The Coward

by Mark Annetts

Pointless rambling introduction/disclaimer: This is one of those uber things that rather cleverly gets around any unfortunate copyright nonsense. But between you and me, the two main characters do bear an uncanny resemblance to two of Greece's finest. Well, Greece in a sort of Texan and New-Zealanderish kind of way, if you know what I mean.

Anyway, this is about a rich kid from California and a stoical private eye from London, and how their courage changed the world. Or something.

The only warning I can give is that at one point two women get hot and sweaty with each other, in amongst all the car chases, huge punch-ups, and massive explosions. Now really, come on, people, this is the twenty-first century. Surely love is love and hardly requiring any such warning, is it?

By the way, I might have exaggerated the action a little bit. Well, quite a lot, really. Sorry about that. And to be honest the sex is pretty tame, too. Oops.

Serious bit: I'd like to thank the Bards' Village for enduring the early versions and being kind enough to point out my many shortcomings. I'd especially like to thank Stacia for her fabulous proofing, without whom this story would be riddled with ofs instead of offs and yours instead of you'res etc. So, if you think it's bad now, just imagine how awful it was before Stacia spinkled her magic dust on it. :)


Part 3 (Conclusion)

"How are you really feeling now?" asked Nikki, munching on a sandwich plucked from the large plate a steward had brought to their cabin.

"Paper thin... but better," replied Terri, still feeling too fragile to join her friend in eating.

"Wanna talk about it?" Nikki asked between bites.

"Do I have to?"

"Not if you don't want to."

Terri sighed. "What do you want to know?"

"Thirty-year-old virgin, how come?"

Terri looked at Nikki, expecting some trace of contempt or amusement, but there was neither. "When I was young, a teenager, I sort of hooked into the idea of saving myself for the right man, the usual romantic stuff. I dreamed of heroes and heroines, slaying dragons, fighting wrong-doers, rescuing princesses, the usual rubbish you're fed as a child."

"You wanted to rescue princesses?"

"Yeah, I suppose I did, but in those dreams I'd look on, smiling as I handed her over to the prince who'd sent me on the mission."

"You always went on missions?"

"Yeah, even then I wanted to be a soldier. Fighting for good against evil."

"You sure you don't want one of these, they're very good," Nikki asked, offering the plate of sandwiches to Terri.

"What are they?"

"There's all sorts, corned beef, cheese, jelly."

"No, it's okay, you have them."

"That still doesn't explain the virgin bit," she said, biting into another sandwich.

"It just sort of stuck with me that I was the warrior that made it happen, never the one that got rescued or returned to. All through school, and later university, I just never connected with anyone that fitted my idea of a partner. And I was damned sure that I wasn't giving myself to just anyone. When I left and joined the army I threw myself into my career. Anyone who tried to get close got bounced so far, so fast they never tried again."

"Weren't you lonely?"

"Didn't think about it at the time, all I wanted more than anything was an invitation."

"An invitation?"

"To Hereford. That was my number one goal, nothing else mattered."

"I don't understand, what's Hereford got to do with anything, that's some place in England, isn't it?"

"It's the HQ of the SAS."

"And why'd you want that so bad?"

"You've never heard of the SAS?" Terri asked in surprise.

Nikki shrugged. "Some sort of anti-terrorist squad, or something."

"Something like that. They're the elite of the elite, the very cream of the British, or any other, army."

"Kinda like the Seals?"

Terri snorted. "Yeah, sort of, but they're pretty wussy in comparison."

"You're kidding, I've seen the movie with Demi, those are tough dudes."

Terri smiled. "If you say so."

"So, why didn't you join them?"

"It's by invitation only. You have to get recommended by your squadron commander before they'll even consider you."

"And he or she wouldn't do it?"

"Oh hell yes. I got recommended six times over the years before they realised it wasn't going to happen, so they stopped bothering. Most people only needed a second recommendation to get an invitation, though most of them would fail the induction. Less than half of one percent get any recommendations. I got six. I know I would have passed any tests they wanted me to try."

"Don't tell me, wrong plumbing for the job?"

"I suppose, they never said."

"That sucks, Farmer."

"Yeah, it does. Still hurts, too," she said quietly, looking down at her hands.

"Is that why you left?"

"Not really, though it helped with the decision."

"Why'd you leave, then?"

"You really want to know? It's not pretty."

"Of course I want to know. The more I know about you, the faster the rest of me can catch up with my soul."

"You're so sure you've found your soulmate?"

"Yup, aren't you?"

"I'm... I'm not sure, Nikki, to be honest. This has all been so unexpected and sudden."

"You will know, Farmer, soon, I promise."

"I hope so. I do trust your judgement; after all, you've chosen me, so I know you've got good taste." She smiled hesitantly at Nikki, and Nikki smiled back, glad to see that Terri's sense of humour was slowly reasserting itself.

"So, why'd you leave?"

"Not much to tell really. I killed someone. Funny, you'd think the army would like that sort of thing, but they didn't. They asked me to resign instead."

"Jesus, Farmer, what did you do?" Nikki asked, leaning forward, taking hold of Terri's hand.

"I was with the UN peacekeepers in Sierra Leone. There was a local warlord who kept terrorising the villages we were supposed to be protecting. I asked for permission to neutralise him once and for all, but they kept turning me down. Said it wasn't our mission to get involved like that."

"You were a frontline commander? I didn't know they allowed that sort of thing."

"Yeah, we were so stretched everyone was thrown in, even us support troops."

"What happened?"

Terri sighed again, her eyes unfocussed as she remembered the past. "One day the warlord decided that we were never really going to do anything to stop him, so he thought he'd put on a special show for us. Show us who really had the power. A lorry drove by the camp with a couple of men in the back. They started jeering and shouting at us, then throwing things. We thought we were being attacked and dived behind our sandbags. Something bounced over the top and landed at my feet." She lapsed into silence, a single tear trickled down her cheek. "Damn, you've ruined me, Nikki. I didn't cry then, but I can't help it now." She wiped her cheek with the back of her free hand.

"I'm here, Farmer. I think it's best if you let it go now. It's not good to keep things bottled up for so long."

"I'm not sure I agree... it's hurts so much, I just want to forget."

"I know, Farmer, but I promise you really will feel better for sharing."

"If you say so," Terri said, smiling sadly. "It was a young girl's head."

"My god, Farmer," Nikki said, covering her mouth with her hand, suddenly feeling hot and nauseous. Terri's matter-of-fact delivery did nothing to diminish the impact of her words.

"He'd ordered his men to round up a dozen children from the local villages. They'd simply hacked them up into little pieces, then driven by throwing the bits at us." She paused to wipe away some more tears.

"So, you killed him?"

"Not straight away," Terri said quietly.

Nikki swallowed. "I'm afraid to ask."

"I warned you."

"Yes, you did, but I had no idea."

"People don't want to know. Still think I'm your soulmate?"

"Of course. I don't care what you've done. Whatever it was, you had damn good reason."

"I like to tell myself that."

"But you're not convinced?"

"Would you be?"

"I... don't know, I've never been there, I'm glad to say."

"Pray that you don't."

"Did you... torture him?"

"No!" Terri looked up at Nikki, shocked that she would suggest such a thing. "Jesus, Nikki, I know I'm bad, but I'm not that bad."

"I'm sorry, Farmer. It's just that you seemed so ashamed of what you'd done, I didn't know what to think."

"After they still refused permission to do anything about the guy, even after the incident with the children, I asked for volunteers to help me arrest him. No one would help me, they were all either too chicken or too rigid. I eventually found a couple of French commandos who said they'd help. Tough couple of bastards, they were too. We sneaked into the warlord's house one night and abducted him. I found one of the men I recognised from the back of the truck. Slit his throat while he slept."

Nikki swallowed down her bile and looked the other way, but still maintaining her fierce grip on Terri's hand. "Christ, Farmer, you say it like you were opening a can of beans, or something."

"You want me to weep over that piece of shit?"

"No... I... just go on, Farmer, finish this and get it over with."

Terri continued, her voice once more a monotone. "We managed to avoid most of his men, but we ran out of luck when we bumped into a patrol. There was a brief firefight, we got all of them but they got one of the French guys. The other one left with his mate to take him back to his camp. It left me and the warlord. He was trussed up with cable ties, he wasn't difficult to handle. I originally meant to take him back to the UN to stand trial, but then I reckoned they'd probably just release the prick."

"What did you do with him?" asked Nikki.

"I took him back to the village elders. I thought they'd know how to deal with him."

"You knew they'd execute him."

"Pretty much."

"Didn't you think he deserved a trial at least?"

Terri looked into Nikki's pained eyes. "Nikki, sweetheart, don't you ever lose your humanity. I can tell straight from the heart, it's not a nice place to be." Terri wiped another errant tear away as it ran down her cheek.

"How... how did it all end?" Nikki whispered.

"I should've known it wouldn't be nice. They tied him to an old kitchen chair with some barbed wire. I thought they'd behead him or something, or maybe hang him, but before I knew what was happening someone necklaced him."


"Put a car tyre full of petrol round his neck and set it on fire."

"Oh god, Farmer, this just gets worse. I think I need a break." Nikki got shakily to her feet and went into the bathroom. Terri could hear running water, but no other sounds, so at least Nikki was managing to hang onto her lunch. Nikki emerged from the bathroom drying her face on a towel. She picked up a glass of Coke and took a few sips.

"What did you do?" she said, sitting down next to Terri again.

"I did the only thing I could do, I took my sidearm and shot him twice in the head."

"So, you ended up judge, jury and executioner after all?"

"Yeah; villagers went mad. For a moment I thought I'd be next in the chair, but the elders calmed them down and told me to go. So I went, tail between my legs, having achieved nothing except get a few more people killed, including a French commando who was only there because I asked him to be." Terri stood up and stretched, silently watching a seagull hovering off the side of the ship. When it flew off she turned back to Nikki. "You wanna know what the worst part was?"

"I can't imagine it's any worse that what you've already told me."

"Oh, it's worse, Nikki, much worse. They were right all along. Within a week a new warlord had taken over who was even worse than the one I took out. Nothing changed, nothing got any better. I just stirred the pot a little and probably devastated some French family somewhere in the process. Hell, the bastard was probably a front for MI6 or the CIA for all know. I screwed up so royally there was nowhere left for me to go but out. I was lucky they didn't court-martial me and send me to military prison."

"I think what you did was horrific, Farmer, but it was done for the best of reasons and was a noble gesture in a deeply screwed up situation," Nikki said, coming to stand behind Terri, putting her arms around the other woman's waist and resting her head against Terri's broad back.

"Still think you've found your soulmate?" asked Terri dejectedly.

"She's a little darker than even I imagined, but yes, yes I do. You're a brave, caring, loving woman, who's willing to hold up her dark side for my inspection and not even ask for any sort of forgiveness. Someone who's willing to take the blame with honour and dignity. How could I not love you?"

