Legal disclaimer: There's no Xena and no Gabrielle, just a few people who happen to share an amazing likeness to them (wink wink, nudge nudge)... the characters were borrowed for my own amusement only, with no intention of making any profit from this, and I'll put them back when I'm done playing with them.

Explicit content and sex warning: This story features consensual sex between two adult women. The works, OK? If this kind of love bothers you, please read some nice general fiction story instead. If itís illegal where you live, move. Bondage, domination, sadism, masochism and all their pals featured as well. Nothing too perverted and/or illegal though, and no sexual violence.

Drug usage warning: Drugs, their use and effects are possibly featured here. Nothing glorifying and/or disturbing.

Extreme violence warning: Whereís Xena or one of her descendants, thereís violence. Canít help it. If her batting average gets worse than two cracked skulls per day, sheíll get all aggravated and nasty. And we donít want that, right? Right. In this story, extreme violence and its aftermaths are depicted in a realistic, graphical way. Lots of anatomy and blood, since I'm that kind of gal.

Language warning: Proper English, featuring the f-word, the s-word, the c-word and the rest of the alphabet soup. I wonít go on the bleepiní bandwagon even if Scully does it.

This story is the fourth (!) part in The Kink Series. One quote from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, otherwise just bad poetry alert.

I'd like to thank Pepsi Max, Mr. P and my intrinsicly excellent Beta readers, Alphanumericx and Michal Salat (molte grazie, mio tesoro).

Kinkís the Thing

© Penumbra 1999

The rim of the ocular lens was surprisingly cool as it pressed against her eye. Her eyelid twitched at the sudden coldness and she had to blink a few times to dislodge a droplet of sweat from her lashes. The salty water dripped on her cheek and rolled down.

She bit her lower lip in irritation and focused on the vision in the crosshairs again. It was an island of skin in a sea of dark hair and she could even see the small beads of perspiration on the slightly sunburnt bald spot. She adjusted the elevation knob a hair and checked the locking ring. She always did, after that one time in Peru so many years ago when the ocular hadnít been locked and the recoil had thrown the lens right off. A finger in the air confirmed the weather forecast, two knots out of the southeast. She made the calculations in her head and shifted the centre of the crosshairs to point at a very large ear. Perfect. A thumb landed on the safety and released it.

It was what she always heard and saw, the whisper of the recoil pad against her shoulder and the blossoming red bloom that stayed on her retina for a fraction of a second. She hit the magazine release and caught the still full magazine. She couldnít remember when she had needed more than one of the shiny 7.62 NATO cartridges but carrying the clip was the done thing. A few other switches and the instrument of death was in pieces and stuffed into the small duffel bag, along with the lone brass case.

Walls may have ears but they have no memories. What was left of the shadow of death was a scrape on the harsh concrete and the invisible imprints of combat boots on the hot tar roof. The heat blazing from the eggshell-blue sky soon softened the edges of the shallow shoe-shaped dents, eradicating the only evidence the local law enforcement could have found. But as it was, the only witness that could tell of the dark visitor was the wind, the only evidence the scent of fresh death that clung to the rooftop vista.

"Your reason for visiting," he checked the smudged stamp and his eyebrow rose a notch. "Coutede... Cotdivo...?"

"Côte díIvoire. Ceratogymna atrata."

"Excuse me?" In his twenty-plus years at the customs check at Heathrow, there were few things that he hadnít already heard but this was a new one. His first thought was that the woman had insulted him but he saw nothing but gentle benevolence in the the brown eyes behind horn-rimmed glasses.

"Wattled black hornbill." From the breast pocket of her khaki vest, she dug out a photo of a black bird that fit its name well. A froth of ink-black feathers and a white beak that had an enormous bulge on the topside, making the bird look as if it had two beaks. "Very rare nowadays. The casque is gorgeous on this one," she mused and gazed at the photo. Upon his blank look, she pointed at the bulge on the birdís beak. "The protuberance here."

"Ah. Well, welcome back to civilisation, Ms. Pennon," he said and handed back the passport that proclaimed its owner to be a citizen of The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Nothern Ireland.

Ms Pennon then proceeded to the luggage line and snatched her small suitcase. The typical English weather hit her in the face as soon as she exited the massive complex, gray October rain drenching her front. But she didnít mind. In fact, she smiled at the brooding twilight and the dark outline of London in the distance as she hailed a taxi. The cold deluge was a relief after the five days of simmering, humid heat in Abidjan, spent hiding in hellholes of various kinds and oiling the rifle until it fairly shone, waiting. She could still smell the filthy waters of Ébrié Lagoon on her clothes. It was the waiting and sitting still that was always the worst part.

The black Austin travelled the distance with the moderated swiftness of London taxis, arriving in Mayfair two hours after her plane had landed. Her eyes started to itch near Brentford for they had endured over twenty hours of contact lenses and dry airplane air so she almost sang in relief when the taxi rounded a corner to Grosvenor Square. The boxy vehicle came to a standstill in front of a white house with a lacquered black front door. She paid the driver and thanked him for hauling her luggage from the car. Before opening the door, she brushed her fingers against the lionhead knocker on the front door and sighed. She was home.

Her steps ethereally quiet, she navigated up the stairs and to the master bedroom. The sight of fair hair on a white pillow, spread like a halo around a small, beatifically sweet face kept her standing there a long time. The lights of London bathed the room in harsh fluorescent light, throwing sharp shadows around the bed and its sole occupant. She just stood, gazing, marvelling at the miracle in her bed.

The toiletís light was too bright for her sensitive eyes. Cringing and squinting in the gently humming light, she washed her hands. The muddy brown of her eyes was peeled back with a finger, revealing a sea of sapphire blue. The eyes stared back at their owner from the mirror, two bright points of iridescent, accusing light. It was always the hardest part, looking at the face of a killer and seeing herself.

Never again.

"Shit. Shitshitshit..."


"Fucking assholes!"

The chair swiveled and revealed a tall, raven-haired woman who, at the moment, had a look of utter astonishment on her beautiful, angular face. She removed the pencil that was clasped between her teeth and twiddled with it, watching quietly as her lover roared expletives at her monitor. The screen took the insults with the irritatingly stoic nature of machines, humming quietly.

The cursing woman, usually a fair-haired apparition of gentle beauty and calmness, was anything but. If eyes could shoot daggers, the blondeís misty green ones wouldíve turned the monitor into the mechanical equivalent of Swiss cheese instantaneously.

"Look!" she uttered and turned the monitor halfway towards the dark woman, who then tapped her knee with the pencil, gnawed its end a bit and rose to her full six-feet-plus height. She padded quietly closer, carefully avoiding the flailing hands of the blonde woman.

"I canít believe they did this to me! Two weeksí notice!"

The dark woman put a calming hand on the womanís shoulder, subduing the wildly flying arm. When the stream of foul words thinned out some, she raised a wry eyebrow at the foaming blonde woman and turned her gaze towards the monitor.

The pencil left the shapely mouth again and was set on the dark wooden desk. Well. Ghislaine du Plessis sighed in her mind and looked sideways at her lover. Yep. Seething. She turned her eyes back towards the monitor and dark brows scrunched as she tried to figure out a way to change the text on the screen but of course, it stayed there. The few lines, nothing more than a bunch of bytes really, were the close equivalent of a doomsday message.

"Um...," the dark woman started, unsure how to continue. Words had never been her strong suit.

"How can they be this cold-hearted?!"

"Bureucrats, luv," Ghislaine sighed and reached to switch off the monitor. The words were covered by a blanket of black and the screen bled off its static electricity. "Címon, letís get something to eat," she said and put her hand on the smaller womanís shoulder. It was shaken off, an angry gesture that, coupled with the blazing fire in the green eyes, made the dark woman back away a step.

"Donít patronise me, Ghis," the smaller woman snapped and switching the monitor back on, turned her back to the stunned woman. Heavy silence hung in the air for a long moment, the frozen and hurt Ghislaine staring at her loverís stiff back. She breathed a bit more easily when the muscles lost some of its tension and a long sigh escaped the fair haired young woman whose head now rested on the keyboard.

