"Rell, will ya stops runnin' 'bout like a chicken with its head chopped off," Bet said, watching the stocky woman dashing from the bedroom to the computer in the office and back again.
"Bet," Rell replied, endeavoring to remain patient with the broad-shouldered woman. "I am trying to find a cheap flight to Canada, and I can't do that sitting still in some travel agent's office." Using the internet again, Rell was trying to track down a flight she could actually afford. For the moment though, she was not having a lot of success.
"I's jus' wan' ta know hows youse is so sure Diana is in Canada, ta start with," Bet asked with an annoying sense of logic.
That stopped Rell dead in her tracks.
"I'm not sure, but why did she go to such lengths to hide that set of GPS numbers if it wasn't where she would end up eventually?" Rell countered with her own version of irritating logic.
The big woman thought about that for several seconds before answering. "At least let me talks ta some of the other cabbies. Maybe one of them took her ta the airport 'nd knows what direction she went."
"We never did get around to checking your 'sources' among the 'important' people, did we," Rell commented, suddenly aware she was about to go off half-cocked again. She thought she had broken herself of that habit when she became the Amazon Queen.
"Nope, and I's can check thems now iffen youse promise not ta high-tail it on outta here for a couple of hours," the big woman said, pinning Rell with a hard look. "Would only take me that long ta do some askin', 'nd then we'd both know for sure who took Diana where."
"Well, I can't really go anywhere until I find a flight. So, I guess I can stay put until you get back," the stocky woman offered as a kind of apology for her dismissive behavior.
"Youse jus' make sure youse stay here until I's get back, or I's gonna tell Angelo to hog tie ya 'til I's do return. This won't take long, hones'. Couple, three hours, no more," Bet said as she left the apartment.
Quickly leaving the building, briefly pausing to wave at Angelo, Bet climbed into her taxi and proceeded to drive aimlessly around the area for the next few hours. When she felt sufficient time had passed, she stopped at a public phone box and dialed a number she had long ago memorized. While waiting for the person on the other end to pick up the phone, she gnawed at the edge of one nail. Finally, a familiar voice sounded in her ear.
"Mitch? Bet. Give me everything you've got. Our little bird is about to fly the coop."
"Got some good news for ya, Rell," Bet said cheerfully as the photojournalist let the cab driver back into Diana's apartment. "Someone spotted your friend, 'nd she didn' look ta be in a good way at the time."
"Oh god, she's not hurt, is she?" the stocky woman asked fearfully.
"Don' knows for sure, but we's goin' for a little drive ta an airfield on the edge of town. I's can explain on the way."
To Rell, the drive to the airfield felt like it was taking forever, her concerns for Diana overpowering her usual alarm at Bet's maniacal driving methods. The big woman explained that a taxi had been seen near one of the hangars, two men bundling a tall woman with jet black hair into the building. The man who had witnessed the event chose not to report it simply because for many of the 'little' people it never paid to bring the attention of the police down on yourself.
"You mean he's an illegal immigrant, don't you," Rell said.
"Well, yea," Bet admitted, dropping her head a little.
Bet's informant had seen a light plane taxi out of the hangar later in the day, then take off. The reason the two women were going out to the airfield now was because the same plane had returned and was back in that hangar again. If Diana had been in the plane, Bet was willing to live up to her nickname that the tall woman would have found some way of leaving behind a clue to her destination.
Arriving at the small airport, Bet parked her cab between two buildings to shield it from view. Telling an argumentative Rell to stay put for a bit, the big woman went in search of her impromptu spy.
Bet returned half an hour later to a steaming photojournalist.
"God, it sure took you long enough. Did you have to walk to the other side of the field to find him or something?" Rell snarled, climbing grumpily from the hot taxi.
"Jus' 'bout," Bet smiled. "But it was worth the walk. Me man showed me the flight plan theys filed the day theys flew away with Diana."
"Well, don't make me guess," Rell said crossly.
"Theys filed a plan ta a place called Springhouse, in British Colombia. 'Ccording ta the map on the wall, it's jus' twent' miles from Williams Lake. Me friend reckons it has one of the busiest airports for light planes goin'. Looks like thems GPS numbers meant somethin', after all," Bet explained, appearing somewhat surprised at the information.
"Your friend seems to know an awful lot for an illegal immigrant," Rell observed a little suspiciously, wondering about Bet's convenient collection of 'important' people.
Bet stopped in her tracks, looking down at the other woman. Abruptly, the big cab driver threw her head back and laughed uproariously. It wasn't quite the reaction Rell had expected from her near accusation. After catching a glimpse of the perplexed expression of Rell's face, Bet made a determined effort to get her laughter under control.
Still chuckling, she replied, "Oh Rell. I's can'ts think when I's enjoyed a laugh so much. Ya shoulda seen the look on your face. I's can tell ya now me friend's been 'bout so long, he might as well be legal. Flew in from one of thems countries on the other side of the world 'nd jus' kinda stayed. Use ta work with planes 'nd stuff in Australia or Kiwiland, can' remember which. He could run this place, easy. Insteads, he's cleanin' the john ta earn his scratch."
"Well, when you explain it that way, I guess it makes sense," Rell mumbled. "But sometimes I think it's a little too convenient that you know everyone."
Bet shrugged her shoulders, brushing off Rell's comment. "Can' help it iffen I's been 'round the block a few times." Settling the smile back on her face, she continued. "Anyways, iffen we's is goin' ta peek at that plane, we'd betta get movin'. Me friend " she said, emphasizing the word. " told me the hangar's on the other side of the field."
Walking around the corner of the building, Bet pointed out the hangar in question. They had barely taken a dozen paces, when the cabbie stopped suddenly. "Aw squat. Forgot ta lock me cab. Hang on, I's be right back," she said, already moving around the corner towards the cab parked in the alley between the two buildings.
Rell waited patiently, Bet returning in less than a minute. "Can' afford ta be losin' me cab. Only ways I's got ta earn me money," she said briefly, nodding they could now continue.
Bet insisted on taking a round-a-bout route to the hangar, saying if anyone was inside, she didn't want to be spotted sneaking up on the building. Dodging between the available structures and taking advantage of any aircraft parked nearby, Rell was starting to feel like this was some kind of badly filmed cops and robbers movie. At least Bet seemed to be getting a kick out of it judging from the smile in her face. Over the course of several minutes, the two women gradually worked their way around the edge of the airfield towards the hangar they had been told about.
Peeking around a truck parked some one hundred yards or so from the hangar, Rell said, "Looks pretty quiet to me. No sign of anything moving at all."
Not waiting for the big cabbie, Rell stepped from behind the cover of the vehicle and casually strolled towards the side of the hangar, hands in the pockets of her jeans. Bet, taken by surprise with Rell's sudden move, caught up with her just before the stocky woman reached the back corner of the building. Ducking around the corner, both women plastered themselves against the wall.
"Damn it, Rell. Youse coulda told mes youse was 'bout ta move," the big woman snarled, snatching a quick glance around the corner of the hangar to see if anyone had spotted them.
Rell merely shrugged, already creeping along the back wall towards the door. Halfway along, a dirty window gave her a chance to look inside but she found the interior obscured by the build-up of filth on the window and the shadowy darkness of the hangar itself. Scooting under the window, the stocky woman and the big cab driver moved towards the door of the hangar. Rell lowered her hand on the knob, expecting the door to be locked. The blonde's raised eyebrow of surprise let Bet know the handle had given easily. Nodding at Bet, the former photojournalist carefully opened the door, allowing Bet to slip through the gap first. The smaller woman immediately ducked after her, closing the door silently behind her.
Other than a small glass-walled office to one side of them, there was absolutely nothing else in the hangar other than the light plane they had been told about. Parked in the center of the building, it appeared to be set up for another flight. Rell quickly checked the office, while Bet started towards the plane itself.
Rell found nothing in the office that she didn't expect to find. A simple desk and chair arrangement was against one wall, with an ordinary telephone sitting on the top of the desk. There wasn't a single scrap of paper in the desk drawers when Rell opened them and she thought that a little odd to begin with. Then she realized the ever-present filing cabinet was also missing, although from the dust patterns on the floor, one had been there at some point in the recent past. Walking out of the office she headed towards the plane where Bet was standing on the wing about to open the entry hatch. Preparing to climb up on the wing herself, the sound of a door opening and then being slammed shut caused both their heads to snap in the direction of the noise. Two well-dressed men stood near the doorway, both starting to move their hands towards something hidden inside their jackets.
Rell heard one of the men shout something as he reached under his jacket, but lost the words in the echo of the empty hangar. Suddenly a heavy weight caught her in the middle of the back, throwing her to the ground. Before she could even try to fight against the knee holding her in place, two near deafening explosions went off over her head.
"Don't move, Rell. I think I got them but I just want to make sure," Bet's familiar voice said from above the stocky woman, though the cabbie's odd accent had strangely disappeared.
Rell sat up, her ears still ringing from the explosions over her head. It took her a moment to realize the noise had been the Magnum .45 still held in Bet's right hand. She watched, dazed, as Bet removed the clips from two handguns lying on the ground before checking the pulse on first one man and then the other. Walking back towards the stunned woman on the ground, the stocky photojournalist saw the big cab driver tucking her own weapon into a holster of some kind hidden in the back of her jeans.
Holding out one hand to help Rell to her feet, Bet asked, "Are you all right? I didn't hurt you when I knocked you to the ground, did I?"