"Shit, Nikki, you're going to make me cry again," she said turning around and welcoming Nikki into a much needed hug.


"I've asked you both to my cabin to have a private word about the recent incident in the forward pump room," said the captain. Nikki and Terri sat on his day bed couch opposite the captain, who was seated in a large armchair. They all had cups of tea, recently served by a hovering steward.

"Wondered what the fallout would be," said Terri.

"I'm asking you to consider the implications for a good officer, should you wish to report this occurrence to the authorities or your father, Ms Takis."

"Is that strictly legal?" asked Nikki.

The captain smiled thinly. "That might be one interpretation, Ms Takis."

"There are others?" asked Terri, putting down her untouched drink.

"There are always alternatives, Ms Farmer. How are you, by the way?"

"As well as can be expected."

"Good, good, glad to hear it. What I mean is the third mate stands to lose her job for a momentary loss of judgement. It seems a pity for such a good officer." He sipped his tea, carefully watching the two of them over the rim of his cup.

"You're saying that if we don't mention that fact that I almost got killed, and am only here thanks to the rapid action and skill of my bodyguard, that Martina won't get fired?"

"More or less."

"Wouldn't have anything to do with the fact that responsibility rests with the captain under such circumstances?" asked Terri.

He smiled again, though it was anything but friendly. "That is also true, Ms Farmer. But I ask on Martina's behalf, rather than my own, you understand."

"Oh yeah, I understand," said Nikki, standing up. "Don't worry, Captain, neither of us will say anything, will we, Farmer?"

"If that's what you want, Nikki."

"That's what I want."

Nikki stepped back as Terri preceded her through the door of the captain's cabin.

"Thanks for the tea," called Terri as she disappeared down the corridor.

"Remarkable woman," said the Captain, as Nikki turned to follow Terri.

"Oh yeah," she grinned.


Nikki looked up wearily from a manual she was attempting to read, that the chief engineer had so thoughtfully given her, as Terri came through the door of their cabin.

"Some days, Nikki, this job sucks, other days it's worse," she said, letting her head rest against the door jam.

"What's wrong, Farmer?"

"I know who the smuggler is."

Part Ten

"What do you mean you know who the smuggler is?" demanded Nikki.

"S'funny, really," Terri said, distractedly.

"What is?"

"All this time, I thought all this was not much more than a ruse by your father to get you away from London and send you on a cruise. Never really thought it was a serious case, as such."

"What are you talking about, Farmer?"

Terri pushed away from the door frame she'd been leaning on. "I mean I was stupid to try and second guess your father."

"Is this some sort of funny English dialect you're speaking in, 'cause I don't understand a word you're saying."

"We're docking in under six hours, right?"

"Yes," Nikki replied slowly, still not sure where Terri was going with this.

"I figured it would be a good time to sneak Martina's compass back to her, with a nice 'thanks, but you keep it' note. But no, that would have been too easy."

"I'm still not understanding this."

"I went to her room while she was on watch, okay."

"Farmer, that's terrible; invading her privacy like that."

"Yeah, well, that's what I do, you know."

"So, what did you find?" Nikki said, leaning forward and dropping her voice to nearly a whisper.

Terri smiled. She looked around theatrically then hunched her shoulders, dropping down till she was right next to Nikki's shoulder. "I think we're safe from prying eyes." On impulse she stuck her tongue out and licked Nikki's ear.

"Eeew, Farmer!" Nikki lurched back, frantically wiping her ear with her hand. Terri couldn't help laughing at Nikki's look of disgust.

"What'd you do that for?"

Terri shrugged. "I dunno, just wanted to, I suppose."

Nikki's indignation melted at the look of sheepish contrition on Terri's face. "Hey, c'mere," she said, holding out her arms. Terri reluctantly wrapped her arms around the smaller woman, suddenly feeling awkward and stiff.

"C'mon now, Farmer, chill, will ya. You just took me by surprise is all."

Terri's shoulders relaxed a bit. "You're really not angry with me?"

"Nah, I'm pleased you can be so comfortable with me. God knows it's taken me long enough to get you this far."

"Am I really that bad?" Terri asked in a small voice. Since their experimentation with kissing Terri had felt a strange duality towards Nikki. On the one hand she felt closer to the blonde than anyone since her father, but on the other hand, Nikki still scared the bejesus out of her. It was deeply unsettling to a woman who prided herself on control and decisiveness. How could she want to both run away and run towards someone at the same time, she wondered?

"So, what about Martina's room?" asked Nikki, still holding Terri close.

"I went to put the compass back. I thought I'd better hide it so she wouldn't find it till after we were long gone. I looked around for the best place, that's when I found a small locked vanity case. Being curious I couldn't help it, I had to see what she locked up when everything else was freely open."

"You didn't break it, did you?"

"No, 'course not, I picked it and re-locked it after I'd had a look."

"What was in it?"

"At first I thought it was something private and was about to lock it again when I noticed the thin cord hanging out the end."

"I don't think I follow this, Farmer. Do you have to speak in riddles?"

"Okay, back up a bit. I thought it was a... you know, something women... um... pleasure themselves with."

Nikki could feel the blush warming up Terri's neck and cheeks. "Farmer, you're blushing," she said, smiling and pulling back to take a look. Terri looked at the floor, unable to meet Nikki's eyes.

"No I'm not," she mumbled.

"I once told you before how charming you looked when you blushed, and I really meant it," Nikki said, gently pulling Terri's face back to look at her. She leant forward and gave Terri a kiss on the cheek. Terri closed her eyes, relaxing fully into Nikki's arms. They stayed like that for many minutes, each soaking up the unspoken feelings passing between them.

"So, Martina's got a toy. It's hardly a crime, Farmer."

"Even I know that's not unusual, but then I saw the cord. I picked it up and shook it. It rattled."

"Still not unusual, why I've seen some that--"

"I get the picture, Nikki, believe me I do," Terri interrupted, blushing even harder.

"Oh, Farmer, you're just too precious, you know that, don't you?"

"If you say so."

"I do say so," Nikki said, kissing Terri's other cheek, then moving gently to her eyes, her nose, and finally her lips. Terri moaned softly at the touch.

She pulled back, opening her eyes and blinking slightly in confusion. "This... this isn't helping, Nikki. How are we supposed to solve the case when you're making my legs tremble and my heart start fibrillating?"

Nikki smiled. "Only you would say your heart's fibrillating, Farmer. Most normal folks would say pounding, or yammering, or thumping, or--"

Terri reached up, placing two fingers on Nikki's lips, cutting off her words. "I never said I was normal," she whispered.

"No you didn't, the word dichotomy comes to mind. Now I've had a taste, I wouldn't have it any other way," Nikki said, smiling.

Terri cleared her throat, stepping back. "Yes, well, back to Martina's toy. It's not really a sex toy, it's a device for smuggling. It unscrewed in the middle. Guess what was inside?"

"God, Farmer, what sort of question is that, how the hell should I know?"

Terri's eyebrow raised. "I thought you were the big expert in these things?"

"Just tell me what it was, before I beat it out of you!"

"I thought you were a lover, not a fighter?"

"Depends on the circumstances," Nikki said, narrowing her eyes into a mock glare.

"Diamonds," Terri said flatly.


"Diamonds," Terri repeated.

"As in a girl's best friend?"

"Not quite. These were uncut diamonds. Large ones though. I'd guess, ooh, maybe a million pounds worth, as a wild guess, something like that, maybe even more."

"How do you know that?"

"They're all either blue or red coloured, the rarest types you can get."

"How do you know all this stuff, Farmer?"

She shrugged. "I read a lot."

"How do you know they're not hers?"

"Would you work as a deck officer on a tanker if you had something like that rattling around in your toy?"

"Guess not. So why keep them in... there? Why not take them out once smuggled and put them somewhere else safe?"

"Good place to hide it if your ship gets inspected by customs."

"Farmer, I don't wanna think about it."

"At least I know Martina's hair colour is natural," Terri said, grinning.

"I don't get it."

"Wanna bet that the cord is colour matched to blend in?"

"Eeew, this is so gross," said Nikki, scrunching up her face.

"Could have been worse, what if Martina had been male; you ever read the book Papillion?"

"Oh, purlesse, you just had to go there, didn't you?" groaned Nikki. Terri smirked with glee.


"What's the plan?" asked Nikki, as they looked out over the deck. The ship had docked in the early hours of the morning and was now discharging its cargo through giant booms connected to the quayside.

"We go on a little sight-seeing trip into Marseilles, but we really double back and follow Martina, see where she goes, who she meets."

"How are we going to do that?"

Terri held up a small radio device with a thin cable attached to an ear piece. "It's a receiver, we'll be able to track her with it."

"She's gonna to sing a song on the radio?"

"Not quite, I bugged her smuggling toy."

"You bugged her dildo?" Nikki asked incredulously.

"Sure, don't want to loose track of the diamonds, do I."

"Farmer, you never cease to amaze me," Nikki said, shaking her head. Terri just smirked.

"We better go find ourselves a taxi and wait. The transmitter's only got a range of a mile or so, though the battery's lithium, should be good for a couple of months."

"Lead on, Jane Bond, let's go catch us some smugglers."


The taxi driver kept quiet as the strange woman waved the small electronic device slowly back and forth in front of her. She sat next to him in the front passenger seat. A large wad of francs had bought a lot of tolerance.

"She's turning right," Terri muttered in English. "Turn here," she said in French, indicating with her hand where the driver was to go next. Nikki sat in the back seat, watching over Terri's shoulder. Feelings of trepidation and excitement welled up in her stomach. 'Wow, this sure beats designing boats for a living,' she thought to herself. 'I'm really doing this, chasing a gang of diamond smugglers through the streets of Marseilles, this is just unreal!'

"Enjoying yourself back there?" asked Terri.

"Oh yeah," she replied with a huge grin.

"Don't suppose you'll stay in the car?"

"See any flying pigs?"

"Uh huh, well, don't get too smug this could get very nasty, very quickly. Promise me you'll do as I tell you, when I tell you and no arguments, Nikki."

"Yes, Mom."

"Take the next left, then pull over and stop," Terri said in French. The driver did as he was told.

"Looks like she's stopped moving."

"Do you want me to stay and wait?" asked the driver with a grin. He was enjoying himself rather more than he ought to, thought Terri.

"What did he say?" asked Nikki, leaning forward and speaking softly into Terri's right ear.

"He wants to know what your telephone number is," she stage-whispered back.

"He did not," said Nikki slapping Terri on the shoulder. "Did he?" she asked after a pause, her eyes widening slightly as she looked sideways at the man

"Non," said the driver, grinning at Terri then back at Nikki.

"You speak English?"

"A leetle," he said shrugging.

"Not enough to actually use it if a tourist should happen along?" asked Terri dryly. He grinned some more.

"No need, you speak my language well enough," he said, reverting back to French. "Would you give me the young woman's number if I asked?"