"Didnít mean to patronise."

The tone was hurt, cool and a bit distant and it made Della regret her words. She lifted her head from the cool keys and turned in her chair. Her heart hurt at the sight of Ghis, arms wrapped around her tall body, lower lip slightly pouting, looking for all the world like a puppy dog that had just been kicked.

"I know," Della said softly and rose. "Sorry."

With a small sigh, Ghis accepted the embrace and folded her long arms around the blonde detective. She kissed the fair hair and sighed again, this one a sound of contentment. The woman in her arms was a bundle of tension. "Weíll work it out," Ghis murmured, smoothing her hands over the coarse linen that covered the taut back.

As usual, the room was jam-packed from one dark blue wall to another. People in leather, rubber and fantasy clothing milled about, their dress reflecting their various perversions: fetishism, sadomasochism, slavery to fashion. Since the fetish fashion boom, aided by the mass media like MTV and Cosmopolitan, the scene had seen many fresh faces, adventurous people diving into the world of alternative lifestyles and the dark side of human nature. The Rapture, being so conveniently situated smack in the middle of the busiest part of Soho and open weeknights as well, had taken the brunt of the invasion.

The added business meant cramped spaces. The regulars knew Della well enough and gave her room, but the newcomers didnít know who she was nor what the white mark of a branding iron on her shoulderblade meant. So, sheíd had to suffer through at least half a dozen futile wooing attempts already. The regulars did have a lot of fun at watching the show, the stream of suitors who had no idea they didnít have a snowballís chance in Hell with the charming, spunky blonde woman.

After politely declining a young manís invitation to dance, she turned in her barstool and rested her forearms on the slick wooden bar. Trading amused and exasperated glances with Salome, the bartender, she sipped her cider. The young man apparently hadnít thought that dancing in her outfit -- a long rubber dress in a fetching shade of gunmetal grey and matching platform shoes -- was a virtual impossibility. The pale liquid tickled her nose as it went down and she had the urge to rub her eyes. The fake smoke was irritating her sensitive eyes and throat.

A man clad only in a pair of rubber shorts and a spiked collar greeted her and she turned to exchange a few words with him. She was the hostess for the night and, as such, had the duty of being sociable even though she didnít feel like it. What she really wanted to do was to curl up in Ghislaineís arms, snuggle a bit and hear the deep, rich voice of her lover chuckle at her need for close proximity. But no, she was here and Ghislane was at a friendsí. Maria had caught a bad case of the flu while her new girlfriend Nikki was out of town. Ghis had armed herself with a pot of chicken soup and a box of tissues before leaving, Della having promised to look after the club that night until she returned.

She turned back around, leaning slightly against the bar. Beyond the relative quiet of the bar area, the sea of flesh on the dancefloor wriggled to the tunes of industrial drum ín bass and the white and blue strobes that pulsated with the beat. Her gaze ran from the sweaty faces and bodies to the walls and up, to the blackened timbers of the roof, so familiar now.

The club was like a second home to her. She knew every cranny and nook, from the interior of the play rooms to the soft, downy feel of the wide alcantara divan in the clubownerís office. Some of the customers at the club were people she called friends, her extended family. And at the core of that family was Ghislaine, the woman who had at first been a true mystery to her, right from that first memorable night over a year ago...

The morning after had seemed unreal. She had woken in her own bed and the first thing she had seen, the square shape of her alarm clock, had been so mundane she had thought the previous night had been a dream. But when she rose, she saw the last remnants of candle wax on her skin and the red marks where the restraints had chafed at her wrists.

Short hours later, at her desk, she gnawed at the fountain pen, threatening the Mont Blanc with permanent teethmarks for her mind was elsewhere, lost in her memories of the night before...

It had been the most extrodinary experience of her life. Her mind kept replaying images of the woman, smiling, talking and wandering around. The mane of dark, straight hair that was like inky gossamer on the womanís back, and the blue eyes that sometimes captured hers, two sapphires glowing in the darkness. And later, those eyes glinting with the yellow aura candlelight gave them, pupils dilated to dark wells of passion.

She could still feel the silky texture of the skin under her touch, a fine sheen of sweat covering the smooth, heated surface. The large, knowing hands on her body, coaxing out the wild beast in her with care and skill, and the excitement growing in that magnificient body of the dark woman, revealed in the trembling of muscles and the sweet sound of ragged breathing and low moans in her ear...

Suddenly Della snapped out of her reverie and coughed, trying to cover the blush she felt on her cheeks by scribbling furiously on the hit-and-run report she was processing. Mental prods didnít help for very long, her brain was almost steaming as it tried to process what in the name of peas and little fishie feets had happened.

She, Detective Delaney Covington of London Metropolitan Police, had gone out to a fetish party and gotten fucked by a woman. The statement held no less than four improbabilities, things she simply couldnít have pictured herself doing two days ago. The report was again forgotten as the fair-haired detective leaned back and fiddled with the pen, pondering.

What she felt whenever she thought of the mystery woman could only be described as trepidation mixed with faint-heartedness. Her heartbeat would pick up and she could feel this little queasiness in her stomach, the blush rising in her cheeks. Clinically analysing, the symptoms meant she was either getting the flu or she had a crush. She frowned and lowered her eyes to her hands, which rested on her lap. They were trembling. If the trembling was due to the latter cause, she had some serious soul-searching to do.

She had never even considered the possibility that she might be gay. Asexual, perhaps, or, as one ex-boyfriend had accused, a "frigid bitch". But what had happened the previous night certainly didnít fit her description of asexuality, let alone frigidity. She had felt passion, extreme arousal and ravenous, all-consuming... lust. She had craved the dark womanís touch, her skin burning under those strong fingers and sensuous mouth. She had been blown away and clear to seventh heaven by her. By Ghislaine. Ghis. Mistress Riva. The ubiquitous dark stranger.

Her experience of sex up until this point in her life had been, she thought, quite ordinary. With a guy on top of her, in the dark and under the covers. She had gotten some pleasure out of it, sometimes it had been really, really nice and a few times downright memorable, but never ever had it blown her mind. This woman -- woman! -- had transported her to a world of white-hot pleasure, done to her things she had never imagined to be a turn-on for her, and she had begged for more. More and more, until she had fallen asleep from exhaustion. Even now, she could feel the soreness and afterglow between her legs and in her head, pulsating, as if she were a newly deflowered virgin.

The phone had rung just then and she almost jumped out of her skin. The pen clattered to the floor as she grasped the front of her jacket and reached for the black handset. The casing was cool to the touch and her sweaty palms seemed to suck in the coldness. She cleared her throat --

"Hi, sweetpea. Whereís the tall, dark and deadly íun?"

Her mind was transported back to the present moment by the cheery voice of a man. He was slender, in his forties and had the sensible haircut of a corporate executive. The rest of him, however, was less than corporate; the fit body was covered in multi-coloured tattoos from his shoulders to his toes, his scant clothing revealing most of them.

"Evening, T-man. Sheís visiting a sick friend so Iím sort of filling in tonight," Della replied and smiled. T-man was a legendary character in the circles, his knowledge in the art of pain surpassed only by his general likability and positive nature. The detective was endlessly fond of the man.

"The new crowd been giving you the lines?" he asked, eyes twinkling with mirth. Della rolled her eyes and earned a chuckle from the man, a faint smile showing his teeth, which were filed to fine points.

"They can bite me."

"Not without my permission they canít," a new voice said. The rich, sonorous contralto brought a smile to the blonde womanís lips and she turned, her reply instantaneously drowned by a deep kiss that left her slightly breathless, as did the sight of the tall woman clad only in a long leather skirt with slits on both sides, and a leather bra. Della leaned in and rested her forehead against Ghisí chest. The womanís scent was a mix of clean sweat, her herbal soap and the tangy, primal smell of the black leather. The scent of leather was something the detective nowadays always associated with her partner.

