by: Susanne M. Beck (SwordnQuill)
Disclaimers: The characters in this novel are of my own creation. Thats right, this is an uber story. Its also a sequel to my novel, Retribution, which, in turn is a sequel to my novel Redemption. (Thats right! Its a trilogy!) You really will want to read those first before tackling this one. 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. Were dealing with a bunch of ex-cons and assorted other nasty type people here.
Subtext Disclaimer: Yup, theres that too. This piece deals 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.
Dedication: Well, its that time again, to thank everyone who made the writing of this work a pleasure. Its a bit sad, as well, since this will likely be the last we hear of Ice and Angel, but heck, its been a fun ride, huh? So, deep debts of gratitude go out from me to the following people: Carol "youd just better have a happy ending!" Stephens; Elizabeth "Four" Baldwin, Linda "Lola" Lynch, Lisa "Sulli" Sullivan, and the rest of the Angry Beavers; Judi "you just better have a happy ending part deux" Mair, Mary "is the Pope Catholic" D, Candace "Theodyke" Chellew, the members of my SwordnQuil list for their wonderful support and feedback, my dogs Kricket and Pudderbear, and a host of other people Im going to kick myself in the morning for not mentioning. Thanks guys!!!
Feedback: As always, is most welcome. It not only makes this job of writing (which is really a love) much easier, it also makes me better at it. And that is my goal. To become the best writer I can be. If the spirit moves you, you may reach me atSwordnQuil@aol.com with any questions, concerns or comments.
Final Disclaimer: As with my previous two novels, this story will be posted in blocks of thirty or so pages per night. It is fully completed, down to the last punctuation mark, so I wont leave you hanging. J
We cremated Rio today. On a large open pyre, as she requested, so that her spirit would be freed and, together with the smoke from the blazing fire, soar to meet her ancestors in a place beyond death.
Ice lit the fire, as wed all known she would, and with lit torch in hand, she sang. As mournful and melancholy a dirge as I have ever heard, and hope never to hear again in this lifetime.
I think that she was the only one there who didnt cry.
Not that anyone noticed, since they were too busy shedding tears of their own.
As for me, all I can really feel is a pervading sense of numbness. Like being swaddled in cotton from head to toe. They used to call in ennui, I think, once upon a time. Or maybe it was a different word that Im searching for. At this point, though, I really cant seem to care.
Ponys the only one who didnt make it to the service. One of the Amazons, appropriately named (what else?) Doc, removed the bullet from her shoulder and declared her bedridden for the foreseeable future. But at least shes alive.
I dont know when, or if, Ill ever be able to face her, though.
What do you say to someone who saved your life just as you were doing your level best to end theirs?
"Im sorry," just doesnt seem adequate enough, somehow. And I dont think "thank you" would be all that well received, at this point. Though Corinne has gone to great pains to assure me otherwise.
It disturbs me greatly that I would willingly put the lives of my friends in danger just so that I could get back to my lover. A lover who most definitely, and for all the right reasons, didnt want me there to begin with.
I look at the woman I am today and realize how very much Ive changed. And not all of those changes have been for the better.
Ive become quicker to find fault and quicker to anger. Quick to do violence and quick to lash out.
But by far the worst thing of all is that I find myself becoming someone I swore I never even had it within myself to be.
A woman who puts the needs of herself above the needs of others.
It shames deeply me to recognize how very selfish Ive become in that regard.
And I have no one to blame but myself.
Every once in awhile, I see Ice looking at me in that way of hers. As if shes not quite sure whats going on with me, but doesnt quite know if Id be receptive to her attempts at comfort.
Shes pretty withdrawn herself, however, and Im not sure either one of us is ready to talk it out just yet. Rios death hit her very hard. Theres an angry energy swarming around her. An energy that makes everyone keep their distance from her. This is the Ice of legend. The only Ice most of these women have ever known, or heard tales about. They watch her in awe as she passes, and whisper behind their hands when they think shes out of hearing range.
Most of the time, their judgement is off, and whatever it is she hears only serves to increase her anger.
We made love last night. A hard-hitting, brutal kind of love. The kind two souls and bodies share when theyre in pain and just need to feel something beyond that. If even for just a moment.
Ice was relentless in her passion, taking me again and again and again. And I wanted it, craved it, begged for it over and over until shed exhausted us both and we tumbled down into sleep still wrapped around one another.
Our pain was, for the moment, forgotten.
But it came back this morning, as I knew it would, and made itself at home in my soul. I wish I could cry, or scream, or beat my fists bloody on the walls, but it seems all I can do is just sit here with my thoughts and pray for this nightmare of listlessness to be over soon.
Please, God, if you can hear me, just let it be over.
I awoke the next morning to the sounds of screaming.
Tossing back the covers, I hit the ground running, oblivious to my half-naked and sleep-rumpled state.
The hall was crowded with whispering women and I charged through them all, like some sort of half-sized halfback making an endzone run. I turned to the left and headed immediately for the kitchen, where an even larger and more dense crowd awaited me.
The woman who had owned the ranch prior to Montana was a bit of a survivalist, you see. Shed grown up during the Las Vegas nuclear bomb testings, and shed decided to build her very own bomb shelter and tack it on to the back of the house by way of the kitchen.
Normally, the shelter held canned goods and various and sundry other items needed to feed, shelter and clothe a large community of women.
Now, it held only one thing.
His continued screaming led me on, and I pressed through the crowd with renewed vigor. Some of the women were hesitant to step aside, but when they saw who it was who was doing the pushing, they gave ground willingly.
When I finally got free of the crowd, I saw Cowgirl and Cheeto in front of the open door, looking inward. Their bodies were pressed tightly together as they barred the door against the press of women behind them.
A hand snaked out, grabbed my arm, and pulled me off to the side. I looked into Montanas grim face, then into the equally grim face of Corinne.
"Whats going on?" I asked, though most of me already knew the answer to that question.
As if in answer, the screaming stopped.
It didnt wind down, as screams of pain often do. No, it was cut off completely, leaving a ringing, pregnant silence behind.
A silence shattered by the heavy double-thud of a body hitting first a wall, then the floor.
Then by the sound of a heavy tread moving toward us.
Cowgirl and Cheeto took a step back, and Ice came through the door. The energy around her was black and menacing. Several women gasped upon seeing her, and they quickly looked away, their faces drawn and pale.
Like those of a hunting cougar, my lovers eyes scanned the crowd of women. Any spark of humanity in them seemed absent. They were flashing silver and promised pain.
It was as if she was culling the herd.
As if instinctually recognizing this, the crowd of women parted, giving her a long, wide path down which to walk.
Her eyes met mine for a moment before sliding away. If there was a hint of recognition in them, it was deeply buried.
And then, like a shadow touched by sunlight, she was gone, disappearing into the throng of humanity as if she were never there at all.
I made as if to go after her, but Montana held me fast.
"Let her calm down a bit, Angel."
Calm? She was already calm. Deathly calm, in fact.
I heeded Montanas request, however. Because I needed to help Ice, and I couldnt do that until I knew what had gone on.
Cowgirl disappeared into the shelter, only to reappear a brief moment later, her face set in grim lines. "Get Doc," she ordered her lover.
As Cheeto turned away, I shrugged off Montanas grip and stepped forward. "Is he . . . ?"
"He got the crap beaten out of him, literally I think, but hes alive."
I rounded on Montana. "Tell me what happened."
For a long moment, she looked as if she were going to refuse, but then she sighed and shrugged her shoulders. "Hes been cursing up a blue streak pretty much since he finally woke up last night from Ices little nap. I wanted to feed him some breakfast this morning, and Ice came in with me." She ran a steady hand through her thick, dark hair. "He started ranting and raving, as usual. Called us some pretty uninventive names and demanded we let him out." She shrugged again.
I shook my head, not understanding. Even grief stricken as she was, Ice wouldnt have done that much damage just because a few ugly names were tossed her way.
Doc walked by, medical kit in hand, followed closely by Cheeto, and disappeared into the bunker.
I turned my attention back to Montana. "What else?"
"He started in on Rio," Corinne said, voice soft and grim. "Evidently, hed heard some of the women talking in the kitchen earlier, and decided to use up most of his idiot points in one fell swoop."
I nodded, beginning now to understand my lovers rage.
"And then," Corinne continued, "he began to talk about you. Though perhaps talk isnt the best description one could use in this instance." She shook her head in mock wonder. "How he became such an important piece of property, Ill never know. That man doesnt have enough genuine wit to fill up a thimble."
"And then he took a swing at her," Montana added. "And it was pretty much over from there."
Hearing all that I needed to, I thanked them both and left, heading out of the house and toward the one place I knew shed be.
The stables were cool and dim, and smelled strongly of hay and horses. Because the day itself was overcast, my eyes adjusted quickly to the poor lighting within.
She was sitting on a hay bale which had been pushed against the furthest wall, legs splayed carelessly. Her hands, dark with blood, fiddled with a piece of straw, and her face was hidden by the long fall of hair which hung across it.
I didnt bother treading softly as I approached. I knew she knew I was there. If she wanted to stop me, she would. But I didnt think she wanted to.
Reaching down, I snared an old bucket partially filled with water, and the handful of clean rags piled next to it. Circling her so that she had a clear path to the door, I dropped to one knee, placed the water bucket at my side, and dipped one of the rags into it.
Wordlessly, I grasped her left hand and began to dab at the bleeding cuts her rage had wrought. Most of the blood was Cavallos, I knew, and I quickly cleaned any traces of him from her skin. Her face was hidden from me, her body tense and coiled, but I expected that, and concentrated on lending her as much support and love through my touch and presence as I possibly could.
"Rough day, huh?" I finally asked, when I could bear the silence no longer.
"Yeah," was her only comment as I traded left hand for right and began my task anew.
I let that go, knowing when to push and when not to.
Her hands now fully clean, I patted each one dry with another soft rag, then laid everything else aside and took her warm flesh into my own hands, raising each one to my lips before lowering them to her thighs and just holding gently on.
It might have been minutes, or hours, or days, but when she finally lifted her head to look at me, her eyes held the woman I knew shining brightly within their clear, bottomless depths. "Thank you," she whispered.
I gave her my first real smile in days. "Anytime." I squeezed her large hands, gratified to feel her return the pressure. "I love you, you know."
Her hair swung free as she nodded. "I know."
Seeing the question in her eyes, I tried to answer it with what little information I had. "Dont think hell go dancing with Ginger Rogers anytime soon, but I think hell pull through ok."
She nodded her thanks, her gaze again going far away.
"Do you think hes got some kind of death wish?"
Her eyes focused once more as a perfectly arched brow rose to hide behind the fringe of her bangs.
"Im serious! I mean, youve already single-handedly taken out a bunch of his guards up in Canada, you take out a bunch more in his own home, and then you beat the snot out of him and bring him here. Hes got to know he doesnt stand a chance against you."
She shrugged. "Maybe youre right. Maybe he doesnt want to go back to prison."
"Or maybe hes just an idiot."
She chuckled, a little. "I thought that was a given."
I couldnt help but grin back. "Well, yeah, youre right on that one."
We fell into a more or less comfortable silence, and I felt her thumbs trail slowly back and forth over my knuckles. I could tell she was deep in thought.
"So," I asked after several moments passed, "where do we go from here?"
Taking in a deep breath, she let it out slowly, then released my hands and straightened. "That depends on how bad off Cavallo is. There hasnt been any news from south of the border, but those bodies arent gonna remain hidden for long."
"Have you heard from Donita?"
"I called her last night to let her know we have him. Shes arranging a drop-off location somewhere out of town. Says things have gotten pretty sticky up there lately."
"Sticky how?" A tendril of fear curled deep in my belly and sunk roots there.
"She couldnt say. Ill try to contact her again tonight. We need to get moving as quickly as we can. I dont want the ranch to come under suspicion."
"And you think it will?"
"I cant afford to assume otherwise, Angel. Not with this."
As she stood, I rose with her, and noticed for the first time the small deerskin bag, no larger than a quarter, which hung around her neck on a choker-length piece of rawhide.
"Rios totem," I whispered, blinking back tears which were threatening to form at the sight of it. A streak of her blood had dried on the hide, creating a dark crimson slash which only served to make the object even more precious and profound.
Ices hand went up to the hollow of her throat, and the touched the totem briefly, reverently, before drawing her fingers away. Her expression was a curious and heartrending mixture of sadness, loss, and steely, stoic determination.
Like a moth to a flame, I was drawn in to her, and circled her waist with my arms even as she closed her own around me.
And there, in the dimness of the stables on that cool winters day, we finally found the ability to grieve.
We returned to the ranch house, hand in hand. Most of the women were still gathered there, no doubt discussing the mornings festivities. All talk came to a dead stop once we entered, however, and I was struck with a curious sense of deja-vu. The last time Id found myself the center of attention, Id just arrived from a blissful evening spent with my lover.
This time, that lover just happened to be with me.
Curious glances darted quickly away, and I knew at once that Ice had given the women a taste of her patented glare. I almost laughed as I realized yet again that most of these women had never met her, and the stories theyd been told were nothing compared to being in her very tangible presence.
A legend come to life, as it were.
Corinne stepped out of the crowd and gestured for us to follow.
Still joined by our clasped hands, we made our way down one dim hallway and into Corinnes bedroom. "I think you should see this," she said, indicating a large television sitting on her bureau. It appeared to have been tuned to a Mexican station, and though the words being spoken by the reporters could have been Greek for all I understood of them, the scene splashed behind the men was clear as crystal.
It was the clearing where Rio had given her life so the rest of us could remain free. Bright yellow tarps dotted the ground close to the river. I knew those tarps hid the bodies of the men she and Ice had killed as the rest of us escaped to the other side of the border.
"What are they saying?" I demanded as Ice and Corinne quietly watched the events unfold. "Do they know who those men are? Do they know what happened? Do they . . . ."
Ices hand squeeze quieted my ramblings as Corinne turned to me. "No, they havent identified the bodies. Seems none of them had any identification." This was said with a significant look in Ices direction.
"Rios doing," came my lovers short answer.
"Then how . . . ?"
"One of the men wasnt dead yet."
"Oh." She turned back to me. "In any event, theyre only speculating on the happenings at this point. Though the chain of events is rather obvious, even to the uninitiated, wouldnt you agree?"
I nodded, my heart in my throat.
"Would any of the survivors, assuming there are any, have cause to recognize you?" Corinne asked Ice.
"She was wearing a ski mask," I supplied.
"They were all locals," Ice answered. "Those men," she gestured to the television, "were Cavallos."
"Ahh," Corinne replied, nodding sagely. "And dead men tell no tales. Or so they say."
"Is there any chance at all that this can be traced back to you?" I asked Ice.
"Likely thats already been done," she replied. "If not, it will be soon. Those guards I left alive are gonna tell someone sooner or later that their meal ticket got stolen. It wont be long before someone somewhere puts two and two together."
"And likely ends up with seven," Corinne snorted.
"Well need to move as soon as Cavallos stable."
"Which should be in seventy-two hours, barring any unforeseen circumstances," Corinne reported.
"Why so long?" I asked.
"Our physician in residence wants to make sure there are no internal injuries waiting to surprise us down the road." She looked at Ice, awe glittering hard in her eyes. "How you were able to inflict so much superficial damage without breaking any of his bones is something Ill never understand. It was a pleasure watching a master in action."
I looked away, slightly sickened. Accepting that Ice had beaten someone bloody in anger was one thing. Having someone else express joy in that was another thing entirely.
"So," I said finally, just to break the uncomfortable silence, "what now?"
Ice straightened and released my hand. "I need to contact Donita." And with that, she left.
I sank slowly to Corinnes narrow bed, my eyes still glued to the images on the television. Corinne stood nearby, her dark eyes darting back and forth as we watched the bodies as they were loaded into ambulances. Though I knew in my very soul that these were the men who had killed Rio, injured Pony, and tried their best to kill us all, deep down, I still felt a sense of sorrow.
Not for them, of course, for they were dead and beyond caring.
But for their families and their loved ones. For their children who would spend days, months, perhaps years wondering when their fathers would be coming home. For parents who would grieve their passing, and for spouses or lovers who would never get used to going to sleep in an empty bed.
It could have been me.
It still might, one day, given the life Ive chosen to lead.
And thats what it all comes down to, doesnt it.
Those men lived by their choices, and died by their choices. As do we all, I suppose, in one way or another.
Thats not to say that I was happy that those men were dead, nor that I would have wished their deaths upon them had I the ability to do so.
But as Ive come to realize, especially over these last several gut-wrenching days, responsibility is a great deal easier in theory than it is in practice. Everyone bears some responsibility for their actions, and for the pain those actions cause in others.
As the meaning behind that thought hit me full force in the guts, I straightened and turned to Corinne. "I have to talk to them."
She smiled. That wise, almost ancient smile she sometimes uses, and nodded, well knowing of whom I was speaking. "They need that, Angel."
I nodded, sucking in a deep, deep breath. "I know. Theyre my friends. And even if they werent, they deserve more than silence from me."
Leaning down, Corinne pressed the smooth, cool skin of her cheek against my own. "Thats my Angel."
I squeezed her tight, then stood as she backed away. "I dont feel very much like one right now, Corinne, but thanks."
"We all learn from our mistakes. Even Angels," she said quietly, then sent me on my way.
Swallowing back my fear, I walked the few short steps that would take me to the room Pony and Critter shared. The door was closed, as Id known it would be, and as I lifted my hand to knock, I played what I would say to them over in my mind. Which didnt amount to much more than "Im sorry, please forgive me.", but it was the best I could do at the moment. It seemed I was suddenly out of words.
