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
"Whats going on?" I demanded, pushing myself against the bars and craning my neck to look as far as I could down the now brightly lit hall. All I could see were shadows moving steadily closer.
"Never mind that now. Help me get everyone up and ready to move."
"But . . . ." Whatever I might have said was cut off abruptly as Pony grabbed my arm and yanked me away from the bars. Bowing to the inevitable, I set to waking up Critter and Nia while Pony worked on Rio.
Critter was easy. One shake, and she was wide awake and ready for action. Nia, however, was a different story altogether. Trying to wake her up was like trying to rouse a corpse. Not effective in the slightest, in other words.
Fully awake, Rio took matters into her own hands by simply hauling Nia up off the bench and plopping her, so to speak, on her own two feet, then bracing the younger woman until she could more or less stand on her own.
For awhile there, it was a toss up as to who was the more green: Pony, who looked like shed spent the night with her head in a bottle, or Nia, who actually had.
With my back to the bars, I listened as the bootsteps came closer and closer until they stopped just outside. A jangle of keys, and then I heard the cell door being opened, its rusting hinges squealing loudly in protest.
Pivoting on my heel, I turned in time to see several large guards file through, handcuffs and belly-chains in their hands. As they entered the cell, they fanned out, surrounding the five of us, their faces expressionless.
The epithet whispered by Critter took my attention from one of the guards, a brutally ugly man with a thick, red and twisted scar running from temple to jaw, and I followed her line of sight back to the cells entrance.
If looking caused Lots wife to be turned to salt, it caused me to be turned into rock. Everything in me froze; my heart, my lungs, my muscles, the blood in my veins. An atom bomb could have exploded from an inch away and I would never have known it.
My life stood before me; a vision in monochrome.
From the low, slanted visor of her stiff peaked cap to the tips of her highly polished boots, to the wide gunbelt which coiled around her lean hips like Edens tempting snake, to the deep, burnished tan of her skin, she looked like every bad girls fantasy come to life, drawn by an incredibly talented hand all in shades of charcoal brown.
Though I couldnt see her eyes, I knew they were flashing as silver as the mirrored sunglasses which covered them.
The set of her jaw and the tense, coiled power of her body fairly radiated her emotions to those with eyes to see beyond simple (if indeed anything about her could be considered as mundane as simple) outward appearances.
Anger. And something else. Something more.
No, not for herself. Never for herself.
When one considers themselves as living on borrowed time, things like pain and death and captivity hold very little sway over them.
Fear for those they hold dear, however, is a major force which steers the course of their lives.
This maxim holds doubly true for the woman shares my soul. I see it in her eyes every morning when she thinks me asleep and so lowers her guard for those few precious moments. I see it each and every time we make love and her arms come up to enfold me, holding me close as if I were the most cherished object on earth. I see it, too, each night when we slide between the cool, fragrant sheets of our bed and she tenderly kisses me, then spoons against my body to keep me safe from the demons of the night.
I knew that same look was in her eyes then, hidden behind the blank lenses of the glasses she was wearing. Knew it as well as I knew my own name and the sound of my own heart as it beat in my ears. Where others looked and saw rage, I looked and saw fear and so, though perhaps I should have been, I wasnt afraid.
"Formación y asimiento fuera de sus muńecas. No intente cualquier cosa estúpido o usted morirá."
I marveled at the way the foreign words rolled from her lips like warm honey. Though I didnt understand a word of what she said, I was enraptured. Not so intent as I at the sound of her voice, but rather the words she was speaking and the meaning behind them, the others hastened to form a line and yanked me into the middle of it. My wrists were thrust upwards, and then cuffed, pretty as you please.
As we stood like soldiers at attention before the Queen, the prison guards wrapped the chains around our bellies and shackled our bound wrists to them. Then we were chained together, and almost before I knew what was happening, we were wordlessly paraded, single file, out of our cell and down the long, featureless hallway.
In short order, we were led through the building and out into early morning darkness. Though the air outside was quite chilly, the fear-induced body heat of my companions fore and aft kept me quite toasty. It wouldnt have mattered if my skin froze up and shattered, though. What power did the elements when the woman who held my heart stood scant feet away?
A dusty, beaten van bearing the logo of some Mexican government agency stood idling in the cool morning air. Two of the guards opened the rear doors, and with a quick jerk of her chin, Ice started us moving forward again. I stumbled a bit going in, but her strong hand on my back eased my steps, and I wore the touch of her like a brand upon my skin.
When we were finally all in and settled on the narrow bench which ran along the vans interior, the doors were slammed and locked, throwing us into total blackness.
Five sets of held breaths were simultaneously expelled.
"Were dead," Pony grumbled morosely to my left.
"Dead as dogshit," Rio agreed to my right.
"Wonderful image, Rio. Thanks," Critter chimed in.
"Can I throw up now?" was Nias contribution.
"No!" came the reply. In stereo.
As for me, well, lets just say I was trying hard to smother my grin, as well as the fire my lovers simple, innocent touch had managed to spark in me.
And as the truck slipped into gear and pulled away with the feeling somewhat akin to being in a coffee can being shot into outer space, I slumped back against the interior wall and just enjoyed the ride.
An hour or so later (at least, thats what my kidneys and the fillings in my teeth were telling me), the van pulled to a merciful stop . . .somewhere. We could have driven to Timbuktu or Outer Mongolia for all I knew, trapped as I was in the back of a windowless van with four women who were trying desperately not to throw up, either from fear or from an overabundance of alcohol. Or both. The stench of it was almost overwhelming, and I found myself wishing for nothing so much as a simple breath of fresh air.
A short wait, and then the doors were flung unceremoniously open, temporarily blinding me with the brightness of the sun as it shone in on the black interior. I tried to cover my eyes, but with my hands bound to my waist, the task was a fruitless one indeed, so I settled instead for squinting.
Ices long form cast an ominous shadow over us, backlit as it was from the brilliant sun shining over her left shoulder. I rose with the rest, relieved to finally be standing once again, and more or less followed themnot having much choice in the matter at any rateinto the outside world once again.
