Notes and Disclaimers: The characters of Rally, May, Misty and the concept of Gunsmith Cats are the sole property of Kenichi Sonoda, Kodansha, Studio Proteus and probably a few other people. The rest of the characters and all the situations are mine.
This story is a sequel to Back in the Saddle, which I wrote lifetimes ago. I was motivated by the lack of a really good partner for Rally Vincent. Cowboy was everything Rally was, only on the wrong side of the law. After I published it, I got scads of email asking me to write a sequel and bring Cowboy back. I’m sorry it took so long, but here it is! It took me something like 5 years or more to finally complete this story. It went through dozens of iterations. I cut 40 pages from it at one point and rewrote the first third about 20 times. But I’m pretty darn pleased with it now. I hope you enjoy it.
I have to thank the folks at the Fanfic Revolution for the attention they give each story and for the fact that they are the main reason I still write.
And last, but not least – if you enjoy this story please write me and tell me. People have a habit of writing when they are displeased, and not when they are pleased. A simple note to say you enjoyed reading one of my stories is always appreciated. :-)
Now get your racing gloves on and get ready for another ride!
A Fair Fight
The door chimed slightly as the mail carrier left the store. Misty looked despondently down upon a pile of bills. Pushing the envelopes around upon the countertop, she sighed.
“Boring, boring, phone, car, boring, utility, I have no idea…” she muttered as she scanned the source address of each nearly identical envelope. As she reached the bottom of the pile, handwriting caught her eye. She pulled the envelope out and looked it over carefully.
Nice, only a week late.
Misty flipped the envelope. No return address. Postmark from somewhere smudged in Ohio. She saw that it was addressed to Rally c/o the store and opened it. Holiday cards weren’t really personal mail, were they? They never had anything interesting in them. “The blah blah family wishes you a happy blah blah” sort of thing. Misty pulled the card out of the envelope, as May came through from the office into the storefront.
Reading out loud, Misty said, “Season’s Greetings.” She looked at the card, puzzled, closed it and re-opened it. “What the…? There’s no name or anything.” The card looked like something someone would pull off the bargain rack the day after Christmas. It had a washed-out picture of an anemic holiday scene and the corner was slightly bent.
“Let me see,” May held out a hand for the card, stuck a jeweler’s loupe in her eye and examined it. “Nothing special as far as I can see.”
Misty shrugged. Weird fan thing or weird warning thing? With Rally as the recipient, who could tell? She looked into the envelope, not expecting to find anything and was quite surprised to spot a small piece of paper that had caught in the corner. She pulled it out, read it, read it a second time, gathered her jaw up from the counter where it had landed and started to whoop.
“I knew it!” she shouted. “I knew it I knew it! Knewitknewitknewit!” Misty began skipping around, waving paper and envelope, singing the same words over and over. “I knew it, I knew it!” May’s brows drew together, puzzled, but Misty ignored her and went through to the back, still skipping and chanting.
She found Rally in the middle of inventory. It was, after all, the end of the year. Without looking up from her clipboard, Rally said, “Knew what?”
Misty skipped back and forth behind where Rally crouched. “You got mail, girl!”
Rally turned around, looked up at the oddly victorious expression on the young woman’s face and stood. “I did?” She reached out to take the paper; but Misty moved it out of reach.
“Oh NO you don’t.” Misty turned half towards May who had joined them, looking simultaneously amused and slightly irritated at the younger woman’s antics. “Hey Rall – ” she began reading, when Rally dropped the clipboard and sprang forward.
“Give me that!” she shouted, but Misty just laughed and jumped back, continuing to read as she avoided Rally’s increasingly frantic attempts to retrieve the letter.
“I’m sorry for the short notice, but I’ll be by on New Year’s Eve and I thought it might be nice to take the purdiest…” Misty laughed and ran behind a table, “It really says ‘purdiest’!” She tried to avoid Rally’s grab, but the older woman got a hand on her arm and the thief went down, laughing. Rally held her down with one hand and a knee dug firmly into Misty’s ribs as she nabbed the paper for herself.
Standing, Rally, glanced over the paper, her face coloring. Misty stood up and recited from memory, “…I thought it might be nice to take the purdiest lady I know out for a date. I’ve got some reservations – dress nice but don’t go crazy on me. I love you the way you are. Signed,” Misty pronounced cheerily, “Terri.” She turned to Rally, her eyes huge as she got to her feet, “Who is she Rally, who is she?” Her body began to shake as she bounced up and down on her toes. “I just knew it!”
Rally Vincent took a deep breath and resolved not to slap the girl silly. She smiled blandly. “A friend.”
“No, really?” Misty’s sarcasm didn’t seem to faze the older woman. “How friendly are you?” she grinned lasciviously.
May took one look at Rally’s face, grabbed hold of Misty’s elbow and steered her firmly out of the back room. “Come on, Misty, I’ll tell you the story.” She shot Rally a look as they left – a look that Rally did not meet.
As the door closed behind them, Misty shouted one last “I knew it!” and disappeared, leaving Rally alone with the note.
Her fist closed around the paper tightly. “Cowboy,” she whispered. After a long moment, she folded the note into a pocket and turned reluctantly back to doing inventory.
Misty, Becky and May all sat at the table in silence. Three cups of coffee grew cold in front of them as they stared at nothing.
Upstairs the sounds of footsteps were clearly audible as Rally moved around her bedroom.
The three women tried not to smirk, chortle, chuckle or meet each other’s eyes.
The footsteps moved back along the hallway for the umpteenth time and Misty started to crack. She hmphed and grabbed her mug, swallowing the smile with the mouthful of coffee.
Becky was next, as a bitten off curse sounded from above. Her shoulders began to shake, but she pulled herself under control quickly and shoved a piece of toast into her mouth as a preventative.
Only May seemed capable of keeping herself under control. She closed her eyes at the unmistakable sound of Rally opening and closing her closet one more time.
“May!” Rally bellowed. “Where did I put that red jacket?”
May opened her eyes. “You left it in the front closet.”
May nodded silently.
“Oh,” they could hear the sound of Rally running down the stairs. She came down the stairs and into the kitchen in black lace camisole and stockings. Misty goggled at her, but looked away quickly when Rally met her gaze.
“What?” the bounty hunter snapped.
“Nothing,” Misty muttered.
“It’s just that…” Becky cleared her throat.
“Oh for pity’s sake!” May snapped. “What do you THINK?” She picked up her mug and drank down the lukewarm coffee.
Rally ignored her partner completely, poured herself a cup of coffee and seated herself at the table. She opened her mouth to say something, then colored and closed her mouth.
Misty started to giggle. “It’s kind of cute, Rally.”
Becky grinned. “It really is.”
“Shut up,” Rally snarled, but her expression didn’t match the words. The three women kept their giggles to a bare minimum out of pity.
May left right after lunch, but not without a last word or seven.
“You’re new at this, so take my word for it, okay,” the diminutive explosives expert lectured, one finger dangerously close to poking her partner. “Be careful! It’s easy to forget where you are and what’s going around you when your hands are full of…”
“I got it May.” Rally slapped the finger away lightly with a grimace. Her own finger snaked out to point at their audience. “And don’t you two have anywhere else to be?”
Becky and Misty shook their heads happily.
“Nope,” the information expert said. “This is it – we’re here for the duration to watch the house.”
“I can’t go anywhere in any case. Don’t have wheels, don’t have a girl with wheels.” Misty sighed, “Must be nice…”
Rally turned back to May. “I’ll be fine, thank you. Its just dinner.”
“Uh-huh.” May dug into her purse and held a small plastic lunch bag out. “Take one with your meal.”
The bounty hunter eyed the bag suspiciously. “Another mysterious herbal formula from your past?”
“No, don’t be ridiculous.” May made a face. “It’s just multivitamins.”
Rolling her eyes, Rally turned away. “Thank but no thanks.”
May shrugged, stuck the bag back in her purse. “Your call. I’ll be back eventually. Don’t be here when I get back.”
“Good-BYE May.” Rally said pointedly, turning away and heading upstairs once more to try on the same outfits all over again.
When Rally came downstairs at last, Misty and Becky were standing at the bottom, broad grins across their faces, and arms crossed expectantly across their chests. Rally had taken two steps down, when Misty began humming background music of the bump-and-grind variety.
“Misty…” Rally’s voice held a warning of severe physical damage to be inflicted, but the young ex-thief paid no mind.
