Disclaimer: This is a work of pure fiction. Any resemblance to anyone, living or dead is purely coincidental. The characters are fictional and of my own creation. The place, time, and incidents are purely fictional. Copyright © January 2004.
This work is rated as adult material because it involves a relationship between consenting adults of the same gender, and because anything can happen in my stories. If you are easily offended please read something else. If any of this is illegal where you live, stop reading. Beyond this you may wish to take the following immediate actions. First, move. Second, if it is your wish, resume reading. Let no one dictate what you may or may not read, except you, the only person who should be in control of your life.
Warning! This section contains violence and extreme language.
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She picked up the salt lined glass and turned towards the petite blonde sitting alone in the booth in the back of the bar. She was pretty, even beautiful, but right now she looked like someone had kicked her in the gut. Her face seemed a little paler than it should be in a healthy person; even a light complected blonde like her. She looked sickly. At the moment she just sat there looking at the back of the seat across form her, her purse open in front of her as if she had been about to reach into it, then stopped.
She set the drink down, watching the woman. She didn't respond. She leaned a little closer. "Are you all right, sweetie?"
"Uh." She jumped slightly then looked up.
"Are you okay? Can I get you anything? You don't look to hot, honey."
Samantha smiled, but it came out a little sickly. "Thanks, but I'm okay. Just tired."
"You sure?" Samantha could see the concern and doubt in the woman's face.
"Yeah, thanks. I'm just beat."
"Okay," she said doubtfully. "If you need anything, just let me know."
"Thanks. I'll be okay." She tried another smile. "Soon as I talk to my friend, I'm going to go home."
"All right. Just remember. If you need anything, let me know."
"I will." She watched the woman as she went back to the bar. She picked up the margarita¸something she sometimes missed but that was out of character at the firm¸and took a sip of the cold concoction, letting it slide slowly down her throat. It was a good one. There were only two kinds of Margarita's, good ones and bad ones, no in between. The drink seemed to revive her a little, bring her out of her daze a little. She lit a cigarette, the pungent smoke somehow calming her nerves a little. She had to get herself under control. The poor waitress looked ready to call 911 for her. Just as she reached for her drink again, a shadow crossed her vision and seated across from her, becoming a small blonde woman. She was slightly taller than Samantha was, but somehow seemed smaller, yet her presence, once you got a close look at her, was almost overwhelming.
"Hi, Tan." She smiled in relieved greeting at the pretty but intense blonde. She always felt safe in the woman's presence.
On first impression, Tanya was slightly built with a pixie face surrounded by dirty blond hair. In concert with the pixie image her nose was small and her lips were small. From a distance people thought she was little more than a child, but the large dark eyes quickly changed that opinion when she got closer. Tanya had an unnerving stare; her large black eyes seemed to radiate an intense and dangerous intelligence immediately marking her as a predator, a very dangerous predator. People who were given the full treatment of her stare were instantly wary of her. The smart ones were wary, the others learned quickly of their mistake. Tanya had mastered several of the martial arts in her violent way through life and she was a force to be reckoned with, as more than a few of the skeptical or just plain stupid had learned, to their regret.
"Hi, Sammy. Been a while." she acknowledged. Her assessment of her friend was instantaneous and thorough missing nothing. She took in the cigarette and the drink, noting the frayed nerves the blonde had showing like a neon sign, which was so unlike her normally cool unflappable demeanor. She was even a little pale "Hear you got trouble."
"Yeah, in spades, I think. I figured I better ask the expert just to be sure."
For the next fifteen minutes she gave Tanya a concise rundown of her case, the trouble locating her client and her trip to the prison, complete with all the harassment and her bitch act to try to protect her client. Tanya never said a word, just listened.
When she was done, Samantha lit another cigarette and sipped her hardly touched drink, then looked up hesitantly, like someone standing on the edge of a cliff waiting to be pushed, or staring into the barrels of a firing squad.
"Well, what do you think, Tan?"
"You're fucked, Sammy. That's one nasty pile of shit you stepped in. That place is not a nice place. I've run afoul of them a time or two while working for someone unlucky enough to get sent there but with connections, and money enough to hire me. Personally if I had a choice between doing time there on the Louisiana swamps, I think I'd pick the swamps. Gators and snakes I can deal with."