Stepping outside, I chanced a look around, taking in only empty desert as far as my eyes could see. Bringing my attention back to the situation at hand, I saw Ice standing in front of Rio with an expression any sane person would characterize as murderous.
For her part, Rio was standing so stiff and so straight it was as if someone had poured molten lava down her spinal canal and allowed it to harden into cement. Her normally bronzed face was ashen with fear and I found my heart, yet again, going out to her.
After a long, lingering look, Ice next moved to Pony, who looked like fainting was a distinct possibility in her very near future. Pony had known Ice longer than the rest of us, and had always held an extremely deep and abiding respect for the woman who was my lover. To disappoint Ice was a fate far worse than death could ever be for her.
Ice knew that and if only to spare her feelings, stepped past after giving her a brief, but significant, look. Nia came next, and though she was trying hard not to show it, I could feel her fear in the trembling of her body.
And then, it was my turn.
Though hidden behind the mirrored lenses of her sunglasses, I could feel her eyes rake over me. My skin tingled, feeling exposed and totally vulnerable to her gaze. Her serious expression didnt change one iota, and I felt a curious combination of fear and longing flutter through me on butterflies delicate wings.
After a long, tense moment, her expression softened just slightly as her hand came up to brush gentle fingers against my cheek.
I felt weak with relief, my legs nearly buckling beneath me. My head tilted upward as hers lowered and our lips brushed together in a kiss of tender welcome.
Thoroughly overwhelmed, it took me a moment to realize that the sounds I thought to be bells were actually chains rattling as Nia struggled to step between us.
"You son of a bitch! What do you think youre doing? Leave her alone, damnit!!"
Three woman around me gasped as Nia managed to land a glancing blow to Ices turned back, and Pony and Rio moved as far away from the young woman as the meager length of their chains would allow, as if she were a plague-bearer and marked for certain death.
Casually reaching behind her, Ice grabbed a handful of Nias shirt and easily held her off without breaking the sensual tangle of our lips.
Only when she was good and ready did she pull away from me and turn to deal with the struggling Nia, peering at her over the tops of glasses which shed lowered slightly. "Did anyone ever tell you that its rude to interrupt?" she asked mildly.
Nias mouth opened, then closed, then opened again.
"Something you want to say to me?"
"Your eyes . . . ."
A finely arched eyebrow disappeared into Ices hairline. "Yes?"
"Theyre so . . . .so . . .um . . .blue!"
Ice just looked at her.
"And youre . . .I mean . . .um . . .your voice . . .it sounds . . .um . . . ."
Unable to help myself, I burst out in laughter, thoroughly enjoying the young troublemakers first taste of the indomitable Morgan Steele. The others looked at me as if Id grown a third head, which, of course, only made me laugh harder.
After a moment, I decided to relieve Nia of her misery. "Nia, Id like to introduce you to Ice."
She turned wide eyes to me. "Ice? Ice as in your . . . . That Ice?"
Grinning, I nodded. "That Ice, yes. Ice, this is Nia, a . . .friend of ours."
"So Ive heard," Ice replied, smirking slightly.
In response, Nia flushed a brilliant scarlet and looked as if she wished a giant sinkhole would conveniently appear just beneath her feet and swallow her whole.
Turning her attention back to me, Ice produced a key from her gunbelt and unlocked my shackles. Then she pulled me into a tight embrace, her muscles trembling faintly. The rapid beat of her heart against my ear told me all I needed to know about her emotional state at that moment.
I knew the one thing we both needed at the moment was a bit of privacy, so when she pulled away and placed an arm around my waist, I went with her willingly, and with a lightness in my step which hadnt been there for months.
Before we reached the vehicles long shadow, Ice tossed the key carelessly over her shoulder. "We have some unfinished business," she said, not bothering to look behind her. "Dont even think of running."
I couldnt help but grin slightly as I imagined the expressions on the faces of the women behind me.
I had thought, perhaps, that we would step inside the van, but Ice instead turned me so that my back rested comfortably against one of the side panels. Reaching down, she clasped my waist and smiled slightly. "Hey," she whispered.
I tried for casual, at first. "Hey, yourself." Grinning a little, I bumped her knee with mine. "Come here often?"
Gifting me with a dazzling grin, she just shook her head, snorting softly through her nose as she removed her sunglasses and tucked them neatly into her right breast pocket.
Unable to help myself, I threw my body against hers, melding myself to her as I felt those strong arms wrap themselves around me, enfolding me in a living cage filled with warmth, tenderness and love. It was a place I never wanted to leave, so I wrapped my own arms around her lean muscled frame and held on for dear life. Tears came, and I let them fall, heedless of anything save for the beat of her heart in my ear, the feel of her body against my own, and the cherished scent of her skin.
"Shhhh," she whispered, pressing a kiss to my hair. "Dont cry, Angel."
"But I missed you." It was all I could get out before my sobs made words impossible to form.
"I know, sweetheart. I missed you too. So much."
"Please dont send me away," I whispered in desperation against her chest. "I couldnt bear it if you did. Being without you is killing me inside."
Looking back on these words as I write them, I suppose I should feel the flush of embarrassment heating my face. Ill be the first to admit that I sounded like a small, lost child rather than the strong adult I thought myself to be at the time.
I should, perhaps. But I dont. All I can feel, clear and sharp as if it were happening now, is and was the anguish lancing through me at the thought spending even one more moment away from her.
She didnt answer me, which was fine, because I wasnt expecting one.
After a long, quiet moment, we pulled away at the same time. Reaching out, she tenderly wiped the tears from my cheeks, the look of adoration in her eyes making me feel as tall as a Titan.
"Im sorry," I murmured. "I shouldnt be putting any more pressure on you."
She favored me with that wonderful half-smile of hers, that crooked grin that I see every time I close my eyes. "s ok."
"No it isnt. But Im too happy to argue about it now." I felt my nose crinkle as I grinned right back at her, so happy and so much in love that I thought I would burst with the intensity of feeling running through me. I fingered the sharp crease of her uniform shirt. "Do I want to know?"
Her grin broadened. "Lets just say that Officer Martinez is probably waking up from a nice, long nap right about now."
"Hey! I left his underwear on."
I laughed. "Well, thats something, I suppose."
She shrugged. "Better than busting you out with my gun. I dont think they would have taken too kindly to that.""
"Probably not." I looked up at her again after a short pause. "Montana?"
"Through Donita. Whos rather pissed that youre out of the country, by the way."
Suddenly embarrassed, I looked down at my dusty boots. "I know. It was stupid. But I had to do something. The waiting and wondering was . . .well, it was . . .hard." I could feel tears threatening again, but held them back through sheer force of will. I looked back up at her. "Dont blame the others, Ice. Pony and Critter both tried to talk me out of coming with them. I just wouldnt listen."
Shaking her head slowly, she put her glasses back on, denying me the intimacy of her eyes. "I dont blame them for that, Angel. You made your own decision and I know youll deal with the consequences, whatever they might be."
I found myself nodding, though inside, I felt a faint tendril of nervousness seep its way into my belly at the sudden, almost ominous turn of the conversation.
"What I cant forgive, nor will I forget, is the idiocy of going out to get drunk down here. Medical supplies, I can understand. Theyre needed. But unless someone has a damn good reason for walking in to that bar . . . ."
Her voice trailed off, but I didnt need to be some sort of psychic Boy-Scout to follow the trail her thoughts laid out. I felt my heart pick up its pace as I watched her stare out somewhere over my left shoulder, her fists slowly clenching and unclenching in time to the muscles in her jaw.
"We didnt think," I finally mumbled, acutely embarrassed.
She peered at me over the rims of her glasses, her eyes flashing silver. "Thats right."
Without another word being said, she stepped past me and back into the sun as she rounded the van.
Like a scolded puppy, I tagged at her heels and stopped behind her as she halted in front of the rest of our friends. To a woman, their faces were pale as cream, even in the light of the blinding desert sun. Ices body was tense and I prepared myself for the explosion I knew would follow.
One we all deserved, myself no less than the rest.
We all were left wanting, however, when she abruptly jerked open the vans doors and gestured with a sharp tilt of her chin. "Inside. Now."
If those women had been a team competing in the twenty foot dash, they would have won hands down.
"Not you," she said, grasping me by the arm as I attempted to follow my colleagues. "You ride up front with me. The rest of you keep your mouths shut and your ears open. Be ready to put those chains back on if we get stopped for any reason. Got me?"
She slammed the doors closed on their group nod.
Still grasping my arm, though gently, she led me around to the vans passenger side, opened the door, and helped me in. After I was securely in the rather threadbare seat, she closed the door and walked around to her side, then hopped in behind the wheel.
Still silent, she started the engine, put the truck in gear, and pulled away in a great fan of desert grit.
As we drove down the rutted, half-paved roads, I kept my silence, but couldnt help stealing glances at her chiseled profile, watching the interplay of muscles as her jaw clenched tight, and at her hands, whose knuckles stood white against the burnished tan of her skin as she gripped the wheel with frightful intensity.
My lips ached to form words that my mouth refused to utter. Words of apology and recrimination. Promises to do better next time. Pleas not to be sent back.
My mind knew, however, what my heart wouldnt admit. That Ice wasnt ready to hear my words. That beneath her anger lay a vast wellspring of fear for my well-being and, even, the well-being of the others with us. That anything I might say now would only run up against the stone wall of her anger and fear, and fall shattered to the ground, ignored.
So instead I settled myself more comfortably into the seat and stared out at the blank scenery coming toward me through the windows, trying hard not to cry.
She must have sensed that, though, because after a moment, one hand came off the wheel, reached out, and clasped mine in a tender tangle of fingers. "I love you, Angel," she said, her voice raspy. "Never forget that. No matter what."
"I wont," I whispered, tearing up.
"Good." Withdrawing her hand from mine, she placed it back on the wheel as silence descended once again, more comfortable because of her gift of love.
We drove on for quite awhile in that silence, with nothing but the silent desert for company. I felt myself getting sleepy, but fought hard against it, wanting to savor every second with Ice by my side. With the thought that perhaps some music would keep me awake, I looked toward the dash, only to see an empty hole where the radio should have been. So much for that. . . .
Swallowing hard, I then cleared my throat. "Where . . .are we going?"
She spared me a brief glance before returning her attention to the road. "The
legal crossings too dangerous. Theres an out-of-the-way place I know that
should be safe for you to cross back over. Were almost there." Her voice was
quiet, but determined. Whatever emotions she was feeling were carefully concealed beneath
the stone exterior she was displaying.
My jaw opened to say something, but another glance from my lover closed it with a clack of teeth on teeth. I sighed, then slumped in my seat, my mind, like a spider, already beginning to spin out this plan or that, all with the express purpose of making myself invaluable to her here. I just had to find the right one.
Though the word was softly uttered, it was more than enough to pull me from my thoughts and plans. "What? What is it?"
Leaning forward in my seat, I strained my eyes, but the best I could come up with was a wink of sunlight on metal. I looked over at Ice, then back at the road. "How do you know?" I asked finally.
"I can see it. Straight ahead. About five miles. Maybe less."
Since staring out into the sun was only giving me a headache, I gave up on it rather quickly and simply took Ice at her wordan effortless task, to be sure.
"Is it for us?"
"I cant be sure. But I doubt it. I left the guard pretty far from civilization. More likely, theyre set up to catch people trying to cross over illegally."
"How do we handle it?"
Her hand came off the steering wheel and to the gun at her hip. Her fingers gently eased the strap away from the holster. "If I tell you, be ready to run."
Her softly spoken words caused a burst of adrenaline to rush through my body, quickening my heartrate and breathing, suffusing my muscles with life-giving energy. I sat up straighter in the seat, only now able to catch the beginnings of what looked to be a good sized line of cars snaking out from a central point on the road in front of us. Off to one side, a patrol car sat, its lights flashing and illuminating the desert in a red wash of color.