“Give it up, Rally,” Becky insisted. “This is the most fun we’ve had in months. Just come down, spin around for us and pretend you aren’t embarrassed as hell.”
The bounty hunter took a deep breath and came the rest of the way down the stairs.
Becky whistled appreciatively. “Nice suit.”
Rally smoothed the jacket and asked tentatively. “You think?”
“Yeah, I think.” Becky walked around Rally, taking in the black lace camisole, which was all the blouse Rally wore, and the lean line of the black slacks. “Yeah.”
Misty nodded. “Yeah. You look great.” Her face twisted. “Now I’m jealous! Why don’t you ever dress this nice for me?”
Rally smiled at that.
Misty stomped her foot once. “That’s it. I’m coming with you.” She interrupted Rally mid-denial. “At least to the store! I want to see the person you’re going to all this effort for. Please?”
“No. And that’s final,” Rally stated.
“What’s she like?” Misty demanded, pulling a stool up to the counter at Gunsmith Cats, and resting her chin on her hands.
“I don’t know,” Rally sounded exasperated, just as she had when she had fended off Misty’s forty other questions about Cowboy.
“What do you mean you don’t know? You slept with her but you don’t know what she’s like?”
“Misty!” Rally’s eyes flashed.
“She’s a denim kind of person,” Becky recalled, inserting herself neatly between the two women. “You know, sort of down home at the farm. Rides a motorcycle. Nothing special in looks….erp…” Becky’s eyes flew to Rally, and she backed up, waiting for an angry rebuttal.
Rally met her eyes evenly. “Average looks, brown hair, medium length, brown eyes. That was what you said the first time you researched her.”
“Good in bed?” Misty continued.
“Oh for pity’s sake!” Rally snapped. “Not another word.” She pointed a steady finger at the irrepressible girl, who sulked openly, but subsided.
The tinkle of the doorbell brought all three women around towards the front.
A woman entered – tallish, but heels will do that. She wore a typical sexy “little black dress” with a pleasant view of tanned cleavage. Over the dress was a sable fur coat, and diamonds sparkled at her neck and ears. From her sun-kissed short hair to her impeccable makeup, she was the epitome of money and taste. All three women behind the counter stared at her openly for a long moment.
Rally stepped forward. “I’m sorry, we’re closed…”
The woman let the door shut behind her, her eyes crinkling up as she smiled. “Well, damn Rall. You look great!”
“Sweet Jesus.” Becky’s whisper was plain as day in the small shop.
Rally seemed to be having trouble speaking…or breathing. Her throat kept getting caught on a single sound, repeated over and over, “C….C….C…”
The woman smiled, her tanned cheeks flushing a little. “I guess I look a little different, don’t I?”
“Cowboy?” Rally finally managed to force the word out of a hoarse throat.
“As sure as its day,” Cowboy took a few more steps into store, her face wreathed in a grin. She glanced over at Becky with a wink. “Nice to see you again, Miss Becky.” She tugged the brim of the cowboy hat she never wore in salute. “And who is this pretty little girl?”
Becky swept an unsteady arm towards Misty. “M…Misty.” Her eyes were as large as plates.
“Terri Simms,” the woman moved gracefully up to the counter, the slit on her dress allowing them glimpses of a slim, tanned thigh. “Pleased to meet you, Miss Misty.”
For the second time in as many days, Misty retrieved her jaw from the counter, and managed a watery smile. “Same here.” She turned to Becky wild-eyed. “THIS is Cowboy? What happened to ‘average looks?’ and ‘demin sort’???” Becky hushed her violently, reinforcing it with an elbow to the ribs.
Cowboy just laughed and ran a hand through her short hair, making the gold highlights shine in the bright shop lights. “Don’t blame Miss Becky, now. I’ve had a whatchamacallit…a transformation.” She held out a sable-covered arm. “It’s amazing what real money can do.” She laughed. She took the last few steps towards the bounty hunter, who still hadn’t managed more than the single word. “So,” she asked, her voice dropping into an intimate tone, “what do you think?”
Rally Vincent had never before been so completely speechless in her entire life. She shook her head, tried to think of something to say, and just shook her head again.
“No good?” Cowboy’s voice was teasing, and Misty and Becky turned away from the two, pretending not to notice the expressions on their faces.
“G…good.” Rally managed at last. “You look….” She exhaled deeply. Reaching out with a hand, Rally slapped Cowboy on the arm – hard.
Cowboy held up a hand to protect herself, and stepped back, laughing. “I know, I know, it was a dirty trick. But I couldn’t help myself. I mean, what’s the use of having it,” she stuck out a tanned leg and waggled it side to side. “If you can’t flaunt it?”
Rally kept shaking her head. “Downright dirty, rotten…” she muttered. “I swear I’ll get you back.”
Cowboy lifted her eyebrows suggestively. “I look forward to it.” She moved close to Rally and put an arm around the shorter woman’s waist. “In fact, that was kinda the point.” The Texas drawl slowed, until it oozed lasciviously into the final word.
Becky and Misty pretended to be very busy behind the counter sorting…stuff, while clearly not missing a thing.
Rally’s face was darker than usual, but she stepped out of Cowboy’s embrace to address the other occupants of the shop. “You two.”
Misty looked at Becky, grinning. “That’s us.”
“I’m leaving now.” Rally’s eyes narrowed with implied threat. ‘Don’t say a word’, was the clear and present message. She kept them pinned with that look as she gathered her coat and purse. They affected expressions of affronted innocence throughout.
Cowboy stepped to Rally’s side and slipped one arm through the other woman’s. “I’ll have her home by curfew tonight,” she said with a nod to the women behind the counter. She tugged on the arm, until Rally turned away from them, one last dark glare over her shoulder.
Rally opened the shop door, Becky waved and said, “Have fun!”
The doorbell chimed again, and the door began to close. Just behind them, as the sound from the shop faded, they could hear Misty calling out, “Under no circumstances should you bring her home tonight! You hear me?”
Outside, Rally was surprised to see a black town car – not a stretch limo, but it screamed “Private Car” from the blacked out windows to the driver who stepped up to meet them and assist them into the vehicle’s back seat. Rally allowed herself to be handed in, and watched with pleasure as Cowboy joined her in the spacious seat. Cowboy spoke quietly to the driver, who nodded, then the door closed. Cowboy pressed a button on the door, and a darkened piece of Plexiglas rose between them and the driver, allowing them privacy.
Rally turned towards Cowboy and was swept up in a passionate embrace before she could catch her breath. Cowboy’s lips were pressed hard against hers, her hands clutching at Rally’s shoulders. Breathlessly Rally returned the kiss, her hand running along one smooth leg, the other curled around Cowboy’s neck.
The kiss went on for a long, nearly silent time, broken only by small gasps.
Rally’s lungs burned. She could feel the cool fur under her hand, but it wasn’t half as smooth as the skin along the slit in Cowboy’s skirt. She could feel Cowboy’s hand run under her jacket along her back, and pressed herself closer to the other woman.
At last the kiss ended. They pulled away from one another slowly. They didn’t bother with breathless affirmations of their feelings, or obvious statements about how each had missed the other. All that had been implicit in the kiss.
“My god,” Rally breathed. “You look incredible!” She shook her head with a self-deprecating smile. “You really surprised me.” Another look crossed her face – one not so pleased. “How did you get all this…?” Her expression grew serious. “Do I want to know?”
Cowboy’s smile never dimmed by a single watt. If anything, it grew brighter as Rally spoke. “Not to worry Rall. It’s the most almost completely innocent thing I’ve done in my life.” She blew out a pleased breath. “I was going to tell you in any case, but as we’ll probably have a bit of a ride, I might as well tell you now.” Cowboy sat back and crossed her legs, grinning as Rally followed the motion surreptitiously. Gathering one of Rally’s hands into her own, she tugged until the bounty hunter was seated as close to her as the seat would allow.
“Do you know J.D. Wayson?” Cowboy asked quite suddenly.
Rally had to think a moment to place the name. “The suit guy?”
“Yep. The suit guy. Ole Jaydee and I went to school together.”
“Really?” Rally was willing to play along to see where the story would take her. Besides, she was quite comfortable, wrapped up as she was in Cowboy’s embrace. She tucked the fur coat around her as far as it would go and waited.
“Yeah. Jaydee took his Daddy’s suit store, turned it into a chain, then an empire, and eventually madeFortune’s Top 100 list.” Cowboy chuckled lightly. “So you can bet that, after I left here last summer, I was mighty surprised to get a message from him, inviting me to join him on his Florida estate.”
