Thanks: To Frenchie for her discerning eye and always welcome editing. To all my neighbors at Bards Village for their encouragement, always welcome feedback, and good humor struggling through all my gaffes as I try to write this and other pieces. And last - but never, ever least - to my love and best friend who puts up with my OCD when it comes to writing.
Feedback: Suggestions and constructive criticism are welcome; vitriol is not. Encouraging words and a pat on the back are more than welcome. That having been said, read on and let me know what you think. firstname.lastname@example.org
WHERE EAGLES FLY
Copyright © Saggio Amante 2003, 2004
All rights reserved.
Part 1 - Prelude to a Kiss
Harriette Lonigan stood bent over, hands on thighs, gasping for breath. She had twice completed the two-mile run around the lake. Beads of sweat trickled between her breasts as she breathed deeply and began her cool down stretches. She thought she was alone and was startled when she saw a movement a few yards away on the other side of the jogging path near the lake.
'Who is that!' She thought to herself.
She squinted at the figure in the distance. The encroaching darkness made it almost impossible to distinguish any facial features, but watching the fluid movements of the tall, lean body took her breath away. She had seen tai chi practiced before and had even done a little herself but this was like nothing she had ever seen. She crossed the jogging path moving toward the figure. When she was just a few feet away, she came to an abrupt halt and stood staring at the most exotic creature she had ever seen.
The woman's hair was pulled back into a French braid that hung halfway down her back. It was dusk, that time of day when the moon catches up with the sun and chases it from the sky, and the ebbing light cast itself on hair so black that it shimmered blue. The woman's eyes were closed and each movement she made melted into the next with such grace that it seemed a communion of body and soul, of earth and cosmos. Slowly she lifted her arms to the sky as if sending her soul out into the universe or bringing the universe into her soul. Her arms reached to the sky, then moved back toward her chest, elbows bending, hands clasped in a prayer like pose. She bowed reverently - first north, then south, then west, then east, repeating her arm movements at each turn. Her final turn brought her face-to-face with Harriette. Coal black eyes opened and reached deep into dark blue, holding them captive for what seemed an eternity. She didn't seem at all surprised to see Harriette there.
"Hello." She smiled warmly. "I am Lark. And you?"
Harriette realized she had been caught staring and felt a blush rise from the bottoms of her feet into her face. 'Oh, God,' she thought. 'Words are the tools of my trade, and I'm tongue-tied!'
"Harriette .... Lonigan .... Lonnie," she mumbled.
"Well, Harriette...Lonigan... Lonnie ... nice to meet you." The tall, dark-haired woman chuckled at the blonde's obvious discomfort. "Do you come here often?"
'If I didn't before, I will now,' Lonnie thought.
"Actually, I used to run here all the time, but I don't get to come as much as I used to. I've been meaning to get back to it, but I just never seem to have the time. I plan on making a concerted effort to change that, now, though." Lonnie knew she was rambling but she didn't want the moment to end.
"Well," Lark said with an amused tone, "perhaps we'll meet again then." She strode off with feline grace casting a quick glance over her shoulder.
Lonnie stood stunned and watched Lark's retreating form until she reached the other side of the park, got into a large, black Lincoln and sped away.
Lonnie came back to the same spot in the park every night for a month but, much to her disappointment, not once did Lark return.
A murmur of voices filled the courtroom but dissolved quickly into silence when a door to the left of the bench opened and the bailiff entered. He scanned the assemblage until he was satisfied that all was in order.
"All rise. Hear ye, hear ye, the Criminal Court for the 17th Judicial Circuit in and for Broward County, Florida is now in session, the Honorable Harriette Lonigan presiding."
As if on cue, the door to the left of the bench opened once again and the judge strode briskly through it, black robes swinging behind her.
The bailiff waited until the judge was seated then intoned to the waiting crowd: "You may be seated."
Cold eyes surveyed the courtroom letting all within it know that this judge would brook no disrespect in her court. She demanded that attorneys be prepared or face her wrath. Although she was only 5'4" and weighed less than 125 pounds soaking wet, her ability to intimidate those a foot taller and twice her size made her seem larger than life. Her blonde curly hair was brushed casually back from her face and her ice blue eyes held everyone in the room hostage. When she was satisfied she had everyone's attention, she nodded to the clerk. "Call the first case."
The clerk looked down at the paper in his hand. "State of Florida vs. Sean Patrick O'Reilly, Case Number 97-2003."
A handsome, well-built man moved to the podium along with his attorney. O'Reilly was facing three counts - assault and battery, purse-snatching, and fleeing the scene of a crime. At first he had planned to plead "not guilty" and demand a jury trial. He was confident his charm would convince any jury that a nice boy like him could not possibly be guilty of such things. Even if the jury didn't believe him, he was certain he could convince the judge at sentencing to let him off with a light fine and perhaps a little restitution and community service. His luck ran out when he drew "Hanging Hattie Lonigan" as his trial judge. He had been around the system long enough to know that if he couldn't beat the jury, he sure as hell would get the maximum punishment possible from this judge. So, he told his public defender to strike a deal.