Something occurred to me, and I looked over at my lover. "Ice?"
"If these guys really are just looking for illegals, what are they gonna think of an Anglo like myself sitting in the front of a police van? Unbound?"
"Youve got a point," she replied, gradually slowing the van until it came to a stop behind the last car. Turning to me, her right hand lashed out in a move too quick to follow, and before I knew it, my shirt was ripped nearly in half, though by some miracle, my breasts were still covered.
"Happy to see me?" Though the situation was dire, I just couldnt help myself. That little evil spot inside me chose the most perverse situations in which to come out to play.
She gave me a little smirk before returning her gaze to the line of cars in front of her, doubtless trying to figure out the puzzle of the roadblock and leaving me to figure out the puzzle of my suddenly torn top on my own.
Light soon dawned. "Ohhh! Youre gonna play at being the person Nia thought you were, arent you. A disgusting pig with a taste for blondes?"
The next glance she shot me was over the rim of her glasses. "Actually, I kept you from being beaten to a bloody pulp by the animals in the back of the van, but if you want to go the sexual prey route, be my guest." Her smile was a predators grin, flashing white and full of teeth.
The contradictory sensations which surged through my body amazed even me. I didnt have time to dwell on them though, as the van started to inch forward, bringing us closer to our unwanted destination.
"Which way do you think I should play it?" Though that might have sounded flirty, I was, in point of fact, utterly serious.
"Youll figure it out when the time comes," she replied offhandedly.
I stared back at her, a little stunned. "I dont even understand the language, Ice. You have that much faith in me?"
The look I received swallowed me whole.
Into each persons life, I believe, come moments that you wish time would freeze long enough for you to savor them in all their perfection.
This was one of those moments for me.
After an interminable wait which saw me nearly pulling my hair out in frustration and nerves, it was finally our turn. A tall, broad man who strained the seams of his uniform walked up to the drivers side and lowered his head, peering in. His eyes were covered by mirrored sunglasses and his mouth was mostly hidden by a huge, bristly moustache which was just showing the first flecks of gray. All of this made him very hard to read, which was, I suspect, his intention.
All of which made it difficult, of course, to choose a course of action. I finally decided on a combination of defiance and innocence. Not a likely pairing, I know, but one that Id used to great success all my years in the Bog. My situation being what it was, it wasnt very hard to slip back into that role, and the ease with which I adopted it again would have no-doubt frightened me, had I the time or the wherewithal to ponder it closely.
In any event, whatever he saw in me must have appeased him, because after sparing me the briefest of glances, he muttered something to Ice, and she produced a sheaf of papers shed stowed next to her seat. Our transfer papers, I guessed.
He leafed through them, grunting, then made some hand gesture which caused Ice to open the door and step out. After the door was closed, he stuck his head back in and barked something at me that I hadnt a prayer of understanding.
Which, I suppose, was just as well since I probably wouldnt have liked it anyway.
I almost fell out of the van in a most undignified manner when, scarce moments later, the door I was leaning against opened without warning and I was lowered gently from my seat out onto the ground. The hands which steadied me were familiar, and so I relaxed as I was led around the van to the rear, where the others were standing, apparently waiting for something. Or someone.
How theyd managed to cuff themselves back together in so short a time, Ill never know, but I was grateful for the foresight. I hoped Ice was grateful for it, too. I imagine she was, though, being Ice, shes never said a thing about it one way or another.
To me, at least.
Pony and the resteven Nia, to my immense surprisestared back at me with hard, flat eyes, seeming every inch the hardened criminals they had once been. The smirk Rio tossed at me could only have been taught by my lover.
The officer shouted something to Pony, who in turn, looked at me. "He wants you to point out the person who did that to you."
Alright, Angel. Showtime. Dont screw this up or were all in a whole heap of trouble.
"Tell him that it happened during the fight at the bar."
Pony translated, and the officer looked over at me, eyes narrow with suspicion. I gave him my best innocent expression and prayed that it would be enough.
Apparently, it wasnt good enough.
"He wants to know why youd lie to protect animals like us."
"I have no reason to lie to you, sir."
Hearing the translation, he scowled, crossed in front of the group, and reached out to grab me. And was promptly stopped by Ice, who smoothly intercepted him while nudging me partially behind her broad back. Whatever she said to him made his scowl deepen, but it halted his grab for me, and for that, I was grateful.
He spit out his comments in a scathing tone, and the smirk on Ices face when she turned to translate was quite pronounced. "He wants to know how someone who would stand up to a bunch of men in a bar could suddenly become too frightened to fend off a group of women."
Laughing a bit inside, I allowed my own smirk to form. "Tell him that you werent protecting me from them. You were protecting them from me."
One corner of his moustache twitching as he heard the translation, the officer did a slow head turn until the other women in our group were in his sights.
They all nodded, quickly, Pony even taking the further step of wincing and rubbing her belly where, I gathered, Id managed to land a good one during my "fight" in the van.
He looked over at me, and I glared back at him, my fists clenched. Then he looked over at Ice, who nodded. His moustache bristled again, and this time, his smile was plain as the flashing of his teeth in the sun. A laugh sounding almost like a rifle shot erupted from his belly, followed by another, and than another, until he was laughing uproariously and wiping tears of mirth from streaming eyes.
After several long moments, he finally regained control and clapped me on the shoulder, saying something to Ice. Then, transfer papers in hand, he walked back to his patrol car and slipped inside, no doubt to confirm our story with the powers that be.
"What did he say to you?" I murmured out of the side of my mouth, while at the same time keeping a close eye on one of the other officers, who leered at me while holding his high-powered rifle casually in one hand.
"Told me to watch out for myself, that I had a wildcat on my hands," she replied in like fashion, her glare wiping the leer from the young mans face in record time as he found something else more interestingnot to mention much saferto occupy his attentions.
I could feel the grin pull at my lips as my back unconsciously straightened. "Hm. Wildcat, huh? Not too shabby for spur of the moment."
"Watch it, or Ill have you declawed."
