Disclaimers in Part 1

SPECIAL WARNING for graphic violence

This story revolves around gangsters, hoodlums and goons of all shapes and sizes, and is therefore, by definition, graphically violent at times. In some scenes, that violence is directed towards women, so people who are disturbed by such themes are advised to find something else to read than this story.




Two blocks away from the shortcut that would lead them to her apartment near Franklin Boulevard, Maeve's phone rang. She slapped her forehead and groaned. Reluctantly, she unclipped the phone from her belt and flipped it open.

"It's Fever. This better be important."

'Fever, it's Giacomo from Pizza 24. We need your help... pronto. Some jerkoff is tearing the place apart. Please!'

"I'll be there, ETA three minutes," Maeve said and slapped her hand down onto the steering wheel.

"Bad news?" Staci said.

"Yeah." Maeve checked the rear view mirror - the road behind them was empty.

"Hang on!" Maeve growled and pulled the handbrake, making the Mustang snap around. As soon as the car had settled, Maeve stepped on the gas, and they took off going in the direction they had just come from.

"We're going the wrong way down a one way street!" Staci squealed and grappled for the panic grip.

"I know. The owner of Pizza 24 is in trouble," Maeve said, like it would explain everything.

"So? Why couldn't he call the cops?" Staci said, using both hands to hang on to the panic grip.

"Oh, please..."


They blasted out of Third Street and turned onto Jefferson Boulevard. Maeve was furiously ducking and diving through the traffic, and Staci had to close her eyes a few times.

Maeve had to stand on the brakes when an old Plymouth was slow to move out of her way, and she turned the steering wheel sharp right and then sharp left to get ahead of it. As they passed, she honked with one hand, and waved the other out of the window.

"Jeez, Maeve! If we die, I'll never speak to you again!" Staci said, and gripped the panic bar even harder.

For a brief moment, Staci thought Maeve would cross the center line and go the wrong way up Jefferson, too, but at the last possible moment, the enforcer turned sharp left and made a u-turn that had Staci squealing at the top of her lungs.

As soon as the Mustang had come to a halt, Maeve jumped out and strode towards the pizza parlor with determined steps.

Staci almost didn't dare to open her eyes, but she finally did. She released the death grip she had on the panic bar, and swept her hair away from her eyes.

She took a few calming breaths, and wiped the sweat off her brow...


Maeve stepped through the door to the pizza parlor. Formerly, it had been a glass door, but now it was an empty frame, with a bucketful of broken glass spread all over the ground on both sides of it.

On the other side of the counter, Giacomo's wife tended to one of the waiters, who was leaning against a wall, holding a napkin to his bleeding nose.

"All right, what in the Hell is going on here?" Maeve said in a strong voice.

An aggressive-looking man in his early 30's was standing next to a sodapop vending machine, holding a wooden club in his hand. Judging by the crushed mess at his feet, the club had earlier been a leg of one of the chairs Giacomo had in his Ristorante.

"Mind your own fuckin' business, bitch," he said, and slammed the club into the vending machine, making a deep dent in the side.

"This is my fuckin' business, buster. An' I don't particularly like people harrassin' my friends."

"Oh yeah? Whatcha gonna do about it, little girl?" he said, pointing the club in Maeve's direction.

Maeve ignored the man's threat and acted as nonchalantly as she could. In reality, she was as taut as a bowstring. She knew that jerks like that could snap at the drop of a hat, so she had to be on her toes. The first priority would be to get him out of the Ristorante without further damage.

When Giacomo heard Fever's voice, he came running out from the kitchen. He was a rotund man in his late 50's, with friendly eyes, salt-and-pepper hair and a walrus mustache.

"Thank God you came so quickly, Fever. That guy over there threatened to kick our asses... he wanted shrimps on his pizza but they had gone bad, so we only had anchovies," Giacomo said.

"I fuckin' hate anchovies!" the violent man shouted, and raised the club against Giacomo.

Maeve jumped forward and kicked the violent man just below the ribs on his right side. He groaned pitifully and his legs wobbled. He tried to swing the club at Maeve, but she kicked it away, her boot impacting on his hand and wrist with a loud crunch. He howled in pain, and staggered backwards, ending up falling on his backside on top of the crushed chair.

Maeve quickly went over to him, grabbed his hair and forced his head towards her.

"Are you done here? Or do you want more?"

"I only wanted some shrimps... I hate anchovies..." he mumbled, shaking his head in defeat.

"Whatever," Maeve said, and dusted off her hands.

The man slowly got to his feet and appeared to leave the pizza parlor - but just as he passed Maeve, he roared and took a fierce swing at her.

Giacomo's wife screamed a warning to Maeve, but she was already aware of what was going on. She ducked and easily avoided the clumsy swing, and then took a step back to get a better angle of attack. Within a split second, she fired off a right hook to the man's cheekbone that made his head snap around - he wobbled badly, but kept standing. Maeve moved in deep and finished him off with a hard left straight into his gut. In an instant, all the air rushed out of him, and his eyes rolled back in his head.

Maeve pushed him away from her, and he fell backwards onto the floor, finally ending up poking his head through the door he had busted earlier.

She looked down at her hand and winced - all the knuckles on her right hand had been skinned by hitting that stupid eejit's rock solid chin. She flexed her fingers one by one, but she didn't appear to have any broken bones.

"Ice is your friend," Giacomo said, and gave her a pouch filled with ice cubes.

"Thanks, Giacomo."

"Never a dull moment..." Staci said, standing in the doorway. She quickly spotted Maeve's bruised knuckles, and she jumped over the knocked-out man to get to the enforcer.

"Dammit, Maeve, I can't take you anywhere. Look at your hand!"

"Meh, it's a scratch."

"When we get back to your pad, you're gonna get pampered, Maeve," Staci whispered for Maeve's ears only, and gently took the bruised hand in her own.

Maeve winked at the owner of the pizza parlor, who grinned broadly in return.

"Giacomo, here's $400. It won't cover everything, but it's a start. Call Fast Freddie in the morning, and we'll get things squared," Maeve said, and handed Giacomo a wad of dollar bills.

"Grazie, Fever. Hey, how about I make you a Pizza? On the house, of course."

"Well, we were on our way back to my place..."

"Actually, I'm starved," Staci said.

"... but we can wait a little longer. Make it a Quattro Stagioni... hold the shrimp," Maeve said, and winked again.

"You got it, Fever."

"What about this piece of trash?" Staci said, nudging the man's leg with her foot.

"He'll be out for a little while yet. I'll call Danny in a few and make him come over with a broom."


On their way back to Maeve's apartment, the delicious smell of the smoking hot pizza wafted out of the cardboard box, and filled up the Mustang.

"The sound you hear is my stomach jumpin' for joy," Staci said, making Maeve laugh out loud.

"Cute. It does smell pretty good, I'll give ya that."

"There's something I've been wondering about... why does someone called Giacomo have connections with the Donnellys instead of with Coluzzo?"

"It isn't that black and white anymore, Staci. Thirty years ago, it couldn't have happened, but things change and we gotta change with them. Coluzzo has plenty of people working for him whose last name begins with a 'Mac', too."

"Oh... it's definitely not like that over at Rose's. I don't think we have a single customer who isn't of Irish descent."

"Well, that's the difference between a big business and a small independent."

"I guess."

Maeve turned off Fourth Street and entered the alley where her apartment was. She reversed up to the sliding door and rummaged through the glovebox for the remote.


Jimmy Snakes had taken three more Happy Pills, and he had fully entered a blissful state. He was cruising Jefferson with his arm hanging out of the window, generally enjoying himself and loving everyone he met.

He had just made the u-turn at Fourteenth Street when his old Buick Century suddenly started coughing and spluttering. The engine eventually died, and the car rolled to a halt by the curb.

He stared dumbly at the instruments, not quite comprehending what was going on. After a couple of minutes, he came to the conclusion that the car had stopped because the little needle on the tank gauge was leaning against the 'E'. He turned the ignition key several times just to make sure he'd found the correct problem, but not much happened - apart from the starter motor sounding increasingly rough.

He scratched his hair and tried to focus. He knew something had to be done about the situation, but he couldn't quite remember what it was.

'Oh yeah, buy gas...' he thought and giggled.

He found his wallet and looked through it. It was nearly empty. All he had was $1.98 and a pirated credit card. He stared at the contents of the wallet for a few minutes until he realized he didn't have enough money to buy gas.

"Shit..." he said out loud.

Another few minutes went by without much activity, when he suddenly remembered that he still had the Beretta he had stolen from White Fever. A goofy grin spread out over his lips, and he gave himself a high-five.

He got out of the Buick and leaned against the door. Only a few people were out walking around, and none of them paid him any attention. There were still plenty of cars cruising Jefferson, but they all drove straight past him after having made the u-turn at Fourteenth Street. This section of Jefferson was simply a lot less busy than further North, and it was even more pronounced this time of night.

His eyes caught a colorful neon sign on the other side of the Boulevard, and he half-ran, half-shuffled over there.


The sign above the store read "McMillan's Pawnshop", and the glass door and the two windows on either side of it were all reinforced by thick metal bars.

Snakes opened the door and went inside. The small shop was so jam-packed with all kinds of items that he could only go a few steps in either direction before stumbling over something. A narrow path had been cleared in the middle of all the stuff, leading to a counter with a glass booth. Similarly to the shop windows, the booth was reinforced by metal bars.

Snakes walked through the narrow path and dinged a small bell on the counter. A fat man with black spectacles, long, greasy hair and an unruly full beard came out from a back room.


"Hey, man. I 's wonderin' if I could, you know, borrow some gas money...?"

"Are you fuckin' nuts? Get the fuck outta here, ya moron!"

"No wait, man! I've got something to trade."

"Let me see it."

Snakes reached behind him and took out the Beretta. He ejected the clip and put the weapon in a small drawer, which he then pushed under the metal bars.

The fat man inspected the weapon very thoroughly. He appeared to be going through a checklist, searching for known issues with this type of firearm. He finished off his inspection by sniffing the barrel.

"Hmmm. Pretty good quality. Genuine, not a replica. Hasn't been cleaned since it was last fired. Where'd ya steal it?"

"Long story, man, long story."

"35 bucks."

"What?! No way, man, $50, or I'm walkin'"

"Then walk, buddy. $35's my only offer," the fat man said, and put the gun in the drawer.

Snakes just stood there with his jaw halfway down his chest. This wasn't at all going the way he had planned it. Suddenly his brain made a few connections, and he took the Beretta, and held it up against the metal gate.

"Gimme all the money you've got in the cash register, man!"

"Hey, nitwit, you ain't got the clip in."

"Oh..." Snakes replied, and quickly inserted the clip.

"... and by the way, look up there. Say cheese," the pawnbroker said, and pointed at the wall above him.

A small video camera was pointed directly at Snakes, and underneath it, a red LED light was flashing.

Snakes stared dumbly at the camera, not understanding any of it.

"All right ya dumb fuck, you've had your chance. If you don't get outta here right now, I'm callin' White Fever," the fat man said, and picked up the receiver of a phone that stood on the counter.

"White Fever! Fever's the one who got me in all this trouble, man! If only that stupid bitch would stay dead, I... I wouldn't be here! Fuck, man! I capped her twice in the tits, man!" Snakes whined, stamping his foot on the floor.

"You're trippin', dude. Get the fuck outta my store, ya fuckin' moron, or else I'm gonna come out there and rip ya a new one!"

For once, Snakes understood, and he rapidly left the pawnshop.


He started running down the boulevard, loudly cursing White Fever and all of her ancestors. After fifty yards or so, he was completely out of breath, and he had to lean against a wall to regain his composure.

A bright red neon sign shone in his eyes, and he looked up. The sign read 'Song Park Convenience Store - Open 24H'. He grinned and pulled up in his drooping pants. He double-checked that the clip was in the Beretta, and then he hid the weapon in the pocket of his pants.

The convenience store was very neat and tidy, and it had a faint smell of foreign spices and herbs. A young Korean woman was sweeping the floor around the softdrink vending machines, and an elderly man, most likely the young woman's father, was polishing the counter next to the cash register.

For some reason, Snakes had never been in here before, so he decided to take a quick tour of the store. He went up and down the aisles, picking up a few little things while he was psyching himself up to go to the counter.

He put down the assorted candy bars on the counter, and pretended to reach for his wallet. The elderly man opened the cash register, and Snakes drew the Beretta.

"Gimme all you got!" he shouted, and pointed the weapon at the man.

The man started speaking very rapidly to him, but it was in Korean, so Snakes didn't understand anything. He knew that this stickup was going downhill fast, too, so he reached over the counter and grabbed a wad of dollar bills out of the cash register.

Just as Snakes turned around to leave the store, he sensed movement behind him. He peeked over his shoulder, and looked directly into two very angry mahogany brown eyes.

The young woman roared, and brought down the broomstick onto Snakes' back with such force that it almost made him lose his balance. She hit him a second time, and the impact snapped the broomstick in two.

Snakes hollered and stumbled his way across the slippery floor. Dropping most of the cash he had stolen, but making sure he held onto the Beretta, he slipped and slid towards the exit of the convenience store.

Once clear of the door, he started running towards his Buick, and didn't stop until he reached it. He jumped in, and turned the ignition key... and remembered why he was trying to rob stores in the first place. He slapped his forehead, but unfortunately he did it with the hand holding the Beretta, so he gave himself a hard thump on the head with the barrel of the gun.

"Oh man, this is not my day!" he howled, rubbing his forehead. He looked at the few remaining dollar bills in his hand... he had succeeded in scoring $8 from the convenience store.

'At least I can buy two gallons of gas,' he thought, and sighed.

... and on top of all his other problems, his Happy Pill-induced buzz was wearing off, too. He sighed again, and got out of the car to begin the long trek up to the gas station at Ninth Street.


Maeve unlocked the door to her apartment and waved Staci inside.

"Don't even think about laughin'," Maeve said as she closed the door behind them. She hobbled across the floor, wearing a plastic carrier bag over her left boot so she wouldn't get any gunk on her expensive carpet.

"Too late," Staci said, laughing out loud over the silly sight.

"Listen, I refuse to go anywhere near food before I've had a shower, so just pop the pizza in the microwave."

"OK. No problemo."


Maeve placed the car keys on a low table and unhooked the shoulder holster. She flung the leather straps over the back of a chair and went into the bedroom.

"This is gettin' ridiculous. Pretty soon, I'm gonna need a housemaid to come and do my laundry," she grumbled as she unbuttoned her shirt, and started working on the boot in the plastic carrier bag.

"Uh-huh?" Staci said, standing in the doorway, secretly enjoying watching Maeve take her clothes off.

"Yeah. Good thing I have so many pairs of white jeans. People on the street wouldn't recognize me if I didn't wear 'em. They're my uniform, you know."


"Is that all you can say?"


"Cute. Is the pizza in the oven?"

"It's sizzlin' as we speak," Staci said, and watched Maeve fling the filthy boot, still inside the plastic bag, across the hall and into the bathroom where it couldn't do so much damage.

"Well, they're fucked... that stink's never comin' out of 'em. Thank God I had that plastic bag in the car."

Staci looked at Maeve's pant leg - formerly white, it was now sporting a stain that was an ugly mix of organic brown and unrecognizable pale green halfway up to her knee.

"Yuk," Maeve said and scrunched up her nose.

She was about to unbutton her jeans when she noticed that Staci was looking at her... and not only that, the tall woman had that sparkling look in her eyes again.

Maeve's lips creased in a cheeky grin as their eyes met, making Staci respond with a similar one.

"Give me ten minutes, then I'll come and eat... OK?"

"Sure thing. I'll keep it warm for ya," Staci said, and left the bedroom.

"I'm sure you will," Maeve said to herself as she took off her shirt.


Ten minutes later, Maeve returned from the shower, and she walked barefoot into the living room area of the loft.

Staci was sitting in the couch, already on her second slice of pizza. She had helped herself to a can of beer from the fridge, and she took a long swig from it just as Maeve came up behind her.

Maeve crouched down behind the couch and moved a few strains of Staci's jet black hair away from her neck. Maeve put her chin on Staci's shoulder, content with observing the other woman as she ate.



"I'm glad we have something to eat, then," Maeve said, and gently kissed Staci's neck.


Maeve went around the couch to get a slice of her own, when she noticed that Staci stopped chewing, and then gulped audibly.

"Is something wrong? Didn't I get all the gunk off?"

Staci didn't reply - instead, her eyes slowly climbed up Maeve's body, from her bare feet, over the well-toned calves and thighs, past the black silk boxers, over the form-fitting black tank top, and up to her muscular arms and tattooed shoulders. Staci swallowed again and licked her lips, her mouth suddenly bone dry.

"Are... are you gonna eat like that...?" she croaked.

"Yep," Maeve said, and toyed with the elastic band of her boxers.

"Oh..." Staci took a long swig from the beer.

"Whassamatter? You've seen me in less than this."

"Yeah, but... forget it," Staci mumbled.

"Come on, tell me what's on your mind," Maeve said and laughed.

Staci just shook her head and picked up the last slice of her half instead.

Maeve cocked her head and tried to get eye contact with Staci - to no avail. She had always been a woman of action, so she simply went over to the couch and snatched the pizza slice out of Staci's fingers.


Without speaking a word, Maeve jumped up in the couch, and straddled Staci's lap. Their faces were only a few inches apart, and the air between them was electric.

"Open up, the choo-choo's comin' in..." Maeve said, and started making noises like a steam locomotive.

Staci grinned, but complied. She opened her mouth, and Maeve slowly inserted the pizza. Staci bit off a chunk and started chewing. Maeve did the same, and then put the pizza slice down in the box.

