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
Were I a novelist, I would entitle this chapter "The Blooming of Nia". Since Im not, however, Ill settle for saying that after her confrontation with her husband, a new Nia stood upon the ashes of the old, rather like a phoenix rising up from the flames.
Of course, not all the changes were good ones, but that was to be expected, I suppose. Having married quite young, Nia had lost the best of her teenage years as she suffered beneath the oppressive and dangerous weight that was her husband.
And when that weight was finally lifted, thats exactly what she became.
The woman who would meekly carry out any task asked of her had suddenly developed an unbendable will, especially when it came to being asked to do things she didnt particularly care for. And that was a very long list, indeed.
Her favorite expression was fast becoming "you dont own me, so stop telling me what to do."
Which was, in a way, understandable, given all shed been through in her young life. It didnt make putting up with her sudden attitude any easier though, except, perhaps, for Montana, who treated Nia the same way she treated everyone else: with patient compassion and total honesty.
Nia also developed somewhat of a crush on Rio, much to Rios acute embarrassment (though truth to tell, the rest of us were quite amused). She followed her around like an overgrown puppy, askingand at times beggingRio to teach her how to fight, offering to do chores she otherwise would avoid like the plague, and generally ensuring that Rio walked around looking like shed just suffered a severe sunburn to the face.
"Please tell me I wasnt ever like that," I observed one morning as Rio tried unsuccessfully to shoo her unneeded helper away for the third time in as many minutes.
"Never," Critter said from her place next to me on the couch.
"Thank god," Pony chimed in. "I dont think we ever would have survived it."
"Well, they do make a cute couple," Corinne added, her smirk quite pronounced.
Hearing the remark, Rio turned to us with an expression that was half murderous intent, half heartfelt plea.
Taking pity on this mercurial, moody and sometimes violent woman who I was, nonetheless, coming to see as a friend, I levered myself up from my space on the couch and walked over to Nia, touching her arm briefly. "Cmon. Remember I promised to help teach you how to ride today?"
She turned to look at me as if realizing for the first time that I was even in the room. "Oh. Yeah." was her less than enthusiastic reply. "Can we do that another time? Rios gonna . . . ."
"The only thing Rios gonna be doing is helping me with the security schedules," Pony interjected, coming to stand beside me. When Nias face lit up at the prospect, Pony scowled. "Boring stuff. Really . . .really um . . . ."
"Boring," Critter finished, nodding. "A yawn a minute. Puts me right out every time."
"I dont know about that," came a sweet voice from the couch. "I always found them to be particularly . . . ."
Four identical glares convinced Corinne to temporarily shelve that line of thought, and with a slightly wicked grin, she absented herself from the rest of the conversation altogether, to our great relief.
"So, what do you say, Nia? Its a beautiful day outside. How about if we go on a nice trail ride, and by the time you get back, Rio should be finished with her job."
She looked over at Rio, who nodded vigorously.
"Alright. I guess thats ok, then."
Grinning in triumph, I looped my arm inside Nias and drew her away from her newest obsession, leaving three profoundly relieved Amazons behind.
The next several days passed in like fashion, with Rio becoming very proficient at the game of hide and seek. If her body hadnt been so large, I would have half-expected to see her stuffed into one of the cabinets under the sink in the bathroom, that being the only place she could have even a modicum of privacy. At least until Nia thought of asking to attend to her there as well.
Christmas was fast approaching, and the prospect of spending it without Ice by my side turned a fairly stable mood into a downright depressed and surly one. Rather than biting the hands that fed and sheltered me, I decided that solitude was the best course of action, at least until I could come up with something better to assuage my depression.
Cleo and I became fast friends. I rode her daily, sometimes from dawn till dusk, taking in all of the treasures that the Arizona desert had to offer. Being out there in the wild without another human being around for miles gave me a strange, but welcomed sense of peace. It was there that I felt free to drop my mask of geniality and scream and rant and rave at the injustices which kept me apart from the other half of my soul.