"I think I'll live," Rell started to say, feeling for bruises. Suddenly all the little inconsistencies she had been unconsciously noticing snapped together, and her temper erupted in white hot fury. "Fuck it, woman. Who the bloody hell ARE you? Where'd that stupid accent of yours go?" she asked through clenched teeth, her eyes flashing with barely controlled rage. Rell hated being manipulated to at the best of times, but right now she felt like she was nothing more than a helpless pawn on someone else's chess board.
Bet shrugged one broad shoulder at Rell's perfectly understandable burst of temper before squatting down to pull out something hidden inside her calf high hiking boot. Standing again, she opened her hand in front of the still livid photojournalist. Lying in the hollow of Bet's large palm was the silver badge of an agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Rell felt herself sagging back against the wing of the plane, overcome with such utter surprise she honestly wondered if she wasn't simply having a really bad dream. She watched as the other woman carefully tucked that bright silver badge back into the special concealing pocket inside her boot. Rell's mouth started moving but it was going to take a few more seconds before her brain caught on to the idea of actually working.
"Oh god," she mumbled. "But that idiotic accent I thought "
"Exactly as you were meant to think. That I was nothing more than a simple, possibly stupid cab driver, who knew their way around LA," Bet said patiently as she waited for Rell to steady herself.
"A simple cab driver who sleeps in the back of her own taxi, yet has an internet account," Rell stated, starting to get a grip on herself again.
"The account's legit, Rell. I really did set it up in one of the cafés in LA. It's the only way I can keep in contact with family and friends sometimes," Bet replied, smiling at the smaller woman as she pushed herself off the wing of the plane.
"And all those ever so convenient sources of information you've been tapping into?" the photojournalist asked from under one suspiciously lowered eyebrow.
"Are also legit. I really do know just about every doorman, cabbie, street worker, thug or illegal immigrant in LA. I've been working under a deep cover for almost five years now. Squat, I even have a gen-u-ine police record," Bet explained, laughing as she walked back to the two dead men. The big woman decided telling Rell about her phone call to Mitch at headquarters would probably be counter-productive at the moment. If Rell needed to know about that well, it could wait until the time came.
"Lordy woman, what on earth were you arrested for?" Rell asked, looking at the professional way Bet went over the bodies searching them for anything of use. She also noted, rather dispassionately, the single bullet hole right in the center of each man's chest. If nothing else, Bet was a crack shot.
"Assault, of all things. I could have just shown them my ID and gotten the whole thing cleared up that way, but it helped my cover to be charged with some kind of misdemeanor. It also gave 'Bet' a reputation for toughness few were willing to mess with."
Smiling, Rell asked, "Just what is your real name, then?"
"Promise you won't laugh," Bet replied, poking through the wallets of the dead men.
"That bad, eh? Okay, I'll try not to laugh but I sure can't promise anything if it's truly that woeful."
"My parents named me Muffin, Muff for short. Guess they thought I would be just a regular little girl, but when I grew to be bigger than Dad " Bet trailed off, thinking back. "Anyway, everyone's been calling me 'Bet' for so long now, I guess I answer to that more than just about anything else."
Rell hid a grin behind her hand, trying not to laugh aloud at the idea of someone as big as any of her Amazon warriors being called 'Muffin'.
Snapping back into the here and now, Bet became all business again. "Does that phone in there work?" she asked.
"Yep. Picked it up and got a good clear dial tone. Why?" Rell said.
"I'll get one of the clean up crews to get rid of these bodies for us. Then we have to sort out exactly where your friend has gotten herself to," the big woman explained, already heading for the glass-walled office.
"What's Diana got to do with anything?" the stocky photojournalist questioned, trailing along in Bet's wake.
"Maybe nothing at all, but right now you're my only link to a case I have been working on for over three years, and from the looks of it, your friend may have accidentally gotten herself into a snoot load of trouble somehow."
The chill from the cold water was nothing compared to the ice now forming deep in Diana's soul. The sound of a chair scrapping across the floor almost echoed in the silence created by the cultured voice's statement. Diana listened to the loud ticking of her high heels over the stone floor as she approached the bound woman. The heavy musk of her perfume wafted passed Diana's nose, irritating the back of her throat. The tall woman suddenly knew how a small rabbit felt knowing there was an eagle circling in the sky overhead.
"Oh yes. You definitely have let yourself go lately," the voice said from behind the blindfolded woman.
"Why is it the bad guys always have to gloat over their captives?" Diana commented, her tone just this side of complete insolence. "You'd think they'd try something new for a change."
A hard, heavy object unexpectedly caught Diana at the back of the neck, sending her face first towards the stones. With no way to stop the fall with her hands tied behind her back, she gritted her teeth as her nose connected with the unyielding floor. She lay where she was, momentarily dazed, thankful her nose didn't feel broken, even though it was bleeding profusely.
There was the sound of footsteps again, followed by the rustling of fabric as the woman knelt down towards Diana.
"Ahhh, my proud warrior. You will learn to respect me, fear me even. It took me a long time to get over what you had done. And now I will have my revenge, parading you before everyone whose business you disrupted. You've made a lot of enemies and they are going to enjoy seeing you humbled before me, jumping to my every command. Yes, Diana. The once mighty mercenary will be reduced to a salivating lap dog, quivering with her desire to please," the voice whispered huskily into the tall woman's ear.
"You really gotta stop snorting your own junk, Amanda.It's giving you delusions again," Diana replied from her position face down on the floor.
"Still as spirited as ever, I see," the woman said, the sound of fabric rustling again as she returned to a standing position.
Diana listened to the ticking of her high heels on the floor as she walked back to her chair and seated herself once more.
"Take her back. I might get around to seeing her again in a couple of weeks. In the mean time, there is much work to be done," the voice said nastily from the other side of the room.
Diana didn't resist this time when hands grabbed various parts of her body and carried her from the building. Within a very short space of time, she found herself back on the flattened straw of the little room. She only relaxed once she heard the sound of the lock clicking firmly into place. Recalling the angry undertones she'd heard in Amanda's voice, Diana realized she was in serious trouble, and if she didn't find a way to escape soon, she may well find herself dancing on the end of Amanda's string.
Thinking back, Diana remembered exactly when she had first met the other woman. After her change of heart, Diana had tried to find guides to take her up to the highlands where she hoped to find some trace of the Amazons mentioned in the ancient scrolls. Travelling across the top of South America, she eventually found herself in Santa Marta, Colombia. Along the way, wherever she could, Diana had tried to fix the problems of the people she had come across. Her skills and training as a mercenary had come in very useful in this new quest of hers, in many cases her reputation having traveled ahead of her.
In Santa Marta she ran across Amanda's father, a man she'd had dealings with on occasion over the years. He was a gun runner, quietly smuggling high power Russian and Chinese made weaponry into the US, by island hopping across the Gulf of Mexico with his sleek, fast speed boats. By the time Diana ran into him again, he had added something new to his growing smuggling operation; high grade cocaine and marijuana. He had welcomed Diana's presence, aware the advantage her tactical brilliance would give him as he battled the other cartels for a larger slice of the illicit drugs market.
Amanda had taken a liking to the tall, blue eyed woman from the moment Diana had stepped into the compound. The now ex-mercenary probably spent as much time dodging the young woman's attentions as she did quietly undermining the cartel's operations. She also did everything in her power to see that any prisoners the cartel had locked in their dim basements escaped without a trace, or at least died as quickly and painlessly as possible. Amanda's personal specialty was torturing information from those prisoners, often taking their suffering well past what was needed. The woman appeared to enjoy her 'work' with an almost sexual delight. Usually, by the time she was finished with a captive, there was very little left that was even identifiable as human, let alone which human in particular.
Diana found herself shuddering a little. What she had endured so far was merely the softening up process Amanda liked to employ before the real 'fun' would begin. The tall woman was well aware anyone's mind and spirit could be broken if enough pain was applied. That is most likely what happened to the teenager who came to feed her each time Diana woke. Tortured past the point of sanity, and now the youngster was left a mindless husk.
Diana had been with the cartel for almost three months when she caught wind of a shipment of guns about to be smuggled to the US, the largest one to date. Amanda's father was also sweetening the pot by including an equally sizable shipment of drugs in the deal. The weaponry and cocaine were to be stored in a warehouse inside the grounds of the main compound. The cartel's leader assumed it would be the safest place to keep them for the one night they would be in Santa Marta. Diana saw her chance to destroy the reputation of the cartel, probably putting it out of business completely. The buyers in the US were never happy with people who let them down in any way, often killing the individual in question as an object lesson to anyone else who might be considering double crossing them.
After knocking the guards around the warehouse into unconsciousness, Diana had used the cartel's own small store of plastic explosive to destroy everything in the building. It was unfortunate Amanda's father had chosen that moment to be inside the warehouse, gloating over the sheer size of his shipment. An ambitious up and comer twenty years before, he was now almost at the top of a vicious heap. Delivering his shipment would have made him the most powerful cartel leader in Colombia.
The tall woman had been unaware of the man's presence in the building as she set off the plastic explosive, the resulting force almost blowing the roof from the warehouse. People had come running from all sides of the compound as the explosion tossed them from their beds. The piles of ammunition stacked inside began to discharge as the heat reached them, mowing down dozens of men and women as they tried to stop the raging fire from spreading to other parts of the compound. The area around the warehouse suddenly became a very dangerous place to be. At the height of the confusion, Diana quietly slipped over the wall and disappeared into the darkness.
