Disclaimers are as usual, its mine, mine, all mine, don't steal it or I'll send Uncle Guido after ya. And please be over 18 since I look really bad in
jail garb. You can find me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Come on captain, it’s just a road, I gotta take a leak.” The almost defiant voice challenged as he pulled the vehicle over and stepped out. His face bore a little boy smile.
“When don’t you? God, yer worse than a pregnant woman.” It was a younger female voice that exited the Hmmv and followed the male beyond the road line. Cage exited the vehicle and trailed further back and could see the female soldier track her partner with weapon in hand and half-pissed. There was no mistaking the irritation on the young, hard face.
Cage had taken some time to speak with the female MP and found that she was like most other MP’s she’d met in her lifetime. Well trained, smart mouthed and could most likely drink her compatriots under the table out of sheer survival. Cage liked her for the soldier’s pure determination to excel in a still male dominated line of work. But there was more, this was a woman who harbored the dream of becoming a civilian cop, to have a family beyond a uniform, she could play big dog with the boys but she was a woman who wanted more than her backwoods upbringing. She liked this brash soldier so Cage followed out of curiosity. She wanted to hear what the MP would drag out and trash her partner with.
“My sister had twins and she didn’t pee this much. I didn’t have to watch her like this either…you pathetic-”
Whatever else that was going to be said was erased by a loud explosion. Followed by another and suddenly Cage was covered with the blood and bone of a brave loud mouth female MP backing her partner. Cage couldn’t do a thing as she was lifted by the concussion and tossed like a rag doll only to hit the ground, back and hips screaming in pain seconds after the contact, her voice screaming because of the injustice of it all. She wasn’t here to do anything else than find one more or was it five mass graves of the civil war in the Balkans. She picked her body up and tried to move only to scream again around the overwhelming pain of actually moving, blood streaming from the side of her forehead where something had hit hard.
Her head and body were still at odds when she was pulled her up and dragged away. Even in her state she could see their uniforms. ‘Great, Serbians, but they’re supposed to be ‘handled’ now’ her battered brain flustered. In a split second she tried to remember everything about the conflict and what the Serb tactics were. She came up with a story or two but then no female US soldiers had been taken. The men who had been taken were definitely beaten.
“I’m so fucked.” She managed to mutter before the rifle butt struck the middle of her head. Her world went black. Unknown to Cage they cleared out fast and quiet.
For the longest time there were no sounds until the animal life resettling itself, then it was the crackle of radio traffic coming from the Hmmv’s COM set, seemingly random sounds until a clear voice cut in.
“Tango Five-Eight come in. Tango Five-Eight come in.” There was a break of sounds in the forest.
“Yankee Seven to Tango Five-Eight, you are overdue.”
“ Tango Five-Eight? Tango Five-Eight? Tango Five-Eight, Captain come in.” The female voice behind the radio became just a bit frantic. “TANGO FIVE-EIGHT, c’mon Cage answer me.”
Cage peeled her eye open, instantly wishing she hadn’t. Pain stabbed in front and behind retinal nerves. By sheer will power she managed to not make a sound. After a long moment or maybe an eternity the pain receded to a nearly manageable level. Slowly she became aware of every other ache and occasional sharp pain in her body even as her brain was fuzzy as hell. With the insight of the entire brood of Irish saint’s her grand father had taught her to pray to, she knew that what she couldn’t recall was far more that what she could. Some things she knew, they were there, she could touch and taste them who she was, who her family was, what she did for a living but when she tried to think about other things…it was just gone. All she knew for sure was that she didn’t know much.
Sound rustled to her left and as interested as her mind was she couldn’t muster the energy to turn her head. Footsteps, soft and hollow sounded next coming closer until finally a suit filled her one eyed vision. She stared at the man, wondering if she should know him. Her mind was a blank so she fell back on training.
“Quinn, Cage. Captain. United States Army. Five One – “
“It’s all right Cage. You’re back with us.”
She stared at him, through him. “Quinn, Cage. Captain. United States Army.”
“Military Intelligence. Orders current – Bosnia, information on Balkan war crimes. Last radio sign Tango 58. MIA 5 days in Serbian hands, irregular militia, even if most of the regulars are ‘handled’. Captain you have no real reason to believe me except that I have one thing to say to you. Dakota.”
Cage started to shake her head and instantly stopped, eye wide with pain. She laid back, breathing slowly and soft through it. Where was it she’d learned that trick? Just let it flow through, don’t fight it, just breathe.
She cleared her throat. “Not enough.” She hissed.
A slow secretive smile crossed the suit’s face. “Coven’s choir.”
Cage let herself relax at the words. They were comforting and safe but she wasn’t exactly sure why. Training took over again and forced her to think. “Where?” she finally decided on the safest question.
“I’m not a doctor.” He hedged.
“No, but you read the freaking report. Give it up.” She demanded softly.
He sighed. “All right. Dislocated shoulder, left by the way, possible rotator cuff damage. Right orbital socket, nearly shattered, fixed with a metal plate and seven screws…don’t plan on going through terminals without a profile card anytime soon, broken cheekbone also left…grade four concussion, even now. Two cracked ribs and more soft tissue damage than I’ve seen in my life. Your kidneys are bruised but they’ll heal.”
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph. God…they really didn’t like me did they?” Cage breathed out low.
“Apparently. Why not?” He asked in an off hand sort of way.
Cage leaned deeper into the pillow. “I wish I knew.”
She tried a half smile. “It was either my attitude or my charm. I don’t know.” There was an edge to her voice. She took a breath. “Family?”
He almost looked sheepish, almost enough to fool her but not quite. “Not yet. You’re father doesn’t like us much.”
She would have laughed if it hadn’t added to her pain. “No he wouldn’t like you much. You’re an MI puke.” Her half laugh kicked off a wave of nausea. “Oh, damn.” She breathed in slowly and settled back. This was so not fun. “Our kind left him and his kind out to dry too many times, I think. At this point I don’t blame him.”
“He’s making things difficult.” The suit looked like he was starting to relax a bit and that made Cage nervous.
“Back off the man, sparky. He’ll fuck you six ways of Sunday and you wouldn’t know it until you’re dead.” The soft tone of her voice belied the threat but her eye let the suit know she was serious. “How long have I been here?”
“Six days.” He answered honestly.
“Shit, they have got to be worried.” She winced at the pull of stitches around her right eye.
“We’ll let you see them after you are debriefed.”
She couldn’t decide to cry or laugh. “I’m fecked then, because there’s nothing there.”
“What?” The suit’s voice inched up a bit.
“Did you get hit in the head too? I can’t remember anything.” She admitted then concentrated. “Last thing I remember is a Saint Pat’s pub crawl in Dublin. Tommy was with me. I kind of remember the Garda…maybe.” She tried to scootch over a bit and the pain increased. “Pain meds?” she rasped around the agony.
“Low level until the debrief.”
She turned her head as much as she was able, had her neck ever hurt this much in her life? “You get a crypto rated babysitter in here with a pad and seal the door, but I will have better pain med’s on board in five mikes or I will gut you with the bed pan. Please don’t think I can’t or won’t.”
She watched the suit shift on uncertain feet. He was just new enough that he had to think about it. She gave him to a count of ten, which would have been twenty if the nerve endings in her body hadn’t started complaining a hundred fold.
“Do you really want to test my theory?” She grunted and pulled her body up, hands gripping the bed rails, forearm muscles bulging. Blood started to run from the IV needle in her left hand.
The suit quickly pulled out his cell phone and flashed off a text message despite the signs in the room that cell phones were forbidden. She waited until the offending device was closed before she let her battered body fall back on to the bed.
Within fifteen minutes the sweet morphine drip was spreading cheer and warm joy through her veins and she forgot about the serious woman with a pinched expression who was poised in a chair by the bed. Cage allowed her eye to close when the temptation became too great and let bliss take over.
She slipped and melted into a lazy warm oblivion. Thoughts and dreams blended under the influence of the power narcotic until the fuzzy apparition in Air Force blue smiled at her. Tender fingers brushed a few too long locks from Cage’s forehead. “Hey Cage. There’s easier ways to get vacation time. Most soldiers just put in the paperwork.” The voice was soft and familiar. “Sometimes Cage, you scare me.”
“I scare me too.” Cage answered her dream with a wry smile. She didn’t hear the scribbling on note pad by the sour faced woman.
“I promise not to tell.” The dream answered.
Cage chuckled out loud. “Liar, you always tell.”
The pen scratched on paper again.
“Yeah, well, I get bored. There’s not a lot going on here, you know?” The dream chuckled and brushed a finger over Cage’s left hand. “You just rest now, I’ve got your six.”
Cage kicked the door closed and dropped her bags. Turning to look out the bay window she watched the tail lights fade into the night. Finally, she breathed. No more well meaning family, no one to hover over, make sure meds were taken on time, no more questions about what she could and could not remember. For now no more doubt and no more fear.