Oh, I yelled at Ice as well, damning her for that selfless nobility which called her to put my life and my happiness before her own and wound up causing both of us to suffer for it. Even jail seemed a better place than where I found myself, and after three years of freedom, I actually began to look at my time in the Bog with a sense of happiness rather than the dread I was used to feeling.
That scared me, Ill be the first to admit, but I was truly at a loss as to what to do about it. Speaking to my friends, even to Corinne, about it was out of the question. They each had burdens of their own, and I wasnt about to add to them by forcing them to accompany me on this journey of self pity I found myself on.
One day, as I was walking back from the stables after an early morning ride, I chanced to see Nia slipping into one of the community cars parked in front of the main house. She must have seen me through the rearview mirror, because as I passed, she reached out the open window and snagged the sleeve of my shirt, turning me to face her. "Hey, Angel! Im blowin this one donkey town for a little while. You wanna come with me?"
"Where?" I asked as I disengaged myself from her rather manic clasp.
Her grin lit up her whole face. "Mexico. Im in the mood to party!"
I looked at her. "Mexico? As in . . . ."
"You know," she replied, rolling her eyes, "that place south of the border where everyone speaks Spanish and they serve a mean tequila? Whadda ya say, huh? I was gonna go alone, but you look like you could use a little good cheer yourself."
"I . . .ah . . .dont think getting drunk is a really good idea for me right now."
After looking at me for a moment longer, she shrugged and started the engine. "Suit yourself. Im outta here."
"No! Wait!" I knew I couldnt just let her go. Not into a land of strangers whose language she didnt even speak. At least I assumed she didnt speak it. Not that it mattered, really. Newly borne independence was one thing. Foolhardiness was another thing entirely.
Her eyes narrowed. "What now."
"Why Mexico? Isnt there someplace around here that . . . ."
"Are you kidding? Look around, Angel. This place is dead. Theres nothing around here for miles. Im bored and I want some action. So, if youll excuse me, Im outta here."
"Wait! Please! I. . .um . . . ." I scratched the back of my neck, trying to think quickly. "Why not? Sounds like fun. It might do me some good to get out of here for awhile. You know, see new sights, stuff like that. Just wait here till I . . .get my wallet."
Her suspicion was evident as she stared at me for a long beat before finally blinking and nodding, not without some reluctance, I thought. "Alright. Just hurry up. Youre not back in five minutes and Im leaving without you."
"Great! Thanks!" Grinning, I jumped away from the car and took off for the house at a dead run. "Be right back!!"
Running full speed into the house, I managed a full-bore collision with Rio, who was getting ready to come outside. Normally, running into Rio would have been akin to running into a brick wall, but with momentum behind me, I managed to accidentally tackle her, sending us both back into the sunken living room where we flipped over the back of the couch and landed, in a tangled heap, on the floor.
"My, my, my," came a dry as dust voice above us. "You really must tell me your secret, Rio. Flash a little brawn and you have women literally falling into your arms."
The woman beneath me flushed a brilliant crimson before scrabbling away from me as if I were the fire and shed just gotten burned. She jumped to her feet, her eyes darting around the room. "Im sorry. I . .uh . . I . . ."
Laughing a little at her expression, I hauled myself up with a little help from Corinne. "Its alright, Rio. Im sorry I smashed into you like that."
"Wheres the fire?" Pony demanded, rushing into the living room with Critter close at her heels. Sliding to a stop, she put her hands on her hips and stared balefully at us, obviously trying to piece together what had happened to leave the three of us looking so . . .rumpled.
"No fire," I hastened to respond. "Just a little accident. I . . .um . . .lost my footing."
My glare cut off Corinnes snicker before it even left her lips.
A horn blaring ended our impasse and reminded me why I blew into the house like a fanged, flying mammal out of the kingdom of Hades in the first place. "Pony, Im glad youre here. I need your help."
I signed. "Its Nia. Shes bound and determined to go down to Mexico and shes not taking no for an answer."
