Red Lily

Back in the Saddle

Written By | Series: Gunsmith Cats

Disclaimers: The characters of Rally, May, Ken and Roy and the concept of Gunsmith Cats are the sole property of Kenichi Sonoda, Kodansha, Studio Proteus and probably a few other people. But not me.

Other characters and situations copyright E. Friedman, 2001. Notes to follow story.

 

Back in the Saddle

Chapter 1

Rally slipped on the earmuffs with a sigh of satisfaction…it had been too damn long. With business at the shop picking up, and the bounty hunting business being too good for the welfare of the general public, she hadn’t had a chance to do much but work. Now that the summer was here, everyone, even the criminals, were holing up for some rest and relaxation. And so was she. Today May was watching the shop and Rally was ready to play.

Rally patted her CZ75 happily, released the safety and brought the gun to bear. She could see another person shooting to her right, but didn’t care enough to look at them carefully. Firing off a few test rounds, she slammed through the rest of a clip, reloaded, fired off another magazine, then a third. She stopped, breathing a little heavily, feeling the blood run hot through her body. Rally found her lip curling – she knew what May would say if she were here. Yeah, well, so? So she got off on shooting. Was that a crime? It wasn’t like she went around finding people to shoot, like some of the sickos she pulled in.

She checked the gun again – reloaded, aimed…and sneezed. The shock of the sneeze jogged her arm and the earmuffs slipped. Before she could readjust them, she heard the person next to her fire off a few rounds. Staring, her eyes wide, Rally backed away from the wall and leaned a little to her right. There was no way she could be hearing what she thought she heard…

Two more steps back and her line of vision cleared the separating wall. Rally could see a tall woman, a few inches taller than herself, her body held steady but not rigidly. Three more shots and Rally knew that she hadn’t been wrong. The sound, the shape – that woman was holding a SIG P-210-4! No way! Even if she had gotten hold of a model…

Turning abruptly, the woman rounded on Rally, scowling. “Can I help you or somethin’?” The gun was down, her finger off the trigger, but the way she moved, the comfort she showed with that gun – this woman was a professional. Rally grinned a bit, trying not to show her embarrassment.

“Um, sorry to bother you,” she said. “That’s a P-210-4, isn’t it? I heard you fire it and I knew it had to be…” Her voice tapered off, as the woman relaxed. Pulling her own earmuffs back, the woman grinned and looked at her gun with fondness.

“Yeah. It is.” She jettisoned the empty clip and reloaded casually as she spoke. “Ain’t she a beauty?” Her voice was soft, with a slight drawl – not a local girl, Rally thought.

Nodding, Rally agreed. “I use a P-210 sometimes, instead of this lovely thing here,” she held up the CZ75 and gave it an affectionate pat, “but I’ve never had a chance to use a P-210-4.”

The woman shrugged. “Not many of them around, really. My Daddy,” the drawl thickened for a moment, “brought this one home from Germany as a souvenir.”

“Helluva souvenir.” Rally said.

“You bet darlin’.” The woman nodded towards Rally’s own gun. “That’s not something you see everyday, either. That’s not the mass produced version, is it?” Rally shrugged, as the other woman had, and they locked eyes. Their laughter echoed in the range.

“Look,” the woman said after a moment, “I’ve never had a chance to handle the original CZ75 – how ‘bout you and me switch for a few rounds? I’ll pay for the ammo, if you want.”

Rally thought it over. “Well, how about we split the ammo, but you can buy me coffee afterwards.”

“Deal.” The woman reached out with an empty right hand. “I’m Terry Simms. My friends call me Cowboy.”

“Rally Vincent.” They shook hands. Rally set walked over to the low wall, set down her gun and pulled out a new magazine. Laying that next to the CZ75, she watched Cowboy do the same with the SIG. They exchanged guns, and smiling, each turned toward the targets once again. Rally watched Cowboy load and fire. She wasn’t just pretty good, she was incredible. Rally hadn’t ever seen anyone get the feel of a new gun so fast. It was like she’d been using it her whole life.

Not to be outdone, Rally stepped into her own range and hefted the SIG. This was a special piece – if she could get her hands on one of these, she might even consider using the CZ75 as a backup. Might. Rally fired off a clip and took a look at her handiwork. Not too bad…she looked up and found Cowboy watching her from behind, her arms crossed over her chest.

“I’m impressed. Most people have trouble getting the range of that baby.”

Rally shrugged, dropped the empty magazine into her hand, checked the chamber and handed it back to her new friend…noting that she checked the chamber again, before holstering the gun. “Like I said, I’m used to the P-210.” Rally also noticed that Cowboy had handed her back the CZ75 cocked and locked. A professional, indeed.

“Yeah so you said. And that interests me.” Cowboy pushed herself up from the wall and waved Rally towards her. “Well, you said coffee – coffee it is. Know anywhere to get some good stuff? I hate the shit you guys drink around here. All brand names and no flavor.”

“As a matter of fact, I do. It’s right down the street – we can walk.”

***

Two women sat at the table laughing loudly. The proprietor of the place was glad about that. Maybe two pretty young things like that might draw in some business. He had made sure they were seated by the window. It was hard to sell coffee on days like today – too damn hot. He mopped the sweat from his face and sucked down some of the iced coffee he had made for himself.

“No kidding? That’s why they call you Cowboy?” Rally hooted in joy. “I can just see that!” The two women sat back, allowing mirth to overtake good manners.

Cowboy wiped her eyes dramatically and leaned forward, slapping the table. “I gotta tell ya, Rally Vincent – this has been the most fun I’ve had in a month of Sundays. I was beginning to think the people around here were plain unfriendly.”

