowboy …