New Players in the Field

 

 

 

Tombstone was in a very bad mood. That was way too obvious for everybody at Moe’s, but it only happened when he and his then-girlfriend had one huge of a fight, the most rare way for him to finish his relationships with the girls that fell under his protection. Usually they simply parted ways, with the girl moving out of town (or even state) and they always were (at least) good friends (and he left a phone number so if they needed any kind of help…).

 

But Xandra had phoned Moe a half an hour earlier and stated that she was ‘very much needed’ at Tombstone’s ranch for at least a couple of days, whatever that meant it was more than enough for Moe to not fire her. Since she was at his ranch and Moe could clearly hear a gagged mewl in the back of the conversation, that meant (usually) that Tombstone had hired another model at Moby’s and Xandra (crazy & extremely good looking girl who had a thing with knots…) was enjoying her ‘living gift’.

 

Moe knew that it could also meant that Xandra was helping Tombstone to deal with a girl he had been hired to scare (she was way too good with that, the ‘psycho bitch’ she could find somewhere in the vaults of her mind was good enough to frighten even him!)…

 

So all things were fine between the sultry short haired blonde and the giant mass of muscles that went by the (well earned) nickname of Tombstone. Then why was he so…

 

Confused? Enraged? Both and none?

 

He was mumbling things to himself as he drank his beer, or poorly pretended to, and was scratching what were obviously nail marks over his right cheek.

 

Bugs Kremp dropped by his table and started to chat, after a while Tombstone conceded and told him what was bugging him. Bugs’ eyes bulged noticeably as he (apparently) started to make more and more questions to Tombstone.

 

He saw that eerie/sympathetic (she could be both at the same time) African chic that everybody called Harper (her real name was Rurpere) and invited her to their table.

 

The conversation between Bugs and Harper (with an occasional participation of Tombstone who was making a phone call) was fast and it was obvious that Tombstone, practically being forced to do that by Bugs, hired Harper for something.

 

Harper went back to her table and said something to her friends (all women that worked for the Duchess), then she and the two men left in a hurry after Tombstone left four one hundred dollars bills over his table, saying that he was paying what Harper’s friends had already (and would afterwards) consumed. He now looked very agitated.

 

All five technicians/secretaries thanked him and asked for another round of far more pricey beverages. Moe waited a couple of minutes and asked Jeanine to ask them what it was all about, as she gave them all one dance ‘on the house’. Five minutes later he was even more puzzled than he was before. Apparently Tombstone had found himself in a very unusual situation and needed help, although he couldn’t say of which kind and why.

 

One hour later, the girl who was going to ‘spend the night’ with Harper told Jeanine that she had just received a text message with Harper apologizing for being unable to fulfill her promises for that night since: ‘The affair is way more serious than we thought’.

 

Two hours later Harper phoned Moe’s and asked if Kemmet or Maurice (or both) were around. They were, and together with a guy called Peak and one of Harper’s technician friends (plus the now intoxicated, and thus filled to the max with alcoholic courage, pretty & lean secretary that Harper had ‘cheated’ into believiong that she was special and all that…) they left the place in a hurry after they were hired by Tombstone.

 

Now Moe did not liked when his establishment was used in such an obvious and exposed way by his usual clientele. There were some law-abiding people in the attendance that were just after lap/pole dances and, if he wasn’t wrong, two of them were cops!!!

 

It was better that Tombstone had a very good excuse for his behavior!!!

 

Boy… Had he have one!!!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eight days later…

 

‘I am sorry for my…’

 

‘No excuses!!! I don’t like when you guys do such things in the open… and that’s what you did! No either you tell me why you practically yelled ‘Hey! I’m doing something very fishy in here!’ in the middle of my joint or I will ban you! Got it?’

 

‘Sure, sure… You… heard about the whole action packed night that happened within the Duchess’ organization that very same night, right? And you know Jules, right?’

 

‘Your contact with… her, so what? He was here four days before and hired you…’

 

‘The usual stuff. Another girl who did not wanted to finish with her and was trying to force her to… what they all do before she hires me to ‘put them in their place’. This one was of mixed ancestry. Black father and Thai mother, petite and buxom and quite an exquisite and very exotic beauty if you had ever seen one. Let’s call her…’ - and he took a look around the wall filled with the pictures of former strippers at Moe’s, detaining his eyes on a lean and leggy brunette who went by the name of Jo (Jolene) B. – ‘…Jolene C. Jules came and gave me her name, address and even her Facebook page and other web pages like that. I had everything I needed about her, everything. Including a lot of pictures of her, so there was no way I would EVER mistake her for another woman, right?’

 

Moe nodded.

 

‘The girl I found in Jolene’s new apartment in San Diego was white, brunette, tall, nice rack and defiant attitude. Even after I did a quick yet efficient job on her she wasn’t scared nor anything like that as I questioned her, and looked at me like I was some cockroach…’

 

‘A roommate that Jules forgot to tell you about?’

 

‘No, ‘Jolene C’.’

 

Moe’s face said everything…

 

‘She had a lot of documents with her, all with the right numerations, that attested that she was ‘Jolene C.’, daughter of Abe C. and… I forgot what was her mother’s name. The whole place had pictures of her and none of the ‘Jolene C.’ I was after, and on top of that…’

 

‘Don’t you dare to tease me…’

 

‘I am not teasing you!!! I just wanted to say that I had to leave the place in a hurry with ‘Jolene’ hanging bound and gagged over my left shoulder as a couple of **** shot at us!!!’

 

‘Start from the beginning…’ – said Shelly, who had self appointed herself as the waitress of table where the meeting of the two old friends was happening, and was standing at their side wearing a flimsy green & blue micro-bikini while waiting for their ‘orders’.

