RETRIBUTION - Part 7

Susanne M. Beck (Sword’n’Quill)

Disclaimers: The characters in this novel are of my own creation. That’s right, this is an ‘uber’ story. It’s also a sequel to my novel, Redemption. You really will want to read that 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. Not as much of either as in Redemption (I’m saving that up for "Restitution"), but there is some of each here.

Subtext Disclaimer: Yup, there’s 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 offend anyone’s sensibilities. Let me know if I’ve succeeded.

Dedication: There are so many people to thank for this effort. First is Candace, who once again was there to read this novel in its entirety all in little AIM blocks of 50 characters or less. Her nightly feedback was sorely needed and gratefully received. Thanks also to MaryD and Lunacy for providing much needed and invaluable beta assistance. And, finally, a huge debt thanks to the self-proclaimed "Quillies" for reading the beta version of this and giving insightful feedback as well as putting up with and calming a bard’s emotional roller-coaster of emotions. 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 at SwordnQuil@aol.com  with any questions, concerns or comments.

Final Thought: Retribution is the second in what will eventually become a trilogy. Redemption, obviously, was first. Then Retribution, and finally Restitution. Thanks to everyone who gives up a little of their time to come along on this journey with me. I can only hope that I’ll never let you down.

Final Disclaimer: As with Redemption, 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 won’t leave you hanging. J Promise.

Retribution

That night I knelt up on the bed, my body pressed half against the headboard as I looked out the window and watched the full, heavy moon lay a brilliant stripe across the lake. In the distance, I could see the tiny, bobbing headlights of fishing boats as they trolled across the gently rippling water.

The wood of the headboard felt smooth and warm against the simple white slip I’d chosen to wear. There wasn’t anything X-rated about it, nor even particularly daring, but when I’d seen it shopping one day, I knew it was something I wanted, even though I knew it probably wouldn’t stay on very long, given the reason I’d would be wearing it in the first place.

Corinne had come in about an hour or so after Ice had left. Something must have been lingering in the air, because she took one look at me, grinned wickedly, disappeared into her bedroom, and came back out, an overnight bag clasped securely in one hand. "I can see there’s a bit of a private party planned for this evening," she’d said. "I think I’ll spend the night with Pop. Too bad we won’t be having as much fun as you will."

And then she’d disappeared, leaving me along once again with my thoughts. And my hormones.

I smiled a little as I heard the truck pull up and Ice let herself into the house. Closing my eyes for a moment, I pictured her movements through the cabin, stopping first at the dining-room table to deposit her keys and wallet, then crossing through the living-room with sure, quiet strides and making a turn into the bathroom. I listened as the door closed softly behind her and the shower came on. Never one for lengthy showers, the water was off almost immediately and I pictured her slowly drying her dripping body and brushing her long, shining, wet hair.

Then there was a long silence, during which my body reacted to pictures my mind insisted sending.

To avoid driving myself completely crazy with building want, I opened my eyes again and concentrated on the spectacular view presented to me through the large window, getting lost in the gentle movement of the water and the way the moon sparkled against it.

So lost, in fact, that I didn’t even hear her come up the stairs. Nor did I hear, or feel, her climb up on the bed.

But when her hot hands came gently down on my shoulders and her lips pressed against the sensitive skin of the back of my neck, I came into myself so quickly, I almost passed out in sheer shock.

My body reacted instantly to her touch, though, and a moan forced its way up from somewhere very deep inside me.

"You’re very beautiful tonight, Angel," she said in the same deep, smoky tone she’d used earlier in the day. Her palms slid the delicate straps down off my shoulders slowly. "Soft. Innocent. Pure."

Each word was punctuated by a soft, lingering kiss to the flesh she’d bared, and then I felt the heated wetness of her tongue as she drew a path from one shoulder to the other, then back again.

I couldn’t help shuddering, and my breathing quickened as my teeth bit down hard on my bottom lip to keep from crying out.

"A virgin, waiting to be taken."

Her hands ran down my arms, across my belly, then up my sides until they cupped my breasts. My body arched of forcefully into her palms, my nipples becoming so tight that they were almost painful.

She caressed me briefly as her tongue worked magic on the muscles of my neck. Then her long fingers hooked themselves into the bodice of my slip and pulled the yielding fabric down and away, exposing me to the mid-summer’s night as it peeked in through the window.

Her hands came up quickly again, the very tips of her fingers drawing teasing circles around my nipples, before lifting my breasts as if in homage, allowing the light of the moon to bathe them in its brilliance.

"Do you know how much I love to make love to you, my sweet Angel?"

Strong thumbs brushed against my nipples, bringing them even further erect.

"Do you know how much I love to feel your body react to my touch?"

Leaving my breasts for the moment, she gently urged the fabric of my slip downwards, kissing and running her tongue along my back in intricate, fanciful designs.

"To feel you move against me?" she breathed into the skin of my back.

