(A) Story's mine, characters are not.
(B) Some violence and a little cussing. This is Mad Dog Covington, after all.
(C) Alt story = consenting adult woman/woman pairing (not explicit).
Not your cup o'tea or illegal for you to be viewing? Try one of the 5,000ish general fic stories instead. Cheers :0) Thanks to the Academy for hosting and thanks to my Beta!
Happiness is a Warm Gun
Challenge 21: Vacation Story
Cap'n Cat ( email@example.com)
Janice and Mel / Alt / Complete
Mad Dog and Mel were fighting over me again. I could hear them duking it out downstairs. Mel was trying to keep her voice level and calm, but Mad went off into one of her blusters and things kinda went from there. I settled in for a long wait - I'd seen this argument play out before. The discussion would escalate into a fight, then Mad would get all in a huff and go stomp outside for some "fresh air." She'd come back inside afterwards and I'd get the results then. I just had to be patient.
Sure enough, the argument's volume peaked a few minutes later and I heard Mad's boots tromping across the floor. The front door creaked open, then slammed shut. Called it , I chuckled. Mel made some exasperated noises and then her heels clicked up the stairs. Uh-oh. This wasn't part of the usual script. The noise from her heels muffled as she hit the carpeting in the hallway. Shit. She's coming this way. The door handle rotated and I froze.
The door opened and I heard Mel come inside. She headed over to the dresser and pulled out the top drawer, which always squeaks. She rummaged around in the socks and underwear for a minute, then slid that drawer back in and moved onto the next one. "Where does she keep you?" she murmured.
Like hell I'm telling you ! I bristled.
Mel moved on from the dresser to the closet. I could hear the rustling of extra sheets and blankets being moved aside, then the screech of clothes on the hangers being dragged back and forth across the rack. "Honestly! This isn't the kind of thing you want left unattended in your house! When Janice comes back in, we're going to have a little talk about this."
Lady, I know Mad better than you do, and trust me, there's not gonna be any "little talk." Just you watch...
Mel let out an exasperated sigh and gave up. I heard the door close behind her as she left. Never gonna find me, never gonna find me, I thought gleefully, and then settled down to wait for Mad Dog.
I heard the front door open a little while later and Mad's boots boomed across the hardwood floors and up the stairs. Told ya so. The door opened and a waft of cigar smoke and bourbon blew in. Mad shut the door and walked over to my hiding place. "She thinks that I shouldn't bring you with us," she whispered as she crouched down in front of the small cabinet she used as a bedside table. I heard her knees pop and I knew she'd be wincing a little, right around the eyes. She opened the door of the cabinet and I was hit with her scent all over again, leather and smoke and sweat. "I told her she was being preposterous. You always come with us."
Damn straight, I do! I felt a slight weight on the wooden panel underneath me as Mad placed her fingertips on two pressure points.
"Besides, how many times have you and I saved her life?" There was real love in Mad's voice then, and I knew not all of it was meant for Mel. I beamed. When she released the pressure points with a pop, I slid out from my secret drawer and into her palm, warm and gleaming and ready for action.
"Let's get you oiled up, girl. It's time for our biggest adventure yet." Mad raised her eyebrows at me.
Where're we goin, Boss? I relaxed in her hand, let her feel just how right my smooth handle felt against her skin. She rubbed her thumb over my curves and we both remembered the adventures we had shared that had molded me perfectly to her hand. She smiled for a minute, remembering the wilder days of our youth when I was a brand new revolver and she was still a gawky teenager, all knees and elbows and shaky hands. We missed more than we hit at first, but we got better as we went, and Mad and I had gotten out of more scrapes than either of us could count. We'd fought off drunks and robbers and Nazis... even Gods. And we'd found Mad's magnum opus, the Xena Scrolls. Things had been different since we found the Scrolls - Mad's new dame Mel didn't like me so much, and life had gotten pretty mundane in the few years since the find. I spent a lot of time in my secret drawer, but I could understand that, I guessed. No dame likes to be reminded that she's not the first, and Mel was certainly not Mad's first love. I was. I guess sometimes I'm still first to her.
Mad took out a clean handkerchief and wiped down my barrel. (I have to admit, I like that Mel makes her carry a clean hanky. The old ones were pretty vile). "We, my friend," she said with a slight roll of her eyes, "are going on vacation. "
Vacation? What's vacation? Mad and I had never been on vacation before.
"Apparently we need a break from all of the work we haven't been doing. Well, translating and grant writing is work I suppose, but not, you know, WORK. Not our kind of work." Mad winked at me and checked my chambers to make sure I was empty, then started to dismantle me. She kept whispering while she carefully cleaned and oiled my various parts, telling me where we were going (Athens, Greece) and what we would be doing (not much aside from sitting on the beach). Doesn't sound like too much fun, Mad. I hate the beach. The sand gets in my joints.