Rally leaned her chin on her hands. “Yeah, sometimes I think that too, but they’re not, really. Just wrapped up in their own lives, you know? I’ve made some good friends here.”

Cowboy nodded sagely, “Yeah, I guess it’s the same wherever you go – same people, same shit.”

“Yep,” Rally sighed. A moment passed and she sat up and stretched. “Man that was depressing!” She grinned at the woman across the table. “We don’t know each other well enough to be that much of a downer.” Checking her watch, Rally reached across for her purse, but Cowboy stopped her.

“I said I’d spring for the coffee.”

Rally nodded and stood. “Well, it’s been a real pleasure, Cowboy. If you get a chance sometime, stop by the shop. Gunsmith Cats – it’s in the book.” Waving one hand, Rally stepped away from the table, only to whirl back around at the sound of screeching tires.

A black Trans Am came shrieking down the road, slowing only slightly as it passed the coffee shop. Through the blacked out windows, Rally caught a glint of something metal and shouted “Get down!” She dove under the table as the window exploded inwards in a million glittering shards. The tires screamed again and the Trans Am roared off, as Rally took to her heels.

“Sonofabitch!” Rally shouted. “I don’t know who sent you, but I’ll take you down!” Cocking her wrist, she grabbed a hold of the Duo she kept in the spring-loaded holster, but the car took a corner at sixty and disappeared from sight. Rally ground her teeth. She turned towards the shooting range parking lot and began to sprint for the Cobra.

A hand on her wrist tugging her back, spun her around. Cowboy stood there, shouting over the sirens that were quickly approaching. “C’mon!”

“My car!” Rally tried to free her arm, but Cowboy pulled her in opposite direction.

“No time for that. You want to stop ‘em?” Cowboy broke into a jog and Rally had to run to keep from stumbling. A few yards away Cowboy let go of Rally’s arm, stopping in front of a large, red motorcycle. The tall woman smiled – it was more like a smirk, Rally thought. “C’mon, time’s a-wasting…” and she tossed Rally a helmet. Rally slammed it onto her head – it was a little too tight – and threw her leg over the bike. It was one wide mammy-jammy; Rally wondered whether it would be fast. The next thing she thought was “Yeeeehhhaaaa!” as Cowboy hit the road doing sixty.

Rally grabbed onto Cowboy’s shirt and clung for dear life as they cornered awfully low, then came up. They hit the highway at 100 mph, and within a few seconds, Rally could just make out the Trans Am ahead of them.

A noise crackled in her ear. “Can you hear me?” Cowboy’s voice was broken with static, but audible.

“Sure can!” Rally responded. “Can you catch them?”

“Sure can!” Cowboy echoed. “You know anything about bikes?”

“Not much.”

“Hon, what you’re riding right now is a Ducati M900 Monster. I can catch this little pissant, run rings around him at 120, and hog-tie him before he notices me.”

Rally nodded, gripping the tall woman tightly as they edged up to 120, then 130. The Trans Am did spot them, however, and it sped up, weaving in and out of traffic.

“Yessir – that’s exactly what I want you to do…come to mama…” Cowboy’s voice was low in Rally’s ear and she shivered. Their speed climbed.

“Hey Cowboy. How fast can this thing go?”

She heard Cowboy chuckle. “How fast you want to go, darlin’?”

Rally felt something inside her build. “As fast as I can,” she said and shouted with joy as they edged up past 150.

Rally had the sensation that they were surfing. Time had stopped and the highway was one big wave. The rush of air was nothing like she had ever felt before. Speed in her Cobra was like the best sex possible, but this…this was even better. She could feel the throb of the engines between her legs; the wind pulled at her, asking her to fly with it. She could hear her heart pounding and the whine of a finely built machine gripping the pavement below. Cowboy was tall in the saddle in front of her and Rally had the oddest sensation – she had no idea what it was, but was something close to euphoria, she was sure.

Cowboy’s voice intruded on her thoughts. “You still got that little pop gun you had back there?” Rally made an affirmative noise. “Good – I’m going to pull up, then we’re blowin’. You think you can take out the driver before he kills us?”

Rally laughed. “Try me.”

It was amazing – like skating on ice. The Ducati sidled up to the Trans Am as if it were standing still. Rally could see the window lowering, and she timed her shot – she had to get it off before the shooter had a chance to take him aim. There it was – the driver turned to look at her. With precision, Rally put a few slugs intro his arm and then had to throw herself into Cowboy in order not to be ripped off the back of the bike. Behind them, the Trans Am slid off the road. She couldn’t hear the crash – but she could imagine it.

“200, darlin’.” Cowboy said quietly in her ear. “That fast enough for you?”

Rally grinned and shifted her grip. “You bet! Ride ‘em Cowboy!”

***

Some time later, a red Ducati pulled off the highway and made its way sedately to a police station. Rally got off the back, willing her legs to regain circulation. A little shakily, she shook hands with Cowboy Simms and waved as she rode off.

It was only after she had reached the floor where Roy worked, that she wondered how the hell Cowboy had known where it was that the Trans Am had gone.

 

Chapter 2

“Dammit!” Rally slammed her hand on the desk. “This is totally unfair! They shot first!”

“Rally, calm down or you’ll face more than 30 days suspension.” Roy was more than a little exasperated. “You can’t just go around town acting like a vigilante!”

Rally interrupted. “I know that! I didn’t kill the guy, did I? I just put him out of action.” She blew her hair out of her eyes in frustration. “Geez, Roy. I made it easier for you to find ‘em.”