“I didn’t really know where I was headed,” Cowboy spoke easily, “but I had an idea that Chicago’d be a little hot for me after what we had done, so I headed eastish. I stayed with a friend or two, called in a few favors, and somewhere in Ohio a message caught up with me through a friend of a friend of Jaydee’s that, if I wasn’t all that busy, I should head on down to Florida, where he had a house. He had a job for me, if I wanted it. I couldn’t think of a single reason to not go, so Florida it was.
“I got there just around the middle of September. Jaydee’s mansion was in Key West, and it was damn hot down there, let me tell you. But I’m from Texas – I can take it. It took me a while to find Jaydee’s place, but, geez, Rall! I ain’t never seen anything as big, or grandiose, or just plain ugly as that house.” Cowboy laughed. “It was like a statue store had exploded on the lawn, and the garden looked more like a miniature golf course than anything else. All it needed was a whale fountain, I swear.”
Rally shifted. “I think I remember seeing pictures of the mansion – Wayson bought it when the original owner went bankrupt or something?”
“That’s the one. And I saw that article too – only in real life, hoo-wee, baby! Was that place awful.” Cowboy’s chuckle continued for a while, as she thought back. “Anyway when I finally caught up with Jaydee, he showed me the house, and basically told me that he left it the way it was, because it was so god-awful that it made him laugh. He said that every day he’d come across something new and excitingly tacky and he just couldn’t bring himself to fix it all.
“Anyway, when I got there, Jaydee’s secretary told me that he was out on business but would be back by dinner. She showed me to a room – full of vases with I don’t even know *what* all over them, and flowers on floor, ceiling, curtains. I felt allergies coming on that I didn’t even have. Rall, the faucets in the bathroom were shaped liked tulips.” She shuddered. “So, I sat around, unpacked my bag, and took a really long, bath and by the time the man came home, I was just about dying for a beer. I had nothing nice to wear for dinner, so I figured he’d probably take one look at me and whisk me back to my room. I hadn’t seen Jaydee since school, but every time I see his name the article’s about money, you know?”
Rally knew. J.D. Wayson was prominent in all the money magazines, all the financial newspapers and not a few of the entertainment magazines. Not since Malcolm Forbes had there been a man who spent his vast wealth so uncomplicatedly on fun.
“So I come down to dinner, expecting to see him in his suit and tie and boots, looking the picture of the Texas businessman, and I bump into some blonde kid with an earring on the stairs. And the kid looks at me from behind expensive sunglasses, gives a piercing shriek and throws his arms around me in a hug. Darlin’,” Cowboy raised one eyebrow and gave Rally a look. “Mr. J.D. Wayson is queerer than a tin foil horseshoe.”
Rally thought about that. “I’m not sure that surprises me.” She couldn’t remember anyone ever mentioning a wife, or a girlfriend or…anything.
“Well, it sure surprised me!” Cowboy insisted. “The Jaydee I remembered was quite the ladies man. He slept with more girls in school than I di…uh, heh.” At the look on the other woman’s face, Cowboy clearly thought better of what she had been about to say and changed her tack completely. “So, uh, yeah. The job, Jaydee told me was simple. He had a lot of business affairs he had to attend – parties and receptions and the like. And he needed a beard.”
Rally’s brows drew together. “A beard?”
“Yeah – you know, a fake girlfriend to show off to the cameras, and potential business partners and politicos who might be creeped out by a flaming queen?”
“Ah,” Rally nodded.
“So for the next coupla months, my main job was to soak up rays by the pool, not notice all the oiled boys walkin’ around in their birthday suits, and make myself charming, witty and beautiful. At night I was supposed to cling to ole Jaydee’s pansy arm. Of course, the witty and charming part I have down naturally, but the beautiful took some work. And that is why I come before you dressed in finery well beyond my means.” Cowboy’s arms spread to take in the car and coat. “Jaydee’s kept me well, fed me nice, and gave me anything I asked for. Including pocket money. This car is his, but the hotel and restaurant tonight are me splurging with my own cash, just as a way to spend some quality time with you, Rally Vincent.” Her voice had dropped on the last few words, and her eyes crinkled up at the edge as she smiled. “It’s good to see you again.”
Rally leaned forward. “You too, Terri Simms.”
The rest of the ride was spent in comparative quiet.
“I hope you like Italian food,” Cowboy grinned as the car pulled to a stop.
“You know I do.” Rally looked up and with a shock realized that they sat outside the building that housed Chicago’s only four-star Italian restaurant. “Oh, you mean *real* Italian,” she laughed quietly. “Not pizza and beer.”
Cowboy tilted her head in agreement. “Hopefully not as bad as that pizza and beer you made me eat.”
“You ate four slices and drank like four beers!” Rally protested as the driver assisted her out of the car as gracefully as he had handed her in.
“I was in pain, not in my right mind.” Cowboy slid out of the car smoothly, and took hold of Rally’s arm as soon as the shorter woman joined her. Turning to the driver, she told him to go home. “We’ll be fine on our own. Take the rest of the night off.” The driver looked slightly put out at this, but when Cowboy insisted that their hotel was a pleasant walk down the “Miracle Mile” he acquiesced with a short bow.
Cowboy renewed her grip on Rally’s arm and marched them into the building and up to the restaurant entrance.
Rally had a hard time understanding the food as “Italian.” It was absolutely delicious, of course, and the staff was exactly the right level of pretentious to let you know you were in a “fine” restaurant. But her experiences with Italian had previously been limited to the aforementioned pizza, spaghetti and on occasions of great importance ravioli. Consequently she had no place in the “Italian” folder in her mind for “braised duck filled crepe with grilled foie gras, butternut squash and red wine sauce,” or “wood-roasted Guinea hen wrapped in pancetta with potato puree and Umbrian black truffle sauce.” Thankfully, Cowboy was more into eating the food than understanding it so, along with a selection of excellent wines, the meal went down very well indeed.
It really was amazing how easy she found talking to Cowboy. For every one of her stories of a gunfight or car chase, the Texan had one of her own. And for every outrageous person Rally had every collared, Cowboy had a story of someone just as wicked she had…. It took some effort for Rally to remind herself that most of Cowboy’s “career” had put her on the other side of the law from Rally. Cowboy may indeed be sexy, and fun, and a match for Rally on every level – but she was also no good guy. Terri “Cowboy” Simms, Rally reminded herself for the umpteenth time, was a drifter, a messenger, a drug-runner, a bag man… and who knew what else.
“Hey lady,” Cowboy’s voice poked Rally back to attention. “You okay? You got a mighty funny look on your face.”
“Yeah,” Rally lied. “I’m fine.” She forced herself to smile, and listened intently to Cowboy’s story about the unseen war between chicken truckers and beef truckers across the center of America. But in the back of her head a thousand questions jabbed at her.
Italian food, and Cowboy Simms.
Rally nibbled at her dessert and pondered the double conundrum.
The night was cold. Really cold. Really, really…Rally jumped as Cowboy took one of her hands, cold inside the glove, and curled a hand around it inside the pocket of the fur coat. Rally shivered a bit and drew closer to the taller woman, as they walked.
The hotel, Cowboy assured her, was only a block or so away. “That big shiny building, just after the two other big shiny buildings,” Cowboy smiled down at her. Giving her hand a squeeze, she continued. “I’m really glad you came out with me, Rall. I missed you.”
Without a moment’s hesitation, Rally answered, “I missed you too.” She looked up past the bright lights of the busy street, to catch the faint glimpse of stars in the clear sky. They weren’t alone on the street. It was New Year’s Eve, and this was a busy part of town. Cars, limos, people, the street was filled with the buzz of movement and noise, as people went to dinner, to dances, to parties and events.
Now that she had gotten used to the cold, Rally found herself reluctant to go straight back into the warmth of a building.
“Can we walk a little more?” she asked, her voice sounding a lot more girly than she was used to. She blushed a little, but Cowboy hadn’t seemed to notice at all.
“Sure. It’s a nice night out.” Her Texas drawl was lazy, from the wine, Rally thought. A bad habit to get into – it leaves you open to attack. She laughed at herself out loud.
“What’s so funny?”
Rally shot the other woman a crooked grin. “Nothing. I was just berating myself for being too relaxed. You know, as if in the middle of all these people we’d be attacked.”