By morning, all that was left of the cartel was Amanda herself, and perhaps a double handful of its 'associates'. In the full light of day, a body count and a quick search of the few buildings still standing revealed Diana's absence. Amanda swore personal vengeance against the blue eyed woman when the charred body of her father was carried from the remains of the warehouse. Rebuilding the cartel from the ground up had kept Amanda busy for the past three years, but the hatred she carried for Diana had never dimmed for a moment. Now she had the tall ex-mercenary, Amanda was going to make sure the punishment fit the crime.
Diana ran a quick checklist over herself. Mentally, she was fine. Between her own inner resources and the strengthening effect even thinking of Rell had on her, Diana wasn't too worried about her mind going to pieces in her current condition. Physically though well, that was another matter. The constant exposure to the sedating drugs had left her body weak and shaking but if she was to get out of this with her mind in one piece she had to act now or she might not get another opportunity.
Shit, this is gonna really hurt. At least being wet is going to make things a little easier, she thought to herself, wriggling her arms around to give herself as much room as possible.
Rell stood off to one side, watching Bet's 'clean up crew' efficiently load the bodies of the two dead men into the back of an innocuous looking truck. The big woman herself was locked in the glass walled office with another man, gesturing occasionally at the maps spread out over the desk. Having completed their grisly chore, one of the crew tapped on the glass letting them know they were done. Bet and the man quickly gathered up the maps before leaving the office. Rell saw the FBI agent tuck one of the maps under her arm as she came towards the former photojournalist.
With no preamble, Bet said, "I'd much rather leave you here where it's safer, but you're my only link right now, so I don't have much choice about it."
"As if I'd let you leave me behind," Rell growled. "It's my friend who's gone missing and even if she is involved with your case in some way, I'd still get myself to Canada. I don't care if I have to hitch-hike the entire distance."
"Feisty one, aren't you." Bet replied, smiling. "Well, I hope you have your passport handy because we're leaving just as soon as I can check that plane over."
The agent wasn't the least bit surprised when Rell whipped her passport from the back pocket of her jeans.
"Old habits never die," Rell explained a little ruefully, returning the battered passport to her pocket.
"Well, just remember, you can," Bet said pointedly, turning towards the light plane standing in the center of the hangar.
Rell looked at the stamp in her passport. "As easy as that, eh?" she said to the big FBI agent striding along at her side.
"Yep, as easy as that," Bet replied, looking around for the rental car counter.
"I thought you would just flash that badge of yours and " Rell started to say.
"And get held up for a good couple of hours while I filled in a few million forms for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. No thanks. I just want to get us in and out of here as quickly as possible," the FBI agent finished.
"I guess I had simply assumed there was a lot of cooperation between the US and Canada seeing we're so close and share a border," the photojournalist said, scratching her head a little.
"There is When it's official," Bet explained. "But right now, this particular trip isn't official."
"But you're on a case, aren't you? Wouldn't that make this an official trip?"
"Not when you've been working under deep cover for as long as I have. Officially, I ceased to exist five years ago. To surface now, just so I could get some cooperation from the authorities here would take weeks of diplomatic posturing from both sides, and we just don't have time for that at the moment. Besides, if this thing blows up in my face, the police here may decide they have no idea who I am, regardless of my 'official' status. It's probably better if we try to keep this quiet for the time being," the big woman replied, finally spotting the counter for the rental car company and making a bee-line straight to it.
"Why do I get the feeling I just went from the frying pan into the fire?" Rell mumbled to herself, following behind the other woman.
"You sure you're reading that map right, Rell?" Bet asked.
"Yes, I'm sure," the other woman replied patiently. "Great, hairy, horny toads, it's not like I could miss that huge red X you marked in the middle of it," she grumbled.
"Then where's the blasted turn off?" the FBI agent asked, exasperated with hours of driving along roads no wider than goat tracks, and definitely in far worst condition. Once they had rented a car, the two women could have taken a more direct route to their destination but Bet thought it would be safer to take a more circumspect path. A decision the woman was starting to regret because the only car they could rent was far too small for her large frame. If she spent much more time behind the wheel, Bet was sure she would never be able to unfold herself again.
"There! There's the turn off!" Rell almost shouted, pointing to a gate in the distance.
Pulling the vehicle to the side of the road near the gate, Bet climbed from the car and gratefully stretched out the muscles in her back. Shading her eyes with one hand, she carefully examined the area. Several hundred yards from the gate a small farmhouse sat in the center of a large, tree-covered courtyard. A group of outbuildings of various sizes were clustered nearby, the door of one of them standing open. Surrounding the little grouping of buildings were miles of freshly tilled land, the endless furrows following the gentle rolling of the hills.
As Rell came up beside Bet, shading her own eyes as she did so, she spotted the plump figure of a woman coming out onto the porch of the farmhouse. Wiping her hands on a cloth, the woman must have been calling to someone in one of the outbuildings because moments later a boy, perhaps eleven or twelve years old, shot out of the open door and ran over to the porch. Following along behind the child, a well built man took the time to close the door behind him before crossing the courtyard himself. Rell could just make out a brief kiss shared between the adults before they stepped back inside.
"Mom, Dad and Junior from the looks of it. No sign of Diana though," Bet said, looking at the shorter woman by her side. "But this is the place those numbers indicated. I wonder why she went to so much trouble to hide them?"
"Maybe she's inside somewhere?" Rell offered, oddly disappointed at not finding Diana immediately. "You know, using the place as a bolt hole of some kind."
"Only way to find out for sure, is to go over there, I guess," the FBI agent said, squeezing herself back into the driver's seat of the rental car.
Rell quickly walked over to the gate, opening it for the car to pass through, and then closing it behind them again. As they drove up the wide dirt track towards the farmhouse, she mentally crossed her fingers that Diana would be there somewhere. If she wasn't, Rell didn't have a clue where to start looking next.
Pulling up outside the building, Rell said, "This is pretty. If I didn't already live in the most gorgeous place on earth, I might consider retiring here someday."
"Not enough trees for me. I like the woods a lot more than open farmland," Bet replied, smiling at the other woman as she got out of the car.
The sound of their car coming down the track to the farmhouse, and the slamming of car doors had alerted the solidly built man they'd seen earlier to their presence outside. Standing behind the screen door, still wiping his lips with a checkered napkin, he eyed them carefully as the two women stepped up onto the porch.
"What can I do to help you?" he asked pleasantly. "Get yourselves lost out here?"
"No. I don't think we're lost. We're actually trying to find a friend of mine," Rell replied. "Diana left a message " the photojournalist suddenly stopped speaking. Rell's eyes almost bugged out with surprise as she got her first good look at the youngster they had spotted from the gate.
Looking down, the man's eyes flicked from the boy by his side to the women standing on his porch and back again. "Simon, go inside and help your aunt," he said.
"Do I have to, Uncle Cobin?" the child answered, never taking his eyes off the two fascinating strangers standing outside.
"Yes, Simon. Go on now. I'll be back in a minute," the man answered, already pushing the screen door open and stepping through. As soon as the boy was out of earshot, the man quietly snapped at the two women, "I don't know who you are but you'd better come with me."
Striding passed Bet and Rell, he started across the courtyard towards the outbuildings.
"What's wrong, Rell?" Bet asked quickly. "You look like someone just hit you up the side of the head."
Clutching at the other woman's forearm, Rell gasped in total shock, "That boy. Oh my god, Bet. That boy is the absolute spitting image of Diana."
Cobin Alexander stepped to one side ushering the two women into the little outbuilding just to one side of the courtyard. He knew this day had to come but he found he was as emotionally unprepared for it now as he had been every other time he's thought about it in the past twelve years. Drawing a slow, calming breath into his deep barrel chest, he entered the building ready to face the two women who had shattered his world with a single sentence.
"Can you at least wait until nightfall. It'll give Vicki a chance to say a proper goodbye to the boy," he said tightly, facing the women. "He'll be easier to deal with if he's sleepy too. He can be damned willful at times, just like his mother."
"Excuse me?" Rell said, confused. She was still trying to come to grips with the possibility Diana even had a son, let alone one who looked to be an exact copy of her in just about every way. Why hadn't the ex-mercenary said something about the child earlier? she kept thinking.
Bet looked from Rell, whose eyes were almost spinning with shock, to the man trying to hold his emotions in check. "I think we might have our wires crossed here," she said quietly into the silence.
"I thought you were here to take the boy? Diana said, if ever there was serious trouble, the kind that might find its way here, she would send someone to get the boy to safety. Isn't that why you came?" Cobin asked, looking back and forth between the two women.
"No. We didn't even know he was here until I saw him in the doorway, Sir," Rell replied respectfully, finally managing to get her mental feet back under her again. "But I must say, he really is his mother's son."
"Please, just call me, Cobin," the man said, sinking weakly onto a hay bale behind him. "I think we all have some explaining to do right now. How did you find me, by the way? I guess that is as good a place to start as any."
Seating herself on another bale, Rell began. "Diana and I are friends. When she went missing, I started to look for her. We found the GPS numbers for your farm in a security deposit box back in LA. We thought this was where she had ended up, kind of like a bolt hole, and that is why she had gone to so much trouble to hide the paper it had been written on," the photojournalist explained succinctly. "So when we got to Springhouse, we rented a car and well, you know the rest."
"And you haven't come to take the boy?" Cobin asked, needing to be absolutely sure.
"Like I said, we didn't even know he was here until we arrived," Rell replied. "He is Diana's son, isn't he? I just can't imagine two people with the same ice blue eyes not being related in some way."
"Yea, he's Diana's," the big man said. "And where do you fit into all this, Ma'am? You the driver?" Cobin asked Bet, looking her up and down. It was fairly clear the farmer was impressed with her solid frame and well developed muscles.