"Shes bored. She wants to party." My fingers formed sarcastic quotes around that word.
"Damn. She wont last two seconds down there."
"I know. Thats why I said Id join her and came in here to find you."
"Shit," Pony replied. "Alright, Rio, you go out there and stall her. Tell her youll go with her. Just dont let her leave till I get there."
"No way! Youre nuts, Pony! Im tryin to get away from her, remember??"
"Rio . . .just do it, ok?"
"God damn it," she muttered. "You owe me big time, woman."
"Yeah, yeah. Put it on my tab. Just go stall her, alright?"
With a melodramatic sigh, Rio turned away, grumbling phrases perhaps best left to the imagination.
After the door slammed, Pony turned to look at Critter, who shrugged. "Well, we were planning on going down there anyway to pick up medications."
At my questioning look, Critterbless her heartstepped in to explain. "In Mexico, you dont need a prescription to get prescription drugs. You can just go down to the local drug store and pick up what you need."
"And they dont stop you at the border?" I asked, amazed.
Critter grinned. "Nope. They tell you you cant bring back more than a months supply, but those guys dont know what a months supply is, so its not that difficult."
"Yup. So, I figure since we were planning on going down there anyway, we might as well kill two birds with one stone, so to speak."
"Great! Just let me get my wallet and Ill meet you at the car."
"Hold up there, Angel," Pony stated as I turned away. "You dont need to come down with us. Well keep an eye on Nia while you stay up here."
I turned back slowly. "Are you saying I cant go?"
She sighed. "Look, Angel, I dont want to fight with you about it. But face facts here. With your coloring, you just scream American tourist. Theyd be after you like flies on horseshit."
"Wonderful image, Pony," Critter said, disgusted. "Thanks."
"Hey! Im serious here! Its the truth and you know it."
"What about her?" I asked, cocking my thumb at Critter.
Pony scowled. "Thats different."
"Yeah? How? Because her hairs blonde and curly and mines blonde and straight?"
She sighed again. "Critter, you tell her."
"I would, if I knew what the answer was."
"Fat lot of good you are," Pony muttered.
"I try." Critters smile was sweet as sunshine.
After a moment, Pony threw up her hands in defeat. "Blondes," was all she said. Funny how she could make a color sound so much like a curse.
To her, though, it probably was.
Since my only knowledge of Mexico came from honeymoon pictures and episodes of "The Love Boat", I was expecting a country rife with pristine beaches and crystal blue Caribbean waters. In fact, on the way down, I cursed myself roundly for having neglected to bring along a bathing suit.
As is true with life, however, what I was expecting and what I received were two different things entirely.
My first surprise of the day came about when we walked across the border. Where I had expected a few somber looking guards with weapons and a snarling dog or two, I got instead a . . .turnstile. Unmanned. Apparently, in this part of Mexico at least, they didnt care what you brought in with you; they only cared about what you brought out.
The second surprise came shortly thereafter, and almost made me turn and run back for the border.
Instead of white sand beaches and beautiful, tanned and oiled bodies, I saw something which could only be Timothy Learys version of a carnival midway. A riot of color and a cacophony of sound, streets too narrow for cars to pass through were lined on both sides with booths and hucksters as far as the eye could see in any direction.
Dark men in worn clothing beckoned from the front of each booth, using heavily accented and broken English to lure unsuspecting American consumers to part with their money on a wide variety of less than tasteful merchandise.
Pony was, of course, right, damn the woman. With my blonde hair and fair skin, I seemed to be a magnet for male attention no matter where or how quickly I walked. I was pinched, pulled, patted and prodded as I attempted to pass by inconspicuously.
I might as well have been naked and wearing a neon sign with the word "sucker" plastered across my chest. Things came to a head when two vendors, ostensibly selling woven horse blankets most likely made in Taiwan, each grabbed one of my arms and turned me into a rope in the game of tug-of-war they were holding at my expense.