They looked deeply into each other's eyes, reliving all the good times they used to share. Staci let her hands roam slowly up and down Maeve's back, and the enforcer responded by sighing sensuously.

Staci pulled Maeve's face down towards her, and their lips finally touched. They kissed very lightly to begin with, satisfied with brushing their lips together to get reacquainted, but soon Maeve traced Staci's lips with her tongue.

Staci only hesitated for the briefest of moments before allowing Maeve inside. Their tongues met, and the kiss rapidly grew in intensity - soon it had reached a level where it threatened to incinerate both women.

Maeve was reluctant to break off the kiss, but the lack of oxygen forced her to. Panting, she leaned her forehead against Staci's, and grinned.

"Gawd, I've missed you so much... I've missed *that* so much..." she whispered, pulling her head back and framing Staci's face with her hands, so they could look into each other's eyes again.

"Oh, you say that to all your girlfriends..."

"No," Maeve said, and leaned down to kiss Staci again.

The kiss was slow and sensuous, and Staci could feel her defenses breaking down one by one. She knew in her heart that getting betrayed for the third time would kill her, and she knew that the feisty enforcer was a dangerous woman to be around... but above all, she knew that she wanted her more than anything.

Staci's fingers found their way inside Maeve's tank top, and they started clawing the muscular back.

Maeve pulled back again, and she couldn't hide the unbridled lust shining in her eyes.

"You know where this is headed, don't you..." Staci whispered huskily.

Maeve simply nodded, and leaned forward again to resume the kissing.

At the last possible moment, Staci turned her head away, making Maeve stop.

"I'm sorry, Staci. I'm doing it again, aren't I? I'm going too fast," she said with a sad smile.

"Well... you're not exactly slow... but that's not why I stopped you."

"Oh?" Maeve said, and put her hands on Staci's shoulders.

"No. I've been roasting all evening in that sweat hut you call a car, and... I need a shower before we do anything else."

"Thank Gawd! I thought you were gonna say you didn't like girls anymore!" Maeve cried out and started to giggle.

"No, silly. I thought my tongue in your throat would have hammered that particular point home," Staci said, and poked Maeve in the ribs.

"Well, I suppose it did," Maeve said, and moved away from Staci's lap.

"I'll only be a few minutes. Don't go anywhere."

"Oh, don't worry 'bout that. I'll be right here, waitin' for ya," Maeve said, and gave Staci's backside a little squeeze as she got up from the couch.

When she heard the bathroom door close, Maeve picked up the pizza box, and wolfed down the remaining slices of pizza. Then she went over to the fridge and debated with herself if she should take a beer or a bottle of spring water. She decided for the spring water, and gulped that down, too.


When Staci returned from the shower, she wore a kimono made of purple silk. It was one of Maeve's, so it only went down to mid-thigh on the taller woman.

"Gawd, that's adorable... and hot!" Maeve said from her position on the couch.

"You think so?"

"Ohhhhh yeah..."

She had to force herself to look above Staci's glorious thighs. It was the first time in a long while that she had seen them, but the intervening years had done nothing to impair their sexiness.

Not that the rest of Staci was any worse. Her full breasts were very visible through the thin fabric, and Maeve's heart started beating faster when she remembered what those breasts used to feel like.

Maeve licked her lips and leaned back on the couch, putting her arms on top of the back rest. The movement made the tank top tighten over her already hardened nipples, and the sensation shot directly to her center.

Staci's blue eyes seemed to be darker than normal, and a vein was beating rapidly on her neck as she was looking at the enforcer.

She went over to the couch and sat down next to Maeve. Suddenly feeling curiously shy, she let her index finger trace Maeve's tattoos.

"Does this have a special meaning?" she said, looking at the confusing patterns of ink on Maeve's right shoulder.

"They're meant to look like flames."


"Yeah," Maeve said, and let her fingers run slowly up Staci's bare thigh. She was slightly disappointed when Staci stopped her progress by putting her hand on top of Maeve's, but she didn't want to spoil the mood by objecting.

"Not yet, OK? We need to talk a bit first," Staci said quietly.

"No problem."

"This was the only one you had in the old days," Staci said, and prodded a stylized capital 'D' on Maeve's left shoulder.

"Yep. D for Donnelly. My family."

"Your gang."

"My family. What was it you wanted to talk about?" Maeve said, trying a different approach by running her fingers through Staci's jet black hair.

"Well..." Staci said, and pulled her legs up underneath her.

"...That we both understand that just because we're doing this tonight, it doesn't mean that we're starting over. I... can't do that again, Maeve."

"Ummm... I understand. Really, I do, but... none of us have said that we would...?"

"I know, and I guess I'm just saying it for my own benefit. I'm just so damned tired of all this relationship nonsense," Staci said and sighed.

"Remember what I told you in the pool hall?"

"...That it ain't never so bad it can't be cured by a quick hump?"

"Exactemundo," Maeve said and leaned in towards Staci's ear. Her tongue started playing with Staci's earlobe, flicking it around, pulling it, and even gently biting it.

Staci giggled and squirmed, but Maeve hung on, teasing mercilessly. When Maeve finally stopped playing with the earlobe, she started kissing her way forward, ending up with placing a very chaste peck on the tip of Staci's nose.

Staci looked deeply into Maeve's eyes. They were as they had always been, Irish green with hints of gold. Maeve could play the tough-as-nails enforcer all she liked, but Staci knew that eyes never lied. Even if she hadn't known Maeve, she would only need to look into her eyes to see that the tough cookie with the spiky white hair and the rough'n'tumble 'tude was in fact very tender, caring, and above all, passionate.

Staci grinned, and Maeve responded by flashing her trademark crooked smile.

The intimacy sent a pleasurable buzz tearing through Staci's system, making every single nerve stand on edge.

"If we don't finish this right now, I'm gonna blow up," Staci whispered huskily, and grabbed Maeve's hand. She pulled the enforcer up from the couch, and led her to the bedroom.


Maeve was right behind, still holding on to Staci's hand, when the tall woman stopped suddenly at the entrance to the bedroom - Maeve couldn't stop in time, so she ran into Staci's back.

"Whut?" she said, and looked past Maeve's broad back.

The dark haired woman was staring at the mirrors in the ceiling.

"Oh... the mirrors... if they make you uncomfortable, we can stay in the living room..." Maeve said, as she followed Staci's line of sight.

Staci turned around and shot Maeve a look of pure, unadulterated lust that went directly to Maeve's center. The enforcer's breath hitched, and her entire body ached for Staci's touch.

Staci slammed the bedroom door shut, and pressed Maeve up against the wall. She looked at her for a split second before assaulting her with a bruising kiss.

As their tongues began to dance wildly, Maeve reached down and untied the belt of Staci's kimono. She reached inside and started caressing a full breast, making Staci press her body hard against the shorter woman, and groan with delight into Maeve's mouth.

When they separated, Maeve moved down and took one of Staci's nipples in her mouth, first moving her tongue around in a circle over the nubbly skin at the base to get it fully erect, and then taking the nipple between her lips and squeezing gently. While it was fixed there, she let her tongue run very slowly back and forth across the tip of the nipple, remembering that this was something that was guaranteed to drive Staci wild.

Staci responded with a few guttural sounds, and she started to sway. Her head was flung back, and her eyes were closed. She had her hands solidly planted on Maeve's shoulders, and her fingers dug so deep into the flesh that they left rounded indents when she moved them.

Even without touching herself, Staci knew that she was dripping wet, and she also knew that she badly needed a quick release, so when Maeve left Staci's nipples to get some air, she grabbed hold of her, and turned the two of them around. She leaned against the wall and breathed heavily.

"Please, Maeve, please..." she whispered, and spread her legs to ease Maeve's access.

Maeve didn't need to be asked twice, so she moved even closer and put her leg between Staci's. The skin on her thigh immediately became coated in Staci's juices, and she felt her own center responding with a sudden throb.

Staci lowered herself down onto Maeve's well-muscled thigh, and she began to grind rhythmically on the smooth skin. At first, she moved slowly, but she soon picked up the pace, and it wasn't long before she could feel the orgasm beginning to build in her core.

She closed her eyes and sought out Maeve's lips with her own. Wordlessly, they let their tongues wrestle against each other, the heated dance matching the intensity of the cadence of Staci's hips.

Suddenly Staci bucked and she pulled Maeve even closer. Staci's hips had taken on a life of their own, and as the orgasm exploded through her body, they continued to pump against Maeve's thigh for several seconds before gradually slowing down.

Staci moaned loudly, and she let out a long, slow sigh. The aftershocks swept through her like waves, and she was trembling from the aftermath of the powerful climax. She leaned forward and buried her head in the nook of Maeve's shoulder - her legs suddenly went limp, and she had a hard time standing up.

Fortunately, Maeve was strong enough to hold her upright, and with a throaty chuckle, she managed to drag the unresponsive Staci over to the bed.

Putting her down gently, Maeve couldn't help but laugh at Staci's predicament. They had known each other for years, but she had never seen Staci so turned on - or so wiped out afterwards.

"Now that's what I call a Petite Mort," Maeve said and chuckled again.

"Gawwwwd," Staci croaked, and took a few deep breaths. She rubbed her face and looked at Maeve with a gobsmacked expression in her eyes.

"Was that good for you, darlin'?" Maeve joked.

"Uh-huh... but... I'm sorry, I was a bit selfish... you didn't even get undressed..."

"Never apologize for needin' or wantin' a quickie," Maeve said, and put her hands on her hips.

Staci grinned and winked, and blew Maeve a kiss.

Maeve wiggled out of her thoroughly soaked boxers and pulled off her tank top. She crawled up into the bed and kneeled next to Staci's prone form.

Maeve took great pleasure in watching Staci's bosom rise and fall as she breathed, and with a broad smile, she reached down to help Staci out of the kimono.

"Come on, let's get this off of ya. We've only just begun," she whispered, and helped Staci up into a sitting position. She pulled the sleeves away from Staci's arms, and threw the kimono down on the floor.

The hollow of Maeve's neck was right in front of Staci's face, and she stuck out her tongue and let it play around in the small valley. She wrapped her arms around Maeve's body so she couldn't escape, and dragged her back down on the bed.

Maeve moved over so she was flat on top of Staci, allowing their naked bodies to touch each other from head to toe. After a bit of kissing and some playful giggling, they started exploring the flat planes and the soft swells of each other to get reacquainted with the other woman's body.

The feeling of heated skin on heated skin was doing wonders for both of them, and they both felt electric. Staci still had her arms around Maeve's body, and with a mighty heave, she rolled them over so that she was on top.

Staci quickly got off Maeve, and shuffled her a bit further towards the edge of the bed, before sliding back up to offer Maeve another searing kiss.

Maeve grinned wickedly as Staci started kissing her way down the enforcer's well-toned body, making sure to pay special attention to her erect nipples.

"Yeah, baby, you know what I like," she whispered, as Staci dragged her tongue on Maeve's skin from her belly button, down past her V's, and into the closely-cropped golden curls.

Once there, Staci placed a single, gentle kiss on Maeve's slick folds before climbing back up.

"Oh, you big tease..." Maeve growled, but didn't have time to complain further as she was assaulted by another heated kiss.

When they separated, Staci once again kissed her way downwards, this time stopping at Maeve's chest. She gathered up Maeve's breasts in her hands and started kneading them gently, alternately kissing them and letting her tongue run across the swells. She noticed the ugly black and purple bruise at the top of Maeve's right breast - that was where Snakes had shot her earlier.

Staci shivered briefly, and made sure to be very gentle with that area, just in case it was still painful.

She pulled back and looked at Maeve. Their eyes met, and to Staci, it looked like the enforcer's Irish green eyes were on fire.

Staci resumed her duties, and closed her mouth around Maeve's right mound. She sucked on the breast, and felt Maeve's nipple grow rigid in her mouth.

The intense sensation almost brought Maeve prematurely over the edge, and she let out a low, guttural purr. She pounded her fist into the bed and writhed around underneath her partner.

Staci chuckled, and moved away from the right breast - only to dive down on the left one. She mirrored her actions from before, and once again Maeve reacted strongly.

After a minute of sweet torment, Staci continued to kiss her way down Maeve's body, past her sternum that had a purple bruise similar to the one on her breast, and finally coming to a rest between Maeve's legs. To prepare for the next stage, Staci climbed off the bed and kneeled on the plush bedroom carpet.

Maeve instinctively bent her knees and pulled up her legs, and Staci wrapped her arms around the enforcer's thighs. She looked at Maeve's well-coated folds and licked her lips in anticipation.

Maeve pressed her abdomen against Staci, and she complied by leaning down and slowly drawing her tongue up the full length of Maeve's outer lips. Going back down, she placed a line of little kisses, and then added something that she remembered from the old days - she blew a stream of cold air on the wet surface.

Maeve's reaction was immediate - she bucked and moaned, and put her hands on the back of Staci's head, pressing it into her center.

Staci was quick to use the additional pressure to her advantage, and she poked her tongue through Maeve's folds and ventured into her vagina. Lapping up the copious amount of juices she found there, she extended her tongue as far as it would go, and let it play along Maeve's inner walls.

Maeve let out a sound that was a cross between a groan and a purr, and she pressed even harder on the back of Staci's head, nearly smothering her face against Maeve's outer lips - Staci didn't object, though. Instead, she reached down between her own legs and started pleasuring herself with her free hand.

She pulled back slightly and went to work on Maeve's fully exposed clit, taking it into her mouth and letting her tongue flick across it. At the same time, she inserted two long fingers into Maeve's opening, and began to move her hand back and forth in a rhythmic motion that grew ever faster.

Put under that kind of strain, Maeve could only hold on for a short while, and she climaxed with a force she hadn't experienced in a long time. Every single part of her spasmed and contracted, and she flung her head back and cried out in a series of short screams, each louder than the one before. Her whole body shook from the force of the orgasm, and her inner muscles trapped Staci's fingers deep inside her.

Simply watching Maeve come so hard was enough to bring Staci over the edge, too, and she groaned and bucked wildly, never stopping pleasuring herself until she needed Maeve's touch more than her own.

After a little while, Maeve's inner muscles were relaxed enough to allow Staci to pull out her fingers, and she quickly wiped them and her mouth off on the satin sheets. She climbed up Maeve's body, and wrapped her arms and legs around the enforcer. For several minutes, the two women held each other tight, out of breath, but completely engulfed in a magnificent rush.

"Thank you, baby," Maeve whispered, and turned her head to kiss the tip of Staci's nose.

"You're welcome... and thank *you*," Staci replied. Even as she was saying that, her eyelids drooped, and her breath soon evened out.

With Staci asleep, her grip on Maeve loosened, and the enforcer was able to wiggle free.

Maeve rolled over onto her back, and enjoyed the last waves of her climax. After brushing a damp lock of hair out of Staci's eyes, Maeve looked up at the mirrors in the ceiling. Intently studying the reflections of herself and her new, old lover, she knew that she was a very lucky woman indeed.




Salvatore Coluzzo paced back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, stopping occasionally to send Pietro Cazale a scathing glare.

Unlike Cazale's last visit to the Coluzzo mansion, the hitman hadn't been offered a chair. Instead he'd been forced to stand up in the middle of the room, where he was anxiously waiting for Coluzzo to pass sentence on him.

Coluzzo suddenly stopped pacing and pointed his index finger at Cazale.

"Pietro, do you realize that the Family has invested $2.2 million in those sculptures...? That *I'm* personally responsible for two million two hundred fuckin' thousand Family dollars!?" Coluzzo said, and slammed his fist into his mahogany desk.

"No, Don Coluzzo."

"Well, I am!"

"I'm sorry, Don Coluzzo."

"You fuckin' well better be. Fuck!" Coluzzo said, and resumed pacing back and forth.

Watching a sixty-five year old man, wearing a baby blue silk pajamas and brown slippers, rant and rave while he was walking around in circles felt slightly ridiculous to Cazale, but he knew better than to make a smart-alec comment.

"And the sculptures are still in the warehouse?"

"I can't say for sure, Don Coluzzo, but I believe so."

"What happened to the men who were with you?"

"I've just received information that they were dumped on one of the bridges crossing the Monroe."


"Apparently so."

"They won't be for long. The dumb fucks. I should fuckin' throw 'em into my Ravioli machine. They probably wouldn't even be good enough for that."

"Yes, Don Coluzzo," Cazale said and gulped.

"Tomorrow night, I want you to assemble a new team and go out there and take the fuckin' sculptures back. I don't care how many of Donnelly's men you have to waste, and I don't care if Fat Ass Freddie Donnelly himself shows up. I. Want. Those. Sculptures. Back! ...Do I make myself clear?"

"Very, very clear, Don Coluzzo."

Salvatore Coluzzo stopped pacing and sat down with a bump in his expensive leather chair. He put his hand on top of a small package on the table.

"At least you managed to salvage this," he said, his voice noticeably softer.

He opened a drawer and pulled out a small pocket knife. He unfolded it, and began to cut open the bubble wrap. When he was done, he carefully picked up the item and started sniffing it.

"A genuine pre-Colombian Spanish Bible, Pietro. This baby is nearly 550 years old!"

He opened it and marveled at the handprinted pages.

"Imagine some poor fuck of a monk, toilin' away every single day of his life in some fuckin' monastery just so I could hold it five centuries later! Man!"

"It's very impressive, Don Coluzzo," Cazale lied, hoping that faking an interest would get him off the hook.

"Yes... yes, indeed. So..." Coluzzo said, and stared hard at Cazale.

Pietro's shoulders slumped. So much for that theory.