Bet jumped straight into the role Cobin had so conveniently created for her. "Yea, I'm the driver, and whatever else that's needed," she replied, taking a half step closer to Rell, intimating that she also worked as the other woman's bodyguard. The big man wasn't to know the photojournalist no more needed one than he did.
"Bet?" Rell asked, one eyebrow raised.
"It's all right, Miss Rell. I don't mind anyone knowing I work for you. It's easier for all concerned if everything is up front. No surprises that way," the big woman answered, hoping Rell would understand the hidden meaning and go along with the charade. Being undercover for so long, Bet just felt more comfortable with a 'role' of some kind to play.
"So long as you don't mind, Bet," Rell finally said, hearing the unspoken message loud and clear.
"You a richie too?" Cobin asked, thinking that would explain the little woman's need for a bodyguard. "Merc, like Diana, maybe?"
The photojournalist mind flashed through several possibilities that would explain how she had come to know Diana. "No, I have an eye for antiquities," Rell replied, remembering how she had wanted to redecorate her own apartment in the style of the Amazons when she had first arrived at the village.
Cobin nodded, satisfied. Diana had on occasion smuggled artifacts across borders, though she found it tame compared to some of the other things she did. He ran his eye over the blonde again. Yea, he could easily see this one as Diana's friend, perhaps even her lover. She looked to be the sort the mercenary liked to sleep with. If she was looking for Diana because she was missing, Cobin felt he could accept it on face value. He hadn't been a solider of fortune for most of his life and not learn to read people. And he was seeing genuine concern written on every inch of the blonde's body language as she sat there in his shed.
"So, how did you come to have Diana's son with you?" Rell asked, feeling as though she had successfully passed some kind of test.
"Just before the boy was born, I got myself hurt in a little operation we were involved with. Damaged my shoulder pretty bad and lost some movement in my fingers. Merc ain't no good when he can't pull the trigger any more," Cobin replied, demonstrating the lack of movement in the first two fingers of his right hand. "While I was recovering, Diana birthed Simon. Only time I ever saw that woman gentled was when she was holding that baby. Guess she knew having a youngster about was just asking for trouble, so she helped me buy this place so I could retire. Only condition she put on me was to look after her son as though he was my own. And I have done that. Vicki knows he isn't mine but Simon doesn't know who his mother really is. We've told him that she died in childbirth. Stops him from asking awkward questions, if you know what I mean," the big man finished with a shrug of one shoulder.
"Has Diana had any contact with him at all?" Rell asked quietly. She found it difficult to imagine being separate from a child she had given birth to herself.
"Not directly. There is a bank account where she leaves money every month, not that we really need it," Cobin replied, the pride of accomplishment obvious in his voice. "And she always sends something at Christmas time. Never forgets his birthday either. Signs herself off as a 'secret Aunty' on the cards. We've been using the postmarks as a way of keeping a rough track of her over the years. Last several packages have had postmarks from Venezuela on them. Figured that was where she had stopped for the moment."
"Mmmm, she's been living there for the last year and a half or so, although the past several months have been spent bouncing from there into the US and back again on a pretty regular basis. She disappeared when she was heading for the airport to come home again," Rell said, bringing the conversation back on-track. "When we found the GPS numbers, we thought this was some kind of place Diana might head for if she ever felt really threatened by something."
"Well, here's the last place she'd turn up," Cobin replied, pointing to the ground at his feet. "It would put the boy in too much danger if anyone found out he was here."
"Looks like those GPS numbers were a dead end after all, Miss Rell," Bet said, watching the other woman's face fall as the realization sank in.
Rell looked around the cheery kitchen thinking it could have easily graced the pages of any fashionable home design magazine. The 'country kitchen' look was all the rage back in LA, people sometimes paying exorbitant amounts of money to get every detail just right. Yet here, it had been designed for functionality and not fashion. There was even an old style oil cloth on the large, and well used table in the center of the kitchen. The smells of fresh baked bread and smoked ham filled the room creating a feast for her nose as much as the sights were delighting her eyes. Even the heavy silver cutlery on the tabletop was the genuine article, and not some modern rip-off made to look old. Rell was willing to bet the 'good' silver, probably received as a wedding gift, was lovingly stored in a cabinet somewhere in the house.
Once Cobin had relaxed, reassured they weren't there to take the boy, he'd happily invited them to lunch. As the two women had stepped into the kitchen, Vicki had quietly exited through another door, the tears plainly obvious as they streamed down her face. Cobin hurriedly introduced Rell and Bet to Simon before going after her to let the distraught woman know everything was okay. Although the youngster was clearly fascinated by the two strangers he now found sitting at the table, the demands of his young appetite kept the food flowing towards his mouth in a steady stream.
Regardless of how beautiful the room was, the major point of Rell's own interest was the youngster seated at the table with them. The short, close-cropped hair was as black as his mother's, though it looked a little finer than hers. Eyes the exact same shade of icy blue Rell could remember looking at her from Diana's own face, would glance up at them before dropping to the table again. Rell thought the boy had recently hit a growth spurt judging from the tightness of his stained denim shirt and the extra inch of wrist poking from the ends of the cuffs.
He's already tall for twelve, Rell thought. He'll probably make his mother's height by the time he's finished growing. Looks like he'll have her shoulders too, if the way that shirt is straining at the yoke is any indication. Hmmm, now how do I make friends with him, she wondered. I really would like to be able to tell Diana a little about how her son has grown up. And saying he likes to eat isn't what I'd call 'mother's information.'
Seeing the way Simon was clearing almost everything on the plate gave her an idea. He was making rapid inroads into almost everything, except for one lone pile of vegetables he was studiously avoiding.
Rell planted both elbows onto the table, causing Simon's eyes to roll a little. He wasn't ever allowed to do that but in his short life, the boy had realized the rules were always different for grown ups. Picking up a spare fork on the table, Rell pointed to the mound of green beans as yet untouched on Simon's plate.
"You gonna eat those?" she asked, a friendly smile starting to lift the corners of her lips.
"Have to. Aunt Vic would have a cow if I left good food on my plate," Simon answered, screwing up his mouth a little. Green beans had to be about the most awful tasting things on earth as far as he was concerned. But his aunt kept making him eat them, saying one day he would appreciate having such healthy food.
Looking over at the door that led deeper into the house for a moment, Rell leaned forward to spear a lone bean from on top of the pile. Bringing it to her lips, she popped it in, just catching the drip of butter before it slid down her chin.
"Mmmm, real farm butter. Haven't tasted that in a while," she said, swallowing down the vegetable. Glancing over at the other woman, she continued, "Have I ever told you how much I love green beans with real butter, Bet?"
The FBI agent winked at Rell conspiratorially. She was well aware of how much small boys disliked anything that was good for them, especially if it was colored green. "Why no, Miss Rell. You've never told me," Bet replied, staying in her role as Rell's driver.
"Mmmm, I really do adore them," the stocky woman said, sneaking several more of the tasty vegetables from Simon's plate. These disappeared in much the same way as the first.
"And those have real farm butter on them too," Bet observed seriously, thoroughly enjoying the game.
"Yep, that they do," Rell replied, another half a dozen little green spears vanishing from the plate.
Smiling along with the two women, Simon added his own piece as well. "Uncle Cobin says we grow some of the best in the county."
"Hmmm, you might be right there, you know," Rell said, swallowing down a few more of the beans. "But I really do have to be sure." Taking the last of the vegetables onto her fork, the photojournalist popped them into her mouth.
Simon gravely held out his napkin so the woman could wipe the butter from her lips. Rell took it from him, patted her lips solemnly and then returned it to the youngster. The boy decided he liked the little blonde woman who had made his hated green beans disappear like magic from his plate. The other one, the big woman was still a bit scary but she had such a happy smile and her eyes twinkled in just the nicest way. He quickly decided he would like her too because for someone so large, she sat so quietly, not making any loud noises or shouting like some of his uncle's old friends did.
"We don't get many visitors out here," Simon offered a little shyly. His aunt had always told him it was polite to make conversation and seeing his aunt and uncle still hadn't returned yet; it was up to him.
"You are pretty far out," Rell replied. "Do you have any friends your own age out here?" she asked, wanting to know so she could tell Diana what kind of friends the boy was making. Now he was a little more relaxed, Rell could also hear something that she had missed before. Her assumption about his growth spurt was correct because she could just hear the first cracks of a soon-to-break voice. Another few months and the boy would be well into puberty. She wondered briefly if his voice would be as low and rich as Diana's. Just a whisper from that woman would send shivers up and down Rell's spine. The blonde quickly brought her attention back to Simon, catching his next words.
"I was friends with Stacy over on the next farm. She's older that me by a couple of years. I used to ride my mini-bike to get there," Simon answered, frowning a little as he spoke. His tone of voice made it clear something had gone wrong between the two youngsters.
"Was friends? What happened?" the photojournalist asked compassionately.
"A strange man chased me away and told me not to come back again. He was really nasty about it too. I did go back later on, though."
"A strange man?" Bet said quietly. "What did you see when you returned, Simon? Take your time and tell me everything you remember."
The boy looked over at Rell, lacking any other adult to turn to. The stocky woman nodded her permission, reasonably sure that was what he wanted. Clearly the child had seen something over there that he hadn't told his uncle about. Something he dearly wanted to tell judging from the look on his face.
"I left my bike in the big drainage ditch on this side of the fence and snuck over to the barn. Me and Stace have played there a lot and I know ways inside that no one else knows about," he said defiantly. "You can hide in the hay loft and see just about everything if you squint through the gaps in the boards. It's a really old barn, you see."