Samantha nodded, her shoulders slumping at the confirmation. "Yeah, that's what I figured."
"I'll get on it. You're covered, girl, but remember the talks we've had. Watch yourself and don't take chances. Different route every time, that sort of thing."
"Thanks, Tan, I remember. Never thought I'd need that sort of knowledge though."
Surprisingly the intensely sober, elfin face split into a warm smile. "My pleasure, Sammy."
The next instant she was gone, as if she had never been there.
Samantha took a shaky pull on her cigarette and drained nearly half her drink. It was one thing to have her suspicions, but to have Tanya confirm them so quickly, and so colorfully, shook her to the core. It meant she was in even more trouble than she had feared.
Samantha had met Tanya purely by accident almost three years before, and just as accidentally she had saved her life.
She had been out one night, coming home from a late night cocktail party at one of their bigger clients. She was one of several residents of the snake pit invited to the party. As a member of the team, she was charged with adding to the size of the corporate presence, as proof of the company's importance as a client. She was well aware that she was there as eye candy, an image she hated and tried to downplay with her professionalism but one that persisted and was used to help keep the company on the hook. It was a long boring round of schmoozing with self important clients that were more interested in watching her swaying backside as she moved or trying to catch a glimpse of a little more cleavage, as well as trying to coax her into a vacant room, than anything remotely professional. She left earlier than the company approved. She was sure that, if she had to listen to one more corporate vee pee of pencils attempting to convince her what a big favor he was doing her by allowing her to enjoy the ecstasy of his extraordinary member, she was going to have to hurt someone, which would most certainly be frowned on even more than her early departure.
Still fairly new to the area, especially at night, though she had traveled to the same company several times before during the day, she made a wrong turn, one stoplight before she should have. The inevitable parade of streetlights had captured her and was stopped at a light; the street¸one she had never been on before¸was deserted. The light seemed to take forever but her impatience melted as, several blocks behind her, two cars careened around the corner and approached her at high speed, blasting right through the red light right behind her. A small car passed her on her right, slightly ahead of the larger one that screamed by her left side. The bigger car suddenly erupted with gunfire and she instinctively ducked, dousing her lights. She heard a crash and the squealing of tires. When she peered over the dash, she saw the big car screech to a stop then back up on smoking tires. The smaller car was smashed against a tree. The big car stopped beside the wreck and gunfire erupted again, then the car raced off into the night. The whole incident had been so quick that the light was still red, the incident like a sudden bad dream, except that the small car was still crumpled against the tree.
It suddenly dawned on Samantha that she was witness to something that could get her killed. The instinct for self-preservation took over and she immediately turned right¸her lights still off¸and got past the first parked car, when a small figure staggered out in front of her. She jammed on the brakes knowing she was too late. The body somehow became airborne and struck the hood then rolled to the ground. The street was poorly lit so she turned on her lights then got out and went to the front of her car. She was horrified to find a small girl lying there, her shirt dark with blood. Without thinking, Samantha half dragged, half carried her into her car then continued down the residential street, turning onto the next major road, the one she should have turned on to earlier.
She was almost to the nearest hospital when a pleasantly throaty voice, much older than she had expected, said, "No hospital."
"But you're hurt," she protested.
"No hospital. They can find me there. They'll kill me."
Sam didn't know what to do. The woman she had thought an injured child was still badly injured and needed medical attention, but she sounded desperate. She hesitated.
"Please," the small woman asked, and Sam passed the hospital, doing a very foolish thing instead. She took her home. It was late and no one noticed them entering the card-controlled elevator from the private parking garage. She took the woman into her bathroom and got out her feeble supplies, mildly surprised to find that the woman was actually a little taller than she was, when she managed to stand fully. When she helped her out of her bloody shirt, she found that the woman, now bare to the waist, had not only been beaten badly at some time in the very recent past, her whole front dark with angry bruises, but she had two bullet wounds.
"Oh, my god. I have to get you to a hospital. I have to report this."
A very small, very deadly little pistol appeared in the woman's hand, pointing rock steadily between her eyes. "No." The look in the woman's eyes brooked no argument.