 

‘It was a Wednesday night, she was out doing something like watching a movie in a theater or… Her building had only four floors and a way too easy to be broken lock in its back door; I went to her apartment and waited inside her closet. You know, it’s never good to be on sight when they come back, they might not be alone and their phones (and those of whoever might be with them) might be within reach if not being used. So I waited inside the closet and, around 11 PM she arrived, talking with somebody on the phone. She really did not look like a girl who’s desperate to have her HER back, she was way too calm and composed and (from the little I managed to hear) was talking about some business that was in motion and would grant her 50K. That was odd for me and I was already starting to think that I had broke into the wrong apartment, that can happen…, but as soon as she finished her call I got out of the closet pointing my gun at her. She tried to shriek and I handgagged her as I pressed the gun against her belly, she calmed down immediately and was eyeing me with one of the best set of begging eyes I had ever seen. So I thought ‘I’ll pretend that I am a burglar and I’ll rob her stuff before I’ll go to Jolene’s place’. She had removed her shoes, skirt and shirt before I appeared and was soon lying on her belly over her own bed, wearing her bra and panties and a lot of duct tape. So I, the ‘burglar’, grabbed her purse and there it was. Credit cards, SSN, driver’s license and other stuff… all in ‘Jolene C’’s name. But with her picture in them… I did a quick search in the room and confirmed that it was indeed Jolene’s apartment!!! Power bills, tax bills and other stuff all in Jolene’s name, but all the pictures in the room, including the ones in which the ‘real’ Jolene’s parents appeared among other relatives, had the brunette in it. The same pictures of Jolene’s Facebook & Orkut pages, in which the exquisite beauty appeared, but that had been reworked to fit that girl in them. Nice pro job, if I hadn’t seen the originals I could have been fooled…’

 

‘So who was she?’

 

‘‘Jolene C’, that’s all she said before I had to regag her after I KOed her… She tried to yell for help, I handgagged her, she bitted me hard and I did one of those ‘karate chops’ at the base of her skull. After I applied six or five strips over her lips and took care of my hand… she did bite me hard OK?... I started to think about what was happening. A fraud, but of what kind? Who was that girl? Where was the real Jolene? That’s when I heard them…’

 

‘How many?’ – asked Shelly.

 

‘Three. I grabbed the girl (who was starting to come to her senses), and shoved her under the bed. I wasn’t sure of what I was going to do, then my instincts said ‘DUCK!’ and three seconds later the bullets (they were using silencers) flew over my head. They barged into the room and I barged onto them. Those guys were good, pros… and Russians.’

 

Moe looked at his old friend with a weird expression, both he and Tombstone were of Polish ancestry and had a strong prejudice against anything that was Russian (except the Swan Lake ballet), so Moe did enjoy Tombstone recollection of how he had beaten the trio. But one of them had managed to grab a phone/radio and yelled ‘Come! Come! Come!’ (before he had his jaw broken in two places) and Tombstone could clearly hear the (heavily armed) reinforcements as they zeroed on Jolene’s apartment.

 

He grabbed the now awakened and very furious girl, threw her over his shoulder and went to the fire escape. A few faces appeared as the window and clearly saw him (and the guys shooting at him) as he ran from the building. ‘Jolene’ was now almost freed from her tape bonds, and tried her best to get free of his grasp. And she didn’t punch like a little girl. She could go to one of those shows in which karate fighters broke piles of tiles!!!

 

And actually fractured one of Tombstone’s ribcages…

 

‘No way!!!’

 

‘She has a third… degree/level in her black belt…’

 

‘So you know who’s she?’

 

‘You want me to skip parts or tell from the beginning to the end?’

 

After a quick exchange of insults, that ended as soon as Shelly (Moe’s protégée and another member of the exclusive group of Tombstone female friends that were not one of his ex-girlfriends/sex partners) got closer of the pair and, while bending over and showing them her cleavage that the red bikini barely conceived, simply placed a hand over a shoulder of each man (who were sitting in front of each other at one of the tables of the now nearly empty joint) and with a melodic voice said ‘Stop’, and both men obeyed.

 

She then ‘asked’ Tombstone to resume.

 

‘I don’t like to punch girls, to really punch them. But that fractured bone was hurting a lot, so I practically threw her on the ground and before she could recover or anything… she was out cold. I was in an alley and my van was parked about forty yards from me, so I grabbed her in my arms, ran to the van and threw her in the back, then I got behind the wheel and drove backwards a couple of blocks. I parked, went to the back of the van and this time I made sure that she wasn’t going to be able to free herself. Tape and rope, on her legs and arms and torso and a lot of both! She awoke by the time I had finished and was sitting on the driver’ seat. I needed to know who she was and what was going on, so I called Xandra and asked her to get in touch with one of her friends… one of those BDSM folks. OK, as much as Xandra is good to deal with the girls I ask her help to deal with; sometimes we need some elaborated help. This lady, who goes by the name of Madam Hyacinth, is a well respect psychologist and an even more respected dominatrix. She could turn you into one of her ‘little kitty kittens’ (as she call them) just like that…!’

 

And Tombstone snapped his fingers as Moe cursed him, how he dared to say such a thing to ‘his’ Shelly! Shelly on the other hand was really amused with the idea…

 

‘No serious… she once turned a girl that, even after six full days of ‘treatment’ from my and Xandra’s part, was still stubbornly refusing to tell us where she had hidden the videos she had made of her ‘encounters’ with HER, and was really cornering us since we had few (and forbidden) options to use on her..., well she turned her into a meekly ‘French maid’ of her second house… which is located in San Diego...’

 

Moe and Shelly looked at each other and then at him.

 

‘I went to visit her, when I was dealing with another stubborn beauty and needed a few new ideas, and guess who was kneeling on the floor besides her mahogany ‘throne’, wearing a revealing black and white PVC ‘uniform’ (besides one of those weird harness red ballgags and a lot of chains and locks) and holding a tray with a jar of water above her head? She usually keeps the girls she helps me to deal with all to herself (and her friends) for at least a month! And the girls are not brainwashed or…’

 

Shelly was really smiling a way too devious smile for Moe’s tastes now.

 

He slapped her exposed behind and told her to do some accountability stuff, Roja was appointed as her replacement. But Shelly did the accountability as she spoke with Xandra (who finally was allowed to get in touch with her friends by her doctor) on the phone and got a more graphic account of the parts of the event that she was allowed to talk about to Shelly and all the other girls that were at the building at the moment (save for Roja).

 

Later Moe would have to cut a deal with the girls in exchange for their silence, to work at Moe’s and not know about the vast majority of its clientele was a clear demonstration of hysterical blindness, so all girls knew better than to start to talk about what they saw or heard within those walls, but this time it was different.

 

‘So Xandra called Madam Hyacinth and three hours later (I was going to pay a huge extra for her help) she and Xandra were working on the girl. Strictly technically speaking what they did was torture ‘Jolene’, but of the ‘erotic’ kind not the gruesome one…’

 

‘Like in those BDSM stories?’