Terri turned to look at the man, her eyes narrowing. "She's spoken for," she growled.

"Of course," he nodded, grinning in understanding. "So, should I wait?" he asked again.

"That would be nice. Another thousand will be waiting for you if you're here when we get back."

He grinned again and switched off the engine. "Take your time, Madame," he said, leaning back in the seat and closing his eyes.

"Be ready to roll, we may need to leave in a hurry," said Terri, getting out of the car. Nikki joined her.

"Where now?" Nikki asked, looking around. They were in a shabby part of the city, surrounded by run-down or derelict warehouses. Litter lined the paths and walkways and cars with broken windows were left abandoned. No one was around, the place was deserted.

"Not exactly what I had in mind when I came to the south of France," grumbled Nikki.

"You want them to be doing their deals on the beach at St Tropez?"

"That would have been nice of them."

"Yeah, the state of smuggling today, eh?" Terri swept the small receiver in front of her. "This way," she said, striding off down one of the alleys. After a brisk five-minute walk she stopped in front of one of the shabby buildings. "In here," she said nodding at the building.

"Do we knock on the front door, or burst in, all guns blazing?"

"You got a gun?"

"Well, no, but I wouldn't be surprised if you had one tucked away somewhere."

"They're not allowed in the UK. Don't own one, don't want one."

"Not even for PIs?"

"Especially not for PIs."

"How do you defend yourself then?"

Terri turned from examining the building to look at Nikki, raising an eyebrow.

"Yeah, all right, silly question. So we go around the back, huh?"

"That's the plan," said Terri, looking up and down the length of the building.

They had to clamber over a waist-high wall, then Terri climbed up a drain pipe to a second floor window, which was broken and conveniently located adjacent to the pipe. Within seconds she had disappeared inside.

"What about me?" Nikki called up as loudly as she dared.

Terri leaned out of the window and sighed. "Can't you make it up here?"

"I don't know, I'm not Spiderwoman like you, you know."

"Try it, you'll be amazed how easy it is," she whispered down.

"Well, all right, but if I break my neck, Farmer, I'm coming back to haunt you, you know that, don't you?"

"Wouldn't have it any other way. You could be Hopkirk and I'll be Randall."

"What the hell are you talking about now?" Nikki huffed as she gingerly pulled herself up the drainpipe.

"Not a show that reached your shores, I suppose."

"Doesn't sound like it," she grunted, pulling herself up level with the window. Terri reached out and dragged her inside.

"Damn, is detective work always this much fun?" Nikki asked, distaste written all over her face, as she wiped her grubby hands on her denim jacket.

"No, usually it involves sitting in cars for hours on end, drinking cold tea, wondering what the hell you're doing. That's the fun part."

They made their way down a half-glassed corridor, past some empty offices and an open unlit stairway leading down. They ignored them all and went on to the end of the corridor. Terri stopped, looking back at Nikki and putting a finger to her lips. She put her ear to the closed door in front of them. Nikki nodded, keeping deathly quiet, not even daring to breathe. Terri slowly turned the door handle, inching the door open slightly. She waited for any sort of response, but none came. Looking back at Nikki she nodded once then slowly opened the door wide enough to squeeze through.

Nikki let out a deep breath as a hand came back through the opening and waved her forward.

"This way," Terri mouthed as Nikki poked her head around the door. They were on a mezzanine floor, overlooking the main open area of the warehouse. Old empty crates and pallets were piled up in stacks surrounding them. Terri motioned Nikki to follow her as she peered carefully over the edge of one of the boxes. Down on the ground floor two cars were parked at right angles to one another. Standing in front of the vehicles was a group of people. Terri pulled some small binoculars from her pocket and scanned the faces.

"See anyone you recognise?" whispered Nikki. Terri nodded, handing the glasses over to Nikki without a word, her face grim.

Nikki adjusted the focus wheel then gasped. "Christos and Carl, and the guy that shouted at us the first day we arrived onboard."

"The second mate," whispered Terri.

"There's Martina, don't know the rest of them. Wish we could hear what they're saying," she said, watching the group intently through the binoculars.

"Ask, and thou shalt receive," smirked Terri, holding up the small receiver she'd used to track the diamonds. She flipped a switch. "Two channels, one long range to pick up homing beeps, the other short range for voice. Only works for a few hundred yards, have to get pretty close to hear anything."

"We in range now?"

"Oh yeah."

"What are they saying?"

"The usual you're late blah blah blah... do you have the stuff?... it's all here... any trouble in Rotterdam?... no it was fine... nice weather we're having," she relayed to Nikki.

"They did not say 'nice weather we're having'," she said, exasperated that Terri would be joking at a time like this.

"Okay, so they didn't mention the weather. But what he said was no less boring."

"Such as?"

"Wait!" Terri held up her hand for silence. "Oh crap."


"Second mate's just told Christos about us being passengers."

Nikki could see sudden concern ripple through the group as Carl and Christos immediately pulled out guns and started looking around in panic.

"Guess you spooked them the last time you met," grinned Nikki. She could see Christos frantically ordering his men to spread out.

"He wants them to search the building. Guess it's time for us to go," said Terri, edging back towards the door.

"Why don't we call the police?" Nikki hissed as they crept back towards the door. She nearly bumped into Terri who'd stopped moving. "What?" she barely whispered, sudden fear filling her guts. Terri leaned back towards Nikki, not taking her eye off the door, she pulled Nikki's head close to her mouth, whispering into her ear.

"There's someone on the other side of the door."

Nikki, tried to swallow but found she couldn't. What had been an exciting adventure only moments before now suddenly seemed horribly frightening.

Terri crept forward till she was close enough to the door to peek through. A man with a shotgun draped casually over his shoulder was wandering down the corridor, looking into the empty offices, whistling as he went, entirely oblivious to their presence. Terri held up her hand, indicating that Nikki should stay. She sprang silently to a crouching position, her fists balled, and began to stalk the man.

Nikki watched in morbid fascination as Terri crept ever closer, expecting her to unleash some devastating martial arts move on the man. Terri reached to within six feet of him, her soft footsteps masked by his tuneless whistle. Nikki cringed further and further inside herself, the tension unbearable. At any second she expected him to turn around and shoot Terri.

'For God's sake, Farmer, for crying out loud, kick the sonofabitch!' she screamed internally, her heart in her mouth. Instead Farmer bent down and scooped up an old crowbar lying on an office window. In one fluid motion she plucked the shotgun from the startled man's shoulder, at the same time rapping him smartly on the back of the head with the iron bar. He fell face down on the floor, unconscious, never knowing what hit him.

Nikki slipped through the door, closing it carefully behind her.

"Okay, Jet Li, what the hell was that?" she demanded.

"What?" asked Terri surprised.

"That!" she said pointing to the downed man on the floor.

Terri shrugged. "I don't understand," she said puzzled.

"I mean was that another martial art, an ancient British one, where-by you whack people upside the head with an iron bar?"

"What would you rather, perhaps a few summersaults and a battle cry?"

"No, it's just... I just expected something a bit less mundane, is all."

"It worked and that was what I wanted."

"So much for the land of fair play."

"I thought it was pretty fair, considering he had this," Terri said, handing the shotgun to Nikki.

"Yeah, I guess. Er, Farmer what are you doing?" Terri had knelt down next to the man and was busy searching him. She pulled a pistol from a shoulder holster and tucked it into the back of her jeans. Next his wallet went into her jacket pocket. Then she unlaced his shoes and pulled them off, followed by his socks.

"Farmer!" Nikki hissed, as Terri unzipped the man's trousers and pulled them down, along with his underpants. She unceremoniously tugged them off over his bare feet, dropping them on top of the rest of his clothes.

"What the hell are you doing?"

"A bit of insurance," Terri replied, stripping the man of the rest of his clothes. Once all his clothes were removed she bundled them together and threw them out the window, leaving behind just his belt.

"Farmer this is low, even for you," said Nikki, unable to take her eyes off the naked man sprawled out at her feet.

"He'll be extremely unlikely to want to join in any unpleasantness all the while he's waving his little friend in the breeze. Trust me, men just don't."

"I thought that's exactly what they all wanted to do."

"Only in private, not in public."

"So, that's the new plan, we go around pulling everyone's pants down?"

Terri grinned, tying the man's hands behind his back with his belt. "Something like that." She effortlessly picked up the naked man, throwing him over her shoulder. She pointed to a nearby office door. "Open that for me, would you." Nikki pushed the door open, allowing Farmer to carry the man into the room. She dropped him face down on a desk in the middle of the room. She grinned at Nikki evilly as the she arranged the unfortunate man into an embarrassing pose, his backside pointing towards the corridor window, his manhood dangling limply down between his legs which Terri had spread on either side of the desk's drawers.

They returned to the corridor and observed Terri's handiwork through the plate glass.

"You're one evil woman, Farmer," Nikki said, grinning wickedly, herself.

"Here, give me that thing," Terri said, holding her hand out for the shotgun Nikki was holding.

She hefted the weapon in her hands, checking it over. Pointing the gun away from Nikki she swiftly pulled back a small lever on the side. A shell popped out which she caught deftly. She held it up to the light, reading the words on its side. She whistled low. "Whoa, these fellas aren't messing around. This is a single load magnum round."

"Is that good?"

"It would really put a major downer on your day if you got in the way of this baby when it went off. It'll take down an elephant."

"Oh, nice."

Terri shrugged. "You asked." She knelt down, rapidly ejecting the rest of the shells onto the floor.

"Doesn't it work better with them inside the gun?"

"Yeah, but I like to know how many shots I've got going into a fight, rather than find out in the middle." She loaded them one by one back into the weapon. "Okay, do you know how to use one of these?" she said, pulling the pistol from the small of her back.

"Not really, only what I've seen at the movies."

"Well, forget all of that stuff, it's nearly always nonsense." She pulled the slide back slightly, looking into the gap opened up on top. "This is a Beretta 92F 9mm. It's a military weapon, so not kid's stuff. There's one up the spout already." She pressed a button on the front of the grip, causing the ammunition clip to slide out of the bottom of the handle. Holding the clip up to the light she counted the number of cartridges. "There's a full clip of fifteen bullets. That means you've only got sixteen shots, so don't waste 'em." She snapped the clip back into the gun. "This is the safety," she said, pointing to a lever on the side. "Up means 'safe', you can't pull the trigger, it's locked in place, and down means 'good to go'. All you need to do is squeeze the trigger gently, and it will go bang once every time you do so. Try not to let pulling the trigger jerk the gun off your aim. When you're not meaning to shoot it, it's a good idea to keep your finger curled around the trigger guard. That way you won't pull it accidentally. Don't point it at anyone unless you are fully prepared to pull the trigger on them. And finally, don't give a second thought to all that crap about shooting people in the shoulder or shooting the gun out of their hands. The only reason to shoot at someone is to incapacitate them as rapidly as possible. That means hit 'em dead centre, middle of the body. If they keep coming, do it again. If they still keep coming, they're either high on drugs, wearing a vest, or extremely pissed off and motivated people."

