Disclaimers: Please see Part I for disclaimers to this story.
Comments to Redhawk. No bad mouth or lippin' off. Constructive criticism will be muchly appreciated.
With grim purpose, Xena strode out of the bank. An envelope of chaos washed over her - blaring emergency radios, a barricade being erected by the police to keep curious onlookers back, a bevy of news crews speaking earnestly into microphones. These last were the first to spot her as she exited, turning their camera lenses to take in her long, bloodied form.
There was a brief pause before the press hounds began baying. Microphones waved in Xena's direction, mobile cameras and lights pointed at her despite the distance of a few yards, questions thrown onto the wind questing for answers.
All she could see or smell was the blood of her lover on her clothes and hands.
Fortunately for all involved, the Ferrari was parked nearby, within the police blockade. Striding to the vehicle, the chirp of the alarm turning off could barely be heard over her audience. The Immortal folded her tall frame into the low slung car. As the engine roared to life, the police in front of her looked back in startlement. Hastily, the barricade was shoved out of the way as the Ferrari pulled forward.
Xena's impatience was revealed by the squeal of rubber on pavement, the snarl on her handsome face and the throaty growl of the Ferrari that was echoed in her throat. When she was clear, she didn't ease up on the gas, speeding recklessly through the downtown area.
Her arrival at the warehouse was in minutes. As she pulled into the garage, a piece of her wailed at being alone, at the unfairness of those emerald eyes being dimmed forever. Xena parked the car and shut off the engine, gripping the steering wheel.
Running back over the last half hour, she committed to memory everything she could - the coolness of the bank as the robbers entered, the sound and syntax of the stranger's voice, the tickle of memory at the leader's accent. When Xena reached the shooting, her nostrils flared at the remembered smell of ignited gunpowder, bullets entering her body, the familiar shutting down of her system as she died.
She refused to remember further.
With a shaky sigh, the Immortal climbed out of her car. A short elevator ride later, she was in her office.
Numbness teased the edges of her heart, beckoning. Drifting towards the desk, the garish colors of a travel agency folder drew her eyes. A lump began in Xena's throat and she swallowed fiercely around it.
Shaking her head, she fought the numbness, the grief, the suddenly ever present depression she'd battled for most of her immortality.
She closed her eyes and inhaled, holding the breath, centering herself. Every scrap of emotion, every tear that demanded to be shed, every loving memory of her Dreamer was funneled... elsewhere. Once before Xena had done this, but the mental and emotional mechanism was rusty from disuse. It hadn't been needed since the death of M'Lilla.
As expected, her heart deadened, becoming cold. In her belly, a ball of heat grew in intensity. Inner flames licked at her being, the only thing keeping her warm, coursing through her blood, filling her soul with rage.
Long minutes passed as Xena stood in the center of her office. When her eyes opened, they reflected the new starkness of her Self.
Reborn, the monster began planning.
Gypsy rode shotgun and stared out the window. The driver, Audrey, maneuvered along the highway toward their safehouse. In the back, the rest of the team were still chortling over their escapade.
"Man, NK! You aced that chick, big time!"
Heaving a deep sigh, the leader reminded, "Against orders. I said no bloodshed and I meant it."
There was sudden quiet from the rest. A vague feeling of children suspending their joy until the grown up left the room hung in the air.
"We can go round and round on it, Gyp," NK piped up. "Won't change a damned thing and ya know it."
Gypsy shook his head and continued to stare out the window. Behind him, the muted enthusiasm began to grow again.
"J. It's me. You still got that police scanner?"
"Hell, yeah, Xe. It comes in handy."
"Good. I need you to tell me everything that's going on with that bank robbery today."
A sense and sound of motion. "Yeah. Okay. Got it." Nasal metallic sounds of radio broadcasts. "What's up?"
"There's been a murder. Can you hack into the PPD mainframe?"
Snort. "Like smoke, man. Whaddya need?"
"Getaway car - license, description. Anything the police are doing. You can reach me on my cell day or night."
Faint tapping of a keyboard. "I'm on it." Pause. "Day or night, huh? Yer little girlfriend doesn't mind that?"