 

‘More or less…’

 

It was obvious for everybody that Tombstone had trouble to deal with that part of Xandra’s personality. He could understand bind and gag and take pictures of girls, ‘play’ with them every so often like she did was a bit different. Yet, he and Xandra had been living together for the good part of the past two years. He had never had a relationship with a woman that had lasted that long, always was considering proposing to her and all the usual drama.

 

But there was this part of his… girl (soon to be wife?) that he could not understand no matter how much he thought about it.

 

‘OK… Don’t need to tell me… did they ‘break’ her…’

 

‘After two full days of sexual ‘teasing’ and ‘torment’ she was still holding on. I had no clue at all as to whom were those Russians, Jules told me (as we pretended to watch the horses at the races) that SHE wanted to know what was going on, who was the fake ‘Jolene’, and most importantly where was the real one so I decided to get in here and relax… it wasn’t working, wasn’t it?’ – He asked a bit out loud.

 

Moe, Roja, Phil and other two bouncers (all ex-cons) shook their heads in synchrony…

 

‘So there was I, trying to put out of my head the last image that I had of Xandra, Madam Hyacinth and ‘Jolene’, when Bugs came by and started to talk about this job he had once, a miserable one in which everything went from wrong to worst after he snatched the girl who had just broke into the house of the girl who was sleeping with her boyfriend, Betty & Veronica in a more serious approach. In the end he had to flee a town in North Dakota with his clothes and 22 bucks in dimes… and nothing else. Then he started to talk and talk and… I just wanted him to shut up. So I told him what was going on…’

 

‘And he?’

 

‘Recognized what was going on with me… with my client, as something that had happened last year back in Canada. Same stuff, powerful politician woman is a closet lesbian who is having trouble with a girl she was ‘dating’. The Canuck lady went to confront her ‘belle’ and found herself face to face with this mysterious lady, who had nothing to do with her estranged girlfriend (physically or otherwise) but was posing as her, had all the proper documents in the name of the now missing girl and who (after a little fight that ended up with the mid 50’s lady tied up in the buff over the same bed in which she had spend so much time…) warned the politician that; if she ever wanted to see the girl again and not be implied in her disappearance, rape/torture and murder; she’ll have to play along. So, for a couple of weeks the politician complied as she received daily proofs that the girl was alive and well, all the same stuff: Pics of a bound and gagged girl sitting on a chair with some newspapers of the day over her lap. Through the politician’s connections they (the gang of kidnappers) got what they wanted (whatever it was), the fake mistress disappeared after locking the politician inside her own bedroom’s closet, and the next morning the missing girl was found bound to one of the lounge chairs by the pool of the politician’s manor…’

 

‘That kid… He might be a little too anxious and not very dexterous… but what a memory he has! But what were those questions he was making to you?’

 

‘He wanted to know what I knew about HER connections; what could be so important that that gang, of which he didn’t knew nothing/zilch/nada about, would play the same stunt again; if it was or not some sort of political blackmail case. Stuff that I couldn’t and wouldn’t answer. The key was the unknown girl posing as ‘Jolene’. So he remembered a story he had heard about Harper. About one time when, while working for the Duchess she and four guys had found themselves in a tight spot. They had been betrayed by this wacko who wanted to get his revenge against the woman whom he blamed for his father’s arrest. They barely managed to escape the police and, when they got to his place, he wasn’t there. But his little 21 years little sister was. She was as nuts as he, and did want that her brother got the family’s revenge against one of the Duchess’s best representatives…’

 

‘So…?’

 

‘They threatened the girl to tell them where her brother was, they even punched her a little… and nothing. Then Harper punched the two guys that had punched the girl and expelled all men from the room. She was locked alone with the girl for about twenty minutes. When she opened the door and let them inside the girl was in a dreamy state, more dreaming awake than anything else… and was spilling everything that they wanted to know. As she did so Harper (who had stripped her naked completely) was roping her to a sturdy chair. From what they told me they later needed to cut the ropes in order to free her, it was like a ‘Gordian’ knot with a naked girl in the middle. She made the black girl smell something and she crashed back down on Earth too quickly, she realized what she had did and before she either started to insult them or ask Harper how she had done ‘that’, Harper shoved a lemon inside her mouth and taped it in place. They managed to save their comrade and kill the traitor, and left the girl for the police to find…’

 

‘Harper is a hypnotist?’

 

‘Sort of, I don’t know, she was reluctant into admitting what she could do when I made a call to check on the girls… And ‘Jolene’ answered…’

 

‘What?’

 

Jolene… had managed to free one arm, she grabbed Xandra and put her in a strangle hold or something like that. Xandra can’t recall what she did anyway…’

 

‘She’s alright? Xandra...’

 

‘Oh, she IS alright!!! Don’t worry about her... now. But ‘Jolene’ threatened Xandra’s life and Madam Hyacinth had to comply. And as I was talking with the woman she sent me this picture of what, she claimed, was the then ‘current’ status of Xandra and Hyacinth ...’

 

In the picture both Xandra (gorgeous as usual, even with all that rope encircling her body) and ‘Hyacinth’ (a very common woman in her mid-thirties) were stark naked, Xandra lying on her back (and partially on her side too) on the floor and Hyacinth kneeling at her left, they were at a badly lit corner of some room looking straight at the camera. There were leather bands around their arms (and in Hyacinth’s case it was possible to see some on her legs) and torsos (a lot more on Xandra than in Hyacinth), plus a huge black ballgag inside (and out) each woman’s mouths. Xandra was really scared, not crying nor in the verge of it but really scared, while Hyacinth was eerily calm…

 

‘Oh, this, her behavior? She had already deduced that, as mad as ‘Jolene’ was with them, they were safe. ‘Jolene’ was a pro; she would not kill them nor hurt them. If she had a chance she’ll give them a taste (or more) of their own ‘medicine’. And guess what ‘Jolene’ was demanding that I did ‘if you ever want to see them again’?’

 

‘?’

 

‘I had to cash a lot of money ASAP, 3 or 4 hundred K, and hand it to her!’

 

‘Oh come on!’

 

‘Yeah, a trap. A more than obvious one. In the background of her call I could hear some car noises, which meant that she was driving Madam Hyacinth’s cars. Xandra and its owner were locked in the trunk (which was not big enough for that). So I agreed with her demands and said that it was going to take me a couple of hours before I could get the money (as if I have that much), and Harper asked me if there was any picture of that ‘Jolene’ with me…’

 

‘And you?’

