Disclaimers: Go to Part I for disclaimers on this story.
Part IV: Saturday
"Wake up, sleepyhead." Pause. "Hey, you."
Rickie felt a nudge on her shoulder and groaned. She fought her way awake. "Don't wanna," she yawned, rolling over. With bleary green eyes, she looked up at the woman seated on the edge of the bed.
The dark woman, a slight smile on her face, watched Rickie half sit up and rub her eyes. "Coffee?" she offered, holding out a mug.
"Um.... yeah.... thanks...." She gingerly took the drink and sat up further, breathing in the fumes. "What time is it?"
"Time to get up," Xena said drily. At the younger woman's grimace, her smile widened. "About ten. Time to get a move on." She rose from the bed, already fully dressed in black jeans and t-shirt. The white letters blazoned across it proudly proclaimed, 'Hukt ohn fonix wrkt fore me.' "Breakfast in five," she smirked, knowing what the response would be.
"Breakfast?" The girl took a healthy swallow of coffee and began moving to the edge of the bed.
Laughing, Xena went downstairs to the kitchen.
Tara sat on the steps of the church, watching the park blocks. Two other streetkids were with her, talking about the latest compact disc from Ten Pound Rain, a local band.
While it wasn't unusual for Dreamer to disappear as she had two nights before, the darker girl felt a little anxious for her. After the redhead had left their table with Alex, the night continued as usual. But then Alex showed up looking for her. Tara didn't know what to tell the dealer. A little while later, word filtered into the club that the police were in force across the street and an ambulance was there, as well.
The Filipino girl had stepped outside with the rest of the gawkers and saw the body being loaded into the back of the ambulance, the sirens and lights turned off. She didn't think it could have been Dreamer.... The body was too big, she thought. But, she knew that her friend had been involved.....somehow..... If trouble's around, when isn't she involved?
Tara drew her plaid flannel tighter around her shoulders and crossed her arms. Having rained earlier in the morning, it was just a bit cooler today - typical of Portland - with grey skies and a bit of a breeze. Still, being a weekend, the park was busy. What with all the fuss regarding the Rose Festival, record numbers of people roamed the downtown area. The Portland Art Museum nearby was doing a booming business with their newest exhibit on Ancient Egypt. The usual streetkids were doing their own kind of business when the bicycle and horse cops weren't present. And it sounded like the Historical Museum across the way had some sort of Native American Music festival going on with drums and pipes and dancers.
The occasional car drove slowly by, some stopping to talk to the kids on the corner. Others just cruised the park, occupants enjoying the day. Tara saw a black Mustang coming towards her from her left. It pulled up short in front of the church steps. She ignored it. She didn't sell so it wouldn't be for her. One of the kids with her, however, did. Several of the vehicles that had stopped had already been for him.
The dark girl shot a look at the Mustang. "Dreamer?" she asked in astonishment, rising to her feet.
Rickie, hanging out of the passenger window and grinning widely, waved her friend closer. "Did you get my notebook from the club?"
"Um....yeah." Tara moved closer and blinked, looking at the car.
A redgold eyebrow raised over a laughing green eye. "Well.....?"
"Oh, yeah." The Filipino girl dug in her backpack and pulled out the battered spiral. Handing it to her friend, she said, "Dreamer, we have to talk." She bent over a bit and peered into the car. "Now," she added softly.
Rickie chewed her lower lip for a second, brow furrowed. "Okay." She turned to the woman driving and spoke for a moment.
Tara felt a chill as intense blue eyes peered over sunglasses to study her. The woman nodded, said something in a low voice. Rickie smiled, unlatching her seatbelt and getting out of the car. The Mustang pulled slowly away.
"So, what's up?" the redhead asked. She was dressed in jeans and an oversized white t-shirt. A smiley face with a bullet hole in its forehead grinned forth.
"Who's that?" Tara responded with a frown.
Rickie chuckled. "A friend. I met her the other night." She watched her friend scowl and lightly punched her arm. "She's okay! Really!"
"Is she leaving you here?"
"Naw, she's just going to the store. She'll be back by soon." She took her friend by the arm and led her back to the church steps, waving idly at the other streetkids already in residence. Seating herself, she pulled Tara down with her. "Whaddya want to talk about? Sounded pretty serious."