I gave her a soft hiss, then settled myself down to wait. It was the most dangerous part of this whole charade, and I knew it. If the guard Ice had persuaded to give up his truck somehow woke up and found his way to civilization more quickly than she thought he would, we were going to find ourselves in a whole mess of trouble, and that right quick.
Ices body next to my own, however, was completely relaxed, so, as always, I took my cue from her and tried my best not to betray my nervousness and, in so doing, shoot our plan in the foot, as it were.
Still, I could feel my heart speed up in my chest when the officer finally exited his patrol car and walked back toward us, papers in hand and face unreadable.
After several excruciatingly long moments, during which I saw my life flash before my eyes, each time with an ending more gruesome than the last, he finally handed the papers back to Ice, and waved us through the roadblock. Before he left, he looked down at me one more time and chuckled, shaking his head.
I tried not to let my sigh of relief show as he walked away and Ice opened up the back of the van, gesturing the others inside. Nia was grinning like a mad-woman at the thought that wed pulled it off.
The others just looked plain sick.
"So, where are we headed now?" I asked with feigned casualness as my kidneys did their level best to make an abrupt exit through my ears. My breasts were complaining loudly as well, since the only protection theyd heretofore had, that being my top, was no longer very much help at all.
To call what we were driving on a "road" would do a great disservice to roads everywhere. And if the van we were riding in ever had any shocks, they had run screaming quite some time ago. Like when Roosevelt was President.
She glanced at me briefly before returning her attention to the rutted road-wannabe. "The mountains. The boarders too dangerous to be crossed safely now. Ill keep you all with me until I can think up something better to do."
Though I wanted to shout for joy, I knew such an outburst wouldnt be appreciated by her in the least. So I settled for a smile, well knowing she could see it, even if it looked like she was staring straight ahead. "I cant say that Im disappointed to hear that," I said softly, needing her to hear the truth, though Im sure she knew it already.
"I can," she replied, just as softly.
Though I knew they were coming, I didnt anticipate the sting those quietly uttered words would bring with them.
"Ice . . . ."
Her name slipped from my lips quite without my permission, but once it was said, I didnt regret it.
"No, Angel." She held up a hand, requesting silence, before returning it to the wheel. She sighed, her shoulders slumping a little before straightening proudly. "This mission Im on . . .its more dangerous than anything Ive ever done before. Not just to me, but to all of us. I work alone. I always have. Even now. Especially now."
"But those police officers . . . ?"
She laughed; a mirthless sound if ever there was one. "Dead."
I gasped in horror. "Both of them?"
Her jaw tensed in anger, muscles pulsing just beneath the skin. "They listened to someone I warned them against. They left without me knowing, and by the time I got there . . . ." She sighed again. "There wasnt anything I could do."
"But they were police officers!"
She turned her face toward mine. "Police officers die just as easily as the rest of us, Angel."
"I know that. What I mean is . . .the government will have to do something now, wont they?"
That mirthless, terrible laugh sounded again. "Not hardly. They were as expendable as I am. Little tin soldiers in their war against Organized Crime and government corruption. A dime a dozen."
I didnt begrudge her her bitterness. How could I? Every word she spoke was the truth.
Still . . . .
"Youre not expendable, Ice."
She snorted. "Me? Sure I am."
I felt my own jaw tense as my hands curled into fists tight enough to send my short nails scraping against the flesh of my palms. "Not to me you arent."
As she opened her mouth to speak, I cut her off at the pass. "And not to those women in the back of this van. We may not be as important in the general scheme of things as the government, but damnit, we should count for something."
Her expression didnt change, but I fancied I saw her throat move as she swallowed.
"Angel," she said finally, her voice suspiciously hoarse, "you count for everything."
If Id thought to add strength to my argument, her words disarmed me just as easily as if Id been up against her with a gun in my hand.
The words dried to dust in my throat; dust that the salt of my tears helped wash away.
The van finally pulled to a shuddering stop in front of what appeared to be a small, cinderblock house. Flat-topped and with narrow loopholes for windows, it looked more bomb shelter than palace, but since panhandlers cant be discriminators, I simply called it home and left it at that.
With a feeling of profound relief, I opened the door and slid to the ground, squatting to loosen the cramps in my stiffened muscles. Twin pistol shots signaled my knees gratitude for the maneuver. I regained my feet as the other women walked past looking hot, sweaty and generally miserable. Attaching myself to the end of the line, I waited patiently with the others as Ice produced the keys to the little house and opened the door.
We filed in like obedient schoolchildren trying to stay on the good side of a headmaster who had no good side.
The interior was cool, dim, spare, and stamped with Ices particular brand of almost regimental neatness.
Four bodies broke all land speed records and packed in like overripe sardines on the single couch in the small living room. Only Ice and I were left standing in this game of musical chairs, sans music, of course.
Pony opened her mouth to speak, but closed it quickly when Ice held up a hand.
Walking over to the small table beside the couch (and causing a bit of a group flinch as she did so), Ice picked up the cellular phone resting there, opened it up, and punched a single key. Bringing the phone up to her ear, she closed her eyes and listened for a long moment.
"Theyre safe. . . . . Yeah. . . . . Alright."
She snapped the phone shut, replaced it on the table, and walked across to the other side of the room, eyes still closed. Her anger burned in the tightness of her jaw and the set of her shoulders, but I could see the invisible struggle going on. The struggle not to lash out, not to do something shed later regret, no matter how much her body was begging her to do just that.
When she finally opened her eyes, they were glowing with a preternatural calm which was at distinct odds with the messages her body was sending. And which only served to make the rest of us that much more nervous, myself included.
"Youll be staying with me until I can find a safe way to get you all back across the border. Ill leave Montana to deal with you then. Until that time," and here she smiled; one of those grins that makes your guts tie themselves into a tiny little ball and your blood freeze in your veins, "you belong to me. That means that you do what I tell you, when I tell you, and how I tell you to do it. Am I making myself clear?"
Everyone, save Nia, nodded.
Ices eyes narrowed. "Is there a problem?"