A new, overworked and underpaid state's attorney agreed to drop all charges in return for a guilty plea to attempted purse-snatching, a minimal fine, and 40 hours of community service which, upon satisfactory completion, would result in nothing on his record.
'Not a bad deal,' O'Reilly thought, as he prepared to enter his plea.
Judge Lonigan looked over the top of her steel-rimmed glasses as the defendant entered his plea. She had been known to refuse to accept a plea that had been bargained down too low, and everyone held their breath until she spoke.
"Mr. O'Reilly. I do not like this plea. My understanding of this case is that you drove by, grabbed the purse of an elderly lady in a Publix supermarket parking lot, and managed to hurl her to the ground in the process. This resulted in her sustaining several bruises and a broken wrist. You then fled the scene and just happened to be caught by an alert FLPD officer. Am I correct on those facts?"
"Regretfully, yes, your honor." O'Reilly spoke softly, shoulders slumped, eyes down, hoping he conveyed just the right amount of mournful contrition. He held his breath waiting for the Judge to respond. She gave a hard look at the state's attorney.
"You have got to be kidding, Mr. Grant. I suggest you and defense counsel go back to the bargaining table and come up with something that better fits this crime. In the meantime, this case will be set for trial on my two-week docket commencing .... ''
She glanced at her clerk. "Monday, October 27, 9 a.m., your Honor."
'Oh, shit,' O'Reilly thought. 'I'm toast!'
The judge looked up as though she heard his thoughts. He breathed a sigh of relief when she said to her clerk, "Call the next case."
By the time lunch rolled around, Lonnie had dispensed with 27 cases through dismissals or guilty pleas, and set 14 others for trial. It pleased her to clear some of her calendar, but she knew it was just a prologue to a difficult afternoon when the big boys arrived for the Dansky trial. Lonnie disposed of the final case of the morning, left the bench quickly, and hurried back to chambers anxious to empty her bladder. Before she could rush through her office door, her administrative assistant, Carla, stopped her.
"Judge, there's someone in your chambers."
Lonnie was angry. Carla knew better than to allow anyone in chambers when she wasn't there, and Lonnie's glare reminded her of that.
Carla shrugged her shoulders. "You'll understand."
"I doubt it," hissed Lonnie.
She stormed into her office ready to give whoever it was a piece of her mind. All at once her heart stopped and her breath caught in her throat. There, with her back to the judge, staring out her office window, was Lark. Gone were the loose-fitting clothes she had warn in the park. In their place were black pants which hugged her hips like molten lava. On her once bare feet were black boots, and a cobalt blue shirt graced her upper frame. The shirt was just tight enough to show off the well-formed muscles of Lark's arms and back.
Lark turned, smiling, and held out her hand to Lonnie. "I believe we've met," she said softly.
Lonnie stood, staring. "What the hell are you doing here?" she asked, ignoring the proffered hand.
Lark made no attempt to hide her irritation. "Sit down, Judge. You and I have a lot to talk about."
Lonnie hesitated. 'Who the hell does this woman think she is giving me orders in my chambers?' She mused silently.
The dark-haired woman's presence and voice were so commanding that the blonde almost complied immediately until the pressure in her stomach reminded her of why she had been rushing into her office in the first place. She looked at Lark a moment then ran as fast as she could through the door to the right of her desk.
It wasn't until she heard the toilet flush that Lark realized what had happened. She smiled smugly to herself. 'When ya' gotta go, ya' gotta go, huh, Judge,' she thought. 'So much for judicial decorum.'
Lonnie splashed cold water on her face and stood in the small bathroom taking deep breaths to calm her racing heart. She knew she had to go back out into her office but she felt confused and was wary of the stranger waiting there. She didn't have control of the situation and lack of control was something she could not tolerate.
'O.K., Lonigan,' she thought to herself. 'Just get the hell back in there and take control.'
Lonnie opened the bathroom door and stepped out into her office with as much dignity and commanding presence as she could muster. Just as she came through the door, she tripped on the door sill and would have fallen flat on her face if Lark's arms had not reached out to catch her. 'Shit, so much for dignity.'
The small blonde would have laughed if she weren't so embarrassed. 'What is it about this woman that turns me the color of a beet every time we meet,' she thought. Embarrassed or not, Lonnie couldn't dismiss the jolt of electricity that burned her to the core as she lingered a little longer than was necessary in the unexpected embrace.
Lark realized the shorter woman's discomfort and stepped back slowly but not before wondering to herself where that bolt of lightening came from that had just slammed her in her groin.
"Judge," she began again. "Really, you need to sit down."
Lonnie's curiosity got the better of her ,and she complied with only a moment's hesitation. 'Oh, this has got to be good. If she wanted to see me, all she had to do was say so that evening in the park instead of disappearing for a month.'
The judge stared in shock as Lark took a wallet from her back pocket and placed a gold badge on her desk.