"Old barns always make good hiding places," Bet offered, gently encouraging the boy to continue. "What did you see from up there? It's all right, you can tell us."
Simon's shoulders sank and his hands balled into tense little fists as he drew breath. "Anyway, I was sneaking looks through the gaps and saw lots of strange men wandering about the place like they owned it. This big car pulled up and the most beautiful woman I had ever seen got out of it. I couldn't hear what she was saying, I was too far away but she was acting real bossy. She pointed to the house and then I saw Stacy's Mom and Dad being brought out. Missus Lightfoot was crying and Mister Lightfoot had a black eye. Both of them had their hands tied behind their backs," the boy whispered.
"It's all right, Simon," Rell said, getting out of her chair and wrapping a protective arm over the youngster's slumped shoulders. "Then what did you see? If we know what happened, we might be able to help them, you see."
Making a visible effort to keep going, Simon said, "Two of the men made Stacy's Mom and Dad get into the car and it drove away. I don't know where it went through. I lost sight of it."
"It's fine, Simon. Did you find anything else?" Bet asked quietly, not wanting to spook the boy.
"They still had Stacy. Coming up through the floor, I could hear someone crying really softly. When I went over to where I thought the sound was coming from, and moved the little bit of hay out of the way, I could look down through a crack in the boards. She was in this little room all tied up. I whispered down to her and said I would get my uncle to come and help her. Stace got really upset then and said I couldn't tell my uncle and aunt or her Mom and Dad would be killed for sure. Then she told me I had to get away and not to ever come back to the farm until all the strange men had left," Simon finished.
"And that's why you didn't tell your uncle, isn't it? Because Stacy asked you not to." Bet questioned.
Simon only nodded in reply.
"So why did you tell us?" Rell asked.
"Well, Stace said not to tell Uncle Cobin or Aunt Vic. She never said anything about not telling other grown ups," he replied.
"Smart boy," Bet said, patting the youngster on the arm. "Now, if I gave you some paper, do you think you could draw me a map of the farm showing where all the buildings are?"
Simon smiled up at the big woman happily. "Already got one. Stace and me were playing Secret Agent one time and we drew up a proper map, on real graph paper and everything. Stace said it was all in pro prop "
"Proportion?" Rell offered.
"Yea, that's the word. Stace said it had to be that way cause that is how spies would do it."
"Do you think we could borrow it for a while?" the agent asked. "Knowing where everything is will probably help us get Stacy out and find where the strange men took her parents."
"Sure," he said, climbing down from his chair. "You'll bring it back though, won't you? It's a real good map. I wouldn't want to lose it. Stace and me spent two whole days measuring everything up so it would be right on the map."
"Word of honor, sport. We'll bring your map back to you," Bet replied, crossing her heart with one hand.
Simon skipped out of the room and both women could hear the sound of his sneakered feet as they bounced along the wooden floors.
"Do you realize we've just promised to come back here a second time?" Rell asked, sitting back in her own chair.
Bet smiled broadly at the other woman. "Incorrigible, isn't he. I wonder where he got that from?"
Diana felt like her arms were on fire from shoulder to fingertips but the pain was definitely worth it. Hours of pushing her elbows outward as forcefully as she could had finally worked a little slack in the still damp ropes. In giving her a 'bath' before taking the tall ex-mercenary to see Amanda, they had also given Diana an opportunity to escape her bonds. Dry, the ropes had been as tight as ever but once soaked, there was a tiny amount of slippage as the line stretched. Diana intended taking full advantage of the thug's mistake.
Wriggling alternate arms up and down inside the circle of slightly looser cordage surrounding her elbows, in effect, walking the rope down her arms fraction by painful fraction, had eventually slipped it over the joint and down her forearms. She could feel the damp rope in her fingers as she pulled it over her hands, dropping it into the straw behind her.
"Now comes the hard part," she mumbled to herself, praying there was still enough flexibility left in her much abused shoulders to pull off the maneuver.
From behind the darkness of her blindfold, she concentrated on each muscle group trying to relax each one as much as possible. Slowing her breathing, she dropped into a near-trance state, the pain receding to some point just outside her body. She was still aware of it but it no longer interfered with her focus. In her mind she broke the entire process down into several small steps, seeing each one in minute detail. Diana then mentally 'saw' herself beginning each step, completing it and moving on to the next one.
Feeling she had relaxed her muscles about as much as she was going to get at that point, she compressed her torso from shoulder to hip, squashing her ribcage until she was barely able to breathe. Pressing her still bound wrists against her butt, Diana dropped her shoulders, hopefully giving her arms the extra inch of length she needed. Dragging her wrists underneath her backside and thighs, Diana 'skinned the cat' -- only she did it in reverse.
Gasping triumphantly, Diana brought her hands up to her chest, the screaming pain in her shoulders breaking her out of the trance state she had used to help her overcome the limitations of her own body.
"Oh god. I didn't think I could still do that," she muttered, letting the pain slowly settle to a sharp ache.
With one thumb, she nudged the blindfold from her face, getting her first good look at the prison she'd been held in. The sunshine coming through the high window was far too bright for eyes that had been covered for so long. Turning her head away from the painful light, she looked around the small room, its floor thickly strewn with the straw she'd been lying on.
"Hmmm, your taste in accommodations certainly hasn't improved in the slightest, Amanda," Diana said aloud. Bare walls, a single high window, hay covered floor and a locked door was all the tall woman could see, once her eyes had stopped tearing quite so much.
Flexing her swollen fingers a little, Diana began the slow job of loosening the bonds around her ankles and knees. She found the knots had been placed very awkwardly, well, awkwardly for her anyway. Diana's dogged persistence eventually helped her work the knots loose and for the first time in several days she was able to stretch out the muscles in her legs properly. The intense ache in her hips and thighs joined with the pain in her shoulders until Diana wondered if she was ever going to feel normal again.
In attempting to stand, the tall woman made yet another inconvenient discovery -- her legs were having difficulty holding her up. Some of the muscles felt like unresponsive rubber, while others cramped painfully as her weight settled on them for the first time.
"Hmmm, going to have to work at that," she mumbled quietly from her position on the floor where she had fallen. "Just need some time to get them used to the idea again, I suppose."
Deciding to leave walking until a bit later when her legs had had a chance to relax, Diana looked at the knot still binding her wrists together. This knot hadn't just been put into an unwieldy place, it had been turned back on itself so she couldn't reach it with her teeth no matter which way she twisted her forearms.
The woman swore rather creatively for several moments. It didn't achieve anything but Diana felt better for it. Looking around her little chamber again, she tried to see some way of wearing through the ropes enough that she could hopefully break them apart. Moving her eyes slowly over the walls and door, covering every inch, the dark haired woman finally spotted a slightly raised section on the hinge of the door. Crawling over to it, she felt the edge with her fingers. It wasn't very sharp but several places had been chipped as though the screwdriver had slipped when someone had installed the hinge, gouging out a tiny bit of the metal.
"Guess it'll have to do," she said, placing the ropes against the hinge and pulling down. She was very satisfied to hear a couple of the threads in the cord snap as they moved over the chips. Settling next to the door, Diana began to patiently scrape the rope over the rough edge.
Several miles from the Alexander's farm, parked atop a low hill, Rell stood next to Bet as they leaned over the hood of the car examining the map Simon had given them. Just as he had said, the distances and the size of the buildings did look to be proportional, so they were getting a very good idea of where all the structures were on the farm. Each building, shed and lean-to had its windows clearly marked as well as the doors, both internal and external. Tiny green dots near the doors showed where the keys to open any locks were kept and blue boxes of various sizes marked 'getaway' vehicles. Even better, at least in Rell's mind, Simon had used faint dotted lines to indicate the underground drainage tunnels and various other 'escape' routes. A tiny 'N' with an arrow was in one corner of the map so they could easily orientate themselves.
"Gotta admit, the kid is good. I wish I had maps this well drawn in some of the places I've been over the years," Bet said.
Rell grinned, turning to look at the other woman. "Well, look who his mother is. He's definitely inherited her brains, that's for sure."
"Speaking of Diana " the FBI agent started. "Rell, I can't take you into this with me. It's not your case, and Oh squat, you're a civilian. I'm supposed to be protecting civilians, not dragging them into possible danger," she said, pushing her hand through her hair.
"Whoa, Nellie," Rell said, holding up her hands. "I'm hearing at least three different messages in that statement. How about you start with telling me why you have to go over there? I thought we'd just hand this one to the local authorities and get on with finding Diana. Isn't she somehow involved with your case?"
"Squat," the big woman cursed again. "You know, Rell, you can be a real pain with all this logic of yours. How Diana puts up with you is a real mystery to me," she continued without rancor.
"Diana puts up with me just fine," Rell replied. "Explain," she said, crossing her arms across her chest.
Bet poked her tongue at Rell and then marshaled her thoughts. "Okay, to start right at the beginning. I'd been undercover for a couple of years when word of a really big shipment of high grade cocaine and dope was heading into the US from somewhere in South America. For some reason, it never arrived and the cartel who was supposed to deliver it had been mysteriously decimated. The next thing we hear is the daughter of the cartel leader was rebuilding it from the ground up. So far, nothing unusual. The in-fighting between the cartels goes on all the time, and occasionally one does get wiped out. Sometimes, they can rebuild, other times, not," Bet explained, leaning back against the hood of the car.
"Diana? Remember her? How does she fit into all this?" Rell asked, a little impatiently.