"What do I do then?"

"Say you're sorry, run like crazy and don't look back."

"Works for me."

"Good, shall we go and arrest us some smugglers, Ms Takis?" asked Terri, snapping back and releasing the cocking bolt on the side of the semi-automatic shotgun.

"After you, Sheriff."

"That's Shire Reeve, to you," said Terri, grinning.

Part Eleven

Terri stopped near the bottom of the stairs, looking back up at Nikki following along behind.

"What's wrong?" Nikki whispered.

Terri chewed on her lip not speaking for a moment. "It's... it's just I'm not sure if I'm letting my desire to play hero here overcome my proper job," she whispered back.

"Which would be?"

"To protect you, of course."

"Oh," said Nikki, lowering the pistol that she'd been holding up with both hands, mostly, she had to admit, because that's how they did it on TV. "Do you think we'll really have to shoot anyone?"

"These aren't toys, Nikki, and this is no game. Both of us could get killed. It's what bullets do to people when you get in the way of them."

Nikki swallowed. "It's a bit late to be having such thoughts, isn't it?"

"It's just... I've realised something."

"What?" Nikki said in exasperation, after it became obvious that Terri wasn't going to say any more unless pushed.

"Now that I've found you, I... don't want to lose you," Terri said, almost choking, her eyes sparkling with unexpected moisture.

"Aw, Honey, it's okay," Nikki said, smiling and leaning forward to kiss Terri lightly on the lips. "I know you won't let any harm come to me, ever. I trust you to be my champion, always."

Terri smiled back happily then stiffened. She held up her hand to quiet Nikki. "Something wicked this ways comes," she said softly.

"Ray Bradbury."

"Shakespeare actually, Macbeth, act four, scene one."



Nikki held her breath and pressed herself up against the wall as hard as she could, watching Terri go into a crouch. 'Out comes the panther,' thought Nikki, as Terri's focus locked onto what was coming down the corridor and around the corner towards them. 'Oh Christ, I'm going to be useless at this,' groaned Nikki. She could feel the panic rising in her guts like she'd just jumped off the highest diving board ever invented. She couldn't help it, she closed her eyes. There was a brief noise and a grunt.

"It's all right, you can come out now," a soft voice purred in her ear. Nikki let go a huge sigh of relief. Laying on the ground at Terri's feet was an unconscious man. Terri just shrugged, giving Nikki a quick wink as she tucked a large revolver in the back of her jeans.

"Does he get the nudie treatment too?"

"Darn tootin', pardner," Terri said, affecting an American accent and leaning her shotgun against the wall. A few moments later the man was secured to the stair rail, his hands above his head, tied together with his belt, naked as the day he was born. "Here, lose these somewhere." She handed Nikki the man's clothes.

Nikki felt something heavy hit her leg. "Hey, there's something in the pocket of his jacket."

"Yeah, it's a cell phone. First chap had one too. I reckoned it wouldn't be a good idea to let them keep 'em. They say they can give you brain tumours, so I'm giving them both a break here."

"Uh-huh. You going to pose him too?"

"Nah, you can have too much of a good thing, you know."

"No arguments from me."

Nikki sprinted up the stairs back to the window where Terri had disposed of the last set of clothes and threw them out. On the way back she checked the office. The man was still sleeping, if not peacefully, then at least securely, she was glad to see. When she returned to the bottom of the stairs she noted the unconscious man now had a leg cocked up and pushed though his tied arms. She shook her head, tutting, and continued on. She found Terri peering through a slightly ajar door at the bottom of the ground floor corridor.

"Couldn't resist, huh?" she whispered.

"Dunno what you're talking about," replied Terri without looking away from the door.

"Your performance art."

"Wasn't me, I didn't do it."

"Bart Simpson."

"Hamlet, act seven, scene two."

"You're kidding me!"

Terri just smiled smugly.

"Very funny, Farmer. I thought you said you'd given up smirking?" Nikki whispered, glowering at Terri.

"Old habits die hard," she whispered back. "Okay, fun's over, now listen up. I'd say there are three more heavies, plus your brother and Carl. I reckon we're doing okay so far."

"What if there are more outside?"

"Then I send you down the drainpipe to get one of the mobiles so you can call for the cavalry."

"You mean to tell me you haven't got a cell phone, with all the tricky gadgets you pull out of the air?" Nikki asked, surprised.

"Of course I have, I'd just like to see you struggling and moaning some more." As soon as she'd said it Terri gulped. "Er, that didn't quite come out right."

"Really? I think you've got a dirty mind, Farmer. In fact I know you have," she said, nodding back towards the naked body hanging limply at the bottom of the stairs.

"Girl's gotta have a hobby," Terri replied airily, still not taking her eyes off the open door. Had they not both been in a potentially life-threatening situation Nikki would have laughed out loud.

"Must say, of the many ways I imagined you, Farmer, I never figured you for a bondage freak."

"Who, me? Remember I'm the virgin here. But it takes two to tango, Takis, so watch it, or I'll introduce you to my world-famous round turn and two half hitches, topped off with a monkey fist."

"I've no idea what you're talking about, but I know I don't like the sound of it."

"As well you shouldn't."

They crouched in silence for a while as Terri continued to watch intently. "What are they all doing out there, anyway?" asked Nikki.

"The four are still out in the middle, the three heavies are wondering about down the other end of the warehouse, poking about in the shadows."

"Can you still hear what they're saying out in the middle?"

"Yeah, wait a moment." Terri put her hand in her jacket pocket and then touched her ear. "Christos is saying I hope you've washed this, Martina's laughing, second mate's urging them to hurry up, Carl's keeping quiet. Blah, blah, blah. Nothing of interest, basically."

"So what do we do, we can't sit here all day, I've got a beach to go to sometime."

"It's bad for your skin."

"Oh really, this from Ms Olive Skin herself."

"Mine's natural, radiating fair skin like yours till it burns, isn't."

"Yes, Mom."

Terri finally looked away from the door towards Nikki. "Your mum must have really regretted getting down and dirty with your dad sometimes."

"She most certainly does not!"

"You ever asked her?"

"Well, no, not as such."

"There you go, then."

"Where do I go where?"

"Never mind, the three stooges have just returned to the middle. Time to get the show on the road. There's a small wall over by the loading bays. When I say go, run like hell and get behind it. Stay well out of the firing line, till I tell you it's safe to come out."

"What are you going to be doing?"

"I'm going to put on a little spectacular for our friends out there."

Nikki nodded in agreement. "Hey, Farmer, one last thing."

"What?" asked Terri, turning back to face Nikki again.

"Don't you dare get hurt now, I'm warning you. If you so much as get a scratch, I'm coming out shooting, and I don't care who gets in the way." She leant in and gave Terri a fierce kiss.

Terri sat back on her heels, touching her lips. "All right, I'll do my best, Nikki, just make sure you're not pointing my way when you pull the trigger, okay?"


"Okay then, let's do this."


Martina counted the money piled up in the small metal case Carl held up for her inspection.

"Don't you trust me after all these times?" asked Christos, standing to her left.

"I have little faith in the old adage of 'honour among thieves', Mr Takis."

"Thieves? We're not thieves, Ms Gerhard. We're merely side-stepping a legally sanctioned cartel and a few greedy governments. I don't think of it a thievery. Quite the contrary in fact, I think we're striking back at nationally organised thieves."

"A regular Robin Hood."

"Something like that." He smiled, tugging open a small velvet pouch and pouring the diamonds into it. "Yours, I believe," he said, holding out Martina's smuggling toy. She nodded, accepting the device and slipping it into her coat pocket.

"It's all here," she said turning to the second mate. He nodded and handed her a plastic carrier bag. Carl upended the case into it as she held it open.

"Nice doing business with you. Till the next time." She smiled at Christos, who grinned in return, bowing slightly. A loud bang thundered through the building as glass from both sets of car windows exploded out, showering them with jagged fragments.


Terri crept along a line of empty crates, keeping her eyes trained on the group in the middle. Her thumb slipped off the safety catch as she lined herself up for the shot she wanted. Standing up she took aim and fired. The single rifled slug smashed through the back side window of the nearest car, exiting through the front passenger window and on into the windscreen of the other car. The percussive force of the round smashed all the windows, exploding them outward. The slug continued on, crashing into a pile of abandoned crates, shattering them on contact, causing small bits of wood to shower down on the cowering people. For a few seconds no one moved, too stunned to do anything.

One of the heavies, a tall man with a close-cropped head of blond hair, was the first to recover. He stood up drawing his gun, looking around frantically for where the shot had come from. The echoing acoustics of the empty warehouse had effectively masked the source of the noise.

"I'm impressed," shouted Terri, aiming the shotgun at the standing man. "Now put down the gun. I've killed a couple of cars and I won't hesitate to add an idiot to the tally. Same goes for any of you grovelling down there on the floor."

The man hesitated, trying to decide if he could bring his gun round fast enough before the woman with the big gun put a hole the size of football through his side.

"It's not worth it, Blondie, put the gun down and kick it back over here," Terri instructed him. Still he didn't make a move, apparently frozen to the spot, but still gripping his gun.

"He doesn't speak English, Ms Farmer," shouted out Christos anxiously, his arms held above his head, as he crouched down with all the others.

Terri tried again, first in French, then Greek and finally in Italian. He still didn't move. "What the hell does he speak?" she demanded.

"German, he speaks German," Christos squeaked, sweat beading on his forehead.

"Fine. Okay, big boy, slowly put down the gun and kick it back here. If you play nicely I'll consider letting you off with just a ticket, how's that," she said in German. The man scowled, slowly lowering himself to place the gun on the ground. He stood up and kicked it about half-way between them.

Terri walked towards the group, keeping a close eye out for any sudden movement. She scooped her foot around the gun on the floor and flicked it a long way away. As expected, just as she kicked it, the German made a lunge for her. She side-stepped his clumsy dive, cracking him on the back of the head with the butt of the shotgun as he passed by. He hit the floor heavily, not moving.

"Any more heroes here?, 'cause quite frankly, I'd like to get the hitting people on the head part out of the way, as soon as possible."

Christos glared at her in scarcely suppressed fury. "Aren't either of you going to do anything," he demanded of the other two heavies, crouching down with them. They both shook their heads. The massive firepower of the shotgun had completely made up their minds for them.

"Now, anyone found carrying a concealed weapon by the time I get there will be made a severe example of. Am I making myself clear?" asked Terri in a low growl that scared even Nikki, and she was way off to the side and behind.

Carl, Christos and the two other men carrying guns immediately pulled them gingerly out of their holsters and threw them away as if they were on fire.

"What about our nautical friends, either of you got anything I might get upset about?"