"Yeah," Nia shot right back. I didnt know whether to applaud her bravery, or mourn her foolhardiness. "Why are you acting like some kind of psycho drill instructor anyway? I mean, yeah, we made a mistake. So what? Its not like you havent made any yourself."
That smile flashed again; dark and dangerous. "Yeah. I make plenty of em."
"Like rescuing shit for brains there from the big house," Pony muttered half under her breath. She received an elbow in the ribs for her effort, and set to scowling at Critter.
"So whats the big deal, then?"
Picturing my lover exploding into a million pieces with the effort of containing her anger, I took a chance, and stepped in. "The big deal, Nia, is that this mistake could have cost us all our lives, or at the very least, our freedom. Ice risked a great deal to get us out of there. Even more than you know. And now, because we couldnt make it safely back over the border, weve managed to throw a very large monkey wrench into some very important things she has to do, putting us all into even more danger. Is that a big enough deal for you?"
Sitting back, she crossed her arms over her chest. "I was just asking."
I sighed. "I know, Nia. And Im sorry for yelling like that. Its just . . .you need to understand that this isnt a game were playing here. The person Ice needs to deal with is very, very dangerous. Hes killed a lot of people, and hes almost killed her. Twice."
Nias eyes widened as she lost her sullen expression, and I could tell I was getting through to her. Biting my lip, I decided to take one more chance, something that would either convince her totally, or land me into even more hot water than I was already treading in. Or both.
Turning, I walked back to my lover and smiled slightly at her, begging her with my eyes to trust me just this once. When her body relaxed some of its coiled tension, I reached out and gently untucked the uniform shirt from her pants, baring her abdomen and the scars which had taken up permanent residence there.
"This isnt a game, Nia. This is real. As real as it gets."
Nias face went white with shock as she stared unblinking at the tapestry of wounds stitched over taut skin and muscle. A tapestry which told its own tale of the woman who bore it.
"Do you understand now?"
She nodded swiftly. "Yes."
"And will you do as Ice asks, without any questions or attitude?"
She nodded again.
Smiling at my lover, I gently tucked her shirt back in, taking care to straighten the seams exactly as they had been before Id disturbed them. "Thanks," I mouthed, catching a glint of amused pride in her eyes before turning back to the group, all of whom were staring back at me, open-mouthed.
They were looking at me as if Id totally lost my mind; as if Id baited a caged bear with a stick, and had gotten away with it.
Perhaps, in a way, I had.
After a long moment of silence, it was Critter who finally broke the iceno pun intendedby clearing her throat. "So . . .what now?"
A quiet jingle sounded as Ice tossed Critter the keys. "My cars out back. You and Rio go into town for some provisions; clothes, food and the like. Rio knows the way. Get in, get what you need, and get back here. Dont stop for anything else, understand?"
"Gotcha." Standing, she collected Rio with a nod, and together they left the house.
Ice turned her gaze to Pony. "I want you to go out there and strip that van into something unrecognizable. There are tools in the shed out back. Take Nia with you. Its about time she learned to run something other than her mouth."
Nia, for her part, evidently learned her lesson and simply followed wordlessly behind Pony.
"Should . . .I go with them?"
"No. Youre staying with me. Ive got something Ive gotta do. Cmon."
I followed her into a room which could only be her bedroom, and grinned when she began to unbutton her shirt. "Alright! This kind of job I could really get into!"
A second later, I found myself with a faceful of shirt.
"Later, wildcat. Weve got some business to take care of first."
"Business before pleasure, huh?" I mock-sighed, pulling the shirt off of my head, but taking the opportunity presented to pull in a deep breath of her scent which clung to the fabric. "Alright. I suppose Ill have to deal with that. As long as its worth it later."
I hardly had time to blink before I was wrapped up in six feet worth of half-naked woman. My lips were captured in a kiss which sent my senses, and my thoughts, reeling out of control like some monstrous roller-coaster whose breaks had been stripped away.
Pulling away finally, she looked at me, a smug twinkle in her eyes.
"Whats my name again?" I asked, only half in jest.
Chuckling softly, she released me and turned away to finish undressing as I watched her with a pleasure I cant fully articulate.
Oh yeah. Itd be worth it.
I shifted in my seat, then shifted again, all the while trying to keep my feet away from the empty styrofoam cup which rolled back and forth along the floorboards in time with the cars bumpy movements. There were teeth marks in the styrofoam, teeth marks made by a man who was now dead.
It was an eerie feeling, staring at something as innocuous as a simple cup with its residue of coffee indelibly marked on the outside where some of it had spilled over.
He was alive when he drank that.
My thoughts were crazy from lack of sleep and too much building tension.
But hes not alive anymore.
My overworked, overtired mind pictured in vivid clarity the man sitting in this very car and draining the last dregs of his coffee before tossing the cup mindlessly onto the floor, never dreaming that it would be the last cup he would ever drink.
I shivered all over, my flesh going tight against the bone. How morbid.
"Are you alright?"
A hand on my thigh almost caused me to jump out of said flesh, and I spared a few seconds swallowing my heart back down into my chest. "Oh! Im sorry. You startled me."
"I can see that. Whats wrong? That cup down there tryin to bite you or something?"
I tried to laugh, but it didnt come out sounding much like one. Truth be told, I felt a bit foolish, and savagely crushed the cup under my foot, banishing with it the strange thoughts Id been having. "Im just a little overtired, I think. Didnt get much sleep last night."
"Understandable," she replied, taking her eyes off the road just long enough to glance at the crushed cup, then at me, before returning to the view from the windshield. "Ill be as quick as I can, then well go back to the house and you can relax, alright?"
I found myself grinning. "Relaxing wasnt quite what I had in mind, unless thats what theyre calling it these days. Im so out of touch, being an ex con and all."
"Oh yeah, youre a regular Lizzie Borden, alright."
Laughing softly, she squeezed my leg and continued driving as a comfortable silence fell between us. I placed my hand over hers as it lay comfortably on my thigh and concentrated on the smooth heat of her flesh in mine and not on the fact that we were driving in a dead mans car with a dead mans things littering the interior.