"Howís Maria?" she murmured against the chest and grasped the leather-covered hips gently.

"Better," rumbled the answer. Della could feel the word vibrating against her cheek, tickling. "Hey, T."

"Hi, gorgeous," the tattoed man replied and saluted the clubowner with his vodka.

Salome greeted her boss and poured a drink for her. Della could feel the fluid shifting of Ghisí powerful muscles under her cheek when the tall woman reached for her glass of three fingers of single malt scotch, neat. Closing her eyes, the detective could see in her mindís eye the amber liquid touch those ruby red lips she knew so well, flowing past them and bringing acrid warmth. A hand landed on her back and slid over the slick material of her dress, embracing her gently.

She never wanted to leave this place, ever. This was home to her. Not the club nor the big flat in Mayfair but the embrace of the dark woman. It was a cocoon of warmth and familiarity and also, one of blazing energy and heat, the dark side that resides in everyone. Darkness and light and so little in between.

When she had first arrived in London, almost one and a half years ago, she had thought the period of her life spent here would be finite. Sheíd do her tenure at Scotland Yard, enjoy the extended working vacation of sorts, and then return to the States to work for the Bureau again. But life had a tendency of messing up the most carefully laid plans, and Della was ever so grateful for this mess. It had given her a life worth living, a new home and a loving partner, and the exquisite, giddy feeling of being in love. Now that life was being threatened by people who reveled in red tape and she was willing to go through hell and high water to keep it intact. She smoothed the slightly nubbly surface of Ghisí skirt. No way Iím letting go. Nuh-uh. Eat shit, Personal Assistant Pat Billings.

"Ohh... gods... Delaney..."

Della felt the woman tremble against her mouth and hands. The big thigh muscles under her palms twitched as they valiantly tried to keep their owner upright. Ghis was sliding down the wall but the detective held on stubbornly, aided by the firm hand on her leash and the other hand that kept her shoulder in a vicelike grip. The blunt nails were close to drawing blood -- Della could feel the warning tingle on her skin but still -- she kept the lip-lock she had on the tall woman.

The harsh plaster of the wall scraped Ghisí back but she didnít even notice. All her focus was on the heat gathering at her groin, the insistent pressure and friction of Dellaís tongue on her sex. She knew that if she were to open her eyes now and look down, she would see two oceans of sparkling green. But she also knew that the sight would be enough to drain the last bit of power from her muscles and that wouldnít do, she was so close to crashing down to the floor already.

The tongue left her clit and meandered to the side, licking at the taut tendon at the apex of her left leg. She growled in frustration and yanked at the leash coiled around her hand. She heard the answering grunt and almost felt the detective smile against her centre, which was pure white-hot pleasure. She could feel the nub of nerves around her piercing pulsate to the frantic beat of her heart, and her laboured breathing was punctuated by a languid groan when the tongue returned to its task.

The fair-haired detectiveís position was getting awkward. Ghis was sliding down the wall with worrying speed, and already her neck was hurting from the odd angle and the unyielding pressure of the leather collar. The leash was taut, drawing her further into the sea of sweet ambrosia that covered her hands and face, running down her chin to stain the dark leather on her neck some more.

The collar and matching restraints were well-worn and much loved. They had tasted everything their love gave, absorbing the sweat, tears, blood, and still holding on. The set was a birthday present Ghis had given her in Paris the previous spring, and she remembered the heavy blush that had covered her cheeks when she had opened the gift box wrapped in thick mauve paper. The blush had soon transformed into a flush of arousal, as soon as she had felt the soft leather on her skin, the gentle touch and delicious weight on her neck and wrists, her loverís skillful hands working the buckles into place.

Now, this wonít do, she thought as she felt Ghis slide down some more. She bit the smooth flesh at her mouth and the clubowner jumped upward, her nails digging into Dellaís skin.

"Tread carefully," Ghis hissed and yanked at the leash, satisfied by the strangled groan coming from her partner. Dutifully, the mouth resumed its task and she let her head loll back, banging it against the wall but not noticing the pain. She was approaching seventh heaven, a tight spring coiling in her abdomen.

The shifting offered only momentary respite. The clubowner slid downward again, her legs trembling as her head twisted to the side, dark hair clinging to sweaty skin on her shoulders. Della mewed in frustration but no way was she letting go. The visible quivering of Ghisí stomach muscles and the continuous stream of groans -- a mix of curses, invocations of various gods and Dellaís name -- the detective knew her lover was close. She shifted her hands the other way around, grabbing two rock-hard cheeks and squeezing them, feeling on her arm the cold steel of the leash.

"Mmmhh... I... Del-...noww..."

At the warning groan, Della slid her hand down and entered the dark woman with two fingers, deeply, curving the digits and rubbing the small bump on the slick inner wall. The groan turned into an outright scream at that and Ghis banged her head against the wall again as she came with force. The darkness inside her eyelids turned into blinding white light, bathing her in the hot glow of her pleasure.

The detective performed a small miracle of gymnastics as she followed her lover down to the floor, all the while keeping her mouth and hand at her centre, dragging out every wave of orgasmic pleasure with her skillful touch, feeling the muscles quiver as they released their pent-up energy. She hummed out her joy to the sopping wetness in her mouth, lapping up every drop of moisture there, the scream that was torn from Ghisí throat was music to her ears. A tug on her shoulder forced her to leave Ghisí groin and she extracted herself from the woman, licking at the sticky coating on her mouth.

The clubowner gathered the smiling detective into her arms and sat on the floor, leaning her back against the wall. Steadying her uneven breath, she buried her face in the honey-gold hair, smelling spices and the lingering scent of her herb shampoo. The smell reminded her of the first leaves of spring, sparkling fresh air and sunshine, and she breathed it in, willing her taste buds to remember the sweet feel of the smell forever. Squeezing the warm body closer, she thought of their coming separation and couldnít prevent the tears that welled in her eyes.

Della heard the sniffle and raised her head from its warm resting place on Ghisí shoulder. Catching the silvery drops that rolled down the dark womanís cheeks, she smoothed the sweaty skin, heartbroken at the sorrow the blue eyes reflected.

"Shhh... Iíll be gone just a few days to sort things out," Della whispered and placed a feathery kiss on her loverís lips, tasting the tears and herself and the lingering passion on them. "Itís gonna be okay. I promise."

"Okay," Ghis rasped and closed her eyes, gulping down the rest of the tears.

The British Airways flight 369 lumbered into the sky with the grace of a beached whale. Blue eyes followed the elongated white shape of the Airbus until it was a mere pinprick against the grey vastness of the sky and then disappeared completely into the sun.

She had started to bite her nails again, a habit she had been weaned from at the age of six, when she had found out she had fists and she could hurt the ones that hurt her. After that, she had rarely been nervous because the only thing she had to lose was her life, and the older she grew, the less she valued it. Until Della came, that is.

She found she didnít want to go home. It would be dark and empty and she really had nothing to do, for Sundays were not club nights. So she bought the latest Software Developerís Journal from the airportís magazine stand and sat in a cafe, watching the hordes of people hurry to their respective flights. Flipping through the magazine, she sipped slowly at her Lapsang Souchong tea and tried not to think about Della. She failed miserably.

She was on page 26, staring at an article about relational databases and Oracle8 with blind eyes, when her cell phone rang. She fished the small silver-coloured item from her pocket and, frowning at the incoming callís number, pressed the answer button.

"Not now, Devon," she growled into the phone.

"Good day to you too, Commander. I have a job for you."

"I said, not now."

"Two words: Simona Greenberg."

The eyes shot up from the magazine, their colour now a pale blue that was ice cold. Long-dormant feelings of impotent rage, humiliation and betrayal came back to her and she could still feel the crushing pain, both emotional and physical, the name brought to her.

"Iím listening."

The North Atlantic was bright sapphire blue, the scattered cirrus clouds above it a shade paler, framed in the bright blue rim of the small window.