"What should I do with you, Pietro? I really can't accept that my number two is constantly outfoxed by anything that moves on two legs. What should I do with you...?" Coluzzo said, as he put the Bible into a safe and turned the dial.

"Don Coluzzo... I..."


Coluzzo began pacing again, but slower this time. He kept looking at Cazale, and the hitman felt increasingly uncomfortable.

"That mission in the port tomorrow night will be your very last chance. If you fuck that up, I'll give Marco, my second cousin twice over, a call. I'm sure he can find suitable work for you," he said, and dusted off his hands.

"M-m-Marco...? He's running a farm way the hell out in the boonies! He's breeding pigs with a bazillion flies and pig shit by the truckload, and... and...!"


"But, Don Coluzzo!"

"It's too late for 'buts', Pietro. Much too late. I suggest you call it a night and go home. A good night's sleep will do you good. Don't forget, your career hinges on the success of tomorrow's mission," Coluzzo said, and opened the door to the hallway.

"... Yes, Don Coluzzo," Cazale said as he left, already feeling nauseous.


Maeve moved Staci's arm away from her stomach, and swung her legs over the side of the bed. She took a deep breath, and chuckled over the unmistakable smell of sex lingering in the air.


After returning from an ultra-quick shower, she searched for her silk boxers. When she found them, she quickly discovered that she needed a new, dry pair, so she went over to the walk-in closet and pulled out a drawer. She picked a pair of dark blue boxers and put them on.

As Maeve was doing so, Staci stirred and yawned. She rested her chin on her arms and looked at Maeve.

"Is it morning already?" she said hoarsely.

"No. You've only slept for twenty minutes," Maeve said as she bent down to pick up her tank top. She took a long, hard look at Staci's naked back and rear end, and grinned mischievously.

"Hey, Staci, didn't you say that anything under an hour was too quick?"

Staci opened one eyelid, and an ice blue orb pinned Maeve to the wall.

"I lied," Staci said, and closed her eye again.

Maeve put on the tank, and went into the living room to find her phone. She turned it on, and waited for it to fire up.


Staci rolled over onto her back and sat up. She pulled up her knees, and wrapped her arms around her legs. She just knew that she had a huge, goofy grin on her face, but she couldn't help it.

'Wow... this was ten times better than anything we ever did back in the old days... Why is it that sex with Maeve always turns into such a wild ride? ...Animal attraction, that's why...' she thought and giggled quietly to herself.

She spread out her arms and flopped down onto the bed, hoping the satin sheets would cool off her still flushed body. In a moment of silliness, she moved her arms and legs up and down and made a 'satin angel'. She laughed out loud, not quite believing how good she actually felt - she had really needed this release to break free of the funk she'd been in for the last few weeks.

'Not release, releases,' she thought, and giggled again.

Staci looked at her reflection in the mirrors in the ceiling, and absentmindedly ran her fingers across her breasts, over her stomach and down to the upper edge of her dark patch of hair.

'Who knew those mirrors would turn me on so much...? God...'

She fondly remembered Maeve's expert touch, and her fingers started drawing abstract patterns on her stomach...


"*Fuck*!" Maeve suddenly shouted from somewhere beyond the bedroom door.

Staci sat up again and tried to listen. Her curiosity got the better of her, and she got off the bed and opened the door.

Maeve was sitting on one of the kitchen chairs, pinching the bridge of her nose. Her eyes were closed, but judging by the color of her face, something had upset her.

Staci picked up the kimono and put it on. She turned off the lights in the bedroom and went into the kitchen.

"What's wrong, Maeve?"

"There was a message from Dolores on my answering service. They've found a dead prostitute in an alley off Jefferson."

"Oh, God, no. Was it someone you knew?" Staci said, and kneeled in front of Maeve. She took the enforcer's hands in her own, and gave them a squeeze.

"Not personally, no. Her name was Dominique... she was twenty-two," Maeve said and shook her head.

Staci didn't know what to say, so she moved forward and gave Maeve a hug instead.

"Her clothes were cut open the same way Mary Red's were, so it's gotta be the same asshole who did it. Fuck!" Maeve said, and slammed her fist down onto the kitchen table.

"I'm so sorry, Maeve... do you... do you think you could've caught the bastard if you had been out there, instead... instead of..."

"No. No way, Staci. Don't even think that. Don't feel guilty for what we did. There are five million people in this city, so to go looking for one is like looking for a needle in a needle-stack," Maeve said vehemently.


"'Still' nothing. We made love 'cause we wanted to, and I enjoyed it a helluva lot."

"Well... I did too."

"And that's all that matters. The end," Maeve said and got up from the kitchen chair.

Staci nodded, but she couldn't help feeling slightly guilty.

"What now?" she asked.

"Dolores said that the night porter working in The Majestic might know something, so now I'm gonna get dressed and go over there."

She checked her watch - 4:55 AM.

"The city's gonna be waking up in little more than an hour, and I want this problem fixed by then," Maeve said, put on her shirt, and then stepped into a fresh pair of white jeans.

She looked at Staci, who was still wearing the kimono, and looking excruciatingly sexy doing so.

Maeve moved over to Staci and put her hand on her cheek. She let her thumb run slowly back and forth across Staci's cheekbone, and then leaned down to give the dark haired woman a loving kiss on the lips.

"You better get dressed if you wanna come with me," Maeve whispered.

"Oh, I thought you'd want to take care of business on your own...?"

"Yesterday, yes. Today, no."

"Er... tell you what... I need a shower first, and..."

"Go ahead, I got the munchies anyway, so I'll just grab somethin' sweet while you shower," Maeve said, and winked.

"Deal," Staci said and made a beeline for the bathroom.


When she came out, she was fully dressed and ready to go. She zipped her jeans and closed her belt.

"All done."

Maeve was busy eating an Oreo, and Staci's mouth formed an O.

"Saved any for me?"

"Help," *munch* "yourself," *munch* Maeve said, and handed Staci the pack.

Staci twisted the top off the cookie and used her tongue to wipe off the sticky stuff - making sure that Maeve could see what she was doing.

Maeve's chewing slowed down momentarily, but it soon picked up again.

"What have I done? I've unleashed a monster," she said, grinning wickedly. She leaned forward and gently slapped Staci's backside.

"I'm just teasing... but thank you for tonight, Maeve. It was... it was... mindblowing."

"That it was," Maeve said, and stood up on tiptoes so she could kiss Staci on the lips.


Maeve put on the shoulderholster and checked the clip of the Beretta. She sighed deeply as she clicked the weapon in place.

"Back to the real world," she said, smiling sadly.

"I can't believe that some bastard is running around molesting... and killing prostitutes," Staci said as she waited by the airtight door to the elevator.

"There are so many psychos out there it makes me sick," Maeve growled.

They climbed aboard the Mustang, and Maeve pressed the green button on the elevator, making the big lift go downwards.

"Yes, but why is it always women who get hurt? Why can't it ever be men?"

"Well, actually, over the course of a few weeks last November, four men were iced by the same killer. They had their dangly bits cut off at the root, and then they were all left to bleed to death."

"Gawd, that's horrible."

"The killer was a woman they had raped at some party. She came back and took bloody revenge on them."

"Oh... well, in that case, they didn't deserve better," Staci said, and reached for the belt buckle.


The elevator reached the bottom stop, and Maeve pressed the button to activate the sliding door. It opened, and she started the engine.

They drove slowly into the dark alley, paused briefly to check that they were alone, and then ventured out into the neon-lit mean streets of the Big City.


In an alley off Fourth Street, overlooking the apartment complex where Fever's loft was located, a black GMC van was hiding in the shadows.

"What the hell is she doin' up there? We've been waitin' here for an hour," Marshall Webster said and wiped his brow. He checked his watch again, cursing under his breath.

"Did the broad with the dough give you any deadline?"


"Then what the fuck does it matter how long we've been here?"

"'Cause I'm not good with just hangin' around doin' nothin'. You know that. And it's so goddamn muggy, too!" Marshall growled, and tried to loosen his collar.

"Did ya prepare our tools?" Randy said, and looked over his shoulder at the various items that were placed in the back of the van.

"Yep. It's all set."


"Most everything."


"The last of the black plastic bags had a tear in it, so I had to take a white carrier bag."

"Should still work."


A pause.

"What do you want to do with your 25 G, Randy?"

"Sow them into my pillow."

"You don't wanna blow it all on somethin' fancy?"

"Like what?"

"Oh, you know. Dames, booze, cigars, the usual stuff."


A pause.

"I'm gonna spend every last dime. I'll gonna start with..."

"Shhh!" Randy said, and raised his hand.

A black Mustang with silver racing stripes appeared in the alley on the other side of the street. It stopped briefly, and then turned on its lights, and drove slowly out to the sidewalk on Fourth Street.

There, Fever waited for another few seconds, and then she turned right, heading for Jefferson. The rumble of the V8 echoed between the houses as she stepped on the gas.

"There she is, Randy," Marshall said, and poked his brother on the shoulder.

"I got eyes, dude."

The Mustang rumbled conspicuously slowly past the alley where the van was parked.

"Do ya think Fever's on to us? She's drivin' awfully slow," Marshall said.

"I think she's just being careful."

"Go after her. But not too close."

"Don't tell me how to do my job, Marshall," Randy said, and waited until the Mustang was a good distance away before turning on the engine.

"Just do it, then."

The GMC van rumbled out of the alley, and followed Fever's Mustang at around 150 yards.

"We're too far back," Marshall said surly.

"Hey, what the fuck happened to 'not too close' ?"

"I didn't mean two blocks back!"

Randy gave up arguing with his brother, so he settled for rolling his eyes before focusing on the driving.


At the intersection at Fourth and Jefferson, Fever turned right, and the Websters followed her onto the boulevard. They continued to tail the Mustang, and it soon became clear that Fever was driving purposefully towards a target rather than just cruising.

"Looks like she's going somewhere specific," Marshall said.

"Could be."

At this time of night, there were very few cars on the streets, so it was difficult for the characteristic GMC van to blend in. Several times, they got too close, and Randy had to slow down considerably.

"I can't believe she's still got that brunette with her. Maybe she's got Fever whipped, huh?" Marshall said, and grinned.

"Meh. We better get ready in case we gotta move fast. Are we going with the usual method?"

Marshall reached into the pocket of his pants, and pulled out a string of piano wire. He snapped it taut, and it made a humming sound.



Just after the intersection at Seventh Street, the turning signal on the Mustang started blinking, and Marshall sat up straight.

"If she turns right into the parking lot of the Majestic, we've got her."

Fever pulled up to the curb and stopped in front of the hotel, in a no-parking zone.

"What the fuck? She can't park there!"

"D'ya wanna give her a ticket, dude? Relax, we'll get our chance," Randy said, and parked the van half a block back from the Mustang. He turned off the lights but kept his hand ready on the ignition key in case Fever was trying to trick them.

Fever and the other woman got out, and started walking to the entrance of the hotel.

"Whoa, check out the gams on that babe," Marshall said and whistled lecherously at Staci.

"There'll be plenty of time for you to have fun with her later on, Marshall. Fever's our top priority. Don't forget that."

"No problem. Some things are worth waitin' for."

Marshall carefully coiled up the piano wire and put it in his pocket.

"Yeah... all good things come to those who know when to strike," he said in a voice thick with menace. He leaned back in the seat and crossed his arms over his chest.


Maeve and Staci walked through the revolving door, and stepped into the lobby of the Majestic.

Looking at the run down and flea-infested dive it was now, it was hard to believe that sixty years ago, the Majestic had been the Jewel of the city, and the hotel all the major Hollywood stars stayed at when they were in the area - now, the couch arrangement in the lobby was old and worn out, and the wallpaper was peeling everywhere. The carpet was filthy and full of holes from cigarette burns, and the air held a faint whiff of beer and human waste.

Staci stood in the middle of the lobby and looked open-mouthed at the faded splendor. She could easily imagine how the hotel must have looked when it was used by the rich and famous. The grand, winding staircase off to the left was perfect for a Hollywood-style entrance by some Goddess of the Silver Screen - perhaps Grace Kelly, all dressed up in a ballgown, white silk gloves that reached up to her elbows, and holding a delicate, little purse.

A large, golden chandelier was suspended high over an empty space that Staci surmised could've been used for a grand piano back in the heyday of the hotel. The chandelier was covered in dust and cobwebs, and most of the light bulbs were broken. She couldn't help but think that it almost personified the decay of the building - she shook her head and sighed.

"Anything wrong?" Maeve asked.

"No, it's just... it's too bad they let something like this go to waste, you know?"

"Yeah. It must've been grand back in its day."

Maeve went over to a worn down reception desk and dinged on a small bell. When nothing happened, she dinged again, slightly harder. Maeve turned around and looked at Staci, who was still standing in the middle of the lobby.

"Hey, had we lived back then, I'll bet you'd have been a Hollywood superstar."

"Come on... don't be silly."

"I'm serious. You'd have wiped the floor with 'em."

"Nah. That wouldn't be a life for me. You, on the other hand, would've been a perfect fit."

"Ha! Me in Hollywood? Yeah right. Working as muscle for a star, sure, but never on the screen," Maeve said, and laughed out loud.

"Hello, Fever, my friend," a man said from somewhere behind Maeve.

Jaroslav Jurasz came out from behind a curtain and wiped off his hands on his already dirty pants. Like the hotel, Jaroslav had seen better days - his greasy hair had already turned gray despite only being 41, and the sleeveless undershirt he was wearing hadn't been washed this decade.

"Jake. How are ya."

"That's Jaroslav, Fever. Ya-ro-slav. Anyway, you want a room? Free of charge for you, my friend," he said after taking a long look at Staci.

"No. I was told you have some information for me."

"That's right. I have some information for you... but that's for sale, not for free."

Maeve reached into her shirt pocket and took out a $50 bill.

Jaroslav sighed, and appeared to polish his finger nails on his undershirt.

Maeve added another $50 bill, and he reached for the money. As soon as his fingers touched the bills, Maeve closed her fist, trapping his hand. She looked at him with a steely glare, telling him wordlessly that he better not be messing with her.

His face flushed red, and he hurriedly looked down.

"What's the information, Jake?"

"I heard from one of the girls that you lost one tonight?"

"That's right."

"I'm really sorry to hear that, my friend."

"Thank you. What's the information?"

"The working girl told me that you're looking for a large man with a scar on his face, right?"


"A large man with a scar on the right side of his face was in here around two weeks ago. He looked creepy... even creepier than most of those people."

"Who was he with?"

"Some hooker, real pretty, with curly hair and gray eyes. Haven't seen her before or since," Jaroslav said, and shrugged.

"Don't mess with me," Maeve growled.

"I'm tellin' the truth, Fever. I haven't seen her! I don't think she was one of your girls..."

"One of Coluzzo's, then?"

"Could be... or maybe she was an independent. Hard to tell. They all dress alike, you know."

"All right, but I can't do shit with that, Jake. You gotta gimme some more."

"The hooker said his name... I think she called him Jerry."

"Describe him."

"Tall, taller than your friend," Jaroslav said and pointed at Staci.

"... not really fat, but, you know... large. A pale blue windbreaker or sports jacket. Dark pants. Could be a uniform of some kind."

"Cop uniform?"

"No. Looked more like a bus driver. Anyway, big hands, and nasty, nasty eyes."

"Nasty eyes?"

"Dead, ice cold, psycho-eyes."

"Great..." Maeve said, and rubbed her forehead.


"Did you get anything?" Staci asked.

"A little bit. It's funny, though. When this night started, gettin' Jimmy Snakes was at the top of my hit list... now he ain't even in the top 10... but anyway, I know that the animal we're looking for is large, probably goes by the name Jerry, and he has the eyes of a psycho."

"What are we gonna do now?"

"I think I'll call Dolores and ask her to come over. She might have some news for us," Maeve said, and unclipped her phone.

"Dolores? It's Fever. We need to talk ... I'm at the Majestic ... Yeah? ... All right. See ya in a few."

Maeve hung up and put the phone back on the belt.

"So?" Staci asked.

"She'll be here shortly. She was busy with a customer right now."

"Errr... you mean to tell me she answered her phone while she was...?"




A little less than fifteen minutes later, Dolores sashayed through the revolving door and into the lobby.

"Dolores! We're over here!" Maeve said, and waved.

"Whassup?" Dolores said as she sat down in an ancient leather armchair, opposite the couch where Maeve and Staci were sitting.

"This and that. How's your night been?"

"Pretty good so far. $1800. When we're done here, I'm headin' home."

Staci's jaw dropped, and the comical look on her face made Dolores chuckle.

"You're new around here, aren't ya?" Dolores said.

"Fresh in from upstate," Maeve said with a grin.

"How... how many c-customers is that...?" Staci asked.

"Nine. Honey, I ain't no $25 a pop tramp, ya know?" Dolores said, and flicked an imaginary piece of lint off her gold lamé jacket. She leaned back in the chair and crossed her legs, revealing a very long and very shapely thigh.

Staci blushed, mumbled something unintelligible and looked down.

"Any news on the creep? Jake didn't gimme much," Maeve said, and casually put her hand on Staci's thigh - a gesture that didn't escape Dolores.

"Shit, he told me he had plenty," Dolores said, and shot an Evil Eye in the direction of the reception desk.

"He had some, but it won't bring us much further. By the way, any news on Mary Red?"

"She's gonna make it, last I heard. She may lose the sight in her left eye, though."

The corner of Maeve's mouth twitched a few times and she clenched her fists.

"I'm gonna get that sonovabitch, and that's a fuckin' promise," she growled.

Dolores nodded. Maeve always kept her promises.

"Vanessa's staying with Mary Red's kid for now. She knows about her mother's condition, but the hospital wouldn't allow her to spend the night there."