"My name is Lark Mingye. I am a special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. We've been monitoring the Dansky situation. We've had him under surveillance for more than 18 months. Your locals have put a crimp in that investigation but only temporarily. While I'm not at liberty to say much, I can tell you that we have information which will result in a federal indictment of Mr. Dansky just as soon as the state case is over. The only reason I am advising you of this is that we have become aware that there may be a contract on your life. We don't know for a fact that Dansky has anything to do with it, but we think he may. We're asking that you recuse yourself from this case for your own protection."
Lonnie gasped and turned beet red again, this time with indignation. "There is no way in hell I'm going to recuse myself. If that little piss ant thinks he can intimidate me, he's got another think coming."
A slight smirk formed at the corner of Lark's mouth. "We thought you might say that, Judge, so here's the contingency plan. The Bureau has assigned me as your permanent bodyguard until this case is over. I will be with you 24/7, so get used to it. There will be instructions we expect you to follow. I know it will be difficult for you to give up some control in your life, but I'm sure that, with the seriousness of the situation, you can put your ego aside for your own safety."
The agent looked as if she truly regretted the position she was putting Lonnie in. "Judge, I promise we'll do as little to disrupt your life as possible," she continued softly.
The Judge was about to protest then thought better of it. She found it difficult to believe that Dansky would put a contract out on her. After all, she was just another cog in the system. If she were killed, the trial would go on with another judge. Killing her didn't make any sense, and she doubted there was anything to it. She was sure this was an overreaction on the government's part, but it was probably better to be safe than sorry. Besides 24/7 with the woman she saw before just might prove to be a more than interesting experience.
"All right," the judge conceded. "I assume that I can continue to live in my home." She said, looking at the agent. When Lark nodded, she continued. "It's settled, then. You can move in tonight. In the meantime, I'm starved. What can I have Carla order you for lunch?"
'Hmmmm, that was almost too easy,' Lark thought. 'Wonder what's the catch?' "Ham and Swiss on rye and a large black coffee," she said.
Lonnie decided to have a small garden salad and an ice tea. She would have preferred a shrimp salad or some stone crab from the Grapevine Pub but, much to her disappointment, that establishment had long-since closed.
The two women sat in silence as they waited for their lunch to arrive. Lark made herself as invisible as possible while Lonnie poured over legal documents, signing some, and making notations on others.
It seemed no time at all before the bailiff was knocking on the door to remind the Judge that it was time to get back to court.
Lonnie donned her robe, and headed toward the door of her office.
"Just a minute, Judge," Lark said, picking up her blazer from the couch. Underneath her jacket lay a shoulder holster containing a Glock 22. The agent wasn't convinced that she needed a full-sized service pistol, but the fact that it held 15+1 rounds swayed her decision to carry the G22 rather than her Sig 9mm even though the Sig was more comfortable to handle and wear. She strapped on the holster, removed her weapon, and checked the magazine. She nodded at the Judge and followed her out the office door, pulling and tugging her jacket as she went so that the presence of the gun underneath it would not be not visible.
"Is that really necessary," the blond-haired woman asked? "My bailiff is armed and people have to pass through security to get into the courthouse."
The taller woman looked fiercely at her. "Judge," she said, "your bailiff is 71 years old and would probably piss his pants at the first sign of trouble. As for security, if a hit man wants to get to you, courthouse security will sure as hell not stop him."
She paused. "Please," she said gently. "Just let me do my job."
"All right," Lonnie sighed in exasperation. "Let's do it." With that she rushed out her office door toward the waiting courtroom, Lark following closely on her heels.
'Geeze, does this woman run everywhere?' Lark wondered.
The courtroom was packed with the usual trial groupies and reporters from local and national media outlets. A courtroom artist sat in the front row, drawing caricatures of the defendant, attorneys, and anyone else who captured her interest.
Judge Lonigan had denied the state attorney's request for a camera in the courtroom. She knew it was election time and this was the biggest case to hit Broward County in years, but no way was her court going to be turned into a media circus for political or any other purposes. The judge had done all she could to keep this case from being tried in the press. There was a gag order in effect, but the judge knew that it would do little to stem the tide of information, true or false, which could affect the outcome of the case. She had considered sequestering the jury but decided against putting them through anymore hardship than that which would normally be caused by the rigors of a long trial.
The judge glanced over at the defense table and sighed internally. 'Here we go.' She thought.
A bead of sweat rose on the brow of Marvin Dansky as he sat beside his high-priced attorneys. Danksy was a short but well-built man with an immense head of curly black hair. He dressed in expensive business suits and usually sported a rose in his lapel. His teeth were perfectly straight and bleached pearly white. It was rumored that his orthodontist put three kids through college on Dansky's teeth alone. When he couldn't get to New York City to see his favorite tailor, he was known to buy locally at M. Sterlings where he maintained an outstanding balance in the high four figures. The press had dubbed him "Matinee Marvin," and he played it to the hilt.
Marvin Danksy began as a small time hood and numbers runner. Ten years ago, after a weekend of booze, broads, and betting, he hit a big TriFecta which provided him with the opportunity he always knew he deserved. Dansky fancied himself south Florida's John Gotti and he had, in fact, built an impressive organization specializing in loan sharking, illegal gun sales, and prostitution. He dabbled in drugs but only to have a ready supply to keep his girls in line and, now and then, give big spenders or power brokers a good time.