Della put down the keychain with a sigh and the Atlantic turned back to its normal colour of lead grey, the clouds now white. It had been much nicer when seen through the blue oval of glass in the silver keychain.

She had snatched the item that morning. It was the keychain that usually held the keys to the clubownerís Karmann-Ghia, her beloved silver arrow. The glass was smooth against her finger and she let her digits graze it lovingly, tracing the thin silvery rim that attached it to the chain itself. The glass was the exact shade of Ghisí eyes. She had wanted to take something of Ghisí with her and so she had, leaving in place a note and something of her own.

The separation wasnít supposed to be long. She had left early to meet with the Section Chief, to see what her options were. To her, it was clear: either her tenure would be continued or she would resign. She had talked with Ghislaine about the possibilities, and although the clubowner had offered to move with her to the States, Della had firmly declined. She could easily get a job in Britain but Ghisí talents were somewhat more... unique, not of the optimal kind to put on a Green Card application. And besides, the detective thought, she had grown to love London. It was her home now.

Cupping the keychain and closing it into her palm, she sighed again and checked her watch. The plane had departed a little over two hours ago and already she was missing Ghislaine. She remembered the last searing kiss they had shared in the middle of Heathrowís hubbub, the last glimpse of the sapphire eyes, and the rich contralto voice that had whispered I love you into her ear.

The voice. It was something quite indescribable but tangible enough to produce a small flutter in her stomach even now. Its effect on her had not diminished in time, but instead had grown. She knew the nuances of that voice so well now, expressing the moods and emotions in that dark-maned head of her somewhat enigmatic and silent lover. When the clubowner spoke, the world stopped to listen...

"Detective Covington? This is Ghislaine."

A croak. That was all Della could produce and she felt like bursting into giggles for many reasons. She found it funny that her heart rate had jumped to triple digits and she felt like she was floating in the air. She found it ridiculous that a woman with a voice like Ghislaineís felt the need to introduce herself. And she was hysterically aroused by the way her name rolled in smooth syllables from that lovely tongue into her ear. And she was elated beyond belief that the clubowner had called her.

"Yeah. Um. Hi," she managed finally and grated her teeth at her stutter.

"Hello. How are you?"

"Uh, fine," she said, the black plastic of the handle suddenly slick as her palm started to sweat profusely. Wonderful. Eloquence is truly your talent, Dee, she groaned to herself. "Excellent, in fact. Um, great. You?"

A warm chuckle sounded from the other end and Della relaxed a bit. The laughter was gentle and good-humoured, a rumble that sent a spark to her brain. "Perfect, thanks for asking. So, I was wondering -- you free for, say, lunch?"

As simple as that. The clubowner seemed to be one of those straight to the point people and Della almost sighed in relief. The small devil of insecurity had been jabbing his fork at her brain all morning, claiming that a woman of Ghislaineís caliber probably saw her as just a casual fuck. Her body knew otherwise, but insecurity was not easily defeated. She had known for the first moment there was something between them, something eternal and quite unique. As if her life had been just a series of happenings that were aimed at getting her to The Rapture that fateful night, to meet the dark woman.

"Of course!" she exclaimed, all her motherís stern words about the virtue of playing hard to get forgotten. Another bout of the gently rolling chuckle floated to her ear, tickling.

"Good, Iíll pick you up. One oíclock OK with you?"

The hands of time progressed all too slowly; it seemed to take forever and a half before it was five to one. When, finally, the time came, she tossed away the folder she had been gazing at with unseen eyes all morning and walked out of the squad room. The hallway seemed to echo unusually loud at the sound of her heels as she headed for the ladiesí room. The brightly lit, tiled room was mercifully empty.

She re-touched her minimal make-up a bit and combed a trembling hand through her unruly blonde bangs, setting them to some semblance of order. Smoothing slightly sweaty hands over her navy blue power suit and adjusting the collar of the more feminine eggshell-white silk blouse underneath it, she took a few deep breaths and steadied herself. She knew not where she was going, emotionally or otherwise but damned if she wasnít going to see the journey through. Her mind was screaming against what her heart felt and she told them both to shut the fuck up. Taking one last calming breath, she pushed the ladiesí room door open and headed for the lifts.

She spotted the silver antique car immediately as she exited the station into the pleasantly warm late-summer weather. The vehicle shone in the gentle sunlight, as did the dark, silky mane of hair on the woman standing next to the car. The detectiveís step faltered under the incredible smile aimed at her...


Dellaís eyelids snapped open and she felt her neck complain as she turned her head. Sleeping (or daydreaming for that matter) in the cramped spaces of airplanes was never good for her neck and she made a small, apologetic smile at the elderly man sitting next to her. The man smiled back and pointed at the steward standing in the aisle, holding a tray. Della took the tray and the scent of food had its usual effect on her; her stomach growled.

The aluminium foil revealed a chicken breast and two small mounds of rice. She bit into the chicken and her face twisted. Great. Rubber ducky. Did this poor bird die of old age or what...

It was going to be a long flight.

Ghisí finger tapped the blueprint while her brain processed the information. She traced a corridor with her eyes and felt the strands of thought arrange themselves in her head, coalescing into a plan. A tentative one, true, but it was always like that. She didnít fully formulate her plan until she was at the site, before she could smell the coming action in the tensed air around her. The drawn corridor ended in a small room and her eyes burned. There.

"Two questions, one condition."

"Shoot," said the elder man next to her as he chewed on his unlit pipe. He had short, greying hair and the leathery complexion of a sailor, and he was itching for a smoke. But he knew better than to get the dark woman mad, and smoking while she was thinking was a sure way to secure her wrath.

"The locals know Iím the one going in?"

"Yep." He took the pipe out of his mouth and tapped the side of his nose with it, smiling. "Actually, they requested you."

"They did, huh?" Ghis hummed and a small crooked smile twitched on her face. This was getting better and better, the small pieces of her additional, personal plans snapping into place.

"Mmm-hmm. Youíve got quite a rep, yíknow. They donít know why youíre doing this but theyíre not going to ask stupid questions since itís mostly their hides that are on the line here. Not ours "

"Right." She drummed her fingers against the table, feeling uncomfortable about her so-called reputation. It wasnít something she was proud of and reputations tended to be double-edged swords. "Question two: You do understand this is going to be expensive?"

The man smiled and stepped a pace closer, admiring his best pupil. The apprentice had reached his level and surpassed it years ago, turning their trade into an art form. He loved her as if she were his own child, this capricious, lethal prodigal daughter who was at times the nicest, most laid back person he knew, and at others a viper so deadly it made even his blood grow cold -- and that took a lot.

"I know, and the best thing is that theyíre paying."

"That desperate?" Ghis asked, raising a humoured eyebrow.

"Pissing in their pants as we speak," he assured, remembering the panicked voices he had heard over the scrambled satellite phone the last time he had discussed the matter. "And the request?"

"I get out."

He sighed and put the pipe back into his mouth. Of course, he had seen this coming, so many times he had to beg her to come back. She always did, even after that last ugly incident that had forced him to discharge her, on grounds of public homosexuality. After that she had worked as a freelancer, basically doing the same thing for triple the usual, already astronomical, fees. He knew she was an indispensable asset but, sometimes, it was best to let go. The tone of the womanís voice told him her word was final.

"Delaney, right?"

Blue eyes widened and then softened, gazing at him with the love born of a friendship that had lasted through wars both public and private, through pain, loss and blood. He knew her so well -- better than her own mother did. The man was the closest thing to a father she had, a constant part of her life since her sixteenth birthday when she had lied about her age and enlisted.

"Yeah," she whispered and saw the small nod of the grey head. He understood. Some things were more important than life itself.

They stood in silence for a while, he chewing on the briarwood of his pipe and Ghislaine gazing at the blueprints, seeing the structure in her mindís eye. The wooden beams that held the roof up in this room, and the thick cement column that was a small square on the thin, cyan-tinted paper. She could feel the coarse tarp roof and the cold smooth metal on the air conditioning ducts as if she were there...