Roy pushed his chair back from the desk and stood, both hands on the desk edge. “Listen to me Rally – I’m not joking here. Those guys weren’t on any wanted posters – you had no jurisdiction.”

“What about the gun?” Rally insisted.

“We didn’t find any.” Roy stood and stuffed his hands into his pockets.

“What?” Rally could not believe her ears. “The shooter took out a window at MacAfee’s. How could there be no gun?”

Roy shrugged. “Look, all I know is that the guys in the car were aides from the City Planning Office and neither of them were armed.” Roy sighed heavily. “The one you shot was released from the hospital. His story is that they were out for a lunchtime ride, when you and your friend pulled up and you shot him. The other guy,” Roy held up a hand to stall Rally’s protest, “the guy you say was the shooter – he’s unconscious. Got thrown from the car when it flipped.”

Rally cursed under her breath.

Roy looked at her strangely. “What were you doing on the back of a motorcycle anyway? That’s not your usual gig.”

Unaccountably, Rally found herself blushing. “I told you – there wasn’t time to get to the Cobra.”

Roy frowned a bit at Rally, then shrugged. “Go on – go home. We’ll talk later.” Rally turned away from him and he said softly, “Try not to get yourself killed, okay?”

“I promise.” Rally waved over her shoulder as she walked away.

***

“Cool!” May said, around a mouthful of fried rice.

“Gross!” Becky said, as she picked a grain of rice from her sweater. “Can’t you finish chewing first?” May giggled while Becky scowled back at her.

Rally finished chewing, then nodded. “Yeah it was kind of cool.” She smiled until she saw May giving her a funny stare, then cleared her throat. “But there was something odd about Cowboy, too.”

“You mean, like how she knew where the Trans Am was going?” Becky asked, flicking a second grain of rice back at Minnie May.

“Exactly.” Rally locked her feet under the chair and pushed back to lean against the wall. She had changed into a crop top and shorts, but she could still feel the aftereffects of the adrenaline from today’s joyride alternately giving her chills and hot flashes

“So, you think they were gunning for this Cowboy, then.” It was not a question.

Rally nodded, but she wasn’t sure. Cowboy had seemed so…straightforward.

“Rally,” May said, ostentatiously swallowing and wiping her mouth with a napkin before speaking, “do you think she was trying to set you up?”

“No.” Rally answered a beat too fast and knew it. Both women facing her had astonishment written all over their faces.

“Rally?” Beck said.

May was plainer, “She got you to shoot the driver. Without your ID, there’s nothing but a few police reports of a car-motorcycle chase on the highway. No Cowboy Simms…no one but Rally Vincent.” May’s voice was serious and Rally nodded contritely.

Becky stood up abruptly. “Right, before I forget – Terri “Cowboy” Simms.” She walked over to her briefcase, pulled out a file and handed it to Rally. “21 years old, 5’10″, born in Driftwood, Texas.”

“Becky, that’s got to be fake!” May laughed. “There can’t really be a Driftwood, Texas.”

Becky grinned. “There shore is, purdy lady.” And she tipped her nonexistent cowboy hat over her brow.

Rally looked down at the file, but didn’t open it. “What else?” she asked the informer.

Becky waved her hand insouciantly. “The usual. High school dropout, runaway. Did some courier work for the local drug dealers, but nothing deep. Drifted, ends up here. Hasn’t settled down, though. She’s had four addresses in six months.”

“Hmmm.” Rally sounded thoughtful. “Basic courier stuff, you say? Then why would two guys from City Planning want to take her out?”

Becky winked and pointed at the file. “Look at the addresses listed for your friend there. Notice anything funny about them?”

Rally read the addresses out loud. Minnie May snapped her fingers. “I know! Didn’t they all get vacated?”

Becky nodded. “Each and every one of those streets was preemptively purchased under the auspices of the Industrial Street and Alleyway Vacation Program.”

“Right,” Rally agreed. “I remember that. Businesses can expand into “under-utilized” alleyway and street areas to, if I remember correctly, ‘improve security.’”

“Yep.” Becky said. “And those companies can buy that land for way under market prices. The best part is that property owners of adjacent property have no choice – they have to agree to the vacation.”

Rally whistled. “Nice. I wonder how many places were put out of business that way.”

Shrugging, Becky said, “Not many. Remember, these areas are mostly abandoned warehouses, crackhouses and other tourist spots.”

“Yeah, but still!” May was indignant.

Rally looked back down at the file on her lap and wondered how Cowboy fit into all of this.

***

Rally rubbed her eyes and stifled another yawn. She was beat, but she couldn’t sleep. Rolling over, she turned on the lamp at her bedside and grabbed the file Becky had left her. Opening it, she stared at the photo of the tall woman. Brown hair – it’s longer now, she thought – blue eyes crinkled up in a cynical smile. Looks that would fade into a crowd, nothing special. Rally reread the information in the manila folder for the third time, but nothing new caught her attention. She flipped back to the photo and pulled it off the file.

Lying back on her pillow she gazed at the unremarkable picture for a long time. She closed the file, stuck the photo into it and laid it back on the night table. Turning off the light, she lay back again and spoke into the darkness.

“Goodnight, Cowboy – wherever you are.”

 

Chapter 3

Time passes quickly when you’re busy, they say, but Rally also noticed that time passed quickly when you’re avoiding being busy.