Shrugging Cowboy nodded. “Not likely, I guess. But I know what you mean.” She seemed to shake herself out of her own loose-limbed walk and lifted a hand to slap herself smartly on the cheeks. “I know you don’t wanna go soft,” she said.
Rally winced at the reminder of a conversation they had had when they first met – when the sexual attraction and tension between them was driving her half mad, and her need to deny it finishing the job. She had insisted that sex made a person go soft, and while she had yet to regret taking her relationship with Cowboy to that level, she didn’t think she had been wrong. Just look at the two of them now: walking along, not paying attention to their surroundings….
“Purses, watches, jewelry, ladies. Hand them over now.” The voice came from behind, accompanied by a hard prod from something heavy. “Fast. Do it!” The voice whispered harshly.
“You have got to be kidding,” Rally said, more annoyed with herself than the two-bit thug. Clearly, she had conjured this up. If she had just relaxed and enjoyed the night, instead of churning over improbable muggings, this would have never happened. Clearly.
“Shut up! Hand them over.”
Slowly, the two women turned around, hands on purses, as if to hand them over.
“That’s it,” the thief said. “Watches, necklace, all of it. Hurry up!”
Rally noticed that somehow, in their wanderings, they had gotten off the main street, and were in a dark corner of an alleyway behind one of the buildings.
“I really hate it when it’s an unfair fight,” Cowboy drawled, as she reached up to her ears to pulls the earrings off. “Don’t you?”
“Yep,” Rally agreed.
The thief shook the gun in his hand. He was sweating visibly and drew closer, menacing both women with the gun.
Rally shifted her purse in her hand, and in a sudden move, threw it into the face of the mugger. She dropped to the ground, grabbed at the Grendel at her ankle and rolled up to a standing position, gun to the mugger’s ear, pushing him down to his knees. He groaned as Cowboy dug the heel of her expensive shoes into the back of his hand. Slowly, giving the thief a good, long look at her cleavage, she leaned down, took the gun from his hand and regarded it slowly.
“Y’know,” she said, glancing over the cheap .38. “This needs a good cleaning. You’re lucky we stopped you from using this. Coulda blown your hand right off.”
Rally stepped away from the mugger, the barrel of her gun steady. “Get out of here. Don’t try to come back or we’ll have to hurt you.”
Cowboy turned towards the bounty hunter in surprise. “Rall? You’re letting this rat go? We could just drag him over to the hotel…”
“Why? He’s so scared his pissing his pants.” Turning back to the guy, she waved Cowboy off. “Go. Scat, rat.”
The thief, his hand released from the pain, scrambled to his feet, cursing. He ran off, still screaming rude words over his shoulder, the sounds carrying until his footsteps and his imprecations disappeared into the urban canyon.
“Well that warmed me right up!” Cowboy exclaimed with a laughed. Stretching her arms out, she took Rally into a tight embrace. “Come, on – let’s go inside.”
Rally stepped back, slid the Grendel into its holster, and nodded. “Sounds like a plan. It’s too crazy out here anyway.”
As the two women headed towards the shining silver tower that was their hotel, Cowboy stopped suddenly. “Well, heck. I guess you were right, after all, Rally. I’d better keep my guard up.” She laughed and, and taking Rally by the elbow, walked as fast as her long legs would go.
Rally was sure that the room was nice. This wasn’t a sleazebag motel – that was obvious. But, one hotel room, with its carbon-copy prints on the wall, and patterned carpet that matched the curtains, looked much like any other. On the other hand the bathroom…now that was quality. The bathtub was easily big enough for two, possibly three if you were very friendly. The marble was real, not just marble veneer, and certainly not marble-ite, or marble-esque or anything else that was basically plastic meant to look like marble.
Rally came back out of the bathroom, past the sofa and over to the closet. She carefully hung up her coat, and held her hand out for Cowboy’s. The other woman shook her head with a smile.
“I’ll just keep it on, if you don’t mind.” Cowboy slid over to Rally, unbuttoning the suit jacket she wore, whistling at the label. “No wonder you look so good.” She leaned down and kissed Rally’s neck, while peeling the jacket off the other woman’s shoulders.
Rally laughed and tried to push the taller woman off. “Door,” she murmured in protest. “Lock…” but Cowboy took over her mouth, making it impossible to breathe, much less speak.
“Door locks by itself. I deadbolted it. So Rally, darlin’,” Cowboy whispered into her ear. “Shut up and kiss me.”
Threading her arms around the other woman’s neck, Rally did just that.
At some point Cowboy lifted Rally, carrying her over to the bed, continuing the kiss the whole way. Rally pulled away slightly, putting a finger between their lips. “Let me…” she slipped out of Cowboy’s arms. “Get this off.”
Rally lifted one foot, sliding the leg of her pants up to expose the ankle holster she wore. She laughed. “I agonized about only wearing this one, you know.”
Cowboy laid a hand over Rally’s, stopping her from unbuckling it. “It looks kinda sexy right there,” she purred, sliding her hand up Rally’s leg. The other arm snaked out and pulled Rally in close. “You can leave it on. Just take everything else off,” she smiled.
Undressing Rally took a little while with Cowboy “helping.” She managed to get her shoes and pants off, but was somehow distracted several times by hands and lips interfering. Rally decided to take a different approach. She pushed Cowboy down on the bed and slipped the arms of the sable fur from her shoulders. Cowboy smiled.
“Let me help you here,” she said, sitting up and slipping the LBD off in one easy motion. She held her hand out to hold Rally off, flipped the fur coat on the bed, fur side up, then scooped Rally up and deposited her onto the coat.
Immediately, Rally understood why. Wherever her skin met the fur was instant ecstasy. As Cowboy leaned over her, Rally was hard put to decide whether the hands on her breasts or the fur on her back felt better. Then Cowboy kissed her, pressing one thigh between her legs and it all ceased to matter.
Somewhere in the middle of it all, both women managed to remove the last layers of clothing, but the fur coat stayed right where it was. Every movement Rally made when Cowboy entered her was heightened by the feel of the smooth sable on her skin. And when she laid Cowboy down on the bed beneath her and moved herself between the other woman’s legs, it was Cowboy’s turn to feel fur and skin and fingers and tongue and lips.
Noise from the hallway woke Rally up. She was half covered by a fur coat – which tickled now that she thought about it, and half covered by the blanket from the bed. Cowboy lay mostly uncovered and very naked at her side.
Rally lay there, watching Cowboy sleep. They had left the light in the bathroom on or, more correctly simply forgot to turn it off when they had thrown themselves into sleep, exhausted from…. Rally could feel herself blush. It still felt strange to think of herself as anyone’s lover. She turned slightly to watch the other woman. Cowboy was breathing deeply as she slept, her mouth open just a little, her face slack.
Who was Terri “Cowboy” Simms, anyway? Rally closed her eyes and rolled onto her back, wiggling a little against the fur. Good with a gun – as good as Rally herself. And like Rally, she liked speed. She was, Rally had to admit reluctantly, just about the only person she had ever met that matched her shot for shot and MPH for MPH.
Rally thought of the way they had met, a case that had married a corrupt city department chief, a gun manufacturer and a host of low-life career criminals. And one lone drifter from Texas, with a penchant for speed and women. Rally blushed again, thinking back on the last few hours with Cowboy. She had never expected to call herself anyone’s lover – especially not another woman’s. Especially not a small-time criminal’s. Especially not Cowboy Simms’.
Her mind whirling around in the same welter of thoughts as always, Rally fell back asleep.
Rally watched as Cowboy rolled over with a muted grunt, pushing herself reluctantly away from the pillow.
One eye stared up at her balefully, the other remained closed.
“Morning?” Cowboy snapped. “If its still morning, I’m goin’ back to sleep.” At which she let her arm, which had been unsteadily supporting her weight, go limp, and fell face back into the pillow.
“I’m hungry.” Rally said, poking the other woman in a surprisingly sensitive place, based on her reaction.
Cowboy yelped and pulled away, both eyes open and a distinctly annoyed expression on her face. “Call for room service?” She ran a hand through her hair, which stood up at all angles.
Rally found herself playing with one of the wild locks of hair, before she even realized it. “I already did. Breakfast should be here any second and for some reason, I didn’t feel like having them bring it in while you were sprawled on the bed naked. Can’t think why.”
“Oh,” Cowboy said, looking down at herself. “Heh.” She swung her legs over the edge of the bed and stood up, swayed a little, the found her balance and turned around.