The door opened before I could knock, and Critter stood there. We both looked at one another, uncertain. Such a large part of me demanded my retreat that I almost gave into it. Another part of me just wanted to break down in tears and hug her to try to take the pain from her eyes. I stood between that proverbial rock and hard place for a long moment before this newly born sense of responsibility kicked me in the hind quarters and made my decision for me.
"I . . .um . . .may I come in?"
After a second, she backed away, giving me space to enter. "Sure."
I entered the room, my steps slow and hesitant. There, on the bed and covered to her chin with a sheet, lay Pony. She looked somewhat pale and somewhat drawn, but much better than Id honestly expected. Her dark eyes caught and held my gaze. There was some pain in them, as well as some uncertainty, but none of the anger or loathing that Id expected. Or, in truth, deserved.
"Hi, Pony," I said softly, coming to a stop several feet from her bed.
"Hey, Angel." Her voice, though slightly raspy, was strong and sure. "How are you doing?"
That question, of course, only made me feel worse. I wasnt the one shot, after all. "Im doing ok. How about you?"
She shrugged. "Not bad. Doc says I should be up and around in no time." She leaned forward conspiratorially. "I just wish Nurse Ratchet here would get that through her head."
Though I wanted to laugh, I didnt, still too scared to hope that things between us could ever be the way they were before.
"Hows Ice?" she asked.
"A little better. Shes still mourning Rios death, but . . . ." I shrugged, conveying the impossibility of guessing my lovers emotions.
Pony grinned. "I heard she beat the shit outta Cavallo."
I nodded in lieu of answering verbally, and watched as Critter came to sit on the side of the bed. With both sets of eyes on me, it became even more difficult to think, and my words tumbled out of me like water going over a fall. "I know you wont be able to forgive me, I cant even forgive myself, but I just wanted you both to know how sorry I am for what I did the other night to both of you. It was wrong of me. I almost killed you both. Youre my friends and I treated you horribly. I was selfish and pig-headed and blind and I acted like a total idiot. I just wanted to tell you that. That Im sorry for what I did, and Im sorry for avoiding you these past few days. You dont deserve that. Not from me, not from anyone else. I was an idiot, and I was scared. Im sorry."
I ground do a halt, my words all used up. I stood there, numb, not daring to read anything into the way they looked back at me.
What happened next Ill leave for Pony and Critter to tell, if they ever get a notion to do such. Suffice it to say that these two women, who most of society would look down upon and speak ill of because of their past mistakes, have more honor and integrity, compassion and caring, love and loyalty than any thousand who claim that to have the handle on getting into heaven first.
They taught me something about friendship that day, and about forgiveness, and the power of love.
I can only hope that one day, I can feel deserving of the honor theyve given me by calling me "friend".
That evening, as I lay naked between the cool, crisp sheets of our bed, Ice walked in, her eyes dark and distant.
"Whats wrong?" I asked, immediately coming up to my elbows as her expression registered.
She tapped her cell-phone absently against her palm. "I havent been able to contact Donita."
My belly fluttered. "At all? But I thought you had a hotline to her directly?"
"I do. Shes not answering it."
"Did you try any of the other numbers? No, forget I asked. Of course you did." I wriggled until I was sitting up, my legs crossed in front of me. "Do you know of anyone up there who might know where she is? The prosecutor, maybe? Or the judge?"
"The only person I trust is Donita."
I nodded, biting my lower lip. "So . . .what now? Do we wait until you can get in touch with her somehow?"
Ice shook her head. "We cant afford to. As soon as Cavallo is able to travel, we move."
"Even if we dont know where were taking him?"
"Even then," she replied, firm resolution coloring her tones. "Did the news give any more details?"
"Not really. They still havent identified the bodies. The story doesnt seem to have made it up here yet. At least not that we heard."
"Good." Laying the cell phone down on the nightstand, she tiredly stripped off her clothes, then slipped between the sheets and rested her head on my thigh.
Smiling, I sifted my hand through the soft onyx strands of her hair, enjoying, as always, the feel of it against my fingers.
A small contented hum made its way up from her throat as her body relaxed against mine, and the very tips of her fingers drew abstract designs on my legs.
Sensing her exhaustion, I deepened my touches and rubbed along her scalp and forehead, doing my best to ease away the days tension. Almost before I knew it, her own touches slowed to a stop and her breathing deepened and evened out into true slumber; the first shed had in days, if not weeks.
And though we were standing on a precipice over a chasm so deep I couldnt see the bottom, I hugged this tiny island of peace around me like a warm sweater and let my doubts and my fears be washed away by the awesome power that was love.
