Written by: SwordnQuill (Susanne Beck)
Disclaimers: The characters in this novel are of my own creation. Thats right, this is an uber story. Some may bear a resemblance to characters we know and love who are owned by PacRen and Universal Studios.
Violence and Naughty Language Disclaimer: Yup, both. And quite a lot of each, to be truthful. This takes place in a prison, and where there are criminals, theres gonna be violence and naughty words.
Subtext Disclaimer: Yup, theres that too. This piece deals, after a fashion, with the love and physical expression of that love, between two adult females. There are some graphic scenes located within this piece, but I have tried to make them as tasteful as possible so as to not avoid anyones sensibilities. Let me know if Ive succeeded.
Serialization Disclaimer: When I first started writing and posting, I made a promise to myself, and to anyone who read me, that I would never post a work that wasnt finished. I detest serialization, normally. But . . .this novel, which is one week from being finished, is becoming very long and Ive had readers write to me stating that they wont read novels because they just dont have time to sit down and read such gargantuan works. So, I compromised. This piece is finished (very nearly) and will go up at regular intervals so that the folks who like to read in small chunks can do that and the ones who like to read the whole thing can do that too.
Dedication: As always, Id like to thank the man who gives up some of his free time every day to read the stuff I send over to him. The best beta-reader on the planet, Mike. Id also like to thank my other betas: Candace (who read the entire novel in IM and showed her support every night), Rachel, and Alex. A special thank-you goes to Sulli, who made a very bad day a wonderful one with her gift of generosity. I would also like to thank Mary D for reading and housing this at her site. But mostly, Id like to thank the readers for reading my stuff and giving me such great feedback. Its what makes sitting in front of this balky computer and tickling the tans so much fun. Feedback, if anyone is so inclined, is always gratefully received and appreciated. I can be reached atSwordnQuil@aol.com.
The New Year came and went with a marked absence of fanfare. The prison was slowly getting over the effects of the riot. Three inmates, including Derby, and one guard had been killed. Forty-seven had been injured, seven severely enough to require prolonged hospital stays.
Sonny and Pony were two of those seven, but lucky for us all, they came through their brushes with death with flying colors. Their scars became badges of courage; their bravery garnered new respect among the other inmates. They were seen as heroes in a world which had none.
In a move that surprised no one, it seemed, but me, Ice formally inducted me into the ranks of her Amazons. It wasnt much, as inductions went; more along the lines of her saying, "Youre a good fighter. You wanna be an Amazon?" And me replying, "Sure, Id love to." And her saying, "Alright, youre an Amazon."
My friends welcomed me warmly into their ranks and I acquired a new job; one of protection of the weak. It felt good.
In the next couple months, we also were able to rebuild the library into something even bigger and better than before. The fact that Ice pressed into service those women whod wrecked it in the first place was a huge help. Not surprisingly, these women were excellent workers who bore up well, if shakily, under Corinnes constant criticism and did their best to right the wrongs theyd perpetrated upon her precious home. The new teakettle Id gotten for her was always nearby if any of them needed a reminder. Which, of course, they didnt. Their still-healing bruises were reminder enough.
Like the sea at low tide, the gangs themselves settled back into a state of quietude. Under Ices expert guidance, another, more prudent leader was installed to head the white gang. The leaders of the four gangs met together, with Ice as mediator, and hammered out some hard and fast boundaries and rules to go along with them. After many days of debate, a peace treaty of sorts was brought into being, with the Amazons, as always, appointed overseers.
The passage of time also allowed Ice and myself to begin coming closer together once again; a closeness that was interrupted by Cassandras bloody assault and Ices subsequent hellish isolation. Though at the time she never said a word about her time in the hole, Ice did gradually open up to me enough to tell me who Josephine was and what the older woman had meant to her.
Salvatore Briacci had followed Ices case from the moment the police shot her down in the old abandoned warehouse. A big reason for this was because, except for her blue eyes, Ice was said to resemble Briaccis only child, a daughter name Lucia, remarkably. Lucia was killed in an airplane crash when she was just twelve years old and both Briaccis had mourned her death every day since the accident. Ice told me that even at ten or more years later, her room was still set up as if just waiting for the young girl to walk back in and resume her life once again. The same magazines, getting further out of date with each passing year, sat upon the same vanity. The same hairbrush, replete with fine raven hairs caught in the thick bristles, waited patiently beside them.
Ice said that Briacci listened aghast to the news that she was to be incarcerated, at fifteen, in an adult prison for the rest of her life. On the day of sentencing, he sent his own lawyers out to investigate and challenge the case; a challenge that made its way up to the State Supreme Court, where the ruling was finally reversed. Because of Briaccis persistence and money, Ice was released on her twenty-first birthday.
While in prison, she knew nothing about her hidden benefactor, nor did anyone else in the jail. On the day of Ices release, Briacci himself showed up in the back of a stretch limousine, bearing flowers, good wishes, and an offer she couldnt refuse. Being penniless, homeless, and without significant educational skills to make it easily in the outside world, she accepted.