Ice hadnt told me very much about the business she had to take care of, just that she was going to meet with someone who had some information for her. The reasons didnt really matter to me at that point. I was just too happy to be sitting next to her to worry about anything else.
The town, when we finally arrived, looked pretty much like any small city Id encountered in my travels, save for the fact that all the signs were, of course, in Spanish. When we entered, Ice dropped any pretense of ease, straightening almost imperceptibly in her seat, muscles tense, nerve endings on high alert. Her nostrils flared, reminding me of a wolf scenting dangeror preyon the wind.
She made a circuitous sweep of the area, driving around a several block area, her narrowed eyes missing nothing. On our second loop, my eyes caught a glimpse of an unmistakable curly blonde head exiting one of the small shops lining the street. "Hey! Isnt that . . . ?"
"Yeah. Hang on." An abrupt U-turn in the middle of the near-empty street bought us up behind the car where Critter was storing her newly gotten gain. "Stay here. Ill be right back."
I watched through interested eyes as Ice approached Critter and spoke intently to her. Critter nodded a few times, then, with a jaunty wave to me, disappeared back inside the shop. Ice returned to the car and slid inside, then silently pulled away from the curb, her expression set and determined. It was a side of her I hadnt seen in quite awhile. The weight of the world was once again heavy on her shoulders, but as always, she seemed to flourish under the burden. There was a peculiar glint in her eye, the kind Id seen often in the Bog when she was getting ready to knock one inmate or other down a few pegs.
I wont say that that glint didnt concern me, because that would be a lie. But I will say that over the years, Ive become much more comfortable with it.
A final sweep around the block, and we parked against the curb directly across the street from a rather ostentatious looking establishment which had, of all things, a green awning of the type you see outside trendy restaurants, and intricate scrollwork etched over the door. Only the heavy bars across the windows and door dimmed the ambience of the place.
Stepping out of the car as soon as the motor was off, I crossed around the car and joined Ice as she started across the street, heading straight for the shop Id been admiring.
When we entered, my first thoughts were that we were in an incredibly eclectic jewelry store. But when I saw handguns, transistor radios, and a plethora of other goods of better and lesser quality, I realized quickly that we were in quite a different type of store altogether.
A short, rather handsome man, nattily dressed, beamed when he saw us enter, and came out from behind the counter, his hand already extended. "Morgan! So good to see you again." Though of obvious Mexican descent, his English was unaccented and spoke of an American education.
"Pedro," Ice replied, squeezing his hand briefly, then releasing it and turning to me. "Angel, this is Pedro Nunez, loan shark . . . ."
"AhI prefer lending counselor, actually."
". . . And Pawn Shop owner."
"Purveyor of slightly used fine goods and sundries, if you dont mind."
"Whatever. Pedro, this is my partner, Angel."
"A perfect name for such an angelic vision of beauty indeed," he replied, taking my hand and bringing it up to his lips.
I wanted to laugh at his overdone theatrics, but not wanting to alienate him, I settled for as demure a smile as I could manage, though I drew the line at a feminine titter. "Its . . . very nice to meet you, Mr. Nunez," I replied as soon as I regained possession of my hand.
"Oh, please, dear lady. Call me Pedro. I insist on it."
"Alright," I replied, nodding. "Pedro it is."
"Good! Excellent." He rubbed his hands together. "May I get you anything? Tea perhaps? Wine? I have an excellent . . . ."
"Information," Ice replied in her usual lets just stop stomping around shrubbery and get to the point manner.
His smile faltered a little, then returned, bright as day. "Ah yes, of course. If youll both follow me into my office . . . ?"
As he put his hand on my lower back to escort me to his office, the door opened. A young couple, freshly engaged I guessed, based on that new glow of love coloring both of their faces, stepped in and headed for the jewelry display.
"Ahcustomers. If youll excuse me for just a moment, I must attend to them. Please, make yourselves at home and feel free to look around. A special discount for you, my friends." And with a final, glib smile, he left.
"Interesting," was the only word I could come up with.
"Thats one way of putting it," Ice replied, smirking.
"Old . . .friend?"
Her smirk became a snort. "Hardly. Weve spoken a few times, on the recommendation of a friend of mine. Seems most of Pedros debt collectors have gotten better offers to be on Cavallos goon squad. Hes a bit pissed."
"Ahh. So now theyre breaking kneecaps for the competition, huh?"
"From what Ive heard, yes. Got a few tips that hes starting to become the laughing stock of the loan sharking business."
"So . . .he feeds you information in the hopes that youll take care of his little problem for him."
"Somethin like that, yeah." She didnt sound entirely convinced, however.
"I dont know yet. Just keep alert."
Several moments later, he returned to us, all slick smiles and oozing charm. "I apologize for the interruption, but, as they say, business is business, and I am a businessman. Shall we?"
We started for the back again, when Ice froze.
I stopped as well. "What is it?"
Her words were aided by a firm push to my shoulder, and I dropped to my belly immediately.
The rear door blew open and two men stepped through, already firing their automatic weapons into the shop. It was obvious that Ice had already removed her own gun (which I hadnt known she was even carrying until that very second), because she returned fire immediately, hitting one of the men in the chest and blowing him back out the door.
The sounds of gunfire and shattered glass filled the air, and I covered my head with my arms in blind reflex.
There were several more rapid bursts of gunfire and breaking glass, before all went mercifully silent save for the ringing in my ears. I vaulted to my feet immediately, almost bumping into my thankfully very much alive partner, who steadied me with her free hand.
"Ice, thank god youre alright. Are you . . . youre bleeding!"
She spared her shoulder a cursory glance. "Im alright. Just got hit by some flying glass." She returned her gaze to the second gunman, who was sprawled on the floor, a massive quantity of blood splattered across his belly. Stepping over, she shoved him with her foot. His body lolled like a rag dolls. He appeared quite dead.