It was all I could do not to try and squeeze my thighs together in an attempt to quench, if even minutely, the flame she was rousing within me.

That deep chuckle came again as my body betrayed my thoughts. Her hands left the silk of my slip and slid along the tops of my thighs, burning with an intense heat that was so much a part of her. Her fingers skimmed the insides of my thighs then, barely touching flesh which humped up, as if trying its best to draw her in.

"To taste you on my lips?"

Up and down, up and down, until my body was swaying to her caress as a serpent to its handler and my legs spread of their own accord, as she no doubt intended.

"To hear your cry my name out into the night?"

Reaching between my legs, she cupped me and pulled me backward against her hard, heated body, her soft, full breasts molding themselves to the plane of my back as our bodies melded together, back to front. Her muscled thighs rested beneath my own, her calves brushing against mine as she settled us together.

"Rock yourself against me, Angel."

Unable to disobey even if I’d wanted to, I worked my hips back and forth against the slightly callused skin of her palm, my movements becoming smoother as her hand became bathed in the slick moisture my body was so eagerly providing.

I could feel her thighs as they flexed and released beneath me, bringing her own body into motion and aiding me in my gentle thrusts against her hand. And when her fingers, long and sure, slipped inside of me, my head lolled back against one broad shoulder as I cried out my pleasure into the night.

"Yes, Angel," she purred, lips nipping at my ear. "Moan for me. Let me hear you."

Her fingers danced inside me, thrusting deep, caressing gently, changing tempo, changing rhythm, pulling me higher, and still higher as I urged her on with incoherent, breathless entreaties not to stop, never to stop, please God never ever stop.

"That’s it. Talk to me, sweet Angel. Sing to me."

Then her free hand came up to tease and touch my swaying breasts, pulling my nipples in time to her throbbing, seductive rhythm and I felt myself explode in a great screaming cry which echoed in my ears as the oncoming rush caught me from behind and swept me up with it. To go tumbling deep, ever deeper until I was lost and floating in an abyss filled not with darkness, but with points of sparkling brilliance, all calling me safely home and into the warm and loving nest of her arms.

And it could have stopped there, and I would have been satisfied.

But it didn’t.

Still buried deep within me, she gently pulled us both up until I was on all fours and she was still pressed against me from behind. Her lower body moved away for a moment, then pressed back into my flesh, hot and wet, beginning a slow grind against my hip as her breasts trailed along my back.

Her breath came in low grunts with each forward thrust and her hair came tumbling down, long and wet, to tickle against my cheeks and ears.

She began to pick up the tempo, growling deep in her chest, her body driving itself against mine in strong, forceful thrusts, causing me to grab tight to the bedcovers in order to hold my ground beneath her coiled, primal strength.

Great, fat beads of sweat dripped down on me. Then her dormant fingers began to move within me once again, filling me, stretching me wide and open for her. My violently trembling arms gave out, landing me on my elbows. My head dropped between them as I used all the strength I had to press back against her sharp forward motion.

Her body moved against me, relentless, unforgiving, trapping me beneath the hard, strong weight of her, leaving only room enough for the frantic rocking of my hips as I felt myself once again near the peak of my arousal.

She paused just a moment, just a heartbeat, her lips pressed close to my ear. "I do so love you, Angel," was said on a faint breath of air.

And then she surged against me, a wild, untamed thing, howling as her fingers stiffened and spasmed within me, setting off my own intense release. Brilliant lights flashed and circled, then were dimmed as her body slumped down fully on my own, pressing me down into the mattress. Her chest heaved in great, heaving gasps and her fingers loosened and drew free from my body.

When she made to move off me, I went with her, gently guiding her to her back, my legs tucked in between her widely splayed thighs. I could feel her wet heat spread itself against my skin, and when her hips bucked once in unconscious reaction, I knew we weren’t anywhere near done.

Reaching up, I kissed her deeply with all the tenderness that was within me to give. When she tried to take control once again, I refused, pulling away and giving her lips light nips until she got the picture and gave me her willing surrender, her eyes still dark and dangerous even within her seeming submission.

I kissed her again, exploring every heated inch of her mouth before quickly moving downward, both of our bodies giving me signals I couldn’t help but obey. My tongue darted out to taste the salted sweetness of her muscled flesh. Her breasts were greedy for my touch and I paid each one homage in turn until I was urged, by my own body’s wants, ever downward, over rippled muscle, strong, arching bone and soft, fragrant flesh until I reached my destination and took her into my mouth and tasted the essence of her as it exploded upon my rapturous tongue.

It didn’t take long. She was much too ready, and so was I. Overcome with the need to fill her as she had filled me, I went within, feeling her grip my fingers in welcome. One thrust, two, three as my mouth continued to attend from above, and she stiffened beneath me, her long fingers threading themselves into my hair, anchoring me to her as she rode out the waves of her pleasure.

And when she relaxed and fell limp against the bed, I kissed her gently, then rested my head against her hip, still thrusting tenderly inside her welcoming warmth.

Her breathing evened out and became steady. Her fingers loosened their tight hold in my hair as a much needed sleep caught up to her and took her over with it. Pressing a final kiss into her warm skin, laid my head back down on her belly, and when sleep came for me as well, I went willingly, a smile on my face and my fingers still clasped in a warm, velvet glove.

*******

It was four days, seven hours, six minutes and thirty two, make that thirty three, seconds later. A bit obsessed with Father Time, you ask? Well, wouldn’t you be?

True to her word, Ice called me every day, usually in the evening right before I went to bed. The funeral had gone, I guess, as well as funerals are supposed to go, which means not very well at all, but at least everyone got through it pretty much unscathed, except for the body, who I’m sure didn’t have much of an opinion one way or the other on the subject.

The good news was that Pop was holding up well. The bad news was that the reading of the will would probably be delayed at least a day, making it that much longer before Ice could return home. She hadn’t had a definite answer in our last call because the probate lawyer was being obtuse, but she told me not to expect her until the end of the week, at least.

Which was still two days away.

For her part, Corinne did her best to be an engaging companion, even going so far as to apply for, as she called it, "assistant bed-warmer duty". I, of course, quashed that particular suggestion post haste, but in all other ways, she was wonderful, keeping me busy and helping keep my loneliness for Ice at least partially at bay.

And so there I was, sitting in the living-room doing my best impersonation of a woman actually reading the paper that’s sitting open in her lap, and not caring one whit about the clock whose hands had suddenly developed an inexplicable tendency to move backwards, when they moved at all.

Realizing my Rich Little days were far behind me, I gave up on the fruitless effort and instead pondered on the age old wisdom that said that closely examined cooking receptacles never simmered, and decided to tempt fate by doing the one thing, much as lighting a cigarette in a restaurant magically summons a waitress, that would almost guarantee a phone call, if nothing else.

"I’m gonna take a bath," I announced to a smirking Corinne as I laid the unread paper aside and came to my feet, stretching.

And not just an ordinary bath. Oh no. The god in charge of telephonus interruptus wasn’t about to be enticed by a simple "just a quick dip to get cleaned off" sorta bath.

If one wanted to guarantee an his special attention, one had to make the effort to prepare a special sort of bath. With candles. And bath salts. And aromatic soaps that smoothed as they softened.

And, of course, bubbles.

Lots of bubbles.

That way, when you found yourself standing, naked and dripping on the freshly waxed wood floor, trying to convince the nice man on the phone that you really, honestly and truly had no need for a nose hair clipper with fifteen variable speeds and racing stripes, that god could get his chuckles at your expense as your water slowly cooled and your champagne bath suddenly became a flat glass of grape juice.

Does it sound like I’ve done a bit of research on the subject?

Well, after five years of enforced bath deprivation, let’s just say I’d become somewhat of a connoisseur on the subject and leave it at that.

So off I went, accouterments in hand, to set the stage in the hopes that Ice would be overcome with the sudden and overwhelming need to hear my voice that very instant.

My bath drawn, I slipped into the steamy, fragrant waters and eased down until just my chin and the tops of my knees shone wet above the water.

Ahhh. Bliss.

I felt my eyes slip closed, but resisted the urge to do something one might do in a sultry bath when one is missing one’s lover who is far away, figuring there was no easy answer to "So, Angel, what have you done with yourself today?" if I gave into the temptation.

Besides, if my libation was accepted, Ice would probably call just before I got to the really good part and I’d be left even more frustrated than before.

So instead I just let the hot water work its customary magic on my stiff muscles and let my mind wander where it would. The bathroom was well insulated, but I didn’t fear missing a phone call because of it. Corinne would knock when it came.

Minutes passed, measured by the slow drip of the faucet.

Bubbles popped and the water grew tepid and I finally faced the fact that my offering hadn’t been quite good enough.

Refusing to give in to my disappointment, I stepped out of the tub and toweled off, then pulled on the clean clothes I’d brought in with me. After a last, critical look at myself in the mirror above the sink, I turned away and opened the door, immediately assailed by the cool air of the cabin as it brushed against the heat-flushed skin of my body.

Stepping out from the tiny alcove that hid the guest bedroom and bathroom, I took one stride into the cabin proper, and froze, my eyes darting around as my heart skipped several beats in rapid succession, then made up for the loss by working triple-time.

A group of men, six at my counting, filled the living-room with their dark-suited presence. They all looked to be of a type, big, broad, clean shaven, wearing regulation haircuts, plain ties, and shiny shoes.

My first thought was the FBI But when my eyes landed upon Corinne’s statue-like form, that thought immediately flew out the window. Unless I was terribly wrong about things, FBI agents didn’t normally hold the business ends of semi-automatic pistols to the temples of unarmed elderly women.