At first, she said, Briacci and his wife treated her like a long lost daughter, lavishing her with expensive gifts and bountiful attention. At twenty-one, however, after six years in prison, she was streetwise and cock-sure and spent every day waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Despite her cool reserve, however, she felt drawn to Josephina, Salvatores quiet, elegant wife. She was the first person who ever took the time to reach beyond the brash, armored exterior and into the sensitive soul of the young woman beneath the mask. Josephina encouraged Ice, whom of course she called Morgan, to study for her GED, correctly spying a fine mind behind the icy eyes. When Ice passed the tests with ease, the older woman encouraged her to take college courses, which she did, even receiving an academic scholarship for her efforts.
From what Ice told me, Josephina was typical of the wives of the Mafia members shed come to know. Purposefully na´ve to her husbands other life, she turned a blind eye to everything that wasnt above board. Briacci himself also took great pains to keep his two lives separate and treated his wife as one might a precious object beyond price. The two were very obviously in love with one another, she said.
With Josephinas further and loving encouragement, Ice tried to make a life for herself in a legal trade. But her past preceded her, stonewalling most every attempt she made to better herself and her circumstances. She readily admitted to me that she could, and should, have simply moved to another part of the country where no one had ever heard the name Morgan Steele. The Briaccis werent holding her against her will.
But the love and support she received from Josephina filled a huge hole in her life; a hole that was dug on the day her parents died, leaving her an orphan. The hole was widened and deepened upon the death of her best friend, whom shed known since childhood and who was the last link to a past she could never relive. Though a full grown and powerful adult, Ice was in many ways still that young girl craving love and acceptance of a family.
The choice was an easy one, she said. After a year of trying and failing to obtain gainful employment in a town that spurned her name, she simply walked into Salvatores offices and offered her services.
And that was an offer he couldnt refuse.
I remember her telling me the story of the first time she handled a gun with full and knowledgeable intent to use it. She didnt count the slaughter in the warehouse. Shed been going on rage, hatred and blind instinct on that one.
Shortly after she had had her talk with Salvatore, hed taken her to his exclusive Hunt-and-Gun club where he showed her off like a proud father. Then hed taken her back to the outdoor shooting range where several of his cronies were standing in the stalls, shooting at man-sized targets with rifles, shotguns, pistols and all other manner of projectile weaponry.
The sound of shooting was loud in her ears but she disdained the use of thick ear protectors. Upon seeing their leader with this young, beautiful stranger, the men had gathered quickly around, distributing pats to Ices head, though she was taller than the lot of them.
She told me that they hid their laughs quite well when Salvatore told them he was teaching her to use a gun. Apparently, the Mafia is very much an old boys network where women, for the most part, are seen as fragile and peaceful doe-eyed creatures needing the protection of strong men. She was given a pistol along with explicit instructions in its use.
When she indicated she was ready, she was led to a stall of her own, with a bevy of middle-aged Mafia cronies watching her every move. When her first shot went errant, the wave of tittering, I told you so laughter was cut off quickly by a look from Salvatore. After the next five shots were fired in rapid succession, the entire range was so silent Ice said you could have heard an ant crawl across the finely cut grass. Each shot had hit the target dead center.
After that, Ice told me, Salvatore Briacci knew he had the makings of a first-class assassin on his hands. And thats exactly what he molded her into.
At first he sent her out with partners. The hits were simple and direct and caused her conscience, a tenuous beast even at the best of times, no remorse. Then she started going out on her own and the jobs became more demanding and difficult. And high profile, as well.
To this day, shes never gone further than that on this subject, but Id venture to guess that some of the more popular unsolved murders in this town may have their source in her; especially if the victim was a well-known Mafia member.
Like Salvatore, Ice went to great lengths to keep her other life hidden from Josephinas warm gaze. Briacci set out to find her gainful employment in one of his many legal business ventures. As a private citizen, he was best known for his string of new and used car lots and thats where he sought to fit her in.
Direct and penetrating by nature, she would have made an abysmal car salesman, but when Briacci showed her to the auto-body shop, they both knew shed found her calling. Ive heard it said, and with no small amount of envy, that Ice can make a car walk and talk. Extremely talented with her hands, she is a mechanical genius. It wasnt long before she was developing a client base of her own beyond the Mafia cronies and hangers-on that her benefactor so graciously supplied the up and coming young mechanic.
Again, I asked her what seemed to me to be the obvious question: why, if she had found legal employment, did she continue to work in another capacity for Briacci? She closed up some and told me the answer was complicated and to leave it at that. I suspect one of the reasons might have been some sort of debt she felt she owed him for getting her out of prison and taking her into his home and family. Though it pains me to say so, I think another reason was that she enjoyed the feeling of power being a hired gun brought to her. The same kind of power, over life and death, that Corinne so often talked about.
That insidious craving for the power of life over another remains, even after five years of living among women who feed on it like caviar, a thing as foreign to me as any other. And I pray every day to whatever higher power is out there to grant that it will always remain that way.
As if realizing, for the first time during our conversations on the subject, exactly how much shed opened up to me, Ice shut down completely for a time, refusing to discuss anything more of a personal nature. Though I ached to push further inside her slowly opening shell, I knew to respect her boundaries and so resolved to wait for her to make the next move, if, indeed, one should ever come.
At long last, the deep bone chill of winter gave way to springs gentle warmth. The bright sun, birdsong, and return of green life to the land was a welcome change after winters brown, desolate and empty harshness. Inmates streamed out into the yard by the dozens, their skin winter-pale, pleased at last to have no roof over their heads save the sky, if even only for a short while.