They both shook their heads fearfully. The colour had drained from the second mate's face, and Martina was doing her best not to cry. Terri almost felt sorry for them both.

"Carl, I'm disappointed, I thought you were one of the good guys."

Carl just shrugged. "Is Miss Nikki here?" he asked. Terri nodded. His shoulders slumped. "I never wanted her to know," he almost whispered.

"For god's sake," snapped Christos. "What is that prissy little bitch to you anyway?"

Carl didn't answer, he just sat down sighing, resigned to his fate.

"You can come out now, Nikki," Terri called out, still holding the shotgun on her captives, not taking her eyes off any of them.

"Honey, what're you doing back there?" asked Terri without turning around.

"The usual," Nikki grunted as she tugged the unconscious German's trousers down around his ankles.

"What the hell do you think you're doing," demanded Christos. Terri let out a loud laugh.

"What's so funny, Farmer?" asked Nikki indignantly.

"Nothing, darling, you carry on, don't let me stop you."

"Stop that at once, Nikki, are you insane?" shouted Christos, standing up and attempting to walk towards his sister.

"Uh-uh, back down on your haunches, little bro," said Terri, turning the shotgun on Christos.

"But she's gone mad," he exclaimed.

"Right that's it!" shouted Nikki, standing up. "Strip, all of you!" she said picking up her pistol and pointing it at the cowering group.

None of them made a move, not quite sure if they heard her correctly. "You heard me," Nikki shouted. She turned the pistol at the nearest car and fired twice into its side. The loud bangs made them all jump, except Terri, who was also somewhat surprised, but as she had such heightened reactions was already compensating before the others were even aware they were flinching.

"If I don't see naked flesh in one minute I'm shooting feet, is that clear!" Nikki demanded, her face a mask of anger. She fired the gun once more into the other car, blowing out a tyre in an explosion of escaping air. They all hurriedly started to pull their clothes off in a panic, including Christos.

"Not you, Martina, you can step aside," said Terri quietly. Martina wiped the tears from her face and nodded, pulling her top back together and stepping back towards the nearest car.

Within a minute five deeply embarrassed and completely subdued men stood naked before them.

"Hands on your heads and get on your knees," instructed Nikki. "Anyone moves and I'll shoot your dick off. And believe me, gentlemen, I can do it."

"You're having way too much fun," Terri whispered into Nikki's ear. "Nice shot on the tyre, by the way."

"I was aiming for the door," Nikki whispered back, grinning.

A window shattered and a small grey canister sailed in a perfect arc towards them. Without conscious thought Terri raised the shotgun to her shoulder and fired at the canister. It exploded into hundreds of tiny fragments. At the same time the doors at both ends of the warehouse burst open and a dozen men wearing black combat gear and gas masks poured into the building, brandishing machine guns.

Terri immediately pulled the pistol from the back of her jeans and laid it with the shotgun on the floor, then raised her hands above her head. She turned to Nikki and told her to do the same. The first man to reach them shouted at Terri and Nikki in French to kneel down and not move.

"He says we should kneel, Nikki," Terri said, complying with the man's orders. Nikki followed suit. Two more of the masked men stepped forward, roughly handcuffing them both. They were pulled to their feet and hustled towards the warehouse entrance. A large imposing man, dressed in the same gear as the others, stood before them. He slowly pulled off his gas mask and sniffed the air.

"Nice shot," he said in accented English.

"Thanks," replied Terri, her face showing no emotion.

"At least we don't have to wait for the tear gas to clear. I thank you for that, it makes my eyes sting very much."

"Isn't that the idea?" said Terri.

"Ah yes, so it is," he smiled.

"You must be Ms Takis," he said, turning to Nikki.

"Damn right I am, and I'd like to know why the hell I'm handcuffed and being pushed around!" she responded angrily.

"My apologies, Mademoiselle, it is just procedure. We must make certain in such situations." He nodded to one of the men still holding on to her by the arms. Both their handcuffs were released and removed. "Please, follow me, ladies," he said, walking back towards the middle of the warehouse where several armed men held their guns trained on the still-cowering group.

Nikki rubbed her wrists as she walked. "What the hell just happened?" she whispered to Terri.

"I'd say we sprung a trap a little early."

"You are correct, Ms Farmer," the man spoke over his shoulder.

"You know my name, but I don't know yours."

"Of course, Inspector Jacque Cigrande of RAID, some people call us the Black Panthers."

"Ah yes, L'Unite de Recherche, Assistance, Intervention et Dissuasion. Nice to meet you, Jack," replied Terri.

"It is Jacque, Ms Farmer."

"S'what I said, Jack."

"As you wish, Ms Farmer," he said with resignation.

Nikki jabbed Terri in the ribs. "Quit riling the man, Farmer, be nice," she whispered.

"How is it that you know who we are... Jack?" asked Terri, grinning at Nikki as she said his name.

A car drove in through the large bay doors at the bottom of the warehouse, slowly circling around till it pulled up beside the two cars in the middle. A man in the front passenger seat got out and opened the rear door. Nikki's father stepped out.

"Perhaps Mr Takis will be able to explain further," said the Inspector.

"Dad?" said Nikki. "Don't tell me you knew about this all along?"

"Not quite, Nikkoletta, but you and Ms Farmer certainly helped drop the final pieces into place for us."

"You had a man on the inside already, didn't you?" Terri asked the inspector.

"We did, but he seems to have disappeared. You haven't seen him, have you?" he asked, looking back and forth between the two women.

"What's he look like?" asked Terri.

"About your height, short brown hair, light complexion."

"Scar above his left eye, big nose, whistles a lot?"

"Yes, that sounds like him."

"Nah, never seen him," said Terri, shaking her head.

"Me neither," confirmed Nikki, shaking hers too.

"Found this at the bottom of the stairs though," said Terri handing over the wallet she had in her pocket. "Hope nothing unfortunate's happened to him," she added.

"I'm sure he'll be fine," agreed Nikki, trying hard not to smile.

The inspector looked at them both for a moment. Finally he shook his head and smiled. "We'd like you both to make a statement, of course."

"They'll both be happy to co-operate with your investigation fully, won't you, Nikki, Ms Farmer?" said Nikki's father.

"Sure," they both said together.

"But first I'd like them both to get some rest. I will make sure they're at the station house first thing in the morning, Inspector."

The inspector nodded once before turning away. He stopped and turned back. "One thing, why make them take their clothes off, Ms Farmer?"

"Don't ask me, it was her idea," she said pointing to Nikki and shrugging.

"Farmer!" Nikki yelled.


"Why did you put your own daughter in such danger?" asked Terri. She and Alexander Takis walked along the sea front. Nikki was back at their hotel sleeping, closely guarded by four of Mr Takis's own bodyguards.

"I thought it might be interesting exercise," he said without emotion, as they watched the sun set.

"Callous bastard, aren't you?"

They stopped walking. The two bodyguards following discreetly along behind stopped too, waiting for the explosion that was sure to come. They were surprised when it didn't.

"I really like you, Terri. You speak your mind, you have an alarming scepticism about money and power and you're not scared of anything."

"It's Farmer to you, and you're wrong."


"Your daughter scares me witless."

"Yes, she does have that capacity. Something her worthless brother never understood and couldn't even begin to match."

"Speaking of Christos, what will happen to him?"

"I gather the French authorities are not happy with him. It seems that the diamonds were only one link in a complicated chain involving drugs, organised crime, and possibly even some terrorists. Inspector Cigrande thinks he may be incarcerated for many years to come."

"I wondered why they were involved in a tuppenny ha'penny diamond smuggling scam. I guessed at the time it was due to Daddy's money."

"On the contrary, Farmer, I had little to do with it until near the end. I suspected, of course. Christos always spent far more money that ever I gave him. I knew he was too stupid to have come by it honestly."

"That's why you were backing the filly in this two-horse race for the key to the owner's private bathroom."

"There was never any real doubt. I knew from the time when they were children who would take over one day. Christos was always the weaker of the two. Instead of being grateful for the hand she always held out to help him, he would smack it away in resentment."

"His loss."


"Didn't you resent her mother taking her away from you and leaving you with the runt of the litter?"

"No, I was pleased. It meant she could have a normal childhood," he said, a flicker of a sad smile on his lips.

They moved off again at a slow pace, as the last of the sun slipped below the horizon. The street lights came on, illuminated the beach in pools of soft light.

"Why do I get the feeling you're going to say something I'm not going to like," said Terri quietly.

"Because it's true, I suspect."

"Tell me then and get it over with."

"You won't leave London will you, permanently, I mean?"

"If you'd have asked me two weeks ago I would have said no without a second thought, but now..."

"Now you're not so sure?"

"I don't know anymore. I sort of hoped that she might want to stay with me."

"Would you really settle for merely being someone's partner?"

"She said you knew about her... tastes."

"Yes, she told me some time ago."


"I don't understand the question," he said, frowning slightly.

"How do you feel about it?"

"Oh, I see. Well... I'm not sure I feel about it at all."

Terri turned to look at the man, her eyebrow raised.

"I've not been a very good father, you know this." Terri nodded in mute agreement. "I'd like her to be happy above all else. I thought that becoming one of the richest women in the world, in her own right, might afford her some happiness."

"Does she know what you have in mind for her?"

"No, I've never mentioned it, but I intend to soon. That's where your problem comes in, Farmer."

"You don't want me to stand in the way of her destiny."

"I knew you were a very perceptive woman."

"What if I tell you to go jump in the sea over there?"

"Would you?"

"I've been told I have a wicked sense of humour. I might just throw you in."

"They'd stop you," he said nodding towards the two bodyguards."

Terri looked back at them and smiled. "They wouldn't get within five feet before I'd drop both of them."

He looked into her eyes. "Yes, I believe you, Farmer. But that doesn't answer the question."

Terri sighed loudly and leant on the railings. She looked up at the stars just beginning to come out. "No, I'll not stand in her way. If she wants to follow you, rather than stay with me, then I won't try and stop her."

"That is all I ask. Let her make up her own mind."

"At the moment she's not even talking to me," Terri grinned.

"She'll soon get over it."

'Yeah, but I don't think I ever will,' she thought, as she watched the water lap gently up the beach.

"What are your plans?" he asked.

"I've got a lunatic to hunt, back in London."

"Then good hunting, Farmer."

Part Twelve

"So, you're saying the captain's not involved in all of this?" asked Nikki.

"Not directly, Ms Takis. He's guilty of one of the oldest of crimes, but not smuggling."

"I'm not sure I understand."

"He's having an affair, is what I imagine the inspector's trying to say," said Terri, seated at Nikki's side. They both sat on the other side of Inspector Cigrande's desk.

"But he's twice her age, and married," Nikki said, frowning.

"Am I right?" Terri asked the inspector.

"Do you really need to ask?" he smiled.

"Not really. I guessed as much after his little chat with us about the accident."


"Yeah, Nikki and Martina poked their noses in where they shouldn't, and got them bitten. Not important now."