Swallowing back the bile in my throat, I turned away just in time to see Pedro rise to his feet, swaying slightly as he brushed glass from his hair. It was obvious hed gotten his bell rung, but he didnt appear to be hurt too badly otherwise.
"Get in the back room now, before any reinforcements come."
"But Ice, I . . . ."
"I said now!"
Without waiting to hear my response, she launched herself at Pedro, pinning him against the wall, one hand around his throat and the other holding her gun which was pressed up against his temple. "You set me up, you bastard!"
"I . . .please . . . ." His voice came out in a pathetic wheeze, and after arguing with myself for all of a second, I walked over to them, intent on getting Ice to back down enough to let the man breathe.
"You lost any right to beg when you doublecrossed me, pig. Its time to say goodbye."
"My family!" was all he was able to get out before Ices hand squeezed his throat closed and slammed him back against the wall hard enough to cause already fractured glass in one of the cases to shatter and fall to the ground in a rain of trumpery diamonds.
"Ice, please!" I yelled, my voice almost lost to the sound of glass shattering.
"I told you to get back!" Ice returned, her face set in a snarl of rage.
"I wont stand here and let you kill a man in cold blood, Ice."
"Oh, no, my blood isnt cold, Angel. Not at all. In fact, its red hot." Though she was speaking directly to me, her eyes were flame, and far, far away.
"Ice, please . . . ." Pedros face was the color of brick, his lips, a deep plum. His eyes were bulging from their sockets and sweat formed in fat beads along his hairline. "Please dont do this," I whispered. "He might be beyond begging, but Im not. Please . . .dont kill him ."
As I watched, her fingers tightened infinitesimally around his neck, her knuckles white, the tendons in her wrist standing out in bas relief against the bronze tan of her skin. Then slowly, like a fan winding down after it has been turned off, her grip began to ease until shed released him entirely and he fell to the floor, breath coming in great, whooping gasps.
"Thank God," I whispered, closing my eyes as relief swept through me in a great tide of emotion.
After a moment, she holstered her gun and, reaching down, pulled Pedro back up to his feet using the lapels of his suit jacket instead of his neck. "Tell me what I wanna know, Pedro," she snarled, her face an inch from his.
"M . . .My family! He was going to kill my family!"
"I dont give a shit about your family, you bastard! Tell me where Cavallo is!"
"I . . .I dont . . . ."
"Tell me!!!" The shake she gave him probably scrambled what was left of his brains and I was about to step in once again.
"The . . .hes in the desert! They call it Scorpions Nest! Thats all I know! I swear!!"
"Thank you." Releasing him, she pulled out her gun again, causing both of us to gasp. Reaching into his suit pocket, she removed his handkerchief and proceeded to wipe her prints off the gun. Then, grabbing his hand, she pressed the gun into it, closing his fingers around the grip and looking him straight in the eye. "Now, when the police come, those bastards over there broke in and tried to rob you. You killed them in self defense. Got it?"
"Yes! Yes, I got it! Anything!"
Her grin was menacing. "Good. Because if I hear that you told any other story, to anyone," she placed his finger on the trigger, with hers over top, and forced the gun upward until the nose was touching the skin beneath his chin, "Ill kill ya."
"I wont. I swear!" He was a talking statue at that point, his eyes spinning crazily in his head as the rest of his body was stiff as marble.
With her free hand, she patted his cheek. "Good boy."
Releasing her grip on both the gun and his suit, she stepped back, and, after a tottering second, the whites of his eyes showed and he slid down the wall to the floor in a dead faint.
"Cmon," she said, turning for the door and grabbing my wrist just as the first sounds of sirens became audible in the shop. "Lets go."
She led me over to the first body before releasing my hand. "Go on ahead, and dont step in the blood. We dont want to leave tracks behind."
Oh, like that was going to be a problem.
Or maybe it would be, since in order to avoid the generous pools of blood, I had to keep my eyes open as I stepped over the mans corpse.
The back door opened into a narrow, trash strewn alley. The second gunman, equally dead, lay sprawled across the noisome pavement, his head resting against the brick wall of the next shop down.
The putrid stench of rotting garbage filled the air, and I resisted the urge to vomit right then and there. Instead, I looked down to the left, to where our car was parked.
It looked as if a bomb had fallen on top of it. The tires were shredded, the body full of bullet holes, and the windows shattered. "Ice?"
She spared the car a quick glance. "Yeah, I know. Cmon, this way. Hurry."
The sirens were getting steadily louder as I followed her down the alley, my feet slipping in who knows what as I tried to keep up with her long-limbed strides.
As the narrow alley gave way to a wider street, I hear the unmistakable squeal of tires. I was just about to turn and run when Ice grabbed me, lifted me bodily off the ground, and practically threw me into a car which suddenly appeared out of nowhere, the back door levering open as it came even with us. Landing squarely atop Critter, I scrambled to make room for Ice, who dove headlong in behind me.
Grabbing the door and slamming it shut, she shouted "Move!" to Rio, who promptly accelerated, throwing us all back hard against the seat as she took off down the thankfully empty back street.
"Take a roundabout route," Ice ordered. "Make sure were not followed."
"Right," Rio replied, driving expertly through the twisting maze of city streets with one eye always on the rearview mirrors.
I turned to Critter. "How did you . . . ?"
She grinned at me, then shifted her gaze, significantly, to Ice.
I looked over at my lover. "You knew?"
"Lets just say I believe in covering my bases." Her expression became serious and I knew there was something lurking behind the silvered blue of her eyes, something she wouldnt, or couldnt, say. Not here. Not now.
I gave her a slight smile, and nodded, letting her know I saw her thoughts, and letting her know further that I would be willing to wait for her to express them, if that time should ever come.
Sighing, I slumped back in the seat, my body tired and achy and plummeting quickly down from its adrenaline-induced rush. My eyes were gritty and they longed to close, but every time I allowed myself that luxury, the images of the men Ice had killed would come floating out of the darkness to superimpose themselves over the image of Ice slowly strangling Pedro.
Needless to say, it wasnt a very pleasant ride home.
Continued - Part 7