The rest seemed unarmed, but I spotted the telltale bulge beneath the suit jacket of the one nearest to me and knew that that could change in an instant. My empty hands raised in an unconscious, yet familiar, gesture as my mind desperately attempted to free itself from the fog it was trapped in.

"What . . .what’s going on?" I hear myself ask as if from far away.

"Where’s Morgan?" the man standing closest to me asked, his voice almost warm.

"Who are you?"

He smiled. It wasn’t particularly cold or cruel, but it wasn’t exactly welcoming either. "Answer my question, please. Where is Morgan Steele?"

"She’s . . . ."

Whatever lie I might have thought up faded quickly from my brain when I heard Corinne gasp as the man holding her tightened his arm around her throat and thrust his gun harder against her temple. An incentive, I suppose, to get me to spill my guts.

I looked back at the speaker. "Please. She’s just an old woman. Please tell him to put the gun away. I’ll tell you anything you want to know if you just do that."

After a moment, he nodded and turned toward the man holding Corinne hostage. "Put the gun away, Frank."

"But . . . ."

"Do it."

With a fair amount of grumbling, Frank did as he was told, slipping his gun back into the holster beneath his shoulder.

The man turned back to me, smiling once again. "Tell me where Morgan is." His face hardened. "Now."

Trying desperately to think up a convincing lie, my peripheral vision was caught by the sight of Corinne slowly reaching toward the stand where we kept the fireplace tools. My heart sunk as I saw her hand wrap itself around the handle of the iron poker, jerk it free from the stand, and lay it hard against her one-time captor’s face.

Blood spurted from the cut she’d made, and Frank went down screaming, his hand clamped reflexively over the gaping wound.

Bearing her teeth in a wild grin, she held the poker up like a sword, daring the rest to come at her with one beckoning hand.

Oh, Corinne. No.

Noticing that my questioner’s attention was diverted, I closed my hand into a tight fist and launched at it his belly.

It was like hitting a brick wall. Pain lanced up my arm, but I couldn’t afford to pay it any mind as he turned back to me, all traces of mildness gone from his face.

Committed to the fight, I kicked his arm away before he could reach for his gun, then went low and managed to sweep his legs out from under him.

Bet ya never expected that! I mentally taunted, gathering myself on the balls of my feet and waiting for his next move, adrenaline surging its way through my body.

Two went for Corinne and two went for me. Corinne more than held her own, managing to get in several devastating blows with the business end of the poker, spilling blood and dropping bodies where they stood. Her laugh sounded almost insane to my thundering ears, but I didn’t have much time to think on that as I was soon occupied with bodies of my own, coming at me with fists and feet.

I used my ‘low center of gravity’, as Ice had called it once, to my advantage, ducking underneath most of the blows launched my way. Such was the state of my mind that I didn’t even really feel the few which landed as I tried to fight my way back toward Corinne, who was perilously close to losing her weapon.

A strong blow to my head temporarily stunned me, and as I shook it off, still trying my best to defend myself, I saw Frank rise up from the floor, his face the deep, dusky red of anger. His huge, trunklike arm lifted—I could see the seams of his jacket stretch almost to breaking—and with one blow, he disarmed Corinne, then followed through to crack his fist hard against her cheek.

She went down as if pole-axed, unconscious before she hit the ground, her glasses breaking and flying from her face as blood oozed out from her ear.

Without a hitch in his movements, Frank reached again for his gun and brought it out, aiming for Corinne’s unprotected head.

"No!" I screamed, pulling myself out from beneath the pile of men who had landed on top of me, punching and kicking for all they were worth.

Two steps, and I launched myself across the room, landing in a protective sprawl above Corinne’s limp body, placing myself between her and the gun. "No!" I screamed again as I heard a round chamber in the weapon.

Things seemed to slow down then, as they often will when you’re forced with a danger beyond your wildest nightmares. The center of my vision focused on the gun pointing directly at me. It seemed huge, staring at me with a dead, malevolent eye.

I saw his finger tighten on the trigger and I sent out a last, desperate prayer to Ice, asking her to remember the love I had for her and to keep it close after I was gone. Dream of me, I whispered in my mind, then closed my eyes for what was to come. I love you, Morgan.

The sharp report nearly deafened me, and I waited for the pain that was sure to follow.

So, this is what death is like, I mused. It’s not so bad. Didn’t even hurt.

But then my ears cleared, and I realized that unless a dead person could hear, I was still very much in the land of the living.

Because I could suddenly hear things. Roaring things. Tearing things. Screaming things.

I opened my eyes to an abattoir; the bloody killing field of a tiger let loose from its cage and preying upon the villagers who had caused it so much torment.

The tiger bore a woman’s face, and her name was Ice.

Her raven hair flying out from her brow, her face frozen in a spasm of rage, she was all feet and fists and unadulterated fury. Men went down like tenpins, screaming and clutching parts of their bodies which were suddenly broken, or gouged, or just not there anymore.