Tara settled down. "What happened to you? You just up and disappeared. Even Alex didn't know where you went." She watched her friend's face closely. Dreamer was a good storyteller, but a lousy liar.
The girl beside her shrugged nonchalantly. "Oh, you know. Got some nuggies from Alex. Met Xena." Watched some cop get wasted in the park. "Why?" She looked back into dark eyes. "I've disappeared before. You never acted like this. What's going on?"
She's hiding something "There was a murder in the park that night," she said bluntly, watching Rickie's eyes slide away. Tara's own eyes narrowed in suspicion. "You were there!" she whispered. "Don't deny it, girl!"
"Course not." Rickie tried to laugh and failed miserably. Sounds more like I'm choking, dammit! "Whatever gave you that idea?" She craned her neck to look for the black Mustang, trying to hide the blush she felt rising. Now would be a good time! Maybe I should just trot over to Safeway myself....
"Look," Tara said in a low voice, glancing back to make sure the other youths weren't within earshot. "I don't know what's going down, but somebody is looking for you. I think it's somebody big."
"What?" Rickie's head whipped around, red gold hair flying. "What are you talking about?" she asked, eyeing her intently.
The dark girl's eyes were troubled. "Yesterday, a group of tweakers were asking around about you. And I know you don't have much to do with them." She placed a hand on her friend's arm. "Later on in the afternoon, a couple of other guys were asking for you, too."
Tweakers....? Rickie shook her head to herself. The word referred to a particular group of drug users that disdained the herbal highs for those of the white powder persuasion. Cocaine, crack, heroin. Why would they be looking? The young woman didn't have anything to do with the white powders, either in use or sale. She had no connections to that part of the drug trade. There's no reason..... Green eyes latched onto her friend. "Who else was looking?"
Tara shrugged. "Dunno. I haven't seen 'em before. Couple of muscle bound fellahs.... They looked like long lost cousins of Arnold Schwarzenegger's." Her hand squeezed Rickie's arm. "What happened?" she hissed.
Her friend shook her head adamantly and pulled away. "Nothing. Nothing that I can tell you, anyway." She stood up, running hands through her red gold hair. I've got to get outta here. Rickie looked wildly around, eyes lighting on a black Mustang pulling close. "Finally!" she breathed. She turned to her friend. "Thanks for the word. I gotta go."
"But, what about...."
"Don't worry, Tara. Everything'll work out all right." Rickie gave her friend a hug. "I'll be okay. Honest."
Tara watched, brow furrowed in concern, as the gold woman climbed hurriedly into the car. The Mustang pulled away and Rickie waved at her. Unsure and heart heavy, the Filipino girl returned to her seat to worry.
Robert Telesco stood at the floor to ceiling window of a penthouse apartment in the KOIN Center Building, hands in pockets, staring at the city below. Behind him, his employer was finishing breakfast with the woman that had arrived with him.
To say the least, the previous night had been interesting, . Telesco was pretty happy that his neck was still in one piece, all things considered. Ginsberg had been found, the cop was out of the picture, Doblie was not about to compound the issue further..... It's that damned girl that's complicating things, he grumbled to himself.
So far, the search revealed little. There were some streetkids who knew who she was. It was just a matter of time before they pinned her down. And when we do, I'll have a new toy! Telesco's green eyes warmed at the thought. Maybe it's a good thing she got away...... Granted, he didn't expect her to last long, but it would be fun in the interim.
Stifling a yawn, he rubbed at his eyes. He hadn't gotten much sleep the night before. The soft screams from his employer's room had kept his body awake and his mind racing into fits of erotic imagination. He had to hand it to the man, though. The woman didn't have a mark on her this morning. Well, who knows what damage is under the robe, eh? He quickly stifled that thought. Wouldn't do to have a hard on now.
James Dartmouth finished the Wall Street Journal and set it aside, making a mental note to call his broker today. The woman - what was her name again? - flinched as he reached for his tea. Annoyance flickered across his handsome features and his hand changed its course to land firmly on the woman's arm. He savored the tremble of fear, fingertips idly tracing patterns on the soft skin. "Perhaps you should get dressed?" he suggested.
The woman nodded hurriedly, eyes wide. She tried to stand and pull away, but Dartmouth gripped her arm tighter, nails digging into flesh. She did her best not to wince.