 

‘I handed her my cellphone and she saw a few pics that I had sent to, HER (via Jules), in order to check if SHE knew who ‘Jolene’ was. And Harper recognized the babe, and soon we were outta here ASAP and she’s talking on the phone with Dread Debs and the local representative of the Duchess and, at some point, with the Duchess herself!’

 

‘That big?’

 

‘Bigger than you can think! But… we were on the car, right out there in the parking lot, and Harper said that we were to go to my ranch. Bugs said ‘Why?’ and she said ‘Because there are some unwanted visitors setting a deadly trap for him, the sooner we deal with them the sooner we will learn more about them and where they might have stashed Xandra and the others’. And she was right; there were some guys at the ranch waiting for me…’

 

And Tombstone told how he, Bugs and Harper had dealt with four heavily armed men and women (two couples) that, hoping that he would return home to pick the ransom money from a hidden safe, were just waiting to gun him down. The fight (and shootout) had started at the house and went to the hills surrounding it. In the end they had one dead and three captives in the back of the house, and one of them was none other than Dead Eyes Illyana!

 

‘The sniper she-devil from Vladivostok?’

 

‘Herself! Tall, leggy and lean, body of a model and eyes of a dead monster, in the pictures I had seen of her she had shorter hair; now it was kept in a single braid that went way down to the small of her back. We (me and Bugs) had her and the couple strip down completely and restrained with some of Xandra’s BDSM paraphernalia. Armbinders, that’s how she calls them, plus a lot of stuff with a lot of locks. Meanwhile Harper went to check around, and found two incendiary bombs that were made to ‘eliminate’ any evidence of whatever had happened that night at the ranch. By then she had contacted the Duchess again and I was going to get some reinforcements. It was no longer about me or the missing Jolene or Xandra or Madam Hyacinth, it was about the Duchess and some ‘old acquaintances’ of her from Moscow. But it was obvious that, unless Harper did her ‘magic trick’, we were not going to take anything from our prisoners. They were all former spetsnaz…’

 

‘Russian special units?’

 

‘Yes. Of course we only learned that later, but it was obvious that they were… rough. So Harper checks on Illyana, then on the man (never got his name), then on the other woman and smiles at me. ‘She’ll do’ she says and grabs the naked package and threw it over her shoulder. She goes inside, as the girl over her shoulder makes some angry noises and looks at her fallen companions as if to say ‘I won’t talk!!!’. Thirty minutes later Harper and the girl are back, but the girl has vacant eyes, sports no gag (nor anything for that matter) and is walking on her own. By then we had gagged our two captives. The girl walks until she stands in front of me and delivers everything that I wanted to know. From her full name (Andreyeva something) to who are they, to whom they work for and where (most likely) they are keeping Xandra, Hyacinth and the real Jolene. That’s when Harper asked for the help of some people that was hanging in here too…’

 

‘Yeah, I remember… but why did she did that? Hadn’t she contacted the Duchess…’

 

‘Because the twelve guys and gals that arrived at my ranch a few minutes later were en route to there, and the place the gal indicated was not ten blocks from here…’

 

‘Where??!!!’

 

‘The Korrtman’s facility up the back street. While en route to the ranch ‘my’ reinforcement met Illyana’s. So, by the time Maurice and Kemmet got themselves on the roofs of the buildings flanking that facility from the East (Maurice) and West (Kemmet) and aimed their guns at it (just to check on the building), there was a lot of activity! They (the Russians) wanted to know what was going on at my ranch and why their operatives were not getting in touch with them. They saw Xandra, the real Jolene and an unknown Korean/Japanese girl being dragged (naked, cuffed and gagged) to inside a van by four burly men, one of them climbed in with them (to properly restrain them with rolls of duct tape) and another took the wheel and took off. By their estimation there were about twelve to fifteen people inside the facility, most of them armed…’

 

And Tombstone described how the Duchess agents (plus him and Bugs) had, with nearly no time at all to better prepare themselves for the job, stormed the facility. There had not been any serious casualty, they confiscated a small arsenal, had twelve computers (actually ten, two got shot by its user as soon as the fight started and were more like a challenge for the Duchess’ technicians than anything else) to check on and four captives that they rescued.

 

‘Those dames… they were all tucked inside a small cell. Save for Madam Hyacinth, who was naked, they were wearing a white pair of panties and a white T-shirt. All four were blindfolded and gagged with duct tape, and roped well enough that they could only kneel on the ground. The other three captives were sleeping thanks to an injection they had received, so a gal called Rosanna (who was in charge of everything) ordered that they were sent somewhere to receive all medical support necessary, and if (after they woke up) it was found out that the Duchess wouldn’t be able to profit with their captivity, they were to be set free. From what I know, whatever was the reason that made them be kidnapped by the Russians, it was good enough for Deborah herself take charge of them…’

 

‘Heard something about it… They are all linked to those Friendship’s fellas, secretaries and/or mistresses of the Californian leaders of them or the likes…’

 

‘All three of them? Well, those Russians were surely doing well their job…’

 

‘Which was?’

 

‘They were the scouts/spearheads of a Russian mob organization. Don’t know much about them but, by the looks of it, we’ll be hearing a lot about them soon enough. Suffice to say is that, after the Duchess moved from Europe to here, they got all her ‘clients’ and market. They had not to fight (much) for it, and did not fought her. But they are here, invading HER territory, and they want to stay and conquer… anyway, they were here to get info and more info about potential rivals, law enforcement agencies and so on. She, of course, knew very well that they were intending to do so, not that they were already doing it!’

 

‘She must have gotten really mad…’

 

‘She was well composed when she arrived there…’

 

‘The Duchess was there? You saw her?’

 

‘In the flesh, and before you ask… her hair is that red. Blood ruby red. But she, Debs and ten more heavily armed guys and gals arrived about twenty minutes after we had ‘secured’ the place. And she went straight to a man in his late forties, brown hair with grey entries and a big nose, and who was posing as just an assistant accountant until that moment. They knew each other. She asked for Harper’s help, and when Harper, who was talking with Madam Hyacinth as she was recovering from her ordeal in a very composed way, got closer to him he said something weird, a question, like ‘Murr…packuda?’ or the likes.’