Our eyes met briefly before she turned away, grabbing one of the still-standing men around the neck and twisting. The sharp snap which followed sounded even over the screams of beaten and bleeding men, and I felt my stomach lurch.

I had just seen Ice kill for the first time.

Her face had an almost sexual joy in it as she let the dead man drop to the floor, his body slumping against her legs before she kicked it away.

And I think that first kill would not have been the last, had the fight lasted even one second longer.

But it didn’t.

I felt an arm press tight around my own neck, and the cool steel of a cocked and ready gun pressed itself against my head.

Looking up, I saw a second gun, this one in Ice’s sure hands, pointed at my captor’s own head.

"Let her go, Carmine. It’s me you want."

"Put the gun down and I will, Morgan."

Ice smiled. "Oh no. I don’t think so." A booted foot lashed out, and the man who’d been trying to sneak up on her from behind flew half the length of the room before coming to land, stunned, against the sturdy dining room table. "Let her go."

"I can’t do that. I don’t want to hurt her, Morgan, but I will if I have to. You know that. So just put down the gun and I’ll do as you ask."

A stand-off ensued. I made sure not to move a muscle, even to blink. My heart pounded hard in my ears. I tried to catch her eyes, but the only thing she was seeing was the man with his gun to my head.

"Drop the gun, Morgan. I know you’re thinking about shooting me, but can you really guarantee I won’t put a bullet into her head when you do? Think about it." His voice was very calm; very reasonable.

When I saw her begin to waver, I couldn’t help but speak up. "Don’t do it, Ice. He’ll kill me anyway. You know he will."

"I won’t, Morgan. You have my word on it. And you know my word’s always been good."

Her eyes latched onto mine. Her face softened.

My heart sunk further. "Ice, please. Don’t do this."

Her arm slowly lowered.

"No! He’ll kill us both! Don’t do this! Please!!"

Her body followed, laying the gun on the floor at her feet.

"Good," came the satisfied voice of Carmine. "Now push it away. Slowly."

"Ice, no!"

Her eyes still locked into mine, she pushed the gun away, then slowly rose back to her feet.

In my peripheral vision, I saw one of the other men step quickly up behind her, and with one strong blow with the butt of his gun to the back of her neck, he dropped her, unconscious, to the floor.

His hold loosened at the same time I tore myself out of his grip and crawled over to her, grabbing her lolling head between my hands. "Ice? Ice? Wake up! Damn you, wake up!!"

That was all I could get out before I was grabbed again and dragged away. I screamed and twisted in a fit of insane grief and rage, but was powerless against the greater strength holding me steadily.

"Get her out of here," Carmine ordered.

"Are you nuts?" one of his cronies replied. "The bitch killed Tony! Let’s fuckin’ do her now and get it over with!"

"No! It was his own damn fault for getting in her way. Dump him in the trunk and get her in the car. Move!!"

"No!!! Ice!!!"

As I struggled, I saw two men come painfully to their feet, then bend down and grab my lover’s ankles and start to drag her unprotesting body the length of the room and through the shattered remains of the door she had exploded when she ran into the room. Her blood-covered hands left grisly trails along the polished floor as she was dragged along.

"No!!!"

When she was gone from my sight, Carmine put me down and turned me to face him, still holding tight to my shoulders. His face was filled, strangely enough, with sorrow and compassion. "Stay here and look after your friend. You won’t be harmed if you do what I say."

Gritting my teeth, I slapped his arms away and lifted a savage knee into the space between his slightly spread legs.

With a lightening quick move, he evaded the worst of my attack, then twisted me again, pulling my arm up hard behind my back and forcing me onto my toes to relieve some of the intense pain in my shoulder. "Stay here," he repeated, his lips close to my ear. "I gave Morgan my word, but if you try to intervene, I will kill you."

"Do you think I care?" I snarled back, jerking my head away from his mouth. "Do you think I care what happens to me after you murder her?"

"Maybe not, but I do think you care about what happens to your friend over there. She looks pretty bad off. Do you think you could just leave her there to die?"

"Try me."

And suddenly I came to know exactly how Ice felt when her tone softened to the exact pitch that was now coming out of my own mouth. Peaceful, somehow. All the rage has washed out of me, leaving only a firm purpose behind.

I also realized, in that one moment in time, that I was fully capable of deliberately taking a human life, and could, in fact, relish it.

"I’d rather not," he replied. "You pack a pretty mean punch and I don’t doubt that you’d kill me if you could. But you know I’m not gonna let that happen. So please, do us both a favor and stay here. Morgan is beyond your help. Accept that. And do something for the person you can help."

"Alright," I said finally in that same cool, remote tone I’d used earlier. "Let me go so I can help her."

"Don’t try anything funny."

"I wouldn’t dream of it, Carmine."