"Something in blue, I think, for today," he murmured, steel eyes staring at her.
Again she nodded, swallowing convulsively. "Y... yes, sir," she whispered.
Dartmouth allowed her to pull away. He watched as she fled the room with a smile on his face. Lazily, he brought his now bloodied fingertips up to his lips and took a taste.
Hearing his name spoken softly, Telesco turned from the window and looked into the wintry grey eyes of his employer.
Xena sat back on the deck, watching the redhead help Emil Holt with the barbecue. His wife, Marjorie could be heard inside, humming to herself as she put the finishing touches on the required potato salad. The boys, Isaiah and Jeremy rolled around with a young cocker spaniel puppy in the yard.
She took a drink from her iced tea, mind wandering. Something had spooked the young woman with her. Obviously, the other girl had had some bad news as Rickie had been pretty quiet all the way to the policeman's house in the southeast. The darker woman had tried a couple of times to get the information out of her, to no avail. Xena shrugged to herself, resolving to wait until later. After nearly fifty years with this kid's doppelganger, I should be able to figure how to get her to spill the beans.
"Okay, you flip 'em and I'll smother 'em with sauce," Rickie ordered.
"Deal," Holt agreed. He picked up the tongs and began working on the steaks.
The dark haired officer had been surprised at the addition to their barbecue. Not that the girl wasn't welcome, but Xena was a loner and had been for quite a long time. This was definitely a new twist to what he knew of the woman. And he had recognized the girl's name as the one on the rap sheet he had given to the private investigator earlier in the week. Curiouser and curiouser.....
His thoughts were interrupted as the boys went screaming past to pounce on Xena. He chuckled to himself and kept flipping steaks, resolutely ignoring the growls and laughter from behind him.
Rickie looked over her shoulder. Xena was on her feet, crouched over with a feral smile as the two young boys circled her, the spaniel racing around the three wildly. The oldest boy, Isaiah, feinted in front, grabbing at a long hand. Behind the woman, his little brother leapt onto Xena's back when she was distracted. Isaiah then bounded forth to attack from the front. The three fell into a heap of tickled boyskin and wrestled warrior.
Chuckling, the redhead turned back to the barbecue and poured sauce on the recent offering. She saw a faded blue tattoo on Holt's right wrist. "Nice tatt," she said. "Got any others?"
Holt turned the last steak, baring the sigil in question. "Nope. Just that one," he said with studied nonchalance.
Finished with the sauce, Rickie set the bottle down and reached for Holt's hand. She drew it closer and peered at the tattoo. It was round, a pale blue ring with blue dots inside. In the center was a weird design - kind of art deco or something. Looks kinda like the letter 'V' with arms.... Two mountain peaks? "What's it mean?" she asked, looking up into deep brown eyes.
Holt pulled his arm away with a grin. Shrugging, he said, "Got me! Woke up with it after a three day bender in Tijuana a few years ago....."
For some reason, Rickie didn't believe him. She couldn't figure out why, however, and decided to go with the flow. "Jeez! That's gotta be a bitch!" She laughed. "I guess you should be glad that you didn't have 'Gladys' tattooed on your butt or something!"
Holt chuckled. He looked to the house as his wife came out with a large bowl of potato salad. Her dark eyes were laughing at the antics of their boys and friend. She looked to him and winked, causing a warm flush to spread through him. "Yep, damned glad that didn't happen!" he agreed wholeheartedly.
Rickie wandered over to the mass of humanity rolling around on the ground. "Who's winning?" she called.
"WE are!" insisted Jeremy before shrieking as long hands found his ticklish kneecap. His brother tried to pull the offending hand away, but got knuckles rubbed on the crown of his head for his troubles.
"Well...." the redhead drawled. "I always like to fight for the winning team." With that, she leapt into the fray, attaching herself to one of Xena's arms.
"Oh, that's the way it is, huh?" the darker woman grunted, blue eyes sparking.
Freed from her grasp, Isaiah pulled back long enough to rub his head ruefully before being tripped by Xena's legs. He growled and descended on them, wrapping himself around her legs to pin them down. His little brother was still pinned under one of Xena's arms, but Rickie had the other arm held down. It looked like the redhead was unsuccessfully trying to tickle the woman. "We're winning!" he taunted with a gasp.