Business was quiet; bounty hunting was out of the question, since she was suspended. It was too hot to do much and the store was as clean as she and a bottle of glass cleaner could make it. She sighed heavily and leaned her chin on her hands. The door signal chimed and Rally looked up in surprise as a tall woman walked into the store.

“Cowboy!” Rally came around the front of the counter, smiling.

“Hey darlin’. I thought it was time to see your spread.” She looked around and nodded. “Pretty spiffy.” Whistling, she walked over to a case and nodded. “Nice. You probably sell a lot of those.”

“The AR-15s? Yeah – they’re pretty popular. Easily customizable, people seem to like ‘em.” Rally found herself turning away when their eyes met.

“So,” Rally stepped back to the counter, pretending not to notice the warmth in her cheeks, “what brings you to this part of town?”

“Cowboy shrugged. “Nothin’ really. I’m “in between jobs” as they say, and had nothing better to do.”

“In between jobs?” Rally asked. “What is it you do?”

“Oh, heh,” Cowboy looked a little sheepish, “delivery, mostly. Nothing special.”

The conversation lapsed in to silence.

“Hey,” Rally said suddenly, “can I get you some coffee or something? Although it’s kind of hot for coffee…” she said a little wistfully.

“Actually,” Cowboy came up to the counter and leaned on it, her face close to Rally’s, “I was hopin’ you’d join me for a beer.” She scrunched her face up in the same smile Rally knew from the photo in the file. “You *are* legal, right?”

Rally grinned. “Twenty-two.”

Cowboy grinned back. “Sure. And my Daddy was Macarthur. Well, if you know a place that’ll serve you, that’ll do.”

***

Cowboy gave an envious whistle when she saw the Cobra. Rally preened.

“Helloooo kitty!” Cowboy said, as she stroked the hood with a fingertip. “This is one hell of a piece of work!”

“Custom job,” Rally said unnecessarily. Cowboy nodded absent-mindedly. “Get in. It’s my turn to drive.” Rally almost laughed out loud with pleasure.

***

Two beers. Not much, Rally thought. I’ll have two beers and ask her what was up with that chase and that’ll be that.

Three beers later, Rally had forgotten and remembered her plan something like thirty times. The two women had just arm-wrestled and were now hiccupping with laughter, although neither of them could have told anyone why. Cowboy waved the bartender over and asked for another round. He frowned a bit, but brought two more frosted glasses. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t seen in a thousand times already…

“Say, Cowboy,” Rally had to remember to remember what she was going to say, “what the hell was that chase about anyway?”

“Chase?” Cowboy was puzzled. “Oh that. Sheesh, I never apologized for that, did I?” Rall, ole buddy, I guess you figured out that they were gunnin’ for me by now, haven’t ya?”

Rally nodded exaggeratedly, so Cowboy knew what she meant.

Cowboy nodded. Then nodded again. “What was I sayin’?”

Rally barked with laughter. “You were apologizing, because you almost got me killed on the bike.”

“Ain’t she a sweet thing?” Cowboy’s attention seemed to have wandered again. “A finer piece of metal I’ve never had.” The tall woman nodded a few times for emphasis. Grinning at Rally she asked, “So, what’d you think of her? You liked that little ride, right?”

Rally’s head bobbed up and down like a Chihuahua toy in the back of a car. “Hell yeah. Now that’s speed!” They toasted to speed and drank.

Rally frowned…there was something she wanted to know.

‘Right. Oh, right.” Cowboy said with surprise. “Right, like I said – I’m sorry. It was all a misunderstanding. The city planners want to tear down my apartment building and I just got moved in and all. I went down there and gave them a piece of my mind. It was all a misunderstandin’, ya see?”

Rally nodded. That was it. A misunderstanding. “Sure, sure – no sweat. But hey, thanks for the ride!” They grinned at each other.

Outside the bar, Cowboy said she’d walk back to her place. “I got a snoot full – the air’ll do me good.”

Rally opened the Cobra door. As she moved to get in the car, she was pulled back with a jerk and awkwardly embraced by a gushing Cowboy. Off balance, Rally had to grab onto the woman to stay upright. She looked up to find Cowboy’s blue eyes crinkled up in a smile.

“Hey, Rally, you’re all right.” Cowboy let Rally go so suddenly that she stumbled back and fell into the driver’s seat. She watched the tall woman walk off somewhat unsteadily, until she couldn’t see her anymore.

***

Later that night, Rally lay in bed with an icepack on her head, moaning softly to herself. “Damn you, Cowboy,” she said to the room at large.

May entered with a tray. “Here you go, Rally. Some of my mama’s homemade hangover recipe!” May was being loud and cheerful on purpose, Rally assumed.

May spooned some nasty herbal concoction into Rally’s mouth and watched her solemnly as she choked on it.

Spluttering, Rally said, “Your mother never made that!”

May smiled brightly. “Not my mother, silly – the Mama at the Purple Pussy. This is her recipe.”

“Oh.” Rally lay back, the pounding in her head was letting up a little.

“What were you thinking Rally? You never drink this much.” May looked down at her friend.

“I didn’t drink this much,” Rally said petulantly. “Cowboy and I were just having a beer or two.”

“Cowboy, huh?” May stood and picked up the tray. “Rally – don’t you think it’s kind of weird – her turning up here and all?”

Rally cracked an eye open. “Nah. I invited her to drop by. What are you worried about?”

May shook her head. “I’m not sure.” She walked over to the door. “You like her Rally, don’t you?” May’s voice was teasing.

“Sure I do. She’s fun and she’s a good shot – and has a nice bike…” Rally closed her eyes again, as sleep crept up on her.

“That’s not what I mean.” May said, and closed the door behind her.