"I'm getting to that," the big woman replied. Thinking for a moment, she continued. "Anyway, this rebuilt cartel is unbelievably tight. No one has any idea of what the new leader looks like or how she operates. Trying to find out anything is virtually impossible, as several of our people discovered."
"What happened to them?" Rell asked curiously, though she had a pretty good idea.
"They were killed, in particularly grisly ways, I might add," the agent answered, shuddering. "Eventually, we get the faintest whisper that the daughter is going to be branching out a little and setting up a base of sorts in Canada. The authorities at the US/South American border are only stopping a tiny percentage of the drugs entering the country via that route, but to transport them from Canada is even easier. Squat, we have people who commute daily from Canada into the US to go to work there. Trying to thoroughly check every car, pick-up and heavy loader crossing that border, not to mention the small aircraft traffic would be an absolute nightmare. The resources just aren't available."
"And Diana fits into all this, how?"
"Ordinarily, Customs doesn't pay too much attention to people coming into the US. So long as the visa is valid, it just gets logged into the computer until something shows up to alert us," Bet began. "Then the system threw up Diana's name because of all the entrances and exits she had been making over the past several months."
In a dangerously quiet voice, Rell said, "You think Diana is your cartel leader, don't you?"
"The intelligence boys seem to think so," Bet replied, holding herself very still in case Rell became violent. The FBI agent had taken a huge risk in revealing herself to the photojournalist back in LA, but sometimes to get the biggest payoff on a case you had to take those kinds of risks to gain the other person's trust.
"I don't care what your intelligence boys think. Diana is the sweetest, gentlest, most caring woman on the face of the earth. Just look how she made sure her own son was safe when it had to be eating her alive to send him away," Rell growled at the other woman.
"If you listen to how we reached our conclusion, you'll see it makes perfect sense," Bet offered.
"You'd better be quick, or I'll make sure every 'source' you have in LA knows exactly who you are." Rell paused for a beat. "Muffin."
Ouch, I think I might have deserved that one, Bet thought, cringing internally. I really have abused her trust rather badly. But I had to get to the cartel leader and Rell was my only solid lead to her. I just did what I had to do, Bet rationalized with herself.
"Okay, point one. We know Diana is a mercenary, and has been for most of her life," the agent replied, ticking off her first statement on one finger.
"Ex. She is an ex-mercenary, and has been that way for at least a couple of years that I know about," Rell countered angrily.
The other woman raised one eyebrow at the interruption but decided to continue anyway. She doubted the photojournalist could refute everything about Diana that Bet had learned.
"Point two. She was known to frequent the area where the cartel was based, at least before they were wiped out during some kind of in-fighting," Bet continued, ticking off another finger.
"She was looking for guides into the interior. She was having trouble finding anyone who would take her."
"Point three. Diana has more money than god. The kind of money you usually only see among the cartels," the big woman said, folding a third finger against her palm.
"Great, hairy, horny toads! Since when is being rich a crime? She has a large family estate she dips into whenever she needs cash," the photojournalist snapped.
"Finally," Bet said, folding her pinkie down. "She has been making very regular trips to the US and Canada from South America, traveling extensively inside both countries and about the time she's getting ready to leave again, women disappear. All from the places that she has been to during that trip. Cartels generally deal in drugs or guns but they have been known to play about in the white slave trade occasionally. From what I have been told, it's a very lucrative trade too. Perfect for building up a hefty cash base for someone looking to expand their operations."
I'd like to see you explain that one away, Rell, the FBI agent thought.
"The women have been going to South America because she has invited them there," the blonde growled. "If you checked your almighty damned computer, you'd know that some of them have come back again, and of their own free will, I might add."
"But why would Diana be asking women to go to South America, and why is she making all those trips back and forth?" Bet asked, a little confused. She did know about the returns and had assumed, as had the intelligence section, that there must have been a glitch in the reporting system somewhere. A lack of field agents, and the low priority of this case had not allowed them to physically go and check if the women had actually come back. It could simply be some elaborate rouse to throw them off the scent. Assuming someone else's identity was certainly easy enough, and a surprisingly common ploy among criminals.
"Because I damned well asked her to!" Rell shouted, her temper slipping its reigns and running wild.
"Oh my god, you're the cartel's leader," the big agent gasped in utter shock, reaching for her Magnum .45 holstered in the back of her jeans.
Rell saw the rapid movement and her many hours on the Amazon training ground suddenly snapped into action. For the photojournalist everything started moving in slow motion. She felt as though she had all the time in the world to make the tight, full body spin, arms tucked against her chest, one leg snapping up and out at precisely the right moment. The blonde could even hear the voice of her Amazon trainer as the wooden heel of her left boot connected solidly with Bet's temple.
"You'll probably kill a little person with a kick like this, My Queen but a big one will most likely just go down. It'll give you a chance to get a really telling hit in before they can get themselves sorted out enough to get back up again," the patient voice of her trainer said in her mind.
Rell watched as Bet's head snapped to one side, her knees giving way under her. The sound of the big woman's skull hitting the hood of the car seemed unusually loud, echoing in Rell's mind as she bounced gently on the toes of both feet, ready to get that 'telling hit' in if she could. Bet did not get back up again. The FBI agent lay on the ground, an unconscious, crumpled heap at the photojournalist's feet.
Simon stood on the porch watching the little car drive back up the track of the farm, the cloud of dust it left behind quickly blowing to one side in the stiff afternoon breeze. Waving to his aunt at the door of the farmhouse, Simon trotted over to the barn to attend to his chores. He was reasonably sure his aunt had been crying earlier, though he was at a loss to explain why. Aunty Vicki rarely broke down but the boy knew what that red-eyed, blotchy faced look meant, he just couldn't figure out why the appearance of Rell and Bet had started his aunt crying. Shrugging his shoulders as he trotted across the courtyard, he doubted if he ever would.
The grown ups rarely told him anything anyway, sometimes not even noticing he was there unless he spoke. The boy had long ago learned to blend into the background and quietly watch as friends of his uncle would loudly boast about things Simon didn't understand. But that was the way of adults. He didnt think he would ever understand them.
Grabbing his mucking rake from the wall as he entered the building, Simon looked down along the twenty stalls lining both sides of the barn. Only five of them had occupants but the barn had been built back in the days when horses pulled the ploughs and harvesters instead of the noisy tractors his uncle now used. The boy quickly walked passed the first four stalls, their occupants outside for the moment, cropping sweet grasses in the field. He kept walking until he was level with the fifth stall. Inside was an aging pony, her arthritic joints and chipping hooves forcing Cobin to keep her in the stall most of the time. The little mare had been Simon's first mount and was still his favorite animal on the whole farm. Her sweet and patient nature had made learning to ride a great deal easier for the then two year old child who still found walking a challenge. Simon had long since moved up to one of the horses when the length of his legs made riding the pony impractical. He still loved the pony though, and always found a little time to spend with her each day when he came to muck out the stalls and lay fresh hay in each enclosure.
Lifting the latch on the gate to her stall, Simon clucked his tongue as he stepped inside. The old mare came towards him, her nose already extended for the carrot she knew he was carrying on him somewhere. It was a game they both enjoyed, he would hide the carrot and she would have to find it. Simon couldn't help smiling as the pony began to whuffle over his pockets. He'd figured out some time back that his aunt always left a carrot or two where he could easily purloin them. Seemed his aunt liked the little mare too.
The pony quickly found the carrot; after all, he only had so many pockets and was soon crunching contentedly. Leaning back against the gate, Simon said, "Did you see the visitors we had today, Honey? They weren't like those noisy men who usually come to see Uncle Cobin. There was a little blonde lady who pretended she liked green beans and a taller lady. Well, taller doesn't really describe her. She was as big as Uncle Cobin but she was really quiet and when she smiled her eyes would just light up in the nicest way you could imagine."
The pony sniffed at Simon's pockets again, hoping for a second carrot. She was in luck today and found another tucked into the pocket of his jeans. Her talented teeth soon had it out and she munched away on the juicy vegetable as she listened to the small human talking. Simon often came and chatted with the pony about whatever was bothering him, lacking a confidant his own age and gender.
"And the best part of all, Honey, was I got to tell them about what happened over on Stacy's farm. I promised I wouldn't tell Uncle Cobin or Aunt Vic but I was able to tell the two ladies because Stacy didn't say anything about not talking to other grown ups. And even better, Honey, they believed me. That really had to be the best part. Then the big lady; her name is Bet, by the way, asked if I could draw her a map of the farm. She looked really happy when I showed her the one Stacy and I drew that time we were playing at being secret agents," Simon explained excitedly, his hands waving in the air as he spoke.
Honey sniffed delicately at Simon's shirt hoping for scratches, now that she had eaten all the hidden carrots. The white, grizzled hair around her muzzle and the hollowing of her flanks giving away her age.
"Do you know what is the very best part of all, Honey?" the boy said, giving in to her request for scratches. "They don't know it yet, but I'm going to help them. No one knows that farm the way I do and I don't care if they have a map of the place. I didn't mark down all the escape tunnels when we drew it, so the only person who knows their way around everything is me. I've gotta help them. I mean, Bet is probably big enough to take on most of the men and the little blonde lady, Rell, can handle the beautiful woman, but that still leaves Stace tied up in the big barn. Someone has to get her out and that someone should be me cause I know my way around like nobody else," he boasted.
