Disclaimer: Mine, mine, mine. Okay they look familiar but there are many women who look like that right? Yeah don't we wish.

Language: Plenty of it and it's not all good.

Sex: Woowho, is there ever. If you are under eighteen please move on, if you're not skip over it if you like or dwell awhile. Whatever suits ya.

Violence: It's New York City for Ares sake!

Song Lyrics used belong to Melissa Etheridge and DMX

For comments or questions mail me at: Pitipup@aol.com 


By: Morrig AKA Piti-pup

Summer had arrived with a slow creep and a gentle wind, tinkle bell music pierced through the sounds of old engines and loud conversation. Facing it all, with ghost eyes shaped in the form of windows, was building 630. It cornered 157th street, a fortress kept safe by barbed wired gates and broken locks. One soul standing on the citadel's roof-top gazed at the scene below with blurred vision. Pain pulsed through his skull, a small, burgundy trickle staining his tanned cheek. A small gold cross threw specks of light on his bare heaving chest.

Behind him heavy boots stomped their way up the stairs, closer by the second. Eyes closed he heard the iron roof door open with a clang of flying rust. Holding the door open with one outstretched arm, grasping at the frame for balance, the walking dead gasped for breath. Matted black hair, collarbone protruding, blue branched veins across his abdomen. "Where is it Efrain?!!! Motha-"

Young shaking fingers wrapped themselves around his neck cutting off his words. His back against the roof's barrier Efrain watched the attack with a mixture of relief and trepidation. "Magali no", but the words remained unspoken.

Jorge had suddenly appeared through the fire escape window searching for money, he was in need of a fix. The ensued fight between the two brothers had resulted in a noisy stair case chase up to the roof. Efrain swore the day would end with his corpse crushed and sprawled over the sidewalk, at once neglecting to remember the presence of his foul tempered sister.

Magali, with her tall, muscled form shaped by hours of playful wrestling and imitating Kung Fu movies, had gone to run errands before Jorge's intrusion. Her black, wavy mane draped wildly around her shoulders, framed a sharp featured face with piercing, deep blue eyes. She had returned in time to hear the race up the stairs, and the roof door bang open.

Sweat glistening on her forehead, emotion gone from her veneer, she embraced Jorge's head with powerful arms. Efrain witnessed the loss of humanity in her blue eyes, when Jorge's head turned awkwardly and his body fell limp. Two sharp cracks and a jagged rip rippled down her arms and into her being. Both brother and sister landed in a heap on the tar covered floor, one set of cerulean eyes gazing lifeless at the sky.

Magali pushed the body off of her, heart pounding in her chest. Sirens screamed through the streets, bouncing off building walls, and stopped with a screech in front of 630. With a cold step of defiance she paused inches away from Efrains face, he was visibly shaking and tears welled in his brown eyes. "I'm sorry Efrain." Then a rush of uniforms tackled her to the ground, cuffs pinched at her wrists as Jorge's glazed stare looked on.

Drenched and breathless Magali sat up in bed, quickly taking in her surroundings before collapsing onto her back. Next to her a small naked figure protested the sudden movement, and curled up facing away from her. It's my bed bitch. She reached for the half empty, bottle of flat beer on the nightstand and swallowed the remains. Jesus I hate that damn dream. Her watch read ten A.M, two hours left 'till check out, then home. A warm hand curled around cold metal, and with it came a welcome sense of safety. Padding across the room she stretched, the vertebrae in her spine popping in sequential order, cold handle firmly resting against her palm.

A click of a switch and light flooded the small pink tiled bathroom, cool under her feet. Avoiding the mirror over the sink she wrapped the .45 automatic in a towel, and placing it carefully on the toilet tank jumped into the shower. Cautious to leave the door nearest the toilet cracked open, she let a stream of cold water hit her before turning the handle towards 'hot'.

Her breath caught when the cracked door slid slowly open, got to learn not to stay under the water so fuckin' long. One arm reached for the towel, the other towards the dark figure behind the glass. A startled look from the blonde cancelled her initial response, and roughly she pulled the woman into the stream of warm water. So she's not a real blonde, I knew that. Her lips barely touching the woman's mouth she whispered in her husky morning voice, "you shouldn't sneak up on people, you never know what could happen." Or how close you just came to dying kid. Magali pressed into the blonde, covering her body and pinning her to the tiled wall. A studded tongue traced the smaller woman's lips, coaxing them to open with short nips. With the small surge of adrenaline still coursing through her veins, Magali thrust herself into the act blindly, tasting every inch of available skin.

The smaller woman responded willingly and rapidly. Accepting Magali's probing tongue fully and widening her stance to accommodate one long hard thigh. Setting a brutal rhythmic grinding, the dark woman's teeth dug into the blonde's shoulder, causing a small groan to escape and her back to arch away from the wall. Bronze arms circled her waist and lifted her upwards, so that she had to wrap wet legs around the woman to retain some semblance of control. One strong hand snaked it's way down her back, and two fingers slipped through the slickness while a third massaged a hardened bud. Magali felt nails scrape at her back, and became immersed in the sensation of the writhing woman whimpering at her neck. Her lips never abandoned their tasting.

In time the trembling began, slowly at first, until the vibrations grew, snapping her head back. The light figure released one last breath, only to have Magali fasten a hungry mouth to her throat.

She let the woman gently slide away, capturing a thigh between her legs once feet had touched the tub floor. Immediately Magali began to rub against her, increasing in force and speed with each new jolt of heat. The world shrunk away to oblivion for one brief instant, and Magali leaned, spent against the younger woman. God...You can go home now. Dark eyes forced Magali's attention on a smiling satisfied face. "I should let you finish your shower...I just wanted to let you know I was going back to my room. Uhm..." Magali licked her lips, turned into the stream pushing back her hair. "Save it. It was nice knowing you, make sure you lock the door on your way out." Silence. She was rinsing off the white suds on her arms when she heard the room door slam shut.

Ever since she could remember golden haired beauties snared her attention, rivalled only by red haired firebrands, both who lost their allure once she was done with them. She'd look in their eyes and there was nothing, the heat of lust gone left her empty. Some lasted days, others weeks; most were left by morning. File away for the future...lesbian bar near Ramada off I95 Maryland. Not a bad stop over, not bad at all.

Magali threw her belongings, all of a duffle bag and a briefcase, into the backseat of the rented blue Camry. Lighting a cigarette, from a hidden pack in the glove compartment, she put the car in reverse and drove out of the hotel lot. I hate Maryland, too many fuckin' troopers. She checked her appearance in the rear-view mirror one last time before turning onto the highway. Besides her blue colored Ray-Bans hiding her eyes, she looked like the average college student heading home for the holidays. Her raven hair was tied back in a loose braid, she wore a white, thick, long-sleeved T-shirt, faded jeans and a black leather pea coat. Nothing to look at here boys, just keep eating those donuts. Nothing at all.

Night had fallen on the city when she crossed the George Washington Bridge. Rolling down the window she inhaled the smell of the city with gratification. Mmmm, home. A turn of a knob and the familiar voice of a D.J welcomed her back. Off the bridge and up Fort Washington Avenue towards the Hudson Heights section of Manhattan, without a touch of hesitation, until a shrill ring alerted her to an incoming call. Bet I know who this is. "Yeah...just got off the bridge...no...I wanna drop my shit off...huh?...no,no, don't send him to my fuckin' place!...sorry...I'll be there in fifteen minutes...20, make it 20." Throwing the cellular on the passenger seat she mumbled under her breath, and turned onto the West Side Highway. Might as well get this over with.

Riverdale, it just didn't belong somehow, with it's tree lined streets, and huge houses with equally large lawns, not exactly the conceptual image of the Bronx. The house stuck out like a sore thumb, all vine covered gates in Spanish colonial style, and a stark white exterior. A black tank of a Jeep Wrangler armored with chrome, was parked in the driveway. It's dark windows giving it the appearance of invincibility. Magali opened the driver's side door and tossed in her duffle bag, brief case in hand she rang the doorbell.

A tall dark skinned man, his baldness gleaming in the light, motioned her inside. "Nice to see you Zee." She scowled at the name. "Don't call me that in this house Khamal." "My fault Maga. He's waiting in the livingroom for you, says your late." "I'm never late Khamal, I just show up when I want to."

He was a lean man, white peppering his black hair, tension lines across his forehead. A long cigar protruded from his mouth, his dark eyes intent on the T.V screen, legs crossed at the ankles, dressed in his perpetual dark suit. "I don't like it when you curse Magali...you have my money?" Laying the brief case face up she opened the lid, and shrugged of her coat, exposing the brown leather shoulder holster underneath. Guillermo ran his hands over the tight bundles in the case. "That a new holster?" She slumped into the armchair opposite him, yanked at the .45 and offered it to the older man. "New piece...had to ditch the other one...You gonna count that?" He fixed his gaze once again on the screen. "Did you?" "Of course I did. It's all there." She put the gun back into it's holder. "Good enough...go home you look like shit." Coat over her shoulder she walked out of the room with her trademark, defiant swagger. "Nice to see you too Papi."

He crashed against the foyer wall leaping out of her way. "I didn't know you were home from school Antonio. Don't they teach you co-ordination at that fancy law school of yours?", she drawled. "Funny, up until now I didn't think you had a sense of humor." For all your bravado I can still read the fear in your eyes brother, it's never left your face...everytime you look at me. "See ya Tonio. Do yourself a favor and stay somewhere else." She was halfway into the Jeep when his voice reached her, the small golden "Z" hanging off the rear-view mirror from a dark yellow chain softly glimmering. "Don't try to act like you don't enjoy what you do...Zee. It breaks my heart." Clenching her jaw shut she started the engine and slammed the door, the CD player churning on.

I don't want to talk about it
enough I think
don't want to spend more money
don't want another drink
I would scratch out all these images...

"Hey Casey? Pass my soda over will ya?" Jesse blurted between bites of her sandwich. "Sure, here you go. How long do we wait?"

The park had emptied except for a few teenagers, who were wildly swinging off the small monkey bars. It was her first shift with the Corps Ambulance service, since going part time at Cornell Medical School. They had parked the ambulance at the end of Fort Washington Avenue, which formed a Cul De Sac at the parks entrance, enjoying an early dinner. "In this neighborhood on a night shift? Ten minutes tops if we're lucky. Enjoy the view now, you'll be sick of this post in two weeks." Casey had just met her new partner, and had been relieved when she noted the upside down triangle the woman wore as an earring. A common link to start off with was comforting, filling the ride to the post with favorite bar commentary.

Screeching to a halt next to her window, causing her to nearly choke, a black Jeep hummed with a familiar voice. Black glass slid away revealing the driver, who looked past her over blue shades towards Jesse with colorless orbs. "Where's Devi Jesse?" Jesse's brown eyes widened, and she choked down a mouthful of sandwich with a swig of soda, trying hard to look surprised. "I got her up my butt that's where. You didn't think I'd bring her to work did you? And where'd you learn to drive Zee, the Indy 500?" One dark eyebrow shot upwards. "Why not?" Jesse shook her head indignantly. "Zee meet Casey my new partner, Casey meet my crazy cousin."

Magali had noticed the hair first, soft golden red in the light, falling gently past her shoulders. She nearly missed the greeting when her gaze fell on the forest colored eyes. They cut inexplicably down to her core for a brief second. Guilt, shame? Do I know her from somewhere? "Nice to meet you Zee. That's Melissa playing right?"

"Yeah,yeah that's her." A high pitched ring made the sunglasses wearing woman scowl. "Excuse me...Yeah...What time is it?" She glanced at her thick gold watch. "Uhmm, one hour...I have to pick up Devi and I'll be right there." The phone disappeared and the Jeep moved up a foot. "See you later Jesse, good to meet you...ah...Casey?" Her sight lingered over the tawny paramedic while she shifted a gear, and the Jeep sped off.

Jesse smiled recognizing the gaze floating on Casey's profile, and cleared her throat. "Don't even think about it." She warned. Casey smirked, busted. "Taken?" A dark chuckle colored Jesse's tone. "You can say that. Dangerous is more like it." "Dangerous?" She sure is. "Not worth it Casey, believe me." Her words were drowned out by the deafening pounding of a heart.

"Your family drop by often Jesse?" Oh she's slick, oh well, I should have expected this when I saw the jeep roll up. She pushed back her short dark hair, rolled her eyes, and gave her new partner her best serious look. "Zee stops by once in awhile, only because she lives down this avenue in one of those high rise condos. We used to be really close then...well she changed. Now I take care of Devi for her when she's away. Just...she's not the type for you that's all." Jesse's demeanor was melancholic suddenly, and it was obvious through her dark darting eyes that she had grown uncomfortable. Do I really want to know? What the hell. "Uhmm, whos Devi? And why do you call her Z? That can't be her real name can it?"


Magali bumped heads with Devi, who was twisting and leaping frantically, desperate to get a lick in on her mistress. The fawn colored Pit Bull had met her at the door, a shredded cowboy boot gripped purposefully in it's jaws. "Awww Devi, not my fuckin' cowboy boots! Didn't Jesse feed you girl?" Devi butted her chest with a large head, inviting Magali into a game of tug-o-war. "Not now Devi. I need to shower and change, then we are outta here." Happily the dog scampered away, to settle at the door and wait for her mistress. Business as usual.

Decoration of her space had been easy, everything leather and dark, nothing techno or flashy, mostly immortal classic. "This place reminds me of a library", her father had said on his one visit, fingering the book and shelves that lined the livingroom walls. There was an entertainment system, a computer, and a Nordic flex gym tucked in a corner. Save for dog food, a bowl, a water dish and a few glasses the kitchen was bare, one lonely bottle of Glenlivet presiding.

She felt most comfortable in her own shower, and regretfully rushed through the motions of grooming. No makeup, tight black jeans, waist holster tucked in, a satin crimson button shirt, her last pair of Davidson boots, and she was leashing Devi. <I>No time for a braid, well a little change ain't bad, right?

Outside the chill air made her turn the collar of her coat up, Devi paused for relief while her mistress dialled a number. "Eddie...it's Zero, I'm back and there's shit to do. I'll pick you up in ten minutes." His voice was groggy and horse. "Where are we going?" "Chinatown...and Eddie...come on point...strapped you idiot. Ten minutes Eddie." She cancelled the call and shook her head. "Ave Maria! Devi, how is that man still alive?" Devi leaped at the Jeep door, excited to have her human back, and anticipating some quality time.

She arrived before the ten minute deadline, Devi leaned out the window snarling at passers-by, recognizing the emerging figure from the building she bounded into the back seat of the jeep. Magali lowered the volume of the radio, muting the harsh barks and thrumming beats of the CD she was playing. Eddie was greeted by a sound whack to the back of the head, producing an expression of exasperation and an uncanny likeness to a young, bald Charles Manson. "I told you ten minutes you sonofabitch!"

"Jesus Zero! Its been ten minutes since you called." She straightened her shirt and settled her shoulders, the pea coat heavy around her. "Live and learn Ed, or don't. Ten minutes means five for me, or don't you know that yet?" He rubbed the neatly trimmed goatee outlining his lips lightly. "So Efrain's back in town huh? When he'd get in?"

Eddie had grown up around Magali, Efrain and Jorge. The three children had moved into the neighborhood with a bitter mother, who drank heavily after her husband was led off to a federal prison for tax evasion. Left without any income the brunt of survival had fallen on Magali's shoulders, who with her evil temper and disregard for safety accumulated a following of loyal neighborhood kids. Refrigerators had been empty, some lived by candlelight, while others could afford electricity but owned exactly one pair of jeans. A few families had resigned themselves to the public assistance system, and others scratched out a living at minimum wage, their offspring running wild in the streets.

When opportunity knocked in the form of a found nickle bag of weed, rather than smoke it, Magali had sold it. So began the lightning incline of a budding empire; as the neighborhood income increased so did the hostility and Magali's reputation, refrigerators were full along with gun clips. The empire had survived Magali's absence, as she ruled it from behind bars through sheer fear.

"Anthony, he wants to be called Anthony, he likes his confirmation name better he says. Fuckin' sell out." Disgust was plain to hear in her voice, her older brother had "no brass" according to their father. Consequently, he and Magali heavily invested in the boys future, hoping he would be an asset to the family some day. "You get what you pay for Zee." Whack! The volume came on full blast, and Devi chased her tail around in the back.

Look in my eyes

See what I see

Do what I do

Be what I be

Walk in my shoes

it'll hurt your feet.....

New York City, city of portals. One could walk across a street and be in another world. Chinatown was one of those places, where suddenly the U.S shrank away, just another ghetto with a different flavor. Doyer street wound it's way from Canal street to Bowery street, through two city squares in a narrow cobbled path. Except for the street signs not one word of English could be seen, the absence of street lights and the blowing sewer steam added to its otherworldliness.

Whack! "Zee please, you're gonna give me a headache." She twisted the waistband of her jeans, the holster moved to a more accessible area under her coat. Whack! "If I have a headache, you're having one...Devi watch the Jeep." She patted the poker faced dog, and adjusted the ring on her right hand. A square block of gold, crowned with an onyx and surrounded by diamonds, served as a reminder of her black haired mother. The gold medallion swinging from her neck, sporting the patron Saint of Cuba, had been a gift from her father meant to compete with the ring.

An oak, brass adorned door, framed with carved cherry wood marked the entrance of the restaurant. "Remember Eddie..." He let out a breath, "I know, I know, don't look him in the eyes." Whack!

The call had come in just as Jesse turned the engine off, after one cardiac call both paramedics were exhausted. Jesse struggled for the right thing to say to console Casey, the patient had ceased on the ride to the hospital. Hell of a way to start this job. "So, here we go again Casey, are you ready?" Casey stared out the window complacently and nodded, the image of the emaciated old man fresh in her mind. Better get used to it, you can't save everyone, you can't save everyone, you can't.........

He was a young man, smooth features gone limp, laying amidst a toy strewn floor. Smaller children clung to their dishevelled mother, who cried silently on guard from the couch watching them work. Casey was busy strapping an oxygen mask, when she caught the word "diabetico", and Jesse cursed "shit, he's diabetic." Seconds slowed to hours in a frenzy of tubes, needles, and belts. The furious movements causing shrieks from the children, and a moan of discomfort from the patient. Caseys tension ebbed at the sound, he was ready to move, and stable for the time being. "Let's go Casey, we have to move." They strained momentarily under the weight of the gurney, manuevered down the stairs of the tenement, and raced off.

"Please hang in there kid...please." Casey rode in the back with the gurney, too shaken to have thought of driving. "Damn. He's starting to sweat Jesse!" The sirens seemed to bellow louder the faster they went. "Hold on we're almost there!"


"Wu shyan sheng dzai shem me difang?" Damn here she goes again, I'll be lucky if I understand half of what's going on. That was where is Wu, I think? "Dzai fang dzli." Eddie followed in her shadow, through the gold and crimson decor of the empty restaurant, towards an occupied table in the back. Their escort faded away. At the table, cigarette in hand, a fragile looking old man sat patiently waiting. His black suit, void of a tie, blended with the imposing figures at his back. "Dzu-fu, nai ho? Yo sum Mo hau yi bong nai?" Something about hello grandfather, and...what can I do?

Magali's hair nearly covered her face, she kept her eyes to the ground, head slighty bowed. "Zero...nai ho, please sit." She sat across from him, deliberately placing both hands palms down on the table. "Shay-shay, grandfather. I am sorry you have to wait for someone as unworthy as me." At this Wu smiled, impressed as always with her manners, and pleased with her use of Chinese. "Zero...I have a Xu..eh...small problem. I believe you can help. Hai?" He waved his hand towards the shadows, and a pale red headed man was pushed forward by someone unseen.

She sat motionless, eye steady on the man, her hand itched for the feel of steel. "Has something displeased you grandfather?" Eddie felt the hairs on his nape rise, Magali had slipped back to Chinese, obviously keeping the pale man in the dark. "This man says he works for you. My son gives him money, but then he say someone rob him when my son find him." With a steady hand she reached for a pack of cigarettes laying on the table, took one out, and leaned back in her chair.

"Grandfather, I don't know this man, but it is quite possible that I have a snake in my garden. I'm in the wrong for allowing this to happen, please accept my humblest apologies." Wu bowed his head briefly, extending a hand to light her cigarette.

Eddie leaned over when he felt her pat his leg, heard a whispered command, and trotted off into the kitchen. She eyed the pale man in silence, measuring him for strength and found none. This shouldn't take long. Eddie returned carrying a dull metal object, he grabbed the man, pinning his arms to his sides, and tossing the object at Magali. Glancing at Wu, she pushed the mans hand down on the table. The meat mallet balanced carefully between her index and thumb, she held it up at eye level as if to inspect it. Red let out a soft gasp. "No explanations, just a name understand?" Stubborn, the man was stubborn, or too afraid to speak.

One sickening crunch shook the table, sprinkling blood across one side of her face and the cigarette dangling from her lips. "Just the name." Eddie closed his eyes to the sport, his knuckles white under the pressure of his grip. Crunch! "The name!" Crunch, "You fuckin'," Crunch, "bastard."

Blood trickled down the pale mans lips where he had bitten it straight through. His head fell to his chest, his breathing short and heavy. She raised the mallet and hesitated, a small voice forestalling the next blow. "Ry..an, it's Ryan."

"Let 'em go Eddie." She rested the red stained mallet on the table, wiped her hands on his shirt, and reached down to her right boot. Her hand came in contact with an antler handle, and she drew out a curved blade, striking true. For the onlookers it had seemed as though she had merely stretched, then the man fell as if he were simply going to sit. Blood ran ear to ear, and sprayed the table, she put the cigarette out.

"My apologies for the mess grandfather, I should not have assumed you would condone this."

"It will be my honor to take care of this for you Zero, you perform dwe-li...correctly."

She tipped her head towards the exit, signalling Eddie to leave. "You will have your product by tomorrow evening grandfather. How much is it you need?" He held up ten fingers, then smiled knowing the statement for the truth. He watched her leave, her steps natural and strong, and noticed his men were doing the same. "I have never known such a woman, like this Zero. Tell me again why she is called so." The guard kept his eyes to the ground and spoke softly. "Below zero grandfather. Colder than ice, she killed her brother years ago for disgracing her family." Again Wu smiled, the wrinkles on his face pronounced. "I knew I liked her for good reason. Her father has no need for sons."


Jesse ran out into the waiting room, where her partner sat, head resting on her hands. "Hey...he's going to be just fine. Good work partner." Casey produced a wide brilliant grin, her green eyes dancing, she pumped a fist for victory. "Yes!" Jesse couldn't help but laugh. "Listen Casey, we're off tomorrow night...so, I thought maybe we could go get a drink to celebrate your initiation to this rotten job. What do you say?" Casey was too giddy to turn anyone down, and in reaction nodded wildly. "Great, tomorrow night then, I'll call you."


Devi paced impatiently watching for her human, her tail thumped against the back seat when she spotted Magali. She licked at Eddies face, and pounced ecstatically on Magali. "Settle down Devi, this is going to be a long night." She noticed Eddie's silence, and flicked away the newly lit cigarette. "When this is done. You and I are going for a stiff drink." Eddie nodded, smiling faintly out the window. "How about we pick up a roll or something...you know from that truck outside the hospital?" Magali snorted down a chuckle. "Always thinking about food man."


She had been rubbing her dark hair back, fighting a hair that stuck out awkwardly, when she felt an elbow tapping at her ribs. "Hey Jesse isn't that your cousin over there by the truck?"

"Where?...huh, yeah that's her all right." Casey took in the long figure, the shape of her legs, the broadness of her shoulders emphasized by the coat she wore. God she looks good in red. "what's she doing out at this time Jesse?" Jesse shrugged, her brown eyes taking on a pensive glow. "Let's go say hello Jesse." She had started to walk off, but was held back and given a shake of a head. "Leave her Casey, she'll be gone in a second." No sooner had she spoken, but that the two dark figures slid into the black Jeep, a fawn, panting head nipping at the wind.

"You know, you never did tell me why you call her Zee, or who Devi is. If I didn't know better...", Casey said resting her shoulder on the ambulance and smirking. Jesse leaned an arm around her partner's shoulders, smiling at her curiosity. "I see why you got into medicine Casey, so many questions. Devi is her dog. Didn't you see her head out of the Jeep's window?" I was busy thinking about something else. "No, not exactly, must have missed that. So, why Zee? Is it short for something?" She regretted asking on the spot when a weary look crossed Jesse's face, something like a deep pain flashing. Maybe if I tell her she'll stay away from her. Fuck it, it's not my reputation. "Ten years ago she got into a mess, she was a minor...so the media had to keep her name out of the stories, instead they dubbed her bajo zero. It means below zero." Fight it as she wanted to, her voice betrayed her lament, but she continued. "They said she was a cold blooded murderer, and that...she deserved more than just three years in prison...which was what she got. Her younger brother was a junkie Casey, he attacked the family, nearly threw her older brother off a roof that day. She killed him, and she paid for it. She was always a troublemaker you know? But when she got out seven years ago, she just wasn't the same person. I knew she was selling drugs in the neighborhood, but she...she became bajo Zero in that place." A lone tear trailed her cheek, and Casey fought back the urge to hug the grief stricken woman. "I'm sorry Jesse, I wouldn't have asked if I had any idea...awww me and my stupid questions." Jesse waved a hand in the air, dismissing Casey's regret. I hope that worked. "That's why I warned you off see? I love her dearly, but she's the worst news walking." Casey grinned appreciatively at the gesture of concern from her newly made friend, and tugged her towards the corner subway entrance. "Hey, how about we take that drink now. I don't have any classes until late in the afternoon." Jesse's face upturned into a smirk, and she pulled back playfully. "Sure there's a bar not far from here, but we've got to change first. Besides we're on call for another fifteen minutes."

"Eeewwww, God I think Devi just farted!!!" Eddie opened the door of the Jeep choking and coughing, fanning in the cold fall air. "Close the door you idiot", she hissed. "Your apartment smells worse." Whack! "Fuck Zee, I swear...hey look." Her blue eyes narrowed towards where Eddie was pointing. They had scoured the city for Ryan, looking in all his old stomps, and finally settling on one where they could not enter. Magali grinned at her bouncy cousin, smiling and laughing with the red or is it blonde headed woman by her side, opening the door to the bar and entering. "Who's that with her Zee?" But she only grinned, knowing he would understand.

She had been looking at her watch every ten minutes, getting frustrated with every tick of the second hand, and Eddies incessant drumming on the dashboard. Devi snored loudly in the back, and she was having trouble thinking of anything else but the golden-red haired woman. Casey. What the hell is wrong with me? If I don't find this fuckin' jack ass, I'm ...better not think about that stupid. "Alright that's it! That bar's about to close ED, I'm steppin' up in there." Eddie stopped his tapping and stared at her bewildered. "What time is it?" She rolled her eyes, and shoved her watch towards him. "Five o'clock Ed, buy a watch, I pay you enough." Suddenly he became very sleepy, and jumped at the holster thrown on his lap. "Jesus Zee, you could have blown my...hey wait, you can't go in there. That place is crawlin' with five-oh. Zee! Shiiit." It was a wasted effort, once she started something it was near impossible to stop her. "Stay here." I'm stupid, stupid, stupid. Sure Zee, walk into a bar full of cops drinking. They all know you, and what they wouldn't give to put your neck in a noose. Fuck me.

Every single pair of eyes in the place turned on her, including a pair of emerald green ones. Except for Black Velvet playing on the jukebox, and the loud crash of a falling beer mug, the bar fell instantaneously silent. Mississippi in the middle of a dry spell... Magali strolled up to the bar, leaned her back against the counter, and scanned the room, raising one dark eyebrow at the man sitting next to her. "You've got balls bajo zero." She shrugged him off. "I've been accused of worse Detective McGruff." She found her cousin sitting at a booth, a grinning Casey across from her sipping on a glass of white wine. Shit, she saw the word form on Jesse's lips from across the room, and she smiled at it. Talk about a hornet's nest. Her long legs carried her towards them, visual knives darting her in the back as she walked.

"Hey Jesse, imagine seeing you here. Casey? Right?" She put out her hand for the blonde woman, who was staring right into her eyes. "Imagine me? Shit Zee are you out of your mind? Forget it...stupid question." She smiled again, leaving her sight to wander down the V-necked collar of the shirt Casey wore, then back up to her face. Ooh, she's blushing. A new religion that'll bring you down to your knees, black velvet if you please.... "Nice to see you again Zee. Are you getting off of work too?" Okay that was stupid Casey. You know perfectly well what's going on here...but she doesn't have to know, does she? "Oh, I'm getting off alright. Just a little thirsty you know?" She crooked a finger at a waitress, the ring sparking at the low light. "A Glenlivet, straight." White clad in her bar shirt, the waitress nearly ran for the drink proposed, a few of the other customers warning her to stay away from the dark woman.

She licked her lips, exposing the silver ball snuggled on her tongue, and ran it across her upper lip. The scarlet coloring on Casey's cheeks deepened at the suggestive motion, and she buried her face into the wine goblet. The waitress returned with a small shot glass filled with a golden liquid, and placed in on the table with a trembling hand. Magali reached into her coat, and let an amused laugh escape at the reaction from the waitress, who took a tentative step backwards. A curled bundle of hundred dollar bills appeared in her hand, and she wagged it at the startled woman. She peeled back one of the bills, and pinched it between two fingers, offering it to the waitress. At the last possible moment she pulled the bill back, and slammed it on the table, forcing the waitress to step closer. When the woman reached for it, a strong hand clamped itself around her wrist. "This should cover the table, keep the fuckin' change," she growled between clenched teeth. Now those are beautiful teeth. Jesse was hiding her face in her hands, trying desperately to keep her composure.

A light breeze from the entrance warned Magali of a new patron, a male figure outlined in the orange predawn glow of the street. He never entered, and she was up and leaving before she had thought about it. Forcing herself to slow down, she turned back towards the table, brought the shot glass to her lips and emptied it. "I have to go Casey, some other time maybe....see ya' Jesse." Jesse nodded at her cousin, and nearly screamed when Casey caught the tail of Magali's coat. The reaction was quick-tempered, and Casey found herself dragged up by her wrist to come unbearably close to a set of icy eyes. "I just thought you would like to join us tomorrow night at the Cubby Hole." God, she didn't even flinch, she's not scared at all. Magali released her hesitantly, not wanting to let go. "I'm sorry, I'm a little hair triggered. Uhm, maybe...I'll try." Then she was gone, along with the brilliance of her last smile. He's getting away stupid.

Part 2

Shadows rose like fingers across the pavement, formed from the haze of the newborn sun, Magali retrieved the blue Ray-bans instinctively. Her eyes extra sensitive after the darkness of the bar. Fuck, have to chase this stupid, bitch ass mother-fucker, nooo, can't stay and relax...Casey, hmm . Rather be chasing you around. The streets were empty, a few gypsy cabs drove lazily by, drivers eyeing the corners for workers needing a ride. Her boots hit the concrete with heavy strides, exhaustion catching up to her from lack of sleep. Eddie had squeezed himself past the gear shift and into the drivers seat, going through a red light he caught up to her, nostrils flaring in the abandon of the moment. "Zee catch!" Searching the dips of alleys down the street, and catching the airborne gun through use of her peripherals, she ran into an open doorway.

A cool tiled hall led to a wide, open space surrounded by scratched windows and a brown staircase in a corner. Adrenaline filled her, shook her beyond feeling. "Where are you, you sonofabitch? Fuckin' coward." The whispered words were followed by an all too familiar sound, a roof door had slammed shut atop the fifth floor. Fuck. Her blue eyes narrowed, a pink tipped tongue touched her lips, then her feet fell into their own rhythm taking her up the stairs two at a time. Each flight taking her further away, she sucked in for empty air. Was that Jorge's voice? Click clack, a bullet moved into its chamber, another breath.

Ryan, legs spread shoulder width, arms outstretched, pointed the revolver at the tin door. He pulled the hammer back with his thumb just as the raven haired menace pushed through onto the tar surface. Two barrels perfectly aimed at each other, hovering still in the gray air of morning. "Hello Zero. You must have a thing for roof tops...but it won't be me on a stretcher today bitch." She moved her head to peer over the blue rims, nailing him with the cold she knew was in her eyes. "I'm not here to kill you Ryan. I just want my money, that easy...we can lower these together, get on with business."

His dark brown eyebrows lifted into his receding hairline, dark eyes filled with suspicion. "Where's Michael?" Michael? Was that the guy's name? Great, now he has a name, shit. "Your partner? Dead. But you don't have to be, I can make this disappear, like it never happened." Hypocritical piece of shit, corrupt mother-... His sight fell momentarily, the fear of his dead brother in-law confirmed. Too late he realized his mistake when his back hit the floor. Magali throttled his chest, the square barrel of her .45 pressed into Ryan's mouth. "Now...you're going to tell me where the money is, we're going to go get it, then we'll pretend this was just a big miscommunication." Shit she's fast. Her voice reached a timber between threat and patronization, and Ryan nodded moving the barrel along with his head.

Eddie had kept the engine running, half expecting a running Magali to rush into the Jeep at any minute, but the expected bang never happened and he had begun to worry. The sight of the older Detective walking casually next to her dark figure surprised him, and he covered his reaction with practiced ease. Magali hid an arm under her coat, pointing the gun at the Detective for security, she gestured for him to get into the Jeep's backseat. "But your pit-bull's back there." She raised an eyebrow at him, tilting back her head with an air of force. Swallowing hard Ryan pulled himself up and in. Devi sat on her haunches, lightly snarling at him. "Devi watch," she pushed the gun back into her holster, surveying the street for witnesses she closed the door, and drove off. "Don't ask Eddie...I don't have an answer." Yes I do. What would you see in those green eyes then huh? Why should you care? She shrugged, "maybe it's the death sentence." Not.

A loud series of yeeps woke her up, and she pulled the covers over her head after banging the hell out of the alarm clock on the crate near her bed. 2 o'clock, I've got to get up, I've got to get up, crap. Mid October in New York wasn't cold enough for her landlord to turn on the heat, and too cold to walk on the floor barefoot. She stretched the weariness away, feeling small jolts of dull pain in her back from the previous night's efforts. Well, no need to join a gym now, even if I could afford it. Recounting all the names of the major bones and minor muscles, she allowed her skin to warm under the stream of the shower. Conducting a rap song of skin disease names, she pulled on her jeans and a t-shirt, grabbed a muffin out of the refrigerator, her campus bag off a chair and ran out the door of the fourth floor studio apartment. Shit, I need a jacket, she thought running down the stairs. Aww forget it, deal with it. Going up four flights right now is not an option Casey.

The cross-town bus was filled, people pushed against her as she held on to the horizontal bar above her head. A lady sitting on a single seat got up to leave the bus, and she scrambled for the spot, relieved to get the weight of the bag off her back. She watched the stores of the avenue breeze by through the smoky window, her mind drifted back to the bar, and to a pair of deep blue eyes. I wonder if she'll show up tonight, probably not. Jesse had been extremely apologetic after her cousin's exit, offering her a ride home in the early hours, which she had gratefully accepted. What am I thinking? Jesse's right, she's not my type.

A black Jeep pulled up next to her window, and she caught her breath, then smiled sheepishly when the teenaged driver stuck his head out to yell at a pedestrian. . Hmm, what would a woman like that find attractive? Stop it Casey, you're playing with fire. The bus stopped a block away from the hospital, and the building housing the medical school. A square plexi-glass covered cart offered coffee and bagels on the corner, and a short line of students waited for their morning fuel up. Casey caught the sight of a black pea coat, wool not leather, out of the corner of her eye and did a double take. Oh but I like it hot, don't I?

I know a place

Down past an old shack

On a road that goes to nowhere

Ain't nobody coming back

We can go there tonight

We can talk until dawn

Or maybe something else

I'll leave the radio on...the radio on

2:00 pm: Count the money. Bundle the bills. Count the money. Bundle the Bills. "Devi stop chewing on that!

3:00 pm: Count the bundles. Stack the bundles. Put the bundles in the bag. "Eddie get me some coffee will ya. Do somethin' with yourself, Eddie. Eddie! Wake the fuck up!"

3:30 pm: Hot coffee black no sugar, it went down her throat and gave her a sudden jolt, then nothing. Shit, shit, I've got to stay up.

4:00 pm: West Side Highway at rush hour. Exit 125st.

4:30 pm: Kahmal was just waking up when he heard the banging on his door, more like someone was kicking it. Clad in a towel, his dark muscular frame ambled across the brownstone floor, gun in his hand he looked through the door peephole. Zero? Opening the door he caught sight of the two men standing off to the side, the large head of a fawn pit bull sticking out from between Magali's legs. "Hey Zero. What the fuck is he doing with you?" One long finger pointed at Ryan accusingly. "Long story Kahmal. You have any access to some product, like right now," she asked stepping in through the door. He crunched up his face, waving in the two men and the dog, who followed Magali silently. "How much are we talking about?" She slammed herself onto the long couch against a wall, placing her head between her hands, she leaned on her knees. "Ten kilos, no more, no less." Kahmal whistled through his teeth, "that's a tall order on short notice kid. You in a rush or something?" He pinned Ryan with narrowed eyes, making the Detective fidget nervously under his gaze. "Just get it Kahmal. I don't have any time to screw around. I'm expected in Chinatown, get it, or buy me some RIP flowers tomorrow." Unmindful of the company, Kahmal pulled the towel from his waist and ambled off to his room. "Be right back."

5:30 pm: Twenty first street and 12th avenue was a solitary street in an otherwise busy section of Manhattan. Windowless buildings lined the street from corner to corner, mostly storage facilities opened twenty-four hours a day, one security guard each. Magali slipped the guard behind the window two one hundred-dollar bills, and snatched the keys that were handed back to her in turn. Up the crated elevator, Devi yawned loudly, Eddie rubbed his eyes, Kahmal leaned against the wall staring at the Detective menacingly. The small room with a solid gate door was at the far end of the aisle. Eddie remained sentinel at the front with Ryan and Devi stretched out like a slaughtered lamb.

5:45 pm: Weigh, pack. Weigh, pack. Shit, I inhaled that. Weigh,pack.

6:00 pm: One, two, three, four, five......"a little for me...you mind Kahmal?" Six, seven, eight, nine, ten. "Guillermo won't care, too small to count, go ahead. All the money in that brief?" Sniff. "Yeah, I'll take it to him tonight." Tsk. "I can do that for you, I have to go see him anyway." Sniiff. "Auggh, fine. Make sure you do Kahmal." He nodded yawning, "oh yeah, like I want to fuck you over. How long has it been?" Sniff. "What?" He peered at her questioningly, "...since you slept." She stopped pensive for a moment, "what's today," she asked blankly stuffing a small, white filled bottle in her jeans pocket.

6:25 pm: Drop Kahmal off on 125th Street.

7:10 pm: Leave Eddie and Ryan by train station.

8: 00 pm: Chinatown. "Nai ho grandfather."

She took the long way home, choosing Broadway rather than the highway. Beep, beep. Fuck, what now? She searched for the protesting cellular stuck in the crease of the passenger seat. "Maga, who the hell was this rush job for?" Figures. "Wu"

"Who the hell set it up Magali. Did you? It's sloppy"

"...no, no, Ryan set it up pop." She could imagine his face over the cigar in his mouth. "Ryan! What...he's not happy with his payoffs?" As briefly as possible she explained the events of the last hours or days, whatever. "Is he gone?" The question was barely audible, but she knew it from long practice. She swallowed, bracing herself for what would follow. "No." As the scream came through she pulled the phone away from her ear, Devi popped her head up tilted and confused as to the vaguely familiar noise. She let him go on for the next few minutes, not really paying any attention to his ranting, when it was over she threw the phone, nearly hitting Devi on her haunches. Beep, beep. "What the fuck?! Yell at me some more tomorrow!"

A brief moment of silence came through the speaker, then a soft chuckle constructed out of Jesse's voice. "Hey Zee, hard day?"


"Just wanted to know if you were coming out tonight?"

Oh yeah. That's today? "Uhm, sure. What time?"

Jesse had thought about making the phone call for hours before she dialed the number. It was easier to just ignore Casey's extended invitation, but there were times she missed her dark and dangerous cousin. The weary look in Magali's eyes the previous night and the strain evident in her shoulders, incited Jesse to reflect on the conditions of her cousin's life. She remembered the smiling girl of their pre-pubescence, clever and filled with laughter and mischief, now shadowed and brooding. She won't last much longer Jesse, someday she'll be gone...and then?

It was a small place with wood paneling and the cloudy scent of cigarettes. Jesse sat with her back against a wall, her brown eyes nervously glancing at the door periodically, she played with the curled end of her blue polo shirt's collar. I fucked up, I fucked up. Magali's going to come in here and shoot this dumb bitch trying to pick up Casey. I saw that look in her eyes last night, haven't seen that in awhile. Come to think of it, Casey didn't exactly back down from her either. Shit maybe she'll chase this bitch away before she gets here, please God. The auburn woman had turned every head in the bar, clad in a white half T-shirt, low cut jeans hugging her hips, and the black watch flannel shirt tied tightly around her waist. Jesse had been a little surprised to see a small jeweled hoop hanging delicately off the woman's navel, oh yeah Magali is gonna flip.

Sure enough, the tall frame of Magali barged through the glass covered door of the bar, the pink light from the neon sign in the window reflecting off her sunglasses. It took her all of a second to spot them sitting at the bar, a short cropped blonde attired in a dark blazer leaning close over Casey. She snapped the glasses off her face and pushed them up to sit on her head. Casey felt her spine prickle, saw the tense look on Jesse's face, who stared wide eyed at the door ready to bolt. Did my heart just stop? Oh yeah, most definitely. Standing, wide-stanced, decked in black leather pants, taut black T-shirt, and an unbuttoned, black velvet overshirt, Magali placed her hands on her hips and crossed her brows over ice blue eyes. Frozen in the moment, Casey missed the woman's purposeful strides that brought the black velvet closer, a strong shoulder pushed against a blazer. She leaned over the bar, over Casey, and came face to face with Jesse, "let's get out of here," she snarled. A blue gaze turned on the blonde, who was searching for some retort in her defense, "no offense Jesse, too many fuckin' blazers in here." Magali was moving towards the door with a blatant display of power, a distraught cousin close at her heels. What the fuck just came over me? Too much coke maybe?

"Hey Zee! Umph." A heavy body hit her midsection, stealing her voice momentarily, the bar door slammed behind her. "Devi! How are you girl? " She rubbed the dog furiously behind the ears, looking both ways down the street for her fiery relative. A gasp from behind her told her Casey had left the bar. "Oh she is so cute!" She had given the blonde a short look of apology and had scurried off after the cousins. "Oh yeah, real cute, especially with this spike collar mommy put on you huh Devi? Careful Casey, I need to introduce you to her first, or she might think she needs to guard..." The fawn, muscled physique leaped at the shorter woman, landing strong paws on her chest, and getting in one good lick on her cheek before falling to the ground. "Weird. She never acts like that with strangers." Devi took off down the street at the sound of a sharp whistle, rounding the corner, her back legs slid out from under her and quickly recovering, she disappeared. "Casey come on! Follow that dog!"

Magali leaned her forearms on the sill of the open window. She kept the door open, one foot firmly on the ground, the other inside the Jeep. Devi jumped in gracefully, tongue hanging from her mouth happy to be chased by the two laughing women close behind her. She watched entranced by the changing shades of Casey's hair flowing behind her as she ran. A soft glow from the street light casting shadows across her moving figure. The sound of honking cars, the smell of exhaust on the cool thick air faded. They stopped short in front of the open door, with Magali raising an eyebrow at them. "Come on get in will ya," it was a demanded request graced with a smile. Jesse opened the passenger side door, and pushed the seat forward for Casey to get it. The small woman wrapped her arms around the Pit-bulls neck, planting a hard kiss on the wide head, and laughing. "Payback Devi." Magali smirked at her through the rearview mirror, and started the engine. What do you know, Devi likes her, that's a first. "Oww, what the...Shit Zee, don't you ever wear this damn thing? I got the antenna up my butt!!" Magali grabbed the phone away from Jesse, and laughed at her rapid rubbing of her backside. "Gimme, you and your butt fetish Jesse" she said attaching the phone firmly to her waist. "Where are we going Zee?" The CD player hummed on, blaring the hard chords of Joan Jett's Crimson and Clover. "Meow Mix. Haven't been there in awhile, and no blazers."

Houston Street was a wide four lane stretch of asphalt crossing the lower section of Manhattan island. It divided the Soho district from the village east and west, lined with housing projects, restaurants and antique shops. The black Jeep sped down the lanes cutting off slower drivers, and zagging through the traffic of yellow cabs and trucks. Casey took in the interior of the Jeep, dark inside as it was outside. The glow of lights coming off the goose-necked equalizer of the sound system, sparked colored glints off the skull shaped knob of the gear shift, caressed by a strong hand. She reached across to the front seat and touched the golden Z hanging from the rearview. "Where'd you get this?" Magali didn't bother to turn her head, her peripherals catching the movement of the smaller woman, she had stopped her breath waiting for a casual touch. "Jesse gave it to me wh...a few years ago." Jesse caught the turn in Magali's speech, and turned in to herself and the day she had visited Magali at Singer on Riker's island, the city's prison for women.

Dark rings surrounded her eyes, her bright eyes turned bitter and smoky, she wore a subtle frown. A dark bruise colored her forehead and reached down under her black hair, red finger marks stained the sides of her neck, identical brands blazed her wrists. She looked thin and fragile, the muscularity nearly gone from her figure after the long ordeal of a trial. "Magali what happened?" The gay mischief she had known in the amber voice void, "I slipped in the shower, it's nothing." Jesse had extended gentle hands to touch her, and found that Magali leaned away from her. "Don't forget yourself in here Magali. You're not like these people. You did what you did because you were hungry, and Jorge would have killed you all." They had been the last words she had ever spoken to her using her proper name. She had left, leaving behind the golden letter M on a thin chain with a guard to store with Magali's possessions. In the shower, the phrase sunk in with a sickening clamp in Jesse's stomach. Shortly after, when she had been released, Magali had the letter altered into a Z.

She parked the Jeep on the corner of Houston and Suffolk, directly in front of the crowded bar. "What the hell is going on in there? It's Tuesday for fuck's sake." Jesse let out a pleased yelp. "It's Xena night!" Magali rolled her eyes and threw back her head, while Casey watched the arch of her throat intently from the backseat.

Hot bodies pressed against each other in the small confines of the bar, attentive gazes on a small screen over the bar's counter. Hardly anyone turned to see a dark figure push her way towards a busy barkeep. "Hey Dawn! Dawn!" Her voice carried over the din of voices, to a strongly built bartender with short bleached hair, pouring a frothy drink into a cloudy mug. Dawn's hazel eyes lit up at the sight of the tall form calling her name. "Hey Zee! Longtime man! What ya having?" Magali scowled as the crowd pushed into her, aroused to movement as some action on the screen elicited rude comments on some character's sexual preferences. "Shot of Glenlivet, a Heineken, and whatever you got on tap for Devi!"

Jesse leaned over closer, attempting to find space along the counter next to her taller cousin. "Hey, how about you order something for the rest of us while you're at it Zee. I'll find us a table. Two Coronas Zee, with a lime okay." Jesse pushed herself away from the crushing crowd and towards a waiting Casey greedily guarding two empty seats at a small round table. "Get me two Corona's too, with a lime Dawn! I'll be right back." Grabbing the cold mug of beer she was handed, Magali shouldered her way through the crowd and back out through the door, where Devi waited patiently for her share of the fun.

A stool had been set up outside, a dark skinned figure sat atop it, surveying the street and opening the bar door for patrons. Devi laid under the stool, stretched out and head propped up on immense paws, watching as cars drove by. Her tail wagged as the cool mug was set in front of her by a well-acquainted hand, her snout went to work on the suds immediately. The stoic bouncer cracked a smile, 'nice to have her under there again, I never get a complaint." Magali nodded, patted the wide head, and taking a breath of the cool air reentered the bar. She had begun to feel dizzy, in a haze, everything seemingly farther away then usual. Fuck, this is not good, not good at all. Lucky I brought some shit with me, or I'll pass out before the night is over. Jesse had her eyes on the screen, moving her head side to side to get a better view, and looked annoyed as her cousin obstructed her line of vision with drinks carefully balanced in her hands. "Jesse would you take these, I have to go to the bathroom...Jesse!" A small tender hand reached out and grasped the beer bottles, a feathery touch grazing Magali's wrist. She held on to them for a brief moment, her eyes meeting green, a bundle forming in her throat and stopping her breathing. "I'll take those Zee." Zee. "Uhm, yeah, thanks.

Steadily the crowd moved away from the counter once the screen had gone to static. "That's it folks!" Dawn cried out. "Trivia contest later for prizes!" The bar roared in unison, and took on the air of any ordinary bar once the music resonated through the crowd. Magali returned in time to wince at the ear-piercing sound, straddling the chair Casey had kept for her she swallowed down her shot of scotch and chased it down with half a bottle of beer. "So what the hell was everyone hollering about?"

Casey gave her an amused look. "Where have you been Zee, that show is huge, everyone knows about it. Don't you watch T.V?" Magali took another swallow, licked her lips, and faced her. Oh my God, they are so blue, you're in big trouble Casey. Big trouble.

"No I don't."

Casey giggled, pinching her nose. "Too busy hanging out huh?"

Another swallow and the beer was gone. "You play pool Casey?"

Oh boy. "A little, why?"

Magali spun the empty bottle on the table, "there's a table downstairs, dare a game with me?"

Oh do I ever. "Sure. Jesse, you want to join us?" A long, haired brunette stood next to Jesse, smiling down at her, the two involved in some discussion about the infamous television show. "Never mind...Let's go, I'll follow you Zee." A firm grip held her wrist, the warmth of the hand seeping through skin and bone, and Casey was being led down a dark staircase.

Red bulbs reflecting off light blue walls cast a strange light over the small room. Lined benches leaned against the walls, occupied by kissing couples and rowdy friends. In the center of the room ominously alone, a green topped billiard table took up the majority of the space. Magali picked up a cue stick by the handle and pointed its blue tip at Casey. "For you." Casey took the stick and stepped closer to the dark woman. "Thank you." Magali rummaged in her pocket and produced a neat bill, laying it at the edge of the table, she gave Casey a wink. "Winner takes all?" The smiling paramedic eyed the bill on the table. Shit, that's a hundred. "I can't meet that Zee," she said exasperated. Magali grinned wickedly, "you can make it up to me." Casey smirked back at her, "how do I do that?" The dark grin became a penetrating smile, "you'll think of something." Music covered them, ripping cords and a dulcet voice.

Meet me in the back

Don't make me wait too long

I could change my mind

And tell you that it's wrong

So meet me in the back

Where the light don't shine

First show me yours

Maybe I'll show you mine

Casey lost miserably, each game Magali piled another bill on the table, the purse grew up to five hundred dollars by the time Casey quit in a fit of laughter. She had watched the woman bend and turn her strong frame to fit the angle she shot from, deliberately missing every now and then feigning distraction. Casey took advantage of her playful mood, knowing somehow it was unusual for Magali, she continuously placed her chin on the table's edge and smiled. "Stop trying to distract me Casey, I'm still gonna whip your butt." She ambled over, bearing close to Magali, "are you saying I can't distract you?" Magali pulled on the cigarette hanging from her lip, "nope you can't." Casey pressed closer, "bet I can." She let the smoke out in rings that floated in the red air. "Yeah, how are you gonna do that, huh?" The shorter woman's chest barely touched her, through the short distance she could feel the heat emanating off the smaller woman who leaned close to her ear and whispered. "Can't do those things in public Zee." The cigarette fell, and Magali scrambled after it, slapping at the glowing embers on her T-shirt. "Shit, shit." Casey collapsed with laughter, bumping into a husky woman who passed behind her. "Hey watch...Casey?" That you?" Remember me...Samantha, from security...at the hospital?" Casey crossed her brows in thought, "oh yeah. How are you", she asked gasping for breath. "Alright, hey why don't you join us? Shame for a woman like you to be here alone." Casey crossed her arms over her chest, defensive for some unknown reason. "I'm not alone...I'm here with Jesse and...hey where'd she go?" Casey searched the small room for the velvet shirt, but to no avail. "You mean Zero?" Perturbed she didn't bother to answer, heading for the stairs was tugged back softly by a hand on her upper-arm. "Hey Casey, you don't want to be around that nut trust me." Casey pulled away from her, "First of all you don't know me that well, and second...I don't think you know her that well either." But boy do I want to get to know her. Samantha's red brows lifted high, "you're kidding right, everyone in the hospital knows that bitch. We've seen her handy work...she always seems to get away with it though." Okay, that's enough, I'll end up smacking her if I don't move.

She shirked the woman's grip off, and climbed the stairs, leaving Samantha shaking her head. Jesse had become better acquainted with the brunette, who was sitting on her lap, twisting at Jesse's short, straight locks. "Jesse, did you see your cousin?" Jesse kept her eyes fixed on her new friend, "nope, did you lose her?" Casey shrugged, "she just took off all of a sudden." Brown eyes left the cleavage they had been staring at, and scanned the room. "Let me guess, Samantha showed up downstairs." Disconcerted Casey nodded. "Zee slept with her girlfriend, she was just probably trying to avoid a fight or something. Check the bathroom." Now why would she back away from Samantha? That's new, Wonder if she's carrying, or maybe...nah, she wouldn't do that for anyone, why would she do it for Casey. Yup she's carrying.

There was a crowd blocking the entrance to the narrow hallway, two doors adjacent to each other led to bathrooms, and women were taking turns using one. Well, I don't see her. I can't believe she just left like that. Well she was a little sweaty, maybe she stepped out for some air. Yeah, she's probably petting Devi. That's it. "Why isn't anyone using the other bathroom?" She twisted through the crowd and pushed the last door open with her shoulder. "Hey don't go in ther..." Too late she heard the warning and slammed into a bent over figure by the sink. Quick arms pushed her further into the tiny tiled room lips claiming her mouth hungrily, an unfamiliar bitter taste numbing her briskly then dissipating. There was no feel of velvet she had caught sight of the shirt hanging off the back of the toilet. The compact body that held her firm, wore a short sleeved shirt, she could feel the skin of the woman's arms around her midsection, knew who it was, the smell of leather and velvet heavy. Her hands lifted to strong shoulders, thick leather straps gracing each, she traced one down towards a ribcage, where a bulk of leather and metal told her what she was feeling, and her eyes popped open. "Humphy hipt!"

Magali pulled away from her at the strange sound made by the strawberry blonde, and took the opportunity to deposit the small bottle back into her pocket. She leaned back onto the sink, ran a hand over the surface, white specks fell unseen to the floor. "What", she asked deadpan, one dark eyebrow raised. Casey's jaw hung speechless, she pointed at the gun holster strapped to Magali's torso. "I'm sorry...I just had to...kiss you", she said stepping closer, her body looming over the gaping woman, mesmerized by the color of her eyes. Casey forgot the weapon, forgot the bathroom, the bar, aware only of this dangerous intoxicating creature that was demanding her, and damning her all at once.

A heavy pounding came at the door, slowing the increasingly aggressive movements held back for too long. Why does it feel like I've needed this forever. Shit, I just met this girl. What are you doing to me Casey? A familiar voice shouted through the doorframe, "Hey Dawn told me to tell you to get your butts out of there." Raven hair appeared abruptly, frightening the unsuspecting woman glued to Jesse's side. A threatening voice growled, "Why are you here Jesse?" Brown eyes averted the angered woman, "I drew the shortest straw...Dawn says you're starting a line out here, and people are doing the 'I got to pee' dance all over the bar." The sheepish look on her cousin's face made her laugh, and she pulled a reluctant Casey out from behind the door. "Casey? It was Casey in there with you Zee?" Magali put her arms around the smaller woman, clasping her hands over a ringed navel, pleasantly shocked. "You got a problem with that Jesse?" A tight knot formed in Jesse's chest, "no Zee, no problem." Fuck Zee, she's new at all this, you're gonna fuck her up man, but Jesse couldn't bring herself to say so, the gleam in her cousin's eye forestalling the speech. I know what you're thinking Jesse, and you're probably right. But....

At the counter they sat close with the smaller woman at full speed, one bronze arm draped over the back of a high chair, Magali yawned and looked at her watch. "I thought you were used to being out late. Am I boring you?" Another yawn, "you have no idea, and hell no you're not boring me" Casey looked around the bar, tilting her chin up, "so what's with the yawning?" Magali let her head fall, "forty-one hours that's what." Casey knit her brows, mustering her no nonsense glare she used with unruly patients. "Forty-one hours of what?" Magali shrugged, "I haven't slept in forty-one hours." The slim figure jumped off her chair, and pointed a finger at Magali's chest. "You haven't slept in what?! Come on, you're going home and I'm driving!" Indignant, and not sure why, Magali let the small woman pull her off her stool, and drag her towards the exit. I must really be out of it. I'll never hear the end of this.

Jesse had decided to stay behind with the inebriated brunette sporting a mischievous grin on her face. Devi nestled into a warm corner of the backseat with a towel Magali laid out for her. She had had to adjust the drivers seat various times before she was able to drive the jeep, a hesitant Magali handing over the keys. "Not many people get to drive this you know." Casey stuck her tongue out the side of her mouth and gently bit it while turning the key. "Well, I guess I just keep owing you more and more tonight huh...put it on my tab."

Sometimes I know that it's never enough
Survival is fine but satisfaction is rough
I try with an angel tonight
Spread these wings and I'm off for a ride
Cruise these streets where my innocence hides
There's some things you just can't deny
What is it about this human condition
I need some kind of promise
Some kind of submission tonight
Ain't it heavy
Ain't the night heavy

Magali was half-asleep by the time they reached Fort Washington Ave, she had managed to direct Casey there through half opened eyes. She had kept her sight on the road, determined to keep her range of vision from falling on the leather clad legs spread out beside her. And what exactly do I plan to do once I get her home? "Here, just pull into to that garage", a sleepy voice instructed. A barn red door clanged opened at the touch of a button on the dashboard, it opened up to a wide declining ramp, leading underground beneath a glass and chrome high rise. Trees on either side of the door hid its presence in the dark.

Silently the trio trudged through the dark garage, coming to a brightly lit, wood and gold elevator. Magali pressed the button for the tenth floor, and leaned against the elevator door, her eyes closed. "I hadn't realized how tired I was until I got in the Jeep." Casey pressed into a corner, unsure of what was expected. "Thanks for bringing me home, I would have gotten into a wreck, again." Again? How many times does she do this? A dull beeping sounded, and Magali clipped the phone off her waist and put it slowly to her ear. "Yeah...I'm going home pop...no I haven't...sure...I'll do it in the morning." Just as easily she clipped the phone back to her waist and stretched. Casey followed her down an immaculate dim hallway, wooden doors and gold numbers. A strong twist of a key and Devi was running inside, disappearing into a blue kennel at the end of the long hallway.

A few steps to the right a short case of steps led down into a dark living room, Casey could just make out the bookshelves along the walls and the lit computer. Magali paused and genuflected in front of a small altar at eye level. The small wooden shelf displayed two small white candles Magali lit. At it's center a small statue, decked with a gold crown and diamond studded halo, a yellow robe around it's shoulders, a boat holding smaller figures of three men at the virgins feet, dominated the altar. "Who's that?" Magali blew out the match in her hand, and placed it in a small glass near the candles. "Patron Saint of Cuba", then padded off down the hallway, popping her back as she did.

Casey wandered around the living room after finding the light switch, slowly reading the title and authors of the books, letting them sink in. The Art of War, Nietzche, Mao tse Tung, Metamorphosis, For Whom the Bell tolls, One Hundred Years of Solitude, The Autobiography of Malcolm X? Oh boy. She pressed the power button on the stereo, the volume surprisingly low, a CD began to spin, and a piano sonata played. Beethoven? Magali watched her at the rooms entrance, phone against her ear. "Eddie...I know it's late, what the fuck all you do is sleep man!...Come see me in the morning...no...no later than ten...I know that's only five hours away! Just do it." She threw the phone on the couch in disgust. "Quite a collection you have here Zee." Magali crept up closer, peering at the books as if seeing them for the first time. "I read a lot." Casey felt her breath against her neck, "uhm, you have a cab service I can call Zee", the soft touch fell back at the question. "You can stay here if you want...I won't touch you...promise." You deserve better. "Maybe you're right, it's late, and I...hate cabbies." Magali chuckled lowly, ambling off towards her bedroom.

It had been quiet for far too long, and Casey tiptoed down the hallway in search of the black velvet. Sheer curtains allowed light to filter into the room and fall on a four posted bed. Inquisitively Casey approached the curtains before a glass panel stretched ceiling to floor. It's a door. She pushed the material aside, revealing a white marbled balcony. She stepped through, a cool wind hitting her and blowing her hair back. She looked over the waters of the Hudson River, black sheer cliffs across its expanse, another world. She heard the shifting of silk, and turned to see the prize the exposed opening had lit. Sprawled on her stomach, arms and legs spread and bare, essentials covered with a thin fan of white silk laid Magali. Dark lines worked their way from the base of her spine to end between muscled shoulders. She crossed the hardwood floor to inspect the intriguing design, not one creak but stumbling over an empty discarded holster she flinched. There, delicate and intricate was a duplicate of the virgin on the altar. A ribbon underneath her displaying unfamiliar words, 'Perdona Me', she tried to pronounce them. A subdued tone held her at bay, "pair-doe-nah meh." Magali shifted, her hair falling to the side of her head, dark against the silk sheets. "What's it mean?" She nestled her head into the pillow, answering lower than before. "Forgive me." Casey straightened, God. "Uhm, do you have an extra blanket I could use?" They were both whispering without any apparent reason. Magali curled into herself, wrapping more of the sheet around her torso. "You don't want to sleep on that couch, it'll fuck your back up. Too soft. Just sleep here." She patted the empty space beside her, and fell soundly asleep one hand under her pillow. Casey looked on at the steady breathing, the dark against the light, the tattoo that said more than just two words. She stripped off her jeans and T-shirt, pulled on the flannel she had worn on her waist, and buttoned it up. Carefully, she took up the space Magali had indicated. It wasn't long before she felt Magali stir, one arm landing firmly across her midsection, the contact causing her heart to hammer wildly against her chest. Leather and velvet, lulled her to sleep.

"Caaaseeey wake uuup. Casey. Casey!!" Rubbing her eyes, and stretching languidly over the satin sheet, Casey yawned, shaking the sleepiness from her body. That voice...it's familiar but it's not..."Jesse? What are you doing here?" Her spiked black hair and big brown eyes made Jesse look cartoonish from the position Casey saw her in, but the expression she wore was anything but comedic. "Man I'am so sorry Casey, I should have never let you leave with her...I don't know what I was doing...shit, shit..." Casey inhaled slowly, "shut up." Spiky locks fell on the pillow next to her, "I knew she was going to do something stupid one day, worse than ever, and now you're caught up in it, man I am so sorry..." Casey exhaled,"Shut up Jesse! What the hell are you talking about!" She paused her next round of apologies to peer quizzically at the strawberry blonde in the flannel shirt.

"She's gone Casey, she called me at around 9:30, said she would be taking off for awhile, and I should come get you out of bed and lock the apartment up." What the, we didn't even sleep together, well not technically anyway. "Jesse this isn't what you think. She never touched me, I just slept here", she explained waving a hand over the bed. "You mean you slept In Magali Guerrero's bed, and woke up unscathed?" Casey nodded agreement. "That's one for the record books kid...I can't..." Casey slammed herself against Jesse, knocking the words quite literally out of her mouth. "Now, what do you mean she's gone?" Jesse had been laughing until then, abruptly her eyes saddened taking on the emotion they had displayed earlier. "Here, maybe this will help you understand."

A folded newspaper laid at the foot of the bed, and Jesse gently picked it up and handed it to over to Casey. The headline was simple, NYC COP FOUND DEAD, INVESTIGATION UNDERWAY. She managed to read half of the article before feeling completely sick, it told about the condition of the body, how it had been shot close range with an alleged .45 caliber, and how dental records identified the man as Detective Mark Ryan. An investigation was underway, including a manhunt for a well-known offender who had been at a bar Ryan visited the night before the murder. "That's the death penalty right there Casey."

Part 3


Splashes of green, yellow, shades of orange and red blurred down slashing hills, mountain peaks dark in the distance beckoned. The dark grey overhead announced to the morning a fitful day brewing in the skies, it mirrored the storm broiling beneath ice blue eyes. Don't let me feel Holy Virgin, not now, not when it will hurt so badly.

The phone ringing had woken her, a hysterical Eddie shouting through the mouthpiece about some newspaper article on the front page of the Daily News. "You got to get out Zee! They're gonna come for you...you've got a few hours before they find your place man, and you know how they get when it's one of their own. Man they'll kill you before you get to the precinct...no one is gonna believe you didn't fight them Zee. Please Zee...please."

"Eddie...take care of everything while I'm gone, you fail, I fail. Got it?"

She had slammed the phone down, remembering afterwards that an angel slept near her peacefully. Better not wake her, she won't handle this well I just know it. Fuck.

Her subscription to the newspaper waited at the foot of the apartment door, folded and bound by a rubber band. She opened it walking to the kitchen, naked and cold, she greeted the bottle of Glenlivet. There it was in black and white, her death sentence, permission granted for every police officer in the city to shoot first and ask questions later as sanctioned by the media. The golden liquor poured a stream of fire down her throat and into her guts, numbness waited at the boundaries. Taking soft steps, the feel of polished wood under her feet, the soft light of early morning in New England, setting a quiet scene in her bedroom, she crept closer to the posted bed.

Golden hair spread over a white pillow, the satin sheets around the woman reminiscent of wings, a chill ran down Magali's spine. I have seen you like this before Casey, in my dreams, countless images of you...my respite from the dark. Lightly reaching out she stroked a few strands away from the woman's face, she stirred, warm fingers held onto her hand and placed it onto a sleeping chest. It ends here, before beginning, before I can hurt you. Magali tore her hand away, the chill of the absence painful and searing.

Recoiling from the bed, averting the angel sleeping there, Magali turned away. Hurriedly she set about packing some clothes for an extended trip, nothing fancy, just warm and comfortable. They will find me eventually, and when they do...She fastened the shoulder holster, dropped the heavy gun into its sheath, and pulled a blue parka over her tall frame. Shoulders straightened she took one last look at the vision gracing her sheets, I didn't do it Casey, I hope you believe that. Leashing Devi, she crossed herself and closed the apartment door. Please God, don't let her care about me. I won't survive the hurt in those eyes.

Magali turned on the volume of the sound system to deafening, Devi stuck her head out the window tasting the mountain air as it pushed her ears back. The black Jeep raced the curves of the Palisades Parkway, winding through hills, and running alongside the Hudson River headed north. One single shining tear rebelliously ran down a bronze cheek, down a neck and into the collar of a dark green knit sweater.

Doesn't mean much

Doesn't mean anything at all

The life I've left behind me is a cruel world

Across the last line, from where I can't return

Where every step I took in faith, betrayed me

"She didn't do this Jesse, I know she didn't."

"Don't fool yourself Casey, Zee is capable of more than you know."

She was flustered, rearranging her clothes, pulling articles on in the frozen absence of Magali. "I don't feel her that way, it's not her. Maybe life made her a monster, but she's not...I can feel it." She wanted to cry, lash out at someone, anyone. Her hands touched the cool sheets as she bent to look for her jeans under the bed. Arms that had held her in the early hours, strong and gentle, burning traces of them still on her skin. "Where did she go Jesse? You have to know, tell me," she pleaded kneeling on the floor.

Jesse fought with her hair, more to keep her from answering the frustrated woman than for her own appearance. "I don't know Casey. Jesus get a grip, you've known her for all of two days? Spent what, maybe 20 hours with her in total?"

"you don't understand Jesse, I've never felt the way I do around her. I just need a chance, just one chance to know. Is it real?"

The darker woman sat on the edge of the bed, contemplating her hands. God, she cares for her, I don't think anyone ever has. But she's dead...there's no turning from this. If it were me, would I want to know, before it gets away from me completely? Better to have it once than never I guess. "Guillermo." The blonde stood before her tucking the flannel shirt into her jeans. "What did you say?"

"Guillermo, her father. He would know. He owns a chain of restaurants, La Copa, he spends his mornings at one of them in mid-town." The change in Casey's face was nearly magical. Hope. "We have to go see him Jesse."

La Copa was a typical New York Spanish restaurant. Red tablecloths, covered in clear plastic, and small paper maps of Cuba as place mats graced the small square tables. A crowd of regulars sat on stools arranged by a long counter, they laughed loudly as they flirted with the snug clad waitress serving coffee. A small altar over the entrance displayed the patron saint, flowers and candles surrounding her. Behind the counter a set up of tin pans holding various meals steamed, filling the air with the spiced scent of Hispanic food. Guillermo, his dark suit impeccable, greying hair slicked back, sat at a back table. He held the paper in front of his plate of eggs and blood sausage, reading the article on the cover he sucked on his teeth. Sloppy, very sloppy.

The chimes over the door rang, and Guillermo looked up to see his niece step through the door followed by a pretty, smaller woman. Taking a sip of his Café con leche he waved her over. "Jesse! How nice to see you this morning, you haven't stopped by here in oh...I don't know, since Magali was doing time right?" He said it so casually that Casey nearly forgot who he was talking about. This is her father? Magali huh. "Sit down, sit down. Introduce me to your friend." Jesse sat across from him, and pulled out a chair for Casey to sit by her. "You want breakfast girls?...Oye Susana! Traime dos desayunos mas! Apurate chica!"

Jesse smiled, following protocol she would not turn her uncle down, however her stomach turned at the sight of him. He was untouchable, hiding behind a façade of legitimacy, using his daughter to do all the dirty work, and counting on her silence to keep him a free man while she paid for everything. "Thank you tio, I appreciate it. This is Casey, she's my partner on the job, and a friend." He stuck out a hand for Casey to take, and shook it firmly. "Nice to meet you Casey. Welcome to La Copa, you stop by whenever you want alright?" Casey grinned, taking the cue from Jesse that being polite was extremely important.

He looked back and forth between the two women, knowing petitioners like he knew a good cup of coffee. "So, what can I do for you Jesse?"

Susana came over balancing two hot plates of eggs, sausage and toast. Then brushing back her bleached blonde hair rushed away. "Te triago el café ahora." They sat in silence, waiting for the promised cups of café con leche. When she was gone, the conversation resumed, at a lower pitch. "I need to find Magali tio." He took a bite of his eggs, and lit a cigar, looking suspiciously at Casey. "And what makes you think I know where she is," he asked blowing musky smoke over the table. "Tio, Casey is her friend...you know...and I know that Magali is going back. Let her be happy for just a few days." A look of understanding crossed his wrinkled features. "So, you're fucking my kid huh?" He shrugged, "she'll get plenty of pussy inside Jesse, she always does." He laughed, choking on some of the smoke he covered his mouth and turned his head away, a smile prominent on his face.

Casey could feel the blood rushing to her head, his words scratching her raw. He doesn't even care that's she's being hunted like an animal. "No tio, you don't understand. Magali, she...it's not like that tio." He raised an eyebrow, a direct link with his formidable daughter. "No eh? What's so different now Jesse?" She had been trying to avoid stating the obvious, especially in front of Casey who was looking more distraught then before. "Magali won't make it to prison this time tio, you know that. If she's lucky enough to get caught and live...what do you think is going to happen inside, with the guards? Even then...God tio, it's the death penalty now, not time, no more time." Casey leaned closer to the aging man, whispering a plea into his eyes. "Please, I care for your daughter very much. Don't let her die thinking she was alone."

Guillermo looked into his coffee for a long time, almost approaching some kind of sympathy. "I know...she's as dead now as ever." The image did not last, and as he took another pull from his cigar he motioned Susana back over. "Traime un papel, y una pluma anda." The waitress searched the counter for a pen and scurried over, depositing the pen and paper on the table and returning to the counter all in silence. Guillermo wrote on the scrap, covered it with his palm and pushed it across the table into Jesse's hand. Looking at Casey briefly he picked up his newspaper, and opening it he hid behind the spread of articles. "Go...and give her a good fuck." Meeting over.

They didn't bother to finish the food, instead they thanked him quietly and left the restaurant. Casey's legs shook beneath her as she walked. Until she had heard Jesse's heart wrenching speech she had not thought of the full implications of the situation or the article. No wonder she left, she knows all of that...everything that's going to happen. She's not trying to get away. God, she's just giving herself time.

Casey stuck her hands in the pockets of her jeans, fighting off the cold from inside as much as outside. Her hand gripped at a foreign object, a crumpled paper that was not there before. She pulled it out and smoothed it over. There in neat handwriting she recognized the signed letter Z. Casey, I'm sorry you had to wake up in the middle of this. I have to go, but I'll be thinking about you. Follow Jesse's advice and stay away, I know she's told you as much. There's nothing but trouble for you here, it's not worth the lay. Hey practice your pool, your angles are off. Zee "Jesse? How far away is she?"

Two more days Casey, just two more and you can go. Dark emerald eyes contemplated the cracks in a white ceiling, making shapes out of the lines and chips of falling paint. Laid out on the pillow by her head a black velvet shirt stained the blue cotton sheets of her bed. A television sitting on a crate towards the end of the futon murmured the evening news, a few cartons of open Chinese food rested on it's top. Books and papers were spread around her, anatomy charts and statistics. Her back ached from reading hunched over her texts, mid-terms were a bitch. Try as she might she was unable to focus, intent on wondering what her Black Velvet was doing. Have they found her? What if she's...

They had left the restaurant and gone their separate ways. Jesse went home to sleep and Casey to class. The small piece of paper with Guillermo's writing had displayed an email address and directions to some unnamed place. It had taken her four hours of waiting at the school library to get a chance at a computer, and another half of an hour to get an e-mail address of her own. Nights of checking her mailbox and finding it empty had worn on her, the weeks passed agonizingly slow. Then it had appeared amidst messages of porno sites and 'work from home' advertisements. "Come. I'll be waiting. Bring dog biscuits. Must be losing my mind, Zee." It took Jesse the calling in of a few favors from their supervisors to get her the few days of Thanksgiving vacation off, school would be out for the week, and she could not stop thanking her partner enough.

The phone rang a few times before she decided to answer, a scratchy voice jerking her away from her thoughts. "Casey baby, it's mom." Oh yeah, like I wouldn't know that voice. "Hi mom, how have you been?" A rough cough then, "same shit as always. Your sister got a new boy, Clifford got suspended from school, and they are about to turn my cable off! I need your help baby." When don't you? "What is it mom?" Another cough, "Russell landed his butt in jail and they won't let him go till I got some bail. Do you have any you can spare?" She rolled her eyes. Russell her oldest brother had a flair for getting into trouble at the wrong time, always when there was some other crises to deal with. "I swear these damn kids ain't the same since you left baby, they need you here to look after them."

"Mom, we've been over this before. There's no medical school near enough to you. Have you requested a shift in your schedule yet?"

"Hell, Martin won't change my shift to day time, says he needs me at the register at night. They're suppose to open a super-Walmart in Goshen, that's the rumor anyway. Maybe I can switch over then."

It was the same conversation every time she called, an argument for Casey to return home and help raise her younger siblings. I did that long enough. "What did he do? Ahhaa...Mom...mom...how much do you need?" Mentioning money always seemed to end the sales pitch. "A thousand ought to cover it baby." Damn, that'll wipe me out. Just enough gas money to... "Fine, I'll send it Western Union in the morning. I have to study mom, don't mean to cut you off...but..."

"That's your problem Casey, always thinking about yourself. That's why these damn kids are in trouble all the time now. I'll be waiting for that money, send it real early. I have to see the doctor about these chest pains in the mornin'. Night now baby...Hey you rotten little..." Click. "Good night mom."

She had bought the cabin two years after getting out of prison. It was a small cabin of logs, reminded her of the Abraham Lincoln story, and she had filed all the papers with her dead brothers name. The cabin was well hidden by surrounding trees at the end of a long dirt road, to its side a small lake with a new pier rippled calmly.

Incredible what money can do. It had one large room with a fireplace and shelves for books, old country furniture and a bear rug graced the floor. A small country kitchen in the back, and an old fashioned bathroom complete with a four-legged tub finished the first floor. Up top a loft provided space enough for a captains bed and not much else. She had added small luxuries to the place, a satellite hook up for the TV she never watched, a surround sound system and a hot tub in the back of the cabin with a small shack as a steam room.

Magali pulled on the mouth of the scotch bottle, wincing at the taste. Damn liquor store with no Glenlivet, have to settle for this blended crap. She sat back on the cushions of the multi-colored cloth sofa, legs spread open, a gun laying on her stomach. She regarded the stones that made up the fireplace, music playing softly in the background, she sang along with it. "The winter here's cold and bitter, it's chilled us to the bone...I haven't seen the sun for weeks, too long too far from home...I feel just like I'm sinking, and I claw for solid ground...I'm pulled down by the undertow, I never thought I could feel so low...and ohhh darkness I feel like letting go." Abruptly she flung the bottle into the firepit, the glass shattering and surprising Devi who ran up the stairs and into the loft. Fuck...you are pathetic Zee, you know that? Two more days, just two more...Why are you pulling her into this stupid...cause you fuck up everything you touch, don't you? But...Better clean up before she gets here. She tugged on the white T-shirt she had been wearing for three days, the green boxers hanging from her. Going into town for laundry was risky with two miles of open road where her Jeep could be spotted. They had to have radioed out my plate number by now...well, at least these troopers will actually try to catch me first.

She sat by the lake, feet dangling over the pier, the gun that never left her side poking out of the back of her jeans. Murky water coiled under her construction boots. She stuck her hands under her arms looking for warmth in the material of the thick, navy blue sweater she wore. Her Ray-Bans reflected the surrounding hills, and she bit down on her lower lip. Small sounds made her jump, her hearing concentrated on the gravel lining the road. Morning had drifted in like molasses, dark and brooding. A night of waiting making her restless. Devi ran the length of the pier, a long branch dangling from her mouth, she dropped it in front of her mistress who promptly picked it up and threw it. The dog ceased the chase, preferring instead to lay its wide head down on Magali's lap and stretch out. She rubbed her behind the ears, and looking over the mirrored expanse, waited.

Please let this piece of crap make it down this road, please, please. Casey had learned quickly the shape of the old white Chevrolets shocks, it bounced heavily on any dip or hole. The thruway up had been easy, with it's smooth asphalt and straight paths, but now this dirt road in the middle of no where was wrecking her neck. It was Jesse's car, and the woman had lamented its absence, but willingly let her borrow it. Now they were all involved, all at risk. Being caught with Magali brought charges with it, and using Jesse's car put all three women into a compromising position.

She caught sight of the tall dark form standing at the end of a pier, one hand in her pocket the other behind her back. A bright smile greeted her under whipping black hair, making her heart leap. There was something in Zee's step that made her different, a weariness not seen there previously. Black Velvet. She had barely stepped out of the car to stand, when authoritative arms caught her by the waist and surrounded her in an overwhelming embrace, a warm breath of seeming relief brushing the skin of her neck. "God am I glad to see you." Smooth Magali, real smooth.

"I never thought that road would end." Good come back there Casey.

Magali leaned into the backseat and pulled out a small duffle bag, in the same motion happily claimed the huge bag of dog biscuits laid out next to it. A bang and scratching on metal revealed the presence of Devi on the hood of the car, pushing her nose against the windshield. "Here girl, look what Casey got ya. But ya' can't have it all in one day Devi", she said ripping the bag open and tossing the dog a cookie and chuckling. It felt good to laugh. Casey saw herself in the lenses of the sunglasses Magali wore, and subconsciously she reached up and pulled them away from the weary face. Cerulean eyes bore into her, past Casey's reserves and she melted at the sorrow she saw dwelling in the blue depths. Magali caught the expression. Shit, she's gonna cry, I don't get it. I must look awful. "Come on, let me show you the cabin", she put her best smile forward and the smaller woman's features relaxed. That's it Casey, I've been through this before, let me carry the burden of this madness. Just your presence makes me feel safe, it's all I need, dear saint for you to shine in all this darkness.

The day subsided, letting in the night and covering the cabin in darkness. Magali piled a few logs in the fireplace and lit up the kindling with a long match. "It gets cold up here," she said rubbing her arms. Pouring two wineglasses halfway full with Chablis, she handed Casey one and sat down on the bear rug. Casey looked down at her from the sofa, cradling the glass in her hands. "I know...I grew up not too far from here...about forty minutes away in Walden." Magali arched an eyebrow at the mention of the small town. "And no we are not all related, that's just a nasty local rumor." It was a deep laugh, not loud nor outright, but one that grumbled deeply in a chest. She has the best laugh. Her dark hair fell over her shoulder, she leaned on an elbow, her legs crossed with bare feet tucked under her knees. "Tell me about what it was like to grow up there", she asked, expectation clear on her features.

It was like telling a child a story, and watching their reaction in their eyes and lips. Cerulean eyes widened when she told her about her siblings, and how they fought in the grass after dinner. "My dad left when I was young, he never let my mom finish school, cause...well...she had me. So she went to work at Walmart, at night, and..." She took care of her younger brothers and sister, everyday home from school, do chores, cook, yell, act like mom. Her grades had been good, schools had offered her scholarships, but she settled on a local state school in New Paltz.

By the time she had finished her Bachelors, her sister was in high school with a mind of her own, and so she had applied to Cornell in New York City. Silently Magali listened, nodding here and there, smiling at the funny parts, like when she was locked out of her room by an angry little sister the night before an exam. Or when her brother got drunk for the first time and threw up all over her bed in the middle of the night, and told her all about how he lost he virginity. "Like I really wanted to know, but boy was I pissed at him poor kid."

Magali heard a grumble of a hungry stomach, looked down at herself and then at the grinning woman on the sofa. "Forgot to eat." Eat, oh shit, food, when did I eat last? She's got to be starving. Magali rose from the rug evenly, talking over her shoulder. "I have something in here I'm sure", she said with a slight hesitation, opening the refrigerator. "Want a steak or something?" Please say steak, cause I can't make anything else.

"Uhmm, sure. Want me to do that?"

Magali pulled out the meat and slapped it onto a pan, "Nah, I got it." I'm gonna burn this, she thought poking at the steak with a fork. Affectionate fingers covered her own, and stole the fork away.

"Let me show you a trick...first you..."

Magali didn't hear a word the smaller woman spoke, idly she wandered back to the fire, content to have Casey do the cooking. Her mind drifted to the memory of a tall slender boy, cooking over a dirty white stovetop. "Magali man, you can't cook for shit. Let me do this and get out of the kitchen before ya set sompin on fire." Jorge had recently cut his hair, the bumps from the razor clear on his neck, he was proud. She had sold that nickle bag she found to a neighbor for an inflated price, and had bought two more bags to sell. It took a few weeks, but the word had spread and she was buying larger amounts in no time at all. Her beautiful brother, he could have been a girl, wore a baseball cap to hide his long tresses that fell in curls. People kept asking him what gender he was, and he had gotten into a few fights about it on the block. Magali usually showed up in time to have her knuckles bloodied, and receive a few bruises in turn.

"Magali! Did you get me my fuckin' Bacardi?" Her mother, shored up in her darkened bedroom tended to yell everything. Laura had been a painter, living off her husbands racketeering. Secure that nothing would happen, nothing would change, and she would raise her children and paint in comfort. She and Guillermo had met at the Paladium on a big band night, and he had swept her off her feet with his mysterious charm and allure. When Federal agents showed up at their house to drag him away, she had fought them. In the chaos, her hands were broken and she never picked up a brush again. She couldn't find work and their savings had dwindled, forcing the family into a poor section of the city. The children ate two meals at school, and she survived on beer. When the summer fell, and school was out, the two free meals disappeared along with the classes.

Magalis new found enterprise bought food, clothes, rum, and haircuts. No one in the house complained, no one questioned, no one judged her. She did what none of them had the spine to do. When she bought the gun and not one of the boys teased Jorge, and the women in the building stopped criticizing Laura, they made her a hero. To Jorge, she was his inspiration, his everything. She noticed the missing weed, the missing money, and all night binges too late. When she found his crack pipe and confronted him, he left the apartment and didn't return. Why do I need to think about this now, She asked herself, the clatter of plates reminding her she had company after a long span of solitude.

The fire on her warmed the fabric on her chest, settled a soft glow along her bronze features. Casey had finished preparing the steak, added a few thickly cut fries, and settled by the dark woman's side on the rug. Magali had absently picked at the meal, taking small bites and swallowing slowly, as if it hurt to eat.

Maybe I can get her to talk, just a little. "You don't like it?"

"Huh?" She shook her head, "no it's great. I'm just not that hungry."

"Oh. So what have you been doing up here", she asked through a yawn.

Magali put the plate down for Devi to finish, and gulped down the remains of her wineglass. "Here, I'll show you", she said grabbing a small container full of pebbles by the fireplace. She opened the lid, poured out some of the contents into her hand, then flung them into the fire. Angry sparks flew, dark and bright shades of purple and blue, red and green colored the flames. "Wow." Powerful arms drew Casey in to lean against a strong chest, wrapped in the safety of Magali's arms. She could feel the tautness of her belly against her back, her chin resting on her shoulder, the steady breathing of the dark woman comforting her. Casey let out a breath, and settled her hands to either side of her body, finding each had it's own thigh to rest on. The color in the flames, and the heat on her face caused her eyelids to grow heavy. "Thank you for being here", softly whispered in her ear was the last sound she heard as she drifted off to sleep.

This is one strange bed, Casey thought waking hours later. Green eyes fluttered open, small dying flames close by lit the sharp features of the woman she was laying on. Dark against the dark fur of the bear rug, her arms steadfast around Casey's waist she slumbered. Oh my God. I'm laying on top of the most dangerous woman in New York City, and she's asleep! I wonder... Gradually she tilted her head, her lips grazing the side of the sleeping woman's neck. Dark velvet moved slightly, a low humm issued from her chest. Trying a tender nip at the skin, the sound grew louder, breathed through slightly opened lips. Bronze arms tightened around her, and an easy sway underneath her granted permission to proceed. Magali's hand traced the middle of her back, fingers and palm slid under the hem of the purple turtleneck she wore, a touch of worship. The Saint sought the crimson lips that had burned her, hoping to feel the sensation anew, her hips taking on a life of their own.

The material that covered Casey's torso was being removed, fingertips shooting electric currents through her, the heat from the dying fire acute against her naked skin. She reached down and pulled at the heavy sweater her dark velvet wore, only to find she had been pushed onto her knees, and the sweater was being flung away. "Give yourself to me Casey." Hungry lips touched her creamy collarbone, traced a line down her chest to her belly, agile fingers working the latch on her back free. Black Velvet caressed her torso with the back of her hand, leaving fingers to deliberately unfasten the button of her jeans. The zipper lowered. "Yes." A greedy mouth licked at the edge of her triangle, Casey leaned on the bent over back running fingers through dark hair.

One powerful arm curled around her, maneuvering her onto her back, strong hands removing the last shreds of clothing safeguarding her body. She could feel the course hair of the rug beneath her. Warm lips engulfed her breast, licking at the pink nipple, a firm hand caressed the other, stark against her pale skin. Tenderly Magali pulled her Saint upright once more, then dragged her down to worship her from underneath. Legs tangled, slippery triangles connected, and a rhythm began. Saint over Black Velvet. Casey felt her grab on to her wrists, her arms pulled to cross behind her back, she was forced to arch, exposing her neck to Magali's tender bites. The position threw her off momentarily, the sensations running through her body stalling any movement, "don't stop", a husky voice pleaded. Black Velvet.

The rocking claimed her, utterly seduced by the dark woman she lay over. Muscles reacting of their own accord, hands ached to touch the moving figure that controlled her. Magali measured her breaths, tuned out the rest of world making it only the sacred creature sliding against her. Dear Saint. She released Casey's hands, and they found their way to her shoulders, agile hands pressing down on them. Magali pushed her arm onto the small woman's back, keeping a hand on her head she turned her body. Black Velvet over Saint. Casey gasped, the darker woman over her suddenly, pushing her full length into her, a sheen of sweat covering a bronze chest. Nails scraped at a tattooed back, the smaller woman clawed her arms, and she was nearly lifted by the sudden rise of wanting hips. Purposefully, but reluctantly Magali slowed her movements, and explored the arched neck with ravenous lips. Deliberately she ceased moving. Licking at Casey's lips, she touched them tentatively running the metal ball on her tongue tenderly teasing, announcing her intentions.

Tracing the metal down the center of her saint's body, biting the skin aggressively every few spaces, she held Casey's hands in her own. The holy protested, wordlessly urging Magali on. The feel of the woman's tresses brushing her pale skin adding to the yearning of what was to come. Magali craved her, could taste her before her lips touched, claiming the woman fully with mouth and tongue. A moan tore itself from Casey's throat on the contact, a pressing tongue rubbing at her bud, something warm rubbing against the sensitive area over it, filling her with the sensation of two lovers while holding only one. One of her hands freed from the powerful grasp holding it and allowed her to tangle her fingers in dark hair, pulling Magali closer. A probing finger found her entrance, slowly entered, shooting heat up from in between her legs.

The hunger grew, leaving not a trace of Casey's being untouched, burning, needing. She couldn't slow her breathing, words were impossible to form, thought incoherent. Waves crashed against her, sent her reeling skyward, dropping, then her skin was covered by a new warmth. Her Black Velvet covered her. A slickness, not of her own, rubbed against her center, Magali's hands clutched her shoulders, teeth bore down on her neck. "Please...let me taste you," as if carried on a sun warmed breeze the words brushed by Magali's ear. The world turned, and Casey leaned down to kiss perspiring skin under her, to taste every inch of exposed flesh. Her hands roamed over moving subtle muscles, taking in every curve and dip of the primitive creature writhing under her. She followed a lean line down to a dark patch. Black Velvet. Caressing the dark arousal with lips, she let her tongue roam, teasing with slow motions.

Feeling strong thighs beneath her forearms start to shake and rise, she eased away. A deep-throated moan rang through the air, and Casey bit her lip forcing her to stay her own needs to taste more of the honey offered her. A bead of sweat trickled down between bronze heaving breasts golden in the firelight. Bearing down she kissed inner thighs, savoring the reactions. "Turn over for me." Magali complied, laying flat on her stomach, her head resting on her arms. Casey turned her attention to the back of Magali's legs, drawing lines along the muscled impressions she found with light fingers. Dark patterns drew her to the sinewy back splayed before her, tentative fingers exploring silky moisture. She licked at the lines, bit down on broad shoulders, the length of her body against the hard physique and soft skin. Magali twisted, unable to wait any longer, she met the lips that tortured her furiously. Bruising kisses hard but not painful expressed what was needed, and Casey returned to drinking her black velvet in.