"Why on Earth not?" Staci said, shocked.

"A prostitute's not a model citizen. Mary's not in a single-bed room," Dolores said, and shrugged.

"How old is her daughter, does anyone know?"

"She must be eight or nine. I know Mary had her when she was only sixteen," Dolores said.

"Perhaps we should go and see her... talk to her...?" Staci said to Maeve.

"I'll talk to her when Mary's back from the hospital. It's probably not a good thing to introduce her to too many strangers at once," Maeve said, and smiled apologetically.

"You're right... I didn't think of that."

"But there is another problem... word is out on the street that you're being targeted, Fever," Dolores said, keeping her voice down, and leaning towards Maeve.

"Oh, I already know about Snakes, that schmuck. I can handle him."

"Not Snakes, the Websters."

"The Websters? What the hell for? I ain't got no beef with them."

"I don't know what for. But I'd watch my cute little patootie if I were you, Fever. Those guys are stark ravin' insane. Only last month, some poor jerkoff was found without..."

"Yeah, OK, thanks, Dolores. Nice to meet ya, but we gotta get going," Maeve said, cutting Dolores off mid-stream.

They got up from the old furniture and shook hands.

"Take care, Staci. And Fever, I hope to see ya tomorrow," Dolores said and winked.

"I'm like a bad penny, I always pop up when ya least expect it," Maeve said loudly, watching the African American woman sashay back out through the revolving door.


Once back in the Mustang, Maeve started the engine, and they drove away from the curb.

"What was that with the Websters?" Staci asked.

"The Websters are two badass-wannabes. Twins, actually. Degenerates who couldn't cut it in the real Army, so they just play soldiers."

"Yeah, but...?"

"Don't worry 'bout it, Staci. We're cool."

"If you say so..."

"I do," Maeve said with conviction - but still checked the rear view mirror for a possible tail, just in case.


In an alley off Franklin Boulevard, Jimmy Snakes parked his Buick next to the low, gray building that housed Conor MacLane's Safe Haven Bar. He got out of the old car and kicked the door shut. A flash of inspiration made him pull a tarp over the trunk of the car, so it wasn't visible from the street.

Proud over his accomplishment, he thumped his chest and strutted like a peacock towards the back door to the Bar... only to find it locked. He sighed, and walked around the building to use the front door.


Snakes stood in the doorway and looked around. This place was like any other bar - smokey, noisy and stinking of beer and sweat - and yet it was different. In the nearest booth, one of the enforcers of the Chain Gang was busy necking with a leather-clad biker chick from the Southside Chicas, and down at the other end of the bar, three tough guys from three different gangs were shooting pool.

The bar counter itself was quite long, and it was built in a traditional Irish style with meticulously carved wooden panels, and small, enameled signs that advertised products from a bygone era. A row of high chairs stood in front of the counter, but they were all vacant.

The owner of the bar, Conor MacLane, was behind the counter wiping off some glasses, and he looked with dismay at Snakes' scraggly figure.

"Snakes! Either get in or get out, ya dumb fuck!" he shouted, and Snakes hurriedly stepped into the bar and closed the door behind him.

Snakes reached into his pocket and toyed with his last remaining coins. He could really use a beer, but he didn't know if he had enough. Mustering up all his courage, he went over to the counter.

"What can I get ya?" MacLane said in a booming voice. Even though his boxing career had been over for more than a decade, the big man still posed an impressive figure.

"Um... how much beer can I get for $3, man...?" Snakes said, his courage disappearing rapidly under the scrutiny of the former boxer.

"Three bucks? One glass o' draught."

"Gimme one, then," Snakes said, and put the three coins down on the counter.

"Comin' right up," MacLane said, and put a glass under one of the pumps. He pulled the lever, and the amber colored liquid poured down, quickly filling up the glass. He let the froth settle down and then put it in front of Snakes.

"Er... Conor, if a real fancy dressed dude comes in lookin' for me, would ya mind not tellin' him that I'm here...? And the same goes if it's White Fever...?" Snakes said, and took a tiny sip of the beer. Since this was the only one he could afford, he was forced to make it last all night.

"You know the rules, Snakes. This bar is called Safe Haven for a reason. I won't tolerate any fightin', bitchin' or moanin', and I stay out of everything. Everyone's free to do what they want, and if ya got any problems, keep 'em outside," MacLane said.

"Just askin', man..."

Snakes took his beer and strolled over to the pool table. He observed the three players for a few minutes, but it soon bored him, and he went over to the booths instead. He found the one furthest into the shadows, and sat down.

He sighed, and took another tiny sip of the beer. He put down the glass on the table, and waited for the inevitable - that the hitman from before would find him. Or that Fever would find him. At this point in time, he didn't really care which one it was.


On Jefferson, just before the intersection at Twelfth Street, Maeve pulled over and parked by the curb. A flashing neon sign hanging above the door to a shop reflected off the shiny surfaces of the Mustang, creating a light show that was positively psychedelic.

"Wait a minute... a porn shop? You really think you can get some information here?" Staci said as they got out of the car and approached the shop. She looked up at the large neon sign that read "Daly's EmPORNium" in red, white and blue.

"Well, Patrick's usually got his ear to the ground," Maeve said as she took a quick peek at the two shop windows, filled past overflowing with colorful video boxes and all sorts of associated gear, like whips and blow-up dolls of both genders. She chuckled and went inside, holding the door for Staci.

Instead of a little bell above the door, Patrick Daly had hooked up a recording of a sexy female voice purring "welcome to Daly's EmPORNium..." that played whenever the door was opened.

"Hiya, Fever," Daly said from his customary place behind the counter. He folded the newspaper he was reading and put it down, and then took a handkerchief and dabbed his sweaty forehead. He was in his late forties and didn't look like an Adonis - he was balding, slightly overweight and used an unfashionable set of horn-rimmed glasses, but he was well connected, and he always had access to a lot of info that other people didn't.

As the two women came into the shop, he took off his glasses and breathed on them, and then used the handkerchief to wipe them clean.

"Patrick. Don't you ever get tired of listening to that recording?" Maeve said.

"Nah. I love my mother, and besides that, it's her best work," he said, and put on his glasses. He took a long look at Staci, and his eyebrows twitched.

"Cute. Listen, have you heard anything about..."

As Maeve started talking with Patrick Daly, Staci wandered around between the aisles. The shop had thousands of porn video tapes and discs, and as the sign on the wall proudly proclaimed, "If it exists, we got it - if it doesn't, we'll make it."

Staci was very impressed with the spotless appearance of the shop: Very soft, sensual music was streamed out from hidden speakers, and there was a dark blue wall-to-wall carpet on the floor that was so soft it was impossible to hear when the other customers walked around. The light was just right, not too dark and not too bright, and mostly in a very faint orange - here and there Daly had set up a brighter spotlight to highlight a special title.

The aisles were kept in strict alphabetical order, A-Z for genres, and A-Z for the individual titles. Staci began at the top, casually glancing at a few boxes here and there until she reached the GIRL-GIRL aisle.

She looked a little closer at those titles, but there wasn't really anything that tickled her imagination... until her eyes caught one of the highlighted titles, and she came to an abrupt stop and gasped loudly. Her face was instantly covered by a crimson blush that was so deep it looked like it was threatening to catch fire.

At the other end of the GIRL-GIRL aisle, two young women walking arm in arm stopped and looked at Staci. One of the women said something to her, but the blood thundering around in Staci's veins drowned out everything else, so she couldn't hear what the woman had said. The young woman elbowed her partner in the side, and before moving on, they both laughed at the expression on Staci's face.

Staci's eyes grew impossibly wide and her hands trembled slightly as she picked up a box with the title "Lascivious Linda's Birthday Party." She flipped the box over to look at the pictures on the back, but a split second later, she put it back down on the shelf and tried to hide it behind the box next to it. Unfortunately, the shelf was so narrow there was only room for one box at a time, so she put it back where it stood originally.

She took a few deep, calming breaths, and looked around for the other customers. Satisfied that no one had observed her, she briskly walked away from the aisle, and hurried over to the counter where Maeve was still talking with Patrick Daly.

"Patrick, this is my friend Staci," Maeve said, and put her hand on Staci's arm.

Staci nodded in his direction, but was otherwise busy trying to loosen her collar.

Patrick Daly put his index finger across his lips and appeared to be in deep thought.

"... You know, it's funny, but you seem familiar...?" he said.

"I was young and I needed the money!" Staci said loudly, and the words came tumbling out of her mouth. She looked acutely embarrassed, and she felt her ears starting to burn.

"What?" Maeve said, confused.

"... Actually, I was going to say, aren't you the bartender from Rose's Place?" Patrick said, trying in vain to hide a huge smirk.

"... Oh... yes..."

A dark red blush started creeping up Staci's neck, and soon covered her cheeks, ears and even the tip of her nose. She looked at her boots, thrust her hands in her pockets, and wished the ground would open up and swallow her whole.

Maeve looked at Staci, and then at the GIRL-GIRL aisle, and then at Patrick. She grinned as the penny dropped.

Patrick adjusted his glasses, and returned the grin.

"... but anyway, call me if you hear anything, right? You know it can be very fruitful to be on Fast Freddie's good side," she said.

"I will, Fever, you have my word."

Maeve shook his hand, and turned towards Staci.

"Staci, darlin'... you gotta show me what you found that got you so rattled."

"Gawd, no, you're killing me," Staci whined.

"I'm serious, show me," Maeve said and tugged at Staci's arm.

Reluctantly, Staci led the enforcer over to the aisle where the movie was. She pointed at the offending box, and cringed when Maeve picked it up.

Maeve flipped it over and found herself face to face with a picture of a very young Staci, wearing Daisy Dukes and a very, very short, white sleeveless shirt. The young Staci stood in a quite provocative pose - her rear end was half-turned towards the camera, and she appeared to have at least one hand down the front of her jeans.

"Holy shit!" Maeve said and whistled.

"God, will you calm down!" Staci whispered and looked around.

"How can that Godawful movie still be around, even after eighteen years? Gawd, how many perverts have rented that movie, and watched me...?" Staci whispered, and got the shivers.

"It's made by the Silver Stallion production company. They're crooks... how in the hell did you get involved with those guys?"

"I was offered $200 to do it, and without that money, I wouldn't have been able to pay my rent."

"OK. Er... did you play Lascivious Linda or one of the guests?" Maeve said and grinned.

"Does it matter!?" Staci said, her voice steadily climbing in pitch along the sentence.

"Nah. Not really. Well, a little," Maeve said, and winked.

Staci buried her burning face in her hands and shook her head.

"I was one of the guests..." she croaked.

"Hmmm. Anyway, I'll take this and then we'll be on our way," Maeve said, and started walking back to the counter.

"No, no, no, Maeve, for God's sake! I'll die of embarrassment!" Staci whispered.

"Staci, I'm taking it so it won't be on the shelf here... get it?"

"Oh... OK," Staci said, and felt even more embarrassed for not understanding that Maeve simply wanted to protect her.


"Patrick, how many copies do you have of this one?" Maeve said, and put the box down on the counter.

"Just a minute... #532-103... that's the only one. It's an ancient release, and it doesn't really live up to the standards of the modern films," Patrick said, forcing himself not to look too much at the cover.

"I'll buy it," Maeve said, and took out her wallet.

"No way, take it. It's a gift," he said, and put the video in a neutral white plastic bag. He pushed the bag across the counter, and adjusted his glasses.

"How many..." Staci started to say, but her voice broke. She cleared her throat and tried again.

"How many times has it been rented? Can you see that?"

"Sure. Hang on... seven times this past year. That's a very low number. Some of the big hits are out all the time."

"Seven times... thanks," Staci said, and cleared her throat again.

"Why did you have it as a highlighted title when it isn't popular?" Maeve said.

"Well... 'cos I think the cover is s-s-sexy," Patrick stuttered, his eyes never leaving Staci.

"And I agree with ya," Maeve said with a laugh. She picked up the plastic bag with the video, took Staci by the shoulders, and pushed the mortified woman out of the store.


Staci climbed into the Mustang and tried to blend in with the upholstery.

Maeve got in as well and turned the ignition key. As the engine idled, she looked at Staci.

"So you're a movie star, eh? Can I have your autograph? Pleeeease?"

"Shut up, Maeve... just... shut up," Staci said and rubbed her flushed face.

Maeve laughed out loud and gunned the engine, peeling away from the curb.




Just before they made the customary u-turn at Fourteenth Street to begin the return trip North, Maeve turned on the radio. An old-fashioned love song was playing, and she soon whistled along to the sentimental music. From time to time, she looked at Staci, and chuckled quietly.

When she had done it for the fourth time in as many minutes, Staci had finally had enough, and she turned in her seat to face the driver.

"You're thinking about that Godawful movie, aren't you?" Staci said.


"Come on, don't lie to me."

"I'm not!"

"Then what...?"

"I'm thinking about you participating in that Godawful movie," Maeve said, and wiggled her eyebrows.

"Oh for Chrissakes, Maeve, grow up!"

"This is as grown-up as I'm ever gonna get. You might as well get used to it."

"So I made a porno. Big deal," Staci said dismissively, but the deep red blush on her face told another story.

"Seriously, though... I'm glad you didn't stay in that business, Staci. I know my own little world can be brutal, but it's *nothing* compared to that industry," Maeve said, and put her hand on Staci's thigh.

"Yeah, I know. And I should count myself lucky. Back then, we didn't have to have a medical check before we, ummm... participated. All the girls in that movie came directly off the street, except the woman who played Linda, she was a professional. The rest were all amateurs. I guess they did that to get a few fresh faces."

"Jesus... that could've been fatal for you. The movie's eighteen years old... that was right before the HIV epidemic!"

"I know," Staci said, and nodded solemnly.

The intersection ahead of them turned red, and Maeve brought the Mustang to a halt.

"Why didn't you tell me any of this when we lived together?"

"I... I guess I preferred to keep it a secret because... I was worried that you'd think I was some kind of prostitute," Staci said, her voice trailing off on the last words. She sighed and looked out of the side window.

"OK, stop right there. There's no fuckin' way I'd do that... no fuckin' way, and it hurts me that you even think that I would!" Maeve said, and put her hand on Staci's shoulder.

Staci shrugged, but kept silent.

"Christ, Staci... I loved you!"

The traffic light turned green, but Maeve didn't release the brake. The car behind them started honking, so Maeve put her hand out of the window and waved the car past.

"You know that, right...?"

"I know you did, and I loved you, too... back then. And that's why I didn't tell you," Staci said, and turned her head so she looked directly into Maeve's Irish green eyes.

"Staci, it wouldn't have changed a thing between us. Not a damn thing. You have to believe that. Man, I've done a lot of shit in my time, too... some of it I'm definitely not proud of today. When I was in my early 20's, I stole cars and ran with all the wrong people. I got into fights on a daily basis, and shit like that," Maeve said, and caressed the back of Staci's head. She let her fingers run through the jet black locks, and gently scratched Staci's scalp.

Outside the car, the traffic light turned red again, and since Staci didn't say anything, Maeve had time to study all the red lamps.

"It's not the same," Staci said after a long pause.

"No, it's worse."

Staci sighed. She wanted to say more, but she couldn't find the words.

"Maeve, please. Let's drop it, OK?"

"All right. But only because it's you," Maeve said, and gently punched Staci on the shoulder.


When they reached First Street, Maeve continued towards Uptown instead of making another u-turn.

"Where are we going?"

"Well... I thought you might feel better if we took a tour of the Botanical Gardens."

"The Botanical Gardens?" Staci said, somewhat confused.

"Yeah? Unless you don't wanna go there, obviously."

"No, I'd love to, but... and please don't take this the wrong way, Maeve, but I can't exactly see you cruisin' the Botanical Gardens, you know?"

Maeve leaned her head back and laughed out loud.

"You're right. I haven't been there since I was a little kid. But it's a great night for a tour."

"Have you forgotten what time it is? No way they're open now," Staci said, secretly loving the attention.

"No, but the park is. And there's a nightwatchman who's working for Fast Freddie," Maeve said with a broad smile.

"Oh... but what about the Websters?"

"Ah, they'll never find us there. Besides, we can handle 'em, the big turkeys," Maeve said, and clawed Staci's thigh.


"Suuuure. Their bark is worse than their bite."


Ten minutes later, and $50 poorer, Maeve turned into a gravely parking lot, and found a nice spot in the deep shadows between two lamps. She turned off the engine, and went over to open Staci's door.

"Let's go for a midnight stroll, oh, sweet Lady of mine," Maeve said, and bowed when Staci stepped out of the Mustang.

"That blow on your head last night musta' knocked something loose... or maybe it knocked something into place, I don't know..." Staci said, and quickly moved away so Maeve's punch wouldn't reach her.

"Oh, ha ha. You're killin' me," Maeve said, and locked the car.

Staci looked around. She had never been in the Botanical Gardens before, but viewed from the parking lot, it looked very romantic.

"Shall we?" Maeve said, and put out her hand.

Staci took it with a very wide smile, and they strolled hand in hand towards the park.


The entrance to the Gardens was a twenty foot long and ten feet tall archway, completely enclosed with roses, vines and many more ornamental plants Maeve didn't know the names of.

Just before they reached it, Maeve stopped and turned so she was face to face with Staci. She moved real close, and put her hands on the taller woman's backside.

They looked lovingly at each other, and leaned in to kiss.

"Are you shorter than usual? I have to bend down a lot!" Staci said just before their lips touched, and the cheeky words were enough to make Maeve pull back and laugh.

"It's the gravel. My heels are diggin' in!" she said, and gave Staci's backside a squeeze.

"Well, l knew there had to be a reason," Staci said, and pulled Maeve back towards her.