"Xe? You still there?"
Icy voice. "Yeah. I'm here."
"Okay, okay! Just joking!" More tapping. "I'm in.... U. S. Bank, right? 'Bout an hour ago. Lessee.... Five men in black, one getaway car. APB for late model Buick station wagon, gray, crappy paint job, partial Oregon plates - something QA 3 something."
"Which way was it reported leaving the scene?"
"Uh... witnesses say it was going north on 4th. Hey! 'North on 4th!' I'm a poet!"
"Tap into everything you can, J. I want these guys."
Holt escorted his friend's body from the bank, holding the glass doors open for the gurney to trundle through. Nearby, the ever present news crews were photographing the black vinyl bag, speculating on the contents as the paramedics wheeled it to the ambulance. His face was a mixture of anger and sadness as Rickie was hoisted into the vehicle, the doors slamming shut with a finality that echoed in his heart.
Beside him, Davenport squeezed his shoulder. "You okay?"
The officer nodded sharply. "Yeah. I'm okay." Inhaling deeply, he held the breath and straightened, looking about the crowd of spectators. "We need to get back to the station. Start the report."
"Yeah." Turning away, the blonde woman led the way towards their cruiser.
As the ambulance pulled away, Holt stopped, fingers touching the door handle. "I've gotta call Marjorie," he murmured, brow furrowing. "And Al." Swallowing hard, his lip curled into a snarl as he roughly pulled the door open. "Let's go."
Unable to stay at the warehouse, Xena gathered a change of clothes and her gear. Within minutes, she was pulling out into traffic on a Harley Davidson she'd chopped out a decade or more earlier. The bike purred between her legs, the low growl reflecting her inner emotions.
With nowhere to go, she cruised the nearby industrial area out past the railroad and shipping yards. Indigent eyes watched the leather clad form, keeping out of the way, cowering in the shadows. Other motorists seemed to sense the frozen soul and kept clear. She ignored them all, constantly scanning for a late model station wagon and its occupants.
A shrill beeping gained her attention and Xena pulled into a weed-infested lot. Feet on the ground, engine running, she reached into her jacket for the cell phone. The black helmet with its smoke mirrored faceplate was lifted from her head.
"Okay, Xe. Dunno how accurate this is.... I've been cruising the ODOT cams and I think I may have found something," Jason Cohen said.
"Oh Dot cams?"
"Oregon Department of Transportation. They keep tabs on highways and some parking lots in high crime areas."
"Check a lot near N. Wiedler and 17th. I can't be sure, but there's a piece of shit Buick wagon with a crappy gray paint job there."
"I'm on it." The motorcycle revved a little as she twisted the handle in anticipation.
"I'll keep looking."
Without answering, the Immortal flipped her phone closed and tucked it back inside her jacket. The helmet was buckled into place by long fingers. Gravel crunched beneath the tires as she pulled out onto the street.
Crossing the river on the Broadway bridge, it took less than five minutes to arrive at her destination. Xena pulled into the lot, head turning this way and that until she located the vehicle in question. With casual disregard for other motorists, she stopped directly behind the station wagon, perpendicular to it and partially blocking the exits of the cars on either side. Shutting down the engine, she pulled the handlebars backwards as she kicked down the stand, parking the bike.
Smoothly, the Immortal dismounted her ride. The helmet found its way to the leather seat and she eyed the gray vehicle with studied nonchalance as she put on her riding gloves. JQA 337. "Jackpot," she murmured. "Have to give J a bonus."
A circle of the vehicle revealed nothing. It was as reported - a non descript piece of junk that was about twenty years old. Dusty windows revealed cracked silver vinyl seats and threadbare gray carpet. Hanging from the mirror was a faded parking slip.
Xena doubted there would be prints on or in the vehicle. The robbers had appeared to be professional. And if one's an Immortal, he's had years of practice to get things right. Still, she took great care as she opened the unlocked driver's door, making sure she didn't smudge any latent prints left behind.
