Somewhere in Podunkville Virginia
I love my three sisters. I do. But there are times, very few and very fleeting, I wonder what it would be like to be an only child. Normally, sweltering out in the middle of a field, in the middle of nowhere, on a mid-summer’s Saturday night wouldn’t be enough to bring on one of these moments, but taking into account what I’m witnessing in said field, that throws this night firmly in the only child column.
I close my eyes and wish it all away. I used to do a lot of wishing. The first nine years of my life were spent in a Scottish Castle surrounded by mist and moor. The magic of wishes and dreams was a given and though, at the wizened age of twenty-five, my faith in the power of the first evening star has long since faded, I’m desperate, so I’m giving it a shot.
On my left, there’s a barely whispered, completely freaked out, “Oh, shit.” Lena. Sister number one and the reason I’m here. Private detective, bounty hunter, and all around bad-ass bitch, she’s silent as the grave when she moves. I’d have never known she’d come up beside me if it hadn’t been for the cursing. Cursing’s Lena’s go-to, like a verbal fall-back position.
“Don’t distract me.” I hissed, believing for all my jaded heart is worth, “I’m wishing it all away.”
Harder. Right. Maybe a constellation. I make a final plea to Orion’s Belt, cross my fingers, and open my eyes.
Wishing’s a bust. It’s all still there. Ring of fire, people dancing in a circle, various things flipping and flopping, and in the middle of that ring of fire there’s something tall. Leaning forward, I squint and… oh hell’s nine bells.
“Hey guys,” Christy, my youngest sister comes up on my other side, “So Lena, do you have a photo of this bail-jumper dude. This campground’s huge. We’ll be here all ni… Holy Baloney and Macaroni! They’re naked!”
“Yep.” A yep’s all I’ve got.
Lena’s contribution is another, “Oh shit.”
A cloud of rich, peppery scent wafts under my nose. Announcing Allie, Lena’s twin and polar opposite. “Sorry we’re late. It’s my fault. The deposition ran over.”
Allie is a forensic accountant, serving as an expert witness for the Eastern District of Virginia. She’s also gorgeous. We’re talking face of an Angel, body of a sex goddess, ten car pile-up, sexy beautiful. Her depositions run over a lot. I’m convinced it’s because the men in the room simply want to bask in her presence as long as possible.
“Right, and on the first guess, too.” Allie’s perfectly manicured hands applaud me over my shoulder. We have this little game. I guess which outrageously expensive, designer perfume she’s wearing. It’s fun at parties. “That’s four in a row. You’re getting…..Oh Dear Goddess, those people are naked.”
“Yep.” Still all I’ve got.
“Oh, shit.” Lena. Still freaked out.
Clouds of blonde hair tickle my cheek as Allie leans over my shoulder, atttempting to identify exactly what it is she’s seeing. she’s going to regret that decision. “Oh…oh dear…is that a…”
“Giant Totem Pole Penis?” I say four words I hope never ever pass through my lips ever again, “Yep.”
“Totem. Penis.” Lena manages two before reverting to her fall back, “Oh shit.”
Then Christy emits a sound that, I swear, took the physical form of an ice-pick and shoved itself in my ear. Leaping forward, she claps one hand over her mouth and flings the other out at the ring of flopping flesh, waving and pointing for all she’s worth. Our Granny Rose tried to break my youngest sister of her grand-stand pointing habit when she was growing up. It never took. “Those people in the middle…” Christy cries out, ” They’re… they’re…. doing it.”
My youngest sister then abandons pointing for wild jumping hops, one foot to the other, her layers of coppery hair flying around her catching fire-light, arms flailing, hands flopping. If not for the scrubs she was wearing and the “ew-ew-ew’s” coming out of her mouth, she’d halfway pass for one of the totem dancers.
“Oh dear” The peppery scent fades, “Oh.. um… I’m going back to the …car. I…..um… can’t walk… out here… in these… heels.”
I glance over my shoulder to see Allie making hellaciously good time twitching away on her stilettos.
“Sorry sis, uh.. I forgot,” Christy, done with her ‘ewewew’s,’ is backing away, “I need to uh… give Trudy her medicine…..drops…..stuff… so…yeah….” She spins around and breaks into a full run, passing Allie in seconds. Christy’s a hell of a sprinter.
Actually, that was a decent excuse. Trudy is her latest rescue. A “puppy” roughly the size of a small Kodiak that smelled like rotten fish guts. According to Christy, who’s on her way to being a vet, it’s some rare fungus growing in her mouth. None of us wanted Trudy to miss her meds.
Now, like I said, I love my sisters, but there are limits. Searching for one particular flabby bare behind in a quagmire of flopping flesh dancing around a giant hand-carved penis?
It’s boundary setting time. “Lena…”
Before I can utter another word my hand is clutched in a tiny, iron grip, “Don’t leave me.”
Well…fudge. My bad-ass, leather wearing, multiple gun-toting, explosives up her sleeve sister is scared of a bunch of Naked, Free-Lovers. It’s almost funny. I’d laugh if I wasn’t so busy throwing up in my mouth.
I look longingly over my shoulder and across the field to see a white Prius squealing out of the parking lot – Christy and Allie making their getaway. So would Lena’s plea have worked if she wasn’t my ride? That’s one of those paradox type questions. Right up there with the cat in the box thing, the multiverse theory, and just how many licks it takes to get to the center of that tootsie pop.
The world may never know, “Fine, but I’m killing you when we get home.”
“Please, oh please, do it now.”
“Just what the hell is going on out here, anyway?” I turn my back on the hippies and face my yellow-bellied, bad-ass of a sister.
Lena looked a little sick, “Uh…it’s a pagan festival.”
“WHAT?” No no way. Uh-uh…that is not… just no.
Lena reaches into her back pocket and hands me a folded piece of paper, “Found this on the ground.”
Opening it up, I hold it to the firelight, careful to keep “the nekked” out of my line of sight.
Come celebrate the summer solstice… blah blah…love and harmony…blah blah….
Season of renewal…blah blather…blather blah …and down at thebottom in bold letters….
This is a problem. See, we McGoverns have a legacy. That legacy is a big deal. It comes with a an authentic Scottish Castle, a huge family tree, crazy-ass genetics, an infamous ancestor – the first Mckenna McGovern for whom I’m named cause I’m special that way, and a religion. A non-Christian religion. Our ancestors worshiped a Goddess, but we are not Wiccan. Our religion is way older and that whole “Do no harm thing” does not apply. Call us witch and you’ll get an up close and personal demonstration of that fact. They called us witch right before they lit the peat. We’re not overly fond of that label. So by default, we use the label the Catholic Church gave Non-Christian religions back in the day – Pagan.
Not anymore. “What the hell are we going to call ourselves now?”
“Fuck if I know,” Lena said, a white knuckle grip on her cap of midnight hair, “But pagan is right out. And I do not want to walk up in that. Please, dear Goddess, please put that crazy-ass brain of yours to work and come up with something.”
My crazy-ass brain, courtesy of our aforementioned crazy-ass genetics is a pain in my well…you know, but while I don’t have an IQ in the 180’s like all three of my sisters, it has its uses. For six years those uses were at the government’s disposal. They used it a lot. That relationship ended badly a little over a year ago. Now, I rarely had to pull it out of moth balls, but if ever there was a need, avoiding that sea of flopping flesh was it.
Closing my eyes, I study the information swirling and dancing in my mind like scraps of paper on the wind. It’s not easy. Physical discomfort is always hard to work through and I’m hot and sticky and there’s naked people. Lifting my hair off my neck in the hope of catching a breeze, I shift the bits and pieces into the shape of a plan. “Would this guy be using an alias?”
“Nah, he’s just an absent-minded hippee. Pretty harmless, likes to grow his own pot.” Lena pulls a hair band out of her jean’s pocket and hands it to me along with her usual advice, “You should cut it.”
Probably, but my hair is one of the few good things I got from my insane ancestry. I have the ideal, “thick head of fine hair.” It’s a deep rich brown with natural red highlights. I love it. With all the other crap that comes with being a McGovern, and believe me there’s a gracious plenty, I’m keeping the beautiful hair. I take the band and snap the long tumble of gorgeousness into the semblance of a ponytail, “You still have that bull-horn in your car?”
“Chester Stubbs, where are you, you cheating son of a bitch? You gave me crabs!”
Crude, but effective. My words, powered by the megaphone easily carry over the fleshy sounds that will haunt my nightmares for years to come. I hear a scream, a shout, and the crack of an open palm. The sea of flopping parts parts like magic. And there, all by his lonesome, is a hairy, pudgy, pasty, sweaty, short, stubby bare-assed man.
Nothing is going to freak out a bunch of people communing with their naked like the threat of tiny crawling critters.
Lena zips in behind her target and grabs him while he’s trying to find the crazy woman with the bull-horn. Within minutes we’re on our way to the parking lot. Not one single nudist tried to stop us.
“But I don’t understand….” Chester whines, skipping along between us. Lena had the good sense to cuff his hands in front of him, saving us from going blind.
“You missed your court date Chester.” Lena’s got her eyes focused on the parking lot straight ahead. At 5′ 3″ she’s got a short stride but damn, is she moving, “Maybe you should let up a little on the wacky weed.”
A flabby butt cheek waves at me from my periphery, “Where are your clothes?”
“On the other side of the camp fire.” Chester’s still whiny, “Can’t we go get them.”
At that exact moment we hear a shrill screaming sound coming from behind us. Lena turns, drops, and draws while I’m still wondering what’s going on. It’s a fraction of a second, but that’s what gives Lena an edge over the rest of the human population. Her reaction time is zero.
By the time I spin around and jerk Chester down she’s already ascertained the absence of a threat and lowering her gun, “Oh fuck me.”
I follow her horrified gaze out into the field, “Oh fucking hell…” The giant hand carved penis had hidden talent and is now…. erupting, cause I just can’t bring myself to think the other word, the huge bulbous tip shooting fireworks high into the night in a glorious shower of red and gold.
I decide it’s safe to rise. Lena’s already up. She turns wide disbelieving eyes on me, “Just what the fucking fuck was that shit?”
Chester looks between the two of us like we’re two of the dumbest people alive, “It’s Ejacula…”
“Shut it, Chester.” Lena cuts him off mid-word. Thank the Goddess. Probably due to the gun she swung in his direction.
I meet her eyes, careful to keep my own above flubber-butt level, “Trash bags?”
“In the trunk.” She slips the gun in the holster under her arm and tosses me her keys.
I pop the trunk of her Jeep Cherokee, toss the bull-horn back in, and pull out a roll of heavy duty garbage bags. Yanking off two, I slip the dagger from the sheath under my wrist, and cut out the corners of one. This is a little trick Lena picked up from a cop who got tired of the funk the criminal element left behind stinking up his patrol car. “Here stick your feet through the holes.”
Chester looks at the plastic and degrades to whimpering, “Can’t we just go get my clothes?”
“NO!” Lena and I both shout.
Sullen, he sticks his feet through the holes and pulls the trash bag up. I cut a notch in the center of the second one and two holes in the sides, while Lena removes the cuffs. He slips it over his head and sticks his arms through.
Lena reaches in the back seat, pulls out a bright green bungee cord and wraps it around Chester’s waist. Then stepping back, “I like it.”
I toss her keys back, “Let’s get the hell out of here.”
We’re halfway back to Richmond when my phone starts vibrating.
“If that’s Allie tell her hell no I am not stopping to pick up coffee.” Allie and Lena share a townhouse. The one next door and sort of attached to the one Christy and I share. These types of arguments happen a lot.
I can’t make out the number so I just say, “Hello,” and hope it’s something simple.
“Alex? Alex Kane?”
Ah hell, I close my eyes and hit my head on the back of the seat. That greeting never leads to anything good. ‘Hey Mac’ – fine. ‘Sis, don’t be mad’ – sometimes problematic, but manageable. ‘Mckenna, dammit what the hell is going on out there?’ Gavin’s standard and a pain in the ass, but usually just a matter of holding the phone away from my ear until my cousin twenty-three times removed yells himself hoarse. Even Lena’s ‘Mac I need you to bail me out. Bring a shovel.’ I’ll take.
But Alex Kane is the alias I used when I worked for the government. Very few people know that name and even fewer know who’s attached to it. And hearing it like that, that question with a tinge of desperation, this guy is looking for what I do, not who I am.