Dansky owned a couple of strip clubs and was said to have a high-ranking politician or two in his back pocket. He luck ran out when he stepped on the toes of Cipriano Antonelli, a New York native enjoying his "retirement" in south Florida. Unfortunately for Dansky, the politicians and others with influence who were in Antonelli's pocket trumped Dansky's by a mile, and it wasn't long before the Fort Lauderdale PD, the Broward County Sheriff's Dept., the Florida State Troopers, and the Florida Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms put together a sting which was unprecedented in the annals of South Florida law enforcement. The shock was evident on Dansky's face when he was led cuffed from his club, Diamonds, by members of an elite squad of interagency personnel put together for just that purpose. He couldn't believe that, after all the palms he'd greased, not one monkey in any of the agencies had known about the sting or been able to give him any advance warning. Simultaneously with his arrest at the club, agents raided warehouses in Miami and Ft. Lauderale, his home, his boat, and his other club, Sapphires.
The evidence against him seemed insurmountable, but Dansky looked to the assembled courtroom as if he didn't have a care in the world. He laughed and smiled with the audience and teased the little artist unmercifully, chiding that from where she sat she couldn't get his good side and needed to move a bit to the left and closer to where he was seated. There was an air of rough, raw animal sexuality about him that was not lost on the audience in the room - male or female. He knew it, and he played it to the hilt.
Dansky glanced to the front of the courtroom as the door to the left of the bench swung wide and Judge Lonigan's bailiff entered the tightly packed courtroom. The bailiff called the court to order. He was pleased with how quickly all activity stopped and was happy that, as full as it was, everyone stood silently as soon as he started.
Lonnie entered the courtroom next. She took a brief survey of the crowd as her bailiff directed everyone to be seated.
"Is the State ready?" she asked.
"The State is ready, your Honor," announced the state's lead counsel.
"Is the defense ready?" she asked.
"The defense is ready, your Honor."
"All right, gentlemen, let's begin voir dire." Turning to her bailiff, she said, "Bring in the first panel, Rusty."
It took three days to seat a jury. Forty two potential jurors were questioned by both the State and the defense before 6 jurors and 2 alternates were selected.
The first afternoon of jury selection dragged on and on. It was 7 o'clock in the evening before the judge finally ended the session and told everyone to be back in the courtroom by 9 a.m. the following day. She left the bench and moved quickly through the door to go back to her chambers. She had forgotten Lark was there and was startled when she ran headlong into the arms of the tall federal agent, almost knocking her over in the process.
"We have got to stop meeting like this," Lark chuckled. "People will begin to talk."
"From your mouth to God's ears," Lonnie replied with a mischievous grin.
An uneasy truce was settling between the two women.
"Look," the judge said. "It's been a long day, and I need to unwind. I'm going to go running at the park and then eat a light supper. Join me or not, as you like."
Lark looked at the young blonde. She could see the tension in her face and body. Much against her better judgment, she replied: "O.K., let's go. I've got some gear in my car. I'll go get it. Do you have a change here?"
Lonnie was shocked that there was no argument from the older woman. "Yes," Lonnie replied. "I always keep a change here. Rusty can stay with me until you get back." Lonnie went into the bathroom, freshened up, and changed into her shorts, halter, and running shoes. She was just coming out of the bathroom when Lark reentered the room carrying a navy blue duffel bag.
"Use my facilities," Lonnie said, nodding toward the bathroom.
Lark went into the bathroom but returned quickly to the outer chambers. She was wearing a black sports bra that showed off her breasts to full advantage. Long, muscled legs descended from black shorts which caressed her glutes as if they were painted on. A black terry headband with a Nike logo topped the outfit off while she wore a pair of Ryka cross-trainers on her feet. Lonnie couldn't help surveying the buff body in front of her and blushed when Lark caught her looking. The only thing that ruined the view was the holster, gun, and badge on a belt at Lark's waist and the large knife strapped to her thigh.
"Shall we," Lark said, holding the door open for Lonnie.
Lonnie's car was in the shop for repairs, and she had intended to catch a ride home with one of her colleagues. Instead, Lark led her to her own car, a bright yellow '68 Firebird Convertible, in mint condition.
"Well, so much for anonymity," Lonnie chuckled as she settled herself in the passenger seat and began to hum the Chiquita banana jingle.
The agent glanced over at Lonnie and ran her eyes up and down her body drinking in the hot pink shorts and halter she was wearing.
"Better watch yourself, day-glo," Lark teased, "or I'll see to it you get a new nickname around the courthouse."
"You wouldn't dare," Lonnie responded.
"Try me," said Lark with a scowl on her face and a twinkle in her eye.
The women were silent during the short ride to the park, each lost in her own thoughts of the day behind and the days ahead. They arrived at the park in less than fifteen minutes. Lark parked under a street light.
"Sit there until I tell you to come out," she said. She reached into her duffel bag and pulled out a small walkie-talkie. "The eagle has landed," she spoke into it. Seemingly from out of nowhere four men moved in and stood next to the car. Lonnie was surprised when she saw them.