"Think so, do ya?" was the low response.
Xena rolled around abruptly, separating her legs and swinging Jeremy through the air with a giggling yell. Isaiah held onto her right leg for dear life. There was a muffled protest from the golden woman as the bodies rolled over the top of her. After a few minutes struggle, Xena forced herself to her feet.
Holt looked over to see Xena standing tall in the middle of the back yard. The dog was seated, watching the spectacle with tail wagging and tongue lolling. His eldest son was wrapped firmly around one leg, a stern look on his face. His youngest was being held upside down on one side being tickled by a large hand. His feet and legs waved madly in the air, quite near to the woman's head. Rickie was frantically trying to get out of a headlock on Xena's other side. Not able to break the hold, she resorted to biting the warrior's side with a mock growl.
With a smile, the dark woman looked at Holt. "So, when's lunch?" she asked calmly. "I think Rickie's hungry."
Later in the afternoon, Rickie sat on a bench in the middle of the Pepsi Fun Center midway. She was currently surrounded by Isaiah's red stuffed dog, Jeremy's Tweety Bird that was nearly as big as he was, and a large rendition of the Tazmanian Devil dressed in biker leathers. Taz was hers, won by Xena at the hoop toss. There were also two boy-sized backpacks crammed with other assorted prizes gleaned from their dark babysitter.
The redhead shook her head, amused. Most of the game owners had decided to not let Xena play anymore. Word had passed with some speed that whatever she tried, she succeeded at. Rickie heard the voice at the last booth they had been.
"Oh, lady! Jeez! Can't you go someplace else? I've gotta make a living here!"
She chuckled to herself as she scanned the crowd around her. She spotted her crew at the concession stand, filling up their arms with food and drink. Her stomach grumbled in anticipation. Mmmmm.... Love those curly fries.
Despite her enjoyment of the afternoon, she still felt some anxiety over what Tara had told her. Rickie had been keeping an eye peeled throughout the afternoon, watching for any tweakers that could be on the lookout. So far, so good, she thought. Still too early for them. Most, she knew, would be just getting out and about or working on attaining their first fix of the day. Place is gonna be hot in a couple more hours, though. Have to con Xena into bailing this joint.
She knew that she should tell Xena about the conversation with her friend, but just couldn't quite bring herself to do it. Granted, the older woman was pretty sure she was a streetkid. What gave that away, I wonder? Rickie snorted to herself. But that didn't mean that the redhead should fill her in on all her dirty secrets. It's bad enough dealing smoke. Man, I'm livin' on the edge! Hobnobbing with off duty cops and private investigators.... She rolled emerald green eyes in consternation.
Rickie watched the progress of the trio heading in her direction, her eyes ultimately latching onto the tall dark form approaching. Xena's arms were laden with food, muscles moving under skin in an appealing way, while the two boys carried the drinks. Even the mundane action of walking towards her caused the redhead's mouth to go dry. Or is that 'water'? Damn, she's.... magnificent, her mind mumbled. Her eyes traveled up the long, muscled legs, stopping briefly over the curve of hips and waist, then moving up past rounded breasts, broad shoulders. Shining dark raven hair, tanned skin. The redhead was startled by the color of the woman's eyes, even though they felt familiar. I'm always startled at those eyes, she admitted to herself. Her heart suddenly lurched.
Those eyes were looking right at her, narrowed, a dark eyebrow raised in question. There was a slight knowing smile on those wonderful lips that had nothing on the Mona Lisa's.
Rickie gulped and dropped her gaze. Shit! She caught me! Unsuccessfully, she tried to quell the rising blush and moved to readjust the location of Tweety Bird.
Isaiah reached her first and handed her a soda. "Here, Rickie."
"Uh.... thanks, Ice," the redhead said, glad for the diversion. She took a mighty pull from the straw, ignoring the low chuckle above her that sent pleasant chills down her spine.
"Ice? Cool! I like that!" The older boy turned to his brother. "My name is Ice now!"
Jeremy pouted a bit and shoved Tweety Bird onto the ground with his pack. "What about me?" he asked Rickie, dark eyes pleading.
The young woman cocked her head to one side, happy to oblige. Anything to not look at the woman standing over them. "Well, let me see.... You could be Fire...." She suggested, looking at the boy.