Magali gripped the sides of her head, lifting herself off the ground. In one engulfing moment a raging inferno began and ripped through her, causing her to collapse and grab for the smaller woman. She pulled Casey up the length of her body, red petals tenderly tasting their way to starved lips. Damning both women to an ancient calling, a passionate kiss echoed through time.

The flames had died, glowing embers burned fitfully, small sparks struggling for survival. Two bodies lay content enmeshed in a lingering wave of heat, bronze tangled with cream. A dawning sun, red and angry found it's way out from behind a foreboding horizon. Black Velvet and Saint, the sinner and the sacred became one. Music that had played unheard in the background pierced the silence caressing the sleeping women.

I want to come over, to hell with the consequence

You told me you loved me

That's all I believe

I want to come over

It's a need I can't explain

I want to come over

To see you...to see you again

A white ashen log broke apart in the fireplace, the soft snap bringing Magali into sudden consciousness. The smooth handle of her gun rested in her palm, found in the wavering moments before sleep through years of habit. Golden hair covered her mid-section, a sleeping Casey curled by her side with one arm draped around her thigh. She took a deep breath, picturing in her mind the events of the evening. I shouldn't have done this...shit Zero, what the fuck were you thinking? She's put herself in danger and you let her. You can't give her anything, your time here is almost up...ah fuck listen to you. She probably just wanted a good fuck with some bad ass...right? Right. She lifted the woman away from her as gently as possible, Casey groaned and turned. Finding a throw she covered the sleeping woman, and padded off to the bathroom gun in hand.

It was cold on the floor without Magali, the fire at her feet dead. A compact body pushed at her back and twisted. It was warm and silky and it pressed a cold wet nose to her neck. "Devi!" She received a generous lick across her cheek, and wrapping her arms around the dog's neck she pulled Devi into the crook of her body. The animal's heat filtered through the throw and warmed her skin. "Now I know why she keeps you around", she said chuckling. Sounds of running water alerted Casey to Magali's whereabouts, and she unexpectedly felt the need for a bath.

Magali lay in the tub immersed in warm water, her head leaning against the end, hair slicked back. She had her eyes closed, but Casey could see the tension in the hand that hung over the side holding a gleaming handgun. One blue eye watched her approach, vigilante and welcoming. "Mind if I join you?"

She comes in here naked and asks me if I mind? "Sure, come on in the water's fine."

Casey slipped in carefully, the tub was big enough to accommodate both of them, and the feel of skin once more arousing.

"Do you always have that gun with you?"

Both blue eyes opened and gazed at her, "always." She doesn't belong here Zee, make her go home. "So what time are you leaving Casey?"

She swallowed the lump that had suddenly formed in her throat. "I wasn't planning on leaving today. Unless you want me to?" Deep down you knew this.

The darker woman sat up looking at her with cold eyes, "why'd you come Casey, you hardly know me? You don't want to know me."

Casey let water run through the fingers of her cupped hand, she lowered her head and whispered, "I've known you for a long time Zee, I just never knew your name."

Dark brows crossed, perplexed Magali began to ask for an explanation but was deterred by fingers pressed to her lips.

"Six months ago you helped me, and since then I've had this vision of you in my mind. I can't shake it, no matter what anyone says Zee."

Magali's blurred thoughts of a puzzle formed, and she began to fit them together. That first night I saw you with Jesse, I thought I knew you, I just couldn't place your face. You were the one...in the hallway with that asshole...

She had been in a foul mood, fighting with Eddie all day over miscounted money. Her father insisting that she had been growing soft, that his end was near and she would have to take complete control. It was her birthday, although no one knew it other than her father, and she had started drinking the minute she had woken up. Spending the day around piles of cocaine and weed smoking acquaintances she had had her fill of it all. Some idiot had pointed a gun at her, and she had to make an example of him without killing the poor son of a bitch in broad daylight on the sidewalk. When night fell, intoxicated and furious she had taken a trip down to 14th Street, to a bi-leveled club named the Clit Club.

A large room filled with artificial fog and blinking lights, another with just a bar and some benches gave the place a sense of normality. Through a door and down a series of steps was a labyrinth of hallways. "Hey Zee! You got any blow!" One line had bathrooms, others lead to a pool room where porn played on sets strategically placed on walls and in corners. The entire place lit by red bulbs, a sinister shade mixing with dark figures and the stench of alcohol.

It was filled with smoke, of all varieties and she found a few people she knew who were into the drug scene. She'd brought enough weed and coke to get a party of ten jumping, and she shared, in the mood to start a little havoc. There were more blondes than she could keep track of, but there had been one in particular who came into her view in brief glimpses. Red hair in the dim light above the bar, she sat with another woman, smiling and talking animatedly. Amid trips to the bathroom for a line or two of coke and the bar, she glanced at them dancing, leaning close, sharing a drink of white liquid.

Her heart was out of control, it pounded in her chest, sweat dripped down her back. She had stripped down to a tank top, exposing the shoulder holster and a fading bruise on her arm from her latest car accident. The leather pants she wore clung to her, showing off every movement she made. She had drank too much she knew, taking too many intoxicants for too many hours. She stood in line for the bathroom, her group of followers milling around, laughing and yelling, making a nuisance of themselves. The blonde brushed past her down to the end of the hallway, into a dark corner, her companion pulling her through the crowd.

Magali was shoved and shoved back, keeping her eyes on the occupied corner, knowing what usually happened there, she could not look away. The blonde was being kissed, pulled and groped. She's enjoying that? The blonde smiled pushing away from her aggressive companion, a stout hand raised and fell across her cheek snapping her head sideways. Abruptly the struggle began, movements ingrained into Magali's subconscious producing a taste of bile to rise to her mouth. "She said no, you dumb bitch!" By the time her disciples had noticed her absence on line, she was covered in red blood, staining her tank top and arms, she had not bothered to use the gun. She recalled little after that, only that she had been dragged away half unconscious from the drugs, alcohol, and adrenaline. That was Casey.

At first the attack had made her panic with its brutality. She couldn't muster the strength to scream as she watched the dark woman batter at her offender, it was reminiscent of vengeance. Through the gore and the blows the beauty before her shone through, whether it was the few drinks she had drunk or the fact that she realized she was being defended, or protected she did not know. That had never happened before. No one had ever stepped up to keep her safe, to defend her or protect her. It had always been her own role, in a small way towards her siblings. Yet here was this stranger, doing the unheard of in a town that did not recognize heroes. In that brief space of time something happened, a brief feeling of deja vu, it escaped with the crowd that pushed her away from the scene. "You didn't see shit you hear", a masculine woman yelled at her as she dragged the semi-lucid woman further towards the exit.

Casey witnessed the process of recollection on Magali's face, and she could swear the woman was flushed. "I was stoned."

Casey smiled, "I know. I watched you take trips to the bathroom all night long."

Magali leaned close, capturing her lips, eager to taste the woman all over again. Splash! Four legs and a tail trampled the women in the water, licking faces in a frenzy of wet fur and muscles. "Devi you little.." Magali's scolding of the rambunctious dog was interrupted by a flurry of licks and head butting. Casey couldn't control the fit of laughter at the sight of the animal rendering the woman helpless with its loving strength. Water rose over the brim of the tub and splashed out onto the floor in gushing waves, covering the tiles and running out the bathroom door. Then the attack was over, and Devi was running out shaking water off her body, a naked Magali running after her. "Come here you little bitch, I swear to God you better not be on the bed! Devviii!"

Left alone in the near empty tub Casey washed off under a clean stream of water. The sounds of running and jumping permeated the wooden walls and started her laughter anew. She dried off with a heavy black cotton towel she found draped over a bar near the door, mistakenly kicking something metallic that banged against the tub. Stooping to pick it up she froze when she realized what it was. The .45 had been discarded where Magali's hand had hung over the side. It was cold and heavy, and fully loaded. She watched the light of the sun streaming through the window reflect off it's surface, the mother of pearl in it's handle misty and luminescent. It was beautiful and cruel, and her pulse quickened with the feel of it.

"Hey Cas..." Magali froze at the sight, where her voice had been full of mirth, it went dead and icy. "Put that down Casey."

She saw it in her eyes, the questioning, the regret. "I...I just kicked it by mistake...I didn't think..." She offered the gun handle first, as she had seen done in the movies countless times. Deft fingers snatched at it, and Magali stomped away in the grey bathrobe she had thrown on. Her wet hair clinging to her face and neck, she wiped at the gun's surface with a corner of the robe. Casey followed her into the kitchen area, wrapping the towel around her, unsure of what to say or what she had done wrong.

"Hey, I'm sorry...I just picked it up, it wasn't...I mean I wasn't going to do anything with it. I was just lookin..."

The woman didn't look at her, she leaned over the sink, dark head bowed, gun resting under her hand. "Do you know what would happen if they found you here, found your prints on this?"

"I know I could be in trouble, but no one has charged you yet Zee, you're not exactly a fugitive, just a..."

"A suspect", she finished. "With my reputation who would beli...how do you know I didn't do it huh?"

"You didn't, did you." The statement was hopeful and hushed in small tones.

"No", she replied looking her in the eyes, her chin slightly lifted. She believes me?

Casey stepped closer, weary of the tension in the woman's face and shoulders, wrapped her arms around the waist of the taller figure. "Why are you up here Zee, hiding when you know you're innocent?"

"I'm my father's daughter Casey, with my record, my reputation, I don't stand a chance...I'm not sure I want one. I'm tired...I ruin people Casey...and...I'll ruin you too. You shouldn't be here." I can not believe I'm saying this, what is it with this woman that makes it so easy to talk to her?

"You can't ruin me Zee, we make our own decisions, and you are not what you seem to be. If you were, you wouldn't have come to my rescue that night at the club." She squeezed the waist, bronze arms circling her body.

"You don't know what I've done...things I can never change." Guilt, it hung heavy off her voice, soul felt and tumultuous.

"You don't like what you do, do you?" I know that look in your eyes Zee, like an animal trapped in a cage, but it can't leave because it thinks it won't survive outside it. I saw that look in my own face. There was silence, as if the words were cornered in fear, screaming to be brought to life. Casey broke the spell, the conversation had grown profound and Magali was unwilling to go any further.

"Do you still want me to go Zee?"

"I think...I need you to stay." Against my better judgement and every gut instinct I have.

There was nothing left in the refrigerator and Casey had remembered passing a Price Chopper on her way to the cabin. Magali had insisted she take the cellular, not trusting the capabilities of Jesse's old car to the desolate country roads, after Casey spent ten minutes convincing the woman to stay. It took her an hour to pile the cart up with things she thought Magali could cook on her own, and some things she would cook for her and leave frozen. Halfway back the phone rang once then subsided before it began to ring again, the code Magali had said she would use.


"Where are you?"

"Halfway there."

"Hurry up will ya."

The Chevy jumped its way down the driveway, jarring the groceries loose. From the top of the jeep a sleeping Devi opened her eyes and watched the car sputter off. The hood of the jeep was raised. Magali sat on the ground, her back against the low front of the vehicle, her jeans dusty, and her forearms stained with oil and grease. The denim shirt she wore, untucked, with sleeves rolled up, showed similar smudges. Her hands, just as grimy, cradled a plain covered book on her lap. "Need help", she asked under blue lenses.

"No I got it. What are you doing?"

"Changing the oil." She replied with a comical smirk.

"Nooo, I meant what are you reading?" She lifted a package laden with fruits and a head of lettuce poking out from the top.

"Uhmm..Rassalas." She replied looking at the cover.

"Oh, Samuel Johnson. I read that in school." She went inside the cabin, deposited the bag and went out for another.

"I never finished." Magali had her head stuck under the Jeep, fiddling with some bolt.

"The book? You must have failed that class." She chuckled returning to the cabin.

Magali watched her go back and forth, she traced the words on the books cover, the letter's in gold. "School Casey, I never finished."

"Ohh, well lot's of people drop out of college." Casey heard the low sound of her laugh, and after dropping the last bag on the kitchen counter, she walked out onto the small porch. "What's so funny", she asked hands in her jean pockets, Magali's parka hanging loosely over the plain T-shirt she wore.

"High School, I never finished High School!" Magali was rolling on the ground, an excited Devi jumping off the roof of the jeep and rolling with her mistress.

"You're both going to need another bath you know." She deadpanned and went back in.

Magali followed her advice and took another bath, then changed into a pair of black silk boxers and a hooded sweatshirt, with the words "Pot head" emblazoned over a flower-pot. Appropriately a small cigarette dangled from her lips, twisted end forming a small bud like shape. She lit the tip and leaned back, legs bent at the knees, on the cushioned sofa. The acrid sweet smell floated to the kitchen, where Casey was stirring and dumping ingredients into a bubbling stew. "What do you have over there Zee?"

She took another pull, specks of ashes falling onto her sweatshirt. "Weed, ya want some?"

"No thanks, I'll fall asleep." Into the boiling mixture went some cut carrots.

Magali shrugged, "it'll help me eat better."

Casey padded over and lightly nudged the broad shoulder. "Are you trying to say something about my cooking?"

"Huh? No, no. I just don't eat very much, and well...that's a hell of a smell you have brewing over there." The smaller woman sat at her feet, wiggled her way onto her lap, and laid her head on the hard surface of the woman's stomach. "How come you never finished?"

Magali was half way through the joint, and she coughed at the question. "I was busy...and I...spent some time in a place where there wasn't any school." Casey snuggled against her, feeling the warmth of the long legs around her. "You mean prison. Jesse told me." She put the joint out on an ashtray laying on the arm of the sofa, shooed a curious Devi away from it and exhaled. "She tell you why I was there too?" The warmth was putting Casey to sleep, doggedly she kept her eyes open.

Must have taken some of that smoke in without realizing it. "Yes."

Magali leaned over and planted a soft kiss on the golden head, breathing in the scent of the woman on her lap.

"I think dinner is ready, want some?" Casey's question was met with an enthusiastic nod of a dark head, and beaming blue eyes.

She's stoned! Must be air tight in here or she's easy. Magali thought as she fed Casey another spoonful of the thick stew, and received a spoonful herself. They ate out of one bowl, sitting across from each other on the bear rug, an anxious Devi close by. Magali had started another fire, and the memory of the previous night clutched at her chest. It had been spontaneous, lustful, an act of pure need, and it seemed wrong. Something was stirring in a small place, guarded with years of distance and doubt, a small light flickered in the wind. They finished the bowl, and Magali gave it over to Devi to clean. Casey laid in her lap, her eyes narrow, her breathing slowed. Magali watched, holding back the weight that threatened to drown her, wanting nothing more than to relish the moment. She can see right through me, past all of this, what I have been, what I could have been. But it's too late.

Spend all your time waiting, for that second chance

For a break that would make it okay

There's always some reason to feel not good enough

And it's hard at the end of the day

I need some distraction, beautiful release

Memories seep from my veins

It may be empty, weightless and maybe

I'll find some peace tonight

In the arms of an Angel

Fly away from here

Flannel sheets enveloped her, trapping the heat of her body in their folds but something was missing. Her clothes had been removed and she had been put into the captain's bed atop the loft. The soft glow from a scented candle threw shadows across the slanted ceiling, and a breeze from the open window waved the translucent curtains, a heavy scent of cinnamon in the air. A full moon shone through the window. Clear and close enough to touch in the northern sky. Does she ever sleep? Barefoot and in nothing but her T-shirt and string underwear, rubbing her eyes she wavered groggily to the window to look for the Jeep. The view through the pane was breath taking. A black midnight sky glowing in moonlight, reflected off the lake's water and covered the small expanse of firmament allowed by the surrounding hills. A long arm stretched out towards the water, a dark shadow sitting on the end of the pier barely moved, head stooped over an acoustic guitar dull in the night,

They were the sounds of raindrops being plucked from the air, the strong vibrations of a waterfall humming from Magali's fingers, quick and precise. Chords filled with the melancholy of the ages, the passion of a new lover, rang in dulcet tones on the precarious wind. Fire and ice resonated. Casey covered her mouth, unwilling to disturb the vulnerability she saw in the exposed figure sitting in the dark. She recognized the intonation of the tones, flamenco in its purest form, improvised from the heart, dictated by the soul. Tears burst forth silently from her eyes, ran down her cheeks and through the lines of her hand. Casey's lament for a wasted life interrupted by the crunch of gravel and two bright headlights coming slowly down the road.

Magali did not move, a gleam by her side disclosed the weapon she carried. The Sedan stopped near the pier, shining it's cruel light on Magali's form, the guitar hanging from one hand, the other pointing a gun at a slender male figure. Casey watched the scene unfold, contradictory to what she had been observing just a few minutes before. The man's features were hidden by his stance, a long trench coat covered his body mid way to his ankles, he held his arms outstretched. Magali laid the instrument down on the wood of the pier, searched the man with her free hand, gun close to his head. Casey couldn't make out the soundless words exchanged, the possibility of their meaning showing in the sudden slope of broad shoulders, and an understanding nod. Magali withdrew her weapon, and the man extended a hand in a shake, then walked back to the car. The headlights turned, illuminating the surrounding trees, and faded back down the road, a pair of colorless eyes tracking its departure.

Casey retreated back to the bed, curled up in a fetal position, a sleeping Devi protesting the movement. Her back facing the entrance to the room, she listened as Magali ascended the steps, removed her clothing and slipped in under the sheets bare skinned. "Everything alright Zee", she tempered the question.

"Yeah...you saw huh? Just a message from my lawyer." She patted her thigh.

Casey remained still. "What did they have to say?"

A long inhalation of breath. "I have to turn myself in for questioning, they're coming down hard on my fathers business. Time to distract their attention." She shrugged.

Casey turned over laying her head on a strong shoulder, an arm naturally embraced her. Fear gripping at her core, "when?"

"Two days...you'll have to leave before me, tomorrow. " A finality colored her words.

"Zee you can get out of this, I know you have to have a good lawyer...don't you?"

The timber of her voice vibrated against Casey's ear, shaking her with Magali's laugh. "You mean us Mafiosi huh?"

Casey slapped her midsection lightly, producing an "umph" out of the woman.

"Zee it's not funny", she said exasperated.

"If you don't laugh you cry." And her laughter continued.

"Ohh you..." Casey used her advantage to tickle the dark woman's side, taking the momentum to straddle the chuckling figure. "You can get out of this and then...you could stop...go back to school..." The blonde smiled in hopeful serenity.

Magali's expression changed, a frown shaped her lips, and she played with the navel ring dangling from Casey, eyes down cast. "You don't understand Casey...I can't stop."

Casey pushed down on her shoulders leaning close to Magali and planted a soft kiss on crimson lips. "Why not?"

"When I started this...I was young and stupid...all I wanted was to get my brother a fuckin' hair cut...then Efrain needed shoes, he was growing so damn fast...and I was sick of eating rice and eggs." Casey stuck out a tongue at the envisioned meal.

"And I thought tuna casserole was bad."

"Yeah well...there was this kid on the block, his brother got hit by a car and the clinic doctors said he would never walk again. But his mother thought if she got a second opinion, some therapy...maybe there was hope you know? So I put the kid to work with me...paid him as much as I could, and...there was always someone else. Someone who was hungry...or couldn't find a job, too proud to ask for help, or their damn case was taking to long and they were being evicted...it just grew. Pretty soon I had the whole damn neighborhood making money. Now those kids that came up with me...they have families...and nothing better to do."

Casey shifted, Magali was talking, as if she wasn't there, as if the words that had been trapped came tumbling forth into the light.

"Did you know that 75% of all hispanic students in New York City never make it to the twelfth grade? What do these people do in a business center like New York, clean offices? There are just sooo many spots available. It gets worse...remember that hurricane that hit Santo Domingo? We sent enough money out there to raise an entire town, get doctors in, medical supplies, build a school aannd a hospital. All that damn FEMA red tape, and people were being poisoned by drinking water. Then there's all that other money that filters down to Cuba, people there have a half a pound of rice for a five person family unit! And this fuckin' country has been boycotting medicine, for kids who are dying there." She continued to ramble, each sentence making her angrier and agitated, her voice rising slowly. "Let's not even talk about South America!"

Casey grew silent, reached inward and felt the weight of a world pressed on powerful, young shoulders. Abruptly Magali stopped, she could have been a politician speaking at the Democratic convention. "I'm sorry Casey...I didn't mean to load this off on you...I...but do you see? Why I can't stop? It's all very complicated."

The blond shuffled off her seat, sat cross-legged next to the long physique, golden in the candle light. "What about all those people who die from what you peddle?" She twiddled her fingers.

Fuck, here it comes. "No one holds a gun to their head Casey, no one forces them to get high, or play the numbers racket. It's no different than someone drinking themselves to death, or taking too many prescription drugs. Does anyone blame the liqour store owner, or the pharmacist? No, they pay taxes. They do it because they want to, they come to me, I don't go looking for them." Magali turned away, unable to face the judgement she knew would be mirrored in sea green eyes. I'm in bed with a revolutionary.

A gentle touch of lips on her bare back surprised her, the bolt of emotion overwhelming, shattered her last thread of reserve, and Magali broke. Fuck...not in front of her, not now...

"Zee?" Casey held the tense body, brushing her lips tenderly across warm golden skin. When her lips met Magali's she tasted the salt there in the drop of a tear.

Caresses quickened, roamed over soft skin bathed in the light of a flickering flame. Tears and sweat, shift of flannel and the sound of women's voices mingled in the dark. Bronze hands explored curves and channels, lips close by in pursuit. Gold and raven, sweet and bitter. No words exchanged, silent souls spoke through contact unbroken. Shaking and rising, holding on to the edges of a sheer cliff, both fell willingly. Ecstasy ripped through one, then the other, the world loomed overhead forboding, a promise to tear them apart. Legs tangled, hands clasped they rode the crest of the night, reveling in the moment that would soon be lost.

Part 4


The ride back set her nerves on end, the radio going back and forth from static to clear signal. She had avoided the blue eyes in the morning, intent on leaving with a different image of the dark woman alone. She kept the scent of her close by, a stolen sweater bathed in the scent of musk forever present on bronze skin, laid out on the passenger seat. A state trooper raced by her, and unwittingly she stared into the backseat, a lump in her throat. Zee said two days, that could mean tomorrow, or the day after or, what time was that guy over there? It would be all over the news within minutes, and Zee had asked her not to watch. "When you hear the story, turn the TV off okay? Don't look at the pictures in the paper, you won't like what you see." Over the Tappan Zee Bridge, and into the polluted Bronx she kept the lingering taste of a kiss on her lips, printed it to memory. She'll be acquitted, she has to be. Oh God let her be.

Casey stopped at a gas station, dialed a number she knew would be answered by a sleepy Jesse returning from work. "Hey, I'm back."

"Huh? What happened you're not suppose to be here yet." Jesse yawned into the phone.

"Yeah I know. She's turning herself in Jesse, I needed to be back before she is. She doesn't want me involved." There was a shuffling in the background, the sound of a television set coming to life. "I'll park the car for you down the street, and leave the keys in your mail box Jesse. I know you need your sleep." The phone clanged against the floor and Casey pulled her ear away, heard Jesse swear, scrambling for the phone.

"Hey, sorry about that, damn slippery phone. Uhmm, sure. Hey, why don't you meet me tomorrow at the park, we can talk then if you'd like?" A high pitched squeal came through the phone, and Casey smiled. "You have company huh? I'll see you tomorrow night then."

Her apartment was stuffy, the heat having finally been turned on, she flipped the switch to the TV. "Today in the news Spokesman Patrick Fairley of the Benevolent Police Association spoke in outrage at the delay of the Ryan investigation..." She flipped the channel, finding cartoons familiar to her childhood, and she sat on the edge of the bed, watching the screen in total abandon. Characters ran across cliffs, smashing into walls, and falling down holes to bounce back up unscathed. What am I going to do with all this time off? Magali's blue sweater lay over her duffel bag, gingerly she picked it up and pulled it over her. Maybe a walk will do me some good, Central Park isn't that far. It would be a welcome sight, the trees and open plains of grass in the middle of the concrete jungle. It was as close to Magali as she could get. The decision made, Casey picked up an old denim jacket and strolled out the door, down four flights of stairs, and into the cold November air.

"Shut up!" By the time she had evaluated what was going on she had been dragged into the backseat of a blue Capri. Two men, one at either side leered at her, the driver, a white faced stick of a man smiled.

"Good afternoon Ms.Bridges, I see you've returned in one piece from your little trip." His voice was low and gravelly, and brown square shades covered his eyes.

"Who are you?" She said unblinkingly.

""My name is Detective Webster, I've been assigned to the Ryan case. And I've been turning this fuckin' town upside down looking for Magali Guerrero, your darling Zero, fucking Zee whatever you people call her." There was a certain menace to his voice when he said her name.

Struggling against the hands that held her fast, she spoke through clenched teeth. "I don't know where she is, and besides you can stop looking. She'll be turning herself in."

"Oh we know." A bony hand, speckled with liver spots lifted a small tape recorder from the front seat. One finger coiled pressing down the play button, and two familiar voices broke through the tiny speaker. Shit, it's my phone call to Jesse. "You see, we can't allow her to turn herself in for questioning Ms. Bridges. It won't look...good. So...why don't you tell us where she's at, and when she's charged...I'll forget I ever heard this." He waggled the tape recorder just out of her reach.

"I want to see my lawyer." Webster smiled.

"Get rid of this little slut of Guerrero's," he growled.

Her neck cramped at the position of her head, hair being pulled back, gripped by a callous hand. She fell forward, tumbling out of the slowly moving car and onto the middle of the street. "Umph." The blue Capri sped away, leaving a trail of twisting papers in its wake. Amidst scattered shards of glass, Casey picked herself up rubbing her arm, squinted at the plate that moved quickly through traffic and disappeared. Her shoulder hurt from where she had fallen, and the grime of the street smudged darkly on an elbow. Of the people walking by, not a face turned her way, not a hand in help. Who would believe this? Shaken, she walked the few blocks back into her building, sullen. Slamming the door behind her she took trembling steps up four flights of stairs.

A blanket of darkness covered the city, millions of lights blinked like watching eyes across the water of the Hudson River. The panoramic view of the bridge and its back drop familiar to everyone in the world, the gateway to the city. Magali picked up the discarded cellular and dialed Eddies number, the words she would use, rehearsed for efficiency. "Yeah?" Eddie's best description was one of a person eternally tired, but it was a welcome sound. "Meet me at my place in ten minutes, and hurry, you know it won't take them long." She disconnected the call, pressed the phone into a side pocket of the laptop bag near her feet, and accelerated her speed. The clock was ticking away the second she paid the toll to cross the bridge. Devi sat quietly looking out the window, her sensitivity to tense moments such as these acute. The avenue was eerily silent, streetlights dim through trees growing from the asphalt cast figures on the sidewalk. Magali didn't bother to park the Jeep in the garage, better not to be trapped. Instead she double parked it in front of the building's entrance, picked up her bags and sprinted in, Devi at her heels.

She keyed the door to the apartment, hand behind her back, steady on the handle of the .45. A book fell and she almost shot off, peeling the gun from its sheath in one fluid motion. Devi cleared the door, jumping over strewn books and toppled shelves. The place was the victim of a tornado, furniture shredded and it's stuffing thrown about, the broken figure of the patron Saint propped against a corner. I figured they'd make a fuckin' mess. She went to her kitchen window, gave a whistle, a light turned on in a window across the alley. A shaven head poked out into the darkness, and Magali tossed the .45 to the open window. "Hold this for me would ya?" The hairless head nodded agreement. Leaving her bags on the floor, she took out a cigarette, and ran into her bedroom lighting it. Quickly she stripped off her clothes, and donned a pair of black jeans, a tight black mock neck, and her Harley boots. She threw her shoulder holster in the back of the closet, and pulled out a long black leather trench coat. This will keep some of the sticks away, or those stupid stun guns won't burn at least...shit.

In the bathroom she doused her face with cold water, and gazed for one long moment into her own eyes, seeing there the reflection of her brother's stare lying on the tar covered roof. Devi whined at her feet, pawed her boot. "We're almost done girl. Now lets beep Jesse huh, she'll take care of you." She dialed the numbers, an ache starting to build in the pit of her stomach as soon as she hung up. "She'll be here in a few Devi, let's go wait outside huh. Safer in public." On her way out she genuflected before the shattered statuette, brushed some of the dust from its face, and felt the void of the missing weapon stinging against her side.

The ambulance was warm and Jesse sipped at her coffee, cuddling the Styrofoam cup with both hands. Casey had been waiting at the park, shivering against the black gate nearest the street. She had spoken without taking a breath about her encounter with Webster the day prior, and Jesse drank it in without so much as a blink. "Shit, that's really fucked up Casey."

She opened her mouth to speak twice without producing any words. Then in one push let out her worse fear, "they're going to kill her aren't they Jesse?"

Jesse fixed her gaze on the street, jumping when a vibration at her waist and a call through the radio went off simultaneously. Casey stared at the blinking red light, her breath caught, just a test of the system, she let out a sigh of relief.

Storm clouds gathered angrily over head, a far off clap of thunder rolled over the rooftops. Frost formed from her breath, a smoky fog emanating from her lips. Magali shivered and hid her face in the collar of her trench coat, lit her second cigarette and held the smoke in before exhaling it into the blowing wind. She saw them from the corner of her eye, the ambulance slowly approached, the shadows moved. Fuck... too late Jesse. A dark silhouette rose from behind a low pickup across the street, everything slowed, her breathing a roar in her ears. The headlights came closer, two small specks in the distance. Another man walked down the street with long strides, his hands reaching behind his back. Damn, I just had to stick my hands in my pockets didn't I? The lights grew wider. She clenched her fists hidden in her trench, nails digging into the skin of her palms. Timor mortis conturbat me, the fear of death disturbs me. Her arms were numb, from her shoulders to her wrists, she knew but did not feel them stretch above her head. A simple sign of surrender. The bitter wind raged against her hands, a few drops christening them in the air. A brown mass leapt, a growl full of fury targeted the man walking towards her. "Devi no!"