"You never know what could happen, though," she said after she finished cleaning me up. "That's why you're coming. Maybe something exciting will happen." Gods, I hope so.
"Alright, lady, let's hit the road," she said, and things got dark as she slipped me into a leather shoulder holster. I nestled in comfortably against her ribs. Me and Mad, back to Greece . Even with the prospect of days spent in the sand, hiding from Mel, I was in a damn good mood. I was sure Mad Dog would find a way to make the trip fun. She's good at making adventures where there are none to be had.
* * * *
It was a long flight to Athens and I dozed for most of it, perking up only once when one of the male passengers got a little overly friendly with Mel. It would have been insanity for Mad Dog to use me on a plane flying at 20,000 feet, but hey, that's why she's Mad Dog, so I was ready and waiting. I stayed on alert until Mad had verbally castrated the guy, much to the amusement of the other passengers and to the chagrin of Mel and the flight attendants, then dozed off again. We got to our hotel without incident and Mel and Mad washed up, then decided to go exploring because it was only two o'clock local-time, and staying awake would be the best way to kill the jet-lag.
Mel had wanted to hit one of the beaches right away, but Mad wheedled her into taking a historical tour instead. "Janice, you could probably GIVE the tour!" Mel protested.
Mad snorted. "Sweetheart, can you see me giving a tour to a bunch of sweating, lunkheaded tourists? I'd be out of a job in five seconds!"
"Then I don't understand why you wanna go on one!"
"Well, sweetheart, it's just that... being in the ruins and the temples reminds me of meeting you at Ares' tomb." I'd seen this maneuver before - Mad was gonna play Mel like a game of pool. Eight ball, corner pocket.
"Janice Covington, that's a load of horse manure."
Chalk the cue. "No, really, sweetheart! Remember? The torchlight, the undisturbed air, the artifacts -"
"Smythe trying to kill us, Ares trying to kill us, me being corporeally hijacked by my ancestor, Jack Kleinman..."
"Yeah, yeah, alright, those parts weren't that great." Mad waved her hand in the air, then put an arm around Mel's waist. Line up the shot. "But you looked awfully sexy sticking it to Ares like that."
Mel pulled back. "That was XENA."
Re-align the shot. "No, no, sweetheart, that day was all you!" Mad paused and took Mel's hand. Stroke the cue, let 'er rip. "You saved the day! Hell, you made the day. You're the one who got us into the tomb in the first place, remember? I couldn't even read the scroll. Honestly, your intelligence, your skills, they really - I was really impressed, right from the start."
Mel stopped and looked at Mad. "Really? You mean that?"
Ball's rollin... "Well, Jesus H. Christ, of course, sweetheart! I mean, any dame can have a pretty face and killer gams, but being able to read Linear B? Ring-a-ding-ding, doll."
Mel's eyes glistened. "I thought you thought I was useless for months...the whole time we were workin on the translations... I thought..."
Mad pulled Mel in close. "Babe, I was hooked from the second you read my scroll."
"Oh, Janice!" Oh, Jesus. Mel leaned in and kissed Mad hard on the lips. "Of course, alright, if bein around the historical sites reminds you of our early days together, we can go visit any sites you want."
"Really?" said Mad, giving Mel a hopeful smile.
"Really," replied a glowing, slightly weepy Mel.
Game! Right in the pocket! "Great! Let's start with the Parthenon!"
The Parthenon! I was ecstatic. Mad Dog and I had been there a long time ago – what a day that was. I'm sure Mad had more stalling tactics up her sleeve for once we got to the temple - with any luck, this vacation wouldn't have any beach time at all.
* * * *
"Psst, Mel! C'mere!" Mad Dog was lagging way behind the rest of the tour group, staring up at some of the battle scenes carved around the top of the west-facing columns. Her jacket was unzipped and I could feel the wind and sun against my handle. It made me a little worried - Mad was usually meticulous about keeping me covered up when I was in the shoulder holster, especially when people weren't supposed to know I was around. She must be really excited about something not to notice.
"Janice, what are you doin? This isn't Macedonia ! We can't go tearin around - it's not our dig!" hissed Mel, but dropped back to Mad's side anyways.
"Shhh, keep your voice down! Look up at the carvings, but don't look too interested, OK?"
"Alright... is something wrong?" Mel asked, a hint of worry creeping into her voice. She knew by now that when Mad started acting squirrelly, it meant something was up.
"No, no, not at all. Just look. This kind of carving is called a metope, and these metopes in particular represent famous battles in Greek history."
Mel squinted up at the scenes. "Thanks for the art history lesson. This set doesn't look so good. I think the ones on the east side are in better condition - you know, the set that's over by the tour that YOU wanted us to take."