Continuing the scratches, the boy thought for several moments. "I guess the best time to go is after moon set tonight. It'll be dark then and no one will be expecting a single boy to come sneaking onto the farm, especially if they are already busy with whatever Bet and Rell might have cooked up for them. Yep, looks like it'll have to be tonight then," he said to the little mare snuggled against his chest.
"Are you mucking out those stalls, Simon or standing around talking to Honey again?" Cobin Alexander's voice called from the front of the barn. "I know she's your favorite but it's not getting your chores done."
"I was just giving her a carrot, Uncle Cobin. I just got started with the mucking," Simon replied, beginning to energetically collect the manure from the straw and dumping it into the barrow.
"And don't forget the chickens when you get finished in there either," Cobin yelled down the passageway before turning to attend to a few of his own chores. The big man knew Vicki was going to have his hide if he didn't see to those weakened brackets on the downpipe today. How the damned thing kept coming loose was beyond him. Perhaps some stronger screws were the answer, he thought, turning from the barn.
"Yes, Uncle Cobin," Simon called back, winking broadly at the patient mare watching him work. He could hardly wait until tonight when the moon set and he got the chance to rescue Stacy just like a real secret agent would. In the meantime, doing his chores did help to pass the time.
Bet wondered what she had been drinking the night before because her body was sprawled out in the oddest position and her head was pounding furiously. She silently promised herself to find out exactly what she'd consumed so she could make sure never to drink it again, if this was the way it left her feeling the next day. Gingerly moving her head, the big agent tried to roll over, only then discovering her wrists had been secured in some way to a large, immovable metal object. Slowly opening her eyes brought a rush of memories back to her. It wasn't alcohol that had put her in this position but the flying boot of the little blonde photojournalist sitting patiently on the ground in front of her blurred eyes.
"You know, Bet. It wouldn't surprise me in the least to find you had the kitchen sink in there," Rell said calmly, now she felt she had regained some measure of control over the situation.
"Excuse me," Bet replied stupidly, not understanding what the other woman was talking about.
Rell cast a significant glance at the slim handcuffs threaded through the bumper of the car and firmly clipped around the agent's wrists.
"Oh. Those," Bet said, still trying to get her brain into the right gear. That little blonde has one almighty kick on her, she thought. I'd hate to meet her in a dark alley. Oops, I think I just did.
"I figured if you had a gun in your jeans and a badge in your boot, you had to have some handcuffs on you somewhere too. It didn't amaze me at all to find a pair in your other boot. You really have to tell me where you got them from because they seem to come with some really interesting goodies," Rell said pleasantly.
"So what happens now? Your thugs come along and wipe me off the face of the earth?" Bet asked, her upper lip starting to sneer even though her heart rate was probably thumping at twice its usual rate.
"Nope. No thugs," the blonde replied.
"Oh? You have the fun of doing it yourself, I suppose?" the agent offered, already seeing her body bouncing limping along as Rell took the car for a high speed, reverse drive through the countryside. Well, there are grislier ways to go, she thought, completely unable to actually think of one.
"Nope, won't do that either," Rell answered, smiling. She was starting to enjoy the other woman's very incorrect assumptions, now she had her temper under control again and could see the funny side of things. After what the agent had said about Diana, Rell was severely tempted to really tease the big woman but that wasn't going to get them anywhere.
Narrowing one eye at Rell, Bet asked, "You are the cartel's leader, aren't you? Because if you're not, I think I just jumped into a very big pile of manure, and with both feet."
"Well, I am a leader," the photojournalist started to say and saw Bet immediately relax, thinking her assumptions had been correct after all. "But not of any cartel," she finished wickedly, watching the confusion fill the other woman's eyes.
"If you're not in charge of a cartel, what are you the leader of?" the agent asked, rattling the handcuffs a little in frustration.
"I'm the leader of something you're not going to believe for a minute, so I'm going to start by asking you to look at something," the blonde replied.
Bet pulled herself up a bit with one hand on the bumper of the car. Nodding, she indicated she was ready for just about anything, especially if it meant she wasn't going to be killed in the next five minutes. She watched as Rell tugged at one leg of her jeans, pulling the material well passed the top of her calf high boot. Bet couldn't miss the inch or so of very well defined muscle now showing above the other woman's boot top.
"Have you ever see anything like this before, Bet?" the other woman asked, pointing to the exposed leather of her footwear.
The FBI agent spent a couple of minutes gazing at the boot as Rell helpfully turned it in different directions so the handcuffed woman could see it from as many Angeles as possible. The leather was beautifully finished, most likely waterproof, if the high shine was any indication. The sole was made of many thin layers of leather firmly stitched together with tiny, near perfect rows of needlework, and a solid wooden heel had somehow been attached.
The thing that really caught Bet's eye however, were the designs carefully etched into the material. The most stunning array of bright, almost dazzling colors had been used to emphasize certain areas of the designs, while others relied on the finest and most complex carving the big woman had ever seen done on such a simple material like leather. Images of soaring eagles and snarling panthers appeared to come alive around the top of the boot. Across the foot and surrounding the heel lay an expanse of jungle so intricate in its detail, Bet could make out individual leaves and vines. From a distance, the designs not hidden by Rell's jeans had simply faded into a series of lines and shapes. Being this close to them, Bet could see what they really were, a thing of true beauty any museum in LA would have proudly displayed as a work of art.
"And these are just my every day boots," Rell said, when Bet's appreciative eyes finally dragged themselves upward. "The ones I wear for ceremonies and such are much more ornate."
"Who do you lead, Rell?" Bet asked, not sure what kind of answer the other woman would give.
"Know anything about the Amazons?"
"A little," the agent replied. "I learned about them in history class at college."
"Well, I'm the Queen of the Amazon Nation," Rell said with simple honesty.
"Bunkum!" Bet snapped, pulling at the handcuffs savagely.
"I thought you might say something like that," the photojournalist said. "But think about it, Bet. It's pretty far fetched, I'll admit but it's just crazy enough that I might be telling the truth. And have you ever seen craftsmanship like this anywhere before," she continued, pointing to her footwear.
"Look, those boots are pretty spectacular but that doesn't make them Amazon. They died out thousands of years ago. Amazons simply don't exist any more. They couldn't. Not in this day and age," the big woman replied.
"They do exist, and thanks to the women arriving from places like the US and Canada, we are thriving again. I'm hoping that when we are strong enough as a people, we can leave our jungle home and take our place in modern society, but that is still quite a few years away for us yet. A lot of the warriors have never seen anything of this world, and to be quite frank with you, it would be just too overwhelming for them to try to change," Rell explained, quietly.
"You talk as though these Amazons are real," Bet said, not believing the blonde for a moment but something in her soul wanting to be convinced anyway.
The photojournalist locked her eyes with the agent's, and Bet could almost see the thousands of years of experience hidden behind those blue-green pupils. Experience Rell could somehow call upon to lead a people the blonde knew existed.
"Bet, you're just going to have to take it on faith alone that the Amazons truly live and I am their queen. There isn't time to explain everything to you, at least not in a way you'll believe, but this much I can tell you. Diana has been coming to the US and Canada for the past several months because I, as the Amazon Queen, asked her to do it. She has a real knack for finding any woman with Amazon blood running in their veins. When she does find someone, she makes arrangements for them to come to South America. The women go to Bogota and stay in a hotel there until we have a small group. Then they are transported by a friend to a little clearing where they are met by one of my warriors. The warrior guides them up to the plateau where we live and usually within twenty-four hours, they have settled into the life of an Amazon. Any who wish to return to civilization are returned, no questions asked," Rell explained with such compelling sincerity Bet was hard pressed not to believe.
Seeing the FBI agent was willing to listen, at least partially anyway, Rell decided to take a real chance. It was a chance that might leave her with no hope of finding Diana but the stocky blonde did need the big woman's help if she was to succeed in her quest to find her consort.
"Bet, I am going to take those cuffs off you. If you don't believe in the existence of the Amazon Nation, even if you can't bring yourself to believe in them, then please believe in me. Neither Diana nor myself are connected to the cartels in any way. I only want to find her and take her home to the village," Rell said, reaching forward with the key to the handcuffs. Within moments, she had them undone and was handing them back to the FBI agent.
As she sat rubbing her wrists, Bet looked at the other woman. "I can't bring myself to trust in something so outside of my own experience, Rell," she said sadly. "But I do believe you're not connected to the cartels. And I'll help you find Diana. After all, I did promise to drive you wherever you needed to go for as long as it was going to take," she continued, a cheeky twinkle in her eye.
Rell sighed in utter relief, her shoulders dropping as she relaxed again.
"But this thing over at Stacy's farm? Well, we're going to have to take care of it. Aside from nearly promising Simon we'd do it, I don't want to bring myself to the attention of the local authorities. All that damned paperwork I mentioned at the airport," the agent explained, ruefully.
"Hmmm, how long can it take to get into lots of trouble?" Rell questioned aloud, as though asking herself. Climbing back to her feet, she held out one hand to the other woman, helping her up.
"Just one night, Rell. Just one night," Bet said as she got behind the wheel of the car.
The FBI agent and the photojournalist were hunched down in the deep ditch across the road from the gate leading into Stacy's farm. They had arrived an hour before sunset and had been watching ever since for any comings or goings from the site. The only arrival had been a large, canvas covered van, its driver more interested in making his turn than in looking for anyone crouched in a ditch. Their own vehicle was parked in a tiny valley some two miles away and the women had crept along beside the road until they had reached the gate. Both of them were soaked and muddy below the knees after stumbling through some of the run-off that had accumulated at the bottom of the little canal.