"Eagle? Am I the eagle?" Lonnie asked.
"Well," Lark chuckled, "it was between legal eagle and legal beagle. Didn't think you'd want to be named after a dog."
"A beagle's a lot cuter than that ugly old hook-nosed bird," Lonnie groused.
"Watch out," said Lark. "That's our national symbol you're attacking...and you, a judge...shame on you."
The agent was enjoying the reparte and snuck a peek out of the corner of her eye to see how the judge was reacting. Lonnie tried to maintain a judicial frown but lost it to a smile when she saw the twinkle in Lark's eyes as she teased her.
The agent got out of the driver's seat and went around to the passenger side of the car. She opened the car door and helped Lonnie from the car.
"Judge," she said, looking from left to right at the men, "Meet Sam, John, Jake, and Max. They are your four musketeers."
All four men were dressed in jogging clothes. The blonde gasped when she realized immediately that she had seen each of these faces in her courtroom that afternoon. Everything was becoming too real. She hadn't really believed her life was in danger until now; until now everything had just been a pleasant distraction named Lark. The judge took a deep breath to regain her composure.
"Thank you, gentlemen," she said. "I'll try not to be too much bother."
The four musketeers grinned in tandem. Max appeared to be the spokesman for the group. "That's O.K. It's our job, m'am. We'll be as inconspicuous as possible," he said. "Well, not while you're running, but as much as we can."
The group did warm-up stretches and headed out around the lake. The men formed a phalanx around Lonnie while Lark moved out ahead. After only one lap, Lonnie was ready to go home. There was no release, no feeling of freedom in the run. She felt like she was running in a box, and the walls were closing in on her. She and Lark settled back in the Firebird while the four musketeers split into twos and got into two black Lincolns parked just behind.
"Are they following us home?" Lonnie asked.
"Yes," Lark responded. "Max and Jake will take the first watch. Sam and John will go home and get some rest and take over in the morning."
Lark drove slowly seeming to know the way to the blonde's home without any instructions. Lonnie lived in Town of Davie, several miles from the courthouse. She had a comfortable two-bedroom home on a few acres. She liked the country feel and the down home attitude of its residents most of whom were a little rough around the edges but good folk nonetheless. She bought the place so she could keep Sultan, her Arabian horse. Unfortunately, the pressures of the bench and political and social obligations kept her too tied up to work with Sultan so, with regrets, she decided to board him with a local family. She rode him as much as possible but her rides were becoming fewer and farther between. It was the one pleasure she truly missed since ascending to the bench.
The two cars pulled up to Lonnie's house and came to a stop in the driveway. Lonnie started to get out of the car, but Lark put a warning hand on her arm.
"Wait," she said.
Jake and Max got out of their car and walked in opposite directions around the house. When the men came around again to the front, Lark got out and opened Lonnie's door. The four of them moved up to the front door of the house. Lonnie opened the entry door and let Max go in ahead of her. She and Lark followed. Lark was so close that Lonnie could feel the agent's measured breaths on the nape of her neck and smell the post-run musk emanating off her body. The blonde punched in the security code to shutoff the alarm and motioned Jake in off the front porch.
The judge's home was a pleasant surprise to the agents. Instead of many rooms, the interior of the house had been gutted into one big room. The kitchen area contained a large Viking stove and oven. A rack over the center island contained copper pots of varying description and sizes. A large, stainless steel refrigerator/freezer was set back in the wall. A small wine cellar was built in next to the refrigerator/freezer.
'Well, Lonigan,' Lark thought as she looked the room over, 'you obviously have some unsung talents.'
The wood floor was polished to a high sheen. The ceiling was at least fifteen feet high with large, finished wooden beams forming open trusses. Minimal but comfortable furniture dotted the room. To the left of the fireplace were large French doors, and Lark could see a deck and pool reflected in the moonlight. A large gas-log fireplace ran from floor to ceiling, unusual in Florida. No television was visible. Across the room from the fireplace were built-in bookcases so tall that it took a ladder to reach the top shelf. Just off to the right of the fireplace was a small atrium with a bubbling fountain. Off the atrium were two bedrooms, each with it's own full bath. The house had been designed for utility and comfort. No space was wasted. It was a place to come home to, not leave. Lonnie knew instinctively that Lark liked her home, and it gave her a small twinge of pleasure to share it with her.
Max moved throughout the house checking for anything unusual. When he was satisfied, he went back to the family room where he found the two women seated at the center island sipping Bancha ice tea. Lonnie offered Max a drink but he declined stating he needed to get outside and help Jake. He knew they needed to set up their posts and get settled in for the night. After a brief goodnight, he went out the front door to meet Jake. Lonnie got up from her stool and moved to the front door to reset the security alarm. On her way back, she flicked a wall-switch and music filled the room, Jacobsen's "Feather on the Breath of God." At night she often sat, feet curled under her, on the large couch in front of the fireplace. It was there she read briefs or motions or drafted orders she had not wanted to trust to attorneys to draft. Occasionally, she read one of her favorite authors and sipped a glass of wine. Tonight, she just wanted to relax. It had been a taxing day.