Sam gasped and paled backing against the counter.
The small woman smiled slightly, even that small smile easing her menacing look, and lowered the weapon, though only a little.
"Lady, I don't know who the hell you are, but you are the first person that ever tried to help me without expecting anything in return or knowing who I was. I'd like to cherish that memory, so don't make me have to kill you. Sit."
Samantha sat. The gun disappeared.
The woman went to the counter and began tending her wounds, keeping half an eye on Samantha. "Besides, they're just flesh wounds, nothing serious."
Samantha watched the small woman carefully but competently dress her own wounds. When she was done she went to Sam's closet still dressed in just bandages. The fact that she was bare to the waist in front of a stranger seemed not to bother her at all. Samantha couldn't help notice that the woman, for all her childish appearance when she was fully dressed, had a very supple body with firm breasts.
"Jesus Christ, lady, what the fuck do you do for a living?" she asked, taking in all the expensive business suits and silk blouses.
"I'm a lawyer."
"No shit? I had a court appointed lawyer once. The rat bastard wore the same suit three days running and smelled of cheap wine. The asshole didn't do much for my defense. I got six months."
"Don't you have a freaking sweatshirt or something in here?"
"No, sorry, I haven't had time to shop for anything casual."
She sighed. "Where's your phone? Mine got shot to shit in that junker I was driving.
Samantha took her to the phone then sat on the couch when the woman pointed to it. She waited, not sure she had anything to wait for, and rather surprised she wasn't scared to death. The woman spoke quickly into the phone in a foreign language, then hung up. She replaced the phone then sat on the other end of the couch, careful not to get blood on the leather.
"My ride will be here in maybe fifteen. I should be able to last that long, but if I don't, just let them take me out of here and you won't have any trouble."
Sam nodded her understanding but remained silent, in a bit of a daze.
"Oh," she fished in her back pocked and brought out a blood stained wallet. She took out a business card and handed it to Samantha, pointing to it and Sam nearly fainted in relief.
Paladin Security and Detective Agency
"That's me. Sorry if I scared you."
"You look kind of young to be a detective...uhm...."
"Tanya. I'm not, lady, I'm twenty six, but a six year old could get a license in this state, if they knew the right palms to grease, were polite while they took the tests, and had the required money. By the way, you got a name, or would you prefer I not know? I'll find out anyway."
"Nice to meet you, Samantha, thanks for saving my ass. If you ever need anything, call that number and ask for Betty."
Tanya smiled. "It's an inside joke, I'm afraid, but essentially it's like pulling the fire alarm. You ask for Betty and I'll be there, got it?"
"Got it." Sam looked down at the rather plain card again. Just the name of the agency and a number around the stylized head of a horse a little like a chess piece without a base. She looked up to see the blonde watching.
"My name's not on the card because there are lots of people that would kill me if they knew. I much prefer to stay alive."
"Oh. So, what do you¸"
"Trust me, lady, you do not want to know. Just know the agency is legit. Damn, where is that guy," Tanya growled.
"Oh, no one can get in the building unless I let them in," she said, finally coming out of her stupor. "Sorry."
"Really? Nice setup," she answered, just as there was a knock on the door." She put her hand out to silence Samantha and was at the corner near the door, gun in hand, almost before Sam realized she had moved.
"Smee, boss," came through the door."
"'Bout time!" she answered raising her voice slightly, but not moving.
"Come on, boss, cut me a little slack, took me a minute to sweet talk the elevator," the guy grumbled.
"Who's with you?" Tanya quirked a smile as she moved to the door, but Sam noticed she was cat quiet and still came up to the door against the wall.
"Just me, boss."
She took a peek out the peephole then quickly opened the door, confirming he was the only one there.
"Jesus, boss, you look like shit!" a rather tall lanky man of maybe twenty-five answered as he entered the room. His light brown hair, brown eyes, and freckled nose set in a friendly face reinforced his apparent good nature.
"Thanks, Mikey. You're so good for a girl's ego. Here I stand with my tits flapping in the breeze and you tell me I look like shit. Get in here," she remarked even though he was already past the door. He took stock of his surroundings, including his boss's state of undress and the already stained bandages, glancing at Samantha curiously but not saying anything. If the boss wanted him to know, she'd tell him. The eyes told Samantha there was much more to him than his friendly facade.