***

Rally was riding again – this time the wind hit her full in the face. The speed must have been incredible, because she felt like she was flying. Then she opened her eyes and saw the ground rushing up at her headlong. She closed her eyes again and screamed…and woke up.

Sitting up, Rally breathed deeply until her heart stopped racing, then sat there in the darkness for a long time. Eventually she felt ready to try to sleep again. She thought about her last meeting with Cowboy, about how they parted. This time, when Rally looked up, Cowboy stopped talking and leaned down a little. Rally’s hands tightened on Cowboy’s arms as they kissed.

Rally’s eyes popped open. The light of morning turned the room the same shade of grey she felt. Stumbling out of bed, Rally threw herself into the shower. The hot water felt good, like fingers that stroked her stiff muscles. Leaning against the wall, she let the fingers soothe her sore body. When she realized that the fingers belonged to a tall brunette, Rally turned off the hot water and braved the blast of cold for a solid minute. Shivering and miserable, she toweled herself off and went downstairs for breakfast.

 

Chapter 4

Rally held the phone in her hand, staring down at it. The voice had been muffled and rushed, but it had definitely been Cowboy’s. She slammed the receiver back into its cradle and ran into the back room.

“May, watch the shop – I’m going out.” Rally grabbed her jacket, jammed the Grendel into her ankle holster and turned towards the door. May stood in front of it, arms crossed, frowning.

“No you don’t. Where, when, who, why and how much?”

Rally stopped and crossed her arms in answer. “Look, you’re my partner, not my mother, okay?”

“It’s Cowboy again, isn’t it?” May demanded.

“What if it is?” Rally knew she was being irrational, but May’s attitude towards a woman she’d never met was getting on her nerves. “Can’t I go out with a friend?”

“Out? With a friend?” May’s voice was ominous. “In a rush, without a word to your partner? Rally, what’s going on?” May stamped one foot. “I’m not letting you out the door until you tell me.”

Rally weighed the options – time wasn’t something she had a lot of. “Okay, come on, I’ll explain on the way.”

***

“She what?” May exploded. “Rally, what is with you? You hardly know this woman and you’ve agreed to help her with a delivery – for free?”

Rally grimaced. “She sounded like she really needs the help.” It sounded weak even to her own ears. “She sounded like she was under pressure…”

“The kind of pressure that comes from the barrel of a gun?” May asked.

“Yeah.” Rally said, and gripped the wheel tighter.

“Okay.” May took a deep breath. “Go over it one more time, because I have missed something the first time around – like the motivation for this joyride.”

Rally grit her teeth against the snide comment. “She told me that she needed my help – isn’t that motive enough?”

May stared at her friend open-mouthed for a moment. “No, it isn’t – not for you, not for me. And I don’t trust this woman.”

Rally glared back. “May – you’re jealous!”

“Am not!” May responded automatically, then clammed up as Rally took a corner far faster than the recommended speed limit.

They didn’t speak again until Rally pulled up behind a warehouse. May looked around a moment, getting her bearings. “This is one of those vacated streets, isn’t it?”

Rally nodded. “You coming or staying?” May got out of the car and stood, pointedly.

“Okay, she said she’s on the third floor. Keep your head up – and don’t blow up anything unless I say so, okay?”

May gave Rally the OK and followed her down the street.

The loading dock of the warehouse stood open, but Rally passed it by and made for a steel door about fifty yards further along the wall. The door was propped open with a shim, and Rally slipped in after checking that all was clear. Gun in hand, Rally lead the way to an old delivery elevator that stood open, waiting for them.

The elevator doors closed loudly and May gripped a grenade carefully. They wouldn’t be surprising anyone in this building – every floorboard creaked. The hallway on the third floor was clear and the two women walked carefully along its length. They stopped at a door that had been blown off its hinges by gunfire. Rally noted the size of the holes and checked for shells automatically.

Entering, the two women saw that the guns had blown away more than the door. The walls, which hadn’t been in good shape to begin with, were pockmarked with bullet holes. Furniture had been overturned and fragments of glass were scattered across the floor. Moving from room to room, May and Rally found bloodstains and more damage, but no sign of any occupants.

Eventually they made their way back into the first room. This time, leaning upon the overturned sofa, was Cowboy. She was gripping her leg, and the cloth under her hand was saturated with blood. Rally holstered her gun and ran to the wounded woman.

Cowboy waved one blood-covered hand. “Howdy, Rall. Thanks for comin’. Sorry to put you to so much trouble.” Her smile was weak, but sincere. She looked past Rally to May and touched her forehead vaguely. “Howdy.”

Rally interrupted. “How bad is it?” She moved Cowboy’s hands away from the wound, but Cowboy batted Rally away.

“It’s not that bad. Look,” Cowboy waved a hand at the door. “I didn’t call you here ‘cause of this little scratch. I need your help Rally. It’s really important. Two rooms down on the other side, towards the elevators, is another office – I left a small package in there. I’d be obliged if you’d get that little bundle dropped off for me.”

Rally pushed Cowboy’s hands off her leg again, and began tying a bandana around the leg. “Deliver? Where?”

“I got the address right here – pardon the smudging.” Cowboy handed a blood-smeared piece of paper to Rally and leaned back against the sofa, her eyes closing. “I’ll be alright, really…” her voice faded.

Rally spoke urgently. “Cowboy, you’ve got to get this looked at.”

“Nah – I’ll take care of it myself. Just get that package delivered for me, okay?” Cowboy reached out to grab Rally’s wrist. “It’s real important, Rall. Like life or death.” Rally looked at the tall woman and nodded.