Leaning her forehead against the solid wall of the cabin she let out a slow breath and smiled. She was free, at least as free as she let herself be. Without a thought she tugged off her shirt and jeans, happy to be nearly naked. She did not look down at the scars but did notice the hint of pain in her lower back. She grinned as she walked the inside of the cabin she so remembered from childhood. She stopped and looked hard at the pantry wall where faint notches marked growing in two separate rows, the smile that found its way to her face was quickly covered with frustration. Why would anyone keep those mementos?
She shook her head they were kept because they love you and pinhead. Deal with it solider. Suck it up and drive the fuck on. Cage tossed her smaller overnight bag into the bedroom and followed it, ignoring the slight ache in her back and left hip. “No residual damage my ass.” She muttered to the empty room.
“You sure you wanna be out here? I could just take you to your cabin?” Tommy asked for the kabillionth time.
“I’m sure.” She answered in a low calm tone. “This is your cabin time, dearthair and I need to be alone right now.”
“But…” He started to protest.
“Thomas Glenn I love you, but I will hurt you if you don’t shut the fuck up and just do what I ask, okay?” She muttered in the close confines of his car. “I just need to find me. Please, please let me.”
“What happened out there Cage?” His voice hardly sounded above the motor.
“Hell and heaven and everything in between.” She answered cryptically. “Thanks for doing this.”
He snorted. “Yeah well, paybacks. This time it ain’t a bitch.” He drove for a little while. “I owe ya and you are the family gaiscioch…granda called you warrior since I can remember. He knew it was who you are. Me, I was just gonna be a soldier, but you…you’re a warrior and a leader Cage. We’ve known that since you broke Jimmy Magee’s nose for teasing Shelly Ware.” He smiled at the memory.
Her façade almost cracked. “I’m not a leader, so don’t call me that again. I got tired and lazy.”
“I got tired dragging Sean out…I got tired of the pain and fear and wondering…but you get passed it. If you don’t then it’s off to Fiddler’s Green with ye. I see you here right next to me so you can’t be in Fiddler’s Green, which means you must be alive.”
“Tommy, have I ever told you that you’re an asshole?”
“Only since I was seventeen.” He answered and took the exit off the highway.
“You’re going to what?” Tommy asked, his hand froze over the grill. After a long moment he realized that he was nearly on fire and yanked his hand away from danger.
“M.I.” Cage answered.
“You are truly loopy. That’s insane.”
“So says the asshole who wants to be a grunt.” Cage answered smoothly as she poured some ice-cold beer over his wrist. “That’s gonna leave a mark.”
“Not anymore. I’m gonna go Military Police. I get to be a cop and be a baby grunt. I just won’t have to be a grunt all the time.” He shot back. “Look I know you have a degree in poly sci, but Cage, those fuckers are dangerous and sick.”
“Quit listening to Da okay. He’s just a little jaded.” She tried to joke.
“Don’t belittle him Cage.” His voice took on a mans tone.
“I’m not, really I’m not. I can’t explain it Tommy…it’s a good pick for me.”
For a long time he was silent as he flipped the steaks and she drank beer. “You are fecked in the head you know. Totally fecked.”
“You think I’m fecked now? Wait till I tell Sergeant Major retired Quinn that not only am I going M.I., I’ll be an officer to boot.” This time her smile was thin. Her father was going to kill her, but the papers were already signed.
Tommy did not look up as he laid another steak on the grill. “I’ll drink at your wake and comfort mom.”
Cage peeled her eyes open and instantly cursed Mother Nature. She rolled over in bed and planted her feet on the floor. She didn’t know whether the dreams were due to the meds or just the looking back she had been doing lately. Peering out the window she noticed that the sun was beginning to peek out for the day. Knowing she wasn’t going to get back to sleep she decided that she would start her day of doing nothing early. First order of business would be the bathroom, then maybe some coffee.
Fresh from her morning of caffeine, she decided on breakfast in one of the town diner’s and then maybe she would restock the cupboards with actual food and definitely some beer. She wished for a good Irish beer but the town had a limited choice of her second favorite beverage. Picking up the car keys she started out the door.
Cage stepped out from under the protective awning of the general store so readily used by the tourists. It had been a good late morning and now that early afternoon was sneaking up she had to smile as she slipped on her dark sunglasses, then stood up and tightened the grip on the plastic bags. Looking around without being obvious was just a habit and she couldn’t tell if it was a good or bad one. Taking a breath she stepped down on the wood boards, almost smiling when she didn’t make a sound despite the weight she’d put back on her frame. Five days of pain and starvation, plus six more of near coma and the months of hating hospital food had peeled away muscle and weight.
She actually felt half good, nearly strong as she strolled to her car. The place was smaller than she remembered, but then when you were a bored to tears child, everything was big. The town square was only six blocks around, seven if you counted the park. And the library, which had appeared forbidding, was two stories of crumbling red brick. She bit back a laugh as she walked. Had she been so intimidated by the building when she was so much younger?
People walked by her and she noticed they were of one type or the other. They were either white or Native American. There were no others of color in the late afternoon and it was clear that neither culture mixed with the other. She sighed inwardly. The one place she could count on as a kid had seemingly turned into every other place in the world that she wasn’t sure she wanted to be. She’d had enough of ethnic separation.
Shaking her head she walked on and pretended to ignore the commotion at the far end of the last block of the square. Two men bracketed one lone woman who was obviously of Native decent. As she was placing the plastic bags bearing her weekly supplies into her rented car she noticed one man push the woman and the woman surprised her by recovering, glaring and then push back.
Cage smiled…this woman was righteous indignation down to her socks and she reminded the soldier of a loud mouth female MP. She shook her head. This was none of her business…it was probably a lover’s quarrel and she wanted no part of it. It was nearly time for her daily meds and she wondered if she could lay off them for once.
She was this close to getting into the rental and driving away until she heard the one sound that would always get her attention. The sound of flesh on flesh. Twisting her head she took in the scene in an almost clinical detached way. The woman was half bent over; one hand on her face while the male subject stood over and nearly lorded his presence. Cage felt her rage surge and there was nothing this time to stop her.
With a sigh she jogged the distance quickly and slid to a stop next to the Native American woman. She glanced at the woman and saw the glaring red imprint of a hand. She turned her eyes to the large man standing in front of her.
“Get the fuck outta here,” the man grunted.
“Well you’re charming. You should probably take your own advice.” Cage answered calmly. “You okay ma’am?”
“For the most part.” The woman answered as she rubbed her cheek.
“This ain’t your business bitch.”
“You know, only my family calls me that. We’re not related are we?” Cage peered closer at his face. “Hey, you’re not related to my aunt Millie are you? I know she’s only family by marriage but you kinda look like her son Chester.”
The man expression turned to confusion. “I don’t know you bitch. Are you crazy? Now get the fuck outta here.” He attempted to push her.
Cage trapped his hand and bent the joint in a painful wristlock. “You seem to have a problem with touching without asking.” She twisted her hold on his wrist when he attempted to move. “I don’t like people like you. Leave the lady alone and go away.” She ordered and quickly glanced at his buddy who was frozen with indecision.
The attacker said nothing but tried to throw a punch with his free hand. Cage retaliated by twisting his wrist and kicking him swiftly in the shin with the pointy toe of her cowboy boot. She watched as tears of pain filled his eyes. He tried again and received the same treatment. She imagined that the knot on his shin would grow to impressive size sometime soon. He spent the next few moments squirming and trying to avoid her foot.
“You getting tired of this yet? I can keep this up all day long Chester.” Cage’s smile was just slightly insane. She snapped her foot forward again even though he quit squirming and trying to hit back. “Are you getting the idea yet?”
“Yeah,” he grunted. “I get it.”
“I’m going to release your wrist and you are going to leave unless the lady wants to press charges.”
The Native woman shook her head. “No, nothing would happen even if I did. The sheriff around here doesn’t like my kind.” She admitted.
Cage kept her eye on the man and released her grip on his wrist while taking one cautious step back, ready to fight if he decided to do something stupid. For a long several seconds she thought and half hoped that he would do something stupid. She hadn’t had this much fun in ages. Finally his pain seemed to take priority and he limped away with his buddy while glaring over his shoulder at both women.
The small crowd that had gathered still milled around, their faces giving away their confusion and some hostility. Cage looked them in the eye. “What? Never seen anybody help someone before? Get going since I know you all have something better to do today.”
The crowed cleared quickly and Cage was sure she saw some guilty expressions flash across some faces. She shifted on her feet and tried to figure out what to say to the woman still standing there.
“Just who do you think you are?” The dark haired woman muttered with barely restrained anger. “I don’t need some white woman saving me, and I certainly don’t need anyone to save me with violence.”
Cage’s head snapped sharply to the side. “Lady, if you didn’t notice they were not shy about using violence with you. What’d you want me to do, scare them off with harsh language? Believe me that type don’t understand reasoning or asking politely.”
The woman’s eyebrows raised and she huffed out a breath. “If that’s what you believe then you are no better than they are.” She stared dead on at Cage, noticing the wicked thin scar around the right eye and ignored it.