One the first warm day, at the very toll of eleven oclock, I strode out with the rest of them, blissful with the happiness only spring can bring. New life was everywhere I looked and it settled something deep in me that had been missing since the first hard frost had blanketed the earth several months before.
I walked into the fresh, tender grass, feeling the dew soak through the hem of my jumpsuit and grinning at nothing. My new status as an Amazon gave me the freedom to go where I pleased in the yard, and, believe me, I used that privilege for all it was worth. Skirting around the basketball court, which was definitely worse for wear after the brutal winter wed suffered, I walked the newly limed foul line of the softball field, watching the women warm up.
Some of the inmates were taking batting practice while infielders and outfielders peppered one another with scorching tosses of the shiny white softballs. A pop fly headed out my way and, without thinking about it, I reached out and snagged it from the air, enjoying the looks of surprise when I threw it back to the catcher on the fly.
Softball was a sport that I both dearly loved and was very good at. It was also the only thing in my life, prior to my elopement, that I was able to gather enough courage to stand my ground on. Despite my mothers thinly veiled disappointment and my fathers snide comments, I tried out for and won a starting position on the Varsity team in my sophomore year of High School. I played shortstop, and dont think I havent heard every single joke there is about being the perfect height for the position, because, believe me, I have. A dozen times over, at the very least.
In answer to the congenial summonses, I was drawn into the inmates game and took up my accustomed position, pounding the webbing of the grubby mitt Id been given. Crouching low, my muscles feeling limber and loose despite the winters confinement, I swept the hair from my eyes and began to heckle the batter, giddy with the feeling of being five years younger and a lifetime more free.
The coordination and skills came back quickly and I lost myself in the game, scooping up grounders, tagging out runners and batting the living hell out of the ball like a woman possessed. I was dirty from sliding and sweaty from running and generally feeling just fine.
It was the top of the sixth and my team was leading by a comfortable margin. The batter was arguing with the umpire over some disputed call and I found my attention wandering. Looking over toward the prison, I watched as the door opened and several of my friends filed out, followed by Ice. There was a rare smile on her face and though it wasnt directed at me, I felt myself smile in response. Shed gained back all the weight shed lost while in isolation and while still pale, her normal olive skin tone had returned to her face, making her look vibrant and healthy. An errant gust of wind lifted her hair from her shoulders and blew it back from her face, exposing its angled planes in all their glory.
No doubt about it. I was smitten.
So much so that I almost had free orthodontia courtesy of a blistering line-drive headed right for my face. In total reflex, I brought my glove up and neatly snared the screaming missile, thereby ending the game.
I soon found myself buried under a mound of cheering teammates, suffering congratulatory pats on every exposed part of my body and grinning like a fool, Im sure. I was finally rescued from the pile, pulled to my feet and brushed off by a solicitous first-baseman who smiled shyly at me as she brushed the last bit of dust from my shoulder.
Warning bells went off in my head and I toned down my smile, flattered at her shy interest, but wanting only one person to look at me that way. I increased the distance between us smoothly on the pretext of straightening my sleeves. "Thanks."
The young womans smile broadened. "Oh, hey! No problem! You did great, by the way. What an arm."
"Thanks. You did pretty well yourself."
She shrugged self-depreciatingly. "Eh, I was kinda rusty, but Ill get better once I have the time to work the kinks out and get back into the groove. Say, you wanna practice together sometimes?"
Uh oh. I could feel my smile become a little forced but hoped she couldnt detect it. "Um . . .yeah. Sure. Why not?"
"Cool! Thatd be great! My names Digger, by the way."
I grasped her extended hand, pumped once, then released it again. "Nice to meet you, Digger. Im Angel."
Her smile went goofy. "Yeah," she said, drawing the word out. "I know. Ive seen you in the library and with the Amazons and stuff. You guys are so cool."
Oh boy. I mentally rolled my eyes but managed to keep a straight face. "Thanks."
"No, thank you. So . . .can I walk you back inside?"
I reached up to scratch the back of my neck, neurons firing at a rapid rate trying to come up with some graceful way to decline the advances of my newfound admirer. The rest of me was just laughing its fool head off. "I . . .um . . .appreciate the offer, Digger. Really. Its just that . . .um . . .I . . . ." My eyes lit upon the answer. " . . .promised my friends over there that Id meet up with them as soon as I was done here."
Her whole face lit up like a kids on Christmas morning. "Youre going to hang out with the Amazons? Wow! Maybe you could, like, introduce me to some of em?"
Wrong excuse, Angel. Declining was on the very tip of my tongue when I remembered a slightly younger version of myself being warmly welcomed among those women for the first time. Unlike me, though, Digger obviously already had friends in her gang. However . . . .
I turned to her, smiling again. "Sure. Cmon."
She followed along behind me like a newly trained puppy and I winced at the smug grins I was getting from my friends who, as always, had gathered in the free-weight area. As I entered the area, Pony sat up from her place on one of the benches and gave me a pat on the side. "Way to save the ol puss, Angel."
I wrinkled my nose at her, my own version of a smirk. "Better than you, at any rate."
My friends all laughed as Digger stood open-mouthed, doubtless shocked at my seeming audacity to kid Pony about the skull fracture shed received during the riot. Pony laughed with the rest of them, then mock-punched me in the gut before laying back down to push out another twenty reps on the chest press.
Stepping back, I pushed my new friend forward a little. "Everybody, this is Digger. Digger, these are the Amazons."