"Oh yes, love," I gasped as a pair of warm, wet lips applied gentle suction to a particularly sensitive area at the back of my neck. That gasp turned into a groan as long fingers danced across my breasts in time with the rapidly quickening beat of my heart. Leaning back into the long body behind me, I felt Ices hips rock against my towel-covered behind, and the sensation caused a sudden weakening in my knees.
Overcome with a need I knew only too well, I spun within the circle of her loose embrace and crushed our bodies together even as my hands reached up and through the shining raven locks of her hair to pull her head down to meet mine in an incendiary tangle of lips and tongues.
"Bed," I gasped when I pulled away for much needed air. "Now."
Growling deep in her chest, she lifted me easily from my feet as my own hands worked at the towel girding her lower half, courtesy of our shared morning shower.
Before I could blink, I found myself flat on my back as the bedsprings squeaked out their displeasure beneath me. Ice loomed over me, the look on her face the epitome of every fantasy Id ever dreamed of and a few I hadnt even thought up yet.
Like a lioness she was, all tawny sleekness and barely controlled hunger. Her eyes, passion-dark, swept over my body setting fires wherever her gaze touched down. Her nostrils flared, scenting the air and the passion growing between us. She growled again, long and low, and my body became liquid and burned hotter than the sun.
Taking care to make sure that no part of our bodies were touching, she came in low. White teeth snatched at my lower lip and a strong tongue swirled and tasted its captured prize, then tugged and released and recaptured until I thought I would go mad with this all-encompassing need she was engendering within me.
My hips sent out a plea of their own, and I groaned when their fruitless quest was answered only by the cool air of the room beyond.
My groan of frustration was answered by a wicked chuckle, but she was fair, this mistress of my passions, and used my own desire against me for only a moment longer before ending the sweet torture and melding our bodies together.
Oh, the transcendence of that one exquisite moment when we joined together as two halves of a perfect whole.
Ices towel had loosened somewhere along the way, and lush heat of her passion as it bathed my flesh sent me spiraling far and away. Lips softer than the finest silk enveloped my breasts, and the air was filled with the sensual sounds of flesh moving against flesh.
A moment later, Ice stiffened above me, but not in passion. My eyes sprung open to catch an intent look on her face.
"What?" I whispered, barely having the breath for it.
And then I heard it, the sounds of a struggle going on in the next room, complete with muffled shouts and angry voices, one of which was undeniably Ponys.
At that particular moment, however, I didnt care why Pony was yelling or who Pony was yelling at. I wanted Ice, and I wanted her now.
She returned willingly enough, capturing my lips in another incendiary kiss as her hand began its slow, teasing trek down to where I most desperately needed it. Then she halted again. I groaned in frustration, slapping my hand down on the mattress hard enough to sting.
This time, we both heard the shout simultaneously.
Just one word, but it was as if ice water had been thrown over both of us.
Ice rolled off the bed and stood, all in one fluid motion. She was across the room and had her hand on the door handle before I even had the chance to sit up.
"Ice! Dont forget your . . . .robe," I sighed, talking to nothing but empty air. "Oh boy."
Managing to get my stunned limbs to cooperate, I stood up a great deal less gracefully than did my partner, grabbed my own robe and belted it over my nakedness before grabbing a second and bolting after her.
If the situation hadnt been so serious, I would have fallen to the floor with laughter as I slid into Ponys room. It was as if Id walked in on a very adult version of the game of "Statues".
Pony was flat on her back in the bed with Critter half-sprawled atop her in a position which could have very definitely been construed as sexual had they both not been fully clothed. Nia was standing in one corner, her eyes so wide that if they hadnt been attached to her skull, I felt sure theyd pop right out and roll around on the floor like marbles. Cheeto was standing next to Nia, the tanned skin of her face flushed a shining red. Cowgirl, standing next to her, didnt have the benefit of a tan, and the flush on her face was tending toward purple.
And, of course, the centerpiece of this tableau was my naked lover, to whom all gazes were affixed.
Gathering myself, I crossed the last, small distance between us and slipped the robe over Ices shoulders. Though she pulled it on and belted it closed over the vast expanse of her wonderful flesh, those actions did nothing to break the frozen stares of her admirers.
That feat was accomplished by Montana, who stalked into the room with a grim expression on her face. Entering, she took charge effortlessly.
"Cowgirl, Cheeto, get out to the perimeter. I want to know the second they get within sighting distance. Critter, round up the non-Amazons and get them into the house. Move!"