“Yes.” I acknowledge the question and wave good-bye to my last hope for a quiet Saturday night.
“This is Maurice Thorne. We worked together.”
“Yes, I remember.” That was the mission I got shot by a member of my own team, Luke- one-man-fuck-up-your-plan-Sawyer, “How is that idiot?”
“He healed up.”
“Well, that just warms my heart.” Gavin got a mite upset when I almost bled out and communicated his displeasure in a real and physical way.
“I don’t have a lot of time. I’m on a satellite phone in Afghanistan. Stan told me to call you.” Stan Wyatt – another distant cousin. “It’s about my sister. He says you know people who can help.”
“Hold on.” I reach for the radio and turn down Coldplay.
Lena’s instantly on alert, “What?”
“Friend needs a favor.” It’s a code. We use those words for only one reason. That reason can have many different circumstances, but every single one of them is bad.
“Right.” She pulls out her own phone. Keeping her eyes on the road, and using only one hand, she flicks her thumb over the surface and that quick she’s tapped into my signal and recording. Lena’s a wiz at all things spymaster.
“Okay Maurice, we’re recording. Go.”
“May Rose Thorne, 4216 Willow Rd, Alexandria Va. The guy’s name is Joe Rhodes. Boyfriend. Don’t have an address. Can’t reach her. Mom talked to her two weeks ago. She said something wasn’t right. I’ve got to go. We’re on night maneuvers.”
“How can we reach you?”
“Stan will know. He’s in Europe. He’s taking the next flight out, but I’ve got a bad feeling.”
When men like Maurice Thorne got bad feelings there were good reasons, “We’re already on the road. We have to make one stop to drop off….” A hairy nudist, “something.”
I disconnect and turn to Lena, “It will take three hours by car.”
“Too long?” Her profile is a grim reflection of my own.
“I think so.”
She’s already dialing, “I’ll call Allie.”
Our beautiful sister is a forensic accountant and an expert witness for Eastern District of Virginia. She had all kinds of connections throughout the Justice Department and every one of them worship at her feet. Getting us to Maryland would be nothing.
We dropped off Chester with his children. Neighbors of ours who asked Lena to go pick up their crazy Dad who forgot about his court date. They turned a nasty shade of green when we told them what Daddy’d been up to. There are things children should never know about their parents.
One short private plane ride, courtesy of a friend of Allie’s and a mysterious black SUV left at the private airport, courtesy of a friend of Lena’s, the four of us make it to May’s house in just over two hours. After a brief discussion, we decide to go for broke. It took Lena less than thirty seconds to get us past the security system, “Not bad,” She whispered, stepping silently into the dark house, “If I didn’t know the codes the security company uses to disarm….Shit, goddammit fuck!”
“What? I squint into the dark. What could she possibly see… “Ow..dammit!”
“Coffee Table.” Lena hisses.
“Damn thing is vicious.” I rub my throbbing shin.
“I say we turn the lights on.” Christy bumps me from behind. My hip hits the edge of a sofa or a chair.
“Someone could be watching.” Allie, somewhere to my left and not bumping into a damn thing. Allie’s graceful like that.
“Good,” Lena creeps ahead of me, “If we’re lucky they’ll come in and try to kill us and we can grab them…. Fucking A!”
“Really, Lena.” Allie sniffs, still on my left.
“I hit my funny bone.” Lena hisses between winces, “Damn, this place is an obstacle course…”
A thump on my right and then Christy, high and shrill, “Owowowowowowow!”
I hear a familiar thumping. The floor shakes. More thumping and bumping and Lena cursing, “Dammit Christy, watch where you hop.”
Christy shouts a couple more “ow-eees” intermixed with “toe, toe, pinky toe then “owwee-ow –ow-pinky toe.”
“What the hell you wearing those stupid flip-flops for?” Lena said from somewhere on my right, “Would it kill you to wear shoes like a normal person?”
It might. Christy hates shoes. She’s in flip-flops from March to November.
“It’s July.” Christy jumps to defend her favorite form of footwear, “Flip-flops are way more normal than steel-toe boots and that black leotard thing whatever you’re wearing.”
“They’re leggings and a t-shirt. It’s snug and I can move easily.” Lena jumps right back. This is new. Usually it’s Lena and Allie that bicker like biddies. “For fuck’s sake, we’re breaking and entering. It is not normal to do that in flip-flops, cargo pants, and a tank top.”
Oh dear Goddess, they’re arguing over the “N” word. My left temple starts to throb, “Are you two honestly going to stand there and ague about who’s more normal?” We McGoverns are many things, but never, not even on our best day, is any one of those things anywhere close to normal.
“Uh, right,” I hear the airy whoosh of Lena sliding her fingers through her hair, “Sorry sis, I’m a little punchy.”
“Sorry, Mac.” I hear a plop. Christy’s found a seat.
I take a couple more halting steps and run into what I think might be one of those Tiffany style floor lamps. This is confirmed when it hits the floor with the crash of shattering glass. Enough already, “Okay yes, we need light….”
Be careful what you wish for.
A beam of piercingly bright light assaults my eyes at the same time my eardrums are blown out by what sounds like a herd of raging bulls…
“Freeze! Maryland PD…”
“Hands in the air….”
“Do not FUCKING move…”
“Hands! I want to see hands…”
I raise my hands and curse my luck.
“Damn. Cops.” Lena’s whisper is loaded with disgust, “They won’t know shit.”
“Ow! Hey, that hurts.” Christy’s voice somewhere in the dark. I open my mouth to tell the ass who grabbed her to ease up, but Lena’s already moving.
“Hey, get back here…” One of the bulls bellows, but my sister’s merged with the dark too fast for the beam to follow. Idiots should have turned the lights on. Serves ‘em right if they get a broken arm or two.
Then again, I really would like to get home before dawn, “Lena, don’t break anything.”
Another beam of light swings around the room and stops on Allie.
I hear a “Holy Shit,” a “Sweet Mother Mary,” and an “Oompff.” Lena’s victim.
Three male officers. Unusual. Cops usually move in pairs.
“Hello, officers.” Allie is all smiles and grace, greeting the men as if they’ve just arrived for cocktails, “We’re friends of Maurice Thorne, May’s brother. He’s serving in Afghanistan and he’s so very worried about her. He called and asked us to check on her.”
The sight of Allie’s hourglass curves in skin tight jeans, a black lace bustier, and black stilettos has short circuited their brains.
“Um, do you think we could turn the lights on now?” Christy’s voice.
“Jack, go get the lights.”
It takes more than a few minutes. I cover my eyes and squint at the shadows behind the beam of light, “Why’d you flip the breakers?”
“We didn’t.” The answer came from the large shadow hovering at the front door. My eyes are assaulted with a suddenly fully lit room. Every light in the house is on. If anyone was watching, they’d have no doubt someone was in the house. So whoever had May, he wasn’t stupid. Dammit.
I blink the spots from my eyes and see I’m standing in a furnished living room. May Rose liked the Victorian era. There was enough carved furniture and jewel tone fabrics to fill the room twice over, somehow she had made it work. It looked cozy and feminine, but Lena was right, it was an obstacle course. We’d have been black and blue before we got halfway into the room.
“Miss Kinkaid, is that you?”
Allie turned her head to Lena’s victim rising from the floor. Her eyes lit up, “Oh, Gerald, how are you?” With no thought to the guns pointing at her, Allie rushes over and embraces the large man. He just stands there engulfed in blond hair, black lace, feminine curves and Prada. The other two officers watch in bewildered envy. Well, one of them anyway. The man by the door is watching Lena like she might explode at any minute. Smart.
“How is your mother?” Allie pulls back.
“She’s good.” Gerald sucks in his gut and smooths his thinning hair, “She came through the surgery great. We got the flowers you sent. I planted that Camellia bush for her. It bloomed real pretty this spring.”
“I’m so glad.”
And this is how Allie earned her nickname…Amex. We never leave home without her. She has connections at all levels of law enforcement and they all adore her, even the women. Shocking, I know. Allie’s got the kind of beauty that would normally have women wanting to claw her eyes out simply for existing, but she also has perfect recall. She remembers every day of her life in detail. So if you say your mother is having major surgery – she remembers. If you told her six months ago in passing that that mother loved Camellias – she remembers. That memory paired with her compassionate heart and BAM! Super Goddess everybody loves.
Most law enforcement have heard of me as well, but I don’t have my sister’s appeal. According to one FBI agent I worked with I’m pretty enough, but I’m strange and unsettling and look like I’m waiting for you to turn your back so I can plunge a sharp object in it. It was a surprisingly insightful analysis. Lena always looks like she just dumped a body. And Christy, well you never know with her. She’s a wild card.
While Allie strolls down memory lane, I take the few seconds to assess the men while they’re distracted.
Gerald – older, pot belly, gray hair, and weary eyes. Easy one – Detective. My eyes swing to the other two men. The one who flipped the breakers is younger, messy blond hair, and the wrinkled look of a man operating on no sleep and a lot of caffeine – Gerald’s partner, Detective number two. Then there’s the guy by the door – tall broad and fit, very fit. Standard army issue green t-shirt. Hair cropped short, solid square jaw and a nose that was broken more than once. His face is mid to late twenties, his eyes though, are ancient. I know those eyes. I’ve looked into a pair just like them for over half my life. Eyes made ancient from witnessing too many horrors, too much death. A warrior’s eyes. “Who are you?”
His eyes leave Lena and jerk to me. He’d not taken his eyes off her, but when he turns that gaze on me, I can see him reassessing, “I’m May’s neighbor.”
Uh-huh, and I’m catholic school girl. Time for another party trick.
“Okay, I’m going to save us all some time. You’re former Special Forces, Army Ranger most likely. I know you’re working for some agency, I’m leaning towards Homeland, but could be DEA. You were watching May to get to her boyfriend. I’m not sure what he’s involved in, yet. But from what we’ve put together, he’s some type of enforcer. So he’s a killer. You should have pulled May out. You didn’t, and now you’re scared it’s too late.”
“What the hell?” Old pot belly.
“Who the fuck are you?” Young, good looking, no sleep.
“How did you find all that out?” GI Joe.
It’s Lena who speaks next, “I think you should come clean, sis. We don’t have a lot of time.”
“I’m Alex Kane.”
“You’re shitting me.” GI Joe’s face loses some of its intensity. His eyebrows shoot up. He looks dumbfounded, but on this side of disbelief. That means he knows Alex Kane is a woman. Only two agencies were privy to that, and this guy was not a company man.
“You’re with Homeland. You know Gavin McIntyre.” It’s not a question. Everyone knows of Gavin McIntyre and he’s a legend at Homeland.
“Yeah, he still helps us out once in a….” GI Joe’s words die, his eyes wandering over the four of us like he’s ticking us off in his head. He goes white as chalk, “Shit, you’re the cousins.”
The younger of the other two officers looks from Joe to me and back, “What the hell are you talking about and what’s McIntyre got to do…” Then he starts counting off in his head and turns a really nice shade of green, “Those cousins?”
That’s when I notice the resemblance between GI Joe and young wrinkled cop. Brothers. Brothers who know Gavin McIntyre. And anyone who knows Gavin knows two things. One – he can kill you ten different ways with his pinky finger. Two – if you so much as lay your pinky finger on one of the distant cousins that his mom raised and are more like sisters, sort of, only not really, and that’s a long story I don’t have the time for just now, Gavin’s pinky finger will be the last thing you see before you leave this earth.
“Alright,” GI Joe recovers from his shock first. Standing straight, he sweeps his game face over the four of us, “I don’t know what you girls are doing here, but you are getting your asses back in that car and getting the hell back to wherever you came from.”
“Oh Dear Goddess.” I rub my temples and wonder if I’d get lucky enough to find a bottle of Excedrin in this charming nod to Queen Victoria.
“Fucking A.” Lena flops down on an honest to goodness fainting couch, leans back and throws her arm over her eyes, just like some tragic Victorian heroine, well except for the steel-toe boots and the guns up her sleeve, “Sis, can’t we just shoot ’em.”
“Lena,” Allie’s appalled gasp swirls around the room like cotton-candy, a shocked burst of sweet and fluffy, “We are not shooting Gavin’s friends.”
Lena opens her mouth, but Allie holds up a dainty hand, “No, not even flesh wounds so they can’t follow us around,” Slamming down Lena’s standard before she could voice it, “Honestly, grow up.”