Immediately, Rally had to remind herself to breathe. Cowboy had had a great body when they first met, but now…. The word “goddess” came to Rally’s mind, but she shoved it away as being too silly to even think to herself. Months of sun, topnotch fitness training and a life of leisure had made Cowboy as sleek as a panther. When she reached out an arm, Rally found herself watching the muscles move beneath the golden skin, as if they were a thing apart.
“Did you already shower?” Cowboy pouted. “I want you to wash my back.”
Rally grinned. “I bet.” She pointed towards the bathroom. “Go. Food will be here when you get back.”
Cowboy made a face, but touched the brim of the hat she never wore in acquiescence and moved off. Rally watched her disappear into the bathroom, regretting that she had already dressed. But someone, she reminded herself, had to stay alert. Even if Cowboy acted like the world would take care of itself, Rally could never be that person. The world, she knew, had an ugly way of interfering with your plans.
This thought was prophetic, as one would suspect.
They were sharing breakfast, which is to say that Cowboy was stealing tidbits off Rally’s plate and eating them, rather than taking a share of her own, when a phone rang. Immediately, Cowboy became serious, standing and walking quickly to her purse. She pulled out her phone, glanced at the number of the incoming call and flipped it open.
“Simms,” she answered briskly, glancing at Rally and making a face. “Yes. Yes. I understand. I’ll be there. Two? Okay.” She closed the phone with a sigh. “That’s the boss man. He says there’s something he needs me for tonight.” She glanced at the phone for the time. “Well, that gives me another hour or so before I have to leave.” Dropping the phone in her purse, she dropped her purse on the nightstand and took several long strides over to where Rally sat, cup of coffee poised in front of her lips.
The cup was removed, and two warm lips replaced it. The kiss lingered on softly as Cowboy lifted Rally up from where she sat, and led her back to bed.
Cowboy came out of the bathroom with a comb in her hand. “Hair look okay?”
“Among other things,” Rally said. She wasn’t exaggerating, either. The dress Cowboy wore was haute in more than couture alone.
“Do you want a ride back home?” Cowboy looked chagrined. “I’d hoped to be able to take you back myself but Jaydee says it’ll be a late night.” She sighed. “Hopefully this will be the last one….” her voice trailed off, but there was a strange, tense expression on her face.
“That’s okay,” Rally reassured her. “I’ll get back no problem.” She hesitated, then leaned up for a quick kiss. “Be careful.”
“I always am.” Cowboy smiled, grabbing her fur coat off the bed. She gave a little wave, letting the room door close behind her.
Rally waited, giving her time to get down the hall and into an elevator. Moving quickly, she ran down the stairs, trying to hit the lobby as Cowboy was leaving it. For once the stairs didn’t deposit her in a back hallway and she was able to spot Cowboy’s form as she stepped through the sliding doors of the hotel and towards a waiting car. The same car they had ridden in last night. Rally watched from inside the hotel as Cowboy leaned in, had what appeared to be heated words with the driver, then got into the car.
What, Rally thought, as she slid through the doors, waved over a bellman, and asked for a cab, quickly, was she doing? She grabbed the cab door before it had fully stopped and told the driver to step on it. The driver stared at her in disbelief, but she repeated her instructions to “follow that car” so, with a shrug, he pulled out of the hotel behind the private car.
“Lady,” the cabbie said querulously, “As long as I’m on main streets, I got no problem, but if this car pulls into somewhere weird, I’m outta here. I got a family.” He looked in the back mirror anxiously; as if afraid that Rally might pull out a gun and threaten him.
“I understand,” she agreed, keeping her voice reasonable. “Just follow it for now.”
The car didn’t appear to know it was being followed, and this cab was just one of many on the miracle mile. For now, she could watch, and….what? Wait.
As they moved slowly through traffic, Rally had a chance to think about what she was doing. Why had she felt the need to tail Cowboy at all? It wasn’t jealousy…was it? If not that, then what?
Something, Rally finally decided, was wrong. Something in the look in Cowboy’s eyes and the tone of her voice on the phone.
She had been scared. Scared to say no.
Rally clenched her jaw and flexed her hands. There was something Cowboy wasn’t saying about her “work” for J.D. Wayson, and Rally wanted to know what it was.
The black car moved smoothly through traffic, turning in at the Art Museum. Rally began to wonder if she had hallucinated what she had thought she had seen in Cowboy’s face, but just as she leaned forward to tell the cab driver to keep going, the private car turned past the museum and headed towards the delivery exit.
She instructed the cabbie to let her off, paid quickly and took off across the road. On foot, she switched her pace to blend in with the small clumps of people gathered in front of the museum, mostly press. A big private event tonight, she gathered, but that wasn’t her concern. Moving from group to group, she made her way around the side of the museum, breaking into a run to make the gate as a catering truck went through.
Carefully, Rally picked her way through the vehicles, using them as cover, staying away from the open docks and the staff moving in and out with deliveries. There was no sign of the black car. She had just about made it to the museum interior when she saw it. The driver was talking to someone wearing a museum staff uniform. They laughed at some joke, chatting easily with each other. She worked her way closer, keeping her eye on the driver. Cowboy must have gone inside. But why? Security? Would JD Wayson be paranoid enough to use a back entrance for his own party? Rally didn’t think so.
She slipped past a car, and one step closer to the black car, when something cold was pressed hard into her head behind her ear.
“Welcome to the party, Ms. Vincent.”
“Stop here.” The woman’s voice was muffled by the mask she wore. She turned to the driver, thrusting her weapon into his cheek. Moving close enough to smell his fear, she forced herself to not gag. “Do. Not. Move.” She kept the gun pressed hard enough against the driver’s face that it made his mouth distort.
The sound of booted footsteps grew close, then halted. The woman did not move a muscle. The driver sat, and sweated, trying to not squirm. A single set of steps approached. She looked across the cab of the truck at a man in a blue windbreaker and baseball hat. He nodded, the lights of the loading dock reflected in his sunglasses.
Moving closer, she spoke quietly. “Lean forward,” she commanded. The driver leaned forward then, following her directions, clasped his hands and thrust them through the lower portion of the steering wheel. A pair of handcuffs linked his hands. The gun was taken away, but before he could even think about escape, his arms were seized in an iron grip.
While she duct taped his arms to the steering column, the man in sunglasses wrapped the driver’s mouth with tape.
She pulled away, edging towards the passenger side door. Ripping the mask off, she shed the black jacket she wore in the same motion, throwing it into a small black sack. She pulled out a dark blue baseball cap with a logo of a five-pointed star in a circle, jammed it on her head, then shoved herself quickly into the same dark blue windbreaker the man on the other side of the truck wore. A pair of mirrored sunglasses completed the picture. As she slid out of the seat, the driver was just able to make out large yellow letters on the back of the jacket that read “POLICE.”
Then the doors to the cab were slammed shut and he was alone.
Rally had been bound and gagged, her head covered. She had been transported, in a car, she thought, then taken out and moved. She could not remember when she had become unconscious. Her head hurt and so did her shoulders. That she had been knocked out seemed likely. It was dark, and the air was warm and stale in her lungs.
“Ms. Vincent.” The words sounded muffled. She thought she had opened her eyes, but she could not see. She tried to lift her hands, but found them tied still bound behind her back. She winced, her shoulders burning, as she was steadied with pressure on an arm.
Apparently her breathing had changed enough to signal her return to consciousness. A bag was lifted from her head and she blinked against wan illumination, too bright to her light-starved eyes. As her vision cleared, she found herself seated on a box, surrounded by wooden boxes of varying sizes, stacked high. Above her was a corrugated metal ceiling. The pungent smell of the cedar filled her nose, the air was dusty. Light came from a small hand lamp. She could smell gasoline and exhaust, and hear noises that came from beyond the room.
There were two large men, mercenaries or bodyguards or whatever you call men whose job it is to be professionally large and threatening, one on either side of her, one hand each on one of her arms. They were looking attentively at the man who stood in front of her. He nodded and one of them ripped the tape from her mouth. She bit back a gasp of pain and clenched her jaws, breathing hard through her nose.
“Ms. Vincent.” It was the same voice she had heard a moment ago. The speaker looked vaguely familiar, but she was sure she had never met him. He wore a brown suit that bespoke money. “I won’t be tedious and bid you welcome.” His voice was as bland as the unmarked cedar box he leaned upon, with a slightly lispy quality. “I’m sorry to have to wake you, but I wanted to have a moment with you to explain your situation fully.”
When he lifted a plastic bottle of water to his lips, she could see the diamond earring stud in his left ear.