Cage silently counted to ten in order to quell her rage. “You have no idea who or what I am lady. I won’t bother to help you out again. Have a nice day.” Turning on her heel she stalked away without looking back.
“You can see her, but just for a few minutes.” The nurse in uniform directed. “As long as you’re not here in an official capacity.”
“No, not official. She’s my brother’s squad leader. I just have to see her.”
The nurse, Rivers, the nametag read in muted blue, stared for a long minute. Maybe she was trying to figure out if it was a lie, or maybe she was just tired.
“They tell me she helped save him, I want to thank her for keeping her promise.”
She followed without really seeing until they were in the room and only then did she let her eyes see. The lump in the bed was real, and so was the pain in mostly alert ice pale blue eyes. Was it defiance? Was it loathing? Realization set in…it was fear. It was an almost audible ‘I’m sorry. I tried, don’t hurt me.’
For a long time she couldn’t say a word, just look, and it was when her eyes turned to the nurse who was trying to decide if she was being a bitch or uncertain, that she knew she had to say something. She walked around the visitor’s chair and to the side of the bed. She laid her head gently against the forehead of the battered woman in the bed. “Go raibh mile maith agat.” She whispered and kissed a section of chin not sporting stitches. “Thank you very much.” She repeated in English as she held back tears of gratitude with sheer willpower.
“Take your brother with you.”
“Aw, mom.” She complained.
“Did you not swear to protect the boy a long time ago?” An older male voice did not boom, he never boomed, he just spoke. It only sounded as if he was shouting and she wasn’t sure which was worse.
“Yes, granda.” She had to admit after a very short time.
“We Quinn’s never go back on our word. Take your dearthair with you. And whatever you do don’t forget to bring him back.” Hazel eyes twinkled back at her, as if he’d known she would ditch her brother as soon as she could.
Defeated she looked up. “Yes granda.”
Cage opened her eyes and almost immediately wanted to close them again. She pressed the bridge of her nose in an effort to forestall the pain of the headache she knew would be coming. Goddamn, I’m getting old. She eased her neck left and right to ease the tension but it didn’t work.
“All right Cage, we can drink or we can take a muscle relaxer. Survey says?” She asked out loud, not really expecting an answer. To her right an owl hooted in the dark late evening. She smiled at the absolute absurdity. “I’m taking an owl’s advice?”
“The owl is a wise creature, you would be well served with him as your spirit guide.” The voice that answered was less throaty than earlier in the afternoon.
Cage managed not to jump out of her seat on the porch swing. “Well now, I understood you this afternoon. I’m no better than those asshole’s who jumped you…and if I recall correctly, you don’t need saving.”
“I don’t need saving, but you aren’t like them…I let my mouth run away with my anger. Not many people around here would have jumped in. I apologize for my words and for lumping you with the likes of them.”
Cage nearly laughed. The lithe figure standing at the porch steps was uncertain and proud at the same time. “Tell me, does eating crow hurt you that much?”
“You have no idea.” The woman muttered, not aware
of how trained Cage was. “I just wanted…”
“Forget it.” Cage waved it off. “I’ve been called worse and never got an apology. Next time, watch out for who’s watching you.”
“I know who’s watching me and I know why. I just won’t stop. It makes them…mad.”
“Mad, yeah well that’s one word for it.” Cage agreed. “Care for a seat? I’m going in for a beer and you’re welcome to one if you like.”
“What did old man owl say?” The woman did not move from her perch at the base of the steps.
“Old man owl told me that the pills would not help me and neither will the beer, but if I drink the dreams won’t be as odd.” There was no teasing in Cage’s face. “I’ll just get drunk and pass out.”
“And you think that’s better?”
“Than the dreams? You bet your ass Pocahontas.” Cage growled suddenly.
“That’s Olivia to you, and yes I’ll take a beer.”
Cage had to laugh. “You got it. C’mon up and take a seat. I’ll be back in a minute.”
Olivia settled herself and waited, counting in her head until the woman came back out with two opened and ice cold beers in hand. She handed one off to Olivia and stared out into the darkness.’
“Olivia Shadow Wolf. Thank you for the beer.”
“Cage Quinn. You’re welcome.” Cage took a sip that was supposed to soothe her. “Why’d you really come?”
“To say I’m sorry and to meet you, officially I mean. We don’t get a lot of strangers here.”
“I’m not a stranger. I used to come out here every summer till I was thirteen…then we kept getting sent overseas…harder to manage and harder to get here. I can tell you that at the bend of the creek there’s an oak tree, maybe two hundred years old and it has my initials carved in it. I can tell you the Magee boys were the worst bullies around for years…”
“You. Shelly Ware is a friend of mine. You’re the one.” Olivia nearly inhaled her sip of beer.
“Yeah well it was a long time ago, and I…” she trailed off. Did it really matter anymore?
Olivia shook her head. “You don’t understand. She’s cop now and a damn good one. She says she owes it to a long ago memory of someone taking on a bully.”
Cage didn’t know what to say. So she said nothing, just sipped on her beer till it was half gone. “She’s a cop now?”
Olivia nodded. “Yeah she’ll make detective this year…and she’s got two wild children who will make you laugh till you cry, pee your pants or drive you to your knees with worry.”
Cage closed her eyes. Maybe something she had done in life had been right. “Good.”
Olivia noticed the woman’s altered body language and settled her beer under the swing, walking over to the woman who stood tense and wired tight at the porch rail. She settled two hands on taunt shoulders. “Let it go, whatever holds you, let it go.”
Cage grinned in the dark and it was not a nice thing. “I wish I could. You don’t know…what I did today to them…I’ve done many times with as little thought. It was just my job and at the time it was enough.”
“Is it your job now?” Olivia wondered and let her thoughts trail off. “I don’t need a white woman…”
“I’m not white. Damn it, I’m all black Irish. Damned black Irish. Our blood has built empires and wanna be empires. You’d think we’d know better.” Cage snapped out and took a deep breath. “Sorry. I’m wired a little tight lately.”
Olivia chuckled. “You think?” She shifted back a step as the gentleman owl hooted again. “I’m a poor guest.”
Cage shook her head. “Nope, I’m a lousy hostess. My granda would be mortified. He taught me better.”
Olivia smiled. “And my grandmother taught me not to
outstay my welcome. I should go.”
“Don’t. Please. This is one of those nights. I don’t want to be alone at least for a little while. Or is it weak to say that?” Cage wondered out loud and then as she was apt to, switched gears. “Why were those assholes jacking with you today?”
Olivia sat again on the swing and took up her beer bottle. “Are you sure you want to hear this?”
The sardonic smile crossed Cage’s face. “Yeah. I nearly got my head caved in today. I think I have a right to know, especially since I’ll probably do it again.” That said she took a long pull on the beer.
“Somehow I believe that. I help run a woman’s shelter. They get battered and when they have the courage to run, we help them get away, but it’s a small town, people talk. Like I said those men are mad at me.” Olivia said simply.
Cage nodded slowly. She hated bullies and she hated men who thought they had more power than anyone else. She hated war now, and she hated games and she more than hated land mines. How many times had she teased Tommy and the rest about land mines?
Olivia noticed the distant expression on her inadvertent savior’s face and gave up the time to think or process or whatever the woman was doing, content to sip and nurse the ice-cold beer. It was a long time that the night sounds were the only thing to be heard. Then slowly and without warning the old voices leaked into what she was thinking. The voices that she had no control over and could not shut out. The voice of the wise, the ancient and the one’s who had departed long before she herself had been born whispered in her head. Telling her about the woman whose porch she sat on.
“You were a soldier once, a warrior and now your path is broken. You are trying to find who you are or who you want to be.” Olivia’s voice was distant and not her own.
Cage felt her words and pinched the bridge of her nose again. “Stop that.”
“You should not wonder, you are a warrior…you are a word I cannot pronounce, warrior in your own language…it is strange to me.” Olivia continued as she brushed back and forth, her beer bottle forgotten.
“STOP IT.” Cage yelled and her own drink fell from her fingers. She reached down and tried to catch it before it was too late.
Olivia snapped out of what held her as the bottle shattered on the porch. For a moment she was unsure, confused, and then she was concerned at the blood welling over Cage’s hand. She moved swiftly to lift the hand and press tightly.
Cage watched the blood as it flowed down…so familiar, so close to yesterday. “Evac…we need evac…three down…Evac now.” Cage’s eyes burned bright yet dull.
Olivia pressed harder on Cage’s hand. “You don’t need an evac…you need to heal…come with me. I promise you no harm. Trust me.”
Cage followed the voice letting her hand be tended and then led to a soft bed with a half promise of sleep. Whispers nudged her away from pain and closer to peace. With half lidded eyes thought she saw crouched wolf men guarding the area around her bed and she decided that she would have to leave off the drink when she was taking meds.