"I'm going to take a shower and get comfortable," she informed Lark. "Just stow your things in the room across from mine and take a shower or a soak yourself if you'd like. I use that room as a combination guest-room/office, but I think you'll find it comfortable"
Lark nodded and followed Lonnie down the hall. The two women smiled self-consciously at each other and moved into their respective rooms. Lark stripped the dank running clothes from her body and stretched languorously. She hated to run. She much preferred yoga and stretches and the modified tai chi sets she had created. Free weights were another of her passions. She tested her endurance with bicycle riding and rock-climbing. But running ...... nope, just not her style. 'I guess you'll have to make it your style for a while,' her inner voice directed her. Lark looked around the private bath just off her bedroom. She couldn't wait to get in the large shower that beckoned. She stood naked in the room. She loosened the braid of her long black hair and shook it free.
Lark had just walked into the bathroom and turned on the shower when she heard Lonnie's bloodcurdling scream. Grabbing her Glock, she ran straight toward the sound oblivious of her state of undress. She looked around the other woman's room and, seeing nothing, raced into the bathroom, gun drawn, hair flying, and a deadly seriously expression on her face. A naked Lonnie stood soaping herself in her shower when a black-haired nude came crashing into her bathroom and stood legs apart, knees bent, aiming the biggest damn gun she had ever seen straight at her soapy chest. Lonnie dropped the soap, raised her hands to the ceiling, and nearly passed out.
Suddenly, Lonnie erupted with laughter and, with as much aplomb as she could muster, joked, "You're right. We really do have to quit meeting like this."
The gun lowered and dark, serious eyes stared intently at her. "What the hell happened? I heard you scream. There really wasn't time to dress for the occasion."
"Well," Lonnie chuckled, "you either flushed or turned on the water 'cause I was in the middle of a nice, hot shower when somebody threw a bucket of ice water on me."
Lark stood there for a moment before she realized how silly she looked. She broke down and joined Lonnie in laughter. "You can put your hands down now, Judge. Guess we'll have to coordinate our cleanliness," she muttered as she stood up ramrod straight and strode from the room with as much dignity as she could muster.
There is a certain sensuality to a south Florida summer. Heat rises up from the pavements and down from the sky. It radiates off bodies, permeating the air. Ocean breezes fan the heat. Attractions, often unrecognized in the wetness of spring, pulsate and throb in the heat of a south Florida summer.
Hours turned into days and days into weeks. As the Dansky trial went on, Lonnie and Lark became more and more comfortable in each others presence. They often took a swim together before dinner, enjoying a playful comraderie. They would sit in silence in the evening, each absorbed in her own thoughts, Lonnie working on legal papers and Lark reading the latest crime novel. They became a part of each others lives in an inextricable way. Mornings and evenings would find Lark on the deck beside the pool doing her tai chi exercises. Lonnie loved to watch the liquid movements of the agent as she bent and stretched and turned. Gone were the loose flowing clothes of the park and, in their place, Lark more often wore a two piece bathing suit which left little to the imagination. Occasionally, Lonnie would join her but never was she able to match Lark's splendid grace.
Summer moved into Fourth of July weekend. Court was closed for a long weekend, and the two women had nothing to do but enjoy themselves for the first time in a long time. Lonnie prepared a light supper and poured some wine for both of them. They ate slowly and cleaned up the dishes together, then sat down at oppposite ends of the couch to listen to music and enjoy another glass of wine.
"I feel like a swim. Are you game?"
"Sure. Last one in's a rotten egg," said Lark. She jumped up and ran toward the pool, shedding her clothes on the way, and dove quickly into the water.
Lonnie stood there in stunned silence, then let out a gleeful laugh and followed suit. She felt like a devil may care teenager for the first time in a long time. The pure spontaneity of it all delighted her.
"No fair," she shouted. "You had a head start." She dove into the pool and felt the warm water caressing her naked body. Her dive was deep and long. When she came up out of the water, she was within and inch or two of Lark.
"Fair, I'll give you fair," Lark laughed as she snaked her ankle around the other woman's legs and dunked her in the pool.
Lonnie came up sputtering. "I'll get you for that, Amazon," the smaller woman said, feigning a pout.
"Try it, day-glo," Lark smirked, swimming as fast as she could to the other end of the pool, then kicking against the side and heading back again.
The two women joked and played together, each silently thankful for the six foot stucco fence that surrounded the pool and separated them from the federal agents standing guard on the other side. Finally, in welcome exhaustion, they swam to the side of the pool and pulled themselves out. There were no towels to cover or dry them, but it no longer mattered. They walked into the house together knowing that something new and different had arisen between them that night.
Lonnie woke with the morning sun warming her body. She had showered and gone to bed naked after the activities of the night before. She glanced at the clock. 6:00 A.M.
"God, it's a day off and I'm still up at the crack of dawn," she thought. She slipped out of bed with an audible groan and headed for the bathroom. She emerged wearing a blue silk robe and nothing else.