"As you wish. This report is far more colourful than I'd like, as it is."

"What's to say? We were asked by Nikki's father to see what we could see. We did, and now it's over."

"Yes, that would be nice and succinct, wouldn't it."

"So, we can go now?"

"Yes, you are both free to go. But next time you visit our fair city, please refrain from discharging any firearms, if you'd be so kind."

"Girl Guide's honour," said Terri, saluting with two fingers touching her temple.

"Ms Takis?"

"Oh absolutely, Scout's honour," she said, mimicking Terri's salute. The inspector simply shook his head and reached for some papers.

"Can I have my bug back?"

"Your bug?"

"Yeah, my bug."

"And where would that be, Ms Farmer?"

"Inside Martina's smuggling toy."

"You're serious?"

"I'm always serious." He shook his head once more, but made the phone call. Soon the device was brought to the inspector's desk. He studied it for a moment, slowly turning it over in his hand.

"How does this work?" he asked.

"And you a Frenchman," said Terri with a smirk. "Here, give me it and I'll show you." She took the device and unscrewed its main body. Twisting and pushing she managed to dislocate the internal workings and drop them into her hand. "I don't understand, it's not here."

"Who would have taken it?" asked the inspector.

"I don't know. Oh well, never mind. There's always more where they come from," she said, handing the device back to the inspector. He frowned but accepted the various bits and pieces, dropping them into a plastic evidence bag.

They signed various forms thrust at them by the inspector then shook hands and left. Outside, Nikki's father waited in the back of a large limousine.

"I'm due at the airport in less than an hour, can I give you both a lift?"

"Our stuff's still on board," replied Terri.

"I took the liberty of having your belongings packed and brought here. I hope you don't mind?"

"No, I guess not. I doubt we'd be particularly welcomed back there with open arms anyway. This okay with you, Nikki?"

"Sure," she said, but Terri could see she was unhappy.

"Excuse us for a moment, I'd like a word with your daughter." She took a hold of Nikki's arm and steered her away from the car.

"What's the matter, Nikki?"

"I dunno, I know my dad means well, but he always just sort of takes over. I've tried everything I can think of to get him to see me as a person who can make up her own mind, but he just keeps on making decisions for me."

"He's only doing what he thinks is best for you. Take it as a sign that, in his own way, he thinks a great deal of you."

"No he doesn't, he thinks a great deal about making even more money. Nothing else seems to matter to him."

"I think you'd be surprised."

"Why, has he ever spoken about me to you?"


"Really." Nikki looked genuinely surprised. "What did he say?"

"He said you're an annoying brat who should be shown the rod."

"He did not!"

"No, he didn't," Terri smiled. "He said that he'd always known that you were the jewel in the family crown, and that one day you would rule the world."

"He did not say that either!" Nikki snapped, with some irritation.

"Well, not in so many words, perhaps, but that's pretty much what he meant."

"Please, Farmer, tell me the truth."

"I am, Nikki, I swear."

"Girl Scout's honour?"

"Do I have to uncross the fingers on my other hand this time?"

"You did that?"

"Of course."

"Jesus, Farmer, you're something else, you know that?"

"So I've been told."


"Well what?"

"Did my dad say that?"

"Yes." Terri touched her temple with two fingers.

"Wow, I don't freaking believe it. After all this time, he still can't tell me, he has to tell my goddamned girlfriend!"

"I am?"


"Your girlfriend?"

"You're my friend, aren't you?"

"Of course."

"And last time I watched you get in the shower, you sure as hell weren't a guy."

"You watched me get in the shower?"

"Sure, wouldn't you?"

"I've never thought about it."

"Don't tell me you don't check out the talent walking down the street towards you?"

"Not usually looking, in that way, to be honest."

"I'm really going to have to take you in hand, aren't I."

"Sounds like that could be fun."


"So, we going with your dad to the airport, or what?"

"I guess we don't have much choice."

"Sure we do. We can take our bags and go wherever we want."

"You've only got one small bag, I've got two big suitcases."

"Told you not to, but you wouldn't listen."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. I could always make you carry them. You are the hired help, after all."

"Suppose you'd like me to carry you too?"

"No, I think I can walk this time."

"That's big of you."

The horn of the car sounded. "I think he wants an answer," said Nikki.

"What's your decision?"

"Oh hell, let's go to the damn airport."

"Wise choice."

"Hey, one more thing, what was all that about the bug?" asked Nikki.

"Oh, you mean this one," said Terri rolling her wrist with a magician's flourish and producing the missing transmitter.


Nikki let her cases fall to the floor, sighing in relief. She dropped down on the couch in Terri's living room, kicking off her shoes.

"It's nice to be home," she groaned, closing her eyes.

"This is home now, is it?"

"Shouldn't I think that?"

"Mi casa, su casa," replied Terri, dropping her small rucksack on the table by her computer.

"Good, well shut ya mouth, then."

"Charming as ever, I see."

"I'm tired, I'm hot, and my feet ache. I want a shower, a long cool drink, a massage and a cuddle while I fall asleep. And you, Farmer, are the gal who's going to provide all these things, ya got me?"

"Understood, Boss."

"Now, that's more like it," Nikki mumbled, laying down on the sofa. By the time Terri returned with a glass of ice water Nikki was sound asleep.

"Guess the massage and cuddle can wait till tomorrow," Terri said softly, putting down the drink and carefully picking up the sleeping woman, so as not to wake her. She laid Nikki down on top of her own bed. As gently as she could, she removed Nikki's outer clothing, then pulled the covers over her.

"You may not feel the need for a shower, but I do," she smiled affectionately at the sleeping blonde. Fifteen minutes later she slid into bed next to Nikki. Within moments Nikki murmured quietly in her sleep and rolled over, clutching at Terri and using her broad shoulder as a pillow. Terri softly kissed the top of her head. 'Make the most of it, Farmer, she's not going to be around for much longer,' she thought sadly.

As she stared up at the dark ceiling a deep sense of melancholy settled upon her. 'God, I'm going to miss you so very, very much.' A lump formed in her throat as she blinked sudden tears away from blurry eyes.


"Farmer, you promised me a massage, so pay up, woman." Nikki held out some ointment given to her by the doctor. "My battle scar is itching like crazy, and it didn't help sleeping in this all night," she said, looking down at her bra.

They'd woken as they'd slept, snuggled in each other's arms, neither seemingly bothered by their change in sleeping habits. Terri had risen first and got them both drinks and bowls of cereal. Now breakfast was out of the way, Nikki wanted to explore their new-found closeness.

"Promised you a massage, huh?"

"You surely did."

"Can't say that I remember that exactly, but I'll take your word for it."

"Good, glad to hear it," beamed Nikki, casually slipping out of her bra and rolling over, laying face down on the bed, her arms sprawled out at her side. The line of her wound stood out darkly against the skin of her back. More than a month away from her native California had reduced her normal tan to almost Nordic tones.

"You want the full treatment, or just a medicinal quickie?"

"Oh, I'm feeling decadent today, so I think the full treatment, don't you?"

"You're the boss, Boss."

"Hmmm, yes, I am, and you can keep on doing what you're doing," she purred. Terri's strong fingers worked their magic up and down her back in a hypnotic, but deeply pleasurable way. "Remind me to give you a raise, Farmer."

"I'm all for that."

"Thought you might be. Ooh, that's nice, just there... no, a little low-- oh yeah, that's the place."

"I think you were a cat in a former life."

"Nope, I was a troubadour," Nikki replied lazily, her eyes still closed in a state of unhurried bliss.

"A troubadour?"



"Yes, really."

"And how'd you know that?"

"I went to some regression specialist back home one time."

"Uh-huh, and did he also sell you the Brooklyn Bridge?"

"It was a she, and no she didn't sell me a bridge, or any other kind of structure. I know, I know, it all sounds like total bullshit, but a friend asked me to go with her and-- ooh yeah, just a little higher there, Doc. Hey, don't stop!" she said indignantly, as Terri lifted her hands away.

"S'all done, Boss. I've gone over your back and neck, there's nothing left to do."

"That so?" said Nikki, turning over, grinning up at Terri, who swallowed hard.

"You want me to massage... your front," she squeaked.

"What's the matter, Doc, lost your touch?"

"No... no, I can do this."

"Well, get to it."

Terri nervously rubbed her hands together, trying to decide where to start. At the last moment she pulled away and went for the bottle of ointment again, splashing some into her palms and rubbing them together some more.

"You're going to have the softest hands in the kingdom if you keep this up," smiled Nikki.

"Right, yes, you're right." She stopped rubbing her hands together, looking down at Nikki's topless form spread out below her, as if mesmerised. "God, but you're so beautiful," she whispered.

"Thanks, I know that already, but it's nice of you to mention it from time to time."

Terri blushed a dark shade of crimson. "I just said that out loud, didn't I?"

"'Fraid so, Farmer, you're busted."

"Oh god," said Terri, covering her face with her hands.

"And now you're going to have the softest face in the kingdom, too," Nikki giggled.

Terri just groaned from behind her hands. "Please, just hit me over the head and be done with it."

"Why would I want to do a thing like that, Farmer? Is being with me so terrible?"

Terri shook her head from side to side, gradually opening her fingers on one hand to peek through.

Nikki smiled up at her. "Am I going to get this massage, or are we going to play peek-a-boo all day?"

Terri dropped her hands limply down onto her thighs and hung her head. "This is so difficult for me, Nikki, you have no idea how much."

"I think I can guess."

"Yeah, I bet you charmed your way through high school and college without a second's hesitation or lack of confidence."

"You'd be surprised."

Terri looked up. "You didn't?"

"No you're right, I was always cocky, now that I think about it."

"I knew it," Terri almost pouted.

"Hey, Farmer, just come here and give me a kiss. Let's see where we go from there, okay?"

"Before we start anything I want you to know something, Nikki; something important." She looked to Nikki for confirmation. Nikki nodded for her to continue.

"You know I said I'd decided to wait till the right person came into my life, and that I wanted to be with that person for the rest of my life?"

"I remember," Nikki said softly.

"Well, I've decided something."

"And that is?"

"You're the right person," Terri whispered. "And I... I don't care if we only ever have this one time together. I know it's... the right thing to do." A tear trickled its solitary way down her cheek.

"Hey, Farmer, this isn't supposed to make you cry, you know?"

"I know," Terri said, rubbing her cheek angrily with the back of her hand. "I'm sorry, I've ruined everything now, haven't I?"

Terri flipped herself up on her knees to match Terri's position. She gently took both hands of the bigger woman in her own.

"Teresa Jane Farmer, you could never ruin anything between us, especially this." She wrapped her arm around Terri's shoulders, pulling her into a deep, passionate kiss. After what seemed an eternity they broke for air. "The question is, Farmer, do I have to teach you how to make love, or do you know the theory at least, if not the practice?" she asked smiling softy, stroking Terri's cheek with the back of her fingers.