Turning, Rally said to May, “Can you get her back to the shop?”

Biting her tongue, May nodded.

Leaning close to Cowboy, Rally said, “I’ll deliver it, Cowboy. Then you’re going to tell me what this is all about.”

Cowboy’s voice was faint as she said, “You’re a real pal, Rally.”

***

The address on the paper had to be that fountain right around the corner, Rally figured. Just a drop-off point, but she wasn’t taking any chances. The holes in Cowboy’s apartment door had convinced her she was dealing with people who were enthusiastic when enforcing their will.

Rally held herself flat against the building. She watched as a car pulled up to the curb, disgorging three guys in suits, bulges at their shoulders discreetly hidden by good tailoring. The three men separated, and disappeared from sight quickly. Rally noted the wires in their ears and watched as the car pulled around the block. She wished she had May’s grenades with her, but as that wasn’t an option, she decided to try another tack.

Turning, Rally walked away, holstering her gun.

Half an hour later, a young woman in shorts and a halter-top, wearing absurdly large sunglasses and carrying a large purse, came down the street towards the fountain. Her progress was hampered by the several dogs she had on leashes. The dogs were running every which way except the way the woman wanted to go; her cries for them to heel seemed to go completely unheeded.

In frustration, the woman stopped at the fountain and sat, sighing loudly and occasionally yelling a useless command at one of the dogs. Two of the dogs seemed to be fighting and the woman stood, screaming at the animals to stop. Unfortunately for her, the third dog became entangled with the first two. While trying to untangle the dogs, the hapless woman lost control completely and the various leashes came out of her hands. In seconds, the dogs had run off in three directions and the woman was left standing alone, shouting after them. Looking back and forth, the woman took off after one of the animals and quickly disappeared from sight.

Rally ran off, ostensibly after one of the dogs, and hid herself behind the pillar in front of a building. She could see the dogs harassing the three goons, and hear their shouts. The sound of a car coming up the street was loud, but before it could reach the fountain, a motor scooter came out of a side alley and jumped the curb. The rider leaned down as he approached the fountain, then sped up, and rode up the stairs next to the fountain, across an overpass and disappeared.

The car passed the fountain and made a sharp, squealing turn at the next corner. Rally listened until it couldn’t be heard anymore, then walked the few blocks back to her car. OK, that was done. Now it was time to get a straight story.

 

Chapter 5

Rally entered the shop, expecting to find May ready to ream her out, but to her surprise the front room was empty. The door to the back room opened and May came out, looking tired, but smiling.

“How did it go?” she asked.

Rally’s eyebrow lifted suspiciously. “The scooter guy got the package alright. How is she?” She pointed her chin towards the back room.

May’s face became serious. “I had to call Doc in – it was worse than it looked and she lost a lot of blood, but she’ll be okay. At least it was a clean shot.”

Rally nodded. “Look, May, I’m sorry….”

May shook her head. “I’m sorry too. You were right before…I was jealous.”

The two women looked at each other for a long moment, then looked away.

“I’m not good at trusting people…” May said quickly.

“Forget it. We both know what we’re like.” Rally looked at her feet. “Maybe you’re right about Cowboy. Maybe I do trust her more than I should.”

The silence between them lengthened. The sound of something falling to the floor, followed by cursing, drew their attention away from the awkward pause. The two women entered the back room to find Cowboy on the floor, gripping her leg and regaling them with a string of colorful phrases. Together, May and Rally got the tall woman back on the cot. After Cowboy was settled and May had brought her over a glass of water and some painkillers, Cowboy looked up at them ruefully.

“I owe you both, I guess. Thanks.”

Rally shook her head and crossed her arms firmly. “That’s not enough Cowboy. You owe us more than a little half-assed thanks and no explanation. Why are the City Planning Department flunkies trying to shoot you down…and what the hell was in that package?”

Cowboy stared off, her brow furrowed. May joined Rally, her arms akimbo. “I think you owe us at least that, don’t you? We don’t care if you’re with the bad guys, but we need to know what you’ve dragged us into.”

Rally nodded, “And you need to know that if you are one of the bad guys, I’ll take you down, Cowboy, no hard feelings.”

That seemed to pull the woman out of her reverie and she laughed, loudly and long. “Well, at least I can reassure you Rall, and you too May,” she nodded at the smaller woman, “you won’t have to take me down.”

Rally felt herself relax a little. “Then tell us what this is about and maybe we can help.”

“Have a seat then, ladies.” Cowboy gestured towards the table. Rally and May grabbed chairs while Cowboy tossed back the pills and sipped from her water glass.

“Wish I had something stronger than this…” she said wistfully. “OK, this story starts a few years back. I was wandering around, doing some small-time delivery work, you know the kind?” She glanced at her audience, who nodded. “I’m a drifter, but I’m not stupid, you know. I always stayed on the outside, good freelance, that’s all. I’m tall, but I don’t stand out in a crowd and that’s good for a delivery person.

“Every time an area got too hot for me, I just moved on until I ended up here. I was working for a local guy, small potato stuff, when I got an offer. Free rent, some small jobs and pocket cash. It sounded perfect, so I took ‘em up on it.

“A few months later, I was told to move, that a new place would be found for me. Unfortunately, like I said, I’m not stupid. I began to notice a few things. Every time I made a delivery the papers the next day pointed out a high profile murder. After I was moved the second time, I noticed that the place I lived was “vacated” shortly after. I got a bit suspicious, which is a bad thing to do in my business. When I put two and two together, I didn’t like what I saw. Property owners that might have gotten in the way of vacating my block were dying mysteriously. After one was killed, the others usually fell in line, but sometimes I made a second delivery…and the troublemaker went away.