As Digger began her effusive greetings, I looked around, searching for and failing to find Ice anywhere within the group. Raising questioning eyebrows toward Critter, she nodded at me, gesturing with one arm toward some spot behind my left shoulder. Doing a slow turn, I saw Ice standing up against the nearest part of the fence, her body taut with tension and her hands gripping the chain link so tightly I could easily see her whitened knuckles even from this distance. I looked back at Critter again, who shrugged.
Squaring my shoulders, I completed my turn and began to walk toward the fence, eyeing the nonchalant tower guards as I went. Normally, of course, the guards get itchy when you walk too close to their precious fence but, at least so far, they seemed singularly uninterested and so I quickened my pace.
As my steps brought me closer to Ice and the fence, the corner of the prison slid out of my vision, giving me a clear view of the parking lot beyond. It was painfully obvious to me that Ice was watching with grim determination something happening in that parking lot and I very much wanted to know what was going on.
Standing slightly apart from my friend, I peered into the lot, spying the warden talking to a short, well built man wearing a dark suit and sunglasses. One of the strangers hands rested possessively on the hood of a shiny black Cadillac while his other gestured wildly in time with the movement of his lips. His dark hair gleamed in the bright sunlight whose rays bounced and twinkled off the layers of gold jewelry he was also sporting. He threw back his head in laughter after some comment of the wardens, and then stuck out his hand to be shaken, which it was. After another moment, he got into his expensive car and drove off. The warden returned to his office.
I could easily feel the tension radiating from the body of my friend as her head turned to follow the path of the Cadillac. A moment passed, and then another. Then she grasped the fence so hard I was sure the metal links were going to simply shatter under the force of her hands. She shook it once, violently, then turned and, without a word or a look in any direction save straight ahead, stalked back into the prison.
I barely restrained myself from running after her, remembering my promise to myself in the nick of time. With a sigh of dejection, I turned and walked back to the weight area, where my friends looked at me with expressions of concern on their faces. I shrugged my shoulders and shook my head just as the change of shift bell sounded, signaling us all back into the building.
As I sat in my cell that evening, I thought about what had transpired during the day. Ice had disappeared, as was usual with her when she was upset, into her cell and was not seen for the rest of the day. Corinne and the others badgered me, asking me what Id seen and why I thought Ice had reacted the way she did. I could tell that they didnt trust her seemingly tenuous hold on her sanity. But I did, and I refused to give them fodder for their grist mill. That shed known the man speaking to the warden was obvious. Who he was and what his presence meant to her remained, however, no ones business but her own.
Im afraid I got a bit cross with them all and, rather than subject them further to my fit of temper, retreated to my own cell, well realizing the irony of my actions. Id gone through several roommates in slightly over a year and presently my cell was empty of any other human habitation, so I was free to mope in peace.
Though it was still relatively early in the evening, I decided to call it a night, thinking that perhaps sleep would provide me with the answers to my questions. I was in the process of turning my bed down when a soft sound just outside my cell caused me to stop and look over my shoulder curiously. Ice stood in the hallway, arms loose at her sides and a slightly chagrined look on her face. I smiled hesitantly.
"No! No, I was just . . . ." I gestured toward my half unmade bed.
"Wanna go for a walk?"
As I turned, my grin became full-out. "Sure. Thatd be great."
Smiling, she bowed me out of the cell, then led the way back through the main part of the prison before going down one of the many hallways that branched off the main square. A left and then another left and we were heading into a section of the prison Id never been in before.
One of the first things you learn when youre incarcerated is to not stick your nose into too many places because you can bet you wont like what you find. Or, often, what finds you. Following that particular philosophy like a bible, there were many places in the Bog still unknown to me.
Still, I felt little unease with the developing situation. I trusted Ice with my life, and I also had a pretty good idea where we were going.
Before I continue forward, it might be best to step back a moment and explain the employment system at the Bog. While in many prisons, inmates are expected to work for their room and board, its different in the Bog. Those inmates who have a desire to work, for either the money or to make the time pass more quickly, do so. They are paid a flat wage of twenty-five cents an hour, which goes into their personal prison account. Those prisoners who dont feel like working arent required to.
The work I do for Corinne in the library is done out of love and I wont accept any payment for it. My side job, that of article-obtainer more than pays for whatever frivolous items I might want. There are plenty of opportunities for work in our happy little home, ranging from laundry and cleanup to cooking and groundskeeping. In the nineteen fifties, a large new wing was added to the main prison and housed the new workshops which were added to increase prison income. An auto shop, a sheet metal shop and a woodworking shop share space in the new wing and Im told the profits from these slave-labor ventures are quite high.
Given her background, or at least that part which constituted legal income, it shouldnt be hard to guess where Ice went to pass the time by working. Sure enough, after we walked down the last hallway, the area opened up into a larger space with several doors all on the far side of the wall. Three guards patrolled the area and looked up inquiringly as we entered. They all waved and one walked over, smiling. "Puttin in some overtime, Ice?" The others chuckled at her witticism.
"Something like that," Ice allowed, lifting her arms so the guard could pat her down.
"How bout you, Angel?" the guard asked me, reaching out her arms to pat me down as well. "Gonna build some new bookcases for your library?"
"Nah," I replied, trying not to giggle as the guards professional hands patted over some very ticklish spots. "Just having a look around. Ive never been to this part of the prison before."