"Oh, and Iíve got a partner for you."

The dark woman turned, puzzled. "You know I work alone on th-" She was halted by a raised hand and a smile. He gestured at a chair on the other side of the table and Ghis sat into the shadows. He knocked on the door and the questioning look in her eyes vanished. It was replaced by a smile when the door opened and in came a man dressed in desert combat fatigues.

"Admiral." He saluted the older man, who nodded and then grabbed the offered hand, shaking it warmly.

"Itís been too long, Kilt. And drop the íAdmiral Devoní bull already. Itís Richard."

The young and very tanned man smiled warmly at the memories the wrinkled face with its piercing grey eyes brought back. The images were from a simpler world and another time, when he had been so wet behind the ears and the admiral, his lieutenant. He shook his bald head and clapped the older manís shoulder.

"Too long," he drawled in his inimitable Scottish accent, and turned away from the man to squint at the shadowed figure. All he could see was the outline of a person -- a very tall one. There was something so very familiar about the broad shoulders, and the strong hand on the table that was the only visible part of the figure...

"Hello, Kilt."

That voice. He broke into a huge grin and dashed around the table, to be met half-way by Ghislaine who enveloped him in a bear hug, squeezing so hard he could feel his ribs complain.

"Jesus, itís good to see you, you dark devil," he laughed into the silken hair in front of his face, pounding on the muscled back. He extraced himself and looked at the madly smiling woman, clucking his tongue. "Well, you certainly are as gorgeous as ever."

"Hey, you donít look too bad yourself," she answered and nudged at his arm. "So, whatíre you up to? Heard you were playing tourist guide in some hellhole?"

"Yep, escorting lily-livered businessmen in Angola and Zambia," he said and rolled his eyes. "So, whatís up?"

Unlike commercial airlines, the military wasnít too big on comfort. The Galaxy was packed from floor to ceiling with big boxes bearing diplomatic signets, and the space they had was barely big enough to accommodate Ghisí long legs and Kiltís broad body. The bench was padded but they were leaning against the outer which that was only thinly insulated, the air so cold they could see their breath. It wasnít, however, a big nuisance, since they were clothed so thickly Ghis had the feeling she looked like an overgrown, impatient Michelin man.

The only thing the airplane didnít have was a toilet, and although she could have survived without one, Kilt was glad they had a fuel stop in Iceland. When the plane touched down on the snowy field, the man almost shot out of the plane, the hot coffee he had drunk demanding an exit. Ghis snorted a silent laugh and exited more calmly, carrying their gun cases, two rectangular metal boxes that looked like guitar cases.

A mechanic directed her towards the mess hall and she jogged through the wide open plain of the military baseís air field, a bustling anthill of men and machines. When she reached the low barrack and pushed in, the warm air that entered her lungs felt wonderful after the raw coldness of the plane. Yanking down the hood of her down anorak and snagging off the commando hood, she proceeded to the small counter.

She could feel the eyes on her, every one of the roomís two dozen or so inhabitants staring at her, their coffees and donuts forgotten. Sure, she knew that in secluded bases like these every stranger was news, more so if the stranger happened to be a woman hauling two boxes even the freshest of rookies could recognise as carrying cases for sniper rifle.

She got two hot chocolates and sat down at a table. Enjoying the hot, sweet drink and feeling her lips thaw out some, she let her gaze rake across the room, seeing all the stares skitter away when she met them. Her hand brushed the metal box on the bench next to her and she thought of the new Parker-Hale M-85 inside it. She had been forced to ditch the previous one into the muddy waters of Ébrié Lagoon when the safe house keeper had suddenly disappeared. Best to be on the safe side.

She knew the gun by heart now, the feel of the fiberglass stock and the satisfying click the bipod made when it was locked on. She hadnít kept count of how many of the guns she had used; they were a discardable commodity, unlike the custom made ELCAN optical sight also inside the case, in its own padded hole.

"Hereís your drink," she said to Kilt when the man returned. He made his What, no coffee? face but drank the chocolate anyway. She gazed at him, his face still youthful despite the heavy exposure to the elements and his almost-forty years.

Kilt, named so because of his strong Scottish heritage, had been her spotter on her first field job. He had stayed with her all through her army career, seeing the many kills she had made during those years. He had also quit when she was ídischargedí for the first time, during the Gulf War when her little brother had died and she had suffered a nervous breakdown that had ended in her going berserk. She had stayed in England but he had taken to travelling, working sometimes as a mercenary and sometimes as a jungle guide. Ghis had gotten a card or a letter now and then, from the harshest and oddest hellholes of the world, from Mongolia to Macedonia to Mozambique. And now they were back together again, brought together by a situation that could neither be sorted out via the chain of command nor by using enlisted men. Cases like these were dealt with using absolute discretion and, well, discretion was both their middle names.

She drained the last of her drink and set the mug down, exchanging amused glances with the man across from her. They both knew the others were staring at them, intensely. The base people were having a futile guessing game at who they were, where they were headed and, most importantly, what or who was the reason the Royal Navy had sent these two brooding, dark characters with their deadly cargo to whatever their destination was.

Ghis took off her other mitten and reached into her fatiguesí thigh pocket. Out came a key and to it was attached an inch-wide strip of very thick dark brown leather, the letter D branded into it. She fiddled with the leather, enjoying the uneven feel of the coarse underside on her fingers, and brought it to her mouth and placed a gentle kiss on it, thinking of her lover who was probably now in the middle of an argument with the Section Chief. She remembered the small note she had found next to the leather keyholder when she had searched for the keys to her car and, also, she remembered the lump she had felt in her throat when she had read the note.

"Whatís that?"

She snapped out of her hazy daydream and promptly blushed at Kilt catching her at it. Shaking her head she put the strip back to its place, resting her hand on the pocket. She could still feel the scent of leather mixed with Dellaís own scent.

"If I didnít know better Iíd say you were blushing," he said and leaned forward, bracing his forearms on the table and smiling a mile-wide toothy smile. "So, whoís the lucky lady?"

Ghis opened her mouth but no sound came out, so she snapped it shut and just shook her head at the wildly waggling eyebrows on Kiltís face.

"Letís go. Our ride should be ready," she barked and rose.

"Yes, maíam," the shorter man uttered and followed her out, the grin never leaving his face. Hell had just frozen over. Commander du Plessis was in love.

"But I had an appointment! I flew half-way around the world to talk to him and now he isnít here!?"

"I am so sorry, Ms Covington," the secretary said, his voice not very compassionate. "But the hostage case in Allentown demanded his attention. He should return by the end of the week."

She banged her hand against the secretaryís desk and was satisfied by the small jump he made when the pencils rattled in his ugly Garfield mug. The name plate on his desk said he was the Personal Assistant, but he sure had the robot secretary act down pat, she thought acidly as she exited the ugly concrete mausoleoum that was the FBIís local headquarters. She breathed in the polluted air and willed herself to calm. OK, so I have about five days.

She could always spend the days in New York, visit NYU and her old neighbourhood in Chelsea. Or... She sighed and dug the cell phone out of her bag. She paced slowly towards her rented Ford Cougar and dialed a familiar number. The other end answered after four rings.

"Hi, Mom." The exclamations brought a smile to her face and she leaned against the blue car. "Yeah... no, Iím actually in Newark." Another stream of loud exclamations. "Long story. Look, Iím free for the next few days, how íbout if I come up there? ... Great. Iíll tell you the whole sordid story then. Tell Dad I said hi. I should be there in a few hours."

She slipped the phone back into her bag and threw it in the back seat. Taking off her overcoat, she sat behind the wheel, feeling uncomfortable at having to drive on the right side again. She had almost made an ass of herself at JFK when she had fumbled with the car but she had gotten the hang of it as soon as she had reached the Cross Bronx Expressway.