“My name is James Ditrich Wayson. J.D. Wayson. Ms. Vincent,” his voice held none of the Texas drawl that Cowboy’s did. It was accentless and calm. As placid and featureless as training could make it. It gave her the chills.
“I want you to understand your position here. This,” Wayson gestured at the hired guns at her side and the room at large, “is not about you.”
“I don’t know how much Terri told you about herself – I doubt strongly that it was much.” Wayson sipped from the water bottle briefly. “Let me fill you in quickly on a few of the more pertinent details.” He paused a moment, obviously for dramatic effect.
“Did you know that the last three syndicates for which Terri worked are all defunct?” Wayson didn’t wait for an answer. “No? Well, let’s just say that you are my insurance that this will not happen for a fourth time. There are some things I need her to do. Things that only she can do for me. And I need her to do them correctly.” He leaned forward, engaging Rally’s gaze…as if she had somewhere else to look.
“Ms. Vincent, let me assure you,” his Texas accent returned with these words, just enough to set her teeth on edge, “that the last thing in the world I want is for you to come to harm. Provided Terri does these few tasks for me to completion, she will be released from bond and you from imprisonment. And I have no doubt that the two of you will be able to live happily ever after in your beautiful city.” His attitude was relaxed and self-assured. “Please, I beg you, don’t waste time trying to escape, or harboring schemes of revenge. My men, as you saw, are more than competent – I really do hire the best. I’m not some crazy megalomaniac or freak that revels in the abuse of people, I’m simply a businessman.”
His words, spoken softly and with no emphasis began to blur. Rally found it hard to remain attentive. She found herself more interested in his bottle of water, than anything else. She involuntarily licked her lips, as he took another sip.
“Did Terri tell you that she and I went to school together? Well, we did. And we were pretty good friends, drinking buddies, if you will. When I made it big,” his accent had returned slightly as he spoke. “I thought about her a lot. Where she was, what she was doing with herself. So I decided to track her down. What I found surprised me considerably.”
Rally knew what he meant. Nice girl, good friend, turned small-time criminal. No one expects their drinking buddy to be in the mob. Despite her intention to remain silent, she found herself speaking, repeating the words with which she so often cautioned herself.
“Drifter.” Rally said, staring straight ahead of herself, “Messenger. Bagman.”
Wayson was silent so long Rally shot him a glance. To her surprise, he was smiling slightly. “That too,” was all he said by way of response.
“I made her a deal. A deal which, up until now, has been going well. But lately, Terri’s been a bit recalcitrant.” he continued. “I had to have something in hand to ensure her good faith for this one last task. Since you offered yourself up, I took your offer. Trust me, I would have much preferred something simpler, but Terri is a woman with few ties.
“I confess that you pose a rather difficult problem, Ms. Vincent. I have no desire to harm you – or really, involve you. I would love to be able to simply hold you hostage in a genteel manner, as a guest…. In any case, I need you to stay here for a little while, but I cannot trust you to behave. And so, I’m forced to make a hard decision.” He nodded at the thugs. One let her arm go. He retaped her mouth while the other held her down. That done, they joined Wayson, then they slid another crate in front of her, effectively trapping her in a space about three feet by three feet, with piled boxes looming unsteadily over her.
“Just sit tight, Ms. Vincent and don’t cause trouble. This will all be over soon.” Wayson’s voice came from the other side of the boxes.
There was the sound of a door being rolled up, and light too bright, even over the barrier of crates, then the sound of the door being rolled down and complete darkness.
Rally sat in the truck and thought, “Sit tight? Like hell I will.”
There were sounds outside. As her eyes got used to the darkness, she could distinguish light coming in through small holes in the metal walls. It was still daytime. Wherever she was, people were coming and going. She could hear the noise of vehicles, and the “beep-beep-beep” of machinery. A loading dock? She could feel the truck shudder, as doors were opened and closed in the cab, then the smell and sound of an engine coming to life. The truck moved slowly, shaking and banging. The crates shifted and creaked, threatening to crush her.
Rally propped herself against two of the boxes, her back to one, her feet on the other, trying to keep them from falling on her. She felt slightly sick to her stomach and couldn’t breathe properly. Time began to stretch out unpleasantly. She forced herself to not fall asleep. If one of the boxes perched above her should slip, even if it wasn’t heavy, it would certainly injure her badly.
The truck swerved, then again. She was flung back and forth against the crates around her.
The truck rumbled to a stop, the boxes shifting dangerously. There was noise again, and then the unmistakable sound of gunfire. Men’s voiced shouted.
A bullet hit the truck, Rally tucked herself into the smallest surface area possible, cursing the fact that her arms were trapped behind her back. She couldn’t catch her breath enough to call for help. The dust in the air choked her. It was all she could go to keep breathing.
More shouting and the truck engine starting again. Rally cursed as she was thrown face first into a corner of a box, then again as the truck slammed to a stop and she hit the back of her head on another.
There was more gunfire, then an unnatural quiet. Poised to protect herself as much as she could, which was mostly not at all, she listened carefully as the sound of people approached. Muffled voices then, the sound of the truck back rolled up quickly and “Freeze!” shouted by multiple voices.
Struggling to roll upright, Rally shouted as best she could against the tape and kicked. Then again. And again, until her lungs burned.
There was scraping, then the crates in front of her slid away to reveal half a dozen blue-jacketed police holding guns on her. Among them, was a woman of middle height who, upon seeing her, holstered her weapon quickly.
“Rall! Jesus.” Cowboy pulled off her sunglasses to be able to peer into the darkness of the truck. Moving forward, she waved the others off. “Are you okay?”
Rally rolled her eyes and shrugged her aching shoulders. The tape was once again pulled from her mouth and she sucked in the dusty, dry air in heaving breaths, then coughed until her lungs ached.
Cowboy cut the bonds on her hands and legs, and chafed the limbs, until the blood began to return in bands of fire. Slowly, Rally pulled herself up, leaning heavily on the other woman.
“Can you stand?” Cowboy lowered Rally from the truck and held her for a moment.
“Way…son…” Rally gasped.
“Yeah.” Cowboy replied. “I know.” Then looked away quickly.
“You…for him?” Rally desperately wished for some water. When a blue-jacketed man came over with a bottle, she stopped caring that she wanted to kill Cowboy, in order to drink. But when she was done, and could feel the life flowing back into her, the bile rose up in her stomach.
Betrayed. She knew it. She drank more water, so she wouldn’t have to look at the other woman.
“No…I mean..yes, but…..” Cowboy was unable to meet her eyes. “Look, we don’t have time for this, you want to catch the sonofabitch before he blows this country and we can’t touch him? Or you want to stand her jawing?”
“Catch him first,” Rally managed. “Then kill you.”
One side of Cowboy’s lips quirked, then she nodded solemnly. “Marston! You’re with me!” she called as she broke into a lope towards an all-terrain vehicle parked off to the side of the road. Rally ran behind her, her lungs searing with every step. She stopped, leaning on the dark truck, trying to catch her breath. When she stood upright, she put her hand out to open the door.
“U. S. … .” she stared at the logo, transfixed. “What the hell?”
“We don’t have time, Rall. Get in or we’ll leave you here!” Cowboy shouted, as a number of engines all revved into gear at once. “He’s got a lead, but he’s got another truck to unload. That buys us a little time.”
Rally got in, stunned and confused. She sat stone still, staring straight ahead, not even able to formulate a question.
“You could say thanks, you know.” Cowboy’s voice was soft. “Remember when you rescued me, I told you how I felt? You could at least thank me for rescuing you. Since you’ll probably not be talkin’ to me at all after this.”
“What the hell is going on?” Rally exploded, then had another coughing fit. When she had regained her breath, she found herself looking at an ID card, which read, “United States Deputy Marshal” and underneath, “Teresa Simms.”
“It’s kind of a long story.” Cowboy said. “And I’d like to tell ya the whole thing some other time, Rall. Can you…can you just trust me for now?”
Something Wayson had said came back to Rally just then. When she had spit out what she thought was Cowboy’s choice of career, he had smiled and said, “That too.” She pursed her lips and made up her mind.
“I trust you.” She looked up at Cowboy without smiling. “For now.”
“Fair enough.” The other woman leaned forward and said something Rally couldn’t make out. She put her hand out and took a pile of something from the guy in the front seat.
“We found these in the truck. I think they are yours.” Cowboy handed over her beloved Grendel. With something like a sob of relief, Rally took it back, checking it quickly for any damage.