Mad rolled her eyes. "But these are the ones we're interested in."
Mel raised an eyebrow and gave Mad a half-smile. "Oh, we are now, are we? May I remind you, Doctor Covington, that we're here in Greece on vacation and not another dig?"
"Oh, we can be on vacation all you want, but I think you're going to be very interested in this set of carvings," Mad said, flashing a wicked grin.
"I do NOT like the looks of that smile, Janice. Whatever it is that you've got goin on here, just spit it out!" Mel crossed her arms in front of her chest and stared at Mad over the top of her glasses.
"Fine," replied Mad, discreetly pointing a finger at one of the more intact areas of the carving. "Who do you think that is?"
Mel followed the direction of Mad's finger, squinted again, and gasped. "Janice! It's Xena and Gabrielle!"
"SHHHH!" Mad shushed Mel. I could feel her heart racing from excitement. "So you agree with me that it's them, yes?" she whispered.
Mel looked at Mad, turned back to the carving, and then turned back to Mad. "Unless we're both hallucinating from jet-lag, there's no doubt. Those carvings are dead ringers for Xena and Gabrielle - and us."
Mad nodded. "That's why we need to leave now."
"What?!" protested Mel. "Are you crazy?! We need to talk to somebody! We need to set up a dig site! There might be more scrolls here!"
"SHHHHH!" Mad poked Mel in the ribs. "There's guards and tourists everywhere right now. Someone else could see the similarities between us and the carvings."
Mel frowned. "I doubt it, Janice. Why would they even bother to look up there? The eastern side carvings are in such better shape - the tour groups only look at those." Mel paused. "Why did you even think to look up there?"
Mad shook her head. "I'll explain later. We need to get walking - the tour groups don't usually come over here, so we're drawing attention to ourselves right now. We'll come back later tonight," she said, and started strolling back towards the tour group.
Mel hustled to catch up to her. "Doesn't the site close at five?"
Janice nodded. "We'll wait til dark, and then take the special 'after hours' tour," she said, flashing another wicked grin.
"There is no 'after hours' tour, Janice," whispered Mel as they got closer to the group.
"I've decided to take your earlier recommendation. I'll be acting as the tour guide," replied Mad with a wink.
We'd caught up to the group by this time, so all Mel could do was shoot Mad a nasty look as Mad suppressed her chuckle. I could barely contain my excitement. This vacation was starting to look more and more like an adventure.
* * * *
After the Parthenon tour had finished, Mad dragged Melinda into one of the little outdoor cafe and souvenir shops set up near the entrance. "Janice, are you out of your mind? You hate tourist shops," said Mel.
"I know, but I want to show you something and I think they might have it. Why don't you grab a table and I'll get us some coffees?" suggested Mad.
The mention of "coffee" seemed to work, as both Mad and Mel still seemed tired from the traveling. Mel nodded and picked a small table in the corner of the cafe area and sank gratefully into the chair.
Mad Dog and I hustled into the souvenir shop. "They must have a picture book or something in here that shows the western metopes," she muttered. She spun a rack of black and white postcards, but those mostly featured panoramic shots of the Parthenon. The thin picture books showing various shots of the Parthenon weren't much help, either - mostly more panoramic shots, and a few of the better preserved carvings of the battles between the Giants and the Olympians. "Dammit." Mad's heartbeat picked up.
"Miss, excuse me, miss!" said the man working behind the counter. "I have more books over here." His English was heavily accented but flawless.
Mad Dog nodded and walked over. "How did you know what I was looking for?" she asked coolly. Mel calls her paranoid, but Mad's defenses - and willingness to flash me around sometimes - have kept her alive through some crazy situations.
"I see you are not dressed like the other tourists, and no camera." He gestured at Mad's clothing. The other women in the shop mostly sported flowery summer dresses, while Mad had on a jacket, a crisp white blouse and tailored pants. "I think you are perhaps a field researcher or a scholar?"
"You could say that," Mad conceded. "So where are these other books?"
"They're written in Greek," he apologized, and pulled several large books from behind the counter. "But they have excellent photographs. Perhaps you're interested in looking at our architecture?"
"You could say that," Mad repeated, and selected the largest book. She flipped it open and started to page through it. When she got to the section on the metopes, she barely paused before moving on to the next section. After she had quickly looked through the whole book, she nodded. "I think this will work. I'll take it. And a coffee as well, please."
"Would your associate not like a coffee also, miss?" asked the man, flashing Mad a wide smile.
Mad leaned over the counter in such a manner that her jacket opened wide. I could feel the summer breeze on my handle again, and I knew that the man behind the counter was now well aware of my presence. "Why are you so interested in me and my associate?" asked Mad Dog in a low, steady voice. This guy has no idea what he's in for.