The eight year old screwed up his face in consideration, apparently rejecting the name.
"How about Remy?"
"Remy." He chewed his upper lip and nodded in thought. "Okay.... I like Remy." His face broke into a smile. "Thanks, Rickie!!"
"Any time, big guy," the redhead smiled at him and ruffled his hair. Back under emotional control, she looked up at Xena, ignoring the flutter in her stomach. "So, where's the curly fries, woman?"
The darker woman flashed a smile and settled down on the grass in front of the bench. She doled out the food in liberal portions, knowing that between the three before her there'd be nothing left by wrappers licked clean inside of fifteen minutes. With everyone concentrated on the food, she was able to watch the redhead before her.
That had definitely not been a look of friendship on the girl's face as they were coming back from the concession stand. Xena had felt the burn of those eyes from head to toe. Of course, there was burning elsewhere , too.... her mind drawled. Watching the streetkid unconsciously lick her lips had sent a sharp pang of desire right through her. Hoo, boy, she sighed. Gabrielle, did you have something to do with this? She thought she could almost hear her bard chuckle softly in her ear. She flashed back to the Amazon's death and heard the words, "If you make me wait long enough...."
Xena ate her hot dog in thought.
After the quartet had finished their meal, the boys ran to deposit the trash in a can as the women began gathering up their possessions.
"What now?" Rickie asked the darker woman.
Xena had noticed that the longer they stayed in one place, the antsier her young friend became. She shrugged with nonchalance. "I dunno. Go back to my place, pop in a video. Maybe have pizza delivered for a late dinner before we take the boys home." She looked into green eyes. "What do you think?"
The redhead pounced on the opportunity. "Um, yeah. Sounds great! I'm getting kind of bored here anyway." She glanced around, scanning for familiar faces.
The warrior took this opportunity to move closer to the girl. She leaned forward, speaking softly into the redhead's ear. "Looking for something?"
Rickie stood frozen, conflicting emotions running over her face and in her heart. That voice! Those words! A part of her was terrified at the threat she perceived, wanting to slash out and run. Deja vu.... I've done that before! Another part, somewhere deeper, caused her to shiver at the feel of Xena's breath on her ear, the deep timbre rattling her to her core. Without understanding why, the redhead grabbed the woman's hand and pulled it to her, examining it closely. Nothing. No damage. Was it a dream or not?
As soon as the words were out of her mouth, Xena clamped her lips shut. Too late! Damn! She helplessly watched the play of emotions across the girl's face. When Rickie caught her hand, the one that had been gashed by the knife, the dark woman felt her heart drop. She remembers now. She'll leave now.
Rickie looked up at Xena, her hand firmly gripping the warrior's. Her other hand reached up to cup the dark woman's cheek as she looked deep into eyes that matched the sky. Terror and desire, fear and wonder warred on her face. "Who are you?" she asked softly.
The other half of you, the eyes answered. Xena stood silent.
"Hey," Jeremy said, frowning at the tableau before him. "What's going on?"
Xena broke eye contact first, glancing down at the small boy. She grinned reassuringly and disengaged her hand from Rickie's. She reached down and tousled the boy's hair. "Just figuring out what to do next," she said lightly.
Ain't that the truth, the redhead's thoughts tumbled through her mind. She took a step back with reluctance. Shaking her head to herself, she inhaled deeply, having forgotten to breathe for a few moments. Her hands tingled where they had come in contact with Xena's skin. Nervous laughter whispered inside. Is this where I say I'll never wash this hand again? She snickered to herself.
The group gathered up their belongings and headed for the parking structure that held Xena's car. No one noticed the two streetkids standing in the shade of a trailer that had held one of the rides. The two whispered to each other and then followed.
Crackle of phone lines.
"Got something for ya, dude." Young, impetuous.
"What is it?"
"A license plate number. Don't know where they were goin', but you can find out where they live." Pause. "Pay's the same, ain't it?"
Slight pause. "Yeah, it's the same. Meet me at Coffee People on Sixth. One hour." Click.
"Dude! Jackpot, man!"
As evening fell on the City of Roses, Telesco rode the elevator up to the condominium, whistling cheerfully.