Rio put an end to it all in her own special fashion, intimidating the hell out of both men (not to mention every single vendor on either side of the street we were on) by yelling something in rapid Spanish, relieving me of my human tethers, and cracking their heads together before dumping them, stunned, into the noisome street.
Then she used her bulk as a human battering ram and got us through the market maze with no further trouble at all.
It was almost as if wed jumped from the frying pan into the fire, though, when we finally made our way safely out of the incredibly loud and confusing maze of stalls and into the more wide open areas of the town. Im afraid I then became the epitome of every relatively well-to-do American tourist as I stared around me, slack jawed with shock.
Squalor and absolute, unmitigated poverty was all around me as I stared at the crumbling buildings which made up this small town. People shuffled to and fro, may with the kind of blank stares which only come from hunger and total despair. Many were half-clothed, and most were barefoot.
I suddenly felt very much ashamed of myself, spending long days in self pity while the people around me could only wish to have a life as good as the one Ive led, rough spots and all. Tears sprang unbidden to my eyes, and I lowered my head so as to keep from drawing even more attention to myself with my unwanted emotional display.
"Cmon," Pony said from beside me, quickly grabbing my arm and hurrying me down a narrow, pitted side street. "Theres a pharmacy right around the corner. Well stop there."
Beggars filled the streets, many of them missing limbs, and others with a multitude of open sores running down arms and legs and faces. Several congregated outside the very pharmacy we were headed toward, just feet away from medication which could help them, yet without a penny to their name with which to purchase it.
The bitter irony of the situation caused even more tears to fall until I found myself blinded by them and stumbled along only by the grace of Ponys firm support.
Turning my head slightly, I could just see Nia through the haze of my tears. She looked both frightened and repulsed by the scene surrounding her, and as I watched, she grabbed onto Rio in a white-knuckled grip that the larger woman didnt even bother trying to draw away from.
"We need to help them," I whispered to Critter, who came along beside me and wrapped a compassionate arm around my waist. "We cant just leave them like this. Someone needs to do something."
"We would if we could, Angel. But there isnt enough money in the world to help these people, Im afraid. We do what we can, but its never enough."
"God," I replied, shuddering.
The pharmacy itself was cool, bright, and surprisingly modern. The woman behind the counter smiled pleasantly as we entered, and greeted Rio with enthusiasm, obviously remembering her from a previous trip. With her clean, pressed clothing and carefully applied make-up, she stood as out of place among the towns other denizens as a clock would if placed high in the crotch of a tree.
Part of me wanted to rant at the woman for having the audacity to be so well dressed and so well fed while right outside her door, people were suffering and dying in the most horrid of ways. But a bigger part of me kept silent and I damned myself, feeling more ashamed than at any other time in my life.
The transaction was quickly completed, and before I knew it, a box full of medical supplies was pressed into my hands. Pony, Critter and Rio each held their own boxes. Rio led the way out of the store, then did something I will never forget even if I live to be one hundred and ten.
Gently placing her box on the ground, she called to the people huddled in shop doorways. They flocked to her, faces wreathed in joyful smiles, seeming truly human to me for the first time since Id set foot in the town.
They came to her as if to a Savior, reaching out with grimy, trembling hands to touch some part of her, be it skin or cloth or hair, tears brimming in their dark, shining eyes.
She greeted each by name and touched them back, enfolding some in delicate hugs, pressing kisses to weathered cheeks, and shaking hands with others.
Though I didnt understand a word of what was being said, I knew in my heart I was witnessing a true miracle.
When she had greeted every last person, she knelt down and opened her box, then began distributing the medical supplies shed just purchased to the people gathered around us. She seemed to know exactly who needed what and handed each item over with a kind word and a bright smile. There was no jostling, no fighting as each person waited patiently to receive Rios offering.
When one box was emptied, she beckoned, and another was placed on the ground until all the boxes, save one, were unloaded, the contents given to the people who needed them the most.
The rest of us helped pass out the supplies as Rio directed us, and were treated to our own smiles and softly spoken words of gratitude. I felt completely unworthy of such thanks, having played no part in this wonder happening around me, but I accepted the gratitude nonetheless, though on Rios behalf, rather than my own.