The man's smile never faltered and he even laughed a little as he passed over two paper cups of coffee. "This is Athens . Nobody ends up here by accident. Certainly not two American women traveling unattended. Be careful, miss. There are others as observant as me, but with much less honorable intentions."
Mad Dog stared him down for a few more seconds, and then leaned back, which hid me from view again. She reached for her wallet. "How much?"
The man waved her away. "Take what you need and go quickly from this site. I don't want trouble in my cafe."
I felt Mad's skin prickle. "I'm not a hoodlum, and I'm not here to steal your stuff," she spat. Mad had worked her whole life to build an honest reputation to distance herself from her father, Harry "The Graverobber" Covington . She took it hard when someone insinuated otherwise.
The man shook his head. "No, miss, you're not a hoodlum, but you are trouble, are you not?"
"I suppose I am," growled Mad, and picked up the book and coffees. She went to tip her fedora out of habit, realized that it wasn't there, and touched her forehead instead. The man nodded in return and Mad and I turned sharply and left the shop.
Mel was waiting for us in the same spot we had left her. She had her eyes closed and her face turned towards the late afternoon sun and seemed to be enjoying the heat on her skin. I felt Mad's breath hitch a little like it does sometimes when she catches Mel's profile like that, and then she picked up her pace.
Mel must have heard the familiar tread because she turned and smiled at us, but her smile quickly faded as she saw what must have been a scowl on Mad's face. "What's wrong?" she whispered as we sat down.
Mad shook her head. "Nothing yet. The man in the shop seemed to have our number, though. If he thinks that we're conspicuous, I'm sure that anyone on guard here thinks we are, too. We'd better hit the road."
"No, wait," said Mel, placing her hand on Mad's wrist. "That'll look too suspicious. Sit down and we'll drink out coffees and pretend that we're just admiring the view."
"Alright," agreed Mad, and I could feel her heart flutter a little again. Mad had never been with anyone as bright as Mel before, and I think that sometimes she's still surprised when Mel outwits her.
Mad and Mel sipped at their coffees quietly for a few minutes, murmuring inane comments about the weather and the site. Mel gestured towards the Parthenon, and then leaned in towards Mad's ear.
"Janice... I'm not very good at this tourist business," she whispered.
Mad smiled. "Yeah, me either. I'm not really the vacation type."
Mel walked over to a recently vacated table and picked up their abandoned newspaper. She brought it back to the table and spread it out so that she and Mad could both see the text and pretend to read it. "Absolute gibberish," shrugged Mad.
"I've offered to teach you...." replied Mel in a sing-song voice as she raised her eyebrows disapprovingly, but kept her eyes scanning the paper as if she was really reading it." So how did you know that...our family...was on the western metopes?"
"I didn't for sure," admitted Mad, "but I had a hunch. I've been to the Parthenon before, a long time ago. I think I was about twenty." Twenty-one, Mad Dog. You were twenty-one and I was five.
"I had decided pretty early on in my search that the Parthenon didn't have anything to do with Xena - what would a warlord want with a temple, right? But I was curious to see it anyways, so I decided to have a look. I went on the tour, because that was the only way they'd let you on the site. They showed us the metopes on the eastern side because they're the best preserved, like you said. That side depicts the Olympians fighting the Giants. The guide mentioned that the other ones depicted other famous battles, so I thought maybe Xena might be on one of them. She was the Warrior Princess, after all. I wandered to the south one and that side seemed to be the Trojan War. I turned towards the western one, but a guard very politely pointed me back to the tour. I rejoined the tour for a minute, and then wandered over to the north side. That side seemed to be the Battle of the Centaurs, which really got me hopeful that she'd be on the western side. I tried to cut back across to the western side, but the guards pushed me a little less politely back towards the tour again."
"Finally the tour was over, and for some reason...I dunno, I just had a feeling that she would be there. So I exited the site and went back to the room where I was staying and waited until it got dark out, then went back for a closer look."
Mel, who had been listening without comment, interjected. "So you have taken a 'self-guided nighttime tour' here before, huh?"
"Ah...yeah. I didn't get very far."
Mad tends to edit a lot of her "early years" stories when she tells them to Mel. I get edited out of a lot of them. So do a lot of the injuries and setbacks she suffered through. The 'Parthenon self-guided nighttime tour,' for example, started with us creeping up to the site at three o'clock in the morning with a grappling hook and about two hundred feet of thin rope. It ended with us swinging wildly from the upper reaches of the temple, guards shouting and shooting, me spewing out bullets as fast as Mad could squeeze my trigger, and Mad screaming out a string of curses as long as our climbing rope. Mad had slid down the rope and then jumped the last fifteen feet or so, hit the temple floor hard with both feet, and took off running just in time to avoid the squad of Gendarmerie that showed up. She'd spent four days holed up in her room afterwards, both ankles swollen like watermelons and her hands looking like hamburger from the rope burns. But she had still oiled and cleaned me before she went to bed that morning after our escape.