 

‘Actually it was Muru Pacu Uhuda…’

 

She was standing right next to them, having materialized out of thin air one moment before. Looking just like another mid-thirties black executive gal, with some grocery store’s bag in one of her hands. But only if they had not heard the stories, the weird stories about this weird African lady, they would have fell for her well crafted disguise.

 

‘It means ‘The Ones Who are Hiding in the Shadows’, but that’s an old name. In these days we prefer ‘Gu’ununga’ (‘Avenging winds’). Can I sit?’

 

‘Sure…’

 

Roja brought a root beer for the newcomer as Moe, silently, admonished the bouncers for having let her walk to the table without being bothered. But they were as perplexed as he was about it. Harper drank her beer as Tombstone resumed.

 

‘Well, whatever that means it made it clear for the guy, ‘Fyodor’, how the Duchess had found out about the location of his base. What exactly you are Harper…’

 

‘A former spetsnaz of my country back in Africa, and with all the training I got I had to find a use for it. And by the way, the Duchess would like you guys to tell anybody else that asks about me that I am some ‘former military specialist unit’ (as I really am) but from this country. OK?’ – Both men nodded – ‘Look, it’s not like you’re dead if you tell the world that she has me in her payroll, but… SHE’d be unpleased with you if you did that, so would I and, in the end, you’ll get some jail time and financial ruin… for starters…’

 

‘Don’t you dare to threaten…’

 

‘I am not… My secret was blown away that night and I spent days trying to make my former superiors allow that I… stayed within the Duchess organization. They allowed me, as long as my former occupation is not made way too public… I’ve been talking with everybody that was within ‘ear range’ of Fyodor when he called me that, and you were one of the last ones, Tombstone. It’s not a treat, it’s a fact. Keep calling me that…’

 

‘We got it… but how did you did that?’

 

‘Did what?’

 

‘When she nodded to Fyodor that she was… that, the guy got frantic and I and another guy called Hank H. had to drag him kicking and screaming to a windowless room in the back of the building and threw him in there. Harper here got inside and locked herself in with him. Nine, ten more minutes of the guy screaming foul names in more than one foreign language and then silence, for nearly two hours there was but silence coming from that locked room.’

 

‘Though nut to crack, but I did it eventually, and I won’t gonna tell you my secrets…’

 

‘Well, while she was doing whatever she was doing with him, Deborah and others were making questions and checking the computers and other files. They got about two or three addresses (that were visited less than one hour later) but were waiting for Harper to finish with Fyodor, especially after Hyacinth told us that, before Xandra and the real Jolene (and the third gal) were moved out of the building, there was this Italian guy (she said a name that made the Duchess raise an eyebrow in a very disgusted way) that spoke in Italian with their Russian captors. Madam Hyacinth’s name is Annamaria, and she’s from Naples, so she understood what the guy said. Whatever she told the Duchess and Deborah made them order that all personnel available in the whole state were put on alert. Then, after two long hours, Harper opens the door of that room and out comes Fyodor…’

 

And Tombstone told him how the Russian leader spilled everything that was of the interest of the Duchess in his dazed state, names and addresses and contacts and moles… every little thing. But, of course, by then it was way too obvious for the other members of his organization that something was wrong with him and they were trying to get in touch, they had already sent about a dozen text messages to his private cellphone.

 

That’s when the Duchess ‘suggested’ that he, Tombstone, posed as the one behind the daring strike on the building. So the next time the cellphone ringed…

 

‘I said that I had Fyodor and wanted to exchange him for Xandra and Jolene. The guy on the other line made all kinds of treats against me and Xandra, described how I was going to die and all that. I said, ‘Well then, I think I am going to call all my old buddies that works for the Duchess and tell them about these Russian dudes that I found in her backyard…’, and hung up. He called back immediately and started to talk about where we would make the exchange and when. Deborah handed me a sheet of paper with the instructions, it had to be far away from LA as possible (so they could prepare their strikes against the Russians while they were busy with me), and Harper grabbed the phone and told him about the perfect place. You’re not going to believe where the exchange happened!’

 

‘?’

 

‘There’s this old west’s ghost town called Jamesonville. It’s in Riverside County near the border with Arizona and it’s a bunch of ruined buildings. One of them is a bit… detached from the others, it was a storage house or barn (or whatever) that stands in the middle of nothing. Even if somebody managed to hide in one of the buildings of the town and had one of those mega-potent sniper rifle that can kill somebody who’s miles away… that was going to be a huge lucky shot! And, of course, before the exchange both parties would send people to check if there was somebody with a potent sniper rifle hiding in the city…’

 

‘And the exchange happened…?’

 

‘At noon. ‘Round eleven both Bugs and me checked the town and found nothing suspicious and we went to the… let’s call it a barn. So we went to the barn which was bare and empty (just its walls and roof remained and not much of them), and had two entrances. One faced the south and the other the north. We (Me, Bugs, Deborah and five of her men) were at the southern entrance and they were to arrive and position themselves at the northern one. About 12:05 they arrived in three black SUVs. But before anyone got out of them Deborah made a call. I don’t understand Russian and she did not translated it to me, probably ‘cause if she did so not even she would be able to stop me from killing those guys, but according to Xandra (who was right in between two rows of heavily armed ‘thugs in black’) the guy who answered the call in a very private line first became livid, then enraged, then he swore like a Russian sailor and finally ordered that the explosive they attached to her body…’

 

‘THE WHAT????!!!!’

 

‘They had taped some very potent explosive3 between her shoulder blades, then they had taped up her arms together behind her back in a very vicious way and then they taped her arms to her torso in a way that, even if I ordered her to turn around a few times (for whatever reasons I might have) I would not see it. Remember, they were not sure if I was really behind the attack against their spearhead agents, they were truly hoping that it was just me, but if it really was or not the case I was NOT supposed to be alive by 12:05 PM. So I would be there at the southern entrance with Fyodor, I would send him to them and they would send Xandra to me and when she got close enough…’

 

It took a while for Moe to stop cursing…

 

‘So they cut all that tape that they had put over her torso and arms, removed that stuff from her back, retied her with some mean and quick sailors knots (but did not touched the multilayered gag – that stuff was that thick! – that they had wrapped around all her lower face) and then they got out of their SUVs with all guns drawn and aimed at us…’

 

‘Don’t do that face and cheap thriller with me boy…’

 

‘And Deborah does another call with her phone and says ‘Call him folks’, and hungs up. And in the next moment the guy who had answered Deborah’s first call receives another one. And another. And another. And one last one. All came from the private lines of the four major representatives of those Russians in the US. All the brains behind the whole invasion… and all were ‘a little tied up at the moment’ to talk with the guy…’

 

‘It was that good?’