"You got the stuff?"
"Just like you asked, boss."
"Go clean the bathroom, Mikey."
"No problem." He got out a kit from the bag he had brought in, dropped the bag on the couch and went into the bathroom.
Tanya turned to Samantha as she unfolded a t-shirt then slipped it over her head. She pulled it down over her jeans then looked up at Samantha.
"I'm gonna be out of it for a while, Samantha, so I hope you don't need me. I'm running on pure meanness right now. I meant what I said. I owe you my life. You need anything, just call. If you just need the agency to do some poking around for you, just make an appointment with the secretary, but if you have a serious problem, ask for Betty. If I can't make it I'll send you my very best. I owe you the big one lady."
"That's okay. Like you said. I didn't do it for gain."
"I know. More reason I owe you. Thanks."
"Mikey came into the room.
"Mikey, this is Samantha, she's a Paladin."
"No fuckin' lie?" He stared at the now embarrassed and rapidly reddening Samantha in amazement.
"Hundred percent. Remember her. She calls, we come, no matter what, got it?"
"Yeah, boss, I got it. Never thought I'd meet a for real life Paladin, boss. Thought they were a myth or something." As he spoke he shouldered the bag and headed for the door.
"Apparently, not, Mikey. Surprised me, too," she answered, turning to follow him.
"Uhm, Tanya, what's a Paladin?"
She turned and smiled. "You are, lady, and they were right. Paladins shine, they really do."
They disappeared out the door leaving no evidence they had ever been there. Sam didn't learn until a long time later that Tanya passed out in the elevator and Mikey carried her to his car and took her to a ╬safe' hospital. She learned a short time later, via the Internet, what a Paladin was. The following morning she went out to clean up her car, sure the woman had left bloodstains on the leather, but he car was spotless, no evidence of the strange encounter visible, except for a bit of a dent in the hood.
Samantha pretty much relegated the incident to a dark niche of her mind and got on with her life. With her hectic work schedule, the traumatic incident faded quickly, not really forgotten, but overshadowed by more pressing events in her life. Nearly seven months passed before events brought Tanya back into her life. She was teamed on a case involving some shady dealings by a rival company to their client who the client believed was using illegal means to gain the upper hand in several contracts. She needed some skulking done and their regular team of professionals was tapped out on several other cases. Waiting was not an option. She was wading through the phone book when she came across a familiar one liner. Just to be sure, she checked the card she had all but forgotten, then called the number, identified herself, and asked if they could do some work for her firm. To her surprise the pleasant voice on the other end assured her that someone would be able to come by almost immediately. She made an appointment for two. She got an even bigger surprise when the receptionist on seven brought her appointment to her tiny desk. Sam saw a rather plain brunette in a nice pantsuit, but something about her made Sam think she'd met her before, something she was positive had never happened. As soon as the secretary left the brunette smiled, her dark eyes sparkling. "Know any Paladin's, lady?" It was Tanya.
From that brief second meeting their relationship blossomed professionally and in the course of their professional dealings they also became good friends. Tanya's company did good work at a fair price and she seemed to have a limitless supply of people to do the work and valuable contacts on both sides of the law. In the course of the next two years Sam was to meet several of Tanya's employees and associates and she discovered that most of them had one thing in common, regardless of their other differences. They all seemed to have a deep loyalty for the tougher than nails little blonde and most of them, once they discovered who she was¸a legend in their offices¸had stories to tell about their tough little boss. Most of them had been helped through adversity or worse by Tanya and more than a few owed her their life and their escape from the unpleasant and deadly socioeconomic trap they were born into.
Within a year Samantha had come to depend on Tanya and her agency for most of her detective work and even used her security forces on occasion. Strangely, though the woman was extremely intimidating to other people, Samantha had never feared her, except for that brief incident with the gun in her bathroom. Her normal reaction to the woman was that she felt very safe in her presence.
Following that single visit, Tanya never again came to the office, but she frequently met Sam to discuss business at a bar or restaurant. She always made the pick and most of them were well out of her usual stomping grounds. Eventually Sam discovered this was because Tanya was her own best undercover agent on the seamier side of life, where she was well known. Pressing business that required a visit to Samantha was always handled by one of several of Tanya's more professional looking men and women, that better met the image of people that might frequent or work for PLM&T.