Lena slumped back on the couch. Her chin poking out in a bad-ass sulk. Oh, yes very adult.
“I brought the um stuff…you know.” Christy, ever the peace maker, offers a compromise.
Lena brightens, but I shut that one down, “No, we can’t drug them. We may need them.”
“What for?” Lena glares at the men, her nose in the air clearly communicating her doubt as to what use law enforcement could possibly be. Lena’s a bit of a snob.
“I don’t know yet.” That’s my standard. One of the many problems with my backwards unfortunately brilliant brain – I know things, but don’t know why I know them.
Lena blows her hair out of her face, “Whatever, but I’m not pulling them out of the line of fire. If they tag along, they’re on their own.”
“Well, I’m pleased as punch you girls have decided not to shoot us or drug us. Mighty nice of you.” The young wrinkled cop swings his irritated gaze over the four of us. Damn already? That doesn’t bode well, he’d better learn to pace himself, “Maybe we’ll only charge you with breaking and entering, as opposed to threatening a police officer.”
Dear Goddess, we don’t have time for this. I plop down on a nearby burgundy velvet oval backed chair, close my eyes and rest my head on the roses carved into the dark wood. The Victorians did not sit comfortably, “Okay boys, let’s review. Maurice called us. That is fact one. His sister is running out of time. That is fact two. You don’t have a damn thing. That is fact three. And I’m Alex Kane. That is fact four.” I know it sounds vain, but May doesn’t have time for humble.
“And you’re not.” I can hear Lena’s smirk, “That’s five.”
“Shit,” I open my eyes to see G.I Joe flop down on a spindly carved chair by the front door. It creaks. He jumps back up, running a hand through his non-existent hair, “Alright, there’s no doubt we need the help.”
“Uh-huh,” I close my eyes and rub my pulsing temple, “Allie – closets. Christy – bed, bath, kitchen. Lena – start hacking.”
“Uh, you got anything for us to do?” Sarcasm drips from young wrinkled cops lips.
I open one eye, “Find me some Excedrin.”
Twenty minutes later I’m standing in the bedroom staring at the clothes Allie’s pulled out of the closet sprawled on the bed. The dresser drawers are open. The shoes are out. Everything where I can see it. Allie says a woman’s wardrobe tells a story, one she understands much better than I do. My wardrobe consist of jeans and a variety of collard long sleeve black shirts, but even with my limited expertise something is niggling at the back of my brain as my eyes wander over dresses, long flowy skirts, blouses in pastel colors, “Spring clothes.”
“Yes, good quality,” Allie picked up a soft skirt in rain washed pastels. It looks kind of Monet-ish to my untrained eyes, “But not designer. I think some of it is thrift store finds. This skirt is Nicole Miller, but at least four seasons ago.”
“How do you know she hasn’t had it four seasons.” Young wrinkled cop decides to chime in on what he knows nothing about.
“She doesn’t own any other designer clothes, and there are still tags on these boots.” Allie held up a pair of slim black ankle boots, “Clarkesville thrift.”
“Ah okay.” He nods. Lena snorts and rolls her eyes behind her laptop. She’s crossed legged on the floor doing whatever it is she does to get into places she shouldn’t be.
“Allie,” My eyes rove over the clothes. “Something’s not right, but I can’t quite see what it is.”
“It’s the black lingerie. It’s new and not her taste”
Right, the undie-drawer, there’s booty shorts and even a few thongs but it’s all pastels. Then all of a sudden there’s this black lacy stuff. She’s right, when you take in all the other clothing,…“She doesn’t wear black.”
“Maybe he bought it for her.” Young and wrinkled cop offers.
Oh Dear Goddess. Killing people is bad, Mckenna. I remain silent and wait for what’s coming next. Allie’s not done. She’s got something.
Lena doesn’t have my restraint, “Damn, way to point out the obvious, genius.”
He just shoots her an annoyed glance, but then Allie pulls the last few things out of the closet and tosses them on the bed.
And my night officially gets shot straight to hell. I stare down at the black slashing across the piles of silky pastels. “Oh, fucking fuck.” Plopping down on the bed, I rake my hand though my hair till it gets caught in my ponytail.
That gets Lena’s eyes off her screen. They skitter over the short skirts and bustiers, “That’s a lot of leather.” It takes her about three seconds to figure it out, “Aaahhhh shit!” She throws her hands over her face, falls back and punctuates her words with head bangs to the wall behind her, “This. Night. Sucks.”
“Oh, that makes sense.” Christy’s joined us and is taking in the clothes with her usual absent-minded professor gaze. That gaze fools a lot of people.
I’m not one of them, “What did you find?”
She hands me a prescription bottle, “Pain-killers, new script filled recently.”
And there it is, the final nail in the coffin of my screwed up Saturday night. I turn on the three men in the room, “No way you missed this. You’re not that dumb.”
Gerald’s staring at me in blank confusion. Okay, so maybe he’s that dumb or more likely just naive, but not the other two. They left naive in the dirt at puberty and no way they’re THAT dumb. Painkillers and black leather outfits complete with coordinating collars. Shit, it doesn’t take a genius.
The brothers face me with identical closed expressions. It’s wrinkled cop who finally speaks a terse, “We checked it out.”
“Well, you did a piss-poor job because wherever this girl is going to get beaten or whatever she’s doing with the guy who’s been abusing her under the guise of D/s is where you will find her.”
“We checked it out.”
This from GI Joe and I get it. “You’re a member.”
“No,” He shakes his head, that closed expression unchanging, “but I do know the owners. They wouldn’t condone abuse.”
I’m so amazed by their stupidity I lose the power of speech. Shit, what is it that made these men so blind? My mind races and stumbles over the information, but it’s Allie who gets there first.
“It’s a woman.”
“Shit.” Allie nailed it.
“Yep.” Lena’s tapping away on her laptop. Then, her face both triumphant and disgusted, she flips it around, “Madame X?” We see a masked woman in leather holding a whip, “Could she get any less original?”
Christy leans forward, her pert nose wrinkling, her big aqua eyes squinting through black round framed glasses, “She’s pretty though.” She looks back up at GI Joe then at his brother, pushing those glasses up her nose, “So you two are taking the word of the leather wearing kinky lady who likes to beat people over Alex Kane? “Huh,” She turns to me, “You’re right.”
Lena flips the laptop closed and leaps up from her seated position, “What’s the freak right about this time, Midge?” Following Christy from the room, Lena falls back on the nicknames we used as children. Christy got midget, as she’s the shortest of us at 5’2” Not that Lena and Allie have much on her. They both come in at 5’3”. I’m a freaking amazon at 5’7” Freak though refers to my ability to take information and draw correct conclusions. Freak of nature. Yep, that’s me.
“That thing about intelligent men and beautiful women.” Christy said.
“Beautiful women make smart men do dumb things.” I recite, following Lena out of the bedroom and into the Victorian parlor.
“Oh yes,” Allie’s the last out of the room, “They probably have a history. They helped her out of a jam once and they see her as a victim still.”
“Holy Shit, Allie!” I freeze beside the fainting couch, “That is brilliant.”
I’m ashamed to admit it, but Allie’s so beautiful, sometimes even I forget the sharp mind behind all that feminine perfection. I spin around and go for the closest idiot. Wrinkled cop was the first one out of the bedroom. I walk up to him, pull my hand back, and pop him on his ear, “How long?”
He’s shaking his head, probably trying to stop the ringing. The boxing of the ear has been around so long for a reason. Maximum pain with minimal effort. “What the…” He covers his ear with one hand, “You just struck a cop.”
Oh, for fuck’s sake, “What? You think anybody’s going to give a shit if dumbass cop got slapped by Alex Kane? Answer the question.”
“Okay now, everybody just calm down.” Poor Gerald is looking between us wild eyed and sweating.
“Gerald, did your partner happen to mention that he and Madame X are old acquaintances?” Allie’s voice is sweet as sugar and smooth as silk she shifts the tide.
“No” He looks over at his partner, “Is that true?”
“Yes.” The admission from Jack, the young and wrinkled, is tight and furious.
“You didn’t say anything.” Gerald’s looking pissed now.
“Because it didn’t matter.”
Gerald’s shaking head falls down, his hands on his hips, “Not your call to make, Jack.”
“I’m telling you. It’s a dead end.” GI Joe joins us. Somehow we are all right back where we started. Spread out in the Victorian parlor rehashing the same old shit. Wasting time May Rose doesn’t have.
“Holy Baloney! You guys are stupid!”
The shout came from Christy. Sweet, quiet, nerdy Christy marches up to Killer Joe and pokes him in his muscled chest, “You don’t have a clue. You said so.” Her finger leaves his chest and points at me, “This is Alex Kane. She’s telling you where you messed up. Alex Kane, you know the top secret source above everybody’s pay grade? The one who is never ever wrong.” She turns to Jack, and shoves her finger into the air in front of his face, “And you want to waste more time arguing? Good, fine,” My baby sister takes her whole hand and shoves Jack in the middle of his wrinkled shirt, “You stand around being wrong and useless. We are going to get May Rose from the beast who’s been abusing her right under your noses. You worthless poot-heads!” With one more shove and a toss of her stubby ponytail, Christy spins around, marches to the lead, and beats us all out the front door.
There goes my wild-card.
Jack the wrinkled is staring after her with the face of a man who just had a cute little Pomeranian puppy jump up and bite his nose off, “Did she just call me a poot-head?”
I ignore him and follow my sisters out the door. The men can tag along after us or not. At this point, I’m leaning towards Lena’s solution and ready to shoot them all in both feet. The idiots. Well, maybe not Gerald, as Allie seems fond of the guy and he looks after his mama.
“Way to go little sis,” Lena tugs on Christy’s pony tail, “Worthless Poot-heads, huh?”
Christy’s stalking beside her, flip-flops slapping the sidewalk in quick agitated strides, “I should have said poot-for-brains.”
“Save it.” I hear the door behind us open, the men following us out into the night and the mess we’re diving into head first, “Before the night’s over I’m sure you’ll have an opportunity to use it.”
“So Gavin’s little cousin is the famous Alex Kane. Damn he kept that under wraps.” GI Joe, or Randall Conover, and everybody calls me Rand, speaks up from the back seat. He and his brother Jack are riding with us. Gerald’s behind us in Rand’s beat up truck. They left the unmarked and still very recognizable police car behind.
“Cause Gavin didn’t know.” Lena mutters from the driver’s seat.
“What’s that?” Rand Conover leans forward.
“Dammit Lena, what the hell?” I smack her shoulder. This is why I ride shot-gun. Though usually I’m smacking to get her to slow the hell down, not shut the hell up.
“What?” She shrugs that shoulder, “He didn’t know. Not that he would have told him anything if he did.”
“Nah, but I have a feeling she wouldn’t have been doing it anyway…” Rand’s words drift off then slowly pick back up like a jet engine revving, “I’ll bet that’s why Alex Kane seemed to just drop off the face of the earth. There one day gone the next. He found out didn’t he?” Rand pauses for just a bare second, then “Shit! that op he was involved with for Homeland, his last one. The op in Scotland ended up in a fire fight at that damn castle. That guy Sawyer got beat to shit.”
“Yeah, he shot Mac. It was an accident, so Gavin didn’t kill him.”
“Lena,” I slap her shoulder again, “Shut up.”
She shrugs it at me again, “He’s going to find out anyway.”
Probably, but the fire fight at McGovern Castle is not something I want to revisit just now, “We have more important things to discuss.” I flick my gaze to the rear view. I have it situated so I can see Rand who’s behind Lena and Jack who’s by himself in the back seat, studying the back of Christy’s head like he’s never seen a ponytail before, “Tell me about the woman.”
“We grew up with her.” Jack said his eyes still locked on that ponytail. What the hell?
“Keep going.” I encourage.
“We were in the system together.” He’s giving up information one tooth at a time.
“Fosters.” I help it along, frustration mounting. I’m about a quart low on patience.
“Yes.” I get a confirmation and that’s it.
“Shit!” Lena throws one hand in the air, “Just fucking spit it out already. I mean damn, it’s not like you’re going to tell her something she hasn’t already figured out. Shit!” Lena has no patience to begin with, so she’s operating on a deficit and she’s pretty much right. While I don’t know the details, I don’t have to. Both men are radiating helpless anger and a hefty amount of guilt. The girl was hurt on their watch. That they were just boys at the time wouldn’t mean a thing to these men. They’re protectors.