When we were almost finished, I felt a slight tug on my jeans, and when I looked down, a young girl was smiling up at me. Squatting down to her level, I tried my best to ask what it was she needed. Stick-thin arms flung themselves around my neck and a small body nestled into my own as a gentle kiss brushed the skin of my cheek. "Thank you," she whispered in heavily accented English before shyly pulling away and running off to stand behind her mother.
I almost lost it then, and probably would have if Rio hadnt chosen that moment to stand and dust off her hands.
The small crowd cheered, and amidst many shouts of "muchas gracias!", they dispersed back into the crumbling bowels of the town to leave us standing alone on the street.
I looked over at Rio, a new-found respect shining in my eyes. She blushed a deep red and gave me the smallest of grins before hefting the lone remaining box and beckoning us to follow her yet again.
This time, I went willingly, a much humbled and wiser woman for the incredible gift Id been given.
After leading us on a seemingly aimless trek through narrow, twisting streets, Rio brought us to an older, and paradoxically better kept, section of the town. The streets, while old, were for the most part clean and in good repair. The businesses lining those streets were brightly lit and pleasant to look at, with wonderful smells emanating from within some of them.
It was to one such building that Rio led us, and I grinned as I stepped beneath the brightly colored awning, its stiff cloth flapping in the mild, fragrant breeze. The entrance revealed a bar that was cool, dim, inviting, and crowded, mostly with men whos attentions were drawn to a soccer game currently being broadcast on several televisions dotting the bars interior. Many of them turned to look at us as we entered and more than a few of the gazes lingered before Rios fierce scowl convinced them soccer was a much more important thing to watch than women.
For the first time in their lives, no doubt.
The bartender, a short, rather rotund man with a thick shock of black hair and a bristling moustache which hid half his genial face, came quickly from behind the bar and led us all over to a large, empty table, while speaking all the while to Rio in rapid-fire Spanish.
After we were all seated, he returned with several menus, then with two bottles of Tequila, six shot glasses, salt and a bowl of limes, which he set down on the table in front of us.
"Alright! This is more like it!" Nia crowed as she reached for one of the bottles, scowling as Rio intercepted it and deftly removed the top. Going around the table, she filled each glass almost to the brim before going back to her chair and resuming her seat.
After watching the others prepare the salt and limes, and copying their actions, I was ready as Rio lifted her glass in a toast. "Heres to swimmin with bowlegged women."
Laughing, we touched glasses and, as they say, knocked the shots back after taking a healthy lick of salt. Breathing fire, my eyes watering, I slammed the glass down. Then I picked up the lime, shoved it into my mouth, and bit down, thanking god when the sourness of it cut through the taste of rocket fuel which managed to make its way up to my sinuses.
Bad as my reaction was, however, it didnt come close to matching Nias. The young woman was receiving a thorough back-pounding by Rio as she lay half slumped over the table, choking and sputtering as the others looked on, laughing.
As soon as her breath returned to her, however, she reached out and swiped the bottle, pouring herself a healthy shot and downing it before anyone could think to stop her. Managing to keep her reaction to the shot somewhat under control this time, she sank back into the chair and smirked at the rest of us while wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. "Niiiiiice."
While Critter and Pony simply shook their heads and reached for the bottle, Rio looked as if she desperately wanted to throttle someonepreferably the someone sitting to her immediate left. Thankfully for Nia, however, she chose to drink instead.
Never one to feel comfortable in a crowd of men, especially boisterous men, I was surprised to find myself gradually relaxing as late afternoon turned into early evening. Whether it was from the effects of the wonderful dinner wed been served, or the additional two shots of Tequila Id managed to down, I wasnt sure, but never being one to look a gift equine in the cuspids, I simply went with the feeling and didnt ponder it overmuch.
My five companions were certainly feeling no pain, particularly Nia, who now viewed her little corner of the world through reddened, half-lidded eyes while a goofy, drunken grin seemed to have taken up permanent residence on her face.