He gave me a healthy push and before I could stop myself, I collided with Corinne’s still unconscious body and sprawled across her as I fell to the floor. When I pulled myself up again, I found myself looking down the barrel of his gun. "Be smart. And for what it’s worth, I’m sorry."

Corinne moaned as I watched him slowly back toward the door. When he was gone, I looked down into a pair of dazed brown eyes. "Angel?" she whispered.

"Hang on, Corinne. I’ll be right back. Just hang on for me."

Then I was up and running, almost tripping over the lengths of splintered wood that were all that was left of the door. Running out into the courtyard, I was temporarily blinded as the car started up and the headlights caught me square in the face. Throwing an arm up to shield my eyes, I ran in the direction of the car, wincing as huge clots of dirt pelted me as they flew from beneath the large sedan’s rapidly spinning tires.

Still charging, I managed to grab one of the door handles, yanking the door open just as the car pulled away. I was jerked off my feet, my arm a shard of blistering agony, as I trailed along beside the car for a few feet before I was finally forced to let go.

Jumping back up yet again, I tore after the retreating sedan, not feeling the rocks and pinecones as they imbedded themselves in the tender soles of my bare feet and tore them to bloody shreds.

All too soon, the car disappeared from my sight, the briefly flashing taillights the last thing I saw as it made a sharp left turn and left the road for the forest beyond. A great cramp seared into my side and I was forced to come to an abrupt halt or risk fainting.

My breath came out in sobbing pants as my legs gave out and I fell to the ground, pounding the dirt with my fists and screaming out Ice’s name.

"Who’s there?" came a high, tremorous, panic-laden voice as I drew in yet another gasping breath which with to scream out my grief.

"Ice!!!"

"Tyler? Tyler, is that you?"

"Ice!! Come back!!! Don’t leave me!!"

The voice came closer. "Tyler, it’s me, Ruby. What’s wrong? Are you hurt? Do you need me to call the police?"

That word again. That damnable, hateful, spiteful word. A huge part of me screamed inside. "Yes! Call the police! Now! They’ve taken Ice!!"

But a smaller part, a more rational part, shied away from the idea they way a skittish colt rears away from an unexpected movement. "No!" I finally managed to yell through a throat raw with screaming. "No police!"

Pulling myself up to my feet, I looked through tear-swollen eyes at the rapidly advancing figure of Ruby. "Call an ambulance!"

She stopped, head tilted to one side. "Are you hurt, Tyler?"

"Just call an ambulance, Ruby, please. Hurry!"

"But . . . ."

"Hurry!!"

With small satisfaction, I watched as she looked at me a moment more, then abruptly turned and started quickly walking back up the small rise to her house.

My pain was beginning to catch up with me; my feet ached like rotting teeth and my shoulder still sent up blazing jolts of electric agony with each breath I took.

With one last, long look in the direction I’d last seen the car, I too turned for home where Corinne lay injured and waiting.

Limping into the house, I spied her laying exactly where I’d left her, sprawled in an untidy heap on the living-room floor, a small pool of blood shining wetly in the dim lighting of the room. She was frighteningly pale and for a moment I was sure that her chest had stopped moving.

Running to her, I went to my knees, again cradling her head in my hands. "Corinne? Corinne, can you hear me?"

After a long moment, her eyes fluttered open, still dazed. "Angel?"

I couldn’t help sagging with relief. "Oh, thank God. I thought I’d lost you too." Tears were very close to the surface then, but I couldn’t afford to let them fall. If I gave in to my nearly overwhelming grief, everything would be lost.

And I couldn’t let that happen.

Still staring at me, her eyes narrowed. "Too? Who did you lose, Angel? What happened? Where are all those men?"

"They’re gone. They got what they came for and left."

"What did they come for?"

Teeth clenched, I swallowed hard. My lips refused to move; refused to help utter the word locked tight inside my throat.

"Angel?"

"Just . . . just keep still, Corinne. Ruby’s calling an ambulance. It should be here soon."

"Answer me, Angel."

I looked down at her, knowing she would see the answer in my eyes.

Her own widened. Her face became slack. "Oh, Angel," she breathed. "Oh no."

I tore my gaze away from the utter grief in her eyes, knowing that it was only mirroring my own. "Pop."

"What?"

"I’ve gotta call Pop. He’ll know what to do. I’ll just call him." I could feel my hold on sanity begin to slip as I rose from Corinne’s side as if in a dream, almost watching outside myself as I walked to the phone which was perched on a stand in the library. "That’s it. Pop will help. He has to. He’s the only one who can. Oh . . . god."

With an almost clinical detachment, I watched as my fingers stabbed at the buttons by rote, then pulled the phone up to my ear. Two rings, then three, then four, and I almost slammed the phone back down in frustration, before Pop’s sleep-blurred voice came over the line. "Yeah?"

"Pop, it’s Tyler. Please, come quick. I need your help."