“Can’t give you anything bigger, but I’d be pleased if you just stay out of the way if bullets start flyin’ anyway. You’re…ah…not really supposed to be here.”
Rally gave her a tight smile. “I appreciate that. I don’t know where I am, but I’m sure that it’s considerably out of my jurisdiction.”
“Not as far as you think,” Cowboy shot back. “We’re about an hour southwest of Chicago, heading southwest.” She leaned forward again, talking to the two men in the front. “We think he’s headed for a private airport. Hold tight. He won’t leave without the art.”
“Art?” Rally felt like the supporting character in a cop show, doomed to ask “what’s that?” until the whole evil plot had been revealed.
“Those crates. In the truck.” Cowboy’s attention was riveted on a map she had spread out on her lap. Clearly she had found what she wanted, leaned forward again and addressed the driver. Rally heard “floor it” quite clearly, and was flung backward in her seat as the car accelerated abruptly. For a second, she wished she could drive, then put it out of her mind as Cowboy turned towards her once again.
“Every man has a vice. I don’t care who they are, or how rich or poor. Drugs, liquor, women, something. Jaydee’s vice is art. He had an itch to collect some fine old stuff and decorate a house he has on an island off the coast of Madagascar.”
“He has a house off of Madagascar?” Rally didn’t really care, she was just playing her part.
“No,” Cowboy shot her a grin. “He has an island off Madagascar.” Her face quickly turned serious. “Jaydee and I use to be old pals, once upon a time. Really close. I hate to arrest his ass. But I’ll be really glad to see the end of this. He did some bad stuff.” Cowboy sighed.
Rally had been trying to put it together, but she was missing something. “So he was stealing art from the museum or what?” she asked, trying to figure out why a man as rich as J. D. Wayson would stoop so low.
“Oh, no, not that. In fact, he was a patron of the arts, you know. No, see.” Cowboy shifted in the seat to face Rally. “Do you know what U.S. Marshals do?”
She thought about it. “Border control, air security, witness protection? That kind of thing.”
The other woman nodded. “Right. The Marshals also are in charge of liquidating seized materials, you know, like from drug busts, ATF kind of stuff.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“Not many people do. So, we have storehouse full of cars and jewelry and…”
“Art.” Rally thought about it. “Art that’s off the radar.”
“Exactly.” Cowboy nodded again. She opened her mouth, then closed it, sitting back, as if she were sinking.
“And you were working for him.” Rally continued. “So he could get his hands on that art.” She shot a look at the other woman, waiting for a response. But Cowboy’s expression did not change.
Rally thought it over. That didn’t make sense. If Cowboy had been working for Wayson, she’d be in prison now, not riding in the back seat of the lead car in the chase. She thought about how she had met the other woman. Although Cowboy had said that she worked for Long, the head of the organization that had been killing people to purchase prime land cheaply in order to provide a space to move illegal weapons, it suddenly seemed all wrong. Cowboy had told her that she was a minor member of the organization; that she didn’t like the way things were going down. She had passed information on to her journalist friend. But…Wayson had said that the last three syndicates she had worked for had been brought down.
Rally sucked in her breath sharply. “You have got to be kidding me,” she muttered to no one in particular. “You’re an undercover cop?”
“Marshal,” Cowboy corrected, with the smallest hint of a smile.
“Ma’am,” the driver spoke, interrupting them.
There was no need to say that they had arrived. Even from this distance, they could see the tarmac of the landing strip and the trucks moving around in the distance.
They slowed, waiting for the remaining vehicles. There was a brief conversation, then they split up into smaller groups.
Rally and Cowboy took point.
“We can’t just go gunning in,” Rally said. “They’re sure to be armed.”
“We’ve got air support and backup coming.” Cowboy assured her. “I don’t give a hoot about the art, but we have to make damn sure Jaydee doesn’t get off the ground. And for my own peace of mind and some kind of closure,” she whipped off her jacket and baseball hat and stated walking towards the plane that waited patiently on the airstrip. “I kinda think that I have to be the one to arrest him.”
“What the hell are you doing?” Rally asked, before she got three steps away.
“You coming, or not?” Cowboy didn’t even bother turning over her shoulder.
Cursing heartily Rally loped after her, praying that the Texan didn’t have a death wish.
“This was part of the plan, right?” Rally muttered, as hands roughly searched her.
Cowboy didn’t move – well, couldn’t since she was being held tightly against a wall – as she responded brightly. “Oh, sure.”
Hands on their heads, they were herded at gun point away from their target. The plane was buzzing with activity, but they weren’t getting anywhere nearer to it.
Rally opened her mouth, but a prod in the back with the muzzle of a Barrett 82A1 kept her quiet.
“Where we goin’ boys?” Cowboy seemed to have no concerns at all about the fact that they were deep in enemy territory, without weapons, surrounded by armed professionals. So unconcerned in fact, Rally almost believed that this *was* part of the plan.
“Shut the fuck up,” was the only response she received. “Another noise from either of you and you eat this.” The Barrett moved close to Cowboy’s cheek.
They were taken to the flight office, while their guards stood and watched them. Only a few moments passed when the unmistakable sound of boots came closer. The door opened.
“Terri. Ms. Vincent.” J. D. Wayson entered the room.
“Jaydee,” Cowboy nodded. “Sorry it has to be like this.”
The millionaire closed the door behind him, looking long, and soberly at his old childhood friend.
“Do you remember, Terri, when that kid in high school beat me up?” Wayson propped himself against the door. “You found me outside the locker room, bloody nose and broken glasses. You took me home and cleaned me up. You remember that?”
“Sure do. I also remember I went after his ass, but his friends jumped me.” Terri smiled bitterly. “Good times, huh?”
“You took a beating for me, Terri. I’ll never forget that.” Wayson sighed and pushed himself off the wall. “That’s why you’re both still alive. Because I owed you for that.” He fixed his gaze on Cowboy. “But I don’t owe you anything any more.”
“I dunno, Jaydee.” Cowboy replied lightly. “You keep us alive, and we might be the reason you stay alive yourself, you know?”
“Hostages?’ Wayson shook his head sadly. “No, I don’t play that game – the odds are very bad. I don’t want either of you along in any case. You’re way too much trouble.” His gaze moved towards Rally. “Ms. Vincent. All I asked of you is that you stayed put for a few hours. If you had done that, you would not be in this position.”
Rally didn’t answer. Instead, she said, “It’s even worse odds if you kill a federal agent, isn’t it?”
“I told you that I was a businessman, didn’t I?” Wayson put his hand on the doorknob. “I have no intention of killing either of you. In five minutes, there won’t be a reason to.” He pulled on the knob, and the door opened. “In five minutes, I’ll be gone and your Federal princes can come riding in on their white chargers and save you from the mean old sorcerer.” Wayson’s tone was dry. He turned toward the hallway, when his attention was caught by something skittering by his feet.
A round object, bounced into the room. Everyone’s eyes followed it, but only Rally reacted quickly enough. She slammed herself into the guard closest to her, pushing him towards Cowboy.
The smoke grenade exploded, obscuring everything. Rally clamped her mouth shut, and kicked out at a visible knee. She could hear shouting, and her arms were suddenly free. She plowed into a guard, grabbed his gun and shot him in the foot. There was more gunfire. As the smoke cleared, she could see a dark spot, where the door presumably lay.
“Wayson,” she shouted.
“Rally!” a familiar voice rang down the hall.
“I’m on him,” Cowboy’s voice came after the woman had passed her at a dead run.
“Rally! You’re okay!”
“May? What are you doing here?”
The smoke was clearing. The two guards lay writing on the floor, coughing and grabbing at wounded limbs.
Minnie May cam running down the hall, accompanied by a half dozen men in blue windbreakers.
“Got a call from Cowboy.” May explained quickly. “Told me to meet you here.”
“And you just came?” Rally wiped her eyes with her sleeve, as she grabbed a gun off the floor.
“She sent me a picture of the two of you in a police vehicle, told me that you were planning on getting into trouble and that I should come. Of course I came. What the heck are you two doing? What happened to the date?”
“May,” Rally smiled dryly, and took off after Cowboy, “I think this is the date.”
“There’s something very wrong with the two of you!” May called after her.
The hall was long, straight and had little cover. Rally moved from doorway to doorway, following the sound of gunfire.
When she came across a number of blue windbreakers that said “Police,” she figured she’d found the fight.