Their lips touched in a long, loving kiss that sent waves of pleasure through both women. Subconsciously, Staci let her tongue move forward and make an intimate rendezvous with Maeve's, and the enforcer wasn't slow in returning the favor. When they separated, they both had identical goofy grins on their faces.

"I hope we didn't just give the nightwatchman a free show," Staci said, and sniggered.

"Nah. He's busy watching TV," Maeve said, admiring Staci's features.

"Let's hope so."

"Staci... you're the most beautiful woman on the planet," Maeve whispered, and used her thumb to trace the contours of Staci's lips and jaw. Even in the semi-darkness, she could see Staci blushing furiously, and it made her chuckle.

"Oh, you're so cute when you do that," she said, and stood up on tip-toes to kiss Staci again.

"God, Maeve, I..." Staci started to say, but Maeve's lips effectively muted the words coming out of Staci's mouth.

After a bit more kissing, Maeve took Staci's hand, and led her through the archway.


A path snaked its way through the park, illuminated by small lights mounted between the paving stones. At this time of night, the lights were dimmed, but the path still resembled a long line of fireflies.

Maeve and Staci strolled hand in hand along the path, occasionally stopping to look at the canopy of stars, or to kiss.

"This is so romantic," Staci whispered. She had her arms wrapped around Maeve's torso, greatly enjoying the company of the fiery enforcer.

"Yeah... even I can see that."

Staci giggled, and they moved on. They soon arrived at Spyglass Hill, the highest point of the Gardens. In the daytime, it was the recreational area of the park, with swings and sandpits for the children, and benches and a picnic table for the adults.

"Come on, let's sit down," Maeve said, and climbed up to sit on top of the picnic table.

Staci smiled and got comfortable next to the enforcer. She took Maeve's hand and toyed with her strong fingers.

"Oh! Look at how much of the city you can see from up here," Staci said, and marveled over the view.

From Spyglass Hill, they were looking due South, and it was possible to see most of the city - all the way from the cranes and the warehouses in the port in the East to the skyscrapers in the financial district in Midtown West.

"Yeah. We're pretty high up. Downtown's one big toilet bowl, and right now, we're balancin' on the edge, dontcha know?" Maeve said, and tickled Staci's sides.

Staci shrieked, and tried to grab Maeve's hands. They wrestled for a few seconds before Staci finally succeeded in taking them. Once she held them tight, she refused to let them go.

"Ooooh, tough gal, huh?" Maeve drawled, and leaned in for a kiss - which Staci promptly delivered.

Staci let go of Maeve's hands, and noted with some curiosity that her skin was tingling where she had touched Maeve.

"Hey, remember when we first met?" Maeve said.


"One day, uncle Freddie told me to go on a run with Big Sully to see how everything worked, and your parents' flower shop was on his route."

"I remember it clearly. Big Sully... I haven't seen him since I got back... did he retire, or something?"

"He was gunned down from behind. That's how I got to be enforcer. That's nearly two years ago now."


"But anyway, I distinctly remember thinking that you were the most goddamned sexy florist I'd ever seen! I came back the day after and asked you out on a date," Maeve said, smiling broadly.

"And it didn't take me five seconds to turn you down, 'cause I thought you were a royal pain in the ass," Staci teased.

"You weren't wrong. I've matured a lot since then, though."


"But I came back, and back, and back, and, eventually, you went out with me. And I seem to recall we had a pretty goddamned good time on that first date."

"We did, but... I think I sense a pattern, Maeve."

"You do?"


"In what way?"

"That if you bug me long enough, I'll give in."

"Oh, and here I thought it was my charisma and sexiness that convinced you to go out with me...?"

"Well... I guess those things helped a little, too..." Staci said, and kissed Maeve thoroughly.

In the far distance towards the East, the sky was suddenly lit up by lightning. The ominous thundercloud had moved closer since they last saw it, but it still hadn't reached the city.

"Damn, that thunder's freaking me out. There's something... creepy about it," Maeve said.

"You've never been scared of thunder before...?"

"I'm not, it's just... I don't know. It's creepy," Maeve said, and scooted closer to Staci.

"Come to mama. I'll keep ya safe," Staci said in a much deeper voice than normal, making Maeve chuckle loudly and put her arms around Staci.

"I'm glad we took the time to make love tonight. We may be a couple o' swell gals on our own, but we're one *hell* of a dynamite team when we're together," Maeve said, and winked at Staci.

"I agree, but please remem..."

"No, no, don't worry. I respect your decision one hundred percent."

"Thank you," Staci said, and leaned down to kiss Maeve again.

"You have to admit it was pretty damn sensational, though," Maeve whispered when they separated.



"No... it was magical," Staci replied, and kissed Maeve on her nose.

"Jeez, you had me worried there, ya big tease," Maeve said, and squeezed Staci's butt.

One question had been burning on Staci's mind for a while, but for the second time in fifteen minutes, she couldn't string enough words together to form a sentence.

"You're thinking about something," Maeve said, and bumped shoulders with Staci.

"Yes... ah, can I ask you a frank... a very frank question?"

"... Well, sure...?"

"How many lovers have you had since I left you?"

"OK, that *is* a frank question."

Staci opened her mouth to speak, but Maeve put two fingers on Staci's lips.

"Fewer than you think," Maeve said.

A beat.



Another beat.


"Why is that important?"

"I don't know, I just needed to ask..." Staci said, and shrugged.

"What about Brandi... the dancer...?" she continued.

"Yes, Brandi was one of them. Look, Staci, I have a feeling that you think I'm humpin' a new woman every night - I'm not. I like women... hell, I *love* women, but I don't sleep with 'em left and right just to get a few notches in my belt. Kissing, sure, making out, sometimes, but the bedroom is reserved for those who really deserve it."

"Well... I'm sor..."

"And they are few and far between, I can assure you," Maeve said quietly, toying with Staci's long hair.

"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have asked," Staci said, and looked away.

"Considering my reputation, you had every right to. Come on, let's stroll on. My butt's aching from sitting on his hard wood."

"So you're not angry with me?" Staci said as she got up from the table, and dusted off her rear end.

"Angry? I could never be angry with you."

Staci blushed again, and Maeve chuckled.

"Too cute. Too goddamned cute," she said cheekily, and hooked her arm inside Staci's.


Maeve and Staci continued to stroll along the illuminated path through the park, and they were having much more fun than either of them wanted to admit to.

The special bond between them that had been torn to pieces when Staci found Maeve in bed with another woman had almost mended completely, and there was a sense of unease in Staci's stomach that she knew all too well. She had promised herself not to risk her heart again, but it seemed the very part of her she wanted to protect was rebelling against her. She could feel tears sting in her eyes, and she sighed deeply.

"Are you tired?"

"No, it's just..."

"I'm going too fast again, aren't I?" Maeve said, and chuckled sadly.

"No... well, yes."

"I'm sorry."

"Don't be. I want it, too."

Maeve nodded to herself, and took Staci's hands in her own.

"Let's just take it one step at a time... OK?" Staci said.


They walked hand in hand across the parking lot, and Maeve dug into her pocket to find her car keys. When she found them, she pressed the small button on the remote that unlocked the doors.

Maeve turned around, and stood up on tip-toes so her heels wouldn't dig in again.

"That was a very nice midnight stroll, don't you think?" she said.

"It was. Even though it's not midnight."

"It's the middle of the night... that's close enough," Maeve said, and reached up to kiss Staci on the lips.

"If you say so..."

"I do. Hey, I have an idea. If you think I move too fast, I could act like a royal pain in the ass so you'll get sick of me. I could say things like 'get in da car, woman!' or 'iron my underwear, woman!' How about that?" Maeve said, grinning cheekily.

Staci cocked her head, and after a few seconds of staring, she blew Maeve a long raspberry.

"I had a feelin' you'd say that, baby," Maeve said, and kissed Staci again.


Maeve started the Mustang and reversed out of the parking space. She put it in Drive, and they rolled slowly across the parking lot.

Maeve put her hand on Staci's thigh and caressed it gently. She was rewarded with a blinding smile that was so bright it outshone the instrument lights, and with a throaty chuckle that gave Maeve a pleasant buzz in all the right places.

When they reached the bar blocking the exit of the parking lot, Maeve honked twice, and the nightwatchman came out of his booth.

He pushed a button that raised the bar, and turned around to give Maeve a thumbsup.

"Thanks, buddy. Hope we didn't interrupt anything important," Maeve said out of the window.

"Nah, just the tenth rerun of an old sitcom," he said and waved.

Maeve laughed and returned the wave. She stepped on the gas, and the Mustang glided out into the night, trading the peace and quiet of the Botanical Gardens for the hustle and bustle of the city streets.


"FuckfuckfuckFUCK!" Marshall Webster shouted, and slammed his fist into the palm of his hand.

"Calm down, Marshall. She's gotta be around here somewhere," Randy said.

"We've lost her, for fuck's sake, and you want me to calm down? Oh, that's fuckin' rich, man."

"If she's not here, she's somewhere else. We'll find her."

"I don't understand how the fuck we could lose her..."

Randy sighed and rolled his eyes repeatedly over his brother's short temper.

The GMC van was parked in the shadows next to the car wash at Burger Palace - out of sight, but with a clear view of the gas pumps. Randy had figured that sooner or later, Fever would need to gas up the Mustang, so they had spent the last half hour there. Unfortunately, during all that time, they hadn't seen Fever once, or even heard the characteristic growl of the Mustang's engine.

"You said we should wait here, so we wouldn't be so conspicuous. Well, look what that brought us!" Marshall growled.

"Will you calm the fuck down!" Randy roared, for once raising his voice against his brother.

"Jesus, man, there's no need to shout. I'm right here," Marshall said, and pretended to stick his finger in his ear.

Suddenly Marshall's phone started ringing, making The Ride Of The Valkyrie blast through the van.

"It's the dame with the dough again. She's persistent, gotta give her that," Marshall said, and pressed the button.

"Talk to me."


"Hmmmm," he growled.

'Have you taken care of your job yet?'

"Not yet. We're hav..."

Randy punched his brother on the shoulder, and moved his fingers across his lips in the age-old 'zip it' gesture.

"I mean, not yet."

'You're having... what?'


'I'll call you later,' the voice said, and the connection was terminated.

"Yeah, you do that," Marshall said to himself as she closed the phone.

"Is she getting impatient?" Randy said.

"A little. She's sounding like her panties are pinchin' her."

"That's how she walked, too," Randy said, and chuckled.

"Yeah." Marshall unbuttoned the holster that held his revolver, and took out the chrome-plated Remington .38. He opened the drum, and spun it with the palm of his hand.

"Marshall, how many times do I have to tell ya that ya never put a cartridge in the sixth slot! Always leave an empty slot where the hammer is. If it goes off, you're gonna blow your balls off."

"Ah, you worry too much," Marshall said, and flicked the drum closed. He stored the revolver in the holster, and crossed his arms over his chest.

Randy rolled his eyes again, and sighed.


An old, toothless bum wearing an olive green army jacket tottered across the parking lot, carrying a bucket, a rag, and a squeegee. He spotted the van, and slowly made his way over there.

"Wash ya windows, only $2 ?" he said, and held up the bucket.

Marshall rolled his window down, and stuck out his head.

"Get outta here, ya bum."

"Only $2, Mister. Really cheap."

"No, thanks. Get outta here."

Undaunted, the old bum threw the contents of the bucket onto the windscreen of the van. Horrendously filthy water cascaded down the glass and the hood.

In one second flat, Marshall leapt out of the van, and grabbed the old bum's lapels. He roared, and forced the old man up against the wall of the car wash.

"You wipe that shit off my van, or I'm gonna beat ya to a cripple, get it?" he hissed through clenched teeth.

The old man nodded vigorously, and held up the rag - which turned out to be nothing more than threads.

Marshall's temper snapped, and he swung a right hook against the defenseless man's face.

Inside the van, Randy could easily hear the sounds of the one-sided fight, but he couldn't care less about the fact that his brother was beating the old man half to death.

Instead, he activated the window wipers, and let them run back and forth twice to clear the mess off the windscreen. He lit a cigarette, and leaned back in his seat. All they had to do now was to wait for Fever. She'd show up eventually, of that he was certain.


Maeve and Staci had just pulled up to a red light at Third Street when Maeve's phone rang. She unclipped it, and flipped open the display.

"Fever... what the hell? Calm down for Chrissakes, I can hardly hear what you're sayin'!"

Maeve rubbed her face and tried to decipher the words coming from the hysterical caller.

"Angel's your walking mate? ... How long ago? ... And you got a good look at him? ... Yeah, all right. I'll be there. ETA three minutes." Maeve closed the phone, and clipped it on her belt. The traffic light had changed in the mean time, so she stepped on the gas and roared down Jefferson, headed for Eighth Street.

"Now what?"

"That was one of our girls. Not three minutes ago, a big sonovabitch matching the description Jake gave us forced her walking mate to go with him."

"And it couldn't be another creep?"

"No... She was right there, and she got a good look at him. This is our guy. I just pray we'll get there in time."

The traffic light at Seventh Street changed to yellow just before they got to it, but Maeve hit the accelerator and flew across the intersection.

"One of these days, you're gonna hit someone doing that!" Staci said strongly.

"Meh," Maeve said and shrugged. They turned left at the intersection at Eighth Street, and slowed down to a walking pace at the corner.

Two hundred yards down Eighth, a woman dressed in the preferred uniform of the light brigade - high heels, a miniskirt and a short, fake leather jacket with a purple boa - waved her arms at them, and started yelling.

Maeve quickly closed the short distance between them, and pulled over at the wrong side of the street. The garishly dressed woman stuck her head in through the opened window, and a wave of a very strong, very cheap, perfume assaulted Maeve's and Staci's senses.

"Thank God you're here, Fever. They went into the first alley on the left," the prostitute said and pointed down the street.

"All right. Stay here," Maeve said, and stepped on the gas without waiting for a reply.


Once they got to the alley, Maeve turned on the high-beams, and drove slowly past the many cardboard boxes and shopping carts that always seemed to inhabit these places.

"Nothing. Shit!" Maeve growled, and slammed her hand down onto the rim of the steering wheel.

Some distance into the alley, two homeless men were standing by a burning oil drum, holding bottles of booze and using the flickering flames to warm their hands.

"Hey, boys. Have ya seen anybody walk past here recently?" Maeve said, slowing to a halt next to the oil drum.

"Yeah, just now. A big dude was draggin' a hooker. They went that way," one of the homeless men said, and pointed further up the alley.

"Thanks. Owe you one," Maeve said and stepped on the gas.

They drove on for another fifty yards or so, until Maeve suddenly slammed on the brakes, and cursed loudly.

"There he is, the sonovabitch!"

She quickly put the Mustang into Reverse, and backed up a few yards. Then she turned sharp left, and roared down a narrow offshoot to the alley.


Jerry McFarland had the prostitute pinned to the wall, and he held the bowie knife tight against her throat.

He looked at the woman in front of him. She was so stoned she didn't understand what was going on, but that would soon change. Soon she'd cry and plead him to stop. He took great pleasure in fantasizing about how he would humiliate and beat her, starting from her face and working his way down.

He couldn't quite comprehend what had happened, but killing that black whore had snapped something inside of him. He felt liberated and more alive than he had done in years.

A car door slammed behind him, but he was so far into his fantasy that he didn't pay any attention to it, nor to the fact that he was suddenly standing in a cone of light.

"Drop the knife, and let the girl go, asshole!" a female voice suddenly said. He turned around and saw a car with a woman sitting inside it, and another woman standing in front of it, pointing a pistol at him.

Dressed in white jeans and a black shirt, and with broad shoulders and spiky hair, she looked like a badass... but even badass women were just that... women. And she would bleed and die just as well as all the others.

"Or what, whore?"

"Or I'm gonna kill ya where ya stand."

"I don't think so. If you kill me in cold blood, the cops will arrest ya and fry your little cunt in the electric chair," he said, and broke out into a cackling laugh.

"I'll take that chance."

The prostitute seemed to snap out of her drug-induced haze, and she started to struggle and whimper. Jerry considered his options for a few seconds, and decided to let her run. This new woman was much more of a challenge, anyway. He released his grip on the prostitute, and she quickly ran away.

He lumbered slowly towards the woman with the spiky hair. Holding the knife high in the air, he was dearly looking forward to letting it tear through soft tissue. With an insane roar, he set off running towards the woman.


Staci screamed, and dug her fingers into the dashboard of the Mustang, but Maeve remained calm.

She aimed and squeezed the trigger. The Beretta went off and Jerry was hit in the middle of his forehead. His head jerked back, and his body came to a violent stop in mid-run.

He fell heavily onto the ground, and the knife clanged out of his lifeless hand, skidding to a halt just in front of Maeve's boots.

"No more living for you, asshole. Mary and Dominique send their regards," she growled and put the Beretta back in its holster.

Blood quickly pooled next to Jerry's head, and Maeve pushed the knife out of harms way with her boot.

"Staci, gimme a napkin or somethin'... please," Maeve said.

Staci opened the glovebox and found an old Burger Palace napkin. She held it out of the window.

Maeve came over to the Mustang, and took the napkin. She noticed Staci's pale face, and smiled wistfully.

"I'm sorry you had to see that. I had to do it. There was no other way," Maeve said, and gave Staci's hand a little squeeze.

"I know, but... Gawd..." Staci said, and got the shivers.

Maeve crouched down, wrapped the bowie knife in the napkin, and picked it up. Walking to the rear of the Mustang, she opened the trunk and carefully placed the knife inside a small plastic bag.