Mad was still talking to Mel. "About six months ago, I read an article saying that the metopes on the western side depicted the Amazon battles. I thought about it again a few months ago when you were translating that set of scrolls about Gabrielle becoming the Amazon Queen, but we had so many other things going on around the farm that it slipped my mind until you mentioned going on vacation."
Mel raised an eyebrow. "So you figured you would turn our first real vacation into another hunt for Xena artifacts?"
"Um....maybe...." Mad looked at the table and took a huge gulp of coffee.
Mel sighed. "I'm surprised that I'm still surprised by that."
"Well, sweetheart, at least my obsessions are academic, right?"
Mel glared at the top half of the left side of Mad's jacket, where she kept her smokes and flask in a secret inner pocket.
"Alright, alright, MOST of my obsessions are academic. Look, here's the book I got from the tourist shop. There's a section on the metopes, but the book's written in Greek so I can't read it. Would you do me the honor?" Slick, Mad, very slick.
Mel couldn't quite keep the pleased smile off her face as she picked up the book and began to read in a whisper. The book spoke of the sculptor who had carved the metopes and the approximate dates of the works, then had a short description of each of the battles. The western side was indeed dedicated to the Amazonomachy, the war between the Athenians and the Amazons. "That must have been hard for Gabrielle to fight against the Athenians - she had attended the Academy here, remember?" murmured Mel.
Mad nodded and turned the page. There were several photos of the best preserved sections of the western metope, including the panel with Xena and Gabrielle. Both women hunched over book for a closer look, and Mad's jacket slid open again. Mad, pay attention to me! This isn't like you - someone's gonna see me! A man in a black suit sitting a few tables away peered at Mad over the top of his newspaper, but she was so absorbed in the book that she didn't notice. Mad Dog! What's wrong with you? You're getting sloppy!
"Look, there's Xena," whispered Mel, "and Gabrielle standing next to her."
Mad Dog let out a low whistle. "It's still kind of uncanny, isn't it?"
"That it is. Look at the Amazon with the curly hair standing behind Gabrielle - Ephiny?"
"I think so. And Eponin next to her."
"Gods, she's nearly as big as Xena."
"And what would two American ladies know of our Xena?" A man's harshly accented voice broke through our huddle.
Mel and Mad both jumped in their seats. The man in the dark suit from a few tables away was peering over the table, staring at the book. Mad's hand shot to my holster and I was ready to go.
"Ah, ah, I do not think that you want to use your friend here, miss," cautioned the man.
"Mister, I don't think you have a fucking clue of what I do and do not want to do," snarled Mad Dog.
"Such foul language coming out of such a pretty mouth, and in front of such a pretty companion," he said, smiling greasily at Mel. Mel scowled back.
"I think perhaps it would be best if you both came with me," he said.
"And why would we want to do that?" asked Mad.
"Because I have a friend, too," he said, pulling his jacket aside a little to reveal his own shoulder holster.
In the old days, Mad Dog would have whipped me out while he was still talking and shot him without another thought. Since he had a gun, too, she could say she'd done it self defense and get away with it without a problem. In the old days, she would have done all of that without thinking. But now she had to think about it before she acted - she had another person to protect, and that changed the equation. If she missed her shot or was slow on the draw, the man could shoot Mel before Mad shot him, and then Mad's life would effectively be over. In the time it took her to size up the situation, she'd missed the moment, and now I was stuck uselessly in my holster and she and Mel were stuck taking orders from Dark Suit.
"Alright, fine," said Mad, rising from the table. "Where are we going?"
"Back to the temple. I think perhaps you can help me recover some heirlooms. But first, I think, I will be taking your friend," he said, gesturing towards me.
Mad Dog! Don't let him have me!
I could hear Mad's teeth grinding. "I'll give you the bullets," she said stubbornly.
Dark Suit laughed. "So you can pull more out of your pockets and reload later? I think not. Come now, you give me your friend and I shall leave your other friend alone." This time, the greasy smile he shot Mel was a definite leer.
Mad's whole body went tense and then I was out in the sunlight. Mad! Don't let him take me for good! I'd been held hostage before - it was part of the job. Giving me up bought Mad time to save herself and get me back. Over the years I'd been manhandled by Nazis, prison guards, Smythe, and even one of Mad's crazy ex-lovers during a drunken fight. But she'd always come back for me - she never left me with my capturer. I had no reason to think that this time would be any different. Soon she'd have a plan and I'd be back in her hand, pumping my guts out to save hers. I just had to be patient.