“It started to bug me, so I “borrowed” one of my packages, and took a look inside. You’re not gonna believe what I found…” Cowboy rubbed the back of her head.

“Try us,” Rally said evenly.

“You saw the wound on my leg, right?” Cowboy asked the women. “What gun made it d’you think?”

Rally answered unhesitatingly. “Ruger Super Redhawk, .44 Magnum ammo.”

Cowboy nodded, “You’d think so, wouldn’t you?”

Rally frowned. “What do you mean?”

Cowboy closed her eyes. “What would you say if I told you it was a Lone Eagle did it?”

Rally shook her head. “I’d tell you you were wrong. The Lone Eagle is a target pistol – hunting, maybe. I’d figure you knew that.”

“I do. And I’m telling you it was a Lone Eagle, or, I should say, it was made to look like a Lone Eagle. But it doesn’t pack wadcutters.” She grimaced.

May slapped her hands on the table. “I’m sorry to interrupt this mutual gun-gasm thing, but can you run that by me in language a stupid explosives expert can understand?”

Rally glanced towards her partner. “When the Lone Eagle is used for target shooting the bullets aren’t tapered, so they make a clean hole in the target.”

May nodded. “Gotcha. Please continue.” She nodded towards Cowboy.

“Wait,” Rally said. “You said it was ‘made to look like a’ Lone Eagle – what does that mean?”

“I mean,” Cowboy said, her brows drawn together, “that the gun that put this hole in my leg is made of compressed paper. After the job is done, it can be lit with a match and destroyed. They’ve got a bunch of styles. They chamber real ammo, and then, poof, they’re gone. No weapon, no evidence.”

Rally and May stared, mouths open.

“You *are* joking, right?” May asked. “’Cause that doesn’t make any sense.”

Cowboy shook her head and yawned. “I’m not joking. The guys that tried to hit me – no weapon, right?” Rally nodded. “This one too. You saw the scorch marks on my carpet? That was a nice little touch from my friends letting me know that I’m not welcome back there.”

“Then what was in the package I delivered to your friend? One of these guns?”

“No.” Cowboy yawned again. “Sorry. No – nothing that good. It was a sample of the paper used, and a copy of the formula. My friend on the scooter is a contact for a journalist at the Tribune. She’s got a story on these hits and I wanted her know what was up.”

“Is she in any danger?” May wanted to know.

“Probably, but she’s a crime reporter – she’s usually in danger. Mostly does governmental corruption stuff.” Cowboy grinned. “She’s a hell of a crack shot herself, Rall. You’d probably like her.” The tall woman leaned back with a groan and another yawn.” Sorry – these painkillers, y’know?”

“One more thing before you sleep.” Rally insisted. “What’s the connection between the vacations and the guns? And why did you say the delivery was a matter of life or death?”

“Didn’t I make that clear?” Cowboy asked. “The big boss man I work for, Long – you’ve heard of him probably.”

Rally nodded. “Oh sure. Small-time drugs, protection. I’ve picked up a few of his stupider or more careless people.”

Cowboy grinned. “I heard about that. Anyway, Long was always little until recently. Seems he’s recently become really good friends with one Paul J. Keaton.”

“The Deputy Commissioner of Planning and Development?” May asked.

“You bet, little lady.” Cowboy yawned hugely. “And there’s a nice little business owner that isn’t happy about a vacation of the lot adjacent to his. I made a drop-off yesterday. My friend wants to run the scoop tonight, tomorrow latest. After you dropped off that package an anonymous call went out to the guy who’s bitchin’ the loudest about the vacation. With luck he’s flying into Acapulco or somewhere far away for a vacation, right about now.” She looked up, catching Rally’s eye. “I’m tired of this little deal, you know. I don’t want any more deaths because of me. Losers and druggies I can’t feel bad for, but these guys are just trying to get by honestly.” Her eyes closed. “I’m not helpin’ them anymore,” she finished sleepily.

May and Rally got up from their chairs.

“Sleep it off, Cowboy. Tomorrow Doc’ll come back and take a look the leg.” May shot a look at Rally, and walked to the door. “I’ll watch the shop.” Without turning, May stepped into the front and closed the door behind her.

“C’mere,” Cowboy waved Rally over. “I’m really sorry about draggin’ you into this Rall. And your friend too – she’s a cute kid. What is she, fourteen?”

“Eighteen.”

Cowboy looked surprised. “No kidding. Hunh. Just goes to show you how wrong I can be.” She took Rally’s hand in her own and gave it a squeeze. “I just wanted to thank you again.” Pulling a little on Rally’s arm, she closed the distance between them and gave Rally a quick kiss on the cheek.

Rally pulled back as if bitten, taking her hand from Cowboy’s and clenching it at her side. “Uh, look, Cowboy…I’m not, that is…I’m not interested in you like that.”

Cowboy lay back again and grinned lopsidedly at Rally. “I know. You just love me for my gun – and my bike.”

Rally laughed a little nervously and agreed. “G’night Cowboy.”

A muffled sound that might have been a snore or an answer emanated from the woman on the cot. Rally stood for a while, looking down at the recumbent figure, then quietly left the room.

As the door closed, the “sleeping” figure smiled. “Yeah…and my Mama’s a rattlesnake.”

***

May looked over her shoulder as Rally joined her at the front desk. “What do you think?”