Olivia soothed with a quiet tone until Cage drifted off to sleep and wondered what life had thrown at the woman. She shook her head slowly. She remembered an uncle who when she was a child suffered the same sort of waking type dream. Vietnam was still fresh in his mind even years after his return home. She watched for a long time until she finally felt comfortable enough to let herself sleep.
“Wake up you dumb ass.”
Cage pulled her eyes open and faced off with Ellen Rivers. “Wait a minute, you’re dead.”
“Finally noticed that did you?” Ellen shifted slowly in the dark. “Why is it every time I see one of you guys it’s always gloom? Can’t you all do bright and happy occasionally?”
Cage mentally backed up a moment. “I know you’re dead. I helped Maria escort your body home. And I sorta helped your wife solve that one. Give me some credit okay?”
“I saw that…nice stuff. When you get here for real you and I are going to have to talk about that last broken nose. Saw that one. Nice move, even if it was on Callan. Oh and Cage…get your head out of your fifth point of contact.”
Cage sat up quickly. “What?”
“You Army types…” Ellen chuckled at her own mental joke. “Get your head out of your ass. You got hit, you healed, and it wasn’t your fault. Others broke the rules and you paid the price. Let it go Cage.” Ellen sat back on a tuft beside a well-developed oak tree, which was suddenly just there.
“Okay, now that’s just fucking freaky. How’d you do that?” Cage wondered out loud and reached for the tree then dimly became aware that her hand was healed. She stared for the longest time.
Ellen smiled the smile that drew everyone to her. “I have my ways after all this time. And just so you know, when you wake up, your hand will still be sliced and you’ll still hurt.”
Cage sulked. “Then why are you here? Is this ‘let’s fuck with Cage hour’?”
“That was ten months ago. Fuck with Cage hour or was it days?” Ellen taunted harshly.
“It was five days and you damned well know it.”
Cage growled absently as she tried not to fall to her knees. “Fuck you know
how long it was. You were there.”
“Yes I was,” Ellen softened her voice. “And I tried so hard to keep you away from the pain as much as I could.”
Cage settled on her butt and let her body sag. “It hurt so much sometimes, but when I could I just found somewhere else to be.” Cage looked up at Ellen. “That was you wasn’t it?”
“That was me when I could. I wish I could have done more. I owe you Cage Quinn. I owe you your brothers laughter, I owe you your loyalty to Callan and what you did to keep her from killing those who took me away and I cherish the love you send to me when you look at my pictures. I noticed that by the way.” Her smile was soft and genuine.
“Don’t tell Callan, she’d really wreck me.”
“More that you’re wrecking yourself now?” Ellen almost smiled. “Let it go Cage. And quit chasing what isn’t you.”
“Huh?” Cage looked up genuinely confused.
Ellen just smiled. “Olivia is cute and she’s enough to challenge you. Listen to your heart and just kinda ignore your brain.”
“Ellen, keep dreaming.” Cage muttered.
“Why should I when your dreams and Terri’s are just so much more fun?” Ellen laughed and started to fade. “Let it go warrior Quinn. Your granda hates when you’re stubborn. By the way, he’s a riot. He tells the best stories. I’ll see you soon enough Cage.”
Cage shifted in bed and opened her eyes just a bit. Olivia Shadow Wolf was beautiful when she was asleep and not facing someone down with righteous anger. Her hand throbbed as well as her head and still looking down at Olivia in the early dawn, every thing seemed like it would work out. She let her eyes drift closed as she wondered what was up with the midget wolf men.
Cage pulled herself out of bed, still weary. Her body hurt but at least her head felt better. She wandered into the bathroom to wash her face and brush her teeth. The cold water woke her up and it reminded her of her Desert Storm days. Who knew a desert could get that cold? She finished drying her face, got dressed in her favorite jeans and light sweatshirt and wandered into the kitchen. She filled her coffee cup, took the carafe and went off in search of her houseguest. She found Olivia sitting on the porch swing staring out into the wilderness.
“Morning. Care for a warm up on the coffee?” Cage asked while trying to hang on to the cup with her sliced hand. She flashed a small smile when Olivia took the cup and settled it on the handrail. “Thanks.” She refilled Olivia’s cup. “I’m going to take this in, I’ll be back in a minute.”
Olivia nodded. “Thanks for the refill.” She tried to listen for Cage’s return and found the woman moved silently.
Cage settled herself on the swing and took her cup back, wrapping her good hand around the cup; the warmth was soothing in a comfortable way. She took a sip and smiled at the flavor. Whatever this blend was, it was entirely better than her own attempts and she said so out loud.
“Cage you have four different flavors in the cupboard, all I did was mix two and you’re welcome.” Olivia’s voice was soft and quiet.
Cage leaned back against the swing. “Thank you, for last night. I don’t have that happen very often, but it does from time to time. I don’t always know what’s going to trigger it. I’m sorry you saw that.” Cage did not move her gaze away from a couple of field mice scurrying for food.
“You don’t have to apologize. It’s just a part of life. It’s like those two out there, every day they rush around gathering, feasting; I would guess that at the end of their day they would feel lucky for not falling victim to their natural enemies. The Spirits that guide all creatures two footed and winged and four footed have given us the ability to remember our lessons both good and bad. That’s all you were doing last night.” Olivia said gently.
“You and your words remind me of a friend.” Cage answered with a smile as she took another sip of the dark brew.
Olivia considered the inflection of Cage’s words. “Which nation is he or she?”
“Lakota and she. Joan Barnes. She married a white boy.” Cage explained.
“Adopted or just tolerated?”
“Adopted and loved or just tolerated depending on who he’s managed to piss off in the family.” Cage laughed slightly. “You’d have to know him. He can be the nicest guy in the world or just truly clueless.”
“He sounds like a good friend. And I’m sorry that my words last night upset you. It wasn’t intentional.” It was Olivia’s turn to apologize but she didn’t try to explain, a lifetime of being taunted and ridiculed and rejected for her gift always at the forefront of her self esteem.
“It’s not like you can help it, Olivia. I won’t ask but I will listen if you want to tell me about it.” Cage didn’t miss the skeptical expression that flashed quickly across the woman’s face. “Like I said Joan is Lakota, she comes from a long line of Shaman’s and seers. I don’t make a habit of doubting things I know exist. Joan would kick my ass into next week if I did.”
Olivia had to laugh at the serious tone from Cage. “Thank you. Maybe someday I will talk to you about it, but not right now. Just understand that I have no control of this.” She sighed and seemed to shrink a little. “It will probably happen again.”
“I understand.” They fell silent for a few moments. “Are you hungry?”
“I could eat.” Olivia answered thankfully.
“Feel like breakfast at the diner? They make the best French toast.” Cage felt her mouth watering with the thought.
“You do like to live dangerously don’t you? Cage, a lot of the towns people don’t like me or my job or my obvious difference.” She tried to warn the woman sitting next to her.
Cage took a slow breath and let it out. “Well, if they interrupt my breakfast they won’t like me much either.” She flashed an evil yet playful smile. “I don’t give a damn about them. I care about being alive, and appreciating it more than I used to. They can go feck themselves.”
“Feck?” Olivia had never heard the term before.
“Irish slang for the other most popular f word. Both however will get my backside tanned by my mother if she ever finds out I use them.”
“I promise not to tell.” She vowed solemnly. “And if you’re feeling brave, then yes I would like to have breakfast. I should check in with the office anyway.” Olivia stood and looked at her new unlikely possible friend. “Thanks.”
“Hey don’t thank me. If I don’t eat I get cranky, this is just a disguise so you don’t see cranky Cage. Now that’s just ugly.” Cage teased.
The trip to the town square didn’t take long but they did have to drive a little further than they expected to find a parking spot. After a short discussion they both agreed that a short walk was a small price to pay for a really good breakfast since Olivia didn’t feel like cooking and Cage vowed that the Native woman did absolutely not want eat what Cage might try to cook.
“Not my fault. The army fed me. I didn’t ever really learn how to do it well. I can grill however.” She smiled as they walked side by side down the sidewalk.
“You could learn.” Olivia offered as she glanced into one of the shop windows. “I have several cookbooks I can loan you.”
“Yeah, but what about adult supervision? I could do the same thing I did in sophomore chem. I got suspended for that one.”
Olivia couldn’t tell if the woman was joking or not. “You’re not really that helpless in the kitchen are you?”
Cage didn’t answer with words, just a smirk that spoke volumes. They continued walking and the sidewalk became more congested with town’s folk and a few obvious tourists. Cage mentally pegged the tourists, they were the one’s who did not look twice at either of them. Apparently a white woman and a Native American walking together was not a common sight. Cage sighed mentally.
Olivia stopped at a pay phone and made a quick call. When it appeared that there were no problems at the battered woman’s shelter she ended her call and hung up. There was a new relief in her expression that Cage wanted to ask about it but she held her tongue until they were in the diner.
The waitress behind the counter just waived them towards an empty booth, calling out that she would be with them in a couple of minutes. The two women slid into the booth sitting opposite each other. After a moment muted conversations started back up again. Cage wasn’t too concerned it had happened each time someone entered the diner. It was as if the patrons had to know who came in and decide if they were locals or just passing through.