Clack! Muscled haunches that had propelled the dog through the air curled at the impact of hot lead. Magali was flung backwards, a shock tearing through her chest, ripping through her. Warmth spilled, damp and thick, it ran a course down her abdomen, she planted her feet to the ground. Fuck. Haze covered her sight with a thin film, she could see the bounce of the red-brown head as Devi hit the ground in a heap. Clack! A force spun her, the ground came closer, her world became the searing heat near her temple, a creep of moisture down her neck.

The gunshots echoed, vibrating the air, shaking the night awake. Jesse saw the sparks, felt a chill run through her, hit the base of her spine and spread. Casey's shrill scream reverberated in the cab of the vehicle, and ended in a deep sob, "No." The heavens broke open releasing torrents onto the city streets. It spattered on cars, lashed at windows, driven by gusts in all directions. The rain drenched her through, golden locks sticking to her face as she ran. A river of blood and water stained the ground, filled the cracks and ran into the street, spilt red wine. Casey fell to her knees, lifting the dark head that hung limply, a stream of warmth running down her hands and onto her lap. Blood pooled under her and the black figure laying on the cold concrete. Blue eyes glared at the dark sky, trapped her in their gaze, a slight movement of paling lips. "Per...dona me." The howling wind drowned the words, carried them away with their owner. The ground under her swayed, a cold stillness engulfed her, black.

A primitive sound rolled from Casey's lips, guttural, and agonized she threw her grief to the heavens. She heard the tell tale sound of a handcuff, watched numbly as the police officer fastened one of Magali's wrists, and smiled at his partner. A dark hand pushed him away, "get away from her," Jesse yelled, her voice distant in Casey's hearing. Pounding steps came to a halt behind them, Eddie's breathing harsh and pronounced. "Shit, shit," he took in the scene, freezing rain dripping off his face, Magali's blood running past his feet. A brown huddled form caught his attention, a red stain darkening the fur of the shrunken animal a few feet away. "Devi."

Careful fingers prodded Casey's hands away from the sanguine head. Two fingers searched at a stained neck desperately, and waited an eternity "There's a pulse, weak, but it's there." Holy virgin let it be there.

Take off my shield

Carry my sword

I won't need it anymore

Find me a sky, and give me my wings

Frozen and broken but free

And tell them I'm alright, I'm coming home

Tell them I'm alright, I am alone

This war is over, I'm coming home

Take off my shame, bury it low

I won't need it any more

Find me the sun, and give me it whole

Melt all the chains in my soul

The commotion of the vehicle and the piercing scream woke Michael up. He held on to the sides of the gurney, expecting all hell to break loose, the absence of the sirens confused him. He rubbed his face and neck with chilled hands, the only problem with sleeping in the service area of the ambulance was its lack of warmth. He turned the metallic handle on the door, and stepped out into lashing rain. What he saw stopped him in his tracks. His partner for the night, and drinking buddy, was stooped over a black clad figure lying on the ground, searching for a pulse. Concrete stained crimson, an animal and a woman down, a handcuff hanging from a limp wrist completed the picture. What the hell? Kneeling in the bloody mess a slender red head he recognized held on to the body, a broad figure stood behind her. Two suited men, one with his hands on his thin hips, the other talking on a handheld radio, observed the scene at a short distance. Coming to his senses he pulled the double doors of the vehicle open, banging from the force. Single handedly, using the rush of the moment, he yanked at the gurney, its wheels hit the street. Rain soaked his light brown crewcut, darkening the blue jacket he wore, streaming down his pale face. His approach was noisy, but none of the participants moved, he understood once he got a good look at the injured woman's face.

"Christ Jesse, isn't that your..."

"Help me get her on the stretcher Mike!" Jesse pulled on the latches that brought the gurney down to ground level. Michael moved behind the red head, pushing her aside he locked his arms under Magali's shoulders. The wet white sheets turned colors, black in the street light, as they made their way back to the waiting ambulance. "Jesse you drive, I'll take care of her. Go!" She did as she was told, Casey close behind her, jumping into the cab of the vehicle. The panel separating the service area from the cab opened, and green eyes peeked through, he could hear the slow raspy breathing of the unconscious woman. He grabbed at the doors to shut them, a hand holding a badge interrupted, followed by a barked command. "I'm coming with you." Dark suit, short hair, and radio in hand, the man took the seat next to him.

"Fine, just stay out of my way," he barked back.

Michael did not waste time arguing, evaluated the extent of injuries and called them out to be radioed ahead. "Got a chest wound here! Head wound too, doesn't look like the skull was penetrated though! Blood pressure 105 over 70, and dropping. Pupils dilated." It hurt Casey to echo the conditions over the handset, her knuckles white around the small square. The sirens screamed through the night, cars pulled over, pedestrians bolted out of the way. "Losing a lot of blood. Test shows type B+!" Jesse sped into the enclosure of the emergency entrance, slamming down hard on the breaks. Two paramedics, a suit, and a drenched, shaking figure followed the gurney up the ramp, through the automatic doors, and into the waiting room. An oxygen mask covered Magali's face, scarlet sheets under her stuck to the mattress, tubes stuck out of her arm and tangled with the metal of the handcuffs. Jesse pushed through the doors, using the end of the gurney as a battering ram, and slid the whole monstrosity into a curtained slot. White uniformed bodies descended on the stretcher, pushing the entourage out of the way with machinery and tables of instruments, bags of blood, tubes and syringes. A security guard pushed them out into the waiting room, the ripping open of black material exposing a crimson torso Casey's last sight.

The room was stark white, immense, with twenty rows of multi-colored seats, neatly arranged. A wooden booth in a corner enclosed a public phone, the luminescent light cold on everything it touched. Nearly every seat occupied, Casey leaned against the wall, arms akimbo, gently rocking. A sick feeling of familiarity filled her, her mind focused on the bloody torso, the gleaming and stained handcuffs. Jesse raised herself on her toes to look through the glass pane of the double door, leaning from side to side to get a better view of what was happening. Michael, stripped off his jacket, and spoke quietly to the emergency services supervisor on the ramp, beyond Casey's hearing. A group of eight, blue uniforms strolled into the room, wide smiles gracing their faces, they shook hands with the suited detectives waiting by the phone. Casey glanced sideways at them, catching the sound of a familiar voice.

A hand in his pocket, the other holding a clear ziplock bag, Detective Webster smiled in her direction. A nickle-plated revolver, handle black and thick, rested in the bag, plain for everyone to see. He handed it off to the officers, each man taking a turn at inspecting the weapon, and shaking their heads. She recognized some of them from the bar she had visited with Jesse, the night Black Velvet had played on a jukebox. Jesse put her arms around Casey, pulling her into a fierce embrace. A burning in her depths cried out, and she hid her face in the taller woman's shoulder. "Would you look at that. When the hell did they find it?" Jesse's voice whispered in her ear.

Casey lifted her head, reluctantly looked once more at the cheery group of policemen. "You don't mean...Jesse that wasn't on her I would know," she said with a twinge of frustration.

A dark head nodded, "she hated revolvers, not enough bullets she always said." The whole statement was framed in the past tense, as if she had already accepted Magali's death.

Casey pulled away from her grasp, and stomped her way directly towards the laughing group. She stopped a few inches from Webster, her face tilted up to meet his stare. "Where'd you get that?" She pointed at the bag in his hands.

"Off your friend in there Ms. Bridges, where else." He turned away from her, a knowing smirk on his face. It took all of her strength not to hit him, instead she pulled him around to face her again.

"She didn't have that on her, there are witnesses who will swear to it." She punctuated her words, making each syllable carry meaning.

"It's your word against mine, little girl." She froze in place, leering at him as he walked away, a blue troop behind him.

One of the officers remained, standing guard, by the entryway to the emergency room, his hand leaning against the revolver on his hip. Jesse and Casey found a seat nearest the door, the officer looming over them. Someone outside screamed in announcement at Eddie's arrival, his yellow sweatshirt stained with blood, he barged into the waiting room. Restless eyes searched the room, he spotted the women entranced in thought. "Jesse, where is she, how she doin' ?" They looked up at him, two pairs of eyes betraying confusion. He caught the look, "it's not mine, its Devi's. I rushed her down to that animal hospital on York Avenue, they're taking care of her. It'll kill Zee if that dog dies." They gave him worried looks, and he gazed back bewildered. "Zee's gonna be alright...right?" He was begging, it was clear in his voice, the man could not imagine his friend succumbing to anything.

The night wore thin, a trail of doctors and nurses ran through the double doors in intervals, each catching expectant glances from Casey and Jesse. Eddie spent the hours going back and forth from the phone, calling the animal hospital for updates on Devi. The guard at the door changed twice, patients paced the waiting room, anxious to be attended. A tired, masked man walked in, green surgical suit hanging loosely off his frame, strands of blonde hair poked out from under his cap. He scanned the room, whispered to the policeman standing by the doors, and strolled over to where they sat. His square jaw set, he eyed Jesse with light blue eyes, and hesitated before speaking. "Are you a family member of Magali Guerrero?" The look about the man was somber, affecting Casey's heart rate, the pounding in her temple once dull, turned acute.

Jesse stood on uneasy legs, wiping her palms against her white uniform pants. "Yes, I am."

The doctor lowered his voice, "we should talk in private." Casey heard his words, and the thought of what he could say sent her reeling. Jesse's hand circled her wrist and pulled her close. "Come on Casey," she said softly. They followed the doctor into a side office, the door snapped shut, and he waved them towards a loveseat against the wall. He was young, it showed in his stance, the way he straddled the rolling chair, and placed himself before them. "She's out of surgery, and in Intensive Care. Her head injury is minor, just a graze, lucky woman, but she may be concussed." Casey held her breath, knowing the good news was always first, medical school basics. "Now the bullet that went through her chest," he pointed at his own chest, "just barely missed her heart, but it did make a small laceration in one of her major arteries...we've patched that up, but she's lost a lot of blood." He waited for their reaction, a question, some sort of clue as to how to proceed. Unsure and new at the whole ordeal, he thought carefully as to the words he would use, there was no easy way. "There was an exit wound in her back, X-rays show some damage to the lung, it will impede her breathing, but it will heal...if she can muster the energy...and I don't know if she can. It'll be one day at a time from here. Any questions?"

There were a thousand questions to ask, with as many answers. Some Casey suspected she did not want to know, her sentiments were echoed in Jesse's shoulders, the tension in her hands as she squeezed them into fists. She spoke for them both, a crumpled Casey by her side. "Can we see her?" He nodded quietly at her question.

A misty fog hung in the air, remnants of the cleansing rain made dirty puddles on the sidewalk. Eddie stopped abruptly halfway there, "I can't Jesse, I can't see her like that, I'm sorry." Silently he walked away in the opposite direction, his head bowed, his feet dragging. Jesse wrapped an arm around Casey's waist, the woman's features gone haggard. The Intensive Care Unit was in another building, a block away from the emergency room, in a separate pavilion. It took up half of the eleventh floor, a strategically placed waiting room with large sofas and plain long windows divided the dying from the sick. Small curtained cubicles lined the colossal room, a deathly stillness pervaded the atmosphere, disturbed only by the humms and beeps of machinery. The occasional nurse sped along the aisles, heeding to a call or warning from a life support system.

They found Magali easily, a uniformed officer at guard by the foot of her bed, he sat, holding a newspaper open on his lap. Casey choked back the anger broiling in her stomach, the officer stood at the tap on his shoulder from Jesse. "Mind if we have a minute here?" Jesse's voice betrayed her annoyance at his presence. The officer left, closing the curtains behind him, leaving a gap where he could easily watch the scenario unfold. Casey remained still by the left side of the bed, staring down at Magali's bound wrist. An IV tube snaked out of her arm and up above her shoulder, a shining ring of metal clamped on her wrist attached by a long chain to the banister of the bed. Clean white sheets covered her up to the collar, her head rested on its side, a thick white tube protruded from her mouth. Raven hair lay disheveled on a flat pillow, a white, red spotted bandage over her right eye, her skin pallid in the frosty light. Above her head a black screen showed her blood pressure, heart rate, and temperature in lime green lines, letters, and numbers. Hanging adjacent to the screen, a dark burgundy bag hung off a silver pole.

Casey covered her mouth with two hands, a few moments passed before she reached falteringly for the sleeping woman's face. Don't you dare leave Zee, don't you dare. Please fight, God...fight. I just found you...you can't leave yet. I need more time...more time...with you.

Jesse's face was stone, motion and expressionless. I knew it would come to this one day. You bitch, I saw how you were with this woman standing next to you now, dying along with you. I saw that old Magali flicker behind those eyes, and now...now you're going to up and go aren't you. Typical Zee, real typical.

A burly snort cut the deep stillness, the officer challenging their time. "Let's go out into the waiting area Jesse", she said with a glare, brushing by the policeman.

People waited around restlessly, lounging on chairs and stretched out on couches, some slept, waiting for the inevitable. An empty pair of armchairs by a window invited them to sit and bide the time with the others. An hour prior to the rising of the sun a small family was ushered into a small pink room off to the side, the door was closed behind them. Casey watched as they departed one by one from the room a few minutes later, tears in their eyes as they embraced and departed. I don't ever want to see the inside of that room, God please don't let me see the inside of that room. The seats left empty by the family, were soon filled by two men, dark in attire and arrogant in pose. They kept their eyes fixed on Casey. One sat upright, leaned over his knees, and nodded at her. Leisurely he wandered over to her, his hands in the pockets of his suit. "Ms. Bridges? May I have a minute with you?" Soundlessly she rose to her feet, followed the man into the side room now desolate, casting small glances at Jesse asleep in the chair.

It was a bare room, pink bare walls, a plain desk in a corner, scattered wooden chairs, no windows. He pointed to an empty seat across from him, and picking up his pants legs sat and waited for her. "Ms. Bridges I'd like to ask you a few questions, if that's alright?"

She peered at him suspiciously, expecting another Detective Webster. He was a tall man, long sandy hair tied back, and square masculine features. "Let me guess you're Detective..."

"No, no Detective, Ms. Bridges. I'm John Daly with the Department of Justice, judging by your attitude you've met Detective Webster." She nodded. "He's involved in the PD investigation of Officer Ryan's murder, and that's what I'm here about. Ms. Bridges...do you know where Magali Guerrero was that night?"

"She was with me."

He leaned closer to her, "during the hours of?"

A lump started in her throat, the possibility that she could provide an alibi raising her spirits. "From nine thirty at night until at least eight in the morning." She replied hopefully.

Daly pressed his back against the chair, his head tilted towards the ceiling. "Are you sure?"

"I fell asleep at seven that morning, I can swear to that at least." She stood and paced the room, brushing her hair back away from her face with a hand.

"Thank you Ms. Bridges, that's all I needed...I'd keep this conversation to myself if I were you, that's if you'd like to help your friend. You never saw me, this never happened, understand?"

She nodded, "but what..."

He put an index finger against his lips, pointed it at her, and closed the door behind him as he left. The scent of his after-shave lingered in the air.

Jesse woke to find herself alone, a stream of light illuminating the room, the thrumming of the heating system the only sound. She rolled her eyes thinking about the absurdity of such an expensive system that warmed very little of the atmosphere. It was quiet, most were asleep on mats laying on the floor, or on makeshift cots of lined up chairs. She sauntered out into the hallway, past the vending machines and the nurse's station. The police officer sitting by Magali's bed watched a small hand held TV, a wire ran to his ear. He paid her little attention as she pushed the curtain over and peered inside. Casey sat hunched over in a chair by the bed's side, her head resting on Magali's untethered hand held by both of her own, asleep.

She cleared her throat, and Casey stirred, looking up at the sleeping woman first before noticing Jesse. "How's she doing?" She said pointing towards Magali with her chin.

Casey shrugged, rubbed the back of her neck and yawned. "The same. Every once in awhile she mumbles something, I can't make it out, but she hasn't moved."

Jesse laid a hand on the blonde's shoulder, the stress of the night evident in the tautness she felt there. "It might be a long time before she wakes up Casey, you should go home and get some rest."

Casey shook her head, adjusted her seat. "No I won't rest at home Jesse, my mind will be here. I...just can't leave her like this. She looks so...vulnerable."

Jesse took a step away from her, "well, I have to go. Do you want me to bring you back anything later?"

"How about something to change into, I'd appreciate it. You know where I live", she asked handing her a key from her pants pocket. "Jesse?"


"Do you think she'll make it?"

One look into those green eyes and she couldn't bear to tell her what she really thought, she cast her own eyes to the ground, and took a shaky breath. "Maybe...it's that whole live by the sword, die by the sword thing Casey. I can't shake it...but, who knows. I hope she knows you're here, that might make a difference."

Casey looked at the sleeping figure, a restless nature even in oblivion. "I hope so too, I know I haven't been around very long, but something in her is just so...it's like she's a part of me...a part I didn't know was missing until I found her."

The brunette nodded, put the key in her pocket and padded off, taking one last look over her shoulder at the unlikely couple. The timeless vigilance.

Red bricks, turned brown with age, were outlined in grey and porous. Hundreds of dead sea-sponges stacked into a coral reef wall, rose straight out of the grey cement sidewalk. A jagged fang shaped part of a wall, once a piece of a post war tenement of New York gentry. It stood as a reminder of a time long past, a guardian of the garbage strewn lot behind it. Sand colored dust covered the rubble, cinder blocks, and pieces of discarded dry wall. It surrounded the monstrous pile of tires, car parts, old furniture, and a rusty refrigerator laying coffin like atop it all. At the foot of the broken wall, a pair of dark, defiant eyes stared from a faded photograph, surrounded by the colors of dying flowers and glass encased candles. A brown piece of cardboard to it's side read "in the memory of", with ink dripping letters that smudged the name below beyond recognition. A troop of small boys ran past, laughing in shrieks, coins in dusty hands, racing towards the ice cream truck rounding the corner, it's music floating around them.

She watched them as they ran over to her shouting all at once. Rummaging in her pocket for a few bills, she handed them out to the boys, a wild smile on all their faces. A familiar voice raised in anger started her heart pounding, the bag of groceries in her arms dropped carelessly to the ground. The roof, it's the roof, shit shit. The stairs became a blur, the blood rushing to her head dizzying. It's Jorge, that's his voice, shit and Efrain, shit.

The blinding light of the sun struck her across the face as she lunged unseeing over to the walking menace that was so close to her brother. She could smell the stench off his skin. As the ground rushed up to meet her, she pushed the bony body away, lifting her head to look into blue eyes so close to her own they might as well have been a reflection. The face melded, turned and disfigured, a new face took its place. Green eyes, who...No! Female and young, blondish red tresses fell over the tar, green sea eyes glazed over, they stared at nothing. Casey!!!!! Hands grappled at her, dragging her away from the scene, she struggled, tears stinging her eyes.

The fever had set in suddenly after two days of nothing. Casey fretted over the heated skin of the unconscious woman, who mumbled her name. The support system had been replaced with a thin oxygen tube connected to her nostrils, she had been able to breathe on her own although with difficulty. It was yet another complication, another set back, Magali had not so much as hinted to coming back. They were nightmares she could tell, a name whispered punctuated by low moans, crossed brows. They came and went, troubling the sleeper, then leaving her in peace for hours at a time. Casey argued with the police, every new guard objecting to the proximity she kept, but she refused to budge or to leave. Jesse brought her food during breaks, forced her to eat some of it, and then scolded her for abandoning her own health. She was beginning to wear down, to doubt, to fear, that she would know nothing more about her Black Velvet. The image of the lake, moonlight off of water, the sounds of a lonely guitar gripped her.

A burst of cold water hit Magali, before turning lukewarm, cold square tiles under her feet. She heard the voices around her, drowned but clear through the stream from the showerhead. There was a momentary bit of male laughter as her chest hit the wall in front of her, icy against her skin a faucet pressed against her side. Rough thick towels bound each of her wrists, spreading her arms apart, flat against the tiled walls. A hand grabbed a fistful of her hair, brought her head back and violently thrust it forward, the impact shook her senses. She kicked back and heard a curse that was angry and dark. A battering set upon her lower back, numerous fists of different sizes and strengths. She bit down as she felt fingers intrude, her arms pulling against her restraints with enough force to wrench one hand free. Pain seared down her knuckles and jolted up towards her elbow as she connected with something hard. The crack and muffled scream echoed in her head. A kick to her midsection sent her flying back towards the wall, the faucets punching into her ribs, agony piercing through her. She fell, felt herself being turned, saw the ceiling of the shower room double and move. Flesh covered her mouth and she bit down, another scream, then the metallic taste of warm blood on her lips. She floated, away from the scene, and watched at a distance as her own figure changed, a blonde now struggled against her captives. Casey. She ran towards them, an ache in her soul, something smooth and hard hit the back of her legs, and she fell to her knees. Two bodies dragged her down a grey hallway, naked and wet she shivered. Darkness surrounded her, she was flung onto a cot, a jumpsuit thrown at her, the door closed. A small square in the frame let in a spot of white light, she ran to the door, heart in her throat, a feral scream torn from her, it went unanswered. Casey!!!!!!

Magali's hand jerked, the banister of the bed shook from the sudden force, frightening Casey out of her slumber. God not another one. At least she's getting stronger. The current guard on duty shook his head, he'd been witness to a series of out bursts from the prisoner, and had begun to wonder whether if it was a façade. Jesse came strolling in, a brown paper bag in her hand. "She's having another nightmare?"

Casey nodded. "Yeah."

"Well, you better come out to the waiting room and eat this, or I'll be your...worst nightmare."

The room was surprisingly empty, and they found a spot to sit with at a short table easily. Jesse opened the bag and pulled out two sandwiches, she unwrapped one and pushed it into Casey's hand. "So Casey, do you need a ride tonight?" She said through mouthfuls.

She picked at a piece of lettuce sticking out from in between the slices of bread, and chewed on it tentatively "A ride for what?"

The darker woman choked, swallowing the contents hastily. "You've been here too long Casey. School remember...work, ring a bell? You go back tomorrow...you weren't planning on staying here, were you?"

Casey opened a can of a soda she retrieved from the brown bag, turned her head to face the window, and took a sip. "I hadn't thought about leaving, not until she at least wakes...just a little..."

"Look Casey, you need to do something other than sit around here and wait, for my very stubborn cousin, to decide she wants to come back from the dead." She stopped herself too late, observing the inkling of a grimace pass through the blonde's features.

"I'll go to class Jesse...tomorrow, and I'll see you at work tomorrow." But I'll be here every chance I get.

Jesse glanced at her wrist watch, "oh, have to go. Do you want that ride?" Sorry Casey, I'm so sorry. If I don't get you out of here...you won't go on.

The sky rumbled, a few early drops fell across her palms, the wind whipped across her face, sending a few black tendrils flying. Across the street a shadow moved, a flash lit the man's features, hawk like in the white light. Webster. Devi growled, and lunged at the man walking up at her side, he was just a few feet away, gun drawn. "Devi no!" A speck of light, the bullet's tracer in the dark, pierced through the air bound dog, and slammed into her chest. Pain, it all came down to the pain. The freezing rain poured over her, as another bolt hit, this time her temple. Her lungs released their air on impact with the ground. Magali felt her breathing strain, water in her eyes, filling her throat, and the snap of a handcuff cold against her skin. Numbness settled, a stormy sky overhead, and she glimpsed a pair of emerald eyes. They're blue, they're suppose to be blue. Her head was lifted up to a lap, words left her lips, green eyes, then nothing. Casey...have to get back to Casey.

Classes were boring, the cover of her textbook held more interest to her than what was being said. She kept wanting to press the eleventh floor button in the elevator, to step into a small cubicle, and touch the raven hair splayed on a stark white pillow. The train made her nauseous, the heating system in the car she rode had broken, and she could see her breath in the air. Two hours before work, I can just stop by for a little while, right? Casey turned the corner and walked past the emergency entrance. The pavilion stretched upwards, twenty stories high, its colonnade entrance enclosed by a two story glass window. Through it could be seen the lobby and the second floor cafeteria. Four news vans were parked outside, a group of journalists and cameras surrounded a conservative looking man, who stood on the steps attempting to quiet the crowd. "Ladies, gentlemen, if I could get a word in..." Casey recognized one of the accompanying men near the speaker. He wore dark shades, but his sandy hair gave him away. She meandered over to the swarm, curious as to what was happening. "This shooting was not, I repeat, was not connected to the Ryan case. It was an unfortunate situation...the victim's dog attacked a police officer and he shot it down. She was mistakenly hit, that's all." A whirlwind of questions rose, and Casey furtively walked away. John Daly, standing in the shadows, followed her with his sight.

Casey paced by the elevators, biting on one of her fingernails. The doors slid soundlessly open, a dark suited man, salt and pepper hair she recognized immediately, stopped in front of her. A tall dark skinned man stood behind him, his arms crossed over his broad chest, dark shades over his eyes. Guillermo grabbed her arm and pulled her to the side, guiding her through a pair of glass doors leading to an atrium. "I hear you have been sitting by her bedside, eh?" There was no one around save for them, but still the man whispered, while he walked deeper into the green space. The taller, dark man stayed by the doors, inspecting the glass. She could only nod her head in agreement, feeling through the grip at her arm the menacing presence the man naturally exuded. "I'm glad I bumped into you...Casey," he was guessing at the name, and smiled slightly at the nod from the small woman indicating he had been right. A simple wooden bench at the atriums center his intended goal, he sat on it's smooth surface, and patted the empty space next to him. Casey took the gesture as an invitation, although he could have simply been brushing off a leaf. He spoke as if speaking to the air, never really putting his eyes on her.

"I appreciate your attention in this little dilemma, and I owe you a debt of gratitude. It's not...safe for me to be here. You understand?"

"Why are you here then," she asked folding her arms over her chest.

"Aah, this stupid heart of mine," he replied pointing at his chest. "Doctor insists I see him once a month, if I don't he doesn't stop calling until I come in...Foolish, when it's your time, it's your time." Guillermo fixed Casey with a cold stare, searching her eyes for a reaction. "This may be Magali's time."

Casey looked away from him, focused on the fauna surrounding them and the gentle mist lingering around leafy stems.

"But," he continued, "if it isn't. Don't think you will change her. Love her as she is, or don't love her at all." Oh but I do, I love the Zee no one sees but me.

"I won't forget...you ever need anything just ask." Guillermo stood up, straightened his tie, and adjusted his jacket. "I'm glad she won't be alone." Without so much as a farewell he left, leaving her in the solitude of the enclosed garden.

Overworked nurses gave her mysterious glances as she walked past them through the curtained aisles. They covered their faces when they saw her looking with any handy chart or newspaper. A quiet murmur reached her as she stepped in front of Magali's cubicle, it chilled her veins when she recognized what was being uttered. Reluctantly she pulled back the curtain, her suspicions confirmed. A short, robust figure in a black robe stood over the unconscious Magali, a rosary dangling from his hand. A square piece of linen had been lain on her chest, a red cross embroidered at its center. The priest wore a white stole around his shoulders, symbols of peace and salvation etched across it. He whispered a small prayer, and touched the cross he held to Magali's lips. A small bottle in one hand tipped, oil shone on his fingers, and he made a cross on her forehead with it, touched it to her lips, then crossed himself. The bottle disappeared under his robe, then he picked up a small bible resting next to Magali. Deftly he opened the small brown book and read. "Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil..." Casey bowed her head, and offered up a silent prayer of her own. When the Psalm was finished, the priest put away his tools in a folding briefcase, touched Casey on the shoulder and quietly walked away.

Magali had not moved since she had last seen her, but the guard was gone, and only an inquisitive nurse poked her head through the curtain. Some color had returned to the dark woman's lips, her breathing less ragged than the previous day. Casey checked the once manacled wrist, a red abrasion marked either side. She touched the wounded woman's skin, it was feverish but not scalding as it had been. Magali released a soft moan, her brows crossed, her hand made a fist. They were signs she was familiar with after many nights of helplessly watching the woman battle unseen demons. Casey pried open the clenched fingers, and placed her hand on the warm palm, immediately her hand was closed upon. She stroked the errant strands of hair on the pillow, gently creeping closer to stroke the dark head. "Shhhh...shhh." What's going on in there?

A smoky diner off the interstate, where truckers and wayfarers frequented, cast a neon glow over the two-door Chevrolet. Guillermo sat behind the wheel, a tropical print shirt luminescent in the light. The layered fiery ember of his cigar orange in the dark, he grinned at the relaxed posture of his daughter leaning on the hood. She smoked a thin, delicate cigar, imported from Cuba illegally, one foot rested on the bumper.

A red Camaro pulled in, two young men in jeans and T-shirts sat in the front, singing the newest Guns and Roses song at the top of their lungs. They turned off the engine, cut the lights, and stepped out into the darkness of the lot behind the diner. The thinner of the two carried a briefcase in one hand, the other nervously tucked his hands into his pockets. Frail looking, but confident he marched towards Magali. The crook in the bridge of his nose dismissing his semblance of innocence.

Exhaling a cloud of musky smoke, Magali crushed the cigar with the heel of her boot. Her expression betrayed no emotion as she snatched the briefcase away from the young man, who was momentarily surprised at the speed of the motion.

"Hey! Money first", he exclaimed attempting to grab the brief back.

His head snapped back, and he nearly lost his balance, at the blow from an elbow hitting his mouth. His lips bled, a trickle of crimson ran down his chin.

"You make me wait, I make you bleed," she growled on her way back to the Chevy. In one smooth action she threw the brief into the backseat, grabbed a small duffle from the floor and glanced at Guillermo.

"Magali...is that the best you can do? Where's that infamous anger of yours, eh," he asked teasingly, knowing he was instigating a darker reaction.

She scowled, opened the glove compartment and retrieved a blue black gun hidden under a rumpled, folded map.

The boys stepped back at her approach, the lope in her stride foreshadowing an unhappy close to the deal. Faster than either of them could see, she raised the weapon, aimed at the tag-a-long and fired. He let out a scream as he fell to the ground, holding on to his shattered knee.

"Just a little reminder asshole...never be late again." With that she tossed the bag at the smaller man and strode away.

"Now that's my girl," he said pleased.

Slowly the Chevy pulled away, Magali rested her chin on her fist, watched the thinner man stoop to pick up his partner. She concentrated on the fallen man's features, long reddish hair, green eyes, a face stretched in agony. Casey, God no! She wrestled to open the door of the moving car, unseen hands held her back, the feel of cold tile against her skin. Laughter echoed off the chilled walls, she found herself naked and shivering. Her wrists bound by rough cloth, a stream of water hit her face, blinding and shifting the world around her. The restraint broke and she grabbed for.....