The guard grinned and stepped back. "Thats fine. Dont stay down there too long, though. Lock down is in a couple hours."
Ice nodded and the guard led us to one of the center doors along the wall, reaching down to unlock it with of the keys hanging from a huge ring on her belt. The door unlocked with a quiet click and she pushed it open, gesturing us inside.
As we stepped through the door, Ice reached off to the left, snapping on the large banks of fluorescent lights that were set into the high ceiling. As the door closed softly behind us, I took the chance to look around, blinking in the suddenly bright lighting. The room was huge, with six bays, complete with lifts and huge orange boxes of mechanics tools. It smelled of grease and rubber and reminded me of the days when my father would take me along as he got the oil changed or the tires rotated.
She led us down a short set of concrete steps and onto the main floor of the room. Two state police cruisers in various states of disrepair sat quiescently in the bays. The other spaces were empty. We walked along the oil-stained concrete floor, our footfalls echoing through the cavernous room. There was another door, made of plain wood, which sat off to one side along the wall, and it was to this door that Ice took us. I assumed it was an office of some sort and so didnt give it much thought when she took the key from its hiding place on top of the jam and thrust it into the lock.
The door opened on silent hinges and Ice stepped through, leaving me to follow as she flipped on the lights of the new room. I could see immediately that my assumption about it being an office was way off the beam. This second room was a smaller version of the first, with two bays instead of six, but with all the rest of the equipment in place. Two cars sat in the bays, almost filling the room to capacity. One was an almost thoroughly dismantled Volkswagen Beetle and the other looked to be a Corvette which was obviously undergoing a new paint-job.
I looked over to Ice, a question in my eyes.
"Thats what this is called. A chop shop."
"And a chop shop is . . . ."
"Its a place where stolen cars are either dismantled for parts or given new, untraceable, identities and resold."
I know the shock and disbelief showed on my face because she narrowed her eyes at me, smiling slightly. "Didnt think our dear friend the warden had it in him, huh?"
"I . . .I dont know what to think. This is unbelievable. Youre sure he knows this is going on down here."
Her smile turned to a full blown smirk. "Who do you think set it up?"
I looked around again, hands on my hips. "How did you know it was here?"
"Ahhh. Now theres the story. Cmon."
Throwing my hands up in frustration, I turned and followed Ice out of the room, through the regular bays, up the stairs and out of the auto shop. I endured another quick pat-down from my grinning guard friend, then almost had to run to keep up with Ices long strides as she made her way back down the myriad of twisting hallways and into the prison proper.
She hit the stairs and kept on going. I followed right behind, slightly out of breath as we finally reached the top. Looking at Ices retreating back I tried to guess whether she was running toward something, or away. Shrugging, I broke into a jog, entering the cell a moment after she did, putting my hands on my hips and staring down at her as she sprawled on her bunk, one arm behind her head and her eyes far away.
I tried. I really did. But as silent seconds turned into silent moments, I could feel my frustration level rising. "Well?" I asked finally, unable to bear the silence any longer.
At the sound of my voice, she blinked, as if startled that I was even in the room with her. She turned her head slowly to meet my gaze, her own expression thoughtful and sad. "Cassandra didnt kill Josephina."
Whatever I might have been expecting, that softly uttered statement certainly wasnt it. "Wha-at?"
Rolling up to a seated position, Ice tucked her long legs up, winding her arms around them and resting her chin on her upraised knees. "What I mean is . . .well . . .she killed her, obviously. But not for the reason she said."
"I dont think Im following you here, Ice." My mind was desperately trying to forge some sort of logical connection between the illegal operation in the auto shop and the information Ice had just given me. I was failing miserably.
"Cassandra said that she killed Josephina because Josephina called me a friend. Thats not true."
"How do you know that?"
"Because she told me."
"Who told you? Josephina?" I had the strangest feeling of sinking in quicksand and was casting about for a way to drag myself up from the mire.
"No. Cassandra. When we were in the hole."
"Ice, Cassandras nuts. Shes so obsessed with you shed probably say anything to get you over wanting to kill her."
"I believe her."
"Can you tell me why?"
She smiled slightly. "Lots of reasons. One of which was confirmed for me this afternoon."
Ahhh. Now were getting somewhere. "I was wondering about that."
The smile broadened. "I know." Shifting a little, she patted the area beside her and I took her up on the offer, lowering myself down onto the lumpy mattress and scooting back until I was against the cool concrete of the wall. A more comfortable silence stretched out between us and I forced myself to be content with just the sound of our breathing. When she finally turned to me, her gaze was direct, but shuttered. "Angel, why havent you ever asked me if I did what I got put in here for?"
The quicksand was back and I suddenly found myself sunk up to my neck in the stuff. I could feel Ices body tense up beside my own as she waited for an answer. "I . . .um . . .I guess because I figured that if you wanted me to know, youd tell me. Its really none of my business."
She nodded at my answer, then turned her gaze back to the opposite wall where the Bonsai were flourishing in all their artistic glory. The silence stretched out once again, though not quite as comfortable as before. I could feel my own body begin to tense up. I think I may have held my breath, though Im not positive.
Her voice, when it sounded, was barely above a whisper. "Im guilty of killing a lot of people, Angel. But that man wasnt one of them."