Olivia picked up her menu and began to read as Cage flipped their coffee cups over on the table. It was the universal diner signal for caffeine. She had a memory flash of her father doing the same thing when she was a child. Those had been good times.
“I guess we’re going to be twins. The French toast does sound great.” Olivia smiled as she closed the menu. She leaned against the table and looked at Cage. “So, how long were you in the army?”
Cage blinked at the change of topic. “Sixteen years. I joined after I graduated college. And before you ask I’m military intelligence, and yes it’s an oxymoron. I think I’ve heard all the jokes.”
Olivia wrinkled her nose. “You are no fun.” She decided as the waitress filled their cups. Her nametag read Lucy. She was the atypical resident diner icon without the big hair do.
“Hi Cage,” she greeted with a smile. “French toast again?”
Cage nodded with a wide grin. “Oh yeah, but this time I brought someone to corrupt. We’ll have two, mine with loads of crispy bacon and those really good potato’s.”
Cage bounced up and down like a six year old on a sugar high.
“Make that two all the way around.” Olivia laughed and looked at Lucy. “Does she do that every time she orders this?”
Lucy nodded with an indulgent smile. “Every time. She’s worse than my heathen grandchildren. I’m Lucy. She gives you any trouble just call me and I’ll threaten her French toast.”
“Oh goodie, an ally. Lucy I’m Olivia.”
“Well, it’s good to meet you finally. Anyone gives you a problem let me know, I’ll kick ‘em out on their butts without their food.” She promised in a serious tone. “I’ll get this order in and it should be ready in a flash.”
“She seems to like you.” Olivia said as she tried the coffee. It wasn’t too bad.
“Yeah but she doesn’t know me well enough yet to know any better.” Cage offered in her own defense.
“So you aren’t always a bouncy child or rescuing people? I’ll keep that in mind.” She paused a second as she considered her next question. “So why are you here, and yes I know for food. I mean what are you doing in town?”
Cage sipped on her coffee and her gaze found the top of the table suddenly interesting. Wondering how much she wanted to share. Finally she looked up. “I got hurt on duty. I was doing some investigating in Bosnia. A couple of landmines went off killing my team and injuring me. Basically I’m in the last stages of recovering.” She trailed off and stared out the window. “At first I was so messed up that I recovered with my parents, I love them but they’re parents and it was smothering. Now I think I have to be on my own. I’m almost as strong as I was before…so it’s time.” She chanced a glance at dark eyes. There was none of the usual pity that she had learned to ignore. There was concern and yes still curiosity, but nothing more.
“You and your family used to vacation here?” Olivia decided to take a little pressure off the obviously uncomfortable woman.
“Yeah. For years we spent every summer here. Sometimes we came down even when my da was overseas.” Cage answered. “We always had fun here, and I like it, mostly.”
Olivia nodded. “For the most part the people here are pretty good. But it’s a small town with the usual small town attitudes.” She shrugged.
“So why are you here?” Cage turned the tables. If she was going to answer twenty questions, she damned sure was going to ask twenty questions.
“I still have some family in the area. I grew up in _______ on the border of the reservation. Half in the Native world, half in the white world. My mother is Comanche and my father was Cherokee. Some of the Nations still get a little uncomfortable about mixed marriages. After I finished school I just kind of ended up here.” She answered honestly. “It’s a good job and I like it. I won’t make a lot of money doing it but at least I’m doing what I can for my own corner.”
“Even if men get pissed off at you and try to hurt you?” There was no judgement in Cage’s voice.
“Even if.” Olivia was about to say more but she fell silent as Lucy delivered their breakfast.
“You two eat up and I’ll come by with more coffee in a bit.” The woman ordered with a genuine smile.
Cage and Olivia took heed and concentrated on their breakfast. Cage hummed a happy tummy tune. She really wanted the recipe for the potatoes thinking that just maybe she could recreate them even with her limited cooking ability. Olivia alternated between eating and watching Cage with amusement.
Once both plates were clean they leaned back to rest and digest. Cage let a satisfied smile play on her lips. “Now that was good.” She declared.
“I am going to have to agree.” Olivia answered with a groan. “I ate too much.”
“We can walk around for a bit if you want.” Cage offered.
“That would mean we have to move. You think Lucy would get mad if we just took a nap here. We could pay rent on the booth.” Olivia didn’t want to think of moving any time soon.
Cage’s answer was stalled by two hands placing themselves on the table and the uniformed body of the sheriff coming into view. Cage turned her head to look at him. She waited for him to say something, which he obviously was not used to. She knew the type of authority figure who expected respect despite not having earned it.
He blinked then cleared his throat. “Ladies. I understand you two caused some trouble yesterday.”
“No, that’s not quite accurate.” Cage said then returned to digesting. She watched him blink again, this time in confusion.
“What do you mean by that?” he asked.
“Well depending on who spread that rumor it’s not accurate.” Cage stated her position again.
“Did you two cause trouble or not?”
“Define trouble and I’ll be able to tell you.” Cage said evenly as she reached for her coffee cup. She looked at Olivia who didn’t look overly concerned, just stuffed and lethargic.
“There was a ruckus in the afternoon and you two were there.” He gruffed and leaned in closer.
“So were about fifteen other people including a couple of large back wood boys who decided that they didn’t like Olivia. How is it that we caused trouble?” Cage asked and wished for more coffee.
He opened his mouth then thought about the question again. “All right, tell me what happened.”
“Two large back wood boys decided they didn’t like Olivia. I asked them to go away.” Cage gave the abbreviated version just to yank his chain.
The sheriff did a double take at her answer and felt his blood pressure increase. “You’re some smart ass outsider aren’t you?”
Cage shrugged. “Depends on who you ask. Now is there a point to this or can we finish our coffee and get back to doing nothing. I am on vacation you know.”
“Uh huh. And you’ll be here how long?”
“Maybe about ten more minutes.” Cage answered with a perfectly innocent expression on her face.
He let out a frustrated sigh. “How long will you be staying in town?”
“I’m not staying in town.” She said honestly.
“Damn it woman.”
“Hey now, there’s no need for that kind of language.” Cage shot back.
The sheriff looked at Olivia. “Is she always like this?” He demanded.
“I don’t know. We only recently met.” Olivia decided to join in on the game. “But she’s telling the truth, she’s not staying in town.”
He gave up and stalked out of the diner before his blood pressure caused him a stroke. He let the screen door slam after telling them to stay out of trouble. They waited until he was out of sight then collapsed in laughter. Lucy walked over and tsk’d at them like they were misbehaving children.
“You both need to quit that with Mobley. He isn’t bright but he isn’t an idiot either.”
“We didn’t tell him any lies Lucy. It’s not our fault he wasn’t asking the right questions.” Cage said without any guilt. “Besides neither of us started any of yesterdays trouble. If he was that concerned how come he didn’t come looking for us earlier?” she questioned.
Lucy didn’t have an answer for that so she just dropped the check on the table wishing that Cage Quinn wasn’t quite so right. There were enough troubles in town and Mobley didn’t really seem to have a handle on any of them. He seemed to have a couple of good deputy’s but they were few and far between. She sighed and turned to check on the rest of her tables.
Cage snatched up the check just as Olivia was reaching for it. It only took a glance from the soldier for Olivia to give up. Cage dropped a twenty on the table and slowly slid out of the booth.
Olivia mirrored her actions and caught up with her new friend. There was something about the woman that was just a little insane, like maybe she’d been hit in the head a few times too many. Or maybe Cage was just doing what she said, appreciating life more than she had before.
By agreement they walked around the town square for a little while to let their food settle. They window-shopped and took their time until they felt better. Small talk was as deep as either of them was willing to share. When the sun started to dip a little lower they agreed to head back and Olivia gave directions to her small house not far from the cabin Cage was staying. With a smile Cage issued a standing invitation to come over any time Olivia wanted to visit.
“Good night Cage. It has certainly been interesting meeting you. Be sure to listen to what gentleman owl says.”
“Will do. Don’t forget to keep your eyes open. Have a good night Olivia.”
Cage waited until the woman entered the house and the porch light turned on. Feeling lighter than she had in a long time Cage drove the short distance to her cabin. She spent the rest of night reading a fantasy book with plenty of dragons, elves and warriors. The woman fell asleep with the book closed on her chest.
Ellen wandered around the cabin, liking the little personal touches that the Quinn family had placed in the living areas. She paused at the notches on the kitchen doorjamb. She smiled softly and brushed her fingers over the notches with the Q above. She wondered if Cage knew how very much those around her loved her.
She wandered around more as Cage snored softly. Her eyes took in the photos of the Quinn family as it grew. Tommy with his gap-toothed smile stared up from his second grade photo. Cage covered in mud with wide eyes as Tommy held a fish close to her. Ellen suppressed a laugh even though Cage would not hear her. She could tell that Cage was seconds from running far, far away.