Carefully scanning the front seat revealed nothing and the Immortal eased into the car, settling down on the sprung cushion. Her legs were a tight fit, indicating the driver was shorter than she by several inches. A faint musical jingle caught her ear and she leaned to the right, peering at the steering column.
A set of keys were still in the ignition.
Xena's dry chuckle filled the car. "You were hoping this piece of shit'd get stolen?" she asked the air. Tugging on the ring, she pulled the keys out and deposited them in her pocket. "Guess you're not as smart as I thought."
Continuing her inspection, she found foil gum wrappers in the ashtray, assorted trash under the seats, the three years expired registration and insurance papers clipped to the visor. The glove box held only a half empty box of fuses and an ice scraper. She moved to the back seat.
Lips pursed in irritation, long fingers tapped a staccato on the roof as Xena stared into space. Nothing. She took another scan of the lot, finding the machine that accepted payment for parking. Not even an attendant. Looking up, she found the camera that J had used and her eyes became distant in thought.
Xena dropped the Buick's keys on the floorboard and locked it up. After a quick phone call, she remounted her Harley and kicked it into action.
Staring at the computer, Holt seemed lost in thought. The report was nearly complete. Cause of death: In the wrong place at the wrong time. He sighed and closed his eyes, wearily rubbing the bridge of his nose.
Davenport's desk was directly across and facing his. She watched him in concern, her own statement finished and printed out. Her phone rang and she jumped before reaching for it. "Davenport. Yeah. Yeah?" Blue eyes peered at her partner, widening. "How long ago? Where? North Broadway and 17th, got it. Thanks." Scribbling the information down on a notepad, she hung up the phone.
"What is it?" Holt mumbled, not looking up.
"Anonymous tip. Gray Buick station wagon, Oregon plates JQA 337, at a parking lot on the corner of 17th and Broadway." Davenport ripped the page from the notepad on her desk and scooped up her jacket. "Let's roll, Emil."
With grim purpose, Holt nodded and rose. The pair strode out of the station.
Standing in his car door, the microphone hung uselessly in his hand. Holt scanned the lot and nearby buildings in disgust. Behind him, Davenport was still searching the back of the wagon. Three uniformed officers were nearby, one speaking to a maintenance man by the pay station.
Running the plate revealed nothing; it belonged to a red 1968 VW bug. Expired registration and insurance papers were being traced now, but Holt didn't think anything would come of it. These people weren't stupid; they'd never leave something that could be traced to them.
To compound his already short temper, a KOIN center news van pulled up on the street nearby. He rolled his eyes, damning the existence of police scanners as a camera crew hustled out and began filming. Dropping the mic on the car seat, he called to the two other officers and waved them forward to intercept. Just what I need. Television exposure.
"Damn! That was quick!" someone called from the living room. "Check it out! The cops already have the car!"
Frowning, Gypsy came out of the kitchen, half a peanut butter sandwich in one hand, butter knife in the other. The rest of his team gathered around the television and someone turned up the volume.
"It appears that the getaway vehicle for the bank robbery this afternoon at U. S. Bank downtown has been found. Police are not supplying any statements, so it's anybody's guess at this time." Behind the Latino woman speaking was a clear shot of the station wagon and several officers going over it. The lights of a tow truck flashed yellow in the background.
"Ann, have there been any updates on the victim?" a news anchor asked, concern on his handsome face.
Holding an earplug to her ear, the woman shook her head. "No, Frank. Not yet. It is known that the victim in the shooting was a woman. Reports are conflicting as to whether there were one or two victims, but no name has been given to the press until families can be notified."
"Thank you, Ann." As the live broadcast ended, another video showed up behind the anchor as he spoke into the camera. "Efforts to uncover the identification of this woman have met with some success. Xena G. Amphipolous, a local private investigator, was seen here exiting the bank minutes after the robbery and shooting occurred. We've been unable to reach her for comment and the police are also looking for her for questioning."
One of the team frowned and looked over at a smug NK. "Hey, isn't that the chick you shot? You hit her square on! I coulda swore it!" Waving at the obvious proof to the contrary, he continued, "Why's she walking around?"