 

‘The guy didn’t knew what to do! His boss, who had ordered him to kill me and Xandra…’

 

‘And Jolene, the real one?’

 

‘He’ll get there… don’t rush him…’

 

OK, now that was too much thought Moe. Demoted Debbie! The real one! And neither him, nor Tombstone nor anybody in room (save for Harper) had sensed her as she entered the room and approached the table where they were sitting… Who were those women?

 

‘A Budweiser’s please…’ – and she sat at the table as if she was being expected. Moe looked at Tombstone who just raised his shoulders as he made a ‘what can we do?’ face.

 

‘So… the guy’s boss was tied up as everybody else in what, to the rest of the world, was just an interstate carrier business main office downtown Anaheim. The two in charge of the finances of the whole operation? Tied up and gagged together (they were a couple who lived in a fancy house in San Francisco). There was also a guy and a gal in LA, in different places of the town, that disappeared that day. By the way…’ – and he looked straight at Deborah without flinching one moment – ‘…how come only the assault on the carrier business’ office ended up in the news? What have you done for the others…’

 

‘That office had a legitimate business but was also the ‘operations HQ’ of them. The boss figured that we could make both the Friendship and the FBI interested in those dudes if we made a loud and clear open operation. A real showtime. Two dozens of heavily armed and hooded men and women barging into a building aiming the company whose offices took the first three of its seven floors, four dozens of innocent bystanders ending up zip tied and tape gagged (save for the children ‘cause none of them wanted to fall under the Italian lady’s wrath), dozens of files and filing cabinets and the likes turned upside during the search of documents that, afterwards, none of the employees of the company that were not taken by the attackers could precise what were them… And the kidnapped employees? Russians or from ex-Soviet republics the majority of them, and some had (contrary to what they had said to the immigration authorities) criminal files back in Europe! Of course the FBI, the Interpol and the Friendship wants (now) to know what happened and why it happened and who are those who kidnapped and those who were kidnapped!’

 

‘But the others?’

 

‘They’ll be heard from… eventually…’

 

‘Ooookay, so you were at the southern entrance of that barn (or whatever), they got Xandra with them at the northern one and she ordered that some phone calls were made…’

 

‘Well, the guy had tried (and had ordered that others tried as well) to get in touch with his boss, and suddenly he realizes that the heads of the operations he’s in are now under the power of those he, eventually, would be ordered to provide for their killings. And to make things way worst for him…’ – and Tombstone looked at Harper as if she was from out of this world. Which was not far from the truth in Moe’s eyes.

 

‘I told you. As soon as I told his boss where the exchange was going to take place, after I identified myself as one of Xandra’s many friend (which is, NOW, true), I went there with a friend right away and hid myself in the barn. We dug a hole, I went in there and she covered me with part of the soil we had dig, the rest she took outside so there would not be any ‘suspicious mound’ inside the barn. And she did her best to make the spot where I was buried not clearly visible to any casual glance…’

 

‘But how did she manage to breath?’

 

Harper grabbed the grocery store’s bag and put it on the table, Moe opened it, and there was a blue snorkel inside it. A very dirty (with soil) snorkel…

 

‘So…’

 

‘I wasn’t that buried so my phone (with one of those everlasting batteries) wouldn’t work, and I had one of those fancy earphones connected so it, and for seven hours me and my friend, well we talked and talked… and after a while she got picked up at a roadside place (that we will not tell you guys where it is or what it is) by one of the vans which apparently took Tombstone and Debs and the others to the barn…’

 

‘Me and Bugs went there in my own car, Debs and her men arrived in two vans, but one came ten minutes after the first… the curly black girl she’s talking about was in that one.’

 

‘And…?’

 

‘And all of a sudden she, who got very precise indications of where the Russians and Xandra where and what was the disposition of the group, simply burst out of the ground as Debs and the Russian in charge where walking towards each other. She had managed to convince him to have a ‘face to face’ talk instead of simply yell at each other. The guy fell for it, and walked towards her. They were at about twenty feet from each other, and ALL eyes and attentions were converged on them, when out of the ground comes Harper!!! To give the Russians some credit two of them did manage to recover enough to aim their guns at Harper and fire, but she was wearing a full bulletproof vest, pants and boots included besides the helmet (one of them aimed his gun at the legs and feet), and they were not holding heavy weapons so she got the impact, felt it, but it wasn’t enough to slow her down as she jumped over Xandra. Oh, yes…, Harper was holding something in both hands, and in the short time she jumped from the ground and run to the nearby Xandra (who wasn’t more than seven feet from where Harper was buried) she unveiled it as some large ‘blanket’ (which was also bulletproof) and she covered Xandra’s body with it completely, and Xandra was now under Harper before they could do anything. One of the Russian did try to stop her with his arms but one of Debs’ men shot him and now the Russians had few leverage against us. They could not shoot at Xandra, she would feel the impact (supposing that they managed to hit her and not Harper, which they were good enough to) but that’s it, and if they dared to try me and the others would shoot at them and we would end up shooting at each other. But the guy in charge raised his hand and said some Russian word for ‘Stand still!’, and the guys did it (except the one that had been shot at).’

 

‘And…’

 

‘Whatever was the deal he and Debs reached, he gave an order and all his men returned to their SUVs. And then she waved her hand at me and I run to where Xandra (still covered by that ‘blanket’) and Harper (who was now holding a gun in her hand) where. I don’t know what they talked and talked in the middle of the barn, we’ll be hear of that sooner than we may think if I am not mistaken…’ – Debs merely pretended to be appraising Roja, to the point she stood up and asked the girl’s phone number and Roja, who knew better, gave it but with such a trembling voice that Debs just smiled and took her by the hand to a few feet away from the table, talked to her until she managed to get the dyed red Mexican girl smile and even laugh. Then she remade the question and whispered something in her right ear, which made Roja stand where she was with a very puzzled expression, and returned to the table… and then she ‘asked’ Tombstone to continue! – ‘…what did you say to her?’

