The limo came out of nowhere, stray rounds ricocheting off its armour-reinforced bodyworks, its glaring high beams bathing the whole firefight scene in stark relief. Prentiss Tigers ran for cover, getting ready to disengage, thinking it was Charlotte Bloodrose's ride. Lady C herself, come to bag herself a few more Tiger pelts. The doors flew open to the sound of automatic fire as the limo's occupants joined the gun battle. One gun in particular - a high-price custom job, by the sound of it - beat out a distinctive rhythm all of its own as it poured fire at the heister gang the outnumbered Tigers were engaging.

Two minutes later, when the firefight was over, San Paro's Enforcement community had a new heroine, and Sofia Vascucci had successfully reinvented herself yet again.

The 211 in Progress news van was there before the paramedics. Her publicist had a statement up on her website on SpiN before the news hit the CSA Network. Mayor Derren, no slouch herself at smelling a PR opportunity was on the phone in minutes to offer her congratulations and thanks, but was put on hold while Sofia took a similar but more important call from Effigy publisher Darius Frank.

Cynics instantly smelled a publicity stunt. Sofia's last movie, Street Princess, had flopped badly, as had the tie-in soundtrack album she had recorded, and comedienne Tara Conn was causing a sensation with her cruelly accurate Sofia impressions on long-running San Paro satire TV show, Raw & Bleeding.

Three dead heisters, cut down by slugs from the Armstrong & Chen piece she was using that night, maybe told a different story.

Some asked what she was doing down there that night - not many opening night parties and showbiz award ceremonies happening in Yard Stretch - and, hey, wasn't it lucky she had all those bodyguards and her personal publicist with her when her limo turned the wrong corner and ran into that gun battle?

No-one cared. The media went crazy. The public lapped it up. Sofia and the Tigers. The Tigers and Sofia. The story pretty much wrote itself. One of San Paro''s most enduring celebs, hooking up with one of the city's hottest new CSA crews, and drawing some serious blood in her first ever gun battle. Her faltering recording career might have fallen back on that old mainstay - team-up duets with younger and briefly fashionable up-and-comers - and her choice of movie scripts was always open to ridicule, but no-one ever said she didn't have a shrewd talent for spotting the next big thing bandwagon and jumping aboard just as it rolled into town.

Enforcement was in. Effigy said so. And, if Enforcement was in, then Sofia was going to be an Enforcer. Sure, a lot of people were still anti-Enforcer, and a lot of San Paro's glamour crowd found it served their street cred better to implicitly or explicitly support the other side, but Sofia had made a career out of jumping left when most others jumped right, and dragging her audience with her.

Mirri Kent and Sofia's people talked. There were rumours about a signed contract and money changing hands. No-one knew for sure. Or, at least, was willing to talk about it. All that mattered was that the arrangement was mutually beneficial to both parties. Sofia brought an unmistakable glamour to the Prentiss outfit, an aloof coolness and instant name recognition that the Tigers - no matter how young and pretty some of them were - hadn't so far been able to generate themselves. In return, they gave her a new hipness and introduced her to a new and younger audience that might previously have put her name on the wrong side of the hot/not equation.

She's been good for the Tigers, and they've been good for her. She's been on more patrols with them, earning herself a few more kill-score notches on the grips of those fancy Armstrong & Chen custom pieces of her's, but mostly she's hanging out in the safe zones, giving good face for the media and helping spread the Enforcement gospel. Tigers recruitment has gone through the roof since she joined up, and other CSA-licensed groups have reported a Sofia-effect bump in their numbers.

The Sofia effect is evident everywhere. Spent rounds from her guns, scooped up at firefight scenes, or recovered from the bodies of deceased perps en route to the San Paro morgue - go for ridiculous amounts on the SPiN auction sites. Perennially hip director Crispin Q is writing the screenplay for her, a trademark violent action-thriller tentatively titled Lady Hollow Point. A media-fuelled feud with Charlotte Bloodrose - rumoured to be incensed by the amount of fawning coverage Sofia's Tigers involvement has received - has only added to the hype.

And - maybe most significantly of all - Raw & Bleeding doesn't dare run Tara Conn's weekly Sofia impersonator sketches anymore. Instead, Sofia's been celebrity guest host on the show four times in the last five months.



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