Word got around the firm, about the very professional and very consistent results Samantha was getting and PLM&T began using more and more of Tanya's agency resources in their work. The added work was a boon to Tanya's agency and she was soon adding more resources to handle the work. No matter how busy she was always available to help her own people accomplish their assignments. Both firms were benefiting from the relationship. Sam was only too happy to see the work go to Tanya's agency. She liked her new friend and she liked being able to help her but she had never dreamed she would need her services on her own behalf.
* * *
The house was a huge old-fashioned place, three stories, in a neighborhood that was fairly well kept up, but probably nothing like in the heyday of these gorgeous old mansions. Most of them were apartments now, but this one was still a single-family residence. The house was up several steps from the sidewalk and back nearly thirty feet, before five steps deposited her on the veranda in front of a heavy ornately carved door. The place looked dark, perhaps empty, the curtains all drawn, but she rang the bell. She waited several minutes, then rang it again, glancing at the dark maroon Cadillac in the driveway. A moment later she heard the latch turn.
Expecting to have to argue or coerce her way through a maid, she was surprised when the door opened to reveal a stocky man probably in his mid to late fifties. He definitely had Greek features, swarthy complexion, dark eyes, thick dark eyebrows, and raven hair, now shot with streaks of gray. With the stress he was under, she wasn't surprised.
"We, don't need any, young lady," he said politely and started to close the door.
"Mr. Stephanos, I'm not selling anything."
He opened the door slightly.
"Of course you're not, darling girl, but we still don't need any." The door began to close again.
"Mr. Stephanos, I'm Angela's lawyer."
His eyes became wary, "How do you know my Angela," he asked.
"I'm her lawyer, Mr. Stephanos."
"Angela don't have no lawyer," he accused.
"Yes she does, Mr. Stephanos. Lester Maranze assigned me to her case."
"Lester?" You know Lester?"
"He's my boss, Mr. Stephanos."
A smile cracked his haggard face.
"Come in, girl, come in!" he said and swung the door open.
She entered, glancing quickly around. The house was elegantly cozy with overstuffed furniture and fine rugs of a past era. It felt immediately homey and for an instant she envied Angela's being raised here, her own adolescent home more reminiscent of a mausoleum.
"Come, my child, this way," he said, leading her into the bowels of the house.
They passed a stately dining room, down a long hall next to the stairs leading to the rooms above.
He escorted her into his sanctum, sanctorum. The room was large, definitely masculine, with heavy wood paneling and massive bookcases. The heavy old desk looked like it had evolved there, so heavy she thought it possible that the house had been built around it.
After seating her on a comfortable couch, he puttered around a sideboard and poured two small stemmed crystal glasses, from a decanter of something deep red, giving one to her and then sitting in a chair that faced her instead of going behind the desk.
"They won't let me see her, you know," he said. "They won't even tell me where she is." He looked at her with tears brightening his eyes. "Our Juliana disappeared several years ago, and now they've taken our Angela away. They said she killed Juliana, but she wouldn't, she couldn't. She loved Juliana too much. They say she killed her brother Luca...." He trailed off, his eyes far away.
His dark eyes turned to her and he seemed surprised to see her for a moment.
"I'm sorry, child. I have trouble.... When I think of my precious Juliana gone, and my Angela...." He spoke their names reverently, lost again in his memories.
This could take longer than she had thought. She tentatively sipped at the dark liquid, finding it quite pleasant, and waited patiently for him to return.
* * *
She heard the key in the metal lock and the thump of the heavy tumblers as the lock opened, surprised that she was still alive, then suddenly, painfully, she wished she wasn't. Corporal Jeffrey had used her nightstick on her until she was helpless then used her fists and her feet. Everything hurt.
The door opened and light blinded her even though her eyes were closed. She tried to pry them open. Only the right one opened at all, the other swollen shut. She squinted and tried to lift her head but she didn't have the strength. A pool of black blood lay under her face, stuck to her, impeding her movement.