"Tyler? What is it? What’s wrong? Is Corinne sick? Did Morgan get home alright? I know she left the truck here, it was runnin’ kinda . . . ."

"Just come. Please. And Pop?"

His voice was wary now. "Yeah?"


"Bring your gun."

Then I closed the phone on whatever answer he might have given, feeling my arms wrap around myself as my eyes darted around the library. The book Ice had been reading on our last day together sat neatly on one of the tables, the engraved silver bookmark I’d gotten her for Christmas shining from between the pages. Reaching out a trembling finger, I traced over her initials, remembering the look of quiet happiness that had come over her face when she’d opened her gift.

No, Ice. Please. Please.

"Angel?"

Corinne’s soft voice penetrated the thick fog in my brain, and I turned, realizing that I’d almost totally forgotten about her. "Corinne . . . I . . . ."

She smiled slightly. "It’s alright, Angel. It’s alright."

"No, Corinne. It most definitely is not alright. It’ll never be alright again." My hands came up to my head and, like great wrenching claws, latched onto my hair, pulling and tearing. "Noooooooo!!!"

"Angel!" Corinne’s voice was cutting, sharp, even given her head injury. "That’s enough. You’re a strong woman. We both know that. So start acting like one. I need that from you. And so does Ice."

Whirling, I stared down at her, my hands still in my hair. "Ice is dead!"

"You don’t know that for sure, Angel. If you did, you wouldn’t be calling Pop in to help. Some small part of you hasn’t given up hope yet. Use that to snap yourself out of this. You need to, or she really will be gone."

Inside, I could feel myself reacting to her words. That damnable flicker of useless hope straightened and grew stronger, much as the rest of me wanted to snuff it out for good. It was stupid and impossibly na´ve for me to even think to believe that Ice had a chance in hell of getting out of the trap she was forced into. The odds were higher than high that she was dead already, laying somewhere, cold and lonely, waiting for the beasts of the forest to make a feast of her lifeless body.

And yet . . . .

The sounds of tires skidding to a halt outside the cabin made my decision for me, and after a quick, thankful glance toward Corinne, I ran back out the door in time to see Pop clamber out of his truck, rifle in hand, his hair sleep-tousled and his clothing hastily donned.

"Got here as fast as I could, Tyler. Now what the hell is goin’ on, eh?"

"They’ve got Ice, Pop. They’ve got her and we need to get her back."

"Who? Who’s got her?"

"Does it matter? Come on! We need to go after them!" I started for the passenger’s side of the truck, only to be halted by a firm hand to my elbow.

"Hold on just a second there, Tyler. Might not matter to you, but it matters a whole lot to me. Wasn’t born yesterday, and I ain’t near ta bein’ na´ve enough ta think that those idiots Millicent’s payin ta do her dirty work could get the drop on Morgan even if she was tied up and blindfolded. And since you told me ta bring my gun, I’m guessin’ that these guys got balls enough ta kill if they’ve a mind to. So if I’m gonna have my ass blown clear off, I’d kinda like ta know who’s doin’ the shootin, eh?"

Looking into his shining eyes, I knew I was trapped between a rock and a very, very hard place. The seconds slipped by, taking Ice ever farther from me, and taking my hope with her. I honestly didn’t know what to do.

Pop’s eyes softened. "Tyler, you known me a long time, since you were a little kid. Not as well as ya do now, course, but well enough, I hope, ta know that anything ya tell me in confidence ain’t gonna go no further than my brain. Whatever it is ya gotta say, it won’t go nowhere else."

Being trapped with nowhere else to turn makes for strange bedfellows, as sure someone has said before me. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust Pop. To the contrary, I trusted him with my life.

The question was, could I trust him with Ice’s life as well?

I didn’t really have a choice. Lies were too hard to think up and he deserved to know the truth.

"Who are they, Tyler?"

I hesitated a second more, then threw all caution to the wind. "The Mafia."

His eyes widened. "Like in the Godfather? That Mafia?"

I nodded.

"What do they gotta do with the price of tea in Tibet?"

"Do I have your word?"

"You got it, Tyler. Cross my heart."

"Ice is . . .was . . .a Mafia assassin."

"Father God and Sonny Je-sus," he whispered. "I knew she wasn’t no small-town mechanic."

"No. She’s not. Six years ago, she was convicted of murdering a witness, which she didn’t do, and put in jail." I took in a deep breath, then let it out slowly. Make or break time, Angel. If he bales, take his gun, hop in his truck, and drive. "That’s where I met her."

His eyes widened still further. I would have laughed at the picture he presented, if I had it in me. "Prison? Were you a guard or somethin?"

"No. I was a prisoner too."

"You?!? Naw. Yer havin’ me on, Tyler."

"No, I’m not. Listen, can we continue this on the road? We need to get going!!"