“The house we were in, wasn’t a good one.” Jack said, “The woman’s boyfriend had an eye for young girls. Rachel was thirteen. It had been going on a while before we found out.”
“What happened?” It’s a useless question, and it’s greeted with silence, but I don’t need an answer. I damn well know what happened. I meet every one of my sisters’ eyes in the rear view. They know too.
Finally Rand answers, “Nothin’” He looked out the window, loose as a goose, “The man got drunk one night, fell down some stairs. Broke his neck. Died.”
“Yeah, a fall down the stairs will do that.” Lena nods.
“Necks are fragile,” Christy turns around and faces Jack, “It’s a strange quirk of evolution, just one tug in the wrong direction and Snap, you’re dead.”
Jack blinks at her, “Uh, yeah I guess so.”
“I did a thesis on it.”
“Did you?” The anger melts from his face and he’s looking at Christy in amused bewilderment. That’s a new one, usually we just get the bat-shit crazy stare.
“Yes,” Christy nods, smiling happily about neck snapping, “My supposition was it’s nature’s way of evening things out. You know, we’re the most evolved, at the top of the food chain, but physically we are more fragile. I got an A.”
“Christy always gets A’s.” Allie tugged the back of her ponytail, “She’s our little genius.” And I watch Allie with nothing more than a subtle glance, warn Jack away from her baby sister. Damn, that’s what that look was. Male interest. I’m slow tonight. Of course male interest is something Allie knows all about. Jack sits back with a shrug. Allie, satisfied turns back around, but I continue to watch him in the rear view, in under a minute his eyes are back on the back of Christy’s head.
“No.” I’m shaking my head.
“Not happening.” Lena blocks the door to the club.
“You could catch a contagious disease.” Christy wrinkles her nose, eyeing the door behind Lena like it’s some nasty thing she found in under a dumpster attached to a furry ball of let’s-keep-him.
“It’s a solid plan.” GI Joe puts in two cents nobody asked for.
I round on him, “This is family business. Stay out of it.” He throws his hands up and steps back. I turn back to Allie, “You are not going in there.”
“It’s a good idea, Mac.” Allie raises her delicate chin, “You know it is.”
“I don’t care. It’s not happening.”
“I’ll stay with her.” Rand volunteers, “She’ll be safe.”
“Again,” I round on him once more, “Not your business and we’re wasting time arguing.”
We arrived at the club relatively drama free, but then Allie had the bright idea of going in incognito to try and gather information and/or act as bait. The last time Allie went to a club there was a riot. The police carted six full grown men away in a paddy wagon. Yes, she’s that beautiful. And in a room-full of kinky who knows what the fuck…. Goddess only knows what could happen.
“You have to walk through the club anyway to get to the office.” Jack butts in.
I look Allie over head to toe, clouds of blond hair, black lace bustier, skinny jeans, stiletoes, and that angelic face. She’s every man’s fantasy, sensual and innocent… “You’ll wait in the car.”
Before Allie can get a deep breath to form a protest GI Rand pipes back in, “No, bad idea.” He points up around the parking lot, “There’s no monitoring out here. She’s safer inside.”
“Man’s got a point there.” Lena shrugs me.
I look Rand up and down – 6’2” solid muscle and the eyes of a killer. I’d like a matching set, but his brother’s no slouch, problem is he can’t keep his eyes off Christy. Killer Joe will have to do, “Stay with her. I don’t care if the building catches fire. You don’t leave her.”
“Got it.” Rand nods in the way of a man who knows his job well.
“Alright.” I take a step towards the door. Lean’s right beside me, “You ready?”
“Shit, no” She gives the door a disgusted look, “But the sooner we’re in there the sooner I can burn everything I’m wearing, scrub myself with Purell, soak in a bleach bath, and shave my head.” She rubs her hands over her face, “Goddess what a night.”
Yeah, first pagan naked and now leather naked. Damn.
Rand goes to the door and punches a code in the key pad. We walk through the doors and into a lobby. It looks like a reception area for some boring financial firm except for the huge hulking man in head to toe leather and the woman wearing nothing but a thong and a collar. Again leather.
“Oh fuck me…” I press my hands to my eyes, and will the headache blooming to go away.
“I..uh wouldn’t say that in here sis,” Lena hisses in my ear, “Somebody might try to take you up on it and we didn’t bring the sulfuric acid.”
No neck leather man’s eyes are taking us in, stopping on Allie, but his words are for Jack, “Who are they?”
“Nobody you need to worry about.” Jack answers, stepping in front of Allie and at the same time pushing Christy behind him. Reckon he figures Lena and I can take care of ourselves. True. So can Christy for that matter. Allie can handle her own one on one. Problem is, they come at her in multiples.
Rand is already opening the club doors with a terse, “They’re with us.” Then turning a grin on me, “Brace yourself.”
The first thing I notice are the sounds, moans and grunts and slaps of flesh.
“Oh dear Goddess, strike me deaf and blind.” Lena mutters behind me.
“Me first.” It’s dark, but not dark enough. There’s a long bar running half way down one side of the room Where it ends booths take over running the rest of the long space. It would look pretty normal if not for the people in every kind of leather you can think of and some you’d never imagine. Including nothing but collars and thongs. Or collars and nothing. I look away and wish I hadn’t. On the other side, well let’s put it this way, I’m wishing I were back with Totem Pole. Pagan naked may be nausea inducing, but leather naked crosses over into projectile-vomitous bad. Whips are flying, paddles are pounding. There are cries of Please Mistress and Thank-You Master and naked pieces and parts and bits and… “Oh hell’s nine bells, somebody just fucking shoot me.”
“Oh dear.” Allie blinks then turns away and plants her eyes at a fixed point over the bar. A little trick she learned years ago. She’s very good at blocking out what she doesn’t want to see, a useful tactic since she can’t forget it once it’s in there.
Christy meanwhile has already started with the pointing, “Oh oh Goddess, what is that thing?” She’s looking at a contraption with a person attached to it. He’s upside down and his anatomy is being attended by numerous willing women and a couple of men, “Oh that’s just nasty.” Her nose is so wrinkled it might never straighten out again.
“To each their own, darling.” Jack whispers but he stands between her and the scene.
It takes a few seconds, but sure enough things around us start to go quiet. I look around and see what’s come to be known as the Allie effect. Men are sobering and staring and the silence begins to spread like a wave. This is only the beginning.
“Shit, you weren’t kidding.” Rand is sending death stares to all and assundry. It won’t be enough.
“Get her out of here. Both of you. Go. Now.”
Rand Grabs Allie, pulling her to his side and makes for the back of the club.
“Shit, it would be in the back.” Lena said, falling in behind him. Jack slides around them to the front dragging Christy with him. She’s still waving and pointing and saying “ews” of varying levels pitches and lengths. I go to fall in behind when a hand grabs my arm. I spin back and look up into another leather wearing muscle bound idiot. I close my eyes in weary fed up defeat. No. Oh-hell-to-the-goddess-be-damned-no. This can not be happening.
“Where do you think you’re going, Red?”
I finger the dagger under my wrist and wish like hell I had some kind of faith in the Goddess I swear by constantly, cause I’d be praying right now for a miraculous non-violent end to this situation, “Remove your hand.” I give him a fair warning. A smaller woman pushes in beside him. Fully clothed in leather and holding a crop.
“No one gave you permission to speak.” She snarled, raising the crop.
So much for that non-violent thing. I look her straight in the eye, “You need to stop now, before you do something I won’t be able to forgive.” She pauses for a bare second.
With a foreboding sense of the inevitable, I allow the dagger to slip into my hand. The smooth ivory handle fits into my palm like the handshake of an old friend. I meet the eyes of the man who is still holding me, “You have me confused with someone else.”
“No, I don’t.”
And right before I slash his wrist, the significance of his words matches the look hidden in his eyes. I go through every single curse word I can think of and make up several on the spot. They hit my brain in violent storm of “Oh what the fuck now?” at the exact moment a stubby copper ponytail pokes me in the eye.
“Let my sister go, you giant pile of slug-dung.” I see a thin arm roll up in front of the giant man’s head, a tiny hand holding a tiny spray bottle, and a thin stream hits the man’s eyes.
Dammit, we should have brought the acid.
Knowing Christy will want a work-up, I count the seconds in my head. The guy’s face freezes between two one-thousand and three in a panicked stare I’ve seen many times. “Get back!” I try to push the weekend dominatrix out of the way, but the guy’s gone rigid. I can’t break his hold on my arm fast enough. Pulling me with him, His stiff body slams into the ground with the force of a California Redwood, buckling the floor under us. Sprawled on top of him. I use the confusion as cover, whispering in his ear, “Sorry, it will wear off in a couple minutes.”
Then Christy’s ponytail is in my face again as she helps me break the man’s grip, “Sorry sis. I pulled out the wrong one.”
“It’s okay, shrimp.” So she’s packing more than one poison tonight. This is why my wild card loves those cargo pants, lots of pockets for the various poisons, sedatives, and whatever other science project she’s currently working on.
“What the hell did you do to him?” A smaller man, sporting a thong and a collar who’d been hidden behind the Redwood’s bulk, is looking at us like we’re circus freaks.
Well, that’s just pot and kettle shit.
“It’s a mild neuro-toxin.” Christy pushes her glasses up her nose, “Voluntary muscles only. He’ll be all right in about ten minutes or so – I think.”
“What the fuck, bitch?” The dominatrix charges Christy, but a bolt lightning in black leaps into the fray and between one second and the next the woman is shoved face first into a leather contraption that looks as if it normally houses the other end. Adn damn if I had more time I’d give that the “EW” it deserved. Lena’s shoved her knee in the small of the woman’s back and jerked her arm up behind her, wrist poised to break, snarling like the crazed beast she is, “What the fuck did you just call my sister, bitch?”
“Uh, Lena” Christy takes a tentative step forward, “I think she called me a bitch.”
Lena’s not getting the irony. See, this is what happens when a poser meets the real thing. Lena is a bad ass bitch. The other girl just plays one on Saturday nights, and I’m still hoping to get home before dawn,“Don’t break anything.”
“What the fuck, Mac?” Lena throws an outraged look over her shoulder, “She went for Christy.”
Yeah, but she didn’t actually touch her, so I’m willing to let it go, “We have a job to do.”
Lena releases her with a snarl, “Count yourself lucky. If you’d touched her you wouldn’t be using that hand again for at least a year.”
Lena was an artist when it came to breaking bones. She could pinpoint to within a week how long you’d be incapacitated. And wrists were one of her favorites. Fragile, easy to splinter, delicate to heal.
“What is going on here?” Incognito just got shot to hell. The entire place has gone still as stone, every eye on us and standing in front of me is none other than Madame X.
Jack steps up, pulls Christy to his side, and flashes his badge.
“I’m with Maryland PD. This is official business. Everybody just calm the hell down.” Then to my shock he turns on X, “Just what the fuck kind of place are you running, Rach?”
Goddess be damned. Knowing I have but seconds, “Lena…..”
“I’ve got the Bar. Christy watch the tables.”
My eyes are sweeping the torture chamber side of the room, looking for anyone moving towards the exits. Every eye is glued on us, so nothing there.
“I don’t see anything.” Christy.
Dammit, this is not my night, but then I notice the dominatrix Lena took to the ground. She takes one step back, looking around. Her eyes searching, “Grab her.”
“Hell, yes.” Lena gleefully jerks the poser by her hair and forces her to her knees, “Where the fuck is May Rose Thorne, bitch?”
Oh yeah, this has just made her night.
“Uh,” Jack taps Lena on the shoulder, “I’d appreciate it if you could restrain from any permanent injuries. I’m the police, you know.”
Lena shoots him a disgusted glance, “I’m not.”
It’s not yet midnight. We still have a chance to see the sunrise in Richmond tomorrow, “We’re taking this somewhere private, Lena.”
“Goody,” Lena’s glee has gone over into serial killer creepy. The poser cringes. She won’t be the same after this, but that’s probably a good thing.
“What about him?” Jack is looking down at the guy who grabbed me like he’s something you find under the dumpster.
Shit, this is going to be tricky.
“Yes, he should come, too.” I look over at Christty who’s busy scribbling on a small notepad, “How much longer?”