The pressure on Casey's hand increased, close to crushing, but too weak to go any further. Magali kicked at the covers. A sudden force pulled her downwards, shook her with its ferocity, a powerful hand clutched at the front of the sweater she wore, a low growl stopped her breath. Had Casey been sitting, she would have hit her head on the side of the bed. Distressed blue eyes opened inches from her own, feral and untamed.

"Zee...Zee it's me baby," her voice cracked. "It's okay, I have you. No one is going to hurt you Zee. It's me Casey...remember me?" God let her remember. A wild look of bewilderment settled into the blue eyes, then they softened as Casey's words took on shape and meaning. The grasp holding her lightened, careful fingers roamed upwards, caressing her neck tenderly. A small shy smile formed on weary lips, the simple gesture rendering Casey speechless.

"Ma...ga...li, not...Zee...not...to you." The voice was scratchy from lack of use, the words barely audible.

The curtains fluttered, a nurse ran down the aisle screaming, "she's up, she's up!" Magali's smile widened, "careful Casey, here come...the vultures. They may knock you down." Then her expression turned suddenly serious, "...how long?" Casey could hardly think, much less make any sense. The wonder of the open blue eyes was like a forgotten dream. "Five days baby, five very long days." Hot tears filled her eyes, they trickled down her cheeks and onto the hand gently touching her neck.

"Hey...why are you crying huh? Someone...fuckin' with you," she asked catching a tear off the blondes face with her thumb. The raspy words brought out a small laughter from the Casey, the protective streak in Magali's voice clear, however exhausted it was.

"You are too much Magali Guerrerro...too much."

Then the white uniforms descended, pushing Casey out of the small enclosure, measuring blood pressure, looking in eyes with a small penlight. A tan skinned nurse glared at Casey, "you can go wait outside, we'll come and get you in a bit," she said placing a gentle hand on her shoulder and escorting her out. The wait turned into an hour and she was expected at the emergency room, with heavy steps Casey made her way to the elevators, and through the huge glass doors of the pavilion entrance. She spotted Jesse leaning against their rig, sipping on what looked like her first cup of coffee. Putting some energy into her step, she let out a high squeal and launched herself into a hug at the brunette.

"Hey whoa," Jesse exclaimed, trying desperately to save her coffee. "What's with the sudden change of mood?"

"She's awake Jesse, she opened her eyes, and she spoke to me and..."

Jesse held the woman at arms length, and inspected the jubilant woman's eyes for signs of head trauma. "You're not kidding are you?" Casey shook her head, a brilliant smile on her face. "No!" Jesse jumped a few times into the air, pulling a giddy Casey along with her.

"Shit, I didn't think she would make it this time, I really didn't, I thought this would be it. Damn that woman."

Casey stopped laughing, a frown suddenly prominent, pronounced with an expression of confusion. "This time?"

Oh oh Jesse, you just had to stick your foot in your mouth. Luckily the radio went off, saving her from an explanation for the time being. "Oh shit, Casey. Car accident. You better change in the back."

The street was clogged with fire-trucks, police cars, and emergency vehicles. People crowded on the street, watched from fire-escapes attached to the sides of five story tenements, it was a free show. A three car accident, the last one in flames, had crushed a center vehicle into the first. Firemen rushed in with power tools, and what they dubbed the "jaws of life" to pry open the metal tomb. There were children trapped inside, and Casey could just make out one crying for their mother. The whole scene was horrific. At least two had died, and another four were trapped, three others were being administered to. Casey and Jesse had been the last to arrive, and because of it they had to wait for the firemen to do their job. Getting to the waiting victims in the collapsed frame was tedious and careful work. Hours would pass before the job was done, and then a rush of activity would follow. It was after midnight when Casey finally got a break.

Part 5

The twentieth floor of Columbia-Presbyterian hospital was more like a first rate hotel than a health center. Upon leaving the elevator the visitor was confronted with a high ceiling atrium, graced in the center by an immense marble fountain. Just beyond the cascading water, a semi-circular desk perched against the wall, served as a reception area. Two women in black and burgundy suits worked on computers, and politely answered questions. Orderlies walked the hallways in bellhop uniforms that matched the décor, pushing bright aluminum carts. Plush wall to wall carpeting silenced footsteps in the soft glow of brass lanterns. The doors to each room were numbered in gold, and the doors themselves were of a thick dark wood. Save for the nurses in their immaculate white, it was easy to forget where one was standing.

Magali had wasted no time in requesting a transfer from the ICU unit, and had argued past her reserves getting her doctor to sign the needed paper work. As a compromise, a permanent nurse was stationed along with her, however much she had tried to persuade the doctor otherwise the nurse had been assigned. The absence of a police presence had confused her at first, she had a vague recollection of a handcuff tightening around her wrist. A visit late in the night had answered all her questions, and she worked over the details in her yet foggy mind.

John Daly had marched into her room shortly after a sudden shortage of nurses in the emergency room had called her attendant away. Instinctively she reached for a weapon under her pillow, but found none. He pulled up a chair next her, reached inside his brown leather jacket, and pointed an all too familiar nozzle at her. He smiled, turned the weapon in his hand, and offered it to her handle first. "Were you looking for this", he asked raising a dark blonde eyebrow.

Magali took the offered weapon, discharged the clip, and was surprised to find it completely loaded. "Who the fuck are you?" Her hand shook with the weight of the weapon as she pointed it back at him, but the man did not flinch away.

"Forty Five right? That's your caliber of preference if I'm not mistaken...I thought you would feel...safer with it. I know I do, well, I'm kinda naked without one myself." Daly leaned back in his chair, satisfied with the reaction he received.

Magali glanced at the weapon, then back at the unknown man, who seemed to know her well enough to bring her a weapon. Do I know this guy? "I said, who the fuck are you?"

"John Daly's the name." He stretched his hand out, hoping it would be taken before his head was.

Magali shook the hand, keeping the weapon in the other raised. "Nice to meet you, but your name doesn't mean a thing to me."

"Well, it shouldn't I would hope. But now your name...means a great deal to me, Magali Guerrerro."

"Alright, spill it. What do you want?" She put the weapon under the sheet by her side, confident her reflexes were fast enough to retrieve it if need be.

"For starters let me explain, why I'm here. Have you ever heard of the Blue Gauntlet?"

Magali settled into her pillow, a smoldering headache had been waiting on the borders, and the conversation was giving it life. The Blue Gauntlet was a tightly organized group of law enforcement officers who took huge amounts of pay-off money from everyone in the trafficking business. Their main sources of finance were those in the upper echelons, the ones who moved the product in and around the country. She had thought the members used the money for personal gratification, but whispers in the wind had brought about another picture.

A dark brow raised in response to his question. "I'll take that as a yes. My organization has been trying to get a foothold in it for years, when it was just a rumor. You my dear Ms. Guerrerro, are as close to an outsider as anyone has come."

"Ever wonder how the force went from protect and serve to control and demand? Something is happening, Ms. Guerrero, and we have no idea what it is. While the rest of the country is worried about gays in the military and what the President does in his office, our basic premise of democracy is being threatened. How and exactly who...is beyond our reach."

Magali sighed, a thrumming in her head becoming unbearable. "I'm no informant Daly, and I'm small time compared to what you need. So, don't waste your time trying to save me."

"Oh no on the contrary Guerrerro, you control the East Coast, I wouldn't call that small time, and I only want New York...for now."

"So why me? And what makes you think I'll help?"

Daly stretched, rose from his seat and meandered over to the door. He rested a hand on the doorknob, and turned to face her, his expression stone cold. "You're intelligent, respected and feared...and I like your politics. You're not exactly happy with the state of the state are you?" He paused, a gleam in his eye. "You are the wrench I'm throwing into the machine Guerrerro. Oh...and congratulations, Internal Affairs has the Ryan case, so it seems you're off the hook...for now. You know how those boys are. I'll give you a call when you're better...Get well soon and...say hello to Casey for me alright?" He shrugged, gave her a broad smile and closed the door behind him. The pounding in her head took the form of a sledgehammer.

Casey took a second glance at the illuminated number twenty carved into the metal bar as the elevator doors opened. The marble fountain centered in the airy atrium bubbled with glowing streams of water. She walked around its sculptured surface to the reception desk, where a pretty, young brunette greeted her. "Good morning, how may I help you?"

Uncertain she leaned slightly over the counter, and whispered to the receptionist, "I'm looking for Magali Guerrerro?"

The brunette smiled, leafed through a file box and produced a small green slip. "Here you go miss, room forty down the left hallway, and it will be on your right."

The room's lighting was dim and soft, a small monitor over the bed displaying vital signs silently. Under a bright spotlight sat a plump nurse reading from an obvious romance novel. She looked up as Casey tiptoed into the room. Mahogany furniture set an elegant tone, subtle green patterned wallpaper blended with the colors of a hanging frame of abstract art. A tiffany styled lamp near a sleeping Magali bathed her in warm light. Casey grinned at the nurse, mouthing a quiet "hello."

A raspy voice interrupted her stealthy approach. "Stop trying to sneak up on me Casey, I could hear you coming down the hall."

"I thought you were asleep...you should be," she said condescendingly.

Magali smirked, chewed on her lip and patted a space next to her on the bed. "C'mere."

Apprehensively Casey sat by her, careful not to create much movement. Magali reached for her, pressing a hand behind the blonde's neck she pulled her down for a lustful kiss. Lips met in a dance, parting with a deliberate reluctance that left both women breathless.

"I don't think you should be doing that either" Casey breathed, touching the tip of an index finger to Magali's lips.

"I thought kissing was good for the healing process?"

"That's laughter Gali...but we could work on a new theory." The blonde said leaning in for another taste.

A pleased expression flashed across bronze features, cerulean eye's gleaming in response. "Gali huh? I like the way that sounds in your voice."

"You do? I...I'm glad you like it, cause I plan to use it a lot."

A sudden somber expression crossed Magali's features, bringing Casey's sunny mood to an abrupt end. A deep-seeded dread settled in Casey at the foreshadowing look of melancholy. Magali pressed a square button on a near panel, twirling sounds of working machinery brought the head of the bed to an inclined position. "Nurse, could you excuse us for a minute...I promise I won't go into convulsions without you." Wordlessly the white clad nurse closed her book and exited the room, closing the door behind her.

"Casey...I saw the news release earlier, you were in the background."

"I was?" she asked, eyebrows rising in amused surprise.

"Yeah, you were. Are there any reporters still out there?"

Casey thought about her arrival at the hospital entrance. How early the hour had been. How some reporters milled about the lobby sipping on steaming cups of coffee. "A few why?"

"It has meant a lot to me to have you near, no one has ever done anything like that for...me." She hesitated, measuring her words in a mind that reasoned for logic, and a soul that screamed in protest. "But it's not safe for you here Casey...should someone connect you to me right now..."

Hurriedly Casey stood, pacing the room in barely disguised distress, " Gali...it's...it's too late for that."

Magali's brows crossed, crinkling the skin of her forehead and setting her mouth in a tight-lipped scowl. "What's happened?" Magali swallowed hard, forcing down the regret at having the blonde in the middle of a virtual storm.

"This cop...Webster...he...visited me before you..." She averted her eyes, unsure what the reaction would be, certain only that it would be explosive. Her suspicions confirmed when Magali struggled under the sheets covering her.

"God damn it, fuckin' bastard..." Her words were loud enough to warrant a curious head to enter the room. With a concerned expression, and a sharp look at Casey the nurse retreated, once again closing the door and leaving them in private.

Casey placed a gentle hand on the squirming woman, who was painfully pulling covers off, and stretching towards the phone. "Gali, it's okay. He didn't do anything...and I haven't seen him since you were in emergency."

"You don't understand Casey..." She said dejectedly.

"No I don't, and I don't want to. You're driving me nuts, and I'm not absolutely sure...other than this feeling that I belong with you...why."

"I want you to stay at my place, at least until I get out of here. I know the place is a mess, I'll send a cleaning service over...have them remove the furniture...Eddie will give you any money you need to restock the place, just don't get anything with print please...leather is perfect..."

Casey gawked at the ramblings, shaking her head and rubbing the back of her neck. "I can't do that Gali."

Open mouthed and confused, Magali put down the phone she had picked up. "Why not?"

"I just can't put my life on hold, and I won't hide."

"You wouldn't be...look, I have people in my building who can look out and make sure you are safe. You'll never know they're there...please Casey. If anything were to happen to you, I..." It was as close to a plead as Casey had ever heard from the dark woman.

"Okay...compromise here. I'll stay at your place when I come up here to visit you...but I have papers due soon, so I won't be able to come by every day. Besides, I think Devi could use some company at night."

At the mention of the dog's name Magali's face lit up in hope. "Devi? She's alright", she exclaimed with a brilliant smile.

"Jesse told me to tell you she would be taking her home tomorrow. She's wearing a cast on her back leg, but I think only her haunch was hurt in the...accident. She'll be fine in a few weeks, that's one strong dog...like her mistress." Casey relaxed in the gleam radiating from Magali, a weight lifted from the taller woman who feared the loss of a friend.

"Stay here for awhile...right here next to me?"

Casey laid gently next to her, laying a careful arm over Magali's midsection. "I've never seen a full sized hospital bed! Am I squishing you?"

In response Magali cuddled closer, mindful to keep her flinch well hidden from the smaller woman, she pulled her into a soft embrace.

Morning claimed the day, shooting the city with brilliant light, and the sidewalks came to life with vendors and open shops. One quiet hospital room overlooking the river remained still. Two figures slept soundlessly, warm in a locked embrace, supervised by a sleeping nurse. A shrill beeping sound from the monitor woke them, a flat line extended it's way across the screen, terrorizing the nurse awake and sending her flying to the dark woman who complained softly from the noise. A small, circular, white pad had detached itself from the patient. Impatiently the nurse pressed it back on. As her wrist was seized by a vise-like grip, one cerulean eye peered at her sleepily. "Don't you ever make sudden moves around me, got that?" The nurse nodded fearfully at the dark woman, smiling cautiously she slipped away. Nestling back into the comfort of the body next to her, and the softness of the mattress, Magali closed her eyes and calmed.

Content to lay by her side through the night as she slept, Casey groaned at the sound of Magali's husky voice. For hours she had watched Magali's chest rise and fall to an even rhythm, torturing herself with the thought of that chest ceasing its movement. The protectiveness of the arm around her back and draped over her shoulder lulled her to sleep, exhaustion playing it's own small role. Casey allowed one eye to open and peer at the sleeping woman she nearly lay over. Unsure as to whether the position was comfortable, she inched herself away only to be pulled back in.

"Please don't move, this feels too good." A low voice requested in her ear, nuzzling into the side of her neck.

"I don't want to hurt you baby." Casey whispered back, conscious of the judging eyes pointed at her from the cornered armchair.

Magali caught the hesitation in Casey's movements, felt the awkwardness caused by the scrutiny of the disapproving nurse fall upon them. Unthinking she lifted her arm, a shimmering weapon bathed in the new light of day in her grasp. "Out," she said gruffly, the customary tone of demand in her voice. Stifling a scream the nurse scurried away, leaving behind her romance novel, she nearly crashed into the door exiting the room.

Exasperated at the turn of events Casey sat up slowly, pointing at the gun floating in the air. "Gali...where did that come from?" Casey what have you gotten yourself into huh?

Wearily Magali hid the weapon back under the sheets, she turned her head away from the green eye's that threatened to turn her resolve. "I had a visit as well...but it wasn't Webster. Some guy named Daly..."Why the hell are you telling her this. You're supposed to keep her out stupid.

"Daly? I met him too, in the waiting room when you were in ICU. I thought he was investigating the shooting, I had an alibi for you, but he didn't take a statement from me or anything. He was really strange. Is everything all right? I figured since you weren't handcuffed he..."

So I was handcuffed. "I shouldn't be telling you this Casey, you're in deeper than what I ever intended. But that explains how he knew you...he mentioned you when we spoke."

Casey leaned in and planted tender lips on Magali's cheek, visibly crumbling the woman's façade of secrecy. "Don't keep me out Gali, I need to understand you."

My Saint, I could dirty you sooo easily. Did my heart love till now? "I can't tell you everything Casey, I don't know if I will ever be able to. You'll have to trust me, and there's nothing that says you should. I'll understand if you walk away."

"I'm not going anywhere Magali Guerrerro. Nice try."

"Why do you stay around me Casey?" Ineffectually Magali attempted to hide her apprehension behind a stone expression. Casey recognized the effort, saw through the endeavor and caught the profound sadness swimming in the deep blue of her eyes.

"I can see through you Gali, I want to know the person behind all that cold you show everyone else. You do things because you have to, because you play with the cards life has dealt you the best way you can. I don't agree with what you do, but I know there are two sides to every coin, and no one ever sees the other side of you do they?"

"There's nothing but what you see right now Casey."

"You're wrong, you may not want to hear this but you have never cared for yourself have you? Always doing something for someone else no matter how rotten that makes you look, or...the price you have to pay for it. Let me be the one to care Gali." Casey leaned once more, grazing the skin of Magali's neck, before strong hands held her back at bay.

"And what do I do for you Casey? Put you in danger, or ..."

Casey bolted upright, crossing her arms before her chest and pointing a finger at Magali. "Don't you start that now. You show me what true strength is, you show me the world through your eyes, things I never noticed before."

"That's an ugly place I'm giving you." She replied dejectedly.

"It's a part of you I can't ignore, and I chose to go there." And maybe, just maybe, I can get you to see the otherside.


The covers were cold, the ache in her chest a dull, pulsating annoyance after weeks of healing. I didn't use to mind waking up alone. Casey had visited every chance she had, mostly every other day, and would manage to sometimes spend the night. For the amount of money spent on the room not a soul bothered to complain about the visitor. Eventually the nurse had been retired as well, leaving for company only the .45 caliber weapon tucked by her side. There had been no sign of trouble, and besides the day Eddie had snuck in a limping Devi, the hospital was quiet. The deep gash along her temple had scabbed over surrounded by a deep purple. Stitches had been removed from some of the chest wound, the rest would remain for a return visit. An immense man in a white coat had brought her a transparent bag, filled with her torn clothing and a manila envelope with her jewelry and other possessions. Casey had managed to bring her a pair of jeans and a green knit sweater the day before. Magali donned the jewelry, the cold of the metal a welcome familiarity against her skin. The rest of the bag she threw away, mourning over the torn trench coat she had favored. Oh well, I'll just get another.

Eddie had told her everything was going well, nothing unusual, although some wondered if she was coming back as strong as she had left. Fuckin' parasites, always ready to take your throne. In her world any sign of weakness meant an instant challenge, some didn't wait for any signs. I'll just put on a show for them bastards, and we'll see who's in charge then. Her spy in her building kept a diligent watch over Casey, staying up the entire night while the woman slept. Visions of Casey in her bed, snuggled between silken sheets gave her some comfort on lonely mornings, then there were the thoughts of Daly. What the hell does that man want from me? Turn in cops? Turn in dealers? Play with fire? Shit, what the fuck am I gonna do now, business as usual? Casey...run baby, run as fast as you can. But I'll die without you. She brushed back her hair, washed some dried blood off her Ray-Bans, and called security to escort her out. Policy dictated she be wheeled out to the entrance in a wheel chair, but she had insisted on being brought out through the back, where a limousine waited for her. Its tinted windows provided some security, the customary driver drove silently in his enclosed section.

Magali dialed her own number on her new cellular, the other had disappeared somewhere into the mysterious black hole some things wandered into. It rang a few times, and then a well-known recording picked up, she disconnected the call. I thought she would be there. Subconsciously she fingered the handle of the .45 at her side, a bit uncomfortable without a holster. The ride was short, a mere two miles from point "A" to point "B". She watched the rear window, calculating the movement of the cars behind them, watchful for anyone following or obvious switches.

Fort Washington Avenue was a quiet, tree-lined street. Tall condominium buildings on both sides, small squares of parks with benches dotting it's path, ending in the 100 acre park of Fort Tryon. Nestled within its hills, a tall tower marked the location of the "Cloisters", an imported monastery from Europe housing medieval pieces from the Museum of Art. The limousine stopped in front of her building, she nodded at the driver, pulled a bill from a bundle in her pocket and handed it over to him as the glass separating passenger and driver slid downward. Walking still proved painful, breathing while walking a chore.

She found her keys in a pocket, the cold late December air whipped through her open parka. Wreaths and lights decorated the lobby of the building, and the street lamps along the avenue. The sidewalk was clean, no evidence of the blood she had spilled visable. Four weeks had passed, and her speedy recovery had allowed for her early release, just in time for the holidays. Magali filled her lungs with the chill air, smelling on it the scent of the city mingled with the crisp feel of ice. Snow's coming. Wonder if it will be a white Christmas this year? Thankfully no one saw her enter, most of the residents away at work or asleep. It felt strange to push the elevator button. Not for a minute did I think I would be here again.

A smile formed when she noticed the wreath hanging on her door, a small brass bell hanging from a red bow at its lowest point. The neighbors must think I'm dead and someone else moved in. Through the crack of the door she could hear the grunt of a homecoming Devi style. This is going to hurt. The door was barely open when the dog bumped into her legs, pushing aside the wooden obstacle between her and her mistress. The cast had been removed, but the animal showed a slight limp to her walk. Fortunately she did not attempt to jump up for a lick, and slowly Magali bent to give the dog a hardy rub on the neck. "Did ya miss me girl?" Happily Devi wagged her tail, limping back into the apartment ahead of her human. Everything had been replaced right down to the altar and the furniture. The place was spotless, and other than a few scattered vases displaying colorful flower arrangements nothing had changed. It's as if nothing ever happened, good job Casey, but I know what you're trying to do.

Magali ambled over into the kitchen, Devi close behind her, she opened the window and gave a shrill whistle. A young, long-haired man opened an adjacent window and stuck his head out, craning his neck to get a view at the higher floor. "Where is she Ruben?"

The man grinned, obviously pleased with her return. "I think she went to the supermarket, she took the shopping cart with her. Nelson's got her shadow."

"Bring my baby up will ya...a shopping cart? I don't have a fuckin' shopping cart." Magali replied indignantly. Rubbing his arms for warmth, the young man shrugged and closed the window.

Casey heard the last words uttered in exasperation as she turned the key to the door, a happy Devi greeting her. A flurry of curses emanated from the kitchen following the crashing sound of breaking glass. Casey padded to the doorway, finding a frustrated Magali standing over a broken bottle of scotch, green shards of glass close to her feet. The blonde placed her hands on her hips and smirked. "And what exactly do you think you were doing Magali Guerrerro?" Looking like a child caught watching an adult film Magali shrugged. "I was...I..."

"Aha...go sit down before you wreck the place I just cleaned up after that one", she said pointing at a guilty Devi, who tucked tail and limped away.

With a sheepish expression the tall woman sidestepped the glass and ambled into the living room, gently stretching herself out on the new couch. From her angle she could watch Casey picking up the glass from the floor, wickedly grinning as the blonde bent repeatedly in her efforts. Green eyes caught her in her admiration, and a blonde head shook in amused disapproval. "You are terrible Gali, just incorrigible, God..." A dark brow raised in acknowledgement, accompanied by a pursed set of crimson lips and bright blue eyes.

"Are you going to take your coat off and stay a while?"

Magali had not noticed she wore the parka still, and began to shrug it off. "Sorry, I'm not used to being here for long...usually in and out, unless I'm sleeping." As if on cue the phone rang, causing Casey to scowl somewhat. Lazily Magali reached for the cellular in the pocket of the discarded parka at her feet.

"Yeah?" Her head nodded and she frowned as she listened intently, a pair of emerald eyes watching her reactions. Fuck, it begins, here's the test Casey. Can you live with this? "I'll be there as soon as I can, just hang around until I get there Eddie." Startled at the knock on the door Casey dropped the dustpan she was holding and cursed.

"Come in Ruben," she shouted pulling the gun from her waist and resting it on her outstretched leg.

Ruben was a short man in his early twenties. He wore his dark hair long and loose around his shoulders, a definite limp in his walk. He pulled a gleaming weapon from his belt and handed it over to Magali. "Here you go Zee, I even cleaned her for you." She inspected the weapon, opening the chamber and peering in, giving Ruben a nod of approval.

"Thought it was going to be yours didn't you?" Her eyes met his, emotionless and cold. The young man swallowed hard enough for her to hear. "That's all right Ruben, it almost was...but it takes more than that to get rid of me. Go on, get outta here." Without another word the man left, a frozen atmosphere captured the room, a still Casey in silent trepidation. She changes so quickly.

The chill melted as Magali's eyes focused on Casey, warmth crept into the ice present there, heated by a small smile. "C'mere Casey," she said placing both guns next to the cellular on the coffee table. Casey roamed over, her pulse quickening at the suggestion of the invitation, a seductive timber in Magali's voice. She found a small spot on the edge of the couch next to the darker woman, a sudden bout of timidity taking over her. Other than the cuddling in the hospital, the deep kisses that would stop before they turned to outright passion, they had not touched. The low note in Magali's voice betrayed a raw need, filled with the promise of crossing thresholds and boundaries.

A tremor ran through Casey at the light touch to the nape of her neck, warm lips burning her skin leaving fiery traces in their path. Magali pulled her sweater off and pressed her chest to Casey's clothed back. The heat of the smaller woman seeped through the cloth and onto her bared skin. Her hands roamed to unbutton an old shirt of hers the blonde wore, exposing shoulders she devoured with bites and soft sucking. A moan escaped from Magali, soaked in by flushed skin covered by hungry lips. Casey's shirt fell open, strong hands roamed down her abdomen, caressed the heated spot between her legs, squeezed her thighs. Agile fingers undid the latch of her brassiere each strap tenderly tugged away, the garment hastily discarded. Magali wrapped her hand in the blonde tresses, firmly yanking back, she lay Casey supine across her lap, one hand rubbing Casey below the end of her jean's zipper. She captured an aroused nipple in her teeth, alternating between gentle and harsh sucking, Casey's breathing grew rapid. Magali paused long enough to undo the button and zipper of Casey's jeans, the blonde protested the cessation of motion, a throbbing building agonizingly slow. Lips touched in a bruising embrace, tongues danced teasingly, heightening the hunger of the moment. As Magali slipped her hand under the denim she lost herself in an ocean of emerald green, the slender body over her lap surrendering to submission. Casey's back arched at the sensation of a hard palm against her center, two fingers aggressively sought entry. Passage was granted easily by the natural slickness soaking hand and denim alike.

Magali greedily consumed waiting breasts and lips, starved for contact, she worshipped the body of her Saint. The trembling warned her and she slowed. "Please...don't...", breathlessly Casey begged.

"What will you give me Casey," she asked raggedly.

"Anything." Came the pleading reply.

"In time baby, we will see what 'anything' means."

Magali smiled, her eyes narrowed as she pushed the shaking woman upwards. Sitting on the edge of the couch she positioned Casey to stand before her. Tumultuously Magali removed the rest of Casey's clothing, ripping away undergarments and nipping at an exposed navel ring. Gripping onto her buttocks with both hands and drawing her closer, she trailed a hand down the back of Casey's thigh, red streaks marked the passing of her fingertips. Holding onto the back of the blonde's knee, she lifted, and brought the leg to rest high on her shoulder. Casey took in a sharp breath as lips found her, a tantalizing tongue explored her, its focus on her engorged nub. The pulsing at her core increased, fingers found her wetness and intruded unceremoniously, sending an explosive spasm coursing through her senses. A smooth metal stud created jolts of intense sensations, she tangled her hand in the black mass of hair, while the other clawed at a strong shoulder for balance. The raking issued a groan from her Black Velvet. Her spine straightened sending her head back and she bit down on her lip as she cried out in release. Bolts of ecstasy affected the strength in her legs, and Magali had to catch her as she crumpled against her.

Casey found herself on her knees, her head resting on a strong thigh, the scent of Magali near and intoxicating. She crawled towards a bare midsection, the lines of muscles there softened but clear. Blue eyes closed as warm lips touched skin, an aching filled her, and Magali undid the buttons of her own jeans and removed them. Leaning back into the couch and moving her pelvis forward, she pulled the smaller woman over her, a slender thigh between her legs rubbed against her own silky wetness.

"Move with me Casey," she said with demand in her sultry voice.

A slow dance began, and Magali seized Casey's firm globes, pressing the woman closer into her. A searing bite at her shoulder sent tingles down her spine, and she arched under her Saint. When the world began to lift and disappear, she lifted the blonde by the waist. Again she used the long golden hair to roughly move the woman away, pressing down on her shoulders and forcing her to her knees. Thrusting her hips towards a welcoming mouth, Black Velvet growled in delight. She watched the movement of Casey's head as she drank her in, the sight and sounds of the act propelling her skyward. A skilled tongue darted around her aroused clit, pressing its full length and flicking with a daring tip. Lips surrounded the bud, sucking it into a warm heaven, calming it with soft cool blows of breath. With one strong hand Magali drew her closer, crushing herself into her tormentor. A guttural moan erupted from her throat at her climax, and she ground against the ravenous mouth of her lover. Casey was lifted from the floor violently, and trapped by two strong arms that rocked her gently as aftershocks claimed the taller woman. Magali lay back onto the couch, letting one leg dangle over the edge, while her length stretched along the leather. Casey found a comfortable spot to rest her head just above her Black Velvet's navel, her legs tangled with the one long limb laid down the couch. Respiration slowed, heartbeats normalized, peace settled around them.

Hey you, watching as this light bleeds all over me

Shadows rise and fall, listen as I call

is this reality

I will be with you tonight

And tomorrow be a 1,000 miles away

I will be with you tonight

I will be with you as long as you say stay

One little piece of my soul

One little piece of my whole life

I give to you

Take it now

Hey you looking through a mirror to a cage

I'll take you away, this miracle you pray for on the stage

I will be with you tonight

I will be with you a 1,000 miles away

I will never leave

Inside of you a piece of me will stay

Supine against the leather of the couch Magali stared at the white ceiling, a sleeping Casey lay face down on her belly, arms wrapped around Magali's waist. It reminded her of a blank canvass waiting for an artist. She listened to Casey's soft breathing, watched the first flurries of the day float past the windowpane and out of sight. Snow. The phone rang and Casey shifted while Magali reached for the device. "Yeah Eddie I'll be right there," she said and hung up. Reluctantly squirming her way out from under the sleeping woman, she rummaged for her clothes and ambled off into the bathroom.