 

‘I just asked for a private dance at one of my girl’s place, told her that I knew that she is not ‘like me’ and that she would not have to fear anything from me or my friend, but…’

 

‘But…?’ – asked Moe in an obvious non-friendly way. Regardless of whom she was NO ONE laid a hand in one of his girls and got away with that.

 

‘Don’t worry Moe… it’s just that my friend is a bit of an exclusivist with a very generous valet. Even if Roja does a very good routine, for which she’ll get a week’s pay if she does BTW, but even if she does a routine that good for me and my friend… that will not prevent her from spending the rest of the night locked inside a luxury room, with cable TV and all for her to use and abuse, stringently roped up from head to toe. ‘The only way’, according my friend, to prevent ME from inviting the girls I bring to excite HER to…’

 

‘I got it! You big… hold on a moment Tombstone…’

 

Moe stood up and went to talk to Roja, he reassured her that, no matter WHO was Debs’ ‘friend’ and no matter how powerful Debs was, they would not have their way if she did not wanted to. And then Roja told him how much she was going to get if she went with Debs to Debs friend’s house and Moe’s eyes bulged and he whistled.

 

‘Your friend…’

 

‘Is a rich gal, who uses her ‘jealousy of me’ to fulfill the second part of her fantasy. Tie up and gag the ‘straight’& hetero stripper who made a great routine, and only those who made a great routine, for me and her… alright… the room (in which she’ll lock Roja in) has about twenty hidden micro-cameras. And she has a very professional studio in the basement of her house where she edits the footage of the ‘captive’s plights’ as she calls them…’

 

‘The double.’

 

‘Excuse me?’

 

‘Tell your friend that she better pays Roja the double or I’ll spread the word…’

 

‘Over half the strip joints in town know about my friend, Moe. They shouldn’t… since in the morning, after freeing the girl and giving her a royal treatment, she shows the contract the strippers have to sign as soon as they arrive (with a confidentiality clause of course) in which the girl gives up any right she might have upon the footage. But…, for the footage alone, she gets twice she got for the routine… and they always end up telling about it to a friend in the business, hence the fact that my friend’s so well known, except in here.’

 

Moe was flabbergasted. With all that money… he was going to lose Roja! And Roja was one of his best strippers! As good as Xandra! Without the duo…

 

‘Hey… Moe! Roja will probably buy some clothes and some new TV or the likes, we know her don’t we?, and when the ropemarks fades she’ll show up for work… Wanna that I finish the story?’ – Moe nodded – ‘Well I cut Xandra loose, she grabbed me as if I alone had saved her and told me what the Russians had planned to do with us, and Debs pointed her gun at me as I stood up to teach the Russian guy a lesson. She told the guy to leave and one of her assistants (a pair of petite brunettes, not twins, wearing black suit business who really looked out of place) to tend Xandra’s needs. The girl was a registered nurse and gave Xandra’s first help as we moved her to one of the Duchess facilities nearby. Don’t even bother to think of asking me where is it, me and Xandra were blindfolded (she clenched her hands around my left one when while the blindfolds were over our eyes) when we got there and only when we were inside a large garage we were allowed to remove them. There was a doctor and two other nurses waiting for Xandra. They grabbed her, put her on a stretcher and off they went with her through a door that I was not allowed to pass through. Instead, Debs told me where they were keeping the real Jolene, of whom I had almost completely forgot about, and that they were keeping two other persons in which they were very interested so if I wanted to make some money of the whole episode… because Xandra would most likely be sedated and would rest for the rest of the day, and only when the DOCTOR (and not Debs herself) allowed me to meet her is that it would happen. And I needed to punch somebody really bad…’

 

‘So…’

 

‘It was one of those self storage units that rent places for people stash their stuff. But that one had a security system a bit too good for the price they billed their clients. There were about four corridors with twenty (ten on each side of the corridor) 15x20 feet storage areas in each of the three floors of the building. Almost all were rented; to give the business a legitimate façade, save for the last two corridors of the ground floor, the ones closer to the back of the building where the real reasons of the existence could be loaded and unloaded to and from whatever ways they were brought or taken to there. We stormed the place and I had the fight I wanted to have, that I needed to have when two of the guards of the place revealed themselves as former marines or seals or whatever, and tried to earn their pay. By the time I had finished with them they were in serious need of medical help. And the whole place was ours. There were nine/ten clients of them that suddenly found themselves locked in the floors of their units, since the doors that lead to the stairway automatically locked themselves and the elevators were deactivated when one of the guards hit the ‘Emergency’ button. But no instantaneous message was sent to outside the building. And we did not have too much time since more than one honest client was calling 911. So we rushed to the last row of units and started to open them as fast as we could…’

 

‘Wait a moment… are you trying to tell me that YOU was the ‘Big American Misha’ that some of those women who were rescued by the police just want to be sanctified?’

 

‘Guilty as charged… but why did they called me that?’

 

Moe made a funny face, Debs and Harper laughed and Tombstone kept his genuine ‘questioning face’ on as the others started to find a bit harder to not roll on the floor laughing of the hilarious situation, and to make things worst Tombstone knew very well that his massive frame was intimidating…

 

‘ANYWAY…’ – started Tombstone with an unfriendly face – ‘In the first three there was nothing, in the next two all those guns that were in the news hours later, in the next two nothing again, then we break the lock of one unit, start to roll-up the metal door and then… well, the girls started… you know… they started to…’

 

‘They ‘mpppphed’…, gagged mewls of hope, raw terror and who knows what else, all mixed up. By the time Tombstone finished to open that unit a light went on and we could see them. All fifteen of them, ready to deliver so to speak…’

 

‘Bound and gagged in the buff?’

 

‘Straight from Vladivostok and ready to be shipped to their brothels all over the West coast and Bible Belt area. The way they were treated, I still wish that I was dumb enough to think that I could return to where we had dumped the six guards of the place and teach them a lesson that they would never forgot! But I am not dumb… So me and the others quickly grabbed a girl each and removed her gag, and each one of them said something in a language that we did not understood since it was some Russian dialect, when it was Russian. Most of them were whites and all barely above 18. They started to beg all sort of things in their languages, Harper turned to me and said ‘Go look for them’ as she and the other two women of our group (of ten) started to undo their bonds and tend to them. Another deposit of weapons, three vacant places and then… jackpot!’