“I’m not sure. He’s so big.”
“Will another dose kill him?”
A groan comes from the floor. It’s wearing off. I look around for Gerald. He’s just now coming through the door, “Jack, get Gerald to stay with him and bring him back when he comes to.” Jack nods and runs off to fill Gerald in.
“Christy wait with him. If he has any ill effects give him the antidote.”
That distracts Lena from dragging the poser down the aisle, “What the fuck for?”
Christy looks up from her scribbling, “Huh?”
“Christy, I do not want you to get into any trouble. There are lots of witnesses. Understand.” I give them all my ‘don’t argue with the freak of nature’ look.
“Oaky, he should be okay though, um I think.” Christy’s scribbling again.
“You think, what the hell girl?” The words come from the floor.
Oh good, the redwood’s bouncing back.
“Four minutes 13.6 seconds,” Christy’s scribbling again. Then looks down at the guy who’s pushing himself into a sitting position, “How much do you weigh?”
“What?” He’s looking at her like she’s insane.
We get that one a lot.
“Fucking A. Can we all get to the office so I can convince Little Miss Wannabe-a-bad-ass to tell us where May is?
“Good plan Lena, let’s adjourn.” I turn to Madame X, “Lead the way, Mistress.”
The sarcasm goes right over her head. So I lean down to make sure she gets my next words, “If I find out that you’re complicit to women being abused in this club, I’ll give you twenty-four hours.”
She casts a disdainful glance over her shoulder, “For what?”
“To say good-bye.”
We file into the kinky office. It’s all shiny black and white leather/pleather and mirrored surfaces. You can see yourself in everything, even the desk is shiny black lacquer. Sheesh, it’s dizzying.
Allie and Rand are already seated in two shiny white chairs. Gerald and Redwood are the last ones through the door. The office isn’t exactly small, but with the overload of testosterone it feels like I’m in a matchbox. The door no sooner swings shut than that matchbox goes up in flames.
California Redwood puffs up and shoots us all a highly annoyed glare, “What the fuck are you all doing fucking up my op?”
“What do you mean your fucking op?” Rand shoots out of the shiny white chair
“Where the fuck is May Rose?” Lena’s still slinging Miss Wannabe around by her hair.
“My fucking op.” Redwood bellows, “And just what the fuck do roses have to do with anything?”
“Um, you shouldn’t get so worked up. The toxin is still in your system.” Christy looks up from her scribbling.
“Not Roses you idiot!” Jack chimes in, shoving himself between Christy and Redwood, “May Rose, a woman who’s gone missing.”
Christy squeezes back around him, “Are you feeling any residual tingling?” She pulls an ordinary straight pin from one of her pockets.
“Huh?” Redwood blinks down at her.
“This is a joint op between Homeland and the FBI.” Rand roars, his face going crimson.
““Homeland?” A shout of derisive laughter leaves Redwood, “Shit, you guys don’t know your own asses. I’ve been working this case for six mon...Ow! Dammit, what the fuck, girl?” Redwood jerks his hand back, sucking on the finger Christy just stabbed.
“Don’t fucking yell at her.” Jack pulls Christy behind him
“Full feeling in the extremities.” Christy’s muttering, scribbling and checking her watch.
Jack then turns on Madame, “Rachel, just what the fuck is going on in this club anyway?”
“Back off Jack.” Madame X tries going all Domm-ee on him.
“Don’t you try that shit with me, Rachel. I’ll shut this place fucking down and run your lying ass in.” Jack snarls with the rage of a man betrayed.
Redwood and GI Rand are nose to nose shouting curses. Dominatrix girl is screaming police brutality. Lena’s shouting at her to spill her fucking guts before she gets fucking gutted. Gerald is saying something about everybody taking a breath. Jack’s backing Madame X into a corner, and I am just done.
I jump on top of the shiny, kinky, black lacquer desk, “All of you, shut the fuck up!”
Everybody freezes. Thank the Goddess. Course everybody not related to me is looking at me like I’m ten kinds of crazy, but hell, I can work with that, “Now listen up. I’m only going to say this once. That guy,” I point to the California Redwood, “Is with ATF. That guy” My finger swings to GI Rand, “Is with Homeland. May Rose is an innocent who got tangled up in your cross-over, cluster-fuck of an op. We” I throw my fingers at my sisters, “Are here to get her back. Little Miss….” I fling my hand in the direction of the dominatrix
“I-want-to-be-a-bad-ass….” Lena fills in for me.
“Is using your club,” I turn one Madame X, “For drug distribution. The guy who has May is an enforcer working for the guy all of you are after.”
“I don’t know how you know all that,” Redwood swings his glare on me, “But you girls need to butt out of what’s none of your business, before you fuck-up another op.”
Oh fucking hell. For the second time in under two hours I remind myself that killing people for getting on your last Goddess-be-damned nerve is frowned upon.
“Shit, I knew he looked familiar,” Lena looks Redwood up and down, “You were there that night.”
That night. That mid-winter night almost ten years ago. Memories rise.
“Yeah, you girls got in the middle of that, too.” Redwood snaps.
“Good thing we did.” Lena takes the bait and runs with it, “Since you guys couldn’t protect your own.”
I dig my nails into my palms. The pain cuts through the memories, holding me in the now, “Lena give it a rest. And you, Redwood, don’t even start. She’s right and you know it. Gavin would have died that night, if we hadn’t shown up.”
Redwood shrugs, “He knew the risks.”
Everything around me disappears. From somewhere far away I hear female voices.
“Oh, this is going to be bad…”
“You got any Sulfuric Acid around here?”
I smell sweet olive and mountain laurel. The cold bite of winter chills my face and hands. Then I pick up the coppery scent and see Gavin, large, powerful, invincible Gavin McIntyre tied to a chair, unconscious, covered in blood. And for the time it takes me to cross the room and check his pulse, my world goes dark.
I hear that evil bitch’s laugh.
The vision spirals around me in a black haze of rage and in the center of it I see the man who would have let Gavin die.
Somebody tried to grab me – too late. I’m not as fast as Lena, but I was motivated. I leaped down from the desk, my feet barely touching the floor before I was moving, two strides and I was in front of him. The dagger fell into my hand. I raised my other one like I was going to slap him. Redwood bought it, blocking the blow, and distracting him from the dagger slicing through shirt and skin from his abdomen to his chest. A single shallow cut, but enough to bleed. This man would bleed.
He jumped back, trapping my dagger hand at my side. His eyes wide, “Shit, you really are crazy.”
“That’s just one.” The enraged words pour from me like venom, “She sliced him 67 times. Gavin McIntyre is ours. He belongs to us. She made him bleed.” I close my eyes and see the bitch on the floor – tied up, helpless, bleeding, dying. Peace blooms in my chest. I open my eyes and speak the words softly with the reverence they deserve, “We. Bled. Her. Dry.”
“Mia died in custody.” Redwood says, halfway between a statement and a question, “Brain aneurysm.”
“It was one of the first toxins I developed on my own.” I hear Christy’s voice from far away, “Looks like an aneurysm, but it’s not.”
The room is graveside silent. So silent I can hear the beat of this man’s heart. Why should his heart beat? He would have let Gavin die.
“Mckenna, sweetie,” I feel an arm go around me, see blond hair in my periphery, feel it tickle my cheek, “We need to find May.”
No, I need to stop this man’s heart.
“He’s no danger to Gavin, sweetheart. He’s just posturing because they miscalculated and almost lost one of their own.” The words, in that familiar husky voice, have the ring of truth.
I inhale heady spice with a touch of smoke, “Prada.”
I turn my head to see Allie gracing me with one of her beautiful smiles, even as her eyes glisten with tears, “Right again, but you sort of cheated. I was wearing it earlier.”
The room zooms back into focus. Mirrors, black lacquer and all. I see Lena poised to strike. Her eyes on G I Rand who’s got one hand reaching under his shirt ready to pull a weapon. Christy has another tiny spray bottle out, she’s standing next to Jack, who’s also watching me. So my sisters were ready to take out the men who were preparing to take me out. Poor shmucks would have never seen it coming. The Dominatrix is backed into a corner and whimpering. Madame X is white under her mask, and well shit, “Oh for fuck’s sake, take that mask off.”
The entire room breathes a collective sigh of relief.
“You can let go now.” Allie says to the Redwood.
“Yeah, okay” He nods and slowly releases my arms his fingers uncurling one by one, “I’m going to let you go.”
I’d let loose a smart ass comeback, but that was a close one. Guy took me by surprise.
The last finger leaves my wrist. Allie holds out her hand and I surrender the dagger. My brain goes a little haywire on occasion, better safe than…..a bloody mess.
She wraps me in her arms, “I’ll take good care of it.” She whispers.
“I know.” I’m very attached to my dagger. Then for her ears alone, “Thanks.”
Other than Gavin, Allie is the only one who’s been successful in talking me back to the present. Maybe because she too, has a weird memory anomaly to deal with. She doesn’t get trapped in the past, but she remembers every day of her life. It has its own difficulties.
She releases me with one last squeeze then turns on Redwood, “You should apologize for being so callous about Gavin’s life. He may not be important to you, but we love him.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Redwood backs up his eyes shooting from me to Allie, trying to figure out what just happened. Good luck on that one. Finally, he decides whatever freakishness he witnessed is past. “Sorry, you were right.” An honest rueful smile hints at his mouth, “Kind of tough on a man’s ego being outmaneuvered by a bunch of teenage girls.”
“I’m sure.” Allie nods and smiles then turns her gaze on the other two men, “And I feel I should tell you, if you had so much as mussed Mckenna’s ponytail. You’d have been dead men walking. I don’t care how friendly you think you are with Gavin, he’ll end you if he even suspects you might someday be a threat to any one of us.” Her eyes land very significantly on Jack, who‘s eyes are back on Christy.
I think it’s time to get back on track. I stumble over to a chair and very deliberately focus my mind elsewhere, “Now, little Miss Dominatrix, why don’t you tell us all about whatever the hell it is you’re smuggling through this club?”
Before she can open her mouth I hear Jack whisper, “So just what all have you got in those pockets, Tiny?”
Lena pulls the SUV into a parking lot across the street from our destination.
“They’ve got a bulb out. It looks like she’s had a mastectomy.” Christy’s finger appears between us, pointing to the neon-pink ‘Paper Dolls’ sign.
The D in dolls is a stripper pole with a woman wrapped around it and sure enough, one breast is missing, “This has just become the most fucked up Saturday night in our history.”
“Oh yeah, no contest. Absolutely. Yep.” Lena’s got both hands in her hair, collapsed over the steering wheel in weary, abject, bad-ass defeat.
We’re in that dingy, slinky part of town full of used-to-bes. Behind us a half-demolished structure that used to be a shopping mall. Beside us, an abandoned building that used to be an office complex. We’re sitting in the parking lot of a rundown wholesale car repair that used to be a high end car dealership. And last, but certainly the most abhorrent, we’re across from a strip joint that used to be an over-priced French restaurant.
It had taken about five seconds for Miss wanna-be to spill her guts. Not that she knew much, but she gave us an address and said yes, she’d seen May Rose at the place the night before, scared, but relatively unharmed, so far.
California Redwood on the other hand, was quite the font of information.
The Feds had been watching this guy Jesse Slade for months. Arms, drugs, prostitutes, the guy matched up suppliers with buyers. They called him “The Broker” He also owned a strip club. Charming.
Rand and Homeland were after one of his buyers, who May Rose’s boyfriend, the abusive ass-hat worked for. There was a major deal going down this week, they just didn’t have the exact day.
California Redwood, also known by the very ordinary name of Travis Scott, then proceeded to tell us they couldn’t afford to pull May out. Told Rand he should have pulled her out sooner and it was his fault she was in danger. Rand punched him.
We left the club while they were still grappling. Making our way back down the aisle of horrors, Gerald with one arm wrapped protectively around Allie. Jack tugging Christy behind him while she pointed and ‘ewed’.
And now I’m staring at the deformed pink stripper lighting up the night, “What do you think the odds are of going from pagan naked to leather naked to pasty naked in a single night?”
“Pagan Naked?” This from Jack, who’s now sitting beside Christy. Allie’s in the back seat with Gerald.
Christy turns to him, her nose wrinkled, “You don’t want to know.”