"Show me everything," Terri whispered.

"Everything and forever, my love."

Terri closed her eyes and forgot about what the future might bring. This moment was theirs, and no one could ever take it away from them.


"Oh God, I've died and been buried," groaned Terri. She groggily brought a hand up to rub her face but it met soft, but impenetrable resistance. She tried to raise her head but it was held firm under a steady weight. Finally the cogs of a deeply addled brain cranked into place. Her head was covered by a feather pillow, and a sleeping soulmate was lying on top of that.

She groaned again. Her whole body ached like she'd been over a particularly formidable assault course -- twice. No, that wasn't right, she'd done that plenty of times and it never ached like this. The mists cleared a bit more. 'Ah yes... last night.' she thought. A feral grin spread itself across her face. 'Ooh, last night!... wow!... who knew?'

Using her considerable, though somewhat depleted, strength Terri lifted up, toppling a sleeping Nikki onto her back in the middle of the bed, where she lay still fast asleep, gently snoring.

"Guess, I tired you out too?" she grinned. 'Come on, Farmer, don't be so sodding smug. Anyone'd think you've just discovered it for womankind and planted a flag or something.' She rolled off the bed onto all fours on the floor. 'Damn, what have you done to me, you rabid little vixen?' she cursed. Standing didn't seem to be an option at the moment, so she crawled across the bedroom floor to the bathroom. Using the side of the bath she managed to pull herself up till she was sitting on the toilet. The shower cubicle never looked so far away. She rested her face on the cool edge of the basin. "God, if it's like this every time how do people get anything done?"

"It's not always quite so... explosive, or quite so prolonged, for that matter. I think six straight hours for your first time out was more than enough," a ragged voice said from the doorway. A dishevelled blonde head rested against the door frame, a pair of green, slightly bloodshot eyes peered out from under heavy eyelids. "I guess thirty years of pent-up volcanic action had to erupt sometime, huh?" said Nikki.

"I feel weak as a kitten," moaned Terri, still hugging the basin.

"Yeah, we got in a few knee-tremblers all right."

"I hope you're proud of yourself."

Nikki grinned like a cat who found the keys to the cream cupboard. "Oh yeah, Farmer, oh yeah."

"You gonna help me get to the shower, or just stand there and preen?"

"Okay, come on, Tiger, let's get you cleaned up and re-nourished."

"We're not doing it all again so soon, are we?" asked Terri, a note of panic entering her normally stoic voice.

"Relax, Farmer, after last night I think I can take the next thirty years off myself."

"I have to wait another thirty years?" Terri almost pouted.

"Hmmm, Tiger's found a new toy to play with, it's so cute."

"For the love of God, have mercy, Takis, just shut it, and put the shower on."

"Make me, hot-shot."

Terri opened one eye, swivelling her eyeball to look at Nikki. A frighteningly predatory grin formed on her face.

"Now, now, Farmer," Nikki said, slowly backing out of the bathroom. Terri started growling deep in the back of her throat. Nikki shrieked and turned to run, but too late, a suddenly rejuvenated panther pounced on her from behind, turning the shriek into a full-blooded scream, followed swiftly by two sets of giggles.


The club was doing its usual Friday night business, as several women came and went through its front door, the ever present bouncers standing guard.

"Looks like they've got over the upset of last time we were here," murmured Terri, observing through binoculars.

"Life goes on," remarked Nikki, casually playing with the cup holders of the Mercedes. Terri yawned and stretched, rotating her shoulders. Sitting in a car for several hours, two nights running, was not particularly comfortable, especially after their recent sexual athletics.

"How'ya feeling?" asked Nikki.

"Like I've just run the London marathon -- carrying all the other competitors. You?"

"I'm fine, remember I'm used to it." As soon as she'd said it she regretted it. She stole a quick look at Terri and could see the hurt expression she was trying her hardest to hide. "Hey, I was only joking, Farmer, I'm sorry."

"I know, Nikki." They lapsed into silence.

"It's not all right, is it?" Nikki asked quietly.

Terri lowered the binoculars and turned to Nikki. "It's stupid of me, I know, but I keep wanting to kid myself it was your first time too. Pretty dumb, huh?"

"No, not stupid at all." She put her hand on Terri's thigh. "Trust me, Farmer, if I could make it true I would. But please believe me when I say that it's never, ever, been like that with anyone before."

"Really... you're not just saying that?" 'God, Farmer, that sounded so pathetic!' she chided herself. 'Get a grip, she's going to leave you and there's no point in pretending otherwise.'


"Sorry, just drifted off there for a moment."

Nikki smiled gently. "To answer your question, no, I'm not just saying that. It really was out of this world with you. I had no idea it could be this good, I promise. You're something special, darlin', you really are. I'm never letting you go, that's for sure."

Terri hurriedly brought the binoculars back up to her eyes and swallowed hard. Not that she could see a thing through the tears brimming in her eyes.

"What's the matter, Farmer?" asked Nikki, squeezing Terri arm.

Terri lowered the glasses again and slumped down, resting her head on the leather steering wheel. "I... I can't stand the thought of you leaving," she sniffed.

"Hey, hey, Farmer, I'm not going anywhere, you're stuck with me, honest."

"No you won't, you'll go, I know you will."

"Farmer, I won't, I promise."

"He told me," Terri whispered, between sniffs.

"Who told you? What did they tell you? I don't understand."

"Your father, he told me that you're the one. The one who'll take over soon. You'll go off and become the richest woman in the world and you'll forget all about me."

"Don't be ridiculous," she snapped. She couldn't help it, she was getting angry. "Damn it, Farmer, that's just bullshit!"

"But he told me."

"I don't give a flying fart what he said, or what he offered, I am not leaving you, got it!"

"It's okay, Nikki, I understand. You have to go, I probably always knew you would eventually. I guess I'm just not... suited to a relationship."

"Fine!" said Nikki, wrenching open the door and slamming it.

"Where are you going?" asked a bewildered Terri.

"I need a drink," Nikki said, stamping off towards the club.

"Come back, Nikki, it's not safe in there."

"Good, I don't feel like being safe at the moment," Nikki shouted back from across the street. Terri jumped out but got her foot caught in her seat belt. After hopping about on one foot she eventually got free and ran round the car, running towards the club as Nikki mounted the steps to the entrance.

"Nikki, come back, I'm sorry, don't do this!" she called, but Nikki kept on going. As Terri mounted the steps two bouncers stepped between her and Nikki.

"The lady wants a drink and you're not welcome here, so beat it," said one of them, putting out her hand to stop Terri coming any further up the steps.

"Nikki!" Terri called frantically over the bouncer's shoulder, but it was too late, Nikki had disappeared inside.

"Be a good girl and go home," said the other bouncer. "I'm sure she'll find someone else to look after her."

Terri grabbed the woman by the front of her jacket, lifting her clean off the ground. "You're new around here, aren't you?" she snarled into the startled woman's face. Out of the corner of her eye she could see the other bouncer talking rapidly on a radio. Within seconds four other bouncers came out of the club and surrounded them.

"Put her down, Farmer, we don't want any trouble," one of the new arrivals said. Terri recognised her from her last visit.

"You looked better in the neck-brace, at least it made you look like you had a neck," Terri growled, still holding the other woman off her feet.

"I said put her down and get the hell out of here, or you'll be sorry, I'm warning you."

"You're warning me?" said Terri, her voice taking on a deadly chill. "Ah, the hell with her, and the hell with all of you." She tossed the woman into the midst of the other bouncers, toppling them to the ground in an undignified heap.

She threw the car keys to one of the still-standing bouncers. "Make sure she gets these." She stalked back down the steps but stopped and turned back at the bottom. "If anything, and I mean anything, so much as a hang-nail happens to Nikki, then so help me God, I'll be back, and you'll all pay."

She stamped off down the road. 'Jesus H. Christ, did I really say "I'll be back"?' she groaned inwardly, shaking her head as she walked.


Nikki sat at a table feeling miserable, nursing a drink that she'd hardly touched. A large woman came up to the table, dropping some car keys in front of her. "Your girlfriend said to give you these." She managed to make the word girlfriend sound like an insult.

"Thanks," said Nikki, picking up the keys but not really seeing them. She took a swallow of her drink, grimacing as it burned her throat.

"Hey, why the long face, your pet cat just died, or something?"

Nikki looked up at the woman who'd just sat down uninvited at her table. "Something like that," she mumbled.

"Had an argument with your girlfriend?" the woman said.

"Yeah, our first one."

The woman reached out and touched Nikki's hand in sympathy. "She'll come round, believe me. The first one's always the worst. It all seems like the world's about to end at the moment, am I right?"

Nikki just shrugged. "It was all so stupid. She thinks I'm gonna leave her, she's so paranoid about it. She's got these major trust issues. I just don't know what to do to make her believe in me."

"Does she like flowers?"

"Erm, don't think so, Farmer's not the kind who likes flowers."

"Big, tough, silent type, huh?"

"Yeah, you could say that," said Nikki, smiling for the first time since she arrived at the club.

"How about a pint of oil for her motorbike?"

Nikki looked up at the woman, seeing her properly for the first time. "How'd you know Farmer's got a bike?"

"Oh, they all have, these big, bad warrior types," she grinned.

"Yeah, I 'spect they do," Nikki grinned back. "Nikki Takis," she said holding out her hand.

"Judy Palmer," she woman said, smiling and taking Nikki's hand.

"Wanna drink?" asked Nikki.

"Sure, I'll have whatever you're having."

"You sure, this is good forget-your-sorrows stuff."

"Then we can forget together."

"We can at that, Judy, we can at that," she grinned. "Engine oil you say?"

"Works every time."

"I'll have to remember that."


"This is real nice of you to drive, Judy. I think I had about three drinks too many," slurred Nikki, her head resting against the leather headrest of the Mercedes, her eyes closed.

"Think nothing of it, Nikki," said Judy slowing the car and turning down a side street and pulling over to the side.

"Why're we stopping," asked Nikki, opening her eyes and looking around in puzzlement.

"Just picking up a friend I said I'd give a lift to, nothing to worry about." She hopped out and flipped the seat forward. Another woman got in and slid across the back seat behind Nikki. Judy got back in and started the engine. The car pulled away smoothly from the kerb.

"Hello, Nikki," said the woman in the back.

"Hi," mumbled Nikki. She frowned. "Hey, don't I know you?" she asked, spinning in her seat and looking over her shoulder.

"We've met before, yes."


"So, not too drunk then, my pretty?"


The woman sprayed something in Nikki's face. Nikki reeled back, scrunching up her eyes, automatically bringing up her hands to her face.

"I shouldn't rub them, Nikki dear, it'll only make it worse."

"What did you do to me?"

"It's just a little something to make you disorientated, nothing too vicious. It'll wear off in a few minutes." The car pulled over and stopped again. Nikki felt her arms being grasped by two strong sets of hands as they were pulled behind her seat and tied together.