I nodded, feeling indescribable relief wash through my body. "What happened?" I asked, praying that the door she was so tenuously holding open for me wouldnt suddenly slam shut in my face.
"Its a pretty long story," she replied, giving us both an easy out.
I didnt take her up on it. "Well, considering that Im in here for at least a few more years, Im sure you can squeeze it in if you try."
That got a genuine smile out of her and I patted myself on the back. "Alright. I told you I was a hired gun for Briacci, but I didnt always take my orders directly from him. He has a bunch of underbosses and other lackeys that relay his orders for him. One of them is a guy named Nunzio Callestrano." She made a face. "Ugly guy with more hair on his knuckles than most guys have on their heads."
I couldnt help but laugh at the image and she lifted one shoulder in a shrug. "Its true. Anyway, Briacci and his wife were in Sicily for the funeral of one of his great Aunts when the word came down. Nunzio sent one of his lackeys over to tell me that they needed someone taken care of. This guy was supposedly really bad news; into things that even the Mafia didnt mess with, like kiddy porn. This guy told me that Callestrano told him that this man, whose name was Tony Selleti, was making a play for some of the dope houses that Briacci controlled. Like any other gang, the Family doesnt give up its territories without a fight and I was obviously being brought in to take care of the little problem once and for all."
"So then what happened?"
"I always do my homework before making a hit," she continued matter-of-factly. "And this time was no exception. I cased the guys home and his work to generally get a feel for him and, perhaps, get a feel for the place that I could take him out with a minimum amount of hassle."
Her words and the flat, emotionless tone of her voice sent chills through my body. I crossed my arms to try and hide the goosebumps that spread their way over my bare flesh. Her eyes told me that shed seen through my little deception and I again held my breath, wondering if shed continue.
Letting go a long breath, she settled her chin on her knees once again. "Lets just say that what I learned was at odds with what I was told."
"What do you mean?"
"Instead of being this wild-eyed kiddy porn dealer who raped babies for a living, I found a quiet, hard-working family man who bore no resemblance whatsoever with the man Id been ordered to kill. Now, before you say anything, I know that most criminals of this type dont have stamp on their forehead, but Ive learned to trust my instincts in these situations and my instincts were telling me that this was bad news." She shifted again. "During my time with Briacci, Id learned the value of obtaining private contacts and they came in handy here. From a friend, I learned that the only truth Id been told about this man was his name. The rest was a pack of lies wrapped up in pretty paper guaranteed to get my temper hot and tied up with a neat little bow. I also found out something very important."
"And that was?"
"That he was a government witness for a trial involving a rival Family."
Now the pieces, or at least some of them, were starting to fall into place. I nodded in what I hoped was an encouraging manner for her to continue.
"Many of us have lines we draw in the sand and this was one of my lines. I never killed innocents and I never killed witnesses, no matter who they were testifying against. Needless to say, I had a very large bone to pick with Salvatore Briacci for setting me up like this and I made a quick call to Sicily to let him know that. Unfortunately, he wasnt available when I called, so I left a message. Then I went back to Nunzios lackey and told him no deal. I went home, stowed my gun, and went to sleep, thinking that was the end of it." She snorted softly through her nose. "I should have known better."
The shuttered veil slid over her eyes again and I resisted the urge to put my hand on her arm in support.
"I woke up the next morning to the sound of a dozen police officers beating down my door. It seems that Tony Selleti had a little accident during the night and they had five witnesses ready to swear in court that I was seen walking down from his office, gun in hand and blood all over me." She laughed mirthlessly. "Its amazing what a little money in the right hands will cause a person to see, isnt it."
I nodded, understanding her perfectly. Though the witnesses in my trial werent bribed, or at least not that I knew of, its amazing what neighbors think they hear in the dead of night and from behind closed and locked doors. The mind is a very selective thing. Id learned enough about that first hand. Add a little incentive to the pot and . . .well, its said that every man has his price.
"Was it Salvatore?" I asked after a long moment of contemplative silence.
"I thought so, at first. I wracked my brain trying to think of something Id done to make him want to set me up like that. I couldnt think of anything. Id always been a good soldier, listening to his orders and obeying them without question. This was the first time Id turned my back on a hit." Rolling her head against the concrete wall, she ran a hand through her hair, settling it somewhat. "What I couldnt figure out was why he would want me to take out a witness who could put a rival behind bars. It didnt make sense to me. At all. Briacci had always had trouble with this guy. Id have thought hed be happy that there was finally enough evidence to get him out of the picture without having to get his own hands dirty."
"Youre right. That doesnt make any sense."
"Then I started having my suspicions, but by then, I was tried, convicted, sentenced, and on my way to the Bog."
"If you had suspicions, why didnt you fight it?"
She laughed again, though I could see, in the bright of the lights, the glitter of tears in her eyes. It was an astounding sight. "I didnt fight it because I belong where I am, Angel. I might not have killed Selleti, but Ive killed so many more. Im too dangerous to be left out on the streets."
"Ice . . . ."
"No, Angel. Its true. Im where I belong. Where Ive always belonged." She wiped her eyes harshly with the back of her hand, obviously annoyed at the wetness she found there. "Anyway, after he heard, Briacci backed off from me totally. I wasnt too sure why, since even though Id turned away from the hit, his objective got accomplished. Maybe he was just pissed that hed had to use someone else to do what I should have done in the first place." She shrugged. "I dunno."