In the questioning silence of night, each woman was thinking her own thoughts as their eyes stayed fixed on the roof of the farmhouse they could just see in the distance. Ever since their 'discussion' earlier in the day, both women felt a little uncomfortable. Rell wondered if Bet truly believed that she and Diana weren't involved with the cartels, and Bet was considering what life would be like if the Amazons really did exist.
Temporarily putting her thoughts to one side; something the agent had grown used to doing over the years, Bet whispered, "The moon will have set in about an hour, Rell."
Shaking her own mind free, Rell looked over at the other woman before answering. "What's the best way in, then? Simon's map may have told us where to go but neither of us have any idea just how many men are wandering about the place."
Bet pulled the carefully drawn map out of her pocket and spread it on the ground at the top of the ditch, using the last of the moonlight to illuminate it. Tracing her finger over the paper, she found her eye returning to the underground drainage tunnels again and again. The barest outline of a plan began to form in her mind as she looked at the various entrances and exits of the tunnels.
"We could go in here," she said, pointing to a tunnel exit on the map which in reality was barely a hundred yards from where they were lying. "And come out the other end, here," she continued. Bet's second 'here' exited through an access shaft at the back of the big barn, right under a convenient window. Encircled by the high fence of an old horse yard, it looked to be the perfect entrance point into the barn.
Rell looked at the map over Bet's shoulder, running her eye over the route the agent was proposing. "I don't think that will work," the photojournalist commented. "See the window? If that's the one over the little room Simon said he last saw Stacy in, then it's way too small for either of us to crawl through. See," she said, counting off the spaces on the graph paper. "It's only four of the little squares long and according to the key on the side, there's no way we could fit. We need a window at least twice that length."
"Hmmm, no other windows until you reach the front of the barn and those all face the house. I'm not too keen on the idea of trying to sneak in from the front," Bet said. Running her finger along the sides of the building, she tried to find another way in. "There's the big, main door here on the side of the barn," the agent pointed out. "But that would make enough noise to wake the dead if we tried to open it from either side, and I'm not sure how many guards would be about."
"Tilt the map a little, Bet. This moonlight is making it hard to see," Rell asked, nudging the other woman's elbow. The faint dotted lines Simon had drawn on the map suddenly became clear and their route into the barn appeared like magic. "Look, there," the blonde said, pointing to a marking on the map.
"Well, you couldn't have asked for a better exit than that," Bet replied. "But squat, it means a long crawl on our bellies over two fields to get into the tunnel. You up to it, Rell, I mean you being a civilian and all? I honestly don't have any right to ask you to be doing police work with me."
"If you knew some of the places my trainer's had me crawling lately, you wouldn't be asking. A couple of fields are going to feel like a walk in the park, trust me," the stocky woman replied, grinning. Images of a leech filled, snake infested, fetid tropical swamp filled Rell's mind, her trainer and several of her warriors lurking somewhere ahead of her. If she made so much as a ripple in the foul water, one of them would suddenly pop out of hiding to plant the end of a spear on Rell's head, merrily pushing their queen underwater. It was an exercise designed to teach a young warrior stealth, though at several points she was certain her warriors were going to have to learn mouth to mouth instead.
"Just so long as you're okay about it, then," Bet answered, looking at the other woman out of the corner of her eye. The FBI agent started wondering exactly where Rell had been crawling, and whether it was one of those allegedly non-existent Amazons who had made her do it.
Poking the map back into her pocket again, Bet settled down in the ditch to wait for the moon to set over the horizon. She wasn't too concerned about getting bored during their enforced delay; she had more than enough to occupy her mind.
Diana twisted her rope bound wrists towards what little light remained, to see how much further she had worn through them. Hours of patiently scraping them over the slightly gouged sections of the hinge were definitely making an impression but from the look of it, she still had a long way to go. Dropping her hands into her lap, Diana rolled her shoulders trying to take some of the ache out of them. She had no idea how long she had been drugged but it had taken quite a toll on her powerful body. Whenever her arms grew too heavy to lift towards the hinge again, she would force herself upright, trying to get her uncooperative legs to stabilize. After many attempts and a great deal of massage, she found she was able to stand, even take a few steps, but that was about all. When her legs had become unresponsive jelly once more, Diana would work her way back to the hinge and start wearing away at the rope again. Eventually, she decided one or the other had to come good for her.
Inside her mind a sense of deep urgency kept pushing her to continue with her struggle. An urgency fueled by three events. First, the vacant eyed teenage girl who usually turned up just on sunset to feed and water the tall ex-mercenary had not made an appearance. Second, the sound of a large van pulling up in the courtyard, followed by loud voices had echoed up the passageway and into her little room. Clearly, some aspect of her captor's work had come to fruition. Finally, the man who normally drugged her into insensibility had not shown up, nor did it seem likely he would. She had been keeping track of time by watching the moon move across the frosted glass of her tiny window until it had dropped over the sill heading for the horizon. So, Diana knew it was hours past the time he should have turned up with his horrifying drugs. Aside from the sounds she was making herself, the hallway had been completely silent from the moment she'd been brought back to her prison.
"Okay, something is going on tonight which means I'd better get my pretty little butt out of this room and well away before they remember I'm here," Diana said to herself, lifting her tired arms towards the hinge.
How she would get through the locked door and where she could escape to afterwards, were concerns she didn't bother to think about just yet. Getting her hands free and her legs cooperating were the only things on her mind for the moment.
Simon listened closely at the barely open door of his bedroom. Somewhere down the hallway he could just hear the sleepy muttering of his uncle and the almost petite snores made by his aunt. Shortly after his aunt had tucked him into bed for the night, Simon had pulled the big, old alarm clock down from his bedside table and reset it to wake him some hours later. He knew trying to stay awake until the moon had gone down would be useless, hours of physical labor saw to that, so he set the alarm and then tucked the clock under his pillow. Simon had been jerked from a deep sleep when the alarm had started ringing thunderously right under his ear. For a moment, after the deafening sound had begun, he'd sat terrified in his bed until he remembered what the clamor meant.
Within minutes of rising, Simon was dressed in the dark clothing he had deliberately left hanging over the back of a chair, hidden under his usual outfit of denim shirt and jeans. Reaching into his bedside drawer, he found the few other items he intended taking with him. The sharp little pocket knife had slipped easily into the pocket of his dark jeans leaving almost no bulge. A pencil torch was tucked into his back pocket, along with a small screwdriver. Simon had also placed a notebook and pen into the pocket of his shirt. The boy doubted he would need those but if a note was required, he was prepared. After listening at the door of his room for several more breaths, he decided both of his guardians were deeply asleep and unlikely to miss him for some time. So long as he was back in bed again by sunrise, they would never know the youngster had left the house.
Opening the window just enough to allow his body to slip through, Simon worked his way silently across the roof until he found the drain-pipe he usually used to shimmy down to the ground. The trip from the roof and back was getting to be more and more difficult as his increasing weight of late strained the supports holding the pipe to the side of the house. Soon, he would have to find another way up and down but tonight, he'd once again successfully made the perilous trip to the earth below.
Listening for several moments to ensure he hadn't alerted anyone in the house to his clandestine departure, Simon slowly trotted off through the outbuildings surrounding the house, headed for the open fields between the two farms. He already knew which of the tunnels he would take to get to the barn, one of the several not marked on the map he's given Bet and Rell. It would be a narrow squeeze, even for him but the entrance was on this side of the fence. It linked in with one of the major tunnels further along but the start of that particular passage was well onto Stacy's farm and he didn't want to risk being seen. Especially tonight, not with so much depending on his remaining completely unnoticed by anyone.
Leaning against the side of the ditch watching the last of the moon's glow disappear behind the edge of the horizon, Rell looked over at the darker shadows next to her, asking, "Why that little room in the barn, Bet? I mean it's probably been a month since Simon saw Stacy there, she could have been moved just about anywhere on the farm by now."
"Because it's a place to start, Rell," the agent replied. "Plus, I'd rather begin looking in a place that has a few shadows to hide in before we have to move out into areas that are better lit."
"Mmmm, makes sense," Rell commented. "The systematic approach," the stocky woman said with wicked humor.
"Yea, it even works occasionally," Bet replied, the pale flash of her teeth as she smiled showing exactly which of the many shadows was her.
"Well, if we're going to introduce our belly buttons to some good Canadian farming land, we might as well get going. The moon has all but gone, so no one will see us," Rell said, already creeping out of the ditch and up onto the roadway. She squatted down, waiting for the other woman to join her on the blacktop.
Bet heaved herself out of the canal to crouch beside Rell before both women ran quietly across the road. Once on the other side, they wriggled under the fence and began the long crawl to the tunnel entrance some two fields away. They doubted anyone at the house could see them from so far away, but they didn't want to take a chance on being spotted by some wandering guard. Stacy's life may very well depend on the two women remaining unnoticed for as long as possible. At several points Bet looked over her shoulder trying to hear the other woman moving in the darkness. She was surprised to note just how silent Rell was as she worked her way over the soil. Only the colorless blob of the stocky woman's face behind her let Bet know where the photojournalist was lying.
She learned to do that somewhere, the FBI agent thought briefly. And it wasn't while pounding the pavement around LA either. Could this Amazon thing really be true? God, what if it is? For some reason, that question shook the big woman right to the core of her soul, making her stop for several long moments. Bet made a deliberate effort to refocus herself on the job at hand. Hopefully, she would have time later to think more deeply about her questions. However, right now she couldn't shake the disconcerting feeling that Rell had been telling the truth about herself, Diana and this whole Amazon situation.
Continued..Part 3 (Conclusion)
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