"What's happening, Judy?" Nikki gasped, still keeping her eyes tight shut at the stinging pain.

"We're going on a little journey, and you're not coming back," replied Judy.

She ran her hands up and down Nikki's front, feeling underneath the collar of her jacket.

"Ah-hah, should've known Farmer wouldn't let you out of her sight without a backup of some kind," she said triumphantly, holding up a small black device.

"What is it," said the woman in the back seat.

"Homing bug. Farmer loves her little toys." She tossed the bug out of the window. Judy slammed the car in gear and pulled away again.

"Please, let me go, you can have the car, I haven't got much money on me, but you can have that too."

"You think this is a simple car-jacking?"

Nikki blinked, trying to get her eyes to stop watering. She tugged at her bonds but they held tight. The more she pulled, the tighter they seemed to get.

"Where are you taking me?"

"I thought down by the river would be good. A nice, tranquil spot to say good-bye to the world."

"I have no intention of saying good-bye to the world."

"Oh, but you will, my pretty thing," the doctor said from the back seat, stroking Nikki's hair.

"What are you going to do to me?" Nikki asked, trying to sound calmer than she felt.

"We thought a good classic ending would fit the bill. You can see the headlines now, wayward daughter of billionaire found dead in her car, a suicide note was found at the scene blaming her girlfriend for dumping her. They'll have a field day."

"They'll know it's not suicide if I'm tied to my seat."

"That's why we used silk scarves, they leave no marks. We run a pipe from the exhaust through the window and when the deed's done, we untie you and no one will be any the wiser. Only Farmer will know it was murder, but she'll be so eaten up with grief that, who knows, maybe she'll suddenly commit suicide too."

"Farmer will hunt you down and kill you both. She'll not stop till you're dead."

"Yes, but Ms Robotic won't know who to track down," said Judy.

"Dozens of people saw us drinking together tonight. They'll be able to identify you."

"Really? I don't think so," replied Judy, removing her glasses and pulling off her curly brunette wig, revealing short red brown hair that she tossed loose to her shoulders. "And the name's not Judy, it's Rachel."

"The cop with the burned stomach?"

"Not really burned. It's handy having a doc for a partner. She can say anything and people automatically believe her."

"And having a cop for a partner helps the other way, too," said the doctor from the back seat. They grinned at each other and clasped hands.

"You two are sick."

"No, just bitter."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means, being rich and beautiful, you'd have no idea what it's like to be continually turned down, or worse, laughed at, as you stumble through your teenage years, trying to come to terms with your sexuality."

"Crap, you're just a couple of sick fucks who found each other. There's no excuse for what you've done."

"I really wish we didn't have to make it look like a suicide, I'd so love to burn this little bitch's face off," the doctor said, waving a bottle of clear liquid in front of Nikki, who was finally managing to see properly again.

"Maybe we can find a way to introduce it to Farmer's face?" said Rachel, grinning.

"Touch her and I'll kill you myself," growled Nikki.

"Ooh, the bimbo's suddenly found a pair, I'm impressed."

"Really? You should have heard the bitch squeal when I took out her stitches. Nice cut, by the way."

"Thank you," said Rachel, still grinning.

"You two are both dead already, you just don't know it."

"Funny that, I thought it was you who was going to die tonight," said the doctor.

They drove in silence for the next ten minutes; there seemed little point in trading any more insults. The car pulled into the shadows cast by one of London's many bridges. The place was deserted this early in the morning.

"Ready to meet your maker, Takis?" goaded Rachel.

"Go screw yourself."

Rachel busied herself behind the car, out of Nikki's line of sight. "Tell me, how did you get past Ms Robotic's ice wall, nobody else ever managed it?" Rachel asked, as she fed a plastic pipe through the window, the other end already in the car's exhaust pipe.

"I showed her I loved her unconditionally."

"How nice. You want to do the honours or shall I?" Rachel asked, holding up the car keys to the doctor.

"Oh, you go ahead, I'll watch through the window. I'd like to see how long she can hold her breath."

"They'll know it's not my writing on the note," said Nikki, desperately trying to play for time.

"It's written on a laser printer, the drum of which has already been disposed of."

"I haven't got a laser printer, they'll know it's not mine."

"You forget, I'll ask for the case. I can guarantee that no one will ask the question. And even if Farmer kicks up a fuss, no one will question me, having just come back off sick leave."

"Farmer will, she'll know, she'll come for you."

"I'll take my chances," Rachel said, reaching in and turning on the ignition. The car started to fill with fumes, making Nikki cough.

Her chest felt like lead as the world began to swirl away from her in patterns of glowing light. "I'm sorry, Farmer," she croaked before slumping forward in her seat.

The roar of an engine filled the space as a motorbike thundered around the other side of the arch under the bridge, accelerating towards the car in a flurry of showering gravel. The two women caught in the beam from the headlight turned towards the noise. Rachel dived out of the way, but the doctor never moved a step as the back wheel of the bike swept round in a tight arc, smashing into her, knocking her clear off her feet to land with a dull crunch across the back end of the Mercedes.

Terri slid from the falling bike, flipping into a forward roll, bringing her up close to the side window of the car. Not bothering with the door handle, she punched the glass in, grabbing at the unconscious Nikki, trying frantically to pull her out of her seat. Nikki wouldn't budge, held tight by her bonds. Terri reached for the dashboard and flipped a switch. The automatic roof folded up and away, dragging most of the deadly fumes with it, the pipe falling harmlessly to the ground.

"Praise the lord for German engineering," said Terri, pulling off her helmet. She pulled a butterfly knife from her boot and sliced through Nikki's ties. She lifted her up and dropped her down by the side of the car.

"Come on, sleepy-head," she said, tapping Nikki gently on the cheek. The unconscious woman stirred and opened her eyes.


"Yup, it's me, Nikki, you're safe now."

"What took you so long?"

"The bridge masked the signal."

"Farmer, look out!" Nikki screamed as Rachel swung a large piece of wood down at Terri's back.

Terri grabbed Nikki instinctively and rolled out of the way, but the wood still caught her a glancing blow. She sucked in a sharp breath as pain lanced across her kidneys.

Placing Nikki gently back down on the floor, she stood up and faced Rachel, who had backed away, still brandishing her new found weapon.

"Now you will pay the ultimate price, Rachel," Terri said softly.

The doctor came to and started screaming. Rachel dropped the wood and ran to the car. The doctor was thrashing about, screaming her lungs out. Rachel tried to grab her but immediately let go as something burned her hand.

She turned around frantically, looking at Terri.

"Do something, the acid's broken, it's eating her alive."

"Give me one good reason why?"

"I'll confess to everything, just stop her burning. Please, Farmer, you can do anything, I know you can," Rachel said desperately.

"Grab her feet, I'll get her shoulders, we'll get her in the river."

They struggled with the thrashing woman down to the water's edge. Terri'd had enough of the woman's writhing so she punched her hard on the side of the neck, rendering her unconscious, giving them a chance to get her clothes off. Her left side from her breast to her hip and much of her stomach was fizzing with acid.

"She wanted to pour that stuff on my face," a tired Nikki said, coming to stand next to Terri as Rachel dunked the doctor under-water, washing away the acid.

"I know, I heard," answered Terri. Rachel looked up at the two women standing over her.

"You mean this whole thing was a trap? You knew you were being watched all along and you staged the argument?"

"Pretty much."

"Yeah, next time you can be the bait, Farmer," said Nikki. "And don't start about me being in danger again, I had enough of that this morning. This was the only way it would have worked, you know that."

"Did I say anything?" asked Farmer, looking at Nikki.

"The bug under the collar was a fake?" asked Rachel, still rinsing her partner of acid.

"Nope, perfectly real, as are the other five on Nikki. I like to have an edge."

"You bitch," spat Rachel.

"So I've been told."


"I'll be back, I promise with all that I am," Nikki said softly as she hugged Terri. The PA system announced the imminent departure of the flight to Athens. Nikki's father had requested her presence to discuss her future.

"Go on, Nikki, you'll miss your flight," said Terri, squeezing back as hard as she dared.

Not caring who was watching, Nikki kissed Terri hard on the lips. "I'll be back before you know it. As soon as I've sorted out some things with Dad, I'll be on the first plane back to London."

"I know," Terri smiled, trying hard not to give in to the bone-deep sadness invading her soul.

A small wave and a smile and Nikki disappeared through the departure lounge doors. Terri watched the plane taxi out to the runway, her forehead and hands pressed against the glass of the huge window. A few tears trickled down her cheeks. "Goodbye, Nikki, safe journey," she whispered.

Terri unlocked her front door on automatic pilot. She couldn't remember the trip from the airport at all. She sat on the sofa, blindly staring at the wall. She knew she should eat, but for the life of her she couldn't summon up the will-power to make anything. She thought about her exercise bars for a moment. That would help, she thought, some mindless exercise, let herself get lost in repetitions, switch her mind off against the stabbing pain she felt. The flat was so lifeless and empty now, what did any of it matter any more, anyway?

So lost in her misery she nearly didn't hear the soft knock on the front door. Sighing, she got up and went to the door, not even bothering to check the spyglass. She didn't care whoever the hell they were, they would get sent on their way, even if it was the queen of England herself.

Nikki stood in the doorway, her suitcases on the floor either side of her. "I seem to have had something of an accident," she said.

Terri stood open-mouthed. "I saw your plane leave," she finally managed.

"Yeah, now I'm going to get a snotty letter from British Airways and a huge bill for demanding the plane stop and let me off. Pissed off a whole bunch of people doing it, too," she said proudly.

"Accident?" Terri said, her mind finally snapping into place.

"Yeah, I left my heart here, figured I couldn't go off without it."

Terri couldn't help it, a wave of relief swept through her and she started to cry.

"Hey, it's not supposed to make you cry, Farmer."

"Can't help it, sorry," she said, wiping her hand across her cheeks. "Seems I can't stop this damn blubbering whenever I'm around you."

"I'll have to see what I can do about that. You gonna invite me in, or what?"

Terri stepped back, allowing Nikki to enter. Before she'd taken three steps into the apartment Terri grabbed her up off her feet into a big sweeping hug.

"Thought you could get rid of me that easily, huh?" said Nikki.

"Never, you'll always be a part of me."

"Missed me?"

"Nah, I was faking it."

"Oh, really."

"Yeah, us robots can do that, you know."

"Maybe you need reprogramming?"

"Think you're up for the job?"

"No problem. From now on, where I go, you go, and where you go, I go."

"Yeah? Sounds a bit clingy to me."

"Maybe, but it's the truth. Hey, ya wanna come rule a shipping empire with me and get insanely rich?"

"No, not really."

"Ah fuck it, neither do I. Let's stay here and chase bad guys."

"Charming as ever."

"Darn tootin', pardner."

The End.

August 2001

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