In this city, there are few criminals sound asleep at 4:30 in the morning. For those of us who have that luxury, there's a universal dislike of being roused at that time by the incessant ringing of a mobile phone. It's better than being roused by the incessant banging of a battering ram on your door, but most things are.

Stumbling across the bottle strewn room, I managed to locate the damn thing under several days' worth of beer-stained clothes. Business had been slow lately and I'd been rather keen on taking advantage of this fact. Something I probably should have reconsidered. Dawn hangovers are not a pleasant experience. Fumbling around, I managed to get the phone to my ear before the caller gave up. A gravelly female voice rumbled through the speaker.

"Steve. Gather up your gear and wait at the back entrance. I'll be around to collect you in 8 minutes".

The dial tone hit my ears before I'd even processed the brief, one-sided conversation. Alex was no night owl and only that cold when there was business to take care of. Still, in this profession you learn to keep anything important close by even in the midst of a legendary bender. It took me less than 5 minutes to throw on the least beer-stained clothes I could find, stuff a pack of thick surgical gloves in my pocket and snatch the battered old .38 from behind the bed head. Two minutes more and I was lurking in the car park of my apartment building. One more minute and a blue ford sedan pulled up.

Alex always made things run like clockwork. It made working with her rather unique amongst the gangers of the city. But it did nothing for the ice bitch attitude she cultivated.

"Get in."

I practically jumped into the passenger seat as the car pulled away. She wasn't wasting any time.

"A vanload of chapel boys has Justin trapped in a room on the 4th floor of a cash motel. Boss wants him extracted."

"Chapel boys came onto our turf?" I asked, my voice edged with surprise. Those freaks hadn't been that brave since the church burnings and as Justin was a favourite of the boss, targeting him was a sure way to bring retribution.

"No. He went onto theirs".

"Fuck. What was he doing anywhere near their shit..."

A pang of inspiration ran through my still-throbbing head. "Right, it ain't what he's doing there. It's who."

"Correct. You have enough firepower for this?"

"Just my .38. I take it you still keep a sawn-off under the seat."

"Shells are in the glove compartment".

I didn't need to ask if she was armed. Alex probably had the boot loaded with useful and illegal things.

The hotel Justin was hiding in was a good 20 minute drive away and after appropriating the shotgun from under the seat and two pocketfuls of buckshot from the glove box, conversation had time to turn away from battle plans and towards a view of the future and Justin's lack of one.

"Third time he's done this in as many months Alex. You have to have made the call by now." A small pause gave her just enough time to glare at me. "He's had two chances to learn. The bastard just won't keep it in his pants."

"We may not have to act. The probability favours the chapel boys being successful well prior to our arrival."

"And if they fuck it up?"

"The usual method."

It didn't take long to locate the particular motel, even while applying a professionally paranoid eye towards every vehicle on or off the road. It was the one with the half-destroyed van out the front and shots ringing out from the inside. Still not completely unusual, but we did have the address. Once inside, it was harder to mistake. The deskman was slumped over the counter, a cluster of ragged holes through the chest and gut. Blood spray had redecorated the area, the brownish red of drying gore complementing the cheap wooden veneer. We crept up the stairwell to the fourth floor, careful to cover ourselves every step of the way. The chapel boys may be sloppy, but bullets don't discriminate. On that floor was something of a scene. Two bodies lay in the hall, crumpled against the wall that bore several large wounds. Caused by Justin and his oversized compensation piece most likely. More importantly, 4 living teens were busy aerating the interior drywall, firing bursts through in the hopes of hitting someone through the flimsy cover. They hadn't heard us coming up the stairs. They didn't notice a thing until the shots rang out.

Some people will tell you that there's a blessed sort of quiet in the aftermath of a shootout. They're amateurs, but they're right: It's a quiet that stems from adrenaline, shock and ears ringing from the unfamiliar bark of gunfire. Do it long enough and you don't get that anymore, just the gurgle of the dying and the smells of gunpowder and gore.

Confident that the threat was passed, the pair of us carefully worked our way down the hall and into the hotel room we'd been told to check. It was a mess, plasterboard and mattress foam lay all over the floor and several pieces near the decimated bed were stained a familiar reddish brown. Justin's late companion had apparently chosen to hide behind the upturned bed. Justin, however had chosen to hide out on the fire escape. Luckily for him, the brick wall held up against the barrage. As he stepped back inside the room, I chose to step back out into the hallway. It only took me a second to palm a Saturday Night Special off one of the fallen. It only took 5 seconds to finish the job.

On the way out, I could hear Alex speaking over the phone.