I left Mad's cool, callused palm for his fat, greasy one. I hated the feeling of his sweat on my handle. Things got dark again as Dark Suit tucked me in the back of his waistband. I surmised that he had eaten a lot of garlic and onions recently. Gross. Mad, you owe big for this one.
* * *
Dark Suit and I marched Mel and Mad back towards the Parthenon. I'm sure that we made an odd group, but Dark Suit seemed to have some sway in the area, and the guards at the temple let us through without questions. I did see quite a few drachmas change hands, so I'm sure that smoothed our passage some. Mel and Mad were silent as we walked through the ruins that we had traveled through freely just an hour ago. All of the tour groups had left for the day, and our party was alone with the night guards. We entered through the eastern side and crossed the temple floor, headed west.
A few minutes later, we stopped beside of one of the sections of floor that had cracked open. The late afternoon sunlight spilled down into the crevice, revealing the beginnings of a worn dirt path carved out into the earth below the temple. Dark Suit slid a flashlight out of his pocket and held it out towards one of them. "I have a mission for you."
"Who the hell are you, anyway?" Mad demanded.
"Let us say for now that I am a willing servant of one of the ancients."
"Is it Ares?" asked Mad.
Dark Suit laughed again. "A god ruled by his dark passions - too unpredictable for me. His servants often ended up skewered on the end of his sword."
"Poseidon," Mel declared matter-of-factly.
Dark Suit seemed surprised. "Ah, so she is the brains and the beauty of this operation." I heard Mad spit and felt Dark Suit shift his feet to avoid it.
"Tell me, miss, how did you come to that conclusion?" He seemed genuinely curious.
"Well, first of all, it's not that hard. There's only twelve Olympians and I doubt you'd serve one of the goddesses. So that leaves six. Ares is out so that leaves five. I doubt you're serving Apollo because his oracle is at Delphi, Hephaestus is associated with Mount Vesuvius, and if it was Zeus you'd be at Mount Olympus . You're too sober to be serving Dionysus, and if you were serving Hades... we'd already be dead. So that leaves Poseidon. Plus, he and Athena dueled for the right to be the patron god of Athens , and he lost. So I'm assuming that you want to steal something of Athena's to bring back to Poseidon and prove your worth. I'm guessing that whatever you want to steal is hidden under the temple," she said, pointing into the gaping hole that lay next to us. "And like any tomb raider, you're worried about booby traps, so you're going to send us in to spring them all so you can go in safely." Mel can really run intellectual circles around people when she wants to.
I felt Dark Suit poke Mad in the ribs with the flashlight. "She is clearly much smarter than you, my friend. Tell me, why does she associate with you?"
Mad laughed mirthlessly. "You know... I ask myself that sometimes. I guess she's the brains and the beauty, so that makes me the brawn."
Dark Suit snorted. "That is truly unfortunate for her."
"And for you." And then she must have kicked him in the nuts, because Dark Suit collapsed in on himself, wheezed with a great, high-pitched keen, and dropped to his knees. I saw Mad's fist rear back. Oh man, mister, you aren't even gonna know what hit ya. The haymaker landed square between his eyes with an audible *snap!* Dark Suit groaned and slumped to the floor, moaning and bleeding profusely from the nose.
MAD DOG! Come get me! I tried to catch the dying sunlight on my metal parts so she'd see me. But I didn't have to worry because she reached for me first. I barely had time think about how good it felt to be back in her hand, though, because the next thing she reached for was Dark Suit's collar. She pulled up on his tie until he started to choke. Next thing I knew, she was hauling him up in one hand and raising me in the other. I readied myself for what was coming next.
"Janice! Don't shoot him!" hissed Mel. "The guards will hear! And there's still tourists at the cafe. We'll never get out of here without someone seeing us."
"Not to worry," grunted Mad, and flipped me around like I knew she would, and brought my butt down hard on Dark Suit's temple. There was a loud *crack!* and he slumped to the temple floor.
Mad and Mel were silent for a second. "Is...is he dead?" Mel's voice was shaking.
"I don't think so," Janice replied briskly. "That should keep him out of our hair long enough to go explore this tunnel, though."
"Janice Covington!" Mel grabbed Mad by the forearms. "Are you out of your cotton pickin mind? We are supposed to be here on VACATION. Now I know that we just found more evidence of Xena and Gabrielle. And there are probably artifacts of theirs hidden under this temple somewhere. But if Poseidon's servants are crawling around the area, trying to get at whatever is under here, we should LEAVE and come back with a proper dig permit and a police escort! We have evidence that the metope is of Xena and Gabrielle, so I'm sure we can get the funding and do this properly!"
Mad's eyes blazed. "No way, sweetheart. We're right here, right now, we've got the chance, and we're taking it. Let's go."