"I'll send it to our contact at the precinct tomorrow. They should be able to tie the knife to Dominique's murder," Maeve said as she sat down in the driver's seat.

"I'm about to do something I haven't done in years," she said to Staci, and unclipped her phone from her belt.

"What's that?"

"Call the cops," Maeve said, and dialed the familiar number. After waiting for a few seconds, she heard a female voice greet her at the other end of the connection.

"Good evening. There's a DOA in an alley off Eighth Street, next to the..."

Maeve looked around to find a company name.

"... back entrance to Levi & Engell Kosher Imports ... My name? ... Concerned Citizen ... Yes, that's right ... Got it? ... OK."

Staci was still looking transfixed on McFarland's dead body, and the pool of blood and brains that had spread out next to the head.

"Come on, Staci. I think we need a break," Maeve said, and reversed away from the corpse and out of the narrow alley.


Maeve turned off Ninth Street, and drove into the gas station on the Burger Palace lot. All the pumps were available, so she picked the nearest one. She put the car in Park, and turned off the engine.

"Staci, how about you go inside and get us a couple of coffees, huh? Order mine black and strong, please. I'll be there in a few."

"Sure. I think I want mine strong, too, actually," Staci said, looking a little green around the gills. She reached for the door handle with a trembling hand, and left the car on unsteady legs.


Randy Webster started the van's engine, and prepared to strike. He and Marshall watched the leggy brunette walk away from Fever, and into the building that housed the Burger Palace.

"And that's our cue," Randy said, and let his foot slip off the brake. The van rolled forward, and Marshall got up and unlocked the sliding door. The plan was that he should jump out, conk Fever on the head, and throw her into the back of the van.

"Get ready," Randy said.

"I'm ready now."

The van continued to roll forward, but suddenly Randy stepped on the brake.

"What the fuck?" Marshall said.

"Someone just joined her."


"A gigantic motherfucker. Crap!" Randy said, and tapped his fingers on the steering wheel. They could handle Fever without any problems, but the human oak tree that had just popped up out of nowhere wouldn't be so easy.

"We're aborting," Randy said, and selected Reverse.

"No, man! We're so close!"

"We're aborting." Randy let the van roll back into the shadows behind the car wash. Once there, he turned off the engine, and sighed loudly.

"Jesus, you're getting soft, man. What the hell's going on...?" Marshall said as he sat down in the passenger seat.

"*That's* what's going on," Randy said, and pointed out of the window at the seven foot giant walking up to Fever.


"Hiya, Danny, what brings you here?" Maeve said as she stood next to the Mustang, holding the fuel hose in her hand.

"I saw your Stang, and I thought I'd give you an update on what's happening out at the docks. Where's Miss Hart?"

"She's waiting in the Palace."


Maeve let the nozzle drip off, and then hung the hose on the pump. She closed and locked the fuel cap, and took her credit card out of the machine. She looked at the receipt, and then put the two items into her wallet.

"We're gonna have a cup of coffee. Why don't you join us?"

"You wouldn't mind...?"

"Nah. Go on, you can talk to Staci while I park."



A few minutes later, Maeve opened the door to the Burger Palace, and stepped inside the air-conditioned restaurant. As she was walking up to the counter, she waved at Staci and Danny, who were seated in a booth by the window.

This time of night, the fast food restaurant was run by a skeleton crew. Only two people were there, and they were both sitting around a small table behind the counter, playing cards.

"Hi. Who's got the order for the coffees?"

"That'd be me," a young man said, and walked up to the counter.

Maeve looked back to check if Staci could hear her. Satisfied that she couldn't, she leaned forward and whispered a few words to the young man.


"Here ya go," Maeve said, and placed three steaming mugs of coffee on the round table.

"What do I owe ya?" Danny said, and pulled out a few dollar bills.

"My treat."

"Much obliged."

"What do *I* owe?" Staci said, and winked.

"Hmmm... let me think of something," Maeve said huskily, and moved her index finger slowly across her lips. She sat down next to Staci, and put her hand on Staci's knee.

Danny's cheeks reddened slightly, and he deliberately avoided looking at the two women.

"Come on, big fella. Don't be such a wuss," Maeve said with a laugh.

Staci took a small swig from the mug, and her eyes popped open off the unexpected strong taste. She licked her lips, and studied the dark brown liquid with some curiosity. She sniffed it, and connected the dots. She looked up at Maeve, who was barely able to hide a grin.

"Something wrong with your coffee, dear?"

"No... well, unless you don't like it 80 proof..."

"I asked the kid to add some Scotch. I thought you might need it," Maeve said, a serious expression replacing her smile.

"I do. Thank you. Good thing I'm not driving, though."

"If it was colder, we could use your breath to de-mist the windscreen," Maeve said with a wink.

"Oh, ha ha. You haven't seen me drunk in years, and it won't happen this time, either," Staci said, and took another swig from the mug.

Just to be on the safe side, Danny started sniffing his own coffee, but he quickly established that his was a regular. He cleared his throat, and sat up straight in the booth.

"All right, here's the lowdown on what's been happening. First, the situation in the docks: all the crates were stored in warehouse #1, and Coluzzo's men were dumped at one of the bridges crossing the Monroe. The man you shot was kinda bleeding, but it wasn't so bad."

"Sounds good, Danny. Did you check the other crates?" Maeve said.

"Yeah, they all contained sculptures or paintings. I don't think Coluzzo intended to sell any of it, I reckon the items were destined for his private collection."

"Could be. What about the freighter?"

"It left as we were working on the crates. I let 'em go. It would've taken too long to get the boat there and go after them."


"Fast Freddie has a boat?" Staci said, and took a long swig from her spiked coffee.

"He has several, actually, but we're talking about a small, fast speedboat," Maeve said.


"That's about the long and the short of it regarding the docks. Do you want me to do anything in particular?"

"How much do you think those sculptures are worth, Danny?"

"Hmmm... millions? I don't know, but they look valuable."

"We better double the guards."

"All right. Noted. Two, the bonehead you knocked out at Giacomo's was swept up and dumped in another place."

"Good. Did you talk to him?"


"What did he say?" Staci said, and emptied her mug.

Maeve's eyes grew wide when she noticed that Staci had finished her spiked coffee already.

"He didn't say anything. I 'talked' to him," Danny explained, and clenched his fist to underline the words.

"Oh... I see."

"Errr... Staci, darlin', perhaps you should get a real coffee to go with the spiked one?"

"Nah, I'm fine."

"I'm sure you are. I better get you a real coffee," Maeve said, and left the table.


She returned a few minutes later, and put down a new mug in front of Staci.

"This one's only coffee," Maeve said, and sat down.


"Go on, Danny."

"Three, the police scanner's been squawking like crazy tonight. There's been a big fight among some cab drivers over at the GCS, and..."

"The what...?" Staci said.

"The Grand Central Station. It's in Midtown West, so it's on Coluzzo's turf. Anyway, there's been a fight, and several of Coluzzo's soldiers were hurt trying to separate the combatants," Danny said.

Maeve chuckled, and emptied her own mug.

"Couldn't have happened to nicer people. Did you hear anything about a male DOA on the scanner?"

"Yeah. Detectives are on site in an alley off Eighth Street. Your handiwork?"

"Yep. It's the asshole who's been hurting girls tonight. I got him. He'll never bother anyone again," Maeve said, her voice suddenly going into a lower register.

Staci got the shivers, and took a long swig from her mug.

"Sorry, baby," Maeve said, and caressed Staci's cheek.

"I have his knife. I was gonna send it to Detective Duffy tomorrow, but since you're here, would ya mind doing it tonight?" she continued.

"No problem. I'll swing by the precinct house and drop it off," Danny said.

"Hey, by the way, do you know anything about what the hell's going on with the Websters? I've been told they're on my ass, but I can't figure out why..."

"I've heard the same. I don't have an answer," Danny said, and drained the last few drops out of his mug.

"Hmmm. All right. Come on, let's go give you that knife. The night's not over yet."

"I need to take a leak before we go anywhere," Staci said, and blushed.

"OK. I'll wait for you by the car," Maeve said, and got up.

"I don't know where you're parked."

"Right next to where we parked earlier tonight."

"OK, I can find that. Hi, Danny, talk to you later," Staci said, and smiled broadly at the big man.

"See ya around, Miss Hart."


"So, you and Miss Hart are...?" Danny said as they walked across the parking lot.

"Yes and no. Well, I'm working on it. It's... kinda complicated," Maeve said as she opened the trunk of the Mustang. She reached in, and took out the small plastic bag with the knife.

"That looks like the kind of bag you get at Patrick Daly's," Danny said with a grin, pointing at the white plastic bag that held Staci's movie.

"That's 'cos it is, Danny-boy."

Maeve closed the trunk, and gave Danny the bag with the knife.

"Not that I'm an expert, or anything," he said, and grinned again.

"Gawd no, we all sing in the choir every Sunday morn'."

"You what?" Staci said as she joined them.

"Never mind. See ya, Danny," Maeve said, and gave him a thumbsup.

"See ya. Have fun with the movie, guys," he said, and walked over to his Lincoln.

"Ah, yeah... thanks," Maeve said, and tried not to look at Staci.

"... What movie...? Oh no, you didn't..." Staci said, and threw her arms in the air. She tried to stare a hole through the trunk of the Mustang, and when that didn't work, she looked at Maeve instead.

"Of course I didn't. Jeez, Staci! He just saw the plastic bag, that's all," Maeve said as she opened the driver's side door.

Staci was still rooted to the spot, and her eyebrows were nearly at her hairline.

"You can't even see the pictures through the bag. Come on, we're going," Maeve said, and got in.

Staci sighed, and opened the door.


They had only driven a few hundred yards when Maeve's phone suddenly rang.

"That had better be good news. I'm gettin' mighty sick of the other kind!"

She reached into the glove box and picked it out.


'It's Patrick Daly. I have some information for you.'


'One, the Websters are looking for you, so you better take care, those guys are mental, and...'

As Patrick was speaking, Maeve glanced in the rear view mirror. A black GMC van was driving seventy yards or so behind the Mustang - the same van they had seen a few times already. She furrowed her brow, but decided not to say anything to Staci.

"Yeah, I heard already. I don't know what the hell their problem is... Go on."

'And, two, a customer just told me that she'd seen Jimmy Snakes in the Safe Haven bar.'

"All right. Finally some good news. Patrick, don't fret about the Websters, I got 'em covered. Anyway... thanks, I owe you one, buddy."


"Talk to ya later."

Maeve hung up, and threw the phone back in the glove box.

"That was Patrick Daly?" Staci said.

"Yep. Snakes has been seen in the Safe Haven bar."


"It's over on Adams. Do you know it?" Maeve said as she gunned the engine.

The speed climbed steadily, and they were soon running at nearly 100 MPH along the near-deserted city streets. Maeve looked in the mirror, and noted with some satisfaction that the black van had been reduced to a small dot in the distance.

"Not yet..." Staci said, and reached for the seatbelt.




"Hiya, Fever," Conor MacLane said as he saw the enforcer enter the Safe Haven bar.

"Conor," Maeve said and nodded in the bartender's direction. The large man was still an impressive sight, even if he was getting a bit heavy. His nose had been broken so many times that it had been reduced to a chunk of meat in the middle of his face, but his gray eyes were as sharp as ever.

Someone made a wolf call at Staci, who responded by flipping the bird at whoever had whistled at her.

Fever and Staci went over to the bar counter, passing a table where two badass women from the recently formed Ferocious Alliance were armwrestling to see who was going to pay their tab.

"Hey, Fever. Nice lookin' honeypot with ya tonight," one of the badasses said mid-fight.

Staci's eyes shot fire, and she opened her mouth to object, but a pat on her arm and a quick shake of the head by Maeve convinced her otherwise.

"Seen Jimmy Snakes tonight?" Maeve asked Conor as she and Staci waited by the counter.

"Yep. He's over in the shadows somewhere. Nice to see that you're still among the living, Fever. I've heard a few stories tonight that suggested you weren't."


"Yeah. With the Websters 'n all."

"Actually, I am dead. I'm a demon from Hell, and I've come to take Snakes back down with me," Fever deadpanned.

Conor chuckled. He picked up a glass and started to polish it.

"You can do whatever the hell you want to, just as long as you don't do it in here," Conor said, and looked at the glass against the light.

"I know the house rules. You still got the sawn-off shotgun under the counter, Conor?"

"Yep, and I ain't afraid to use it. On anyone," he said, looking Fever straight in the eye.

"I hear ya, buddy. We're just gonna talk to the piece of shit, and then we'll leave your fine establishment. How's that sound?"

"Fine by me."

"Fine." Maeve turned around and made sure she was standing in the center of the scarce light so everyone could see her.

"Jimmy Snakes, come on down! You've won a first class ticket to A World Of Hurt," she roared, getting everyone's attention.

Dead silence - except for a few sniggers. The other of the two armwrestling badasses whooped and waved at Fever, who waved back.

A minute or so later, Jimmy Snakes shuffled towards the bar with a glass of stale beer in his hand and a disgustingly smug grin on his face. He stopped about five yards short of Maeve, and started to grin evilly.

"You can't touch me in here, Fever, you worthless little pissant," he said as his eyes slowly climbed up Staci's body, undressing her as they went along.

Staci got the creeps, and crossed her arms over her chest. She had an expression on her face that clearly revealed that she considered Snakes to be a first class slimeball.

"Nobody *ever* touches you, Snakes," Maeve said, earning a few more sniggers from the peanut gallery, and a shout of 'Crush his balls, Sister' from one of the two badasses.

"Fuck you, man," he hissed.

"No thanks, buddy. You ain't got what it takes to satisfy me," she said, and put her hands into her back pockets.

Snakes' eyes flared and in one, fluid motion, he dropped the glass, and reached for the Beretta in the back of his pants. Even before the glass had hit the floor, Conor suddenly had his shotgun in his hands, pointing directly at Snakes' head.

"Snakes!" Conor roared, as the glass shattered into a dozen pieces, splattering stale beer all over Snakes' pants and boots.

The patrons behind Snakes scattered to get away from the blast zone, knocking over a few chairs in the process.

Snakes' eyes shifted rapidly between the two imposing barrels of the shotgun and Fever's ice cold stare. He exhaled and slowly moved his hand away from the gun. He showed it to Conor so the bartender could see it was empty.

"It's time for you to take a hike, moron," Conor said.

Snakes spun around on his heel and headed for the back exit. Once there, he worked the lock, and escaped out into the alley.

"Go get the car! I'll follow him," Maeve said to Staci, and threw her the car keys. Staci nodded and ran out of the front door.

By the time Maeve had reached the back exit, Snakes had already vanished, so she peeked carefully around the corner in case he was waiting for her - a good choice, as it turned out.

A shot rang out from further up the alley, and a large splinter was ripped off the door frame right above her head. Maeve glanced back at Conor who was still holding the shotgun, looking severely pissed off. She would need to get that squared with the former boxer later.

Maeve smirked and drew her gun. She fired off a round in Snakes' general direction, before jumping out of the door and diving behind a dumpster.

The alley was a dead end, so Maeve initially hoped she had Snakes covered, but immediately after thinking that, she could hear him closing a car door and then starting an engine.

Maeve's curiosity got the better of her, and she peeked around the edge of the dumpster to see what was going on. Her eyes popped wide open when she saw Snakes' car driving directly towards her at great speed.

"Fucking hell!" she yelled, and scrambled around the corner of the dumpster. She flew across the alley, and jumped through the bar's back door, landing in a perfectly executed forward somersault.

Only a split second later, Snakes' Buick hit the dumpster with a loud crunch, and the impact scattered the garbage all over the entrance to the alley. The car's progress was briefly halted, but Snakes gunned the engine and was soon moving backwards again. The car's wheels ripped open several plastic bags filled with trash, and the disgusting contents were sent flying through the air.

Finally free of the trash, the car bounced over the curb and onto the street, where he raced towards downtown in a cloud of tiresmoke.

The stench from the crushed dumpster was extreme, and Maeve had to pinch her nose and hold her breath as she ran through the alley.

Wondering who she had pissed off to deserve so much shit in one evening, Maeve turned the corner onto Franklin and looked for Staci. The Mustang was parked out front, and Staci was already moving over into the passenger seat.

"Move over! I'm driving! What kept ya?" Maeve said as she opened the driver's side door and jumped in.

"Hey, I'm not Evil Knievel, ya know," Staci said, and did a double-take at the destruction at the entrance to the alley.

"Hang on, this is gonna be wild!"

Staci groaned loudly and reached for the seatbelt.


Maeve planted her foot on the gas pedal, and the sudden burst of power made the fat rear tires spin furiously - as they accelerated away from the Safe Haven Bar, they left two sixteen-foot long skid marks behind on the road.

"Uhhhhhhh!" Staci squealed as she hung on for dear life, grabbing the panic grip with both hands.

Maeve soon had the Mustang up to 100 MPH, and they were catching Snakes' old Buick hand over fist. They barreled South on Franklin Boulevard, ducking and diving around the sparse traffic.

Once they had caught up with the Buick, Maeve started honking the horn and flashing the headlights.

"How the hell is that gonna work?" Staci said, still hanging on to the panic grip.

"It'll unsettle him. I ain't gonna risk my Stang just to force him off the road!"

"Oh... Look out!"

The two cars thundered across the intersection at Sixth Street, which had turned red seconds before they arrived.

"It's *still* red!" Staci said, looking back at the traffic lights that rapidly disappeared behind them.

"I know. Nothin' ventured, nothin' gained."

"Ohhh, spare me the clichés, please!"

Maeve laughed out loud, and honked her horn again. The Mustang was positioned only inches behind the old Buick, but she was careful not to bash her front fender against the rear of the Century.