Then she felt something else pulling her outside of Cage’s family cabin. Curiosity got the better of her so she followed the tug through the wooded area and into a new home. She spied Olivia Shadow Wolf sitting in her obviously favored spot on the couch. Ellen suppressed a laugh. The woman was reading the same book that currently rested on Cage’ s sleeping chest. She smiled. Watching these two was going to be more fun than she’d had in a while.
Cage flipped the steaks sizzling on the grill, the smoke wafting into her face. The light scent of mesquite drifted up from the hot coals. She stepped back from the heat and lifted a cold beer from the ice chest. Looking around as she twisted off the cap she couldn’t help the content feeling that invaded her chest. Normally when she actually had down time from the army she was in some fast paced city, clubbing, finding someone to play mind games with. Male, female, straight or gay, it didn’t matter. It was all about the mind fuck. She could be anyone; anything and she had always been able to do it well. Now, however, she wasn’t so sure she wanted that any more. Then again she didn’t know what she really did want other than to be completely healed and able to remember the last eleven months. She sighed and caught sight of what she thought was a red tail hawk riding the wind currents in the distance.
She let out a low sigh, closed her eyes and just let her mind drift. She didn’t really want to think of anything in particular or deep. Those were always the thoughts that got her into trouble. She put up her feet and let them rest on the chair in front of her. She just listened to the sounds of nature and a cooking steak. She heard the footfalls coming towards her from behind but for once in life did not look. She was after all on vacation.
Olivia set the salad bowl on the wood picnic table and glanced at Cage. A smile crossed her lips as she took in the relaxed expression on the woman’s face. She was convinced that Cage needed someone to remind her how to relax. And if Olivia was being completely honest with herself, she didn’t mind helping the woman relearn that exercise. The last few days had been fun. It had started off with her taking Cage up on her invitation to just drop in anytime. That evening they had shared dinner and played a cutthroat game of monopoly. The next evening it had been discussing their favorite authors and books over a few glasses of Irish whiskey. Cage was intelligent, witty and sported a wicked sense of humor. Olivia liked her despite their unsettling beginning. There was that part of Cage that frightened her. The woman while not quick to anger showed flashes of being dangerous.
“Are you thinking too much again?” Cage drawled out slowly as she flipped her hand in front of her face to get rid of some unseen flying critter.
“Nope. I clocked out at five, so thinking time has been suspended until tomorrow morning.” Olivia answered with as much honesty as she could muster. “Ranch dressing with bacon bits. I found it in the fridge. Did you mean to get that?”
Cage cracked open an eye. “I bought that? What was I thinking? Goes to show that one should not let me shop alone.”
“Nut. How long till the steaks are done? I want to get the mashed potatoes out while they’re still hot.” Olivia arranged the silver ware on the table.
“About five more minutes. Did you get a hold of Shelly?”
“Oh yeah.” Olivia laughed. “And while she can’t wait to get a hold of you, she asked that we get together on Saturday. She might actually have the day off and the kids will be with their dad’s parents.”
Cage sat up and shrugged. “Sure. It’s not like I have any plans on Saturday, I’m at the mercy of you two.”
Olivia snickered. “Just don’t let her make the margarita’s. They’re nearly as lethal as her home made salsa dip.”
“No, that good actually. The problem is that they are so damn good. They sneak up on you.” She warned with all sincerity. “Take my word for it.”
Cage grinned. “I’m going to want that story.”
“No chance in hell Cage Quinn. I lived through that embarrassment once, I won’t even speak about it in private.” Olivia stated with absolute conviction.
“Not even if I tell about the time I ran for my life in a drunken stupid after singing an Irish rebel song in a British army bar?” Cage countered with a sly smile.
Olivia thought about it for a moment. “Not even then. Besides from you I expect that sort of behavior.”
“Now you know how my brothers feel.” Olivia shot back as she started for the cabin. “I’m bringing out the potatoes. Get that half a cow ready for the plates.”
Cage stood to attention and saluted. “I am merely a poor army dog, I live to serve.”
“Serve the steaks smart ass. Be right back.”
Cage had to laugh at that one and picked up the serving plate. It wasn’t quite the five minutes that she had pronounced but the steaks did look about right and smelled even better. As she was lifting the first steak off the grill the hair on the back of her neck stood on end. She continued her chore without betraying body language, closing the grill lid she walked the steaks over to the table and sat down.
She could feel eyes on her, she’d experienced the sensation enough times in her life to trust her gut. The trick would be to get through the rest of the evening without alerting Olivia. After dinner and after her new friend left for the night she would recon the area and trail in the dark if she had to. She almost smiled. It would be like the good old days.
The back screen door slapped shut and she watched for a moment as Olivia in her well-worn blue jeans and light denim shirt carried two bowls of mashed potatoes and gravy. The smile on the woman’s face was one of ease; relaxed with her natural surroundings and for a moment Cage felt jealousy. The last time she’d looked like that was when she was nine or ten. She slid a hot and juicy steak onto Olivia’s plate. Then filled a salad bowl for her. Anyone who could make sour cream and garlic mashed potatoes deserved to be waited on hand and foot in Cage’s estimation. Especially if those same mashed potatoes didn’t come out of a box.
Olivia leaned back and sipped on her last glass of wine. Dinner was finished, the dishes done, and all that was left was conversation on the swing. “Okay, you really want the answer to that?” She watched Cage trying to figure out if the woman was teasing her or not.
“Well I asked, right?” Cage smiled and played with her beer bottle.
“I was five. My uncle told me that my mother had eyes in the back of her head, so being the child that I was, I had to go find out for myself.”
“So you stood behind her and kept messing with her hair?” Cage couldn’t help the laugh.
“I was a very literal child.” Olivia answered with as much humility as she could muster. The wine was going to her head.
“And your mom still calls you the eye seeker?” Cage teased.
Olivia hung her head. “Only when she wants to make me blush.”
“You’re getting off too easy. When my Mam wants to make me blush she tells about the time I jumped off the rope swing at the stream. I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt. When I landed the t-shirt went down stream. I did not.” Cage admitted.
Olivia burst into laughter and nearly fell over. “Don’t tell me, half your family and all your friends were there.”
“All my family and half the friends, thank Saint Bridgit.” Cage muttered.
“You poor, poor soul.” Olivia made an attempt towards sympathetic.
“Ahh, sure, make fun of the poor mick.” Cage played up her granda’s accent.
Olivia leaned in toward Cage. “You are proud of that Black Irish heritage aren’t you?”
Cage didn’t even have to think it over. “And are you any less proud of your Comanche and Cherokee?” She rolled the beer bottle between her hands. “The Quinn’s lived a beggars life in Ireland, but it was their life. For generations we tilled the land, fought as our clan decided, raised our children and thought that maybe someday the clan Quinn would just be let be. Then about a hundred and fifty years ago most of the Quinn’s were run out of Ireland half a step ahead of the Brit army. The family history says we managed to offend several landlords and their daughters, rebel activities aside, so they jumped on the boats and landed in America. I’m sure America will take generations to recover.
But Granda’s side stayed on in Ireland, playing the peasant fools for the landlords, organizing, rebelling, and even later joining legitimate armies during wars. I think it was in the early twenties that my granda and grandmam came to America, I think they were both in their teens, met between wars and had my da and the rest is truly too embarrassing to tell.” Cage finished the family history while still feeling the eyes on her back.
“Well we certainly have similar
backgrounds family wise. But since this wine is damn good, and I still have
to go in to the office tomorrow, that story will have to wait.” Olivia said
as she finished off her glass. “Remind me to ask you what it was that I’m drinking.
I like it.”
Cage grinned. “I found it in Italy. Great vineyard. It’s truly exceptional wine. And I’m glad you like it.
“I might like it too much. Thank you Cage Quinn for another very nice evening.”
“You’re welcome Pocahontas.” Cage grinned.
“Come on smart ass, walk me home. And if you call me that again, you get no more of those mashed potatoes.” Olivia stood up and leaned in. “By the way, I talked to James at the diner. He’s willing to trade recipes for potatoes. Just keep that in mind.”
“He’s gonna give you the breakfast potatoes? I swear I will only call you Olivia from now on if you share.” Cage half slurred.
Cage lurched to the side of the two-lane road that ran between her cabin and Olivia’s house. Out loud she half sang an obnoxious Irish drinking song even though she was nowhere nearly as in her cups as she seemed. She wanted her watchers to think she was drunk as an earl. Once she navigated the deserted road and then stumbled up the steps of her porch she made a fine show of cutting off the lights and finally making it to her bed. As she extinguished the bedroom lamp she felt the cold fingers of her profession press in on her chest.
She slid along the floor of the master bedroom closet. God bless her Mam for wanting a large closet befitting a Sergeant Major’s wife. Sergeant Major now retired Quinn had listened to his father’s stories as a child. One involved in rebellious activities should always have at least two ways out of the house that the authorities had no clue about. The Quinn family cabin had three. The best one fed out of her Mam’s walk in closet.