As she sped towards the looming skyline of downtown Manhattan, she glanced at the dark clouds that were gathering in the northern sky. Weather this time of the year tended to be more than a bit capricious and those clouds looked like rain. Keeping one eye on the road, she flipped through her CD case and chose the new Numb album. The industrial beat brought a hollow ache to her heart as she remembered the one time they had made love in the cramped space of the Karmann-Ghia, its windows steaming from their passion in the lone corner of a Mayfair cul-de-sac, their sweat and juices mingling to the heavy beat of that music.

The album was only halfway through when she reached Bronx and the sky opened up, the dark sky framing the depressing concrete walls of Co Op City in dreary detail. This was the time of year Della hated most; if there was no snow the winters were ugly. The emotional load of the album got too heavy when she came to Port Chester and crossed into Connecticut, and she switched to Bach, an equally bad choice. The Brandenburg concertoes always brought to her mind the times they had taken a leisurely bubble bath, sipping champagne, nibbling at chocolate truffles and each other.

The rain was a lead grey deluge when she reached Bridgeport and stopped to fuel her car. Cursing at leaving her umbrella in London, she yanked up the collar of her coat and dashed inside the gas station. She payed for the gas and found a pay phone but all she got was Ghisí answering machine. She left a message and continued on, arriving in New Haven at dinnertime.

Her parentsí house was a an old Tudor style mansion, completely renovated when they had moved from Phoenix when Della had been eleven. It had all the luxuries life had to offer, from jacuzzis to a totally integrated stereo system. She had always found her dadís techno geekiness a bit silly but hey, if it got her mind-numbing hard rock when she was sixteen, it was cool with her. She pressed the small brass button of the doorbell, shivering in the cold December rain.

"Miss Dee! What a pleasant surprise!" The smile on Clariceís face reached from ear to ear and Della hugged the elderly woman who was the size of eight flour sacks, smelling the familiar scent of fresh bread and tomato sauce on her. Clarice, their housekeeper, lived for cooking -- which was excellent since the elder Covingtons were not culinary artists. Dellaís favourite childhood memories centered around the woman who had followed them from Arizona to the East Coast, the ever-present genial figure who always had a chocolate chip cookie for her in the pockets of her vast apron, and who never ceased to be amazed by little Deeís voracious appetite.

"Hey, Clarice. Good to see you too," she smiled, squeezing some extra water from her hair. The woman clucked her tongue in consternation and helped her out of the wet coat. When Della tried to retrieve it, however, she shooed the detective away and pointed towards the living room.

"Iíll take care of these wet things. You go on and say hello to your parents."

Della pushed around the last bite of her asparagus, gathering the last of the butter sauce and placing the morsel in her mouth, humming quietly at the divine taste. She was already feeling pleasantly stuffed but still debated another round of the divine salmon á la Clarice. She decided against it and sat back in her chair.

"Oh, did I tell you already -- Lisa is coming tomorrow?"

Della perked up on her motherís words, raising an eyebrow.

"She is? Why?"

"Oh, she has a conference in Boston and sheís going to spend a few days here before it starts. Sheís bringing Vincent with her," Michaela Covington said, smiling. For the first time in so many years, she would have both her daughters under the same roof with her.

"Is that so," Della muttered and rose to help Clarice with the dishes, thinking. Her sister. Well well. This should prove to be interesting, she thought wryly. As if my life isnít complicated enough.

Lisa was always the more career-oriented of them, if that was possible. She had done her studies in record time, finishing her Masterís in psychology after two years at NYU. It was a mere coincidence that they had gone to the same university, but instead of bringing them together, that time in New York had driven them apart. The reason lay in their highly polarised views on almost everything, from civil rights to feminism. If possible, Lisa was more conservative than her parents, working as a lobbyist in Washington for death penalty supporters and voting for Republicans under the pro-life banner. The last time they had seen each other, two days before Della had left for London, they had had a big fight -- over some insignificant trivia on American foreign policy, of all things -- and they had not parted in good spirits.

Della sighed and walked to the kitchen with the small pile of plates. She set them down on the counter and leaned against the redwood surface, gazing out into the still-pouring rain and Connecticut twilight. She dug out the keychain and dangled it in front of her eyes, watching the play of the kitchen lights on the brilliant blue glass. Letting her hand drop, she sighed again and let her head fall forwad.

Gods, she missed Ghislaine. The feeling of separation was almost physical pain, craving the mere presence of her lover. She put the keychain back into her jeans pocket and flexed the muscles of her shoulder, feeling the pull of the brandingís scar tissue on her shoulderblade. She remembered when she had received the brand, that one magical night that had been filled with lust, passion and unending love. The feel of Ghisí hands on her shoulder, just after the searing metal had bestowed its first kiss on her skin. The hands...

She couldnít keep her eyes off the fingers. The long, strong digits that dismantled the crayfishís bright red shell with methodical moves, peeling off the ridged chitinous surface and revealing faintly pink, plump flesh. The hands were stained with the slightly salty juice of the crayfish, making the tanned surface gleam with a fetching shade of bronze. She found the hands fascinating, delicately shaped yet strong and sure.

The womanís wrists were thick and corded, as were her forearms. The intricate play of muscles under the skin was fascinating, the sea of golden flesh rippling to the pace of the fingers. The forearms disappeared beneath the rolled-up sleeves of a dark cobalt blue turtleneck sweater that, in turn, was tucked into the waistband of black jeans. This casual clothing looked stunning on the clubowner -- but then, the detective was sure, the dark woman would look breathtaking when dressed merely in a towel. Especially in a towel. Preferably a small one.

Forcing herself to abandon such thoughts, she coughed and refocused on her crab, feeling the burning gaze of two amused blue eyes on the top of her head. Her hands were shaking as she dipped the tidbit of crab into the spicy pepper sauce and brought it to her mouth.

"Your crab good?"

She swallowed the bit in her mouth quickly and nodded, bringing her head up to meet the scorching gaze. The dark woman sitting across from her was smiling, the ruby red lips stained by the crayfishís juices and the pinot grigio she was drinking. Della valiantly fought the strong urge to lean over and lick the moisture off the shapely mouth, almost failing. Her brain had obviously been short-circuited by the previous night because she wasnít appalled by her odd urges.

"Excellent. Yíknow..." the detective said, tearing her gaze from the clubownerís lips and glancing around with interest at the small, cozy restaurant. "I donít think Iíve been here before." It was strange, a seafood restaurant of this caliber having eluded her for so many months.

"Well, thatís probably because this is a gay restaurant."

Dellaís gaze snapped back towards the clubowner, who was nibbling on a crayfish tail while keeping an eye on the detective. That simple statement explained many things, from the odd demography of the clientele to the exact reason she hadnít heard of the place.

"That okay with you?" the woman on the other side of the table asked, half-raising an eyebrow. Before Della could answer, however, the dark woman leaned over and wiped off a drop of sauce the detective had on her cheek.

The touch of the finger was electric, sending a major jolt to Dellaís stomach. The hand, despite its slick coating, was warm and smooth as it brushed the down of her cheek. Thatís it, her brain said, and snapped. Before she could consciously think of the consequences, her hand had wrapped around the clubownerís extended one, halting its retreat.

"Very OK," she whispered and drew the finger with the pepper sauce into her mouth.

The dark womanís eyes widened but Della was feeling too blissful to see it, her eyelids drooping shut. She let her tongue trace the faint ridges on the finger, licking off the sauce that had mingled with crayfish juices and the taste the detective recognised to be the clubownerís own, a heady mix of bergamot, spices and something dark and exotic.

When she opened her eyes, they were captured by a pair of blue ones across the table. Their hue was a stormy blue, transmitting pure hedonistm and carnal passion as they slitted and darkened. Della felt her abdomen cramp in a way that was not entirely unpleasant.

"Good," the smoky contralto hissed...

She was brought out of her reverie by the clatter of the copper fish pan in the sink. She turned and smiled at Clarice, thanking the woman for an excellent dinner. Excusing herself, she went upstairs and dug out her laptop computer and plugged the PCMCIA modem into the studyís telephone jack.