Increasingly outlandish tales were being traded back and forth across the table, but rather than participate, I was quite content to sit back and relax, determined to enjoy my brief respite of good cheer while it lasted.
Which, as is almost always the case with me of late, didnt last nearly long enough.
Seven men, the largest larger even than Rio, entered into the bar, their expressions belligerent. I found myself stiffening in my seat and was pleased to see my companions do the same, except for Nia, who was too far gone to be able to resemble anything other than a limp rag doll at that stage.
"Trouble," Critter muttered to my left, stating the obvious.
"Maybe nowd be a good time to leave," I replied, sotto voce.
"You got that right." Turning, she tapped a bleary Pony on the shoulder, then jerked her head toward the door.
Pony nodded and reached out to shake Nias arm. "Wake up, little Miss Sunshine. Its time to head back home."
Lifting her head slowly off the table, Nia peered owlishly at all of us. "Wha--?"
That woke her up fully. "What? No way! The partys just getting started!" As if to prove her point, she grabbed the second (or was it third?) bottle of Tequila, brought it to her lips, and upended it, guzzling down a quarter of the contents in a single gulp. "Cmon ya bunch of old ladies! Drink up!! What are you waitin for? Christmas???"
Laughing uproariously at her feeble joke, she slammed the bottle back on the table, which, unfortunately, attracted the attentions of the goon squad steamrolling their way toward the bar.
"This doesnt look like its gonna be fun," Critter whispered to me as they made an abrupt detour toward our table.
"Anyone ever tell you you have an innate gift for understatement?"
Her grin flashed. "A time or three."
"Good. Wouldnt have wanted to be the first."
A second later, a hand the size of which would have put a Daisy Canned Ham to shame reached for Nias bottle and snatched it up, returning it a brief instant later, totally empty. A loud belch blasted over our heads and I swore I saw several carefully tended plants wither and die away under the assault.
"Hey!" Nia shouted as the bottle collided with the table. "Get your own bottle, you . . . ." Turning, she craned her neck back as her chin lifted high, then higher. "Wow. Look guys! A walking mountain of shit!"
Her drunken giggles were cut off when the man reached down and grabbed her by the back of her shirt. Hauling her up out of her chair, he belched once again, in her face this time, before tossing her to his buddies who stood behind him. Then he turned his attention to the rest of us.
A leer barely had its chance to curve his lips before Rio flattened them for him with a sweet right cross to the jaw. His stumble backward into the bodies of his cronies allowed Nia to slip nimbly away. When she was in range, Rio grabbed her roughly by the shirt and shoved her behind her large body. The rest of us closed ranks in a tight formation around her.
Wiping the trickle of blood from the corner of his mouth with the back of his hand, the walking mountain smiled at us; a smile very much like something Id seen Ice use on occasion, white and dangerous, like the smile of a shark as it spots a floundering seal. Or, in our case, a group of seals.
"Ohhh shit," Critter breathed.
The group came at us en masse, each more than double our size (except, of course, for Rio, who towered over everyone save the largest of the group). As was usual in these type of fights, the littlest one came for me. While that fact should, perhaps, have threatened my ego slightly, I found myself once again thanking God for small favors (pun intended) and chopping the cocky little banty rooster down a peg or two as he tried to grab for parts of my anatomy which were reserved for someone a lot taller, a lot stronger, and a hell of a lot meaner than he could ever hope to be.
The look on his face as he toppled over from a foot to his chest should have pleased me less than it did, but I went with it, happy to be feeling anything positive at all at that point.
A chair flew past my head, and when I looked up, I saw that the entire bar had erupted into a massive brawl complete with flying bodies and flying furniture.
As my friends seemed to be holding their own quite well, I concentrated on keeping Nia in my sights and defending us both against the onslaught of testosterone-fueled flesh which came after us, fists clenched and teeth gritted. It was easier that Id had a right to hope, and I felt my muscles respond eagerly to their call to action, slipping into time honored rhythms of advance, block, and retreat as if Id been born to do that very thing.