Casey was alone when she woke under a quilted blanket, a slope of crystal white painting the window. The guns on the table were gone, nothing of Magali remained except for the scent on her skin. I can't believe she just left! I'm never here she said, guess she wasn't kidding. Got a good fuck and then she's gone huh? Fuck this, two can play that game. I'm out of here. Better yet, I think I know exactly where she went.

At first glance 164th Street between Broadway and Saint Nicholas Avenue was just another ordinary, city block among many others. Closer inspection of the short street brought out chilling nuances written subtly in the archives of the sin trade. Each corner rooftop was manned by an armed adolescent sitting on a five story ledge, possibly smoking a cigarette or talking on a cellular. Shaded eyes watched the city unfold twenty-four hours a day. The rooftop soldiers roamed the connected buildings, taking in all the angles, watching for the blue uniforms and unmarked cars that spelled trouble. Residing in the majority of the apartments were poor immigrant families, willing to do anything for survival. Scattered among the families, two room suites served as 'spots,' each specializing in it's own specific brand of narcotics. Young men and women waited on stoops for customers to come by, lead them up the stairs and make the deal. Fights broke out constantly as to whose customer was whose, they worked on commission, like sharks in a tank.

Magali turned the corner, double-parking in the middle of the block, one of her many small kingdoms. The base from her sound system vibrated the windows of the Jeep and every eye focused on the vehicle in recognition. She drew the mother of pearl handled weapon from her shoulder holster, released the clip and checked the number of bullets in it. Snapping the clip back in place, she reached under her seat to check the position of the second .45 given to her by Daly. She opened the door leaving the Jeep running, the lyrics of the CD she played spilled out into the street.

Remind me of myself when I was younger

But it was hunger that stopped a nigga from going under

And you wonder why I pat you on your head and smile

I look in your eyes and thank the Lord for my child

Meanwhile there's something I gotta show ya, and I hope you can take it

I gotta leave you in the desert, and I hope you can make it

I gotta put you on your ass to see what it does to you

When you stand up, you'll see I'm just showing love to you...

Some of us do the winning, but we all do the losing

The intensity in the air rose a few notches as she stepped out onto the partially ice covered asphalt. Eyes averted her, some grinned cautiously, nodding their heads and whispering a greeting. "Wassup Zero?"

She passed them silently, briskly pumping a hand with two fingers held open as she did. The lobby stunk of urine and bleach, some of the lights had been knocked out to create shadows. She walked up the five flights to an apartment they had dubbed 'the office.' It was a one-room suite, with a ragged sofa, a big screen TV connected to a Playstation, and a long plain table holding a triple beam scale. Pounding on the door, she heard the peephole latch squeak open, then the lock turn. Covering her bare chest with an old sweater, a young bleached blonde woman opened the door.

"Get out of here...now," Magali barked at her, sending her running down the hall and into another apartment.

Eddie lounged on the sofa, playing a video game intently. He dropped the control and stood to embrace her, she patted his head and pushed him away scowling.

"What the fuck is the problem Eddie?"

He scratched his bare scalp, rubbing his neck as he paced back to the sofa. "That kid, Nelson's brother, he got caught fuckin' this girl on the roof."

"So what? That's nothing new...was he supposed to be watching?"

Eddie shook his head, an expression of apprehension gracing his features. "Nope he was off, but...she's twelve Zee, and her parents are screaming rape."

Magali's indifference turned to ice, there were few acts she considered intolerable, and the appearance of one made her nauseous. "Where is he?"

"He went to the store just before you got here, I put him on door duty."

"Let's go. I want to see this girl." The tone of her voice told him there was going to be a performance, grabbing an aluminum bat he kept behind the sofa he followed her out.

Magali ran down stairs the same manner she ran up, two at a time, not really looking where her feet fell but at the next turn or landing. Eddie had grown accustomed to her constant vigilance, there was an edge about her that was tangible, it radiated off her body the way a panther exuded grace and danger. The girl and her family lived in a building across the street on the second floor, in a one-room apartment. Two adults shared their space with five children, who made the small living room into a makeshift bedroom. She knocked on the door with her fist, the peephole clicked, then a squeal from the old lock and the door opened exposing a small dark man with weary dark eyes. Magali stepped in wordlessly, taking command of the space as if she owned it.

Two full sized beds were pushed against the walls, forming an L-shaped ad hoc sofa for visitors. A cracked bureau leaned against a far wall supporting a large TV screen blaring the sounds of holiday commercials, the newest toy, a must have, no child could do without. Two small boys wrestled on the floor, their ribs clear through their skin, spinal vertebrae protruded from their backs as they twisted in a rough dance against each other. They stopped frozen in time, gawking at the intimidating Magali who narrowed her fiercely blue eyes at them and smiled. Eddie ambled over to the boys in his best gorilla imitation, letting out a mighty roar he tackled them both, sending them into fits of giggles. Magali grasped the small man's hand in a firm handshake, tilting her head towards the crowded table in the kitchen.

Face to face, in silence, she waited for the plump woman scurrying around the kitchen to pour two steaming cups of coffee and place one before her. "Gracias," she nodded at the woman who smiled back and left the room. Taking a deep breath Magali began the uncomfortable business of her reign.

"Señor Vasquez, I've been told you had a...problem. If I can straighten it out I will, but I need to see your daughter first." Vasquez sipped at his cup, his eyes downcast, shoulders slumped. "I don't want to make problems for you Bajo Zero, you do what you think is right." He wanted to say more, to spill every ounce of despair he had at her feet. To thank her for paying the medical bills workers comp had refused to pay when he injured his back. For the mysterious toys that appeared at the door when he was out of work last Christmas. For the time she spoke to the corner grocery-store owner about his son's fascination with stealing packets of cookies. He choked on the words, biting back his gratitude with the force of centuries of pride.

The steaming liquid was welcome in her empty stomach, and she swallowed half of the cup's contents before pushing herself away from the table. She strolled through the living room, where Eddie was currently being tackled by the two boys and an infant girl clad only in diapers. Pushing the bedroom door open she entered into an artificial night created by dark curtains making her wince inwardly. She could make out a slender form curled in a fetal position in the middle of a sagging bed. Deliberately she approached the girl, sitting on a corner of the bed she placed her hands on her thighs, planted her feet firmly on the ground. "You know who I am?" The bed shook slightly as the girl turned to face Magali's back. In a small airy voice the girl replied, "yeah."

"Tell me what happened."

Magali bit down on the inside of her cheek, the rusty taste of blood appearing in her mouth, as she listened to the story. They had been flirting for weeks, she thought he had been cute. He's too old for you kid, what the fuck were you thinking. He had bought her a pair of sneakers last week, kissed her gently on the cheek. Always money, that's what it comes down to isn't it?

"Yesterday, I saw him on the corner and he said he had something for me, and to meet him on the roof later." And you did. "He started to kiss me, and I didn't mind but then he put his hands in..." Magali tensed, shutting out the words, catching brief syllables of the speech. "When he was done, he just left me there, I couldn't move for a long time.."

"That's enough." Shaking she stood up from the bed, holding the beast precariously in control, Magali turned to face the girl. Her features were small and mouse-like, her brown hair fell in curls around her tan face, emphasizing the natural deep red of her mouth. A purple smudge surrounded the girls lower lip, stark against her skin. Magali reached towards her chin and watched the girl recoil away. Oh how I know that cringe too well. Magali stomped out of the bedroom, through the living-room, and out of the apartment. Eddie barely caught up to her on the stairs.

Large flakes of snow had begun to fall, covering the few standing on the stoop with specks of white, their breaths visible in the air. Magali closed the collar of her waist length sheepskin jacket, the black of the leather blended with her loose hair and black jeans. She enjoyed wearing black, it was nondescript and didn't show dirt or stains. A broad shouldered, tan skinned man trudged down the street. Catching site of Magali standing on the stoop he bolted, dropping the paper bag covered beer he was drinking. Two figures caught him before he could turn the corner, and dragged him backwards towards the dark woman, his heels leaving tracks in the accumulating snow. They brought him face to face with her, and she pulled her shades down on her nose to glare at him, his breath caught.

Opening her jacket she glowered, one dark eyebrow rising. "You making trouble for me...Ricky?"

In a panic the man began to whimper, tears staining his reddened cheeks. "I...I...no Zero, I swear..."

The smack to his face silenced him and Magali pressed the nozzle of the .45 to his temple, clenching her jaw. "You are soooo lucky I know your brother you fuckin' idiot. Stop cryin' bitch I'm not gonna kill ya'...Let him go."

The men holding the man released him immediately, but he could not move as he watched with relief the return of the gun to it's holster. Magali straightened her back, popping some of the vertebrae in her spine, a sharp throbbing beginning in her chest.

There were stairs, they were steep

I was falling, falling deep

You were there, you were small

There was screaming down the hall

I've been here

Sleeping all these years

There comes a time, we all know

There's a place that we must go

Into the soul

Into the heart

Into the dark


Casey dressed quickly, dialed the number of the livery service she had memorized, and locked the door of the apartment. Devi whined as she turned the key. What was that street number? Think Casey, think. You picked up the Jeep from Eddie there that night, shit what was it? The interior of the cab was warm, a flowery scent permeating the space. The driver coolly looked through his rearview at her in question. "One hundred sixty fourth street please." The dark-skinned man's eyebrows rose at the mention of the street, quietly he stepped on the gas. "You sure you want to go there?"

Casey eyed him suspiciously, "yes".


She shrugged off her jacket, exposing the holster and the black mock turtleneck she wore to the icy wind. Her powerful hand grabbed the man's jaw, the other she held out towards Eddie, who placed the bat he carried smoothly on her open palm. Ricky's eyes widened and he turned to run. The first hit caught him flat across his back and he was thrown into the street. An oncoming gypsy cab slammed on its breaks, narrowly missing the fumbling man who crashed into a parked car across the street.

Magali ran after him, bat in hand, she skidded over the hood of the cab landing over the fallen man. Picking him up by the nape of his neck, she shoved his head through a parked car's window, felt the warm stream of blood curl around her fingers. His gurgled pleas reached her ears, fanning the anger that already soared out of control. "Please Zee, stop...please." Blood spattered on the white of the street with each stroke of the bat in her hand.

"That what she told you? Come on Ricky you know you want it! Twelve years old, you sonofabitch!"

She heard the breaking of bone as his legs shattered under her force, arms snapping as she deliberately aimed for his limbs. Behind her Eddie's voice echoed through the haze of her rage.

"You see something asshole?! You see something?!" He yelled at the cab driver.

Magali turned, her hands stained, scarlet droplets dotting her face. Across the street an older couple watched her, a small girl tucked under the arm of a pleased looking man. The small man nodded at her and returned to the confines of the building, his salvaged honor intact, justice served.

"Nothing...nothing, I didn't see..." The cab driver's voice was filled with horror as he defended himself against Eddie's shouts. The screaming caught her attention.

Her heart crept up into her throat, the pain in her chest intense, blood rushed into her face. A familiar countenance stared back at her in terror from the backseat of the gypsy cab, a trembling hand covering her mouth. Shit. "Casey, what..."

"I changed my mind, driver...take me to one-oh-six and Manhattan." Casey requested quickly, hiding herself away from the vision of Magali wet and blood stained. The cab took off, speeding down the street, taking the red light at the end.


There was fire, there was death

There was lying on your breath

I turned away

I would pretend

But the burning never ends

I've been here, sleeping all these years

There comes a time, we all know

There's a place that we must go

Into the soul

Into the heart

Into the dark

The smoldering fire flared within her, and she kicked the semi-conscious man bleeding on the ground. A warning shout from a rooftop reverberated through the street, and Eddie snatched the bat away from Magali. "Zee, it's five-o...snap out of it." She stared down the street blankly, the look of fear on Casey's face an indelible image in her minds eye. She gathered a fistful of snow and scrubbed her face with it, rubbed her hands against the slick body of the jeep effectively erasing the stains there. With her sheepskin back on and zippered she melded into the gathered crowd. A police car stopped behind the Jeep, two officers ran out and stood before the fallen man. Fuck, if I leave now they're going to chase me. Can't afford that.

"What the hell happened here," one of them shouted, but his question was met with silence. He pointed a pale finger at Magali, who leaned casually on the side of her jeep. "You...I know you...you have anything to do with this?"

Magali shrugged, "I have one of those faces, and I just got here see...my engine is running. Ya' think I would leave my car with the keys in it on a block like this? Go ahead ask anyone, they'll tell ya'." Her hands moved to indicate the crowd, and she shrugged once more, crossing her arms before her chest.

The screaming sirens of the ambulance reminded her of Casey's expression watching her through the cab's window. How am I going to explain this? Fuck, why couldn't she have just stayed home? Home? It's your home Stupid not hers. Paramedics rushed in and carried the broken man away, his screams ringing in her ears.

Inflamed, Magali slammed the door of the Jeep she retreated into, the sound of music swallowing her grief and distress. Bet I can still catch her. The gear shift stick vibrated under her touch as her hand came in contact with the cold metal of the skull shaped knob. Kicking the Jeep quickly into second she beat the ambulance to the corner, using its lights and screaming sirens to justify her speeding through the red light. Knowing the cab would have taken the long way down Broadway, she turned onto Riverside drive, hoping to intercept it somewhere along the line. Two red lights later and a few angry New York drivers she pulled up onto Broadway, double parked under the overpass of the elevated train on 125th street and waited. Traffic trickled past her, most were sports cars, a few she recognized, and they honked as they drove by. Okay I know she lives somewhere near Columbia University, I think. Oh wait, there it is...

Bouncing over the potholes, a dark blue Lincoln made it's way down the hill and under the overpass. She knew the livery company well, had used it on occasion to dismiss more than a few used women. It passed her by and she pulled in to the traffic behind it, following its progress down the rugged street, pass the tunnel where the train disappeared underground. Emerging over the top of the hill the scenery suddenly changed, the street smoothed out, buildings were clean and well taken care of, the gentrified neighborhood of Morningside Heights, home of Columbia University. Magali expected the cab to pull in somewhere close, but it proceeded down Broadway towards the lower end of the neighborhood. Magali drummed on the dashboard at every red light, contemplated getting out and causing a traffic jam, opening the door slightly then shutting it again.

Finally the cab made a left off the broad avenue and turned onto 106th Street, a long street that ended at Central Park. It sported a comfortable mixture of the downtrodden and the artistic, university students taking advantage of the cheap rents. Magali parked a car length away from the cab, watched as Casey paid the driver and leaned out head first to exit. What do I say. What do I say? Emerald eyes focused in on her as she jumped out of the Jeep half running.

"Case wait, it's not what you think," she pleaded, surprised at herself. She grabbed on to the smaller woman from behind, wrapping her long arms around her in an unmovable embrace.

"Let me go Zee," Casey whispered aware of the eyes that watched from blinded windows. Let's not struggle here Casey, make it look casual.

Zee, the name hit her in the chest with a ferocious blow that knocked the wind out of her, and crumbled at the frayed ends of her soul. Tenderly she turned the woman in her arms to face her.

"We're back to that now are we?" The somber note in her voice low and piercing.

"That's who you are to me right now." Casey found it hard to look into the blue eyes, clouded in pain.

"The other side of the coin...Casey, that guy raped a kid." Sounds seemed far away, she expected the next hit of the anvil to knock her away completely.

"Did you have to beat him like that? Why didn't you just get the police?"

"The police? Why...so they can put all the blame on the kid? You know how those Hispanic women are..." She imitated the male posture. "Treat her like a criminal, or better yet take her away from her parents because they didn't keep an eye on her?"

"It doesn't have to be this way." Casey placed a warm hand on the taller woman cheek.

"But it is...I can't walk away."

"Why not? Why can't you?" Her voice raised slightly in agitation, but her questions were met with stone silence. I can't tell you Casey, please don't ask me anymore. "You're just going to shut me out aren't you...leave me alone Zee. Tell me when Magali comes back." The strong arms that had held her fell away. The cold biting at her face, she turned away and climbed the steps to her apartment. The last tendrils of sunlight hid themselves away for another night, a screeching Jeep pulled away with the heavy vibrations of bass following it.

It had been a pretty scene, one that had given rise to the hope of killing two birds with one stone. He had picked the lock to the apartment easily, rummaged through some personal belongings to make it look like a break in. In the middle of his task he heard the Jeep pull up, the sound of the music rattling the window, he peered through it furtively. On the sidewalk he watched them embrace, leered as Casey caressed a bronze cheek in tenderness. It was enough to make his stomach turn, and he decided his best move would be to hide in the closet. Surprised to see Casey enter alone, he continued with plan A.

Casey found the door to her apartment ajar, and through the crack she could see her belongings strewn about. It was reminiscent of Magali's place when she had first seen it after the shooting. In comparison her place was small and plain, it had the look of a dorm room. The bare windows allowed the streetlight to throw a yellow glow into the room. Still in shock from the image of Magali battering the helpless broken man, she registered the danger too late. The well-known voice sent a chill down her spine.

"Well, Ms. Bridges, we meet again."

Shit. "What do you want Webster?"

"You." He said creeping closer, the silhouette of a gun raised in his hand.

Part 6

The crowd dissipated once the police and ambulance were gone, it shrank back into the obscure recesses and hideaways of the street. A few of the neighborhood kids skidded on the icy asphalt, shoving each other into parked cars, and scraping elbows against red brick walls. Falling snow effected the streets with a juvenile mood, both jovial and carefree. Some forgot who they were, what they did, where they lived in a pure unadulterated moment of nothing. One tall dark boy, his hooded sweatshirt soaked and hanging damply along his thin frame, chased a screaming girl in innocent playfulness.

"Hey Raphaelito!" Shouted an older woman, rollers in her hair, from an open window. She wrapped her shoulders in a frail looking pink shawl, and frowned upon the chilly climate. "Stop playing in the street like a fuckin' baby, your son is up here crying. He needs more diapers!"

He nearly fell trying to stop in the accumulating slush, and slid into the rusty metal of the banister by the stoop. "I can't now ma! I got customers out here! Send Ophelia, shit! She gave birth to him!"

Frustrated the woman slammed the window closed, a dull yelling began behind the pane. Raphael shivered in his wet sweatshirt, leaned against the doorframe and eyed the street. A young pale man ambled in his direction, various piercings dangling from his ears. Raphael ran up to meet him, and shook his hand. "Hey, whats up? I got some good shit for you today man."

Eddie searched under an abandoned car for the bat he had discarded at the arrival of the blue uniforms. It was barely a shell of metal and wires, the tires gone, the hood open exposing the gaping wound where the engine should have been. The aluminum surface of the bat was smudged in crimson, and Eddie shook his head at it. At least she didn't dent this one. Police never bothered looking in any case having to do with 164th street. A procedure set in place by generations of inner city crime and corruption had become routine; so much so, that anything beyond it aroused suspicion and reprimand. Vague information was asked for, vague answers given, if any at all. Bodies were dragged away if need be, tow trucks called to haul away a vehicle or two. It was clean and easy, although every once in awhile some rookie decided he would do what he had been trained to do, and the place would shut down, causing more problems than necessary. Tension would grab hold of the residents, fights among neighbors increased. Mouths would have to be kept shut, and a terror seized the street. Kill or be killed. Eventually some high-ranking officer would step in, and the ordeal would be swept away like so much trash.

After all, money made the world go round, and Magali kept a long list of high officials on a payroll for just these types of occasions. Eddie thought about the countless deaths witnessed by the silent asphalt, caused by an enraged Magali, or some violation of "the rules" of the game as she put it. Often the outbursts were quick and ended in gunfire or at the end of an antler handled knife. At times the street would run red, fueled by maliciousness few could muster. Bajo Zero made special appearances. It was hard to tell whether or not she enjoyed the ruthlessness. At times an almost animal look would cross her face, followed by an air of release. However, there were times when the blue eyes went cold and emotionless, as if she weren't there at all. This time had been somewhat different, the rage was there, the cold was there, but something else had glinted across her face.

Never had he seen a grim veil pass over his friend at the completion of one of her displays, but now she sat brooding in the darkness of her chariot. Scarcely an hour had gone by when the black Jeep reappeared careening around the corner, startling the workers on the stoop. Better leave her alone, she looks like she'd shoot my head off. The tinted window slid open and Magali crooked a finger at a young woman standing on the stoop, calling her over wordlessly. Eddie patted the shoulder of the young woman, took a look up to the rooftops, and entered the murky lobby. The smell of urine and bleach accosted him, one quick breath and the smell was gone. It was a trick every ghetto lurker knew, something smells rotten, take a big swallow of it and you'll forget it, adapt to it.

He heard footsteps following him up the stairs, running the flights the young woman emerged breathless. She opened her mouth to speak, but a raised hand from Eddie stalled her. "Come on," he said waving for her to follow. He entered the office, pulled a small package off the long table and handed it to her. She was small and pretty, light brown hair cascaded around her face, accenting her greenish hazel eyes. Puberty had treated her well, and she had grown in all the right places. "Here, take this with you. Don't worry, I'll make sure you get paid for the day. And Callie...Just do what she tells you." She smiled broadly, signaling that she was more than willing to leave with the infamous Zero. With a wave of his hand he dismissed her, a minute later he heard the Jeep screech away. Three brisk knocks on the door were no surprise. He opened it and let in a lanky shivering boy who led a shaking thin figure behind him. "How much?" Business as usual.

The streets were slippery and she drove recklessly. She was confident in the stability of the Jeep but wanted more than ever to ride on the edge and drive the thoughts of a wounded and terrified expression from her mind. With an emptiness that engulfed her, she forced away the memory of Casey's words to her, leave me alone Zee. She turned the volume up on the stereo, the speakers hummed, the windows shook, and the thrum of the drums beat against her back and chest. A warm hand settled on her lap and strayed towards her center purposefully. She allowed it to linger before grasping it and pulling it to her lips. She bit down on the palm and smirked as her actions extracted a squeal of delight from the young woman.

"What's your name?" Like I care. She thought sucking on the end of an index finger.

"Ahh...Callie...hmmph," she replied squirming to further the contact she was having with the mysterious woman.

Magali parked the Jeep in the underground garage, and turned the engine off. Reaching over she gripped the arms of the petite woman, pressed her lips onto her neck, grazing the tender skin with her teeth. Callie writhed, arching her neck to give the voracious mouth attacking her better access. With a passion nearing violence Magali attacked the offered flesh, turning her attentions lower as her hands explored the slender young body of her willing captive. Abruptly the assault came to an end, and Callie protested with a whimper. "Upstairs...now," Magali growled under her breath.

Hands groped and explored while the elevator ascended, lips pressed against each other with a brutal force. Strong arms pinned Callie to the polished wood surface of the enclosed space, a fluid thigh pushed against her and with an undisguised lust she drew the taller woman in by the waist. Yes. Make me forget. When the doors slid open Magali pushed herself away, dragging the smaller woman by the hand behind her. They fumbled through the front door of the apartment, tangled in each other. A sheepskin fell to the floor, and was kicked away. Magali tore at Callie's North Face jacket, nearly ripping the zipper, and thrust her hands onto the small woman. Wild in anticipation Magali impelled her hand into the waist of Callie's jeans, seizing upon the silky wetness of the woman's secret folds. Give me. Pushing her towards the bedroom she devoured the small lips, tasting every crevice of Callie's mouth with her tongue. Tumbling to the bed Magali removed her hand, and fell to her knees before the trembling supine figure. A resonant groan floated as Magali lifted the woman's shirt, replacing the cloth with hungry lips, biting and licking her way upwards. Oh Zee, you were kidding yourself, she was too good for you...you knew that. Callie wrapped her legs around Magali's waist, grinding into her, clawing at her back. A low groan hummed deep in the dark woman's throat. This is what you are, accept it. Tenderly Callie captured her lower lip between her teeth and suggestively she bit down, inviting Magali in. Cerulean eyes met hazel, the green specks in the honey colored orbs gathered. Magali felt an ocean of green swallow her whole, the universe crashed into a heap at her feet. I can't do this...Casey. I can't...I need you...my Saint. Forgive me. Unexpectedly Magali pushed herself away from the panting woman, surprising them both.

"You have to go," she said catching her own breath.


"Get out!" The demand was punctuated by a flung, twenty dollar bill landing squarely on Callie's exposed abdomen. "I'll call you a cab...go wait for it in the lobby," she said gruffly, stomping out of the bedroom. Callie straightened her shirt and ran her fingers through her disheveled hair. Taking advantage of the solitary moment she scanned the room, rubbing her hand across the satin sheets in disarray on the bed. So this is where she sleeps.

"Another time Zero." She said to no one in particular, a steady grin across her face as she strolled into the hallway to pick up her discarded jacket.

Magali faced the large bay windows in the living room, her hands on her hips, her breathing ragged. She watched the small crystalline flakes become larger as they fell steadily on the city. Some swirled and floated in mid-air before melting on the warm pane or disappearing into the white of the sidewalk. Soft footsteps behind her sent a chill up her spine. If only you were her. The altar shook as Callie slammed the door on her way out, and a dark head hung low on broad shoulders.

"Next time Zee," Callie whispered under her breath with a sly grin while she waited for the elevator to arrive.

There was a wave over the house, there was fear choked in my mouth

You were there
You left your mark
As I stumbled in the dark
There comes a time, we all know
There's a place that we must go
Into the soul
Into the heart
Into the dark

By midnight the city was covered in a blanket of white. Magali stood naked on the balcony to her bedroom wrapped only in a black satin sheet. Frigid gusts moved over the river's water, penetrated the satin, chilling her skin and whipping back raven hair. Her heart drummed rapidly in her chest; lips, numbed by the amount of cocaine she had ingested, turned blue in the stinging wind. She inhaled the scent of the river, attempting to erase Casey's fragrance painfully etched into her memory. She closed the glass door and ambled off into the kitchen. A half-empty bottle of scotch she had been nursing through out the day waited for her patiently. Not bothering with a glass, she tipped her head back and swallowed a good portion of the liquor. Her pulse quickened, she swayed in a dizzy spell, the alcohol and narcotics mixing in her blood stream effectively. Better take a shower. She stumbled into the living room, knocking over a lamp as she reached for the .45 and the cellular resting on the coffee table. A fine line of white on the table's surface beckoned and she exchanged the gun for a rolled hundred-dollar bill. Inhaling the powder with a massive effort the numbness hit the back of her throat, forcing her to cough and nearly lose her balance. She retrieved the gun and felt her way to the bathroom, not bothering to illuminate her way.

The white lights reflecting off the tiles gave her a headache and she turned them off. Waves of black satin fell to the floor, and she opened the cold water of the shower, pulling herself into the tub she slumped back onto the frigid porcelain. The icy jet hit her skin with stinging needles, and she held her breath against the shock. The ache caused by the temperature of the water momentarily distracted her thoughts of emerald eyes, and the soft scent of Casey's skin. She closed her eyes allowing the torrent to wash over her in the dark, the hard metal of the .45 clanged to the floor. The cessation of existence finally took hold, her familiar nightmares taking its place.

A putrid smell, exhaust fumes she guessed, invaded her sense of smell making her choke. Where the hell am I? It was dark and she was freezing, a throbbing over her temple reminded her of the strike she had seen and felt before darkness settled around her. Straining to move she found her hands tied behind her back, a pain in her shoulder explained the length of time she had been in the same position. Casey could tell her eyes were open, her eyelashes brushed against rough cloth. Great I'm blindfolded and tied up. I'm guessing here...but I bet I'm in a car trunk...God it stinks. A jolt of movement caused her head to jerk hitting the hard surface beneath her, a confirming testimony to the moving vehicle. Darkness resumed.

Her next conscious moment left her with a sinking feeling in her gut. Ropes around her waist and chest fastened her onto a hard wooden chair, and she could hear the trickle of water and the rumbling of a train. Still blind folded she let her sense of hearing search the area, Webster's agitated voice not far away. It was damp and cold where she was, the musty odor of wet soil and rotting driftwood inescapable. A familiar squeak made her cringe and abruptly swing her head to the side to catch the proximity of the animal. Shit, rats. The sudden movement sent a sore ache through her arms, a burning on her wrists from the ropes stinging bitterly she groaned. Wood creaked above her from the strain of heavy steps as something scurried over her foot and she let out a frightened scream. The steps became hurried and she heard the slam of a door, heavy footfalls on the steps, a sharp sting across her face.

"Shut up you stupid bitch." It was Webster's voice, bitter and angry. "Glad you're awake. Now where the fuck is your low life dyke friend hmm?"

Casey swallowed the puddle of blood forming in her mouth. Forcing her intonation into fearlessness she spat back. "She's going to kill you...you know that don't you?" I can't believe I just said that, was that my voice? The sentence earned her another smack against the other side of her face, making her wince from the sting.

"Not if I find her first."

Violently the blind fold was pulled away from her eyes, and she blinked at the harsh light coming from a bare light bulb. The smells and sounds she had put together to make an image of her captivity began to make sense. She was in an old cobblestone basement, most likely somewhere in Far Rockaway, which explained the smell of the ocean. What she had thought a rumbling train was clearly the slap of the surf near the house. Slowly her sight focused, and she could see the form of Webster, thin and in shadows, standing before her. Something black and sinister held firmly in his grasp inches from her face.

"Do you know what this is Ms. Bridges? Your friend does...she never gave me the satisfaction of screaming...will you?"

A bright blue current ran along the top of the small black box, and a high pitched buzzing from the light set her heart racing. "What are you talking about?" The next sting was unfeeling, her face numbing to the strikes.

"When I want an answer I'll ask you for it! You mean...you don't know everything...about the woman who fucks you?" His tone took on the melody of feigned surprise. "You think she earned her power just through slinging some dope around? You really don't know her do you?" His anger showed in the volume of his voice, lifting slightly and trapped within the walls.

Don't know her? I'll be lucky if she comes for me at all.

"But you do know where she is..." The first jolt was the hardest. It hit every nerve in her body, constricting her breathing for a milli-second, her muscles involuntarily contracting. Gali! Her stomach turned.

"Tell me..." he croaked in her ear.