Two guards entered the room, staring down at her. Her vision was blurred. She could make out two forms but could see no detail of who they were.
"Jesus Christ, Jeffrey is getting out of hand."
"Yeah. This kind of thing is going to get us nailed. Hard to hide wounds like this."
"Well this could be the time. That fuckin' lawyer bitch managed to spring this one."
"Maybe Jeffrey needs to take a fall."
"That'd be my suggestion."
The words only barely registered in her foggy mind, but a warm glow blossomed inside her and began to grow. Samantha had gotten her out of here.
"We better try to clean her up a little."
"Let me see?"
One of the guards bent over her and rolled her over.
She screamed at the pain but it was little more than a gurgling cry.
"Nah, forget it. I don't think we could do much good. Jeffrey really fucked her up."
"Well we can always say she got beat up before we put her in here."
"Yeah, that'll work."
"Yeah. Her word against ours."
"Okay, let's deliver this meat. I want to catch the special tonight. Marissa Corey is supposed to be on there."
"Um, um, um. Like to get her in here for a weekend."
The guards manhandled her into a standing position, ignoring her painful outbursts at their impatient handling. They each took an arm, her wrists painfully straining against the handcuffs, and dragged her out of the cell, up the stairs and back into the little double door area between the cellblock and the rest of the prison. Angela hung between them unable to even lift her head, bloody drool running from her mouth.
All she could think about was that, for all her hatred, Samantha had gotten her released back into some part of humanity.
The guards lifted her to a standing position to ease the strain on their arms. She did her best to stand on her own but her knees kept buckling, as her mind seemed to fade in and out. The guards cursed her but they didn't hit her.
The wait seemed an eternity but finally she heard someone coming. She raised her head slightly, the blurred vision of her partially open right eye showing several moving blobs in a red haze, coming toward the door in front of her.
They stopped. "Christ, what happened to her?" one of them asked.
"Jeffery happened to her."
"God damned that bitch. I told her to lay off! Why didn't you clean her up?"
"Take a good look. Take about six weeks to get her in any shape."
"Well, the shit's gonna hit the fan over this one!"
"Hey, just tell them she was beat up by the cons."
"We still should have tried to clean her up. You guys are getting careless."
"We're getting careless! Jeffrey's a fucking loose cannon and you blame us?"
"I'm not blaming anyone. Shit. They're gonna raise hell when they see her like this. We're gonna live to regret cutting her loose."
"So what do you want to do. It's you call. Those people are waiting."
"Ah hell. Turn her over. Blame it on the cons."
"You got it."
Much of what the guards said escaped her dulled and groggy mind. They hustled her through the door and down a long corridor. Another door opened and she felt a cool breeze on her swollen face. She was outside in the courtyard the glaring light turning everything they didn't touch an inky black. Near the outer gate she could see a big square sided ambulance or rescue squad. Her sight was too blurred to be sure, but it didn't matter. It meant freedom.
The guards took a little more care with her now that they had witnesses, holding her up and helping her walk. As she got closer she could see several officers and the rescue squad team waiting for her, two prison guards preventing them from rushing forward.
She was less than fifteen feet from them when it happened. She felt a sudden sharp pain in her back, then another, and another. The pain was so intense she wanted to scream, but her vocal chords seemed paralyzed, her body in shock. At the first hit, her body spasmed and the guards thought she was trying to get away; they tightened their grip on her. At the second, one of the officers in front of her screamed and started to fall.
The guards dropped her and scattered, but not before she was hit a third time.
She was falling and she realized she had been shot. Funny, she didn't hear any of the shots, only felt the intense pain as the bullets smashed their way through her. A numb heaviness seemed to seep through her body and into her very bones as she fell. As if in a slow motion dream she saw two of the officers in front of her draw their weapons. Brilliant light seemed to flare from the end of the guns but she heard no sound, as she seemed to drift towards the ground. She hit hard, her face slamming into the dusty yard. It didn't matter. She was dying. The realization overwhelmed her with a profound feeling of sadness and disappointment. She had wanted so very much to see her little green-eyed blonde one more time and thank her for trying to free her. Now she never would.
I'm sorry Samantha. I guess I let you down again.
Please don't hate me.
I love you.
* * *
To be continued....
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