The fight hadnt been going on very long when a young man blew in from the outside and shouted loudly into the din. The only words I heard were "prisa!", "amigos" and "policia!". And those words I understood only too well. The brawl stopped almost immediately as the men broke away from each other and dove for the windows and doors of the bar, leaving only a few of us still standing.
Unfortunately, one of the ones still standing chose to take advantage of the brief lapse of concentration the announcement had brought and landed a solid uppercut to Rios chin. I looked up in time to see the whites of her eyes flash before she tumbled bonelessly to the ground in an unconscious heap.
Time seemed to slow down then. As I jumped to cover Rios helpless body with my own, from the corner of my eye, I saw Nia pick up a miraculously unbroken bottle from our table and grasp it by the neck.
"You son of a bitch!!!!" she shouted, rushing past me before I could stop her and smashing the bottle against the mans head.
Everything went dark for me then, as my body hit Rios, and his body fell on top of mine, making me the unfortunate meat in a rather unappetizing sandwich and chasing the breath from my lungs in an undignified whoosh.
It might have been a second, it might have been a century, but when the mans body was finally rolled off of mine, I thought I would weep for the simple joy of being able to breathe freely once again. I was hauled up to my feet by the scruff of my neck and stood watching as Ponys wild, frightened eyes bore down into mine. "Are you alright, Angel?" Her voice sounded like it was coming from the end of a very long tunnel, but as oxygen began to clear the cobwebs from my brain, I nodded.
"Are you sure? How many fingers am I holding up?"
"Um . . .seven?"
My feeble joke only caused her eyes to widen further and, taking pity on my distraught friend, I laid a hand on her arm and gave it a brief squeeze. "Im alright. Really. Just a little winded."
Just then, the bartender, whod spent the duration of the brawl tucked safely behind his bar, rushed up to us, jabbering so quickly, my head started to spin again. "Whats he saying?"
"Theres a back door that leads to an alley. Hes begging us to leave now before the police come," Critter replied, holding on to a struggling Nia. "Goddamn it, Nia, stop struggling."
"Let me go then!" Nia hissed, redoubling her efforts to break free.
"Not a chance. Were getting out of here."
"Not without Rio!"
"Shes coming with us," Pony stated, looking back at me. "Can you help me with her? Shes too heavy for me to carry by myself."
"Just tell me what to do."
"Grab her feet. Ill grab her arms. Well drag her until we get outside. Then well figure out something else."
"Too late," I heard Critter shout a split second before the doors blew open and what seemed to be an entire army of Mexican police entered, their guns drawn and pointing in our direction.
"Motherfucker," Pony grunted, dropping Rios hands and raising her own.
In a word, that pretty much summed it up.
"I dont feel so good."
"Theres the toilet. Go puke in it."
"I dont know why youve got such a pissy attitude. If it wasnt for me, tall, dark and gruesome would have finished your ass for sure!"
"If it wasnt for you, we wouldnt be in this fucking mess in the first place."
"Yeah, well who died and made you God, huh?"
Closing my eyes, I rested my head back against the crumbling cement wall that made up my new, and hopefully temporary, homea prison cell. Rio and Nia had been at it since Riod regained consciousness in the back of what passed for a police van in these parts and I was trying my level best to get their voices out of my head before I really did something to earn my stay here.
As if reading my mind, Critter leaned over to whisper in my ear. "Wonder how long a term murder gets around here?"
"I heard that," Rio growled at Critter, and received an abbreviated peace sign for her troubles. Her scowl deepened.
I felt something tickle my hand, and opened my eyes just in time to see a cockroach the size of a sparrow skitter across it in search of more hospitable surroundings. "I hate bugs," I said through gritted teeth.
"Welcome to Chez Roach Motel. Ya check in, but ya dont check out."
"Thats not even close to being funny, Nia," Critter remarked.
I looked over at Critter. "You know the saying be careful what you wish for?"