"Ill bet that hurt."
She looked at me for a long moment, then turned away, hiding her face with the fall of her hair. "Yeah. It did. What hurt worse was the fact that Josephina wouldnt talk to me either. It didnt matter to me what the rest of them thought, but I wanted . . .no, I needed her to believe my version of the events. I tried calling her a couple of times but there were always excuses about why she couldnt come to the phone. After awhile, I just gave up."
"Then why did she . . . ."
"Im getting to that. When I saw her that morning, I knew something wasnt right. Aside from Cassandras knife at her throat, that is. Josephina may not have been a saint, but regardless of who her husband was, she was a good woman. There was no reason for her to be locked up here, unless someone else was behind it. And for her to be brought in in the middle of the night . . . ." Her words trailed off as she shook her head.
"Youve heard about Salvatores troubles with the law," I ventured.
"Yes, but not until it was all over. Her refusal to testify against her husband was just like her, and the prosecutors wanting to play hard-ball just added to the equation. And then she was killed and I wound up in the hole."
"Exactly." Her smile was hard; devoid of any warmth. "She told me an interesting little story. It seems that the night Josephina was brought in to the Bog, the warden paid Cassandra a little visit. In exchange for him letting her keep Heracles, a deal which Id already worked out with him, as you know, he had a little job for her to do."
"To kill Josephina," I breathed, my heart beginning to race.
"Exactly. He gave her a knife and left the door to her cell unlocked so she could carry out his orders. He only had one other condition."
"And that was?"
"That I had to be there to witness it. She told me he was very adamant about that."
"My God. Why?" Suddenly, the mystery of his presence in the jail on that day became very clear.
"Because Josephina was carrying a very important piece of information. And if I received that information, his whole little fiefdom here could come tumbling down around his ears."
"What was the information?"
"The name of the man who had killed Tony Selleti. Before she died, she managed to tell it to me. It was the lackey of Nunzio, the guy who had given me my orders in the first place. A man by the name of Joseph Cavallo. And the same man you saw outside today shaking hands with the warden."
The whole puzzle suddenly came together with blinding force. Our pious warden was up to his eyeballs in corruption that went far beyond some stolen car ring.
"When Cassandra acted up the first time and I went to talk to him about Heracles, he made me a deal. The continued liveliness of her pet in exchange for my participation in a little business venture he was starting up."
"The chop shop."
"Right. I knew there was really no getting around it, so I agreed. I started having my suspicions back then when I thought I recognized some of the guys who were bringing in the hot cars. But I bided my time until it was too late. Cavallos supplying Morrison with the cars and no doubt paying him a tidy sum of money to break them down or paint them up. The warden pockets the money, Cavallo gets new cars at cut rate prices, and everyones happy."
"Im still not sure exactly how Josephinas death plays into all this, though. Beyond the obvious, of course."
"It plays for a number of reasons. First, with her as a living witness to the actual events that took place on the night that Selleti died, I could get a new trial and stand a good chance of being acquitted. That would leave me wide open to expose the wardens little money making scheme and that would be the end of him. In addition, there are some higher-ups in the State Capitol who would very much not want to see that happen, given the fact that Morrison helped them get elected in the first place."
"Thats very true." The prosecutions sudden desire to get tough with Josephina made much more sense now, given who signed their paychecks.
"Add to that the fact that if you put two and two together, you get a picture of one Joseph Cavallo working as a mole for the rival Family who had a vested interest in seeing Selleti go down permanently. It was the perfect set-up. Cavallo gets me to kill the witness against his real boss, the rival don. It didnt matter that I refused because he had it done anyway and put my name to it. Briacci never received my message so he had no choice but to believe the little weasel. Josephina also told me before she died that Salvatore had long suspected a plant in his own Family. Cavallo convinced him it was me to get the heat off himself. Josephinas dead, so the chances of my getting a new trial are nil. But, since I now know who the real killer is, and since I also know hes a plant, and further that he and Morrison are business partners, I just might have some leverage with our dear warden."
"What kind of leverage?"
"Im not sure yet. Morrison made his biggest mistake when he made Josephinas death such a public spectacle. He should have had it done in private, or at least somewhere where I wouldnt be around to see it. But he got cocky. He took a big risk and he lost." Her teeth flashed again. "He just doesnt know it yet." Straightening slightly, she stretched, bringing her long arms up over her head and arching her back. The sound of her vertebrae crackling was loud in the quiet room. "But one things certain. Joseph Cavallos days are numbered. Im going to see to that personally."
I couldnt help the thrill of fear that skittered its way down my own spine and I kept myself from looking at her, knowing that the expression on her face would doubtless deepen that. This Ice wasnt a noble woman trying to make life better for the women she shared space with. This was a trained killer full of the fire of retribution and the cool cunning of a prowling cat.
When she spoke again, her voice was soft and contemplative. "There are probably many who say that Briaccis only getting what he deserves, and that Josephina, by extension, did too."
"No one deserves to die, Ice."
She turned to me, a wry smile lighting her eyes. "Remind me to argue with you about that one later."
I smiled back, backhanding her lightly on one arm. "Deal."
"They took me in when no one else would. They gave me food, shelter. Family. Just because I chose to move down a dark path doesnt make that gift any less precious to me. I owe them both a debt, and I will pay it."