As Critter jumped up, Pony attempted to get out of the bed, only to find herself pushed down by her lover. "Oh no ya dont, hero. You just stay there and let the rest of us grunts take care of the dirty work for ya."
"Like hell I will!" Pony growled, using her greater strength to overpower her thinner lover. "Get the fuck off me, will ya?"
Though not spoken in a loud tone, that one word had the entire force of Ices personality behind it, and once again, the entire room froze in place.
"Whats going on?" she asked Montana, still in that same smooth, controlled tone.
"Paycheck just called in. Ten or more police cruisers are heading here full bore."
"No. Apparently, Nias husband has decided to bring in the cavalry."
Nia stepped forward and laid a hand on Ponys shoulder. "Please, stay in bed. Ill handle this."
"But . . . ."
She sighed, and suddenly I saw a new Nia standing in place of the old. A sadder, wiser Nia whod learned a few life lessons the hardest way possible.
"Rio taught me something the other day," she said as if speaking to herself. "She taught me that its time I grew up and stood up for something I believed in." Raising her chin proudly, she looked, in turn, at each one of us. "Ive decided to start with believing in me."
"Nia," Pony protested, "you cant just . . . ."
"Yes, Pony, I can. And I will. Every one of you has given of yourselves for me. And its about time I started giving back." She turned beseeching eyes to Montana. "Please, ask Pony to stay here. I dont want anyone else hurt because of me."
"Youre not thinking about going back to him," Montana said.
"No. Never again. Hes probably got those police convinced that I was kidnapped and brought here against my will. Ill just have to convince them that Im here because I want to be."
After a long, searching moment, Montana nodded. "Alright, but youre going to have backup, just in case."
"Alright," she softly replied.
"Great!" Pony shouted, renewing her struggle to free herself from Critters embrace.
"Not you, Pony. You stay in bed. We can take care of this without you just this once."
"Damnit! Not you too, Montana! Come on! Im not an invalid, for Christs sake!"
"No, but you might just become one if I see you step one foot outside of that bed, Pony. And I mean that."
With a groan worthy of an Emmy, or a martyrdom, Pony slumped back on the bed and covered her face with one arm.
Then Montana turned to Ice and myself. "You two need to get out of here. Docs already preparing Cavallo for the journey. Even though the police are here for Nia, we cant afford to have them do a search of the house."
Ice nodded. "Well be ready in five minutes."
Turning, she took my hand and we headed back to our room to prepare for a journey whose ending was anything but certain.
We didnt talk as we returned to our room. There really wasnt much to say at that point. Ice had already tried to talk me out of accompanying her, and Id turned her down flatter than roadkill. My butt was as much on the line as hers was, and whatever happened, I was more determined than ever that wed see it through together.
Reaching under the bed, she pulled out her black duffel, already packed, then opened a drawer in the bedside stand and removed her gun. Though it was as much a part of Ice as the color of her eyes, I detested that gun, with its pristine, shining finish and malevolent air. I avoided it like the plague, and if I could have made an evil-eye sign to ward off the cold shudders I got whenever I looked at it, I would have.
She didnt even bother looking at me as she opened the clip and then chambered a round before slipping it into the waistband of her jeans at the back. "You ready?"
"In a second," I replied, reaching for my own, mostly-packed, bag. "How long should I plan for?"
"At least two weeks, but dont pack too much. With Cavallo, were not gonna have too much room to spare."
"What car are we taking, anyway?"
"Montana said she had something to show us, so I suppose well know when we see it."
"Alright. How about if I meet you out back?"
"Fine, just hurry up. Those cops are gonna be here any minute."
"Be right there."
Corinne entered as Ice left, and came to stand next to me, arms crossed against her ample chest. "I just heard. Leaving already, are you?"
"Yeah," I said as I looked around the room to make sure that I wasnt missing any indispensable item. Spying the carving Ice had made for me for Christmas, I carefully grasped it from its place on the nightstand and rubbed my finger over the exquisitely carved angels wings as one would a talisman.
"Your things will be safe here," Corinne said.
"Oh, I know that. Its just . . . ."
"Difficult to leave yet another home?"
I sighed. "Something like that, yeah. Especially since we dont really know where were going."
Corinnes eyebrows raised. "Hasnt Donita told you at least that much?"
"She hasnt told us anything. Ice cant get a hold of her."
"Now that is worrisome."