"Remind me to have it tattooed across my forehead when we get out of here, ok?"
"Easy for you to say," Pony interjected from her place by the cells barred door. "Youre not on parole. If we dont find a way of getting out of here before something worse happens, me and Critter will wind up back in the Bog faster than shit through a goose."
"Well get out of here," I replied with a confidence I didnt really feel.
She spun around to look at me. "Yeah? How? Gonna get Scotty to beam us out or something?"
"Pony, calm down, please," Critter said. "Its not Angels fault were here."
Pony sagged against the bars, sighing. "I know. Its just . . . damn. I just got outta prison. I really dont want to be back in here so damn soon." Straightening, she returned to wearing a hole in the ground with her incessant pacing.
As a brief silence descended, I looked around the room once again. Three walls of crumbling cement stared blindly back at me, painted in a color that might once have been just about anything, but which time and harsh conditions had reduced to that dirty beige no-color which characterized many a prison cell and cheap motel. Bars made up the fourth wall and brought with them memories which I was trying desperately to fight against receiving.
A splintered wooden bench ran the length of the back wall, and in the far corner, a hole in the ground which doubled as a toilet rounded out the décor. The wet, cement floor was a moving tide of roaches, beetles and insects I didnt even want to try and identify, even to take my mind off of less pleasant thoughts.
Like what was going to happen to us. Like how we were going to get out of here. Like if I was going to ever see Ice again.
The sound of Nia losing the contents of her stomach brought the distraction I needed.
"Montana knows where we are, right?" I asked Critter, who was staring at Nia with an expression of deep distaste.
"Wha--? Oh. Yeah. Pony told her wed be picking up some meds down here and wed be back by midnight at the latest." Sighing, she looked at her watch. "Which is an hour from now."
"So, once she realizes were overdue, shell put together a search, right?"
"Wed just damn well better be way the fuck gone from here by then," Pony replied, still looking out into the dim, empty hallway.
She turned to face us, her expression serious as a heart attack. "There are plenty of places to bury the bodies on that ranch of hers, Angel."
I gave a nervous sort of laugh. "Cmon, Pony. Shes not that bad."
"No," she agreed, nodding. "Shes worse."
"Worse than spending the rest of our lives in this hell hole?"
Her expression never changed as she turned back around to stare into the hallway once again.
I must have fallen asleep shortly after Ponys pronouncement of doom, because when I next opened my eyes, it was to find myself crushed between the wall and Critter, who was snoring lightly and drooling on my shirt.
Yawningand cursing myself for the indrawn breath given the stench sharing the cell with usI gently removed Critters lolling head from my shoulder and eased my tired and stiff body off the bench.
Pony was still awake and still pressed, face first, against the bars, her head turned to face down the long hallway.
"Morning," I whispered, padding over to her and laying a gentle hand on her tense back.
Turning, she favored me with a slight smile before looking back down the hallway again. "Mornin. Sleep well?"
"Not . . .exactly. What time is it, anyway?"
"A little after four," she replied, not even bothering to check her watch.
I sighed. "Means Montanas on the hunt by now."
"Thats what Im worried about."
Yawning again, I rubbed her back and tried to see past the bars. Only a dim, blank nothingness greeted me. "I wonder what time this place gets cracking in the mornings?"
As if in response to my query, a bank of bright lights snapped on, temporarily blinding my dilated pupils with their brilliance. As I rubbed my smarting eyes, I heard the sound of keys rattling, followed by a barred door opening and several sets of booted feet beginning their trek down the tiled corridor.
As the steps came closer, Ponys already tense back stiffened even more and I heard her gasp slightly for air.
"What is it?" I asked, feeling a tendril of fear curl into my belly.
She turned her head to face me, her eyes huge, her face as white as a freshly laundered sheet. "You know when we were talking about Montana versus spending the rest of our lives in here?"
"Yes . . . ."
"Those . . . ." Her throat bobbed as she took a hard swallow. " . . .were the good choices."
To Be Continued - Part 6
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