As she entered the living space, Lonnie heard a sound on the deck and was saw that Lark was already up and into her tai chi ritual. The French doors to the deck were open. Lark spoke without turning around.
"Good morning, your Honor. Sleep well?"
"How do you do that," Lonnie asked.
"Know that I'm there without seeing me."
"I always know when you're there," the taller woman replied seriously. "Your energy precedes you. I feel it."
"I envy you," said the blonde. "I wish I could feel things as easily."
'You can,' thought Lark. 'You just don't know it yet.' She let Lonnie's words hang in the air without responding.
"Will you teach me how to do that?" Lonnie asked.
"What you're doing. The movements."
"That's easy. Come here. I'll show you," Lark said as she walked back into the living room. Lonnie moved toward her, then realized she was nude under her robe.
"Be right back, she said. "Let me go change."
She headed to her room and returned wearing loose-fitting clothing. She was curious when she saw Lark was sitting cross-legged on a large pillow on the living room floor. Another large pillow was on the floor in front of her.
"Sit," Lark said, pointing at the empty pillow.
Lonnie raised an eyebrow quizically but sat down cross-legged on the pillow as she had seen Lark do. Without waiting for a question, Lark began.
"First, you must prepare yourself. You must clear your mind of all extraneous things. You have to reach into your inner soul and speak and touch the god-light within you."
"I don't understand," Lonnie said.
"Father-Mother God is in each of us. God is the peace center, the place where calm and serenity reside. To reach that place, you have to ignore the outer world and touch the inner world. It is the inner world that will connect you to the cosmos." The sound of the dark-haired woman's voice was liquid, hypnotic, soothing. The blonde sat silently, waiting for her to continue.
"Place your hands, palms up, against the top of your thighs. That's it. Now, place your index fingers against your thumbs. O.K., good. Close your eyes. Now, breathe deeply, move your breath down into your abdomen, feel your breath, know it's there. Good, good. Sit up straight."
Lonnie did not realize that the other woman had arisen from her own pillow until she sensed her presence behind her. She felt a large hand and long fingers placed against her lower back while another hand reached to pull her shoulders straight. The hand left her shoulders, and she instantly missed its presence. She felt her energy shift downward as the hand returned, stretching over her abdomen and coming to rest just above her pubic bone.
"Breathe into my hand," the dark-haired woman said. The blonde did as she was told and instantly felt as though a silver thread had been flung from the cosmos into the very center of her being.
"Breathe," Lark repeated. "Breathe."
"Now, I want you to travel down deep into your mind. Let your inner eye move to your very depths. There is nothing else but you and the universe. There is no outside world. There are no other sounds. Just you and your soul in the presence of Father-Mother God. Feel it. Touch it. Let the light surround you, flow into you. Let the light warm you."
Lonnie felt the heat permeate her body. She didn't understand what was happening, but she felt safety in the blanket of Lark's voice. She was transported to a place she never knew existed, and she did not want to leave. Then she heard Lark's voice beckoning her to return. She opened her eyes slowly and stared into dark eyes that were once again sitting across from her.
Lark rose slowly and held out her hand. Lonnie stood and took it. Lark moved behind Lonnie and pressed her body against the smaller woman's back. She lay her arms down the length of Lonnie's arms and lifted them slowly. Then she began her dance. Lonnie leaned back into the body behind her and let herself flow with its rhythm - liquid, languid, one movement running seamlessly into the next. It was hypnotic, erotic, holy all at once. And then, as easily as it had begun, she felt the dance stop and their bodies move as one into a pose of worship.
Facing West, arms outstretched to the sky, she heard that silken voice say: "Father-Mother God I thank you for this day and for the love within it. May you use me for your good and to your service."
The outstretched arms moved in toward her chest in prayerful pose. The same movements and the same prayer were repeated three more times, ending with both women facing East with their final prayer.
Lark stepped away from Lonnie, standing just close enough that the air between them remained heated. Lonnie could feel the heat, pulsing, throbbing, burning into her back. She could not move.
It was Lark who finally broke the contact. "And that's how it is done," she said quietly.
The Dansky trial was coming to its conclusion, and Lark was pleased that nothing more had come of the purported contract on Lonnie's life. She knew better than to let her guard down but was hopeful that the informant who had reported it was either downright wrong or lying just to get a deal. Either way, in the best of all possible worlds, Lonnie would be safe. She had come to respect the tough little blonde and, if she were honest with herself, she would admit that her feelings went far beyond respect to something more personal.
It was a Saturday. Normally, Lonnie would have the day off but a colleague had called her to request she cover for him at the Saturday arraignments. He thought he was coming down with the flu and needed to spend a few days at home. Lonnie didn't mind. He'd covered for her in the past, and it was quid pro quo.
The two women arrived around 7 a.m. at an unusually quiet courthouse. Arraignments didn't start until 9, but Lonnie wanted to stop by her office and get some paperwork out of the way. The two musketeers on duty that weekend were Sam and John. Lonnie liked them both. Sam was a little nebish and John a big teddy bear but she had no doubt as to their strength and abilities.