Her body bolted and strained against the ropes, jaw clenched tight by the current flowing through her shoulder. God please hear me baby. Millions of torturing fingers clawed through her skin, barbed pincers tearing her muscles from their bones. I won't betray you...I will not be added to that list. Pain is a fickle friend; it consumes down to the deepest recesses, lingers and fades. Please find me. Its gift is oblivion, and that phantom swung in enfolding her endearingly with ghostly abandon. I need you.

Webster frowned down at the slumped physique of the agonized woman on the chair, a dark blue blemish forming on her forehead where he had struck her. The skin had broken under the force, and a trail of red marked the ordinarily pretty face. He would have to wait for consciousness to return. It annoyed him. I could just throw water on her, but...she'll last longer later, if I let her rest now. With his thinking in order, he walked the steps up into his kitchen, a fresh pot of coffee scenting the night air.

The phone was ringing, she could hear the tone miles away, forcing her insensate limbs to move, Magali strained towards the noise. It slipped from her wet hands and in the dark she searched the floor for it, leaning awkwardly over the side of the tub. Out of memory she pressed the on button, her voice painfully hoarse. "Yeah?"

"Zee, have you seen Casey? She hasn't shown up for work and she won't pick up the phone."

Fear struck her hard in the chest. "I saw her earlier...she went home...I thought..." She crashed to the floor trying to stand.

"Zee...Zee..." Jesse's voice was frantic.

She turned the phone off, pulled a towel off its rack and wrapped it around her shivering. The living room was miles away, gathering reserves of strength she dragged herself towards the coffee table, where an open package oozed powder over the table. Using a matchbook she scooped some of the stuff and inhaled. A little more and I'll be up. The poison was quick, a jittery sense of life spread through her, and she was able to stand and focus. Just don't throw up Zero, keep it in.

Jesse found her dressing, a wild tempered look in her blue eyes. "Zee? What the fuck...didn't you hear me knocking? I had to use my key." Pristine in her white uniform, Jesse contrasted with her dark cousin.

"I heard you...why'd you bother to knock?" Her hands were shaking as she buttoned her black jeans and tucked in the dark blue shirt she wore over a black T-shirt.

"You're fucking stoned aren't you? Aren't you on painkillers Zee...what the fuck? You want to die or something?"

Magali fastened the holster around her shoulders and stretched, settling the leather and heavy weapon at her side. "Yes, yes, and yes...I was working on that." Sitting on the edge of her bed she tugged on her boots, placing a long knife into one she looked up at Jesse. "Casey saw something she wasn't supposed to Jesse...I'm just going to check...see if she's alright."

Jesse shot her a skeptical look. "What do you mean something she wasn't suppose to? Is she in trouble or something Zee? What the fuck did you do?" The last sentence was meant to hurt, and Magali was grateful she was next to anesthetized.

"What I always do Jesse." Fuck everything up. "I promise...she won't even know I'm there."

Piled snow on the rooftop crunched under her feet as she made her way over to the ledge. The metal rungs leading down to the first landing of the fire escape system were ice covered and slick. Slowly she lowered herself down the ladder, her knuckles white with the pressure she exerted. On the second landing she crouched low, peering in through the window of Casey's apartment. Her heart leapt at the unexpected site of the scattered clothing and broken shards of glass dispersed at the center of the room. Looking around for any passersby, she turned the .45 in her hand and used the handle to break the glass of the pane. It crumbled easily, and she hooked an arm through the opening to unlock the frame. A pointed edge caught at her hand, a fine line of blood appeared, she didn't notice. Holy Virgin just let her be a messy person. The wish vanished at the sight of a note pinned to a pillow, a bloody finger print on it's edge. She moved over to the window, and used the dim light of the street to read the scratchy words penned on the paper.

It's a gamble but I'm betting you'll find this Zero. I hope for your friend it's soon. You don't need my name, I'm sure you know who's words you are reading. Feel like trading your miserable self for someone who was stupid enough to get involved with your sorry ass? If you do, come to the place where you got your name. Tomorrow night, ten o'clock. I'll be waiting, so will she.

Magali crushed the paper and stuck it in her pocket, trotting out through the front door. A raging in her ears blocked out her usual caution, and the inferno she had held back while reading the note threatened to devour her. She jumped over the side of each banister, taking her down the four flights of stairs in quick succession. Heading blindly for the Jeep she missed the lights of a speeding car, and jumped back away from it in pure reflex honed by years of reacting to the unexpected.

Webster was smart enough not to touch her skin with the stun gun much more, the burn on the woman's shoulder more evidence than he had intended to leave. He used a small basin of water to put her feet in, dipping the stun gun far enough into the water to keep his fingers away from the current. Occasionally he would make the trek up into the kitchen to refill the basin, the violent effects of the stun gun often causing the water to spill out. How much more can I take? Gali. She was close, so close to speaking, giving in, answering the questions that battered against her relentlessly. The refilling of the basin gave her a brief reprieve, and she collected her thoughts. In his fervor and hate for the dark woman Webster had said more than he needed, relaying a story of corruption and sin between demands for Magali's whereabouts. Casey figured he was painting a lurid picture in the hopes she would turn over the information he needed. Playing on my innocence, but I know her enough to understand that there are other motives behind her actions. There have to be.

"Do you know what your friend is?" Casey clenched her teeth against the current. "She smuggles Ms. Bridges, brings dope into the country, sells it on corners. Know where that money goes, hmm?" Blue streaks of light crossed her vision as the next jolt hit her. "She pays cops with it, not all just a particular few, until it snakes it's way into the hands of greedy politicians. Ever notice a tiny blue tattoo on the inside of her wrist, or does she still wear her watch over it?" She nearly lurched when the burning hit her, and was thankful for an empty stomach. "It's an exclusive club Ms. Bridges, they own this city, among others. I was there when she was brought in. I tested her loyalty, much the same way I'm testing you now." She had begun to lose count, and tried to focus on the image of a pier, and the sweet sounds of Flamenco. "You're just another good fuck in a string of many Ms. Bridges. Tell me where to find her...tell me and I'll stop!" She heaved a sigh of relief when she heard the phone, the aching settling around her like a security blanket. Tears filling her eyes. "Cry me a river." He whispered near her ear.

Footsteps in the dark warned her of his return, and she braced herself against the wood and the ropes. Sweat dampened her shirt and forehead, and she swallowed past a sandpaper throat. Dimly she could feel the welts developing on her wrists and ankles. Closing her eyes against the next barrage of pain and shouts, she didn't see the lifted club deal a blow to the back of her head. Darkness.

Magali paced the floor of her apartment, between the stress and the drugs she couldn't sit still. Flipping through channels on the TV she didn't recognize any of the programs. You never watch this shit. She thought tossing away the remote control, and lit the fourth cigarette of the hour. Devi sat on her haunches in the middle of the floor, her head tilted as she watched her anxious mistress. She pressed a cushioned button on her computer and watched the screen come to life. Hastily she clicked on icons, connecting her to the net and her mail. Where the fuck are you Daly, I know you're in here. She found an entry marked Guerrerro and opened it. Typing furiously she typed in the abduction of Casey and what she planned to do, clicked on the send image and sat back. Her cellular rang, and she stumbled across the floor to get it before the second ring, Devi ran out of her way.

"Zero, you need to see me?" The voice of Jaime Moreno was smooth and ebony, a voice used to demanding politely.

"About fuckin' time you called. Meet me on one seven seven, in the bus terminal by Greyhound."

"It's broad daylight Zee," he protested.

"I don't give a fuck. Either you meet me, or I meet you...understand?"

"Twenty minutes." The phone went dead.

The screen saver flicked across the monitor, a black background surrounded a spinning, laughing skull. Come on Daly. She ambled over to the coffee table, its surface speckled with white powder, and ingested more of the lethal stuff. Got to keep moving.

The bus terminal was a huge grey and blue tiled building, a monster of late sixties architecture teetering off a cliff. It connected the George Washington Bridge to the island with a series of ramps and steel beams. Magali walked into the lobby, eyeing the corners and shops under blue shades. A series of blue plastic seats in the center served as a waiting area for Greyhound. Sitting crossed legged on a corner of one of the rows in a navy suit waited Jaime Moreno. His short black hair was slicked back, his face clean-shaven and tan. He held a Styrofoam cup of coffee, and stared blankly at an overhead screen showing a football game. Magali sat a seat away from him and looked up at the screen feigning interest.

"You look like crap Zero." He said sharply.

"Thanks for the compliment, I seem to be getting a lot of those lately."

"What's up?"

"It's Webster."

"He's after that money you got away from him."

"Yeah well, that 250,000 is mine. The idiot thought he could steal it from Wu and never get caught. He wasn't going to give it over to the gauntlet Moreno...I'm sure you know that."

"Yes, we do...stupid Ryan actually thought Webster would share, they got greedy."

"You could use it though can't ya? What with that special-forces program you guys are pushing in Brooklyn...the legislature could sure use some convincing to allocate those funds huh?"

"What we could use is a reason to put that squad in there...too bad that neighborhood is so damn quiet."

"Yeah that's a pity...it doesn't have to be." She said tilting her head.

"Why now Zero? We've been asking for months."

"I want Webster, and Brooklyn...I'll make the streets run red for you ... and you stay away from my business."

"You can have Webster, he's a dead man anyway. No one likes a cop killer Zero. As for Brooklyn...250,000 could sure ease the mind of the senator blocking the allotment."

"Fine...you get your squad, I get Brooklyn, then you can pad the payroll all you fuckin' want. That's 1,000 more uniforms on the street." Fake uniforms, fake names, just make it look like they're there, have their checks go into your account.

"They won't bother you. About that 250..."

"I know they won't...250, you need it for a palm...I'll get you your fuckin' grease." She pushed back her loose hair and began to stand.

"One more thing Zero...You can't take Webster that easy, you know you'll have to pay something...or it could look real bad."

"How long?"

"Two months at least, say...unlicensed weapon?"

"I'll do that standing on my head...serve it up. Tomorrow, ten o'clock, give me some slack before you come in." Magali pushed back her hair habitually with spread fingers, and rose, casually leaving the depot without a backward glance.

Moreno's eyes never strayed from the game, he waited ten minutes after the dark woman left the building, rubbed at the small blue hand tattooed into his wrist and left. Outside the air had turned damp, a dark stormy sky threatened to pour down on the city. The exit he had chosen opened onto a side street, where the traffic of the bridge filed into the city, leaving the strangling smell of exhaust to hang in the trapped air. An old phone booth, circa 1960, with colored panes of glass cracked and dull was strangely placed under a ramp leading into the terminal. With darting eyes Moreno entered the small, rectangular enclosure, and with a high pitched squeal closed the folding doors firmly behind him. In the silence of the booth he dialed a number, amused at the old rotary dial, and waited patiently while the phone rang. A woman's voice greeted him. "Mr. Guerrerro please." A few seconds later a tired masculine voice murmured a 'hello'.

"Tony...she's gonna do it."

Casey felt the arctic breeze through her T-shirt, but thankfully she breathed in the fresh air. The denim of her pants was wet, and she dug through ice with her fingers down to a pebbled surface. Alarmed she struggled against her bonds, the ropes around her wrist digging into her skin, the blind fold tight around her temples. Shit, shit, he just left me somewhere to freeze to death! Her joints screamed in agony, her muscles betrayed her every motion with sharp protest. She was unsure how much time had passed, between the sessions with a raving Webster and the darkness of the basement the meaning of time had disappeared. Her bladder told her it had been way too long.

Webster leaned over the side of the roof peering down to the sidewalk. A black starless canopy hung over the skyline, a baleful wind roamed the streets sending papers and trash flying. He heard the crunch of ice, and a small scraping indicating his captive had awakened. The sound of base and heavy music arrived before the black vehicle did, resonating against the high walls of the red brick buildings.

"Don't worry Ms. Bridges, she'll be here soon. If I'm not mistaken that's her Jeep down there right now."

Gali? She came? Quietly her heart leapt in her chest, fear suddenly taking hold.

Now or never Zero. Bile crept into her throat, the well known street never failed to effect her. She scrutinized the entrance to the building she had not returned to since her brother's death. At your hands Zero. Trembling she held the bottle to her nostril, in a rapid breath she inhaled its contents and hurled it out into the street. Strong steps took her through the doorway and up the stairs to the rooftop. Each step sung a different memory, a deal on this one, a fight on this, first kiss, first fuck. Casey, please don't hate me. Fuck it...if you live through this and still hate me I won't care. You'll be alive, somewhere.

Allowing the beast within her to stir, she placed a hand on the cold metal of the roof door and shoved it open. Gun in her hand she laid frigid eyes on the form of Webster standing over a curled Casey quivering on the ground. A spark of light made Magali aware of the revolver pointed at the hindered woman. The sight of the bound and blindfolded blonde enraged the flames licking at her soul. My Saint.

"Here I am asshole, let her go...she's got nothing to do with this." At the sound of Magali's voice Casey felt a rush of relief. It is her.

"Drop the gun and we'll talk," he leered.

"Spare me the bullshit Webster, you don't want to talk. Untie her and let her go, or we'll all be sitting in Hell...supper with the devil...you up for it?" The smirk on her face bespoke of negligent self-preservation.

"Drop the gun!" He yelled, the weapon in his hand closing in on Casey. A small whimper reached Magali's ears, and she grimaced as she lowered her hand to place the gun on the snow covered ground.

"That's better Guerrerro. Come over here where I can see you...right here on the ledge."

Deliberately Magali measured her steps, coming as close to Casey as she dared she sat on the ledge of the roof and glanced over the side.

"Untie her Webster...this is between us," she drew an imaginary line in the air connecting herself with the hair-triggered man.

Webster gave her a crooked grin and produced a small pocketknife. Leisurely he lowered himself, and with one neat slice the rope binding Casey's hands fell curled to the ground. Automatically she rubbed at the sore wrists, and pulled the fold away from her eyes, wincing in pain as she did. Magali treasured every gut wrenching move from the blonde, her anger broiling under the surface.

Casey watched raven hair cover some of the dark woman's face, swept there by the wind. In a gesture of surrender Magali stretched her arms away from her body, and Webster crept closer, pointing the gun just under her jaw. The cold metal rubbed against her skin, and she glared into the eyes of a familiar tormentor.

"I want my money Guerrerro." His breath sour in the air whispered to her.

"Not in front of the girl Webster." She said laying her sight on the shuddering woman near her feet. Casey melted into the colorless orbs, in the darkness of the night they bore through her, sending her a plea for forgiveness that burned in the short distance between them. A harsh hand at her shoulder pushed her up and away, and Casey stood on shaky legs.

"Move away from us...but not too far understand?" He growled.

She attempted a step and nearly fell, her weakened body refusing to react to the commands of her mind. Glancing back at Magali she held her breath, noticing a stealthy hand wandering steadily towards a black boot. Deep blue eyes scanned her body, scrutinized the shaking of her hands, the pale color of her lips. That's more than just the cold.

"What did you do to her Webster?" She spoke from deep within, a rumbling in her voice like distant thunder before a storm.

His face widened in a sickening grin, and he gazed in her eyes as the words formed on his lips. "She screamed for me."

The features on Magali's face turned brutal, "The other side of the coin Casey," she said through a leer.

"What the fuck is that supposed to mean?" He yelled.

Pressing into Magali, irritated at the uncommon phrase he failed to recognize her intentions. Giving in to the force exerted by the older man, her long form dropped back. His hawk-like profile twisted in fear and he pushed away from her trying to get away. But her hands held on to him as both figures dipped and toppled over the side. "No!" Casey screamed, her throat on fire, her lungs in flames she ran with every ounce of strength she had left to the ledge. A shot rang out into the night. Anxiety turned to solace when the expected sight of the plunging forms was transformed by a rusty metal fire-escape nearly invisible in the dark.

Magali was over him, straddling his torso and pinning his armed hand to the grate of the fire-escape, her face contorted into a feral grimace. Webster fought to gain control, bending his wrist within Magali's grasp to aim the gun back at the looming figure over him. Suddenly her head snapped back, and with lightning speed came crashing down on him, effectively snapping the bridge of his nose. A warm spurt of blood flowed from one nostril, across his lips and down his cheek. Without much effort Magali wrested the gun from his hand, released the clip and let it fall clattering onto the street below. In one quick motion her knife was in her other hand, her blue eyes gleaming in the dim square of light shining on them. She pressed the curved blade of the knife cruelly against his throat, a thin red line appeared on the wrinkled skin.

"Gali...no." She whispered gently.

"He hurt you Casey...he..." Leaning in for the kill as she spoke through clenched teeth. The heat of knowing what Casey had been through chilled her. Her nostrils flaring with the knowledge, she moved deliberately, slicing through the ear of the horrified man under her who screamed in pain.

"Please," Casey gasped. One word, in its simplicity, soothed the beast, and Magali pushed the blooded blade back into its sheath. Briskly she searched the frightened man, a smile of satisfaction gracing her lips when she found what she looked for. Lifting the small black box over the his face she pressed the small button on it's side, a crystal blue light sang between them. "Will you scream for me," she asked in his ear. Standing over him, careful not to have any contact with him, she pressed the light into Webster's chest, the smell of burning flesh wavering in the air. He screamed, and with one small shudder passed out. Magali rose, climbing over the side of the metal box and swinging herself over the ledge she wrapped her arms around the shuddering blonde. "I'm sorry Casey, I'm so sorry." The need for contact was overwhelming and it shook her to the core, dispelling the anger ravaging her spirit. Casey grabbed onto the back of her neck and pulled her down for a lingering kiss, recognizing at once the meaning of 'a necessary evil'. A bitter taste passed to her and she sensed the scent of scotch, but the warmth and security of the arms that held her up cancelled the world around them and she became weightless in the embrace.

Falling to her knees Magali hung onto Casey's legs, burying her face in cold thighs. Casey joined her, lifting the strong chin up to meet cerulean eyes filled with sorrow. Magali pulled away from her, avoiding her eyes and removing her jacket she wrapped the shivering blonde in it.

"I'm sorry Casey, I didn't want you to see me this way, not before, and not now..."

"Shhh, it's alright I shouldn't have followed you, it was stupid...baby you're sweating?" Casey felt the moisture on her cold hands, noticed the strands of hair that stuck to Magali's skin. "You're stoned?" Sirens screamed, red and yellow lights flashed in all directions, and cars could be heard screeching to a halt.

"I...I...uhm...I thought I'd lost you for good and..."

Casey kissed her gently, smoothing away some black wisps of hair from her damp forehead. "Gali, I don't completely understand what's going on...but nothing...nothing makes sense without you. I won't leave you...not now...not ever." How can I when you need me so much, and I you? A whisper of a grin crossed Magali's features, as she removed her jacket and draped it around the smaller woman's shoulders.

Dark uniforms surrounded them, pulling them apart, pushing Magali to the ground. She winced at the pull from the stitches still in her chest. Great time to come down. "No, no...she didn't do anything, he did...he did." She heard Casey screaming at the officers, and allowed herself to be dragged to her feet and shoved to the roof door. "You have the right to remain silent, anything you say or do can be used.........."

She shot Casey a look over her shoulder, a familiar shape next to the small woman winked at her. Daly.

"Not to worry Ms. Bridges...two months...tops. I'm sorry to have to do this to you, but could you give that nice officer over there a statement." Casey nodded and headed off in the direction Daly had pointed to. He ambled over to the slumped body of Webster and whispered in his ear. "You're one dumb bastard Webster. Hmmm...you know, it would be really funny if you ended up in the same holding cell as our tall and lovely friend...mistakes happen you know." He said shrugging his shoulders. "I could make sure everything went smoothly for you, one man of the law for another? If only I knew who killed Ryan." Daly's dark blonde eyebrows lifted in a hopeful expression. Tugging the older man's watch off he gazed at the fragile swollen wrist, leering as he noticed the faded blue hand inked into the delicate skin. One down, a few hundred to go.

With her apartment a mess and her spirit dragging she climbed into Magali's Jeep, the buzz of one hundred and one questions ringing in her ears. Some police cars remained haphazardly parked along the street, their lights casting weird shadows along the pavement, adding to the surrealism of the scene. The scent of leather and scotch clung to the seats, mingled with the fragrance that was unique to the dark woman. Mercifully, in her stupor, Magali had carelessly left the keys in the ignition. Her heart wrenched at their feel, knowing her hand had last touched them. It was a long and arduous drive to the Hudson Heights section of Manhattan, where a lonely apartment and an abandoned dog waited for a delayed procurator. Streetlights passed by in a blur and she drove through pure intuition. Please let this be a stupid nightmare, please.

Devi waited by the door, tail wagging wildly as she spotted Casey wearing her mistress's jacket. The dog searched for the taller woman, and as if knowing what had happened dropped her tail and rubbed her head against Casey's calf. In anguish she dropped herself onto the couch, hiding her face with her hands she began to weep into the warmth of the jacket she wore. The turmoil and fear of the day finally taking it's toll. Wiping her face she caught sight of an unusual object on the coffee table obscured by the tears in her eyes. She dipped a finger into the bag, and tasted the powdery substance it contained. It's that taste, it was on her lips when I... Casey scrutinized the area taking in the fallen lamp, the empty bottle of scotch discarded in the kitchen. She sighed, shaking her head and swallowing her grief. This just gets worse doesn't it? Devi jumped up to the spot next to her and gave her a sloppy lick, coaxing the woman to pay her attention. Casey invited her up to sit next to her on the couch, and the animal snuggled into her. Finding some comfort in Devi's unconditional care, Casey fell into a light slumber.

The tombs of New York City, as they were affectionately referred to by its residents, were a series of large barred cells built a few stories underground. Each square held a minimum of ten people, but was usually inhabited by twenty. A public phone at its center had seen its share of tears and curses, its black handset showed the scars left by angry callers. One aluminum toilet in a corner serviced the population, lidless, out in the open, no shred of it ever being cleaned evident. Narrow wooden benches lined the walls, every inch occupied by a restless human form. The absence of windows trapped the various scents of human bodies, the clean and not so clean of the city. An officer held on to the small chain between Magali's wrists to guide her through the labyrinth of the tombs. Her notoriety allowed for a speedy booking, as none of the officers wanted to wait with her out in the hallway, and she had been skipped to the front of the line. Once outside the cell she would call home until her arraignment, the officer unbound her wrists, and holding a gun to her back instructed her to step inside. The door was quickly shut behind her with an immense clang of metal.

Magali scanned the room, taking in all the faces, and deciding which were harmless and which would get her into deeper trouble. Finding the ugliest among the visitors was easy, and steadily Magali ambled over to the menacing woman. Her face told her story, a bubbled scar stretching it's way from chin to ear. Grabbing a firm hold of the dark skinned woman's shirt, she pulled her up to her feet and threw her on the ground. Expressionless she took the woman's place on the bench. For a moment it looked as if the woman would fight back, but the cold look in the ice blue eyes warned her to go quietly. Magali crossed her arms over her chest, extended her long legs, crossed them at the ankles, and leaned into the wall behind her. It's gonna be a long fuckin' night.

To her surprise she was headed for the courtrooms above the tombs within an hour, the justice system of the city that never slept followed in step with the adage. Handcuffed she was led through a narrow brown hallway, and in through an old wooden door. Sleeping citizens waited for the arraignments of their friends or family members on the benches reserved for the public. Somber in his black robes, a graying man sat as judge on the high pockmarked bench. His chin resting sternly on praying hands, which subtly opened revealing a small indecipherable blue spot on the man's wrist. Magali caught the signal easily, and directed her step towards her designated table, where she would stand next to an extremely familiar figure. Daly?

The tall man leaned close to her, whispering in her ear. "I'm Mr. Harlan got it? We'll get you out on bail for now, that little woman of yours need to see you...what can I say, I'm a sucker for romance." The proceeding went as she expected, her date for a court appearance set, bail pronounced. She muted out the words, knowing her voice would not be called upon in this proceeding. Instead she kept her minds eye focused on the image of Casey and her smile.

Casey shirked away from the cold nose pressed into her neck, but it was persistent. She opened her eyes to stare into the close brown orbs of a panting Devi. "I guess you could use a walk huh girl? Maybe it will help me loosen up some." She had fallen asleep fully dressed, and it was just a matter of finding Devi's leash, and collaring the fidgeting animal.

Outside a bitter blast of night air slapped against her, Devi shook herself in the chill. Despondently the two walked away from the building, trudging slowly towards the park. Without warning Casey felt a tug on the leash connecting her to Devi, the dog had halted her walk and stubbornly sat, facing the opposite direction. In the distance Casey could see a blue and white police car making it's way towards the front of Magali's building. What now damn it? I just fixed that place up, bet they're going to fucking rip it apart again. As she anticipated the car pulled in at the front, idling ominously on the dawn-mantled street. Devi let out a high pitched yelp and strained against the leash, dragging a recalcitrant Casey behind her. The front door opened and an exhausted looking Daly stepped out onto the sidewalk, smiling knowingly at her he opened the back door. A pang of joy bounded within her as a dark-haired head leaned out, pale blue eyes glimmering in the fresh light. Magali wore a haggard but exultant expression. She opened her arms, calling Casey wordlessly. If you reject me now...God.

The leash fell from her hand, and Casey threw herself into the compact body standing before her. A tide of emotions swept over her as she fell against a powerful chest. Listening to the sporadic rhythm of Magali's racing heart, and knowing why it was like that she shook with a mixture of rapture and anger. Devi limped around the embraced couple, occasionally bumping them with her hindquarters. Clearing his throat Daly stated an unheard farewell and took refuge in the police car. They never noticed it drive away, Magali intent on wiping the tears from Casey's face with a tender touch.

"I'm sorry baby, it was all a rouse. Daly knew where I was going...we had to play it out that way. I wish I could explain." Her voice was husky and low, the effects of her self-destructiveness.

"You don't have to, I know there are things you won't be able to say to me...but we have to talk." Devi heard the word walk, and leaned her two front paws on Casey's thigh. "As soon as I take this trouble maker for a little walk that is."

Upon their return Devi pounced into the bedroom, and up onto the bed, where a half-lucid Magali lay spread-eagle. A growl from Magali sent her jumping with a thud onto the floor, curling into a ball at the foot of the bed. Casey quickly took her place, nudging Magali awake with her elbow.


"Why do you do that?"

"I can't...the less you know...."

"Not that Magali Guerrerro, I found your...the drugs, I could taste it on your lips when I kissed you last night."

Magali turned onto her side, throwing an arm over Casey's legs. "Do we have to talk about that now?"

"Yes," she replied adamantly. "I don't like it...god damn it...every time you walk out the door I'm scared you won't come back...you risk death everyday. My soul aches with it...must you help the world take you away from me?!"

She sighed, "I didn't think you would..."

"I can't watch you kill yourself Gali...if that's what you want...I won't be here to..." Her words trailed off, leaving behind a bleak silence.

"No...I...I would...without you..." Magali sat up, fully awake at the prospects she faced.

"Promise me Gali...promise you won't do that anymore."

"For you...anything and everything." She said the words leaning towards her, yearning to feel the warmth of her Saint.

"Ah ah, out of those clothes." Casey warned wagging a finger at the taller woman. Magali complied, and Casey followed her own advice. The skin on her shoulder smarted, a small dark line marking the spot Webster had first chosen to use the stun gun. She heard the angry intake of breath behind her as strong hands circled her waist. "That sonofabitch, I shoulda..."

"Gali, it's okay really. I feel much better...now that you're here."

Magali frowned and walked into the bathroom, where Casey could hear her rummaging through the medicine cabinet. She returned holding a small container filled with a pearly cream Casey recognized.

"That's for burn victims...how'd you get that?"

"Don't ask, just turn and let me put some of this on you."

Gently Magali applied the cool cream to the small burn, doggedly chasing away the memories of how she had come to own the prescribed cream; her induction into the hall of shame.

She thought, as the soothing strokes applied to her shoulder calmed the throbbing. When was the last time someone did anything for you, without any other intent but to take care of you? Casey caught the strained expression in the cerulean eyes. "Baby, really, I'm okay."

'I'm...not worth...this Case." Her shoulders slumped and she swallowed hard, backing away from the bewildered smaller woman.

"Why? Why do you say that?"

You can't even say it to her can you Zee? "I'm not good for you...you deserve someone who can make you happy, someone who isn't surrounded by..."

"Don't you dare Gali...don't you dare make decisions for me. Now, we're both really tired, and you don't look so hot yourself, so let's just take this one day at a time."

What if tomorrow never comes? Exhausted and defeated Magali embraced her stalwart lover, gaining strength from her care, and amused by her audacity.

They settled in under the sheets, skin to skin, reveling in the natural heat of their bodies. Magali spooned Casey tightly, kissing the back of her neck. A timid sun rising over the river, dawn, threw light onto a hopeful day. A smoldering desire burned in them, the moment too raw and rare, the comfort of their touch enough to melt away the turbulence of long dismal hours.



"There's something you should know."

"What's that?"

"I'll be going away for a little while."

"Should I even ask?"

"I think you should know...Daly got me out tonight, but I have to go back. Just two months."

"Just two months!" Strong limbs surrounded her, providing an aching comfort. Black Velvet.

"I have to...part of the deal...I promise I'll explain when I can." She snuggled into the smaller woman, delighting in the closeness and the presence of her Saint.



"We're not done with this."

"I know."



"You are...worth it."

"I want to be."

Should they mention your name,
I will not deny that I have known you
Should they offer me clothes,
I will deny them for I have worn you
Should they offer me a hand,
I will refuse it for I shall never let you go
Should they offer me rest.
I will deny it for my bed has been you
Should they offer me food,
I will refuse it for I have tasted you
Should they offer me water,
That too, I shall refuse, for I have drank your nectar in
Should they offer me sanctuary,
I will deny them for you are my temple
If they offer me a god,
I will deny it for I have worshipped at your feet
When they offer me pain,
I shall not submit, for no one can match what you have brought
And when they offer me salvation
I will refuse it, for nothing may equal the absolution you bring

To be continued in The Sacrament series....

Mail Morrig

So this was my first attempt at an über, I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. None of this would have been possible without the support of my better half, Dee, and my beta reader Dawn. I would especially like to thank all the pups and non-pups who sent me feedback as the story progressed, you guys kept me moving. To Melissa Good, who inspired me to start writing, my deepest thanks, always. The original poem at the end, also titled Absolution, was written specifically for this story by my soulmate Dee (aka Bo on ATX). And yes Virginia, there is a sequel.... AAAAAARRRRRRRROOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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