"Yeah. I know." I rubbed the rapidly forming stiffness at the back of my neck and spared a last look around the room. My eyes lit upon my growing stack of journals which, prior to Mexico, had gone everywhere with me. And now it looked like theyd be staying behind once again. I looked to Corinne. "Would you keep these for me in a safe place? I . . .dont think Ill have room for them in the car."
"I should be insulted that you even felt the need to ask, but that would be a waste of effort, so I suppose Ill just say yes instead." Gathering the books up, she held them close to her chest. "Theyll be here for you when you return."
"Thank you," I replied, for far more than babysitting my journals, and we both knew it.
Dropping the journals onto the bed, she reached out and engulfed me in an all-encompassing hug. I inhaled the scent of her sachet and, as always, drew some measure of comfort from it. My love for her burned fierce in my heart and I hugged her with as much strength as I could manage while keeping in mind the frailty of her elderly bones.
She hugged me back, just as tightly, and we both had teary eyes when we pulled apart. "Go, Angel."
Taking in a deep breath, I nodded, then grabbed my duffel. "I love you, Corinne," I said, brushing a kiss against her cheek.
"I love you too, sweet Angel. Be safe."
"Ill do my best."
I hurried down the halls, duffel in hand, and into the back of the house, where I had to push upstream against a tide of women being escorted inside to safety. Stepping outside, I saw Ice and Montana standing next to a very large Jeepthe kind that looks like some sort of hybrid cross between a car and a tank. The engine was on and it was loud and rumbling, giving me what I was sure was just a small taste of its power. It was a dark, metallic blue and had heavily tinted windows, better to keep prying eyes away, I gathered.
Seeing me, Ice grabbed my duffel and slipped it into the back seat. A back seat that I was quite positive could comfortably house a family of four and their dogand perhaps some cats, a bird or two, and an aquarium thrown in for good measure.
I briefly wondered if it came with its own butler before going around to the very back and peering inside. The interior space was huge, and there was a mattress of sorts laid out on the floorboards together with a couple of small pillows and two pairs of shackles locked to the seat supports.
A perfect love nest for the kinky set.
Which, of course, gave me some ideas, none of which can be shared in polite society.
Hearing a noise behind me, I stepped back just in time to avoid being trampled by Cheeto and Cowgirl as they carried a lolling Cavallo between them. His swollen face was a sunset of bruises and scrapes, and he appeared dead to the world.
The two women slung him inside the Jeep, then Cowgirl entered and began to secure him. Doc supervised, smiling.
"How is he?" I asked.
"Woke up a little feisty this morning, but I sent him off on the SS Valium and now hes feeling nooo pain." She handed me a small black bag. "Theres more drugs in there. If he starts yowling, just hit him with another dose. Theyre pre-measured, so you dont have to worry about unintentionally narcing him."
I took the bag just as Cowgirl jumped back out of the Jeep and dusted her hands off on the legs of her jeans. "Packed up and ready to go."
I stepped away further, and Doc closed the door, trapping Cavallo safely inside.
Ice came to stand next to me. "You ready?"
"As Ill ever be, I guess."
"Lets go, then."
After sharing quick hugs with Cowgirl and Cheeto, and a firm handshake with Montana, I climbed up into the high cab of the Jeep and settled myself in. My belly was a flaming ball of tension, and my head was pounding in time to the beating of my heart. Ices face was unusually grim as she settled herself in the drivers seat and reached for the gear shift.
"What is it?" I asked, the tension in my body ratcheting up yet another notch.
"I dont like leaving them this way. Ive never run from a fight." Her tones were clipped, her voice measured.
"And youre not running from one now," I replied, laying a hand on her wrist. "I have faith in Nias word. Rios death has changed her. For the better. And the police will make sure no harm comes to the women. Theres a friend or two of Montanas on the force."
An eyebrow raised in clear surprise.
I just managed to bite back a smug grin. Though the chances were one in a million, Id actually been able to bring my lover up short with information she didnt already know.
If the circumstances were any less grave, I might have taken the time to savor the once-in-a-lifetime event. "Though the cop/con dynamic sounds pretty cheesy, Paychecks lover is an officer. As long as Nia does her part and tells the truth, Montana and the rest will be safe."
Jaw set, she nodded and slipped the Jeep into gear. The engine roared, and with no more fanfare than that, we were on our way.
To where, I wasnt sure. I dont even think Ice knew at that point. But at least we were moving, and as long as we were moving, I could convince myself that, somewhere on the road ahead, thered be a light waiting at the end of a tunnel which had encompassed almost a third of my life.
Whelp, almost done. One more part, the conclusion. I hope everyones enjoying. Thanks for reading!
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