Mel crossed her arms in front of her chest. "The guards are gonna be patrolling and they'll see what you did to that man, and then they'll come in looking for us! We'll be trapped, arrested, and we'll never see whatever artifacts are under there ever again!"
Mad Dog tucked me back into her shoulder holster. "Uh-uh. I've got the chance and I'm taking it. Mel, if there's scrolls under here and we find them, the University here in Athens will have first claim to them. We'll never get to see them. They're so pissed off about our first cache that we'll never be allowed access to this one. So, please. Come with me."
"What about our friend here?" asked Mel.
"I'll make sure he doesn't go anywhere," Mad said. I could hear it in her voice that she had her wicked grin on again.
"Janice, you KNOW I hate that grin!"
"Aw, sweetheart, c'mon, just give me a hand with this...."
* * * *
Five minutes later, Mel and Mad and I entered the tunnel beneath the temple. We were carrying Dark Suit's flashlight, his gun, and...well...his dark suit. All of his clothes, actually. "Janice, I still can't believe you stripped him naked," Mel admonished.
"Sweetheart, seriously, even if he wakes up, how far is he gonna get with no clothes and no shoes? He can't even follow us through the tunnel - the rocks would shred his feet." The dirt path had changed to sharp gravel only a few feet down the path, so Mad's plan was pretty solid.
"I know, it just seems a little...uncivilized."
"Him staring at you like a piece of meat was a little uncivilized, too, ya know."
"Yeah. So Mel...can you try not to spring any booby traps this time around?"
"Janice Covington, if I recall, you said that exploring tombs and temples with me was romantic."
"Oh...right...I did say that."
"In fact, isn't that the reason that we're at the Parthenon right now?"
We continued on in silence for a few minutes, with the only noise coming from Mel and Mad's footsteps echoing down the corridor. The tunnel seemed to have been carved into the earth and supported with the same marble that the Parthenon was made of. The walls and sides were lined with marble blocks, and the floor was mostly sharp crushed marble.
"It looks like the tunnel stops up ahead," said Mad, peering down the corridor.
"It does," agreed Mel. "Move slowly - maybe there's a trap."
Mad shot Mel a Look but slowed down. We crept towards what appeared to be the end of the tunnel, but nothing happened as we inched closer.
"There's something carved into that big panel at the end," whispered Mel.
"All you, sweetheart," said Mad, and she pressed herself against the wall to let Mel pass. Mel took the flashlight and slid forward to the end of the tunnel. A smooth panel of marble sealed the end of the tunnel completely. Some deeply etched glyphs and a large red stain tainted the panel's white surface.
"Linear B?" asked Mad.
"I think so...yes, yes, it is," confirmed Mel, and translated aloud. "The blood that bound me can unseal me."
"Huh? Great! Whose blood? Where are we gonna we two thousand year old blood?!"
"We have fresh blood on Dark Suit's clothes," said Mel. "If he's Poseidon's servant and Poseidon has something to do with this tunnel, maybe that will work."
"Good point." Mad passed Mel Dark Suit's shirt, which was sodden with bright red blood. "Rub that sucker on there."
Mel shuddered but did as she was asked, wiping the shirt across the red streak on the panel. She and Mad held their breath. Nothing.
"Dammit," swore Mad.
"Can we go back to ground level now and try this again some other time with a permit and an excavator?" asked Mel.
"Wait, wait, wait," said Mad. "Are you wearing your hair pin today?"
"Yes..." drawled Mel, her voice rising in confusion.
"Here, let me see it." Mad held out her hand.
"Janice, you know, it's a pain to get my hair up like this and I don't have another pin," grumbled Mel as she slid the sharp pin out of her bun, "so don't break this. You're not gonna try and pry the panel open with it, are you?" she asked suspiciously.
Mad rolled her eyes. "Have you no faith?"
"I have faith, but you constantly test it." Mel passed her the pin.
"Thank you," said Mad, and jabbed the pin into her palm. "SONOFABITCH!"
Sonofabitch! Sonofabitch! Sonofabitch! echoed up the tunnel.
"Janice! What in the sam hill are you doing! You're gonna cause a cave in!"
"I needed blood," she said, holding up a gushing palm. "Here." She wiped her hand across the bloody smear on the wall. The panel didn't move. "Nothing. Hero: two, sidekick: zero." She took the flashlight back and held the hat pin out to Mel. "Your turn."
"Are you crazy?!"
"Think about it, Mel. Xena's blood is in your veins. You opened Ares' tomb. Why not open up Athena's treasures?"
"I suppose..." Mel looked at the hat pin dubiously, then screwed up her face and jabbed herself in the finger. A tiny droplet of blood appeared. Mad looked at her own hand, still bleeding copiously. "Ya big baby," she snorted, as Mel wiped her finger on the now very-red blood smear.