Cage let herself fall into the crawl space and closed off the hatch. If you weren’t looking for it, you’d never find it; she would steak her professional reputation on it. Granda you fecking brilliant rebel, god bless, you taught Da well.
She came out two hundred yards away from the cabin. What looked like a capped off dried up well was really a very good escape route. Cage eased herself out with hardly any dust or dirt on her dark clothes. She eased the lid to the false well down as her father had taught her. Closing her eyes she took a moment to get used to the dark and the sounds. She found her rhythm in it and then moved out at a leisurely pace. She had time and knew it.
Cage smelled them before she saw them. It was an odd mix of deodorant and shampoo. They weren’t pro’s, they were actually too stupid to know how stupid they were. From her hiding spot she could smell the starch, the soap, the shampoo. She nearly laughed. Instead she listened and waited. Even good soldiers on watch bitched into the night, and these two were far less than good soldiers. By the time three quarters of an hour had passed she knew their plans for the next two days. Cage grinned into the dark sky.
God I’ve missed this.
Cage slid the closet escape hatch closed and padded into the bathroom, turning on the light. That would give her watchers pause. She took her cell phone and hit the number seven. Two rings were all that it took. She apologized for the early or late hour depending on the number of drinks and made a request in serious tones.
“Is that it?” The voice on the other side asked.
“For now. Send ASAP, but be prepared to be here on Saturday. This is strictly fact finding, so don’t get any ideas.” Cage’s tone was uncompromising.
“Roger that. Recon only besides, I don’t do this sort of thing anymore. You’re the spook. I’m in it for the steak. You are grilling me a steak.”
“Count on it. See you then, and thank you.”
“Thank me with half a cow.”
Cage laughed out loud. “Chow hound.”
“Better than a mine magnet.” Came the answer.
“Let’s not talk about mines huh?” Cage hung up and killed the light. In the dark she pulled back the blankets on the bed and crawled in. She really was tired and it had nothing to do with the beer she’d drunk. Long after she was asleep a gentleman owl hooted outside her window.
Ellen walked the cabin again. She was the guardian for the moment. Looking down on the dark Irish woman sleeping peacefully in her bed she wondered to herself. Cage what game are you playing now?
In the time it took to blink she was in the woods outside the cabin listening to two thin men bitching about the dark, the chill of the night and plans made by some unnamed leader.
“You’re on vacation Cage.” Ellen sighed even though no one could hear her. “Only Cage could go on vacation and find trouble.” This could be fun.
Olivia sat at her desk a phone jammed against her ear and shoulder while she typed furiously on her computer. She was recording the events of the phone call. “Really, sir? And just how are you going to end my life?” When he answered in a highly descriptive fashion she typed the words for evidence. She glanced at her caller ID and smiled. “I agree that it would be a painful way to die Mr. Thomas.” She listened to his silence. “This is Bill Thomas correct? Well sir, I am obligated to let you know that I’ll be passing this information and your concerns on to the state police since my life has been threatened.” The line cut off quickly. She had to laugh as she hung up the receiver. “Buddy if you think that scared me you haven’t met my brothers.”
“Got another ‘I’m going to hurt you’ phone call?” Linda Pender asked as she stuck her head in Olivia’s office.
“Hey Linda. Yes, but this one included the infamous ‘I’m going to break into your house and beat you to death’ threat. I’ll send it over to the staties. Have I ever told you how much I love caller ID?” She motioned the woman in and waved her to take a chair. “So what can I do for you today?”
Linda Pender took a seat and smiled. “We’ve been informed that the family from one of your past cases has granted this office what you asked for. You can expand your staff as you need to, and they even kicked in some money for renovations to the house.” Her voice was half smug and half astounded.
Olivia blinked once, then twice before she could breathe. “You are kidding me.”
“I am glad to say that I am not kidding you. They’ll release the funds next month. You my dear friend are going to get some needed help. Five million over the course of three years.”
“Which family?” Olivia asked even though she thought she might know the answer.
A sad expression crossed Linda’s face. “The Millers. They know how hard you and the staff tried. It’s the bulk of the settlement.”
Olivia leaned back in her chair a wave of memory and sorrow hit her. “That poor woman. I really thought we’d gotten her away from it all.” She could still recall the sight of Samantha Orson nee Miller when she’d arrived at the house via a state police escort. Fresh from being treated at the emergency room the woman was a mass of bruises and stitches. The poor child jumped at every sound and motion for nearly two months before she understood that she was technically free of her abusive husband.
“Olivia, you did everything by the book. You took every precaution and so did she. I don’t think anyone thought he would wait that long.” Linda did not appease but she did try to absolve.
“I know that intellectually. But in my heart I still think there was more that we could have done, more that we should have been able to guess at. I don’t like losing my girls like that.” There was an edge of anger in Olivia’s voice and she didn’t even try to hide it from the director of operations for the women’s shelter.
“Neither do I. But at least some good will come of her death. A lot more women will be helped and we both know that the only thing we have for sure here is job security as sad as that statement is.”
“Very true on both accounts. Now why do you look like you have something else to tell me?” Olivia settled the past where it belonged.
Linda laughed. “You have an extremely good looking woman waiting for you by Mavis’s desk. So spill. Who is she?”
Olivia was clueless. “I don’t know, care to give me a description?”
“Five six or so, dark hair, dark eyes, jeans that fit really well if you know what I mean. A mean looking scar around her right eye too. Find yourself a mafia type did you?”
Olivia’s laugh filled her office. “Good lord no. Nope that sounds like Cage. You haven’t met her yet. She’s staying down the road from me. Her family owns the old Kinsey cabin. I wonder what she’s doing here.” She said as she picked up the receiver and dialed Mavis’s extension. “Hi Mav, I understand that I have a visitor?” Olivia listened to the answer and laughed at the now three-way conversation as Cage piped up in the background. “It’s okay Mav. Send her on back and don’t give her bogus directions.” Olivia hung up and chuckled.
“So, new interest?” Linda played with her favorite employee.
Olivia shook her head. “You are worse than Barb. She’s straight Linda, at least I think she is and she doesn’t know about this one little part of my life. She’s the one who stopped Haskins earlier this week. Had that man dangling like a worm on a hook. I think he really was scared. Hell, I was scared for him.” She admitted.
Linda’s fun turned to concern. “Is she dangerous?”
“I don’t think so, at least not to the good guys. We’re actually becoming friends. She knows Shelly. Apparently she’s the one Shelly talks about.”
“Oh my God. The one who inspired Shelly to become a cop?” Linda was almost on the floor with disbelief or maybe it was hero worship.
Olivia grinned. The entire group of friends had heard the story of eleven year old Shelly Ware being hounded and harassed that entire summer by the Magee boys until the law was laid down to Jimmy Magee in the form of one thirteen year old girl who knew how to fight better than most grown men.
“That would be her.” There was a knock on the doorjamb and Olivia instantly brightened as Cage appeared. “Cage, come in.”
“I took a chance that you hadn’t had lunch yet. The diner has killer burgers.” Cage said as she produced a bag from behind her back. She looked at Linda and frowned. “I think we can feed three but I’m not sure.”
Linda could only stare at the woman. It was not often that she found herself speechless. Then finally the good manners her mother had taught her kicked in. “Hi, I’m Linda. And please don’t worry about feeding me, Barb would kill me if I missed lunch with her.” Linda extended her hand.
Cage took the hand and shook it. “Cage Quinn. And okay, I’d hate to make Barb mad at me or you.”
“We’ll all have to get together sometime.” Linda offered and groaned in the next instant when her beeper went off. She checked the number and her blood pressure elevated. “Damn, I have to go. It’s time to play big dog bitch with the city council. Dinner. Our place next week.” Linda ordered in short hand as she stalked out of the office.
Cage stood there for a moment then turned her eyes to Olivia. “She knows Shelly, doesn’t she?”
Olivia walked around her desk and ushered Cage in. “Yes. How can you tell?” She shut the door and motioned Cage to the chair vacated by Linda.
“She’s got that ‘can she walk on water’ look. I’ve seen it before.”
“You are scary good.” Olivia chuckled and sat behind her desk, pushing away the keyboard.
Cage arched an eyebrow. “Well I am a spook. It’s good to notice certain things.”
“I’ll have to take your word for it. So what did you bring me for lunch? I’m starved.” Olivia rubbed her hands together in anticipation.
Cage dug into the bag. “For us, I brought three cheeseburgers, works on the side. Plus two orders of the breakfast potatoes. Ketchup is optional.” She grinned as she placed the food on the desk.
“Thanks Cage. This really is very thoughtful of you.”
Cage shrugged. “I was in the area and hungry, so I thought you might be as well. Besides I hate to eat alone.” She groaned internally. She hadn’t meant to let that little tidbit out.
Olivia smiled. “Yeah, I hate it too. So other than terrorizing Lucy, what have you been up to?”
Cage was grateful for the deflection and explained her morning of doing nothing meaningful and then listened to Olivia’s day. They ate as they talked. Cage nearly lost her appetite when the threatening phone call was mentioned. Cage put down her paper plate of potatoes.