"Naw. Hit her girlfriend instead. Figured that'd keep her outta our hair until we got away." Glancing at Gypsy, the black man's eyebrow inched up in challenge.
Lips pursed in disgust, the leader returned to the kitchen. As he finished making his sandwich, the news video replayed in his head. Xena was out there, and she was gunning for them. It's just a matter of time now.
"Okay, here we go."
Xena hovered behind the hacker, studying the monitor closely. The picture moved slowly, small white numbers blinking in one corner indicating time and date. "Can you speed it up?"
Nodding his head, Jason's wispy long hair waved gently. "Can do." Fingers flew across the keyboard and the image moved faster. People and cars came and went, hustling about like an old Keystone Kops movie.
The hacker leaned back in his chair, a gentle smile on his face. "That was a good call, Xe. I didn't even think of them digitally storing the cam data. God, I love the twenty-first century!" Eyes narrowed, he reached out for the keyboard again. "Here it is."
The scene slowed to a crawl as the gray station wagon pulled into the lot. It meandered across the lot, finally pulling into the vacant space. Six men climbed out garbed in dark slacks, their shirts a riot of color and styles. Bags were removed from the back of the station wagon.
Pale blue eyes narrowed as they congratulated themselves, clapping each other on the back.
"Betcha that's where the masks and guns are," Jason murmured. "I hear they pulled nearly one point four mil outta there."
Xena leaned closer to the monitor, intently examining the tiny people. Only one was black and her nose twitched into a half snarl. Which was the other one, the one with the accent?
Leaving the lot behind them, the group sauntered away.
Jason's eyebrow raised at the profanity. "Just hold on until they're outta sight, Xe. I might be able to find something else."
Ultimately, it wasn't necessary. Just on the outskirts of the picture, the men piled into a burgundy panel van that was parked on North 17th.
"Yes!" the hacker crowed. "Gotcha!"
Xena's soul flickered hotly and rang with its own victory. "You're recording this?" she asked, more a statement.
"Hell, yeah," came the indignant response. "I'm not a rookie, Xe."
"Can you digitally enhance it? Get a better look at the people?"
The van pulled away from the curb and disappeared off the screen.
Jason grimaced a bit, nudging his glasses back up his nose. "It won't be easy - I'm not equipped for great graphics here." He shrugged. "Gimme a coupla hours. Unless you want me to shop the job out...?"
"No! This goes nowhere else. Not until it's over." Xena straightened from her almost-crouch. "Two hours?"
Rubbing at the balding top of his head, the hacker nodded. "Yeah, two hours," he allowed. "I can get some pretty crisp images by then." Gesturing at the computer, he asked, "Anybody you want me to focus on?"
A seductive smile grew on the Immortal's face. "Yeah. The black one. And the one with the curly dark hair."
Seeing the lack of humor in his employer's eyes, Jason shuddered. "You got it, Xe. I'll start a search of rental places, too. Might pick up something on the van."
Xena nodded. "You do that."
"Aw, shit. I know who the anonymous tip was from."
Holt looked up from the yellow pages, his list of rental numbers forgotten. "Who?"
A pained look was on Davenport's face as she swiveled her monitor around. "I've been going over ODOT's camera info. Look familiar?" Her fingernail dinked slightly against the glass on one corner.
A leather clad form was searching the station wagon, a chopped out bike resting nearby.
"Xe," Holt breathed, watching her perform her search. Once completed, she used her cell phone and looked right at the camera, giving it a little wave.
"Yup. Time coincides with the anonymous caller. Betcha if we heard the tape it'd sound real familiar." The blonde woman shook her head, returning her monitor to its original position. "You gonna call her or should I?"
With a sigh, Holt rose from his desk and went to the window. Beneath him was a small park, streetlights illuminating it through the darkness of twilight, the expanse of the city spreading outward from its center. Rubbing at his neck, he watched the lights sparkle.
"I'll call." Won't do a damned bit of good. He remained standing at the window. There was movement behind him and a pair of hands gently massaged his neck, the muscles screaming at the contact.
"You and I both know it isn't going to stop her," Davenport said in a low voice. At his nod, she continued, "But we have to tell her to back off anyway. You know that."