The sirens of the approaching ambulance could be heard drawing nearer, and I relaxed slightly, knowing Corinne would soon be in good hands. Ruby appeared as if from the night itself, her face a huge question-mark. "It’s Corinne. She’s hurt. Can you go to the hospital with her and make sure she’s alright for me? There’s something Pop and I have to do."

She looked about to argue, but something in my face must have changed her mind, because instead of words, she gave me a brisk nod, and headed into the house.

I turned back to Pop. "Please?"

Shaking himself as if rousing from a dream, he blinked, then released my arm. "Right. Let’s go."

Nodding, I ran to the other side of the truck and jumped in. Pop started it up with one hand, while grabbing his CB mike with the other and shouting some terse directions in it before racking it again. "Got us some help," he bit off before gunning the accelerator and sending us off in a cloud of dust. "Hang on, Tyler. We got some assholes ta find."

We headed off into the woods, with me pointing the way (or what little of it I knew) as Pop concentrated on driving. The trail was, at first, pretty easy to follow. The sedan had gone fishtailing into the forest for several hundred yards before getting back out onto the road again, heading south.

We chased the truck’s headlights down that road, both with our eyes glued to our respective sides of the road to see if the car we were tracking had made any other sudden detours.

My eyes caught a sudden flash, and when I looked up, I could see the fast approach of at least two trucks pulling up behind us. "Pop?"

He glanced in the rearview mirror briefly before returning his attention to the road. "The Drew boys. They’re about the best trackers in these parts. Ain’t shy ‘bout getting into it, either, if it comes ta that."

We continued for another few miles in silence until the road intersected with another, running east and west. "Which way?" I asked.

"Did they say where they was goin’ with her?"

"No. They didn’t say much of anything at all, except that they wouldn’t kill her in the house." I wiped angrily at the tears which started to fall again, blurring my vision. "Big of ‘em, huh?"

"Think they’d try to get back to the States with her?"

I shook my head. "I don’t know. Are there any roads that cross the border legally but aren’t patrolled?"

"Not around here, there ain’t. And tryin ta cross through the woods in a car is plain suicide. Tear the wheels right off before ya got a mile in. Some rough country around these parts."

I could feel myself slump down into the seat. "So what do we do?"

Pulling the truck to a stop still some distance from the intersection, Pop hopped out and walked up slowly to where the roads crossed. As I pulled myself from the cab, I heard the other two trucks pull to stops behind us, doors open, and the heavy tread of the two brothers as they hopped from their own cabs. Together, we joined Pop, who was looking down at the blacktop. "How many in the car?"

I thought for a moment. "Six. And one in the trunk."

He looked up at me. "Morgan?"

I shook my head. "No. She . . .um . . .she killed one of them. They put his body in the trunk. She’s in the car with them. I think."

Pop grinned, as did the Drews. "Damn good for her." He looked down at the road again which was bleached a pale, bone white by the brilliant beams of three trucks’ headlights. "Big car, then. Probably goin’ pretty fast, at that."

John Drew walked across the intersection, then squatted down on his haunches, examining something in the southeast corner. I squinted hard, but couldn’t make out what had caught his interest. He stood up, dusting his hands on his trousers and looking over at us. "Looks like they turned east," he pronounced.

Pop nodded. "Makes sense if they’re goin for the border."

"How can you be so sure?" I asked.

"There’s a deep track where a car took this turn pretty sharply. No skid marks, but the gravel’s sprayed out in a pretty representative pattern."

I looked at him. "Are you a police officer or something?"

Behind me, Tom snorted, which helped put me more at ease. A little, anyway.

John grinned. "Nope. Used to be a bounty hunter, though."

Wide eyed, I looked over at Pop, knowing I was giving much too much away, but unable to do anything else. Pop grinned. "Sometimes he liked the bad guys better’n the good guys. Damn near got him in trouble more’n once." He gave me a covert wink and I finally relaxed fully, accepting his judgement on the matter.

I turned back to John. "What if it wasn’t them, though? What if it was some other car? Or truck?"

"Oh, it was a car, alright. A truck couldn’t have made the turn that fast."

"Yeah, but I’m sure there’s been more than one car that’s made that turn since . . . ."

Pop put a hand on my arm. "So far, it’s the best lead we’ve got, Tyler," he said, softly.

I sighed. "I know. It’s just . . . I don’t want to give up any others that might be out there just to go after this one alone. The longer we go without finding them . . . ."

Tom stepped up to us. "How about this? You and Pop go down the most likely trail. There are about a million unpaved fire and logging roads as you head east, and it’ll take awhile to search them if it looks like the car might have turned down one of them. I’ll continue on south and John can go west for about twenty miles. If neither of us sees anything likely, we’ll turn around and come out to meet you and help search along this road. If we do come across anything, we’ll give a shout. Sound good?"

I smiled at him gratefully, surprised I had it within me to smile at all. "Yeah. That sounds great. Thanks."

Grinning, he clapped me briefly on the shoulder. "Let’s go then."

*******

To Be Continued - Part 8

 


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