The three agents and Lonnie took the elevator up to to her office on the the eighth floor. Sam and John stayed outside in the hall while Lark and Lonnie went into the office. Lonnie found a folder of completed work that Carla had left on her desk and began reading and signing various orders and letters. The women could hear the good-natured ribbing going on between the two men outside, and they would occasionally break into laughter at the men's banter.
Lonnie had been working for about an hour and was so focused that she hardly noticed her surroundings. Lark, however, felt the hairs on the back of her neck rise and heard the loudness of the silence from the hallway. There was no longer any kidding between Sam and John, just cold silence. She knew in her gut something was wrong, and she had learned long ago to trust her gut instincts. She got up from the couch and quietly locked the door to the office. She went to the supply closet and pulled out a harness and two kevlar vests that she had stored there as a contingency. She walked toward the judge and, as Lonnie looked up, she placed her fingers over her lips as a signal to be silent. She motioned to Lonnie to put on the kevlar. Lonnie did so without hesitation while Lark donned her own. The agent then motioned for the blonde to step into the harness and fastened it securely after she did.
Lark nodded toward the bathroom door and followed Lonnie into the bathroom. Few people knew there was an exit in the rear of the bathroom into a small hallway right next to a building exit, but Lark had scoped out all means of ingress and egress weeks before. The two women exited the bathroom into the hallway and then stepped through the exit door into the stairwell. Lark pointed upwards. Lonnie shook her head vehemently no. Lark pointed again and glared. Lonnie reluctantly complied and started up the stairs. As they went through each door, the agent locked it behind them even though she knew that it would only be a temporary stalling technique and not a final solution to keeping a predator at bay.
As they hit the stairwell, Lark began yelling into her two-way radio, "9-9-9 Eagle's Nest. 9-9-9 Eagle's Nest."
She pushed Lonnie up the stairs ahead of her. She could hear doors opening and closing below and the sound of footsteps running up the stairs. She prayed the copter team was in position and could hear her.
Lonnie could feel her heart pumping as the adrenalin rushed to her brain. She was terrified, but she felt safe with Lark. The two women burst through the door to the roof of the courthouse. The agent slammed the door shut and jammed a piece of wood under the knob hoping to delay the attackers a while longer. She moved with the judge to the edge of the courthouse roof and breathed a sigh of relief when she heard the rotors of a helicopter overhead.
Lonnie's breath was ragged. Every nerve in her body was screaming in fear. She was facing the door they had just come through, and Lark was in front of her with her back to the door.
The tall woman looked down at the shorter blonde. "Do you trust me," she asked.
"With my life," the blonde replied. It was a defining moment between them.
The helicopter hovered overhead, the wind from its rotors washing over the two women below. A cable came down from the copter. Lark grabbed it and snapped dangling hooks onto the harness Lonnie was wearing. Lonnie realized in an instant what was happening.
"No," she screamed. "No!"
Lark bent quickly and brushed the small blonde's lips with her own before sending her over the precipice. Lonnie felt herself jerked into the air and looked down to see flashes of gunfire on the roof like roman candles on the Fourth of July. She saw Lark drop and roll as she herself was pulled upwards and out over the ocean dangling from a rope beneath the helicopter. The courthouse got smaller and smaller in her sight. Lonnie felt the blood draining from her face and lapsed into a welcome unconsciousness as her terror of heights overcame her. Her last thoughts were of Lark.
Two men in camouflage burst through the door to the roof, snapping like a match stick the piece of wood she had placed under the knob. One went to her right, the other to her left.
The agent felt the impact of the bullet on her back the minute it hit. The kevlar held the first but the second bullet hit her in the upper arm and spun her around. The adrenalin rush was so great that she never felt the pain of the hit. She just knew her left arm was dangling uselessly at her side.
Lark dropped and rolled in a classic maneuver emptying her gun at the forms. It was almost impossible to handle the G22 with one hand but she did. The largest of the two dropped quickly, a bullet between his eyes. The smaller dropped and rolled as one of her shots just grazed him. He rolled toward her rather than away. He grabbed an iron rod laying on the roof and slammed it into her bad arm. The pain washed over her in dizzying waves. She struggled to her feet, and her assailant did the same.
He rushed at her. "I've got you now, bitch," he yelled.
"In your dreams, sucker," Lark shouted back. Just as he reached her, the agent threw herself down and scissor-kicked him over the edge of the roof. She heard his screams echoing on the morning breeze. Her last thought was of Lonnie before she passed out from the pain.
The roof door slammed open again. Voices began screaming. "Agent down. Agent down."
Lark could hear voices above her but she couldn't see where they came from. She could feel the blood running out of her. She was in herself and above herself. She couldn't move. She saw a glow in front of her. Out of the glow came a short, blonde figure.
"Lonnie," she whispered.
"I'm here, love," the blonde replied.
"Did I really kiss you," the dark haired woman asked.
"And did you kiss me back?"
"I love you."
"And I love you."
The glow began to fade.
"Don't go," Lark screamed silently.
And then there was nothing.
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