Suddenly, Snakes managed to trick Maeve by jinking left and then turning hard right, heading for an entrance to a warehouse. Maeve didn't expect that, so she flew past the entrance before she had time to react.

Once past, Maeve braked hard, making Staci jump forward and test the lock on the seatbelt. She pulled the handbrake and turned the steering wheel, making the Mustang spin around on a dime. As soon as it was pointing straight ahead, she gunned the engine again.

She took a hard left and drove through the entrance to the warehouse, following Snakes' trail up a ramp and into an area where hundreds of large crates were stored.

The squeal from the tires was deafening, and the constant turning made Staci carsick. She tried to close her eyes, but it only made it worse.

"I'm gonna be siiiiiiick!" she shrieked, as Maeve performed a series of left-right-left-right maneuvers around the huge crates at breakneck speed.

"Do it outta the window! I'm busy!" Maeve said, and took another hard left.

Suddenly they slowed down, and then came to a stop. Maeve banged her hand on the steering wheel, and looked around.

"Goddamned, we've lost him!" she growled.

"Thank God!" Staci said, and rolled down her window. She stuck her head out and took several deep breaths to calm her upset stomach.

There were rows and rows of ten-feet tall crates on either side of their car, making it impossible to see anything beyond the lane they were in. The space between the crates was probably designed for forklifts, as the lane was only three feet wider than the Mustang - which meant that even the smallest of driving errors would inevitably lead to an accident.

Through the open window, Maeve could hear an engine in the distance, so she mirrored Staci's actions and rolled down her own. She strained her hearing to listen for Snakes' car.

"Don't tell me you're sick, too?"

"Shhhh, I'm tryin' to hear Snakes' engine."

"Good luck hearing anything apart from this noisy beast."

Maeve turned off the ignition, and the sudden silence was almost a shock to their ears.

"Thank God," Staci said again, and sighed.

Maeve kept her fingers on the ignition key as she listened for Snakes. The sounds from the engine came closer and closer, and she figured he was trying to sneak back to the exit.

They could clearly hear tires squealing on the smooth surface, and it sounded like it was just around the corner.

Maeve turned the engine back on, and the Mustang's exhausts growled loudly. She put it into Drive and released the brake to make the car crawl forward.

"Maeve... you're not gonna play chicken with him... are you?"

"No. Not with you here. But I am gonna play with him," Maeve said and bared her teeth in a sneer.

Staci took a deep breath, and reached for the panic grip.

Suddenly Snakes came around a corner and appeared directly ahead of them. As he crossed their lane right in front of the Mustang, Maeve flashed her high-beams, and his head whipped around in shock. For a brief second, Maeve and Snakes looked into each other's eyes, and then he stepped on the gas to get away.

"Uhhhh!" Staci squealed as Maeve followed him, taking the corner on two wheels. They resumed the game from before, and zig-zagged their way through the lanes of crates at terrifying speeds.


Snakes finally found the ramp that led to the exit, and he gunned the engine even harder. The Buick thundered towards the ramp, but he didn't realize that he was going far too fast until it was too late - when the ramp started sloping downwards, the Buick Century took off and flew through the air.

It landed incredibly hard on the sidewalk outside the warehouse, and Snakes knew immediately that the car had been damaged. He tried to continue down Franklin, but the needle on the temperature gauge climbed like a rocket, and didn't stop until it was leaning against the small peg at the far side of the red zone.

Maeve witnessed the stunt, and she stood on the brakes to get slowed down in time. Maeve and Staci still felt the Mustang go light down the ramp, but it was never out of Maeve's control.

"Look at all that water! He must've busted a radiator hose," Staci said as they exited the warehouse, pointing at a glistening river of water on the street.

"Good. Then we've got him, the sonovabitch," Maeve growled.


The Buick coughed and spluttered, and eventually ground to a halt. Snakes could see the black Mustang approaching fast from behind, so he opened the glovebox and grabbed the glass of pills, and then opened the door and bolted from the car.

"Oh, for Chrissakes!" Maeve said and slammed on the brakes. As soon as the car had stopped, she got out and started to run after Snakes.

"No way in hell I'm gonna do a foot race! I'm stayin' right here!" Staci shouted out of the window after Maeve's retreating form.

Staci sighed and leaned back in her seat. She crossed her arms over her chest and closed her eyes to get some much needed rest.

50 yards behind her, a black GMC van pulled over and parked at the curb. A door was opened, and then closed.


Snakes ran for all he was worth down Franklin, past a few homeless people who shouted after him, and past a working girl applying her trade up against a fence.

He looked behind him and saw to his great horror that Maeve was still chasing him. Her legs appeared to move like drumsticks, and her powerful arms pumped away at great speed.

He tried to increase his pace, but after a few hundred yards, he was completely out of breath, and his lungs were burning. He huffed and puffed, and his steps started to get shorter.

He came up to an alley, and turned into it at full speed to escape Maeve's relentless chase - only to skid to a halt in front of a delivery truck that took up so much space in the narrow alley that there wasn't any room to sneak past.

He cursed, and threw his arms in the air in frustration.

Maeve appeared at the entrance to the alley and drew her Beretta.

"Dead end, huh, Snakes?" she said, trying to get her pounding heart to settle down long enough for her to talk to him without appearing winded.

"Story of my life, man..." he croaked, still huffing and puffing.

"I believe ya. What the fuck are you runnin' away for, anyway?"

He looked at her like she had sprouted a second head.

"Duh, man! 'Cause you wanna kill me! Go on, Fever, put me out of my misery."

"Nah, I don't wanna kill ya. I just wanna talk," Maeve said, and put her weapon back in its holster.

"Talk? Hey, I can talk, man."

"No shit. Why did you want to ice me yesterday?"

"Nuh-uh, I can't talk about that... they'll skin me alive, man."

"Who are 'they' ?"

"Coluzzo and his cronies, man. But I can't... fuck!" Snakes slapped his forehead when he realized he had just given everything away.

Maeve smirked, and actually felt a little sorry for the poor slob.

"Do you know what their plan was?"

"I'm so confused, man. I don't know what's up or down in this deal."

"As I said before, I believe ya."

'They must've wanted me out of the way before that shipment came in,'Maeve thought.

Suddenly the sky was lit up by a spectacular lightning bolt, followed by distant, rolling thunder. Maeve studied the pitch black sky, and got the shivers for some reason.

"Look, Fever... I'm sorry for callin' you a pissant back there..." Snakes said, and grimaced.

"No problemo. It's all part of the game."

"Yeah... man, we had a bitchin' car chase, huh?" Snakes said, and wiped some sweat off his brow.

"Yeah, kinda fun actually. Your car is fucked, though."

"Meh... no big loss, I'll just steal another one. I got the most important part right here, man," Snakes said, and poured two Happy Pills out of the glass. He quickly swallowed them, and leaned against the delivery truck while he waited for them to work.

"Before you leave for La-La Land, you still have something that belongs to me, Snakes."

"Huh? Oh, the gun..." he reached behind him, making Maeve close her fist around the handle of her own weapon.

"Here, you can have it back, man. It's only brought me bad luck, anyway," he said, and put the Beretta down on the ground.

"Thanks," Maeve said, and picked it up. She briefly checked it, and then stuck it inside her belt.

"Now what, man?"

"Now nothing. I ain't got no beef with you, and I never did. But when people take potshots at me, I get pissed off, ya know?" Maeve said, and crossed her arms over her chest.

"Yeah. So...?"

"So... run along before I change my mind."

"Errrr...? Oh...!" Snakes suddenly understood that Maeve was allowing him to escape, and he spun around on his heel and disappeared up the alley. By sucking in his gut, he managed to squeeze by the delivery truck, and then he was gone.

As another huge lightning bolt streaked across the sky, Maeve pinched the bridge of her nose, and rolled her shoulders to loosen up the muscles in her neck. Thunderstorms always gave her a headache, and she hoped that Staci would be in the mood for a little massage later.

At least she had her original Beretta back.

Maeve checked the weapon thoroughly, but it didn't seem worse for wear. She sniffed the barrel, and made a mental note that it needed a good cleaning. Other than that, it looked like Snakes had taken good care of it.

'At least *one* of our problems has been dealt with,' she thought as she walked out of the alley and began the trek back to the car.


Maeve went over to the Mustang and crouched down in front of Staci's door so she was at eye level with her.

"Snakes won't bother us again. I let him run, the pathetic fool. Look, I got my Beretta back," she said, and showed Staci the weapon.

Staci didn't reply. In fact, it appeared she hadn't even heard the words. Maeve looked up in surprise, and furrowed her brow when she saw that Staci's face was as white as a sheet.

"Hey, what's wrong? I said I let him go, if you're worried about me hurtin' him...?"

Still no reply - Staci just turned her head and looked at Maeve with wide, frightened eyes. Maeve knew all too well that there was more to Staci's strange condition that just being worried about Snakes, so she drew her Beretta from the shoulderholster, and spun around...

... at the exact same moment, Marshall Webster jumped out of the shadows he was hiding in, and put the barrel of his revolver against Maeve's skull, right behind her ear.

He cocked the .38, and the metallic sound made Staci twitch.

"One false move and I'll blow your brains out right here, bitch. Get up. Slowly."

"Which one of the dumb fucks are you? Butt or Ugly?" Maeve hissed, but complied.

"Nice. I'll take those," Marshall said, and took Maeve's two Berettas from her hands. He stuck them between his belt and his pants, and made sure they were secure.

"You're not so tough without your guns, huh, little girl?" he sneered.

Maeve's reply was a low growl. Her fists were clenched, and her entire body was ready to pounce on this jackass.

"You, Missy Long Legs, get outta the car," Marshall said, and pointed at Staci.

Staci looked at him with a very frightened expression on her face, but didn't move.

Marshall furrowed his brow.

"Unless you wanna see what color this bitch's brains are, I'd suggest you get out here right now," he growled and pressed the barrel of the revolver against Maeve's head.

"Come on, Staci. Do as he says... please," Maeve said quietly.

With shaking hands, Staci opened the door and stepped onto the sidewalk.

Marshall let his eyes run up and down Staci's long legs, and he looked like he was ready to drool.

"Ohhh yeah. I'm gonna have a lotta fun with you later on. Turn around an' get down on your knees, baby doll," Marshall said.

Staci was too frightened to do anything but follow orders, so she did what she was told.

Marshall opened a small pouch on his belt, and took out a cosh.

"You motherfucker!" Maeve roared, but Marshall pressed the revolver into her head.

"Shut the fuck up, bitch."

With his left hand, he swung the cosh, and thumped Staci heavily on the back of her head. She collapsed onto the sidewalk, out cold.

"Stay! I promise I'll be back for ya," he said, and chuckled.

"You fuckin' coward!" Maeve roared, and tried to reach for one of her Berettas, but Marshall quickly stepped back. Without taking his eyes off Maeve, he turned his head and whistled loudly.

Randy drove up in their GMC van and stopped in front of the Mustang. He got up from the driver's seat and opened the sliding door.

"Get in, Fever," Marshall said.

Maeve didn't like it at all, but right now, she couldn't see a way out.

"Fuck off. You know Fast Freddie will come down on you two degenerates like a ton of bricks if you kill me."

Marshall closed the distance between them, and tapped Maeve on the side of her head with the barrel of the gun.

"Who's holdin' the gun, bitch?"

"Mind the 'do, dickbreath," Maeve said as nonchalantly as she could. In reality, she was worried about Staci, but she refused to let it show.

A gigantic lightning bolt ripped across the sky, followed instantly by an ear-splitting thunderclap, seemingly centered right above the street where the dramatic scene was taking place. A knot was slowly forming in Maeve's stomach as she realized that this might be the end of the road for her.

She glanced down at Staci. The dark haired woman was still lying on the sidewalk, but at least she had begun to move about and moan softly.

"Get. In." Marshall emphasized both words to make sure Maeve knew he wasn't bluffing.

With a sigh, Maeve stepped up into the van, and Marshall followed her closely. He slammed the sliding door shut, and Randy stepped on the gas pedal, making the van leave the curb with a jerk.


As soon as the immediate danger was gone, Staci sat up and clutched her head. She used the Mustang for leverage and pulled herself upright, quickly finding out that her legs were quite shaky. She cursed out loud as she watched the van roar down the street, taking Maeve away from her.

A small, panicky sob escaped her lips, but she refused to give in to hysteria, and instead tried to think logically.

Suddenly she noticed that Maeve had left the keys in the ignition, and she stumbled around the front of the car and climbed in as fast as she could. She started the engine and set off after the van, the twin exhausts of the Mustang growling fiercely into the night.


Inside the van, Marshall had forced Maeve onto her knees, and he was busy tying her hands behind her back using a piece of rope. The van hit a pothole, making the people in the back jump.

"Watch where you're fuckin' drivin', Randy!" Marshall said in a tone that made Randall look over his shoulder and glare at his brother.

With Maeve safely tied up, Marshall kicked her in her gut. Even though she didn't want to satisfy his sadistic side, she couldn't withhold a pained groan.

He chuckled, and pulled a long string of piano wire out of a pocket.

Maeve looked in disgust at the wire coming down in front of her face, and moving in towards her exposed throat. She cursed, but was resigned to her fate.

'Strange', she thought, 'all I can think of is how upset Staci will be...'

"Got any special requests on where ya want ya body dumped, bitch? Usually, we'd just throw ya down the sewer, but I'm figurin' the rats will run away once they see your ugly mug," Marshall said and chuckled.

The van hit another pothole and Marshall lost his footing. He fell backwards onto his behind, loudly cursing his brother's lineage.

It only took a split second for Maeve to take full advantage of the unexpected opportunity. She rapidly got up, turned around, and fell knee-first down onto Marshall's crotch - and scored a direct hit.

Marshall screamed like a castrated pig and turned sickly green. He grabbed his crotch and writhed around in agony, his eyes rolling insanely.

"You're not so tough without your balls, huh, little boy?!" Maeve roared, mocking Marshall's earlier words.

With a sound that was a curious mix of a squeal and a growl, Marshall drew his revolver, but Maeve kicked it out of his hand. When it hit the wall of the van, it went off. The shot sounded like thunder in the close confines, and Maeve thought she'd gone deaf.

The van suddenly began moving erratically, and both Maeve and Marshall were thrown about. Maeve looked up and saw that the bullet had hit Randy in the head, leaving him slumped over the wheel. The windscreen was covered in his brains, but she could clearly see the lamppost moving closer and closer.

"Oh fuck, this is gonna hurt!" she shouted.

The van bumped over the curb at unabated speed and slammed into the street lamp. Maeve and Marshall were violently thrown forward, both of them ending up mashed up against the backs of the two front seats.

The van's rear end had been lifted high up in the air by the impact, and when it landed, the double doors at the back were ripped open. Several small items tumbled out, including one of Maeve's Berettas.

The lamp toppled over, and the head landed on the sidewalk in a shower of glass and sparks.


Staci had used the brute force of the Mustang to catch up with the erratically moving van, and she was right behind it as it careened into the lamppost. Watching the accident unfold, she immediately stood on the brakes, making the Mustang slow down dramatically.

She parked behind the crushed van and jumped out of the car. She ran over to the double doors and tried to peek in. She thought she could make out Maeve's white jeans, but the enforcer appeared to be tangled up in one of the Websters. Staci's foot bumped against Maeve's gun, and she picked it up and stuck it into her belt.

"Staci, 'that you?" Maeve croaked. She had a hard time figuring out which body all those arms and legs around her belonged to, but at least the rope had loosened itself, and she was able to wiggle her hands free.

"Yeah! I'm here, Maeve!"

Maeve untangled herself from Marshall and started crawling towards the back of the van. The wreck reeked of gasoline, and she knew it wouldn't be long before the piece of crap would blow sky high.

Crawling along on her hands and knees on a seemingly endless journey towards Staci, Maeve's fingers brushed against a cell phone, and she instinctively picked it up and put it in her pocket.

When Maeve reached the back of the van, Staci pulled her out the rest of the way, and embraced her in a crushing bear hug. Maeve appreciated the notion, but her back was throbbing already, and the pain definitely wasn't eased by Staci's strong arms wrapping themselves around her body.

"Don't you ever do that again!" Staci sobbed, a veil of tears in her eyes softening the blow of the words. She leaned in to kiss Maeve, but at the last moment, she noticed that Maeve's bottom lip was split, so she settled for caressing the bruised face.

"I'll try not to," Maeve said, and coughed. She wiped off her lip, and smirked when she saw the blood on her fingers.

She looked down at herself, and winced when she took in the sorry state of her clothes. One of the back pockets had been torn off her white jeans, and the right sleeve of her silk shirt was hanging on by the proverbial thread. She sighed and rolled her eyes.

"Let me help you," Staci said, and started searching her pockets for a handkerchief for Maeve's lip.

"Never mind, we better mov..."

A loud hiss and a crackling sound from the front of the van made both women look - suddenly a cloud of smoke rose from the crumpled hood, quickly followed by flames that grew bigger by the split second.

"Let's get the hell outta here!" Maeve said, and hobbled away from the wreck.

"I have one of your guns," Staci said, and handed Maeve the black Beretta. She put an arm around the shorter woman's waist and almost dragged her to the idling Mustang.

"Thanks." Maeve checked the clip and saw, with some surprise, that Marshall hadn't emptied it. She leaned against the driver's side door, and after a few seconds, she climbed in.

"What about the thugs?" Staci said.

"Forget 'em. They're dead."

Maeve hadn't even finished the sentence when Marshall Webster burst out of the rear of the burning van. His left sleeve was on fire, but he didn't even bother to put it out.