“Where’s Cowboy, erm, Simms?” she asked. The Marshal gestured with his chin towards the plane. “You gotta be kidding me,” she said, as she caught sight of Cowboy moving towards the plane, her gun extended. Rally moved forward to join her, using the piles of materials, boxes and random jetsam as cover.
“Hey Rall!” Cowboy shot back over her shoulder, as soon as Rally had moved within hearing range. “Now this, this is a fair fight, don’t ya think?” The grin on her face made her look deranged.
“I think you’re a crazy bitch, is what I think,” Rally said, ducking as a bullet whizzed above her head. “What is wrong with you?”
“Nothing, darlin’. I just know something that none of the rest of you know – Jaydee Wayson is the most narcissistic little pissant the world has ever seen. Cover me,” and with that, Cowboy took off towards the plane.
How she was not hit, Rally could never say. It was as if she had been touched by the gods. Moving quickly and with purpose, Cowboy made the door to the plane, just as the door opened and James Ditrich Wayson stepped out, a gun held to the chest of his former best friend, Teresa Simms.
There wasn’t any time to think about it, that the angle was bad and the chance of a clean shot was unlikely, or that the distance was too far. Rally could see May come up beside her out of the corner of her eye, but didn’t stop to talk. She lifted the gun she held and steadied it.
Wayson looked surprised as Cowboy swayed and fell off the stairs to the plane. He stared at his hand, which hadn’t moved and the gun in it, which hadn’t been fired. Then he looked down at his stomach where a dark stain was spreading across his expensive tan suit. He looked even more surprised as he fell backwards into the plane, clutching at his abdomen. Even as men in blue police windbreakers swarmed him, Rally was later told, the expression on Wayson’s face was complete and utter surprise.
But Rally didn’t care about J.D. Wayson. As soon as the millionaire had slipped to his knees, she ceased caring about him at all, heading at a dead run for the crumpled form of Cowboy, who lay moaning on the tarmac below the mobile stairs.
“Godammit, Rall,” the Texan said, her eyes clamped shut in pain. “Did ya have to shoot me too?”
Rally smiled down at the other woman gently. “Didn’t have to. Wanted to.”
Cowboy laughed, then groaned in agony.
“I’m a captive audience,” Cowboy said, leaning back in the hospital bed. “Ask and ye shall receive.”
Rally paced at the foot of the bed in silence for a little while, trying to put her thoughts in place. She had gathered some of the story from the other Marshals, from May, from guesswork, but she really wanted to hear it all from Cowboy.
“Start from the beginning,” she finally said, sitting herself down in the chair by the bed. “And don’t leave out anything.”
“You sure?” Cowboy asked then, after Rally nodded, started, “It started right after I graduated college, when the U.S. Marshals recruited me. My Daddy was a cop, my Mama was what they call a homemaker, and they were both good folks who believed in God and church and law. I grew up thinking that justice was something we all participated in, so, I joined. I had good marks in training, I was decent at my job and then someone noticed that I was plain as a cheese. I got shifted to witness protection, on account of my ability to fade into a crowd.”
Cowboy closed her eyes and took a few moments to catch her breath. “And while I was there, I accidentally uncovered a leak. I went undercover, found the source of the leak, and stopped a mob witness tampering ring cold. It wasn’t on purpose. I wasn’t setting out to be a hero, I just saw something that was wrong and did my best within the system to fix it.”
Cowboy looked pale, but she kept on talking.
“The best thing after that was for me to disappear, so I was put on border patrol. And I ended up busting an organization of coyotes. Got a commendation, and a promotion, and an order to take off and disappear for a while.”
“That was what Wayson meant, when he told me that the syndicates you worked for had been taken down?”
Cowboy didn’t open her eyes, but she shook her head back and forth. “No. See, I was tooling around on leave, and the FBI contacted my boss. Seems they had some crime problems and were hoping for someone with good undercover skills and next thing you know, I’m riding around posing as a bad guy. Just enough to establish myself as a drifter, to rack up a short record, and a reputation for being efficient, trustworthy and temporary. I got reassigned and…then I came to Chicago, to work with the FBI folks here.” Cowboy struggled with her words, her eyes open now, but far away. Slowly, she pulled them back to look at the woman by the bedside. When she spoke again, her tone was pleading.
“I swear to god, Rall, I wanted to tell you so bad, I really did. But I couldn’t. Because by the time we finished with Long, we already knew that Jaydee was using someone in the Marshals to smuggle out art. In fact, they knew a while back, and were just waiting for it to get too hot for me here. That’s part of why I left so fast.” Cowboy’s voice dropped to a whisper. “The other part was that if I stayed, I was sure I’d blow my own cover.
“Every time you looked at me, with that look, you know, the one that said, ‘Who are you? Can I trust you?’ I wanted to tell you. It was killing me, so I ran before I blew it.”
Cowboy fell silent.
“And Wayson?” Rally asked, wondering if Cowboy had fallen asleep, she had been quiet for so long.
Cowboy shifted, pain visible in her face. “He knew all along. I didn’t lie to you about how he got in touch with me, or how I went to Florida, or me being his arm candy. The bit I left out was that he knew I was a Marshal. I got down there and over dinner, he told me that if I didn’t play along, he’d cut me loose and tell the whole world who I was. I’d made quite a few enemies, on account of my ‘activities’ and he knew that plenty of people would love to know where they could find me. So, I played along.
“That was the plan the whole time. Just another undercover operation.” Sinking backward into the bed, Cowboy looked exhausted.
“And that’s everything?”
“Everything.” Cowboy’s voice was fading. “Except…” she opened her eyes, which crinkled slightly at the corner, as she smiled. “I’m pretty far gone on you, Rall.” Her eyes closed, and she slipped into sleep.
“I know.” Rally got up, straightened the sheet over the other woman’s form and turned away. As she opened the door, she looked over her shoulder. “I guess I’m pretty far gone on you, too,” she said, and left the room.
“You let her leave!?!” Misty was out of her chair before Rally had stopped speaking. “Are you crazy? She was hot, she’s got a hot ride and she’s a cop! What MORE do you want?”
“A U.S. Marshal,” Rally corrected absent-mindedly. “And I didn’t let her leave. I called the hospital, and she had checked herself out and left no forwarding address. I’m not her mother. I’m not going to run after her and make sure she has a clean pair of underwear and enough change for a taxi ride home.” She held the gun barrel up to the loupe she wore.
“May, can you talk some sense into her?” Misty threw up her hands in disgust and stomped off into the back room, muttering about Rally’s obvious mental weakness.
May smiled at the young woman, joining Rally at the counter. “She’s just jealous.”
Rally didn’t look up, but she grunted in agreement, as she worked on putting the gun back together.
“Well, half jealous and half worried.”
“I’m fine.” Rally eyed another piece of the gun carefully, before replacing it.
May had to admit that Rally did, indeed, look fine. In fact, she looked supremely unconcerned. May’s eyebrows drew closer. She was beginning to smell a rat.
“Rally,” she began, but her partner anticipated her.
“She’ll be back.” Rally looked up with an expression confident enough that May jumped.
“You have heard from her!”
Rally shook her head, and finished putting the P-210-4 together. She held it up, waggled it twice, then put it back on the counter and began wiping it down with a silicone cloth.
The light dawned visibly on May’s face. “She left her gun…”
Rally looked up with the slightest smile at the corner of her lips, just as the bell on the door twinkled.
The woman who entered was wearing worn denim jeans, and a brown leather jacket. Under her arm she held a motorcycle helmet, and on her face was a sheepish grin.
“Hey Rall.” Cowboy said, ducking her head at May and at Misty who had come from the back, her jaw once again gaping.
“Cowboy.” Rally slipped the gun into the holster and held it out. “Just finished cleaning it. It’s pretty worn.”
“Yeah, but, you know, it’s an heirloom and all. Say,” Cowboy took the gun in her one hand, and held out the helmet with the other. “I was wonderin’ if you want to, you know, go out for a ride.”
Rally shook her head. “Not this time.” She grabbed a dry cloth and scrubbed her hands dry, then reached for her jacket. “This time,” she said as she put her jacket on, pulling a pair of sunglasses out of the pocket. “I drive.”
“Fair enough.” Cowboy took Rally’s arm as they headed out the door.
“Oh, and Misty?” Rally shot back over her shoulder, “Can you and May watch the store? I won’t be coming back tonight.”
As the door slammed closed with a sharp tinkle, they could hear Misty’s awed voice. “I knew it.”