“He did what?” There was a definite edge to her voice.
“You heard me. Eat your potatoes before they either get cold or I steal them from you. I’ll report him to the state police and Shelly will pay him a visit. It happens all the time Quinn.” Olivia did not interrupt her meal. “My great however many times over grandfather was a Comanche war chief, my brothers tortured me growing up and still do from time to time, and my mother raised five kids in two worlds. I am not a china doll, so don’t make that mistake. I’m not taking the threat lightly, but I am also not going to let threats rule my life. Eat your lunch.” She ordered.
“Yes ma’am.” Cage answered automatically then winced. “Sorry, training.”
Olivia’s laugh could be heard along the hallway.
Cage balled up the remnants of lunch and found the trashcan. She looked up from cleaning and made a decision “It would make me feel better if I could teach you some self defense moves.”
“Define ‘self defense’ please.” Olivia requested as she brushed the crumbs from the top of her desk. She knew a little about fighting but then that only worked when her brothers were not around.
“Escapes, evades and where to hit someone so that you can get away. I’m not allowed to teach anyone the really nifty stuff.” She tried to joke.
“Why?” Olivia was truly curious.
Cage dropped the bag into the trash and decided on the truth. “I don’t want to see anything bad happen to you. If I can teach you something to give you enough escape time, then I’ll feel better about your job.” Cage took a breath. “I worry that those assholes will come back looking for you.”
“And now you know that I get threats of the deadly kind.” It wasn’t a question.
“And now I know.” Cage agreed.
Olivia thought about it for a moment then looked at Cage. “Yes, on one condition. You teach the women at the shelter the same moves.” She watched as Cage mulled the offer over in her mind. “We had a woman a few years ago who was killed by her ex husband. He beat her to death and the escape moves she was taught did her no good. I’ll let you teach me if you teach them. I don’t want anything else like Samantha Miller on my soul.”
“I can teach you and them at the same time.” Cage didn’t have to think twice.
“Then we have a deal Quinn.”
Cage nodded and turned to leave. As she opened the door she halted and twisted her gaze to Olivia. “About dinner with Linda and Barb?”
Olivia prepared herself for the inevitable couple question, hoping against all that Cage was not homophobic. “Yes?” Her question was tight in her throat.
“You think they’ll like the wine you had the other night? I’d like to bring something if they’re cooking.”
Cage stretched on the makeshift pads. Her loose clothing was perfect for this sort of thing. She’d taught some self defense when she’d been posted to actual bases just for something to do when she wasn’t undercover. Looking around at the women assembled she gauged which ones might be the wrong type to teach and which ones would take what she was about to demonstrate to heart. They were all types of women, tall, short, thin, overweight, scared and cocky. In the midst of that mass of women stood Olivia in her sweats and tennis shoes trying to reassure the most timid of the group.
Their eyes watched her as she stood up and walked to the middle of the room. She let her body stay relaxed even as the distrust wafted around her. She couldn’t blame them really. She was a stranger even if she had walked in with Olivia. Hell, even Olivia earned some distrustful glances.
Olivia broke away from the woman she’d been talking to and walked to Cage’s side. “You ready?” she asked in a low tone.
“Yeah, but are they?” Cage wondered.
“It’ll be fine.” Olivia promised. Turning to the gathering group. “Ok, ladies. Now that we’re all here. I’d like to introduce you to my friend Cage. She’s going to be teaching us some self-defense moves. Cage it’s all yours.”
Cage smiled at that. “Thanks.” She stepped forward and fell into her instructor mode. “Good evening ladies. My name is Cage Quinn and as Olivia said, I will be teaching you some self-defense. First things first. If you don’t want to be here then do us all a favor and leave. I’m not going to waste anyone’s time. Not yours and definitely not mine.
Second I know why you all are staying here. No, I don’t know specifics and I’m not going to ask, your history is your own. If at any time you are scared or frightened by the teaching sessions or practicing on each other again let me know. I want you to learn this, not be traumatized more. Any questions?”
Several of the women blinked. For a long moment they had to let Cage’s words catch up with them. One woman timidly raised her hand.
“Yes ma’am?” Cage turned her attention to the woman.
“Are you a cop? I mean, I guess are you qualified to teach us?”
Cage laughed then mentally kicked herself when the woman cringed. “Sorry ma’am, I’m not laughing at you. I normally also include my rank with my name, but I’m on vacation. I’m a captain in the US Army. I’ve had plenty of experience with hand-to-hand combat instruction; it’s one of my specialties. Any more questions?”
Olivia raised her hand. “Yeah where’d you get that tee-shirt?” she laughed.
Cage did not have to look down at her shirt. “My dear brother Tommy gave it to me after a pub crawl in Dublin on year. And yes there are twenty-two pubs on the tee shirt and the crawl. Any other questions pertaining to the matter of self defense?”
Looking at Olivia she could see the woman holding back from asking anything else that might be of the smart assed nature. “Ok, I’m guessing Olivia had you all stretch before I got here. I’d like you to line up in two lines, tallest in the back.”
The women lined up as she asked them to, then she had the front line take three steps forward and then instructed them to give each other a wide berth. Beginning with the basics she taught them how to make a fist, then walked the lines correcting gently. Once she was sure that they might be able to make a fist instantly without tucking their thumb inside the palm she moved on to showing them how to throw a punch. Trying to get them to use the power of their body as opposed to just their arm. After half an hour of this she moved on to something else.
“Olivia, come out and stand by me please.” Once Olivia did she turned her to face the women. “Ok, this is where I teach you to hit certain places on the body that hurt the most. I’m going to point them out and I want you to touch those places on your partner. No hitting yet.” She grinned. One by one she touched major nerve bundles on Olivia’s body. At one point Olivia danced away.
“Not there, I’m ticklish.”
The rest of the women laughed. They weren’t used to seeing the normally serious woman laughing or joking. After a few minutes they all settled down once Cage promised not to tickle Olivia again.
Again, Cage had them practice on each other as they threw slow punches at the nerve centers. When Cage called a halt to the lesson they were all surprised to find out that nearly two hours had passed. Cage had them line up again as she addressed them.
“Ladies, I want you to practice what I’ve taught you. But since life is such as it is, don’t let anyone know what you are learning. Surprise is your friend. Don’t practice outside where someone might see you. Practice in your rooms or here. Run these moves over in your mind. I want you to be ready for the next time we get together. I’ll review and then we’ll learn more. This is going to take a while to put all together; I want you to know that. You are not going to wake up tomorrow and be a self-defense master. It took me five years to even get half good at hand to hand. What I’m going to teach you will give you time to get away from someone. Remember that. I’m not teaching you to fight, I’m teaching you to fight back enough in order to get away. Any questions?”
“So we just hit back and run?” The same timid woman spoke up as earlier.
Cage looked at her. “What’s your name ma’am?”
“Well miss Feller, yes, hit and run. Hit him hard enough to stun him and then run as fast as you can to help and safety. You don’t have to beat him down; you just have to beat him for one second. I’ll see you next time ladies. Don’t forget to stretch before you go to bed.”
Cage dropped down to begin her stretching as the women milled out of the room slowly. After a few moments Olivia dropped down next to her and started stretching out as well. Cage glanced over and smirked.
“Trying to become the teachers pet?” she asked as she leaned over and reached for her toes.
Olivia mimicked the move. “I thought I already was. No, I just wanted to thank you.”
Cage shrugged around her stretch. “Don’t worry about it. I’m on vacation so it’ll give me something to do.”
“Dinner and scrabble?”
“Who’s cooking?” Cage challenged.
“I am just at your house. I’ll bring pork chops and the fixings for breakfast potatoes.”
Cage peered at her. “You’re just bucking to be the teachers pet.”
“Like I said, I already am. How do you feel about stuffing?”
“Mmm, stuffing.” Cage sounded a lot like Homer Simpson.
“Guess that’s a yes. Let me finish up here and I’ll meet you at your house.” Olivia stood up and bent backwards just a bit.
Cage couldn’t miss the flash of bare skin as Olivia’s tee-shirt rose up a bit. Natural tan mixed with the sun. Cage had to swallow a bit. She shook her head slowly and switched stretching sides to cover her observation. Damn Ellen and the things she tries to put in my head.
“You all right?” There was a lot of concern in Olivia’s voice.
“Huh? Oh yeah, sorry was fixated on food again. Stuffing and potatoes, that might make me marry you.” Cage quipped.
Olivia laughed. “You are desperate since you can’t cook. Besides if I brought a non Comanche home she’d kill me.” She walked to her sports bad and shouldered it. “I’ll see you later.”
“Yeah, later. I’ll pour the wine and do the dishes.” Cage promised. As soon as the room door closed and she was alone, Cage let her body fall to the floor. “Oh, Jesus, Mary and Joseph, why’d I have to see that? Ellen, this is your fault.”
A half second later Cage could swear she heard soft laughter in the room. Being the good Irish woman that she was she gathered her things and cleared out fast.
Continued in Part 2
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