“You sure about that?” One corner of his mouth lifts in a crooked smile. Charm, he’s trying to charm Christy. Poor thing.
“There was a giant totem pole penis.” She informs him, her wide eyes solemn behind round black frame glasses.
Jack’s face went pale, “You’re right, don’t want to know.”
“Well, May Rose isn’t coming out on her own.” Man, I’ll be burning these clothes with Lena’s, “Jack, Gerald, give us ten minutes then come in.”
Jack’s emphatic, “You girls aren’t going in there alone.” Came right on top of Gerald’s, “I don’t think that’s wise.”
Lena starts beating her head on the steering wheel, “You should,” Head bang, “Have let,” Double head bang, “Me shoot ‘em.” A final bang and she just stays there.
Christy’s already opening the door and hopping out.
Allie gives Gerald a kiss on the cheek, “It’s sweet of you to be concerned, but we’ll be out of there in no time.” She follows Christy out of the SUV.
“Dammit!” Jack starts to jump out after them.
I grab his arm, “Look at me.” He reluctantly turns his head and meets my eyes, “I’m Alex Kane. I’m telling you to wait ten minutes then come in.”
“I don’t care who the hell you are…”
“Do you really think I’d risk so much as a single hair on their heads?”
That got him, very reluctantly, he settles back, “Yeah, okay. Ten minutes.”
“So we got a plan?” Lena’s in the lead as we head across the street, exhaust, motor oil, and heat suffocating the air.
“Let’s just get in the door.” I decide to go with a classic, “Lena your fiancé is in there. You’re pissed and we’re trying to keep you from killing him. Allie, I think you should put on some Spell.
She pulls a small pink atomizer out of her Fendi handbag and spritzes her hair, “Done.”
“Christy, how much are you packing?”
“Oh,” She pats her pockets, “Enough to take out about a dozen men if you don’t want the effects to be permanent. Otherwise probably a good thirty.”
“Okay,” We hit the small parking lot, packed with the cars of horny men,“There’s a bouncer at the door.”
“I’m going in.” Lena takes off at a full run and full fury, screaming curses and threats to male body parts. Allie bounces after her, begging her to calm down and reminding her of her outstanding warrant.
Christy’s in the rear, yelling warnings about bacteria life-spans, venereal disease, and stripper poles. And okay that was creative.
I slump back and saunter, playing it up like I’m sick and tired of the whole thing, not at all a stretch.
By the time I make it under the bright pink awning that seems to be the standard for all strip clubs everywhere, the guy guarding the door is surrounded.
“Ma’am, you can’t…”
“Oh I damn well fucking think I can…” Lena’s bellowing and waving…shit, is that a kitchen knife? And just where did she pick that up?
“I’m so sorry. She’s a little overwrought… ” Allie’s all apologetic, tugging on Lena’s arm, “Sweetie, you don’t want to do this…”
“I sure as fuck do.” Lena throws her off, “I’m going to hack that fucker’s balls off and shove them in his lyin’ cheatin’ dirty who knows where the fuck it’s been mouth!”
“Uh…” The bouncer’s eyes are stuck on Allie’s breasts. She’s dangerous in a bustier.
“It doesn’t look sanitary….” Christy peeks in the door, then back up at the overwhelmed giant, “What do you clean the stripper poles with?”
“Huh? Ma’am…no..” But Lena’s used the distraction of Allie’s chest and jumped by him.
“Oh for fuck’s sake,” I rub a temple and squint into the nasty, “Is he really in there?”
“She said she saw his car in the parking lot.” Christy’s still peeking in the door, “I hope he doesn’t have any blood-born pathogens.”
Wow, she’s on a roll.
“Blood-born what?” The bouncer’s eyes stray from Allie’s chest to her rear. The slime-ball.
“Oh dear, we really should go get her,” Allie steps closer to him, whispering, “Maybe you could just walk us through the door. She has an outstanding warrant.”
“Sure, sweet thing.” Allie could have said take us to the moon, and he’d have been all over it.
“Oh thank you.” She offers him her most beatific smile and takes his arm like she’s entering a debutante ball as opposed to a filth factory. Christy jumps in front of us, checking for dangerous contagions as she goes. I follow behind Allie and her beau for the evening. It’s dark, dank, and disgusting. The pink color scheme continues with the addition of black and purple. Flashing lights, blaring music and the sour smell of stale sweat and sex. Safe to say we’ve now upgraded to projectile vomitous. A runway stage with poles every few feet, numerous women on those poles in various stages of tacky glitter naked, men hollering and drinking and acting like horny fools.
Now, I’m all for women having choices and taking pride in what they do. I’ve even heard of respectable strip clubs where the women are paid and are treated well. Still wouldn’t want to go near the place, but to each their own.
This is not one of those places. The women on the stage have the dead eyes of those who have long ago given up on dreams, respect, and hope. They’re empty shells. Part of me wants to grab every girl off that stage, wrap them in a sheet, and give them money for tuition. The other part wants to clobber the men over the head with a heavy object. Most of me wants to run the hell out of here before I catch something, but more than anything I want to end the man who’s taken the life out of those girls’ eyes.
“You need a job, beautiful? Cause you’d make a fortune.” The bouncer’s raised voice is so full of lust you can practically see it.
“What?” Allie’s gasp carries over the thumping music, “Oh, no I couldn’t take my clothes off in front of strange men.” The breathy words sweep through the fetid air like a silken caress.
“Yeah, no you’re too good for that. How about just me?”
“Oh…oh…” She blinks up at him. Just when the man’s hand lowers to Allie’s bottom, he starts to sway, “Are you alright?”
“Uh, yeah, yeah…” He stumbles, leaning back against the wall.
“Maybe you should sit down?” Allie’s face is the perfect image of compassionate concern.
The man falls into a chair, “I’m good…” His last words before his head slumps into his chest.
“Well, that took a minute.”
“He’s large.” Allie says as we move deeper into the bowels of the foul.
“You should put on a little more.”
“You think?” She pulls the atomizer out and spritzes her hair again. Spell is a little concoction my Aunt came up with. Have no idea how it works but it targets male DNA. If they’re close to Allie for any length of time, they just kind of fold in on themselves. The effects last a good twenty minutes. We’ll be out of here in half that.
I spy Lena at the end of the bar, Christy at her side, looking like she’s trying to talk sense into a crazy woman. Lena’s busy scanning the room. The bar’s along the back wall to the left of the stage and the tiny tables around it loaded with bloated horny idiots. It’s partially hidden from the main floor by a series of life sized cutouts of women wearing pasties and glitter suspended from the ceiling. Classy.
For this reason there are no patrons at the bar. Just the bartender and the barely dressed, artificially augmented waitresses. Not a soul is paying us a bit of attention. It’s so dark and we’re far enough in the back that even Allie goes unnoticed, Course she’s standing between a cutout and a column so she can’t be seen.
“That’s them across from us in the corner.” Lena tosses her head. I casually follow her head to the opposite wall. Four people are seated in a corner booth. Three men and one woman.
I recognize the wavy brown hair the fine delicate features, “May.”
“Yep.” Lena confirms it.
Even in the dim flashing lights she’s radiating tension as is the guy on her left. The jack-ass boyfriend. On her right is a small man with bleached out spiked up hair – the broker. On his other side is another man, big but not a giant, his eyes sharp and constantly moving. That’s the guy we have to worry about. I get the feeling whatever the Feds had been waiting on was going down now. Perfect. Dear Goddess what a night.
I count six large men around them. Rough guys who maim and kill for a paycheck, but they count on their superior size and strength as opposed to training.
“Something’s up” Lena hisses in my ear, “May’s ass-hat is too tense.”
“Yeah, something’s not right.” We need to move, now. And I don’t like the way the broker has his arm around her. He’s moving in on the ass-hat’s territory.
I rack my brain and search our surroundings for a plan. The bartender’s on the other end of the bar, his back to us. There’s a half empty bottle of vodka sitting right on the other side of the counter next to a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. In my periphery, the broker’s bleached out hair glows in the flashing lights. I grab all three and a dirty glass from a tray that’s been dropped off.
“Lena, you smoke.” I toss her the lighter and the cigarettes.
She snatches them out of the air, “Got it.” Pulling one from the pack she light’s it and slips it between her lips.
I empty the vodka into the glass, “Here.” I hand her the full glass.
I proceed to shout out my plan at light speed. Allie gasps. Christy says something about third degree burns and infection. Lena’s face lights up like Christmas morning.
“I love you, sis.” She hugs me before taking off, going around the long way to get in striking position.
“Ladies.” The bartender finally notices us, looking at the three of us askance, but then his eyes land on Allie. I can see his brain shut down, “Uh, you looking for a job, sweetheart?”
“No, she damn well is not.” I’m a little tired of men who aren’t fit to lick my sister’s stilettos inviting her to take her clothes off, “Our crazy sister dragged us in here. She’s going to kill her boyfriend.”
“Oh, yeah…how’d you all get in here?” He’s looking around, for Tony no doubt.
Christy tilts her head, her big eyes puzzled, “Through the front door. How do you get in here?”
“Uh…” His eyes narrow, looking for sarcasm, but Christy has earnest and brainy down. Mainly because that’s her true personality.
Then the women on stage wrap up. The music stops, “Now.” I whisper.
In the seconds of silence before the music starts once more, Allie runs by the cut-outs and into the bar waving her hands over her head, her husky shout a siren’s call, “Sweetie No, don’t do it. He’s not worth it!”
Every single male eye is on her. With her arms raised over her head, her natural curves are pulled up showing above the bustier. Sheesh, the strippers aren’t even in the same universe. Fully clothed, she out-shines them all. She’s running across the floor pleading with Lena to not do anything rash. “Daddy will have a fit if you get arrested again.”
Oohh brilliant, that husky voice saying Daddy is lethal. Christy’s right behind her yelling something about the lifespan of Hepatitis -C. Girl’s on a roll.
Not a single eye is looking around to see who it is they’re running towards. No one’s looking at me either. Circling around, taking Lena’s path, I stop a good ten feet away, settle in and wait.
Lena easily slips through the large men surrounding the broker. Coming up from behind, she sets the full glass down on the top of the booth and goes for the guy with the shrewd eyes. Smart. Her tiny left hand grips his head from the back and slams it into the table, distracting all eyes from her right hand’s activities, “You fucking lying cheating sack of shit…”
His head hits with an audible snap and crack. Broken nose. Allie and Christy push their way through the still stunned beefy men. Allie yelling, “Don’t hurt her. She’s a mental patient.” Christy saying something about viruses living in vinyl for up to forty-eight hours.
Both bald faced lies, but boy are they selling it.
Two of the men manage to squeeze in and pull Lena off her victim. He lifts his head. He’s got a swollen nose and death in his eyes.
Lena jumps back, eyes wide and shocked, “Who the fuck are you?” She shouts like it’s the man’s fault he’s not her lying, cheating, sack of shit.
Christy throws out a finger, and points out the obvious, “That’s not Brad.”
Brad, okay. Lena’s scumbag is named Brad.
“I told you that wasn’t his car!” Allie’s huffing chest is pushed up over her crossed arms, “You’ve ruined our night and smashed this poor man’s nose.” She flings her dainty hand in the smashed man’s direction. His eyes don’t look lethal now, just wide and confused and locked on Allie’s chest, like every other man in the place. “Serves you right if you get arrested.” She turns to him, “You should press charges.”
The shrewd eyes go from bewildered to amused. Sleezy, amused, but amused, “Should I?”
“Yes,” She nods, ignoring Lena’s ‘what the fuck, sis,’ “She won’t learn anything….”
“Fucking A,” Lena shouts, “I’m not a two year old.”
“You certainly act like one…” Then Allie’s big blue eyes lock on the bleached blond, “Oh My God! FIRE! You’re on fire.”
A single flame leaps up from the broker’s spiky hair. Finally. About damn time. Guess that cigarette had to burn through the hair lacquer. It’s a big night for lacquer.
Still screaming “Fire,” Allie grabs the glass Lena set down and tosses it….and Shit! Damn! So that worked. Yeah, okay….
The broker’s head is engulfed. He’s a living, shrieking, screaming in agony, human Tiki Torch.
The whole place erupts into hysteria. If you ever want to clear a room, yell fire. It’s also a good way to get trampled to death. There’s a stampede for the door. Glittery almost nude women a sprinkle of sparkle among the horny drunkards. The goons are trying to beat out the flames. Lena gets away from her beef-cake by dropping, twisting and head butting him in his crotch. He topples over and damn, he is not getting up anytime soon.