The panel shuddered once, and then began to lower itself into the floor, inch by inch. Mel had the height advantage and peered over the top of the panel. “Ooooh,” she breathed.
“What is it? What do you see?” Mad couldn't keep herself from asking.
Mel turned and grinned. “Nothin, just getting you riled up.”
Mad kicked the panel. “Move faster, dammit!”
“Aw, honey, here, I'll –“ but Mad had already scaled the slab and dropped down over the other side, taking the flashlight with her and leaving Mel in complete darkness.
“Janice!” Mel had no choice but to follow her partner over the panel.
Once both women were on the other side of the panel, Janice pulled me out of my holster and shone the flashlight around the new area. The panel had been guarding a large open room that was bare save a stone dais in the center. A wooden chest adorned with a brass lock and hinges rested atop the dais. Mel and Mad looked at each other. “No booby traps yet,” reasoned Mad.
“True,” agreed Mel. “Let's go.” We slowly approached the dais and stopped about a foot away from it.
Mad looked at Mel, who nodded. Mad raised me up at shoulder height, stretched her arm out, and tapped my barrel against the chest. Everyone ducked and waited for the room to collapse or arrows to come flying out of the walls, but nothing happened. “I can't believe that it's this easy,” whispered Mad.
“Don't ruin our luck, Janice!” whispered Mel. They both straightened up to standing height again. “Alright, let's open it,” she shrugged.
“I guess so…” said Mad, and pulled out her boot knife.
“You brought a gun AND a boot knife on vacation,” Mel said dryly as Mad worked the blade in the lock.
“I told you, sweetheart, I don't really do vacation.” Click. The lock popped.
“Janice?” whispered Mel.
“This is way more fun than the beach.”
Mel and Mad each grasped a corner of the lid and opened the chest. Inside lay thirty or forty tightly-wrapped cylinders of parchment, each sealed with Gabrielle's emblem.
“Scrolls,” squeaked Mad in a very un-Mad-Dog-like tone.
“And a note,” added Mel, pulling out a single sheet of parchment. “Linear B, of course.” She began to read it out loud, haltingly at first, but then gaining in speed.
“The blood of our Queen and the blood of her Champion have returned to the Amazons. The blood of the warrior and the blood of the bard have returned to the Amazons. We, who tried to take this city, now house our greatest treasure here until our Queen and our Champion return to claim it once more. We, who tried to take this city, offer this treasure to Athena, its patron goddess, as a show of faith and loyalty. We who have sworn our lives to Artemis now also swear our lives to Athena, for our Queen has shown us that there is a time for both words and battle. We must rule our lives with wisdom and with strength.
We offer Athena our tribe's history, preserved in these scrolls, as written by our Queen, Gabrielle, the Battling Bard of Potadeia, and we ask that she keep them safe until our Queen and her Champion return. With their strength and blood they shall redeem these scrolls, and with their wisdom and knowledge they shall read them and learn of our lives and of the lives of their ancestors.
Signed on this day,
Ephiny, Regent of the Amazons”
“Whoa,” exhaled Janice.
“This sure beats vacation.”
“And desk work, and translatin. You got any potential dig sites lined up, missy?”
“Honey, I've got more ideas for dig sites than we have years left in our lives.”
“Alright, well whaddya say we get these home and stored safe somewhere, and then get back out on the road? I've got a hankerin for field work again.”
Mad's eyes about popped out of her skull. “You mean you don't want to translate these first?”
“Nah,” Mel waved her hand. “Maybe in the winter when it's too cold to do anything else. Besides,” she said, poking Mad in the ribs, “your field skills are getting rusty.”
Mad's jaw dropped. “Are not!”
“Are too! Six years ago, you woulda had Dark Suit in a pretzel bend before he ever opened his greasy mouth.”
Mad Dog patted my holster. “You realize that I'm never leaving home without her, now, right?”
Mel rolled her eyes. “Like you ever did before. Don't think that I don't know when you're wearing that holster.”
“You knew all along?! So why didn't you say something?”
“Well, like I said, you're rusty – your jacket's been open all day. I didn't care so much when I saw it cos I figured you'd find some way to get us in enough trouble that you'd need it, even if it was just for fighting off jellyfish on the beach.”
Mad shook her head. “Well, if you really wanna get back in the field, I'm not gonna argue with you.”
“Yes, you will.”
Mad and Mel continued to fake bicker their way out of the tunnel, lugging the chest of scrolls along with them. I, on the other hand, decided to tune out and get some rest, because it didn't look like I'd be back in my secret drawer anytime soon. That was fine by me. Mad was still my first and only love, and there's no place I'd rather be then nestled in against her ribs when we're out on an adventure. Happiness is a warm gun.
Dark Suit's dignity was severely wounded during the making of this story.