"Graaaaah!" he roared, and started shooting at Staci and Maeve.

The first bullet ricocheted off the hood in a shower of sparks, and the second shattered the side mirror on the driver's side. Maeve instantly drew her own weapon, stuck it out of the door and fired five rounds directly into Marshall's body. They were all hits, and he staggered backwards - he collapsed into the burning van, spasmed once, and was then still.

Staci had buried her head in her hands, and didn't dare to look over the dashboard until Maeve told her it was all right.

"I didn't know you could shoot left-handed, Maeve," Staci said in a shaky voice.

"Me neither. He hit my car, the asshole!" she said and looked at the shattered mirror with a sour expression on her face.

"I think we should call the fire department. The flames are creeping closer to that house," Staci said and pointed.

"You're right. But let's get away first." Maeve put the Mustang into gear and drove away from the grisly scene.


Half a block down the road, they found an alley that suited their need perfectly, and Maeve reversed into it and turned off the engine and the lights.

All the horrible events of the last few minutes finally caught up with Staci, and the shock that swept over her like a tidal wave made it feel like an elephant was standing on her chest. As soon as the Mustang had stopped, she opened her door, fumbled out of the car, and ran into the alley.

Not caring for a second about the trash or the unpleasant smell in the alley, she put a hand against the brick wall and started to hyperventilate. Her heart was hammering away in her chest, and it felt like it was trying to break out. Small black spots were floating around in her vision, and her ears were ringing from the blood rushing through her veins. Her mouth had suddenly turned as dry as Death Valley, and she felt very cold, despite the fact that it was still muggy.

Staci's hands started shaking violently, and for a brief moment, she couldn't fathom whose hands it was she was looking at - everything was so unreal that it felt like she was watching it on TV.

Maeve quickly jumped out of the car, and ran back to help Staci. She put her hands on the taller woman's shoulders and pulled her away from the wall. One look at Staci's ashen face told Maeve that her partner was in the middle of a severe panic attack, so she wrapped her arms around Staci's torso and held on for all she was worth, not giving a damn about the pains shooting up from her back.

Staci sobbed a few times, but she refused to cry. It felt so good to have Maeve's strong arms around her, and she wanted to hold on to her for an eternity.

"Dear God... I thought I had lost you... when I was following the van, I was so scared... I was terrified that I would never see you again... alive..." Staci whispered hoarsely. Her voice was trembling from the strain she had been under, and her hands were still shaking, though not as much as before. A few tears escaped from her eyes, but she didn't care.

"Shhhh. It's all right, I'm right here. Nothing happened. I'm safe," Maeve said quietly, and ran her hand up and down Staci's long back.

"Thank God," Staci said, and pulled back from the hug. She sighed deeply and wiped her eyes with her sleeve.

Maeve framed Staci's face with her hands, and pulled her down, intending to give her a loving kiss - but as soon as she puckered up her lips, her split lip made its presence felt with a sharp stab of pain.

"Ow!" Maeve said, and winced.

Staci chuckled, and took Maeve's hands in her own. They briefly looked into each other's eyes, and then Staci kissed Maeve on the uninjured side of her mouth.

After they separated, Staci brushed her hair away from her eyes, and took a very deep breath to fill her lungs with air. She let out a long, slow sigh, and shook her head.

"I'm sorry for freaking out like that..."

"Oh for Chrissakes!" Maeve said and hugged Staci again. She hissed when her abused back muscles complained, and she had to put a hand on her lower back.

"Jeez, Maeve, you're a wreck!"

"I've probably sprained a back muscle, but other than that I'm A-OK," Maeve said, and massaged her back.

"Man, what a night," Staci said and sighed again.

"How is your head? He hit you pretty hard," Maeve said, and made Staci turn around so she could check out the wound.

"I'm sore, but fine. I'll have a huge headache tomorrow."

"No doubt. Are you ready to come back to the car?"

"I think so."

Maeve took Staci by the hand, and led her back to the Mustang. Holding the door open, Maeve saw to it that Staci was seated comfortably before she went around the car and got in herself.


Maeve reached into her pocket and pulled out the cell phone she had found in the van. The movement made her back hurt, and she winced again - she'd definitely need the massage jets in her Jacuzzi once this eternal night was over.

The night suddenly turned to day as a huge lightning bolt tore across the heavens. Maeve waited for the thunderclap, but it was still far away.

"Jeez, this thunderstorm's creeping me out! I wish it would start raining, or something... anything but that goddamned lightning... wait a minute, this isn't my phone...?" she said as she looked at the cell phone in her hand.

"No, yours is in the glove box," Staci said, and opened it. She pulled out Maeve's phone and presented it to her.

"Would you mind calling the fire boys? I need to see what this is."

"All right."

As Staci called, Maeve studied the cell phone with great interest. It was a fancy model, and it was still on.

Staci closed the phone.

"Done. Have you figured out anything?"

"Not ye..."

Suddenly the phone rang as Maeve was holding it, blasting out The Ride Of The Valkyries.

"Yep!" she said cheekily, and looked at the display.

"I don't recognize that number..." she said, as the phone rang again.

In the distance, they could already hear the wail of the emergency vehicles, and Staci felt a little better knowing that the fire wouldn't spread to the nearby houses.

"... so let's find out whose it is." Maeve pressed the button, and put the phone to her ear.

'He-hello?' a familiar voice said from the other end of the connection.

"Mmmmm," Maeve growled, trying to imitate Marshall Webster. She racked her brains to remember where she had heard the voice before - she knew it, that much was certain.

'H-have you... done what I asked you to?'

Maeve suddenly connected all the dots, and the name of the caller flashed before her eyes. She bolted upright in her seat and gripped the phone so hard that her knuckles turned white. A small vein started beating on her forehead, and her face flushed red, contorting her usually pretty features into a mask of evil.

Staci opened her mouth to ask what on Earth was going on, but thought better of it once she saw the color of Maeve's face.

'H-Hello?' the familiar voice said on the phone.

"This is White fuckin' Fever, Sammi Jo. Your little assassination attempt failed. You better start sayin' your prayers, motherfucker, 'cause I'm comin' for ya!" she bellowed into the phone.

The connection was lost immediately, and Maeve responded by throwing the phone hard against the wall of the building they were parked next to.

The delicate electronic equipment shattered into a dozen pieces, but Maeve didn't even see it hit the ground - she and Staci had already left the alley in a cloud of dust, driving at full speed towards the Three-In-One Club.


The Mustang came to a screeching halt in front of the nightclub, making the few people on the sidewalk turn around and look.

"Stay in the car, Staci," Maeve growled, and opened the door.

"Yes, Ma'am."

Despite her aching back, Maeve quickly bounded out of the car and strode purposefully past the bouncer, who knew better than to try to stop her.

By this time of the morning, the nightclub was nearly empty. Only a few businessmen and -women, in varying degrees of soberness, were sitting along the catwalk, enjoying the dancers writhe about to the pumping music.

The hostesses and waitresses didn't have much to do, so they were sitting down in the booths, talking amongst themselves.

Maeve barged into the club and walked very fast past the booths, heading for Sammi Jo's office. Danielle flew up from her chair and nearly dropped her tray off the look of unadulterated rage on Fever's face. Danielle had seen that look on the enforcer's face during the terrible business with her sister, and she felt certain that just like last year, something major was about to happen.

Maeve quickly arrived at the door to Sammi Jo's office. She grabbed the handle, but it was locked. She didn't want to waste time on something as trivial as knocking, so she stepped back and gave the door an almighty kick right on the lock. It flew open and took a large piece of the doorjamb with it.

Sammi Jo was cowering in her fancy leather swivel chair, looking like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming freight train. As a last ditch effort, she held up a small caliber revolver, but her hand trembled so much it was pointless. Effortlessly, Maeve swatted the gun away, and it clanged harmlessly into the trashcan.

Maeve picked up Sammi Jo by the scruff of her $1000 suit, and slammed the older woman into a filing cabinet. The leather chair went flying and toppled over into a fake palm tree in the corner of the office.

Maeve was several inches shorter than Sammi Jo, but the fire burning inside her canceled out that disadvantage.

Sammi Jo was frightened out of her wits, and she couldn't control her bladder. She cringed when she felt hot urine seeping out of her panties and down onto her thighs.

"Why?" Maeve hissed in the older woman's face, and bared her teeth in a feral sneer. A stab of pain shot through her injured lip, but she didn't give a damn.

Sammi Jo was too afraid to answer, so she shook her head frantically instead.

With a growl, Maeve released her grip on the expensive suit, and went over to the other side of the desk, clearly searching for something.

Sammi Jo's legs were shaking too much to support her weight, so her knees buckled and she fell heavily down onto the floor - landing in the puddle that had formed at her feet.

Maeve slammed down a piece of blank paper and a pen on the desktop.

"Here's whatcha gonna do. You write after me... As of today, I, Sammi Jo- whatever-the-fuck your last name is, transfer ownership of the Three-In-One Club to Freddie Donnelly..."

"You're insane! That's not legally binding!" Sammi Jo said, still lying in the puddle of urine.

"You wanna see how insane?" Maeve hissed.

"This club is all I have! I've invested hundreds of thousands in this place!" Sammi Jo said, and got off the floor. She leaned against the filing cabinet, and tried to wipe off her sticky hands on her suit.

"You should've thought about that sooner, dear Sammi Jo. This is what happens when a two-bit hustler like you starts messin' with the big girls."

"Fuck you, dyke!"

In one second flat, Maeve jumped over the desk and planted a knee deep into Sammi Jo's gut. All the air rushed out of the older woman, and she fell forward, groaning pitifully. Maeve pulled her upright, and once again forced her up against the cabinet.

"I'll give you some free advice: Don't throw that word in my face unless you have the balls to back it up... and you don't. Catch my drift?" Maeve whispered into Sammi Jo's ear.

The older woman coughed and wheezed, but she still had some fighting left in her.

"I won't do it... I won't sign the paper..."

"I'm losing my temper. And when I lose my temper, I get really unpleasant, you understand?"


"Write it, date it, sign it, and then get the fuck out of my city, Sammi Jo. Do it now, or I swear to God, you'll regret it for the rest of your worthless life!" Maeve roared right in Sammi Jo's face.

The fiery anger displayed by the irate enforcer made Sammi Jo concede, and she nodded her head like she was in a trance.

She slowly went over to the desk to write down the words Maeve had dictated to her. She signed the paper and handed it to Maeve.

"Here," she said, feeling empty and deflated.

Maeve didn't answer at once, but rather crossed her arms over her chest, and gave the older woman an ice cold stare.

"Just so you know... I'll be checking up on you. If I hear even the slightest thing about you working against Fast Freddie, I'll hunt you down. Get it?"

Sammi Jo nodded wordlessly. She picked up a few small items and left the office without looking back. The entire backside of her pant suit was one, large wet patch of urine that stuck uncomfortably to her rear end and her legs as she walked.


Both the pole dancers currently on the catwalk stopped their routines to stare wide-eyed at their former boss, and Danielle's jaw was hanging just above the floor as Sammi Jo walked through the club, redfaced and in a very bedraggled state.

The waitress almost didn't dare go into the office, but she called on all her courage and peeked around the busted doorjamb.

Fever was making a phone call, sitting in Sammi Jo's leather chair with her boots up on the polished surface of the desk. She looked up and smiled at Danielle. The waitress had to look again, but, sure enough, Fever was smiling at her. Not only that, she was waving, too.

Maeve pressed a button on the phone and closed the display.

"Come on in, Danielle. I have some news for you."

"I c-can imagine," Danielle said with a stutter.

"There's nothing to worry about now. Sammi Jo is no longer your boss. She... hmmm... felt the city air was clogging up her sinuses, so she's decided to take an extended break from the whole nightclubbing bizz."

"O... OK...?"

"Yep. You're now working directly for Fast Freddie Donnelly. I'm sure you've heard of him?"

Danielle nodded.

"Good. He's a fair man, and a friend you can call on if you have problems. You understand?"

The waitress nodded again and clutched the tray she was holding.

"Good. I don't know who'll be running this place in the future, but I promise you that things will be much nicer from now on."

Danielle furrowed her brow and started sniffing the air.

"Is that...?"

"Yeah... Sammi Jo had a little accident on her way out. I'll see to it that someone comes to clean it up," Maeve said, and patted Danielle on the shoulder as she walked out of the recently vacated office.


"Did you kill her?" Staci asked as Maeve got back in the car.

"Actually, I didn't. I wanted to... but I didn't." Maeve started the engine, and they drove off.

"Then what?"

"Well... Uncle Freddie just got himself another nightclub."


Maeve rested her sore arm by letting it hang out of the opened window. She touched her equally sore lip, and found out that it was bleeding again.

"Will it be under your protection?" Staci said, and handed Maeve a fresh napkin.

"Oh, yes. Well, protected by the Donnellys, anyway. When I'm around, I'll probably swing by now and then to check it out..."

"...To check out the dancers, you mean..." Staci interjected.

"I'll need to see if our investment is safe and healthy," Maeve said and grinned broadly.

"... but in short, yes, it's now part of the Donnelly family," she continued.


A few minutes went by without either of them saying anything.

"Staci, you're thinking about something again, aren't you?"

"Yeah. I was thinking... that maybe I could get a job there...?"

Maeve's head whipped around so fast that even her heavily gelled hair moved.

"As a dancer?!" Maeve said flabbergasted.

"No, silly! Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Maeve! I meant to run the place, or to be your liaison, or something. What do you think?"


"I happen to think I'd be able to do a pretty good job of it. I'm good with people..."

"Well, most people," Maeve said and grinned again.

"... and I know my way around a ledger, so I was wondering if... you'd talk to Fast Freddie about it?"

"So you're serious?"

"Yeah. I need to move on. Tending bars is OK for a while, but I need to do something else now. My 40th isn't that far away, and I think it's time for me to do something... respectable."

Maeve nodded. On one hand, she could easily imagine Staci running the Three-In-One Club, and it would definitely be nice to have someone friendly working there - but on the other, she didn't know if Staci's personality was really compatible with the sleazy side of the job.

'She'd be working with scantily clad women for most of the night, and there's no way a permanent blush can be good for the skin...' Maeve thought, as she looked at Staci's profile.

"There's one little problem, Staci. I don't think you'd be able to continue living in Midtown West. You'd probably need to move over here. I don't think Don Coluzzo would look too kindly on one of our people living in his part of the town."

"Well... I guess I could move over here," Staci said, and put her hand on Maeve's.

Maeve felt Staci's eyes on her, so she turned her head - for an eternal second, they looked directly into each other's eyes, and they both knew the old connection and love had been fully restored.

Maeve opened her mouth to reply, but found herself so choked up that she wasn't able to speak. Her heart started hammering in her chest, and she forced herself to look ahead to mind the traffic.

"Tell you what, I'll run it by him. Let's see what happens, OK?" she said after a few seconds.

"Fine by me," Staci said, and crossed her fingers out of sight of Maeve.


A few minutes later.

"So, what do we do now, anyway?" Staci asked as they were waiting by the red light at Fourth Street. The traffic had turned heavy again, only now it was family sedans carrying people to work, instead of souped up sportscars driven by reckless youths.

"Well, I've had it up to *here* with this city... at least for tonight," Maeve said, and demonstrated by holding her hand just below her nose.


"Yeah. I'm fresh out of assholes to kill or throw out, so I might as well call it a night," Maeve said, and clawed Staci's thigh with a wide grin.

As they drove in a long line of cars approaching the next intersection, heavy drops began to fall, and soon Jefferson Boulevard was drenched by a deluge.

The windscreen wipers on the Mustang moved back and forth on the fastest setting, but even that wasn't enough to withstand the torrential rain.

Even though it was past 6 AM, the massive thundercloud hovering above the city meant that there were no signs of the coming dawn. The sky was constantly lit up by tendrils of lightning, and impossibly loud thunderclaps rolled over the skyscrapers.

" 'And the rains came and washed away the City Of Sin,' " Staci said thoughtfully as she looked out of the window onto nature's impressive light show.

"Yeah. Perhaps we better start building an ark. So... do you want me to drop you off at Rose's...?"

"Well, ah... would it be too much trouble if I... sorta crashed at your place tonight...? Well, today, to be exact," Staci said, and checked her wristwatch.

Maeve grinned and looked at Staci.

"We're kinda on our way to my place right now, actually..." she said, and winked.

"I had a feeling we might be," Staci said, and leaned over to kiss Maeve on the cheek.

"Anyway, I need to call Rose at some point during the day, so she won't worry about me when she sees my Corolla still parked at the back entrance."

"No problem."


They turned off Fourth Street, and entered the alley where Maeve's apartment was. The Mustang hit a pothole, and the jolt sent a flash of pain up through Maeve's back.

"Ouch!" she hissed, and leaned forward in her seat.

"Your back?"

"Yeah... the son of a bitch is killing me..."

"You need a hot shower and some quality time with the massage jets in the Jacuzzi," Staci said.

"Oooh, now you're talkin'! You. Me. Jacuzzi. Match made in heaven!"

"Jeez, you're incorrigible, you know that? ...but I guess I could do that, only I need some, hell, I need a *lot* of sleep first. It's four hours past my bedtime!" Staci said, and underlined her words by yawning.

"Yeah. Me, too. Hey, you know somethin' ?" Maeve said, as she clicked on the remote to activate the sliding door.

"Errr... no?"

"I think I'm gonna call in sick tonight. I have a feelin' that I'm gonna be totally worn out again come nightfall," Maeve said with a wolfish grin on her face.

"... Good point. Who knows, we might even catch a Fever," Staci drawled, and returned the grin.

"Ooooh, I'm countin' on it, baby!"




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