Finally caught a lucky break! He leaned against the back wall of the elevator, hands in the pockets of his expensive trousers, jacket open, smile on his face. Bitch is gonna be mine soon.... He began to let his mind wander over all the wonderful little games he was going to be able to play with the redhead from the park.
Too soon, the elevator reached its destination in the KOIN Center. The doors opened and he stepped into the hall. Two goons stood to his left at the door of his employer's abode. He stopped to straighten his tie in the hall mirror before approaching the door and pushing his way inside.
Telesco moved through the apartment to the room that his employer had designated his office. A large oak desk was in the center of the room, a computer and three phones gracing its top. One of the phones was being used by Dartmouth, who was seated comfortably in a large leather deskchair. Bookshelves to the left held various and assorted leather bound volumes - mostly for appearances sake. To the right was an armoire and a large filing cabinet. Two large leather chairs crouched before the desk. It was to one of these that Dartmouth gestured his employee.
The darker man settled down in the chair, waiting for Dartmouth to get away from his call.
The blond man's voice was deep and cold. "I couldn't care less about your problems, de Silva. Rectify the situation. Now." There was a pause.
Telesco could almost hear the man on the other end of the phone sweating. He grinned in commiseration with this de Silva fellow.
"Certainly. I'll await your call. And, de Silva....?" Steel grey eyes frosted over. "Make sure it's something I want to hear. Unless you'd prefer I sent an enforcer...? No? Alright then." He hung up the phone and looked at Telesco, question in his eyes.
The smaller man sat forward on the chair in excitement. "I think we gotta lead on that girl."
"What do you have?"
"Well, she was spotted at that carnival thing they've got going a few blocks from here. Couple of streetkids picked up a license plate number." He grinned. "We traced it and just got the results back." He handed his boss a piece of paper.
Dartmouth took the paper and glanced over it. His icy exterior began to melt as his eyes narrowed. "Are you sure?" he growled at the smaller man, the color of his eyes flashing from steel to stormy.
Telesco's smile and color faded and he blinked. "Um.... yeah.... that's what we came up with."
Jaw clenched, the blond man rose and crushed the paper in his hand. He turned away from the man before him to stare out the floor to ceiling window. "Get out."
Not having to be told twice, the younger man leapt from his chair and walked out of the room. He closed the door softly behind him. Jesus! Hope I never piss him off like that!
Dartmouth closed his eyes and listened to his teeth grind. All thoughts of his reason for being in Portland were gone. Only the hunger, the desire for blood singing through his veins was with him now. What to do?
The blond returned to his desk and picked up his phone. After dialing, he carefully straightened out the paper he had crumpled and stared at the information on it:
OR Lic #QMC 295........................................Ford Mustang, Blk, 1996
Xena G. Amphipolous....................................(503)228-7997 (home)
(503)228-4509 (work)...................................(503)226-2933 (fax)
406 NW 5th.............................................Portland, OR 97201
It was dark before the women got back to Xena's warehouse. They had stayed at Holt's home for a nightcap of lemonade before taking their leave. Rickie had been conned by the boys into telling them a bedtime story, which she made appropriately icky enough with swordfights and vicious warlords.
Upon arrival home, Xena glanced through the mail and then went to check the fax machine in her office.
Rickie had gone on into the kitchen and rummaged around in the refrigerator for a snack. Finally finding an apple, she took a bite and looked around for her friend. She trailed back into the office, almost choking on her food as she quickly swallowed it, staring at Xena.
The darker woman's eyes had gone dark and her body was tense. A wadded up fax sheet was in her hand. She glared at Rickie, seeing nothing.
"Xena...?" the redhead asked tentatively.
The warrior dropped the paper on her desk. "I've gotta get outta here," she growled. And she was gone.
Unsure what was going on, Rickie heard a vehicle start up and squeal out of the parking garage downstairs. She shook her head, doing her best to quell the fear and worry inside. The young woman went to the desk and spread out the fax sheet. There was a picture of a round ... thing. It had pretty designs on it. The legend below called it a 'chakram' and said that it belonged to the private collection of one James Dartmouth of London, England. Scribbled across the page were words - 'Remember me?'
Rickie's brow furrowed. She left the paper on the desk and went into the living room. She set the apple on a table, not hungry any more. Wrapping up in the blanket that was draped across the back of the couch, she curled up and waited for her friend to return from whatever nasty flashback she was visiting.