Eight new mails. She scanned the senders, finding nothing from the Section Chief. The last one was from, and Dellaís heart jumped. As usual, the message field was empty and the obviously falsified SMTP routing data told only that the mail had originated from god.almighty@heav.en.

To a casual viewer the mail looked like nonsense, but Della knew the code. It was Ghis; her call sign was Devileyes (a fact that had caused much giggling in the detective and massive eye-rolling in the clubowner when an old army pal had told the secret). In essence, the mail said she had gone on a mission, the orders coming from somewhere very high up.

So, that explained why she hadnít called or answered her phone, but that didnít ease the detectiveís concern. Despite her hard exterior, the dark woman still had some very fragile spots inside her. Della chewed on her lower lip and thought for a while before her fingers descended back to the keyboard. I ainít no poet but here goes nothing...


darkness is the one
queen of the world

enticing all to
her eternal embrace...

... but i fear not her
arms nor her cold smile

for i have a halo
of you


"D? Whoís D?"

Ghis couldnít answer, the screen of the sleek laptop was blurring in her eyes. The letters were just black blots now but the words had already been carved into her heart. So instead of replying to the incessantly nosy Kiltís question with words, she took out the key with its leather holder and gave it to the man.

"Ah." The quiet syllable held many layers of warmth, understanding and joy, sprinkled with wonder and envy. Kilt fingered the bold D on the keyholder, feeling the worn leather and knowing its significance. Never had he seen this odd look on the Commander, a face that was absolutely beatific in all its sadness. He knew now why the dark woman, a living legend in the trade of death, was quitting. When you killed enough, you died, too.

They sat in silence for a long moment, Ghisí soul miles away as she sat rigidly in the rickety office chair, and Kilt staring at the solemn profile of probably the only one of his friends who was still alive or sane. He was glad that the Commander was quitting, with all his heart. He had seen the sudden decline of a noble soul into a mindless murderer that one blistering hot day in the Iraqi desert, the cold wind of death that had blown over the desert in the form of this woman. He had quit then and never had he regretted it. Ghislaine had continued on, a decision he suspected stemmed more from her stubborn nature than anything else. He had seen the hollowness of her soul then, and now he saw that hollow filled with life again. He handed back the keyring and smiled a genuine, warm smile that was returned in kind.

"Iíll do a subject check," Ghis said and, bracing her hands against the table, pushed herself up.

"Yeah, Iíll make dinner. Choices are --" he replied, digging into one utility box. "MRE, MRE and, oh, MRE. Whatíll it be for ya, Commander?"

She favoured him with a crooked smile. "Iíll have the ossobucco with sage, and potatoes au gratin with Chablis, thanks. And steamed green beans."

"Oh, you are so cruel, íEyes" he said and his lower lip pouted in his best puppydog look. Ghisí white teeth flashed in the semi-darkness as she grabbed a foil-packed MRE.

"You have no idea..."

She was a bit worried about the footprints they were leaving on the dust-covered floor but that couldnít be helped. Otherwise, the stakeout location was optimal; the whole office building had been abandoned years ago because of asbestos problems and so they had excellent privacy. Most of the furniture had been hauled away as well, leaving only a few scattered, dirty items to the landscaped office.

She reached the window at the other end of the vast room and sat on the corner of an old desk, knowing she was invisible in the dimming twilight with the darkness of the room behind her. Ripping open the foil and deciding on a muesli bar, she adjusted her position and leaned forward, looking into the ocular of the small telescope that stood on a tripod in front of the window. The dried fruit stuck in her throat and she swallowed it with an audible gulp.

The scope was aimed at the building opposite theirs, an equally dreary and abandoned cement block structure built in the Sixties. She was one floor higher than the target, the location providing better protection from the skyline behind the block of offices. So, she could clearly see the room and its occupants, illuminated by what she figured to be a gas light. She and Kilt didnít need one, they were accustomed to working in the dark, but then again the subjectís business was of a more public nature anyway.

Simona. She was the smaller of the two silhouettes Ghis could see. The black figure was gesturing wildly at a larger lump, a man probably. They were sitting on a field cot of sorts, apparently in the middle of a heated discussion. The clubowner still recognised those gestures, although it had been over seven years since she had last seen her...

Simona Greenberg was, or had been, an intelligence supervisor in Military Intelligence, and also the wife of one of Ghislaineís squad members back in the old days. Jonas Greenberg had been but a fresh face stright out of boot camp when he had his first mission with her, but he had proved his determination at that time, enduring two days of marching with mild malaria in some unnamed shitty jungle. And sometime during the two years he had served under her, he had developed a crush on his Lieutenant. On Ghis.

Now she had always been of the firm belief that the mission came before personal life, and also with Simona being a good friend of hers and a true confidant, she had rejected his wooing. Nobody knew if the rejection was a partial reason for him having an affair with the Captainís wife or not but the fact was, the affair happened. It was discovered and Greenberg dishonourably discharged. Simona had kicked him out and blamed Ghislaine for both the affair and him getting the boot. Too late had the Army found out Simona had a history of mental illness.

Two casualities, one seriously wounded. That had been the tally of the mission gone horrifyingly awry because Simona had fed them false data on purpose. Ghislaine had returned from the secret op with two men in zinc coffins and fury in her heart, thinking of all the ways she would hurt whoever had done the awful deed of misleading them. When the plane had landed in England, after two days of pure rage and endless flying, the dark woman had gone to headquarters, to find out that not only was it Simona who had falsified the intel but that she had also murdered Jonas and then disappeared underground.

And here she had resurfaced, in the immense dock area of Baltimore, the woman whom the clubowner had considered a friend and who had left Ghislaine with two of her men dead. Simona had murdered Jonas with all of sixty-seven knife strikes, his face so shredded identification had to be made from dental records. All this was enough to give birth to a sea of impotent rage inside the dark woman.

It had been only recently that the two faces had been connected: one, that of a mysterious arms dealer called La Domma, with the oval-shaped, gentle features of the razor-sharp former intelligence officer being the other. When the fact had dawned on the FBI that the dealer suspected of supplying a concerning amount of illegal firearms to right-wing extremists and separatist groups had been a member of the Royal Army, the cross Atlantic satellite links had seen a flood of traffic. La Domma had to be stopped, and who better to do it than the people who trained her and the person who had known her best.

"The meeting is scheduled for tomorrow, right?" said Kilt who had joined her by the window.

"At noon," she grunted in reply.

"Doesnít leave us much time then," he said, and swallowed another forkful of the pasta bolognese in the foil pouch. As with all MRE dinners, this one had absolutely no taste.

"Nope," she replied and rose from her seat, stretching her neck so hard it made an audible pop. "Címon, letís get things settled for the night."

The light under the jungleís thick canopy was always tinted green, a warm comforting colour.

This light, however, shining from outside the window was harsh. Artificial. Very cool. The light of the urban jungle brought only coldness with it, the shade leaning towards cyan, completely devoid of the warm yellow glow of the sun. While bringing out the blue-black highlights of her hair, it made sharp shadows on the dark womanís face. The hollows of the eyes were completely dark, as were the depressions under the sharply planed cheekbones. The noble nose was a straight white line in a curving sea of perfect, smooth skin. She was beautiful. Truly beautiful.

He had never thought of her as a potential girlfriend, though. Sure, his socks had rolled down at the speed of light when he had first seen her but that had just been testosterone speaking. He preferred his women to be small, bright and sunny, the complete opposite of the dark, brooding drill sergeant who had greeted him and the rest of the boot camp newcomers with a few curt words. A wolf whistle from one idiot had resulted in them doing push-ups until they either vomited or keeled over from exhaustion. That had been his first experience while serving under her command.

The last lingering romantic interest he might have had for her had been eradicated one night almost ten years ago. He had been at a pub near the base, chugging down a few pints of bitter and exchanging war stories with a few Falkland war veterans. He had been ordering his third pint when a tall woman had appeared next to him, requesting two glasses of wine.