Christy’s arms are working like windmills, spraying who knows what the fuck into the men’s eyes around her. Three topple, just flop over and hit the floor with what I’m sure is a hell of a bang, but there’s no hearing it over the screams and the stampede. That’s four goons down the other two are busy beating out flames.
My eyes find May, she’s been shoved to the back. Her ass-hat of a boyfriend is tugging her along, trying to use the distraction to pull them out. Yeah, good thinking, jack-ass, “Lena!”
“Fast break – May.” Translation: get the girl and let’s get out of here.
“What the fuck?” I spin around to see Jack staring at the scene his mouth hanging open, “Get Christy out of here” He snaps out of his daze and in two strides he’s got Christy around the waist, lifts her up and turns her around, dragging her into the throng headed for the door. Lena’s already on top of May and her ass-hat. She takes him out with a powerful side kick to his knee. I don’t have to hear the crunch to know he collapses. Knees are a favorite of Lena’s. In her words, “Guy can’t walk, he can’t chase you.” She grabs May and melts into the panicked throng. That’s when I find Allie. The shrewd one used the confusion to grab her, and is tugging her back towards a nearly invisible door in the wall by the stage. Spell will work, but it takes time. Time we don’t have, besides that man needs to die.
The dagger falls into my hand, as I work toward him, already feeling the hot slide of his blood coating the blade, but Gerald beats me and shit! He crumples the guy with a hell of a roundhouse to his face.
Gerald’s old school.
Grabbing Allie, he pulls her to me and we break out of the foul and into the melee in the parking lot.
We keep moving, not stopping until we make it to the other side of the street and around the deserted warehouse. May’s with Rand, wrapped in a blanket sitting on the cement stoop leading to the entrance. Lena’s nearby watching over her, but I can tell she sees the same thing in Rand’s behavior I do. May is in good hands. Allie and Christy are with Gerald, examining his roundhouse hand. Jack’s right there with them one arm draped casually around Christy’s waist.
Pacing to walk of the adrenaline still racing though me, I concentrate on taking long slow deep breaths. From the time Allie first screamed ‘He’s not worth it,” to the time we were out the door – two minutes – tops. It felt like hours.
The panicked crowd of drunken men and hysterical screams of glittery naked women rolls across the street. Police sirens are wailing. Fire trucks are roaring. The sounds crash into us, scattering the silence of the night. Then over all of this I hear, loud, clear and strong, “Annwyn Mckenna Alexandra! Just what the hell is going on here?”
Allie and Christy look up from Gerald’s hand with an “oh dear”and an “uh-oh.”
From my other side I hear Lena’s, “Damn, this some bad luck, this is.”
‘Bad luck’ my fanny. I catch Rand’s eye, “You no good snitch.”
He shrugs, “Had to tell him. Value my life.”
And then, standing in front of me is the six foot five inches of Scottish Warrior glory that is Gavin McIntyre.
Damn, he always looks so big when he’s bellowing. Arms roped with muscle crossed over his huge chest, seriously huge, like the man has to have dress shirts custom made huge. His powerful legs slightly apart. Sheesh, you absolutely have no trouble picturing this man in a kilt tossin’ tree trunks around for the hell of it.
I meet his blazing stare and go for indignant with a dose of butt out of my business, “Me? What the hell are you doing here?”
“Annwyn Mckenna don’t even try it.” He’s not buying it. It was a long shot, “What are you four doing in the middle of an op between Homeland the Feds and ATF?”
“It wasn’t intentional.” Oh, hell, I sound sulky. Damn Gavin and his….Gavin-ness.
“Never is with you four, is it?” The bellow dwindles down to a rolling rumble. Gavin’s eyes narrow on me and I realize I’m rubbing my temple, “Dammit Mckenna,” The rough whisper is above my head and I’m surrounded. His arms go around me, his large hands gently pushing into my hair, easing the dull throbbing. As without a bit of pain, he removes the band from the the messy pony-tail I’d half way thrown together at the beginning of this nekked nightmare of a night. Gavin’s been doing this since I was nine. He never so much as breaks a single hair.
My head drops onto his chest, “We were saving the girl.” I mutter, still sulky. I get a grunt. His strong fingers slide to the base of my skull, massaging my the tight muscles. And…well..oh…that… just feels really…very…good.
Sublime relaxation slinks down my body, pushing the tension out through my feet. I work up the energy for one more sulky fact, “And this has been the worst Saturday night in my life.”
“Oh, it is so very so.” I roll my forehead on his shoulder, “So no more yelling.” I feel his chest jostle with his low chuckle. I love it when he does that. I fist my hands at my sides to keep them off him, “There were dangling naked parts.”
“You don’t say?”
“Yes, and hairy, sweaty, flopping…” I raise one hand and sling it around, “Stuff.”
“And a Giant Totem Pole Penis.”
“A what?” He pulls back slightly with that one. My head goes with him, causing me to lean and stumble. His large hands move from my head to my hips, steadying me.
“Please don’t make me say it again.” Another rumbling chuckle and oh, to hell with it. It’s late, I’m tired and I just survived three kinds of naked. I take that final step wrap my arms around him and hold on tight, so I can feel that chuckle everywhere.
He goes still for a split-second and then one giant hand is at my back. The other slides up to work the muscles at the base of my neck, “So a bad night all around?”
“You girls alright?” He asks over my head.
I hear a husky “Fine.” And a dry, “Good as I can be considering what I’ve seen.” And then, a soft cooing, “Oh you poor thing. You’re just skin and bones.” Then I hear a muttered “oh shit, what now” and a “Christy, honey maybe you shouldn’t…then a male voice, “What do you think you’re doing? That thing could have rabies.”
I don’t bother to look up, “What is it?”
“I’m not sure,” Then over my head again, “What you got there Shrimp?”
“It’s a kitten.” Christy answers.
Relief rolls through me, “Oh, well that’s not so….”
“Oh…wait it’s a whole litter…..”
“Oh hell’s nine…” I beat my head on Gavin’s chest.
“And the mama cat…..”
“Bells.” I give up beating my head and go back to rolling it back and forth, “How the hell does she do it?” Christy’s been dragging home strays since she was old enough to walk.
“You got me.” I get another rumbling laugh, “I just chalk it up to your crazy genetics.”
“Gavin, did you bring the plane?” Christy asks. She’s full into rescue mode and she has an emergency triage on that plane.
“Sorry Shrimp, it’s in Fredericksburg.”
All the voices blend over my head as the kitten drama unfolds. May Rose says something about taking them to her place. Rand puts the kibosh on that with a curt, “No, it’s not safe.” May starts to argue, but Lena stops her with a mercilessly blunt, “He’s right. You go back there you’re good as dead.” Jack cusses about disease and throws around words like rabies and mange. Gerald solves everything when he offers of call his son – the vet. And oh happy day and maybe this means he can find them a good home other than ours.
“Goddess bless that man.” I mumble into Gavin’s chest, “I’m going to buy him another Camellia bush for his mama.”
Gavin’s chuckling over my head, but then goes abruptly still, “Shit.”
Oh no that can’t be good, “What is it?”
I look up from his shoulder to see two black SUV’s pull up. Oh good the gang’s all here. Dear Goddess, I just want to go home.
As soon as the vehicles stop the door flies open and Travis Scott, the redwood leaps out.
“Goddammit, I ought to fucking arrest all four of you crazy bitches….”
I’m left alone so suddenly I stumble again, before I can right myself Gavin’s fist slams into Travis Scott’s face. The man’s substantial body flies back, his feet fly up and damn, he’s airborne. For a nano-second, it looks like one of those floating mid-air magic tricks then gravity takes over and slams him down to earth.
“Shit!” Lena, suddenly at my side, finishes for me.
The parking lot that was full of life and noise is now nothing but stunned silence. The only sounds are the tiny mewls of hungry kittens, car doors opening and shutting, and the whooshing of Gavin’s lungs gulping air.
Travis shakes the cuckoos out of his head enough to recognize the man over him. His face loses all color. A McIntyre in a rage can have that effect.
“Stay. Down.” Gavin grinds out between clenched teeth. Oh he is pissed.
“Uh hey, McIntyre. Didn’t see you…”
“No shit.” Lena snides down at him.
Gavin moves directly in front of me and turns his attention on the half dozen men who’ve gotten out of those SUV’s.
They all have the sense to stay out of arm’s reach. One of them takes a miniscule step forward, “McIntyre, you know we’re going to have to talk to her.”
They mean me.
“You don’t fucking come near her.” Gavin’s back to bellowing.
And Yep, he means me, too.
That minuscule step forward turns to two steps back, but the guy is looking over Gavin’s beefy shoulder, the familiar ice blue eyes pleading. Michael Scheaffer, Homeland. I’ve worked with him before, not a bad guy. It’d be a shame if he died tonight, “We need help on this.”
“Fuck you.” Gavin’s deteriorated to guttural snarls. Never a good sign, “You’re not getting a thing from her. Never again.”
“Uh…you know I’m standing right here….”
The look he sends me shuts me right up. He strides up to the half a dozen men. I strain to hear the heated exchange, but all I can make out are growls, grunts, and the occasional fuck off.
The mewls of hungry kittens distracts me from the potentially fatal confrontation, “Man, he’s mad.” Christy’s on my other side holding a large cardboard box. I peek inside and count three squirming fury filthy bodies, “Small litter.”
“There were two more.” Christy said, the words soft with regret. And for a fleeting moment, I see her as a child of six, her marble blue eyes spilling with tears over the loss of Milo, the goldfish. I hear the echo of those sobs every time she fails to save some tiny helpless creature. I wrap my arm around her, “Sorry sis.”
She lays her head on my shoulder, her stub of her pony-tail stabbing my chin, “They didn’t live long.”
“What about the mother?”
“She’s bad off. I need to get her to a vet. I think we can save her, but we’ve got to get her there now.”
“Sweetie, Gerald’s son will meet us the office. It’s minutes from here.” Allie comes up on her other side.
Lena’s already moving to the SUV, “Let’s roll.”
“Gavin!” I call out. He spins around, his assessing gaze sweeping over the four of us and settling on Christy, “What’s wrong?”
“It’s the mama cat.” Chrsity’s voice is soft, but steady, “I think it’s pneumonia and some type of wide spread infection. We have to get her to the vet, now.”
Without another word to the men he’d been telling to fuck off, he’s striding towards us, “Let’s go.”
“Dammit McIntyre, those crazy cousins of yours aren’t going anywhere.” Scott’s back on his feet, “They set the fucking guy on fire. Ruined six months of work. I’ve a good mind to arrest….”
Gavin barely turns and once again his fist shoots out and the man is on the ground again, “Told you to stay down.” He tosses the careless words back as that same arm that powered Redwood to the ground twice wraps gently around my baby sister, “Where we goin’ shrimp?”
“Gerald’s son is a vet. He’s close.”
“Hey, McIntyre,” Jack meets us from the other side of the parking lot, holding another box. Mama cat. He’s kept his distance from Chrsity since Gavin arrived. No death wish there. “Some night.”
“Yeah, thanks for the heads up.” Gavin nods in his direction, then leaning down to me, “Did you really set him on fire?”
“Just his hair.”
“I was pressed for time.” Damn, I think I’m sulky again, “We needed a distraction and it was all I could think of.”
“The vodka worked a little better than I thought it would.” I admit, grudgingly.
“Vodka’s flammable.” He informs me.
“Right, yes I witnessed that first hand.” I upgrade to grumbling. We pile into the SUV. It’s a tight fit. Lena’s behind the wheel. Allie’s shot gun. Christy, Gerald and Jack are in the first seat. I’m between Gavin and Rand. I feel like I’m stuck between two mountains. May’s in Rand’s lap. She looks so small compared to his bulk. We’re not out of the parking lot before her head drops, exhaustion has taking her.
“They’ll try to get her to testify.” The whole operation was a screw up. They’d try to use her for an easier conviction. It would sure as hell get her killed, “Don’t let her.”
“Don’t worry. I’m getting her the hell away from all this.” Rand snorted, “This whole operation smells bad.”
He voices my thoughts aloud. Confirmation not that I needed it. Something was definitely off. Images from the night start flying around in my brain, like puzzle pieces caught in a dust devil. I rub the throbbing behind my eyes, and try to pull them into some order.