"Yeah, I know." Holt pulled away and turned. A sad smile settled on his face. "Thanks, partner."
"Anytime, partner." The blonde officer reflected his smile.
"Xe, you know why I'm calling."
"In your official capacity, Officer Holt?" Droll humor. "You must have gotten my message."
Pained tones. "We need you to back off, Xe. You can't take things into your own hands here."
Faint laughter. "Really? And how long would it have taken you to find that car? A week? Maybe two?"
"Officer Holt, I've been 'taking things into my own hands' for nearly a hundred generations before you were born. Don't presume to tell me shit."
"Ah.... You're not alone. Alyssa with you?"
Soft chuckle. "Good bye, Emil. Despite your... affiliations, you've been a good friend. Don't call again."
"She didn't take it well, did she?"
Holt sank into his chair and closed his eyes.
Darkness filled her motel room, echoing the state of her soul. She lay on the bed, fully clothed, the stink of old cigarette smoke and gods knew what else emanating from the chintzy bedspread. Green and yellow lights flickered outside the window, causing a dim strobe effect through the closed curtains. The wall behind her bed thumped and rattled as her neighbors enjoyed the establishment's hourly rates.
I'm on hold, she thought. No one to talk to, listening to the Muzak from next door.
The numbness was still present, teasing the edges of her mind. It only came to the fore when the monster was resting, unable to compete with its will. With no place to go and nothing to do, the Destroyer of Nations was enjoying a brief respite while Xena lay in the dark.
There was no sleep to be had. No oblivion to rush towards. Only dreams of her bard and her dreamer wrapping together and reaching towards her from the grave, the stink of decay wafting about them as they smiled.
Eyes flew open at the sound of her cell phone.
"Xe, it's J. Finished the graphics. Wanna pick 'em up?"
The Immortal sat up on the edge of the bed. As she turned the nighttable lamp on, she squinted at the light and said, "No. Email me an attachment."
"Ten four, lady." Tapping of keys. "It's on the way."
Rising , the Immortal moved to the small table near the window. She logged onto her internet account. "Get anything on the rentals?"
"Not a whole hell of a lot. Still got the search proggie running."
Xena grunted. "Got the files." With quick precision, she opened up the files.
"Uh, Xe...? I got the name of the victim at the bank...." Jason cleared his throat in discomfort. "I just want ya to know that...."
"Don't say it!" the woman hissed, turning away from the computer. "Don't fucking say a word, do you understand?"
There was a shocked pause.
"Do you understand me?" the Immortal, the monster demanded.
"Yeah." His voice was sullen, wounded, tinged with anger.
Xena relaxed her stance, closing her eyes for just a moment. "Good." Muffling a sigh, she turned back to her laptop. Her lover's killer stared back at her. Eyes cold, she studied the grainy picture, committing him to memory. Haven't seen him before. The way he talks, he could be fairly young.
There was still silence on the phone.
"J, I need you to hack back into PPD. See if you can connect the black male with any rap sheets." She could almost hear the gears grinding in the hacker's brain.
"NCIC is harder to crack, Xe. I'm not sure I can get in without a little help from my friends." His voice was still stiff, angered, but Jason's professionalism was legendary.
Considering it, Xena opened the second file. "Go ahead, then. Just don't tell anybody what it's for." She frowned at the second picture, something tickling her memory. "Do the same for the second guy, too."
Who the hell are you? she asked the screen. "How long?"
"It's almost two now. I'll have to roust a coupla people." Jason paused as he calculated. "How about by seven a.m.?"
"It'll have to do. Go." She flipped the cell phone closed and settled down in the rickety motel chair.
Face mirroring her concentration, she dove deep into her past for the memory. It took several minutes before blankness washed over her features, the connection made. "I'll be damned," she murmured.
The cell phone was put back into use. "J? Check the rentals for the names Alastor or Alcathous. Lemme know immediately if you find anything." Once he confirmed, she hung up.
Leaning back in her chair, Xena studied the picture, rubbing her chin in thought. "Haven't seen you in a long time, Gypsy."
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