He had taken one glance at her long blonde hair and longer legs and, straightening his tie, given her his best pick up line. She had smiled politely, declined his offer and said that she was already with someone. At his question as to who that someone was, she had pointed at a table in the corner of the pub where sat none other than Commander du Plessis, smiling at his wide eyes. The blonde woman had returned to the table, given the Commander a kiss, showing she was batting for a completely different team. He had backed down, his gentlemanly upbringing not permitting hitting on a woman who could have no interest in him. He had saluted the two women and returned to his conversation.

"So, tell me about her," he said softly, so as not to startle the woman who was obviously deep in thought, as she again fingered the patch of dark leather.

She shifted in her seat. She was sitting on the floor, halfway into her sleeping bag, leaning against an old office desk, feeling Kiltís gentle gaze on her. Not used to talking mushy stuff with her men, she was unsure how to start. She did want to speak, though. She was missing Della so much her chest hurt, and she was scared of a future that was still unclear to her.

"Delaney," she finally whispered.

"Beg pardon?"

"Delaney. Thatís her name."

"Thatís a lovely name," he smiled and scooted closer, leaning against the same desk so that Ghis need not meet his eyes. It was easier for her to talk that way.

"Delaney Covington. Sheís with Scotland Yard, at least for now. I got a..." Ghis trailed off as she reached for her fatigues and the wallet in their pocket. She handed Kilt a picture and a mini Maglite. "Thatís her."

The picture was of the two of them, taken on a beautiful July day in Hyde Park after a picnic. They were holding the camera towards themselves and they were both laughing, the sunshine on their faces as they lay on the green grass. She liked this picture a lot, the joy she saw on the detectiveís face and the way Dellaís fair hair contrasted with hers and the grass under them.

"Sheís a special one," he said and Ghis could hear the smile in his voice. She felt a smile twitch on her lips as well and she let it come.

"Yeah, she is," she whispered and took the picture back, letting her eyes linger on the gentle curves of her loverís face, on the smile wrinkles in the corners of the misty green eyes. "Iím lucky to have her."

"You deserve someone like her," Kilt replied and placed his hand on Ghisí, squeezing gently. "Goodnight," he finished and rolled into his sleeping bag, not seeing the half-startled, half-joyful look on the dark womanís face. After a silent moment she, too, laid down and closed her eyes. She was still holding the picture to herself, the smile never leaving her lips.

"Iím sorry but the Section Chief is still in the field and I really do not have any idea when heíll be back," the barely polite voice said. Apparently the Personal Assistant had had his fill of Dellaís calls.

"Yeah. Right," she grunted and hung up. "Idiot."

The weather outside was the same, the sky dark grey and raining. The detective leaned against the cherrywood windowsill and smiled a sad smile at the gently rolling Connecticut landscape in the distance. The street was deserted for save a few cars and as she stood there in silence, a gold-tinted Chrysler turned into their driveway, her sisterís car. Well fuck a duck, Della sighed, and rose to go downstairs.

When she reached the bottom of the stairs, the detective saw her sister hugging her mother while Vincent, Lisaís husband, shook hands with Mr. Covington.

"How are you, mother?" Lisa asked, smiling.

"Good, thanks. And look who else is here," Michaela Covington said and turned to gesture at Della. The detective smiled a wary smile at her sister and approached a step, her hands shoved into the pockets of her jeans. Lisa was impeccably dressed in her camel hair overcoat and carefully coiffed dark brown hair, making Della feel very adolescent in her oversized Oxford sweatshirt and faded jeans. But the sweatshirt was Ghisí and it still held the clubownerís scent. Della found it very comforting.

"Hi sis," the detective said and extended her hand. Lisa took it and smiled a cool smile.

"Hi Dee. So, I hear youíve gone gay on us."

Everything stopped and all eyes turned to stare at them, with varying levels of surprise, hurt and shock in them. Della closed her eyes as her heart lurched and she got that nasty twisting feeling in her stomach that she always got when she talked with her sister. Great. I have a feeling this is going to be one long day.

"Two-five-nine feet to the door panel, about... six knots of southern."

Ghis watched the small piece of dark cloth flutter in the wind just outside the window and nodded in agreement. Six knots. A bit too much for her liking and somewhat gusty but not too much. Otherwise the weather was perfect -- the rain had stopped but the sky had not cleared and, according to the weather report, it wouldnít do so until the evening.

The old scuba watch showed the time to be five to twelve. She flipped open the protective covers on the optical sight and looked into the crosshairs. With some adjusting, the small speck of guano on the opposite buildingís windowsill came into focus and she was pleased. The test shoots had shown the power of the new silencer yesterday and, coupled with her beloved ELCAN, she couldnít miss. Smoothing her hand over the lightly nubbed surface of the grip and placing her finger on the trigger guard, she smiled. Finally.

"Car approaching," Kilt said and turned his scope to the left. "At least four passengers, in a big black Lincoln. Probably has bulletproof glass, from the looks of the thing."

One to twelve. Right on time, Ghis noted and moved her eyes back to the scope. She could feel her palms start to sweat inside the cotton shooting gloves and she shifted her grip, to place the rifleís recoil pad to rest better on her protective leather vest. Judging from what she had read, Tom McMahon was punctuality itself.

McMahon, a big, hairy man with a scar dividing his left eyebrow, had stared at the camera with open contempt, with a nasty attitude plain in the numerous bruises and cuts his face sported. The police mugshot card was three years old so Ghis supected the man had changed some, but not enough to be unrecognisable. He had been picked up for drunk driving and resisting arrest, but gotten away scot free because of some techical mishap. His picture, however, had found its way to the FBIís archives when, two years ago, McMahon had founded a separatist group and retreated to the wilderness of the Rocky Mountains. His men were suspected of numerous highway robberies and he himself was wanted for the brutal murder of two policemen.

Now, it seemed, the cohortís tactics were about to become somewhat more straightforward. They had contacted La Domma and placed an order for three dozen semi-automatics, a bunch of rocket lauchers, plastic explosives and all sorts of nasty things that were very efficient if you wanted to blow up lots of stuff. The time and place of the meeting had been revealed to the FBI by an undercover agent in McMahonís group and the Bureau had decided to kill two birds with one stone.

Ghisí orders were to capture them alive if possible, but she knew that if she killed them all, no one would raise an eyebrow. After all, she was a sniper, taught to kill from afar and with deadly precision. You donít send a sniper to make an arrest, you send one to kill.

The car stopped in front of the building and was met by La Dommaís big companion. Ghis recognised the profile even from this distance and adjusted her support arm, her hawkís eye trained on the car. The big Lincolnís doors opened. One guy, another and then, McMahon himself. The big man turned back and reached into the car...

"Shit!" Kiltís voice was half an octave higher than usual and Ghis knew this was about as much emotion as he could show when an op was on. "Fuck! Hold your fire!"

She saw it too. The dark woman muttered a string of curses in all of eight languages, ending with one that wouldíve made a sheep farmer pursue a vendetta against her family. Hitting the safety and re-capping the optical sight, she set her rifle on the table.

"Well then. We just have to do this the old fashioned way," she grunted, more to herself than anyone else but Kilt heard her anyway. He nodded, his eye glued to the scope that followed the small group of people entering the building opposite them.

Ghis schucked off the shooting gloves and supportive vest and replaced them with her twin holster vest. She had set it ready, just in case, as she always did. You didnít survive in the business of small wars if you didnít expect the unexpected, that was the one thing she had drilled into her trainees. The final buckle slid into place with the quiet groan of well oiled leather and she grabbed the identical pair of Sig Sauers from a utility box stenciled with the text "Santaís Little Helpers".

"Count to forty and then disable the guards," she said, pointing with one of the sleek automatics to the two men chainsmoking and chatting near the Lincoln. He nodded and snapped open his rifle box. The Parker-Hale was assembled and functional by the time the dark woman had disappeared into the stairwell.

Part 2 -(End)

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