“Stop.” The word is a low growl in my ear.
I slide a look up at Gavin, “Huh?”
“Stop thinking. You’re exhausted.” He lifted his arm and wrapped it around me, his other hand covers my head and pushes me to his shoulder, “Get some rest Mckenna.”
“You’re bossy.” I feel his heart thumping under my cheek.
“You’re stubborn.” That rough whisper over my head.
“Pot.” I snuggle into the soft cotton of his t-shirt.
“Kettle.” I feel the smallest chuckle go through him.
“Bull-headed Scott.” I mumble around my yawn.
“Crazy Pagan Witch.” He rumbles back.
“Oh shut it.” I feel myself sinking.
“Go to sleep, Mckenna.” I’m gone while my name is still on is lips.
I come awake with a jerk, blinking the sleep out of my eyes. I’m still in the SUV all by my lonesome. Peering through the windshield to the glass fronted building in front of me, I see a standard animal hospital. And I know animal hospitals. When you grow up with a girl who pulls wounded birds right out of the sky, you see a lot of them.
I find Christy, and even from out here I can see the huge tears spilling from her eyes. Oh hell, one of the most heartbreaking sights in the history of the world is my baby sister crying. I jump out of the car and head for the entrance. I’m about to push my way inside when I hear the shout from behind me.
I spin around to see Michael jumping out of another black SUV and running for me, “Mike, not now!”
Before I can get in the door, he’s in front of me, “The guy’s in a burn unit and our whole investigation is shot to hell.”
“Mike, your investigation was shot to hell before we showed up.”
That makes him pause. He didn’t think I’d figure it out. Sheesh, even GI Rand figured that much out.
“Look,” He takes a step back and gives me that earnest come-on-help-a-guy-out look, “All I’m asking is for you to take a look at it. One hour, two tops. We just need to see where we got off track. I’m exhausted and my wife is threatening to walk out if I don’t get my ass home and learn to change a diaper.”
Oh, now that’s low. The man adores his wife, and dammit they just had a baby. I’m being played and I know it, but…“Alright, I’ll call you tomorrow, but if you don’t want to end up with a broken something-or-rather. Gavin’s in a mood.”
“Right right.” He starts jogging backwards, “You’re a good egg. Thanks.” He spins around and heads back to his SUV.
One crisis averted. I walk through the door and assess and oh no, this doesn’t look good.
Christy’s standing in front of a man I’m assuming is Gerald’s son. He’s got the grim look of a man giving bad news. Gavin’s a stalwart presence at her back. One large hand covering her tiny shoulder. His solemn gaze meets mine and it tells me everything I need to know. Lena looks nearly feral and Allie’s eyes are red rimmed. They’re flanking her. Everyone else is gathered by the window, but I can see Jack shooting concerned glances over his shoulder.
“What’s going on, Midge?” I slide between she and Allie, taking her small, cold hand in mine.
“Mama Mia’s bad off.” Christy turns those marble blue eyes dripping with tears on me.
“I was just telling your sister that the kindest thing to do would be to end her suffering.” Gerald’s son says with that detached compassion his kind use when delivering bad news.
And oh hell, Christy gets especially upset when she can’t save a mama, and Sweet Mercy she’d already named her. If there was a chance we needed to take it.
I address Gerald’s son, “Doc, can I see her?”
“The cat?” He asked, his eyes puzzled.
“Yes.” I nod.
“We’ll be back,” I give Christy’s hand a squeeze.
She gives me a jerky nod, wiping at her tears.
The doc and I go down a hallway and through double stainless steel doors into a multi-purpose room set up for anything from surgeries to x-rays, “The cat is over here.”
“I don’t need to see her.” I just needed to speak with him alone.
“Right,” He rested his hip on the edge of an exam table, “I thought not.”
“Doc, can you save this cat?”
“I can treat her with antibiotics and an i.v., but her chances aren’t good.”
That’s because he didn’t know my sister. Christy could damn well will an animal to live, “Your Dad’s a good man.”
“Uh, thanks.” His confusion makes the word a question.
“I think he raised a good son.”
“Okay….” He nodded slowly drawing out the word and giving me the what-the-hell look. I get that a lot.
“I’m going to tell you a story. It can’t go beyond this room.”
“Okay.” That settles him down. He crosses his arms over his chest and waits.
I give him the abbreviated, half-truth version. It’s more than enough. His face transforms from wondering what I was up to, to disbelief, to shock, to horror. By the time I’m done he’s stumbling across the floor to fall heavily into a chair, “I’ll ….” He clears his throat, rubbing a shaking hand over a face that’s gone as white as his lab coat, “I’ll do everything I can.”
“Thanks.” I’m almost to the door when he stops me.
“She says she wants to be a vet. We can’t always save them. She’ll have to face it someday.”
“Maybe…” I concede the point, meeting his gaze in the glass panel of the door, the ghosts of promises made long ago haunting my reflection, “But not today.”
We pull into the driveway, that’s more of an alley between the two row houses that my sisters and I call home, at 5:17 a.m. Christy and I share one and Allie and Lena the other….sort of. Last year Allie dated an architect. He designed a Florida Room that spans the alley and connects the two houses by way of French doors at either end. So now it’s more of a “your house is my house”.
Trudy our slobbering hell-hound greets us at our door, “Is there coffee?” Lena, pats her gigantic shaggy head once and shoves her aside, barreling in through our front door. She and Allie are perpetually out of coffee.
We follow her onto the deep covered porch and into the house. Christy’s got the three kittens Josie, Sadie, and Cracker in a large carrier. Gavin gets charge of M&M. Mama Mia became M&M sometime during the flight home while I slept.
“We should put her in the Florida room. She’ll like the sunshine.” Christy heads through the French doors, Trudy loping at her side. My sister is happy as a clam in mud, confident in her ability to nurse mama cat back to health.
I flick the light switch and the old fashioned chandeliers over our heads illuminate the space. We made it home before sunrise. Yee-hah. It wasn’t much of a victory, but I’d take it. Allie says something about blankets for the kitties and heads through the opposite doors into what is officially her house.
Gavin carries M&M through the French doors. Setting the box down on the slate floor
Christy’s already rearranging furniture so that she can put M&M in the sunniest spot. Gavin pitches in and moves the heavier pieces, the coffee table and one of the short sofas. Allie decorated this room with a lot of stressed white wood and white slipcovers. Floral pillows in what they call chintz. It’s not what I would have chosen but it’s relaxing and feminine. Shabby chic, Allie called it.
It’s a good compromise. She and Lena successfully mixed modern, old Hollywood glam, and southern charm in their townhouse, albeit with a hell of a lot of yelling and stomping and blond hair tossing. Christy and I like a more organic style. Lots of pale natural woods, taupes and beiges along with bright whites and pale neutral greens. Everything in our house speaks to calm. It usually gets shouted out of existence by whatever insanity is happening, but hey, at least we put forth the effort. Allie says the Florida room blends the two homes in a seamless transition.
“…So you can have my room… I’ll be sleeping out here.” I tune back in to Christy and Gavin’s conversation.
“I can take the guest room.” Gavin said.
Wait…guest…what… “Are you staying?”
“Just a couple of days, if that’s alright?”
“Of course it’s alright,” I wave off the question, and head through the French doors into the great room, “But the guest room’s out of commission at the moment. Allie saw a guest room makeover on one of those HGTV things.”
“Right.” Gavin nods, following me into the house, “Christy’s room it is, then.”
Allie loves HGTV. And well, Allie’s got this strange quirky brain thing. Show her something one time. Pretty much all it takes. Sometimes it may take two or three trial runs, but then she’s an expert. Last year she renovated the first floor of both houses. Brought in a couple of guys who were seriously impressed with her know-how once they stopped staring at her chest. She put them to work, knocked down walls, refinished floors. Now, we have the charm of an old row house, but with lots of light open space and dream kitchens. Oh, and then just for giggles, she went upstairs, knocked down walls, and gave us all en-suite baths. We’re the envy of the entire block.
The last room to be redone was the small guest room in the back of the house on the first floor. Originally it was a laundry room, but she moved the laundry upstairs when she redid the baths.
I pass through the great room and into my coordinating kitchen. Lots of white and pale milk glass green, light colors, a window over the farmhouse sink, and open shelving to show off the things we inherited from Granny Rose. Allie also had brilliant idea of making my countertops wood butcher block, as a baker this makes my life so much easier. There’s not a dough out there that won’t stick like glue to granite.
I hit the counter and go for the coffee pot, but it’s not there. Lena’s got it sitting next to her at the breakfast bar.
“Hey,” She stops guzzling when I grab it, “If you drink, you brew.”
“You know you don’t live here, right?” I wave the pot at her, “This is my coffee.”
“Don’t I know it,” Lena snorted in her cup, “It’s weak as water. I had to use half the bag to get a decent brew.”
Oh for fuck’s sake. Lena should just skip the brewing process and chew on the beans. I go to the cabinet and pull out one of over a dozen travel mugs. We have a rule. If you see a travel mug – buy it. We’re always drinking on the go and keeping up with the mugs doesn’t happen. The McGovern women have left travel mugs up and down the east coast. I pour what’s left in an extra-large mug with a cartoon of a hung-over, coffee drinking Santa and slam it down in front of Lena. Putting the pot in place and filling the tower, but when I go to take down the bag of coffee I see my sister wasn’t exaggerating. There’s barely enough left for one last pot. I whirl around, “Dammit, Lena this was my last bag of Thanksgiving Blend.” I live for Thanksgiving blend. I wait outside the morning they get it in and buy every bag in the store, or a couple of stores, okay so every store in a twenty mile radius.
“Oh,” She manages to look a little ashamed, “Sorry, sis.”
I just glare.
“Uh, I’m really sorry?”
I shake the bag at her.
“Uh, I’ll buy you ten bags as soon as it’s available?”
I open the bag, dump the remaining beans into the grinder, then hold the bag in one hand and bring my open palm down, crushing it like a soda can, “It’s July.”
“Yeah…uh..right,” Lena nods, trying for placating and reasonable. Why she’s doing that I don’t know. Reasonable is not her forte. At a time like this, you play to your strengths, “Thanksgiving is a few months off, but you’d have run out in a few days anyway…”
The crushed bag bouncing off her head cuts her off, “Okay, okay, you’re right it was thoughtless. I’m an evil thieving coffee whore. I’ll get on the internet and see if I can find you some?”
I let it go with a grudging nod. Partially because if anyone can find me a bag of out of season coffee on the information highway it’s Lena, and two, enough black gold has dripped from the pot to coat the bottom of my cup and adding the proper amount of cream and sugar to what amounts to a thimble full of coffee is tricky business.
“Yeah, so I’ll just go get right on that.” Lena skedaddles while the daddling is good.
“What did you say to the vet?”
That question from Gavin is…unexpected. I keep my eyes on the pot and try a casual shrug, “Not much, just that Christy can will an animal to live.”
Silence. I risk a look up to see the man who knows me, I mean really knows me, leaning on the other side of the breakfast bar, his eyes solemn. I try for a subject change, “So who called you?”
“Rand.” One word and he’s still watching.
“Yeah, I should have seen that coming.”
“You should have.” Flat statement and still watching.
“I thought you were out of the country.”
“Got back yesterday morning.” Still watching
“Gavin, whatever it is, just say it.”
“One day, Mckenna.” He comes around the counter, till he’s standing a breath away, so large and solid, his hands on my shoulders a heavy, comforting weight, and I can’t meet those eyes that have always seen more than I want to reveal, “You promised me.” The words rumble over my head. I feel those ghosts of the past again, a cold chill at my back, as I watch his chest expand with his breath, wondering if I can get away with falling into it twice in one night.
I used to lean on him without thinking. Throughout my childhood, Gavin was the safe harbor in the raging storm that was my fractured mind, but then, I grew up and… things changed.
Growing up kind of sucks.
“Not today.” The words leave me in a hoarse whisper, hollow, small, and vulnerable. Fuck it, I’m giving stone cold bitch the morning off.
I feel a fleeting brush of warmth on my brow and Gavin takes the decision out of my hands when he pulls me into his arms, wrapping his strength around me, banishing the ghosts. I feel his heartbeat under my cheek, and his low whisper in my ear, “Alright Mckenna, not today.”