As her eyes took on that faraway glint once again, I found myself studying her hand which was placed flat against the white sheet of the bed. It was a strong hand, tan and well-veined, with long tapering fingers that were graceful and deadly in the same breath. Like a curious child, I placed my own atop it, wondering at the softness and warmth beneath my palm even as I laughed inwardly at the size difference.
When I turned my head, I found her eyes upon me, totally awake, aware and in the moment. I knew this time my heart would not be denied what it was so patiently seeking. Our lips met with an infinite sweetness that all but wiped out the primal carnality of our first encounter.
The warm softness of her lips covering mine in gentle exploration melted me inside, all but fracturing who I thought I was and birthing a new woman to stand in her place. Warm and wet, our mouths moved together in a graceful dance of turning heads and deepening breaths. My hand traced a line up the long elegance of her neck, sinking my fingers into the thick fall of her hair as I felt the tip of her tongue trace the seam between my lips.
My mouth opened under the teasing gesture and I took her in willingly, moaning softly as she mapped out what she found within with deft, sure, sensual strokes. My head began to swim, though whether it was from lack of oxygen or overwhelming emotion Ill never know. I pulled away reluctantly, savoring the last taste of her as my head came forward to rest against one broad shoulder. "God . . . .that was . . . . Wow."
Her arm threaded its way behind my back and I soon found myself caught up in a strong embrace. A gentle kiss was pressed into the crown of my head and I relaxed against her, enveloped in a cocoon of warmth and tenderness. I listened to the music of her heart as it beat steadily just beneath my ear as I waited for the tingling that engulfed me to subside. I felt the warmth of her cheek as it rested against the top of my head and my eyes slipped closed in contentment. It was a bit disconcerting that my husband would have to die so I could find my home, but the truth was laid out plain for me to see.
Her low voice burred into my ear. "Im sorry, Angel."
I tried to pull away, but her strong grip prevented me from moving, so I laid my head back on her shoulder and sighed. "Sorry for what?"
A wry laugh rumbled. "For lots of things, I suppose. Shutting you out. Keeping you at a distance when all you offered was help. But mostly for taking something that is so precious on a dare."
It was the opening Id been waiting for for months and the paths that suddenly appeared before me were many and varied. Humor seemed to work best with her and so thats what I tried first. "As I recall," I replied, adopting a dry-as-dust tone, "I was the one who dared you."
The wry laugh came again, vibrating against my body where our flesh met and merged. "Perhaps. But I knew what I was doing. Knew what I wanted. And Im used to getting what I want." She signed. "But this . . .this is something that should never be taken. Not even as a joke."
My heart crawled into my throat, forcing the words hiding there out into the open. "So you feel it too."
There was a long beat of silence as I felt her own throat work against my head. "Yes," came the whisper after what seemed an eternity. Another silence descended, longer than the first. "From the moment we met." She shifted, bearing my body up to settle more comfortably against her. "I tried to ignore it. Tried to shove it down deep where the rest of my feelings are buried. Obviously, it didnt work."
I was about to say something when the lights flickered, signaling lock-down in ten minutes. She squeezed me to her more tightly for a second, then her arms released and she moved away. I caught her hand and brushed a kiss on the back before placing it over my heart. "This isnt over, you know."
Her lips compressed, obviously trying to bite back a smile as one eyebrow rose over a cerulean eye. "It isnt, huh?"
"Not by a long shot." And with no hesitancy or fear, I moved closer, covering her mouth with my own, showing her in a kiss the passion that was hidden in my soul. Her hand slid down from its place on my chest, sliding over my left breast with a gentle touch.
Responding in kind, I touched for the first time in desire the breast of another woman. Soft and warm and pliant under my inquisitive fingers, I gasped into the kiss as I felt a responsive nipple brush against my palm. My thumb, of its own volition, gently brushed over the cloth that separated it from the warm flesh beneath and I felt her body shift closer to mine as a low moan whispered forth from her throat.
I was suddenly seized with a great need to feel the responsive flesh under my fingers and so I broke off the kiss, growling as I reached up for the zipper that held her jumpsuit closed. I managed to yank it down only halfway when the lights flickered once again and an anonymous voice crackled over the PA system, announcing lock-down in five minutes.
Dropping my fingers inches from their goal, my eyes found themselves glued to the magnificent scant inches of cleavage my efforts had provided. My mouth watered and the urge to bury my head amidst that tempting flesh to taste and smell was almost overwhelming in its intensity.
Shaking my head to fracture the vision, I looked up to find Ice looking back, the color of her eyes deepened to a stormy indigo that framed her dilated pupils like a corona around the sun. Her breathing was slightly labored and beads of sweat dotted her upper lip. God, but it was the most beautiful thing that Id ever seen.
The sound of someone softly clearing their throat drifted through the pounding in my ears and I whirled around to see a blushing guard standing outside the entrance to Ices cell. "Ladies," she said almost apologetically, "its time for lock-down. You need to get back to your cell, Angel."
I turned back to Ice who was smiling that cockeyed grin at me. Believe me when I tell you that particular expression did nothing to damper my ardor.
"Angel . . . ."
"Alright! Alright. God." I had to tell my muscles what to do and was gratified that my legs retained enough strength to bear my weight up and off the bed. It was a close call, really, but they managed to get the job done. "Remember what I said, Ice. This is not over."
Her grin grew a touch smug. "Ill remember," she replied softly. "Night, Angel."
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