 

‘Jolene?’

 

‘And the Japanese twins that were so important for Debs and her boss. They had tied all three together kneeling on a mattress and facing each other, some sort of punishment for one of them’s attempt to escape during their daily bathroom breaks… We had no time for anything and we simply cut the ropes that squashed them together, then I grabbed two of them (Jolene and one of the twins) and one of the guys grabbed the last one and we run to the exit. As we passed in front of the unit where they were stashing the other girls I barely registered that they were all free, calm and arming themselves with metal bars and brass knuckles that somebody had given to them…’

 

And Harper just smiled as she answered.

 

‘Unlike you I knew exactly what else we would find in there, I had read the manifest of the two sets of girls that they were keeping in there, how they should be kept and treated and such. I knew all their names and faces, and I will remember that forever. When you told me to go with him, boss, I knew that I had the chance to find and free at least one of the two large groups of girls, so I grabbed what they would be in need of very desperately, freed them all as I tried to say something other than their name (and somehow I managed to achieve the goal to make them believe that YOU, Tombstone, was the boss of us all) and gave them the stuff. They did not kill any of those ******, did they?’

 

‘Anyway… I gave Jolene to the very same doctor who was caring for Xandra’s needs, the Japanese twins went straight to a chopper (I heard it, I was blindfolded not deafened), and couldn’t care less if I could or not see Xandra at the moment, and tried to go through that door no matter what. One of them…’ – and he pointed at Debs and Harper – ‘Knocked me out cold and they drugged me, when I opened my eyes, three days later, Xandra was on a wheelchair by my side, lecturing me for trying to do things my way the way I did…’

 

‘Xandra is fine, Moe, she’s recovering very well and we managed to take her to a more public place. She asked me to tell you that as soon as the doctors allow her, which is going to happen by the end of this week, she’ll be back. All bills of her treatment will be covered by me and…’ – When he realized that Moe had agreed that he had a good reason for both his behavior and his tardiness in explaining himself, and was now discussing some business deals with Debs related to his silence about what he had just heard, and what he would get in exchange of it, Tombstone stood up and went to talk to the girls and give them the words that Xandra had told him to. Most of the girls were, at least, friends of his fiancée (he had finally did it!) and congratulated him when he told them about the change in the status of his relationship with Xandra. Roja asked him a few things about Debs in private, and he did not told her about exactly what would happen with her that night…

 

Shelly was wearing ‘civilian’ clothes when he got out of the dressing room, she was going to meet Xandra no matter what, and before he could realize Harper was there and was introducing herself as part of the team that had rescued Xandra, and found herself the target of a myriad of questions asked with more speed than the humanly understandable. Harper’s right index finger was pressed against her lips and she calmed down.

 

And remade all the questions, in a more acceptable way, during the trip to the isolated and pricey facility where Xandra was recovering. Xandra’s recovery was so incredible (for the doctors and shrimps) that they asked a lot of questions about her to Tombstone and Shelly.

 

Only when dinner time was almost ending is that the trio managed to get out of the place.

 

Tombstone received Jolene, to whom the doctors had made the job of convincing her to leave his client alone and move on with her life for him, wrapped up for present.

 

She was wearing black trousers and a white tank top and was cuffed (hands in front), blindfolded and gagged with elastoplasts (and some bandage as packing) and was placed in between Shelly and Harper in the back of his car. Minutes after they reached the highway the trembling girl was allowed to lift her chin from her knee, to see and was ungagged.

 

Harper held her in a caring and friendly hug for the rest of the trip, saying soothing words in her ear that melted whatever resistance that the girl still had. Tombstone’s client lost a voter, and nothing else, with the whole event.

 

After they escorted the girl back to her apartment, with a fat envelope with money to pay for her silence about her ordeal, Tombstone handed the keys of his car to Shelly and Harper (who were going to have dinner together), and went to talk to a guy who wanted to hire his services in a pub. Nor Shelly nor Roja appeared for work during the whole week…

 

 

 

 

MEANWHILE, AT VADIM KORLINEV’S PRIVATE LIBRARY IN BOSTON

 

It was a situation very humiliating, and yet she was handling it admirably.

 

She had been stripped naked, tied up with coarse rope, had her mouth filled to the fullest with some inflatable rubber device, had been tapegagged and then she had been literally crated and delivered back to him, her boss! And there was not a hint of humiliation in her eyes, but then again, when there was any emotion at all in Dead Eyes Illyana’s eyes?

 

She did not have that nickname for nothing…

 

‘<…and that’s everything that I can remember…>’

 

Usually he would simply short her as she lay defenseless inside that crate, but this time it was different. All the agents that he had personally selected had been captured by that Italian noblewoman, if he was not mistaken they would end up appearing in some cell of a small town’s sheriff under some accusation of public indecency or whatever, that was the way the Duchess dealt with those who tried to do what they had tried… AFTER she got every single useful information that they possessed on her database.

 

The drugs that woman had at her disposal were unbelievably good! The ones HE had were not even half as good as! And no one seemed to know where she got them…

 

‘<Illyana.>’

 

‘<Sir…>’

 

‘<In the end you are going to profit from this whole story…>’

 

‘<Sir?>’

 

‘<You were going to be just an agent, and nothing else, in this operation I am coordinating here in this country. But they got all the four names that I had at my disposition to coordinate the enforcement of my orders, the security of the whole operation and my own security as well. And who is the next name on my list to be my second-in-command?>’

 

‘<Me?>’

 

‘<Yes Illyana, you. By now they know, or are en route to, everything that we know. They know or plans and how we were going to achieve them, whose people we were going to use for it and how, our cover-up operations and everything else. I will have to start from the beginning, from the ground, and reach the stars from it!!! Will you help me?>

 

‘<Of course, SIR!!!!> - and she stood up and saluted him as she did back when he was her captain. She was going to be useful. Then he remembered one thing…

 

‘<Oh, Illyana…>’

 

‘<Sir?>’

 

‘<When, and not if, WHEN we are strong enough and powerful enough…>’

 

‘<Yes?>’

 

‘<The woman who made you betray me, that Harper, Rurpere or whatever, find her and deal with her, the way you see fit. Is that clear?>’

 

‘<Perfectly, sir. And thank you, sir…>’

 

 

 

 

Return to the Mordaca index

 

Return to the main index

 

sitemap