“I think she’s telling the truth.” Rally grabbed the gun polish and began working on her Grendel.

“You would.” May sighed. “Has anyone ever told you, Rally Vincent, that you are a complete softy?”

“Am not.”

“Are too.” May stuck her tongue out and laughed. “You really are! How many damsels in distress are you going to save before you admit it?”

“Damsels in distress?” Rally looked puzzled.

May made a face. “Forget it.” Looking around, she started to untie her apron. “Do you mind much if I take the rest of the day off? I have to see a man about a horse.”

Rally looked completely confused. “What?”

May laughed gaily. “Nothing! I just wanted to give you some time alone with your new girlfriend.”

Rally stood, her face darkening. “That’s not funny.”

May watched her in silence, until Rally sat back down, muttering under her breath. “Say what you like. In this field I think I have a bit more experience than you do.”

“Fine, Miss Expert. You have the rest of the day off. The evening too, if you want.” Rally wouldn’t look up as May slipped into the backroom and came out carrying her jacket.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t tease you.” May looked only a little contrite.

“Is there something about her that seems particularly untrustworthy?”

“No, not really. She’s nice. But I think she’s going to hurt you – one way or another.”

In the ensuing silence, May turned and left the shop.

 

Chapter 6

Cowboy woke to the light of a streetlamp streaming through the blinds into her eyes. She moved stiffly, trying to get some blood flowing through her limbs and wasn’t surprised to be rewarded with pretty intense pain for her efforts. Not only that, she was hungry. She shifted on the cot and the springs, as they always do, creaked loudly. Maneuvering carefully, she was able to get one leg over the edge of the cot, but standing would have to wait.

There was a soft knock on the door and Rally’s voice. “You up?”

“Come on in, darlin’. I’m awake.” Cowboy blinked as the overhead light clicked on.

Rally stood in the door, frowning slightly. “You’re probably hungry.”

Cowboy nodded. “I’m a fair cook, but there’s not a whole lot of kitchen back here, is there?” She looked at the coffee pot and mini-fridge questioningly.

“No, not really. And I’m no cook at all. Can you walk to the car? I know a place we can eat in peace.”

“Where’s your little friend?” Cowboy looked past Rally into the shop.

“May went out for the evening.”

“She got herself a guy, huh?” Cowboy grinned. “A little thing like her, I’m not surprised.”

Rally grimaced. “Yeah, well, when he’s not in jail or on the run, he’s great for her.”

“Oh.” Cowboy said.

Rally hmphed . “That’s not fair- I think Ken really loves her.”

“Oh?” Cowboy stared at the far wall. “Uh, how ‘bout you, Rall? You got someone to warm you up at night?”

Rally smiled. “Sure do.” Cowboy looked surprised. Rally pulled her gun from her shoulder holster and gave it a kiss.

Cowboy grinned again. “You know,” she leaned forward confidentially, “I think you and me are a lot alike. I can’t sleep without my baby under my pillow and I bet you can’t either.”

Rally laughed. “You got that right.” Reholstering the CZ75, Rally came over and helped Cowboy up. Together they managed to limp over to the door.

A tedious few minutes later and Cowboy was awkwardly propped in the Cobra. Rally assured her that the place she was thinking of was close. They hit a bump in the road and Cowboy said around gritted teeth, “Damn I sure hope so. Usually there’s nothing like a little speed to heal me, but this is pretty tough.”

Rally was as good as her word. Al’s pizzeria wasn’t much of a pizzeria, more like a bar…more like a basement, really, that happened to have a bar in it. Rally sat Cowboy facing the door.

“You’re more likely to recognize anyone coming after you.” Rally said and went up to the bar to order some of Chicago’s greasiest pizza and worst beer. “But,” Rally explained. “what this place lacks for in atmosphere and food, it makes up for in security. No one they don’t know ever makes it in.”

Cowboy nodded sagely. “Nice plan. How did you get in?”

Rally grinned around a slice of pizza. “The first time? Through the front window.”

“Nice subtle way of making an introduction.”

“You should have seen the other guy.” They laughed.

Cowboy rubbed her stomach and sighed. “Man…another of those nasty beers and I think I’ll be ready for a ride.” She glanced at Rally. “You up to some sightseeing? I don’t get out much these days, on account of living in near-condemned warehouses and all.”

Rally shrugged. “Can’t go really fast, though.” She sounded wistful.

“Sorry. I’m a total drag,” Cowboy insisted on paying for dinner. For a drifter, Rally noted, she had plenty of cash to hand. Once again, she wondered exactly who this woman was.

***

“Say what you will about Chicago, it is pretty at night.” Cowboy was propped on the Cobra’s hood, and Rally leaned against the bumper. The city sparkled in the night air, a crystal city glittering on the edge of the lake.

“Yeah – I guess so.” Rally said a little distantly. “I never noticed it.”

“Of course not.” Cowboy nudged her good foot into Rally’s back. “You’ve only got eyes for the road.” It took a few moments before she realized she was laughing alone. “Yo. What’s gotten into you? I thought we didn’t know each other well enough to be depressing.”

Rally looked back over her shoulder. “I’m not sure. I have a bad feeling. Maybe I’m paranoid, but I feel like we’re being watched. Can we get out of here?”

“Sure.” Cowboy slid off the hood and pulled herself into the front seat. Rally had already started the ignition and as soon as Cowboy had her door closed, the Cobra sped off down the road. Rally kept one eye on the rear view mirror and, after a few miles, she smiled grimly.

“Got him. He’s seems to be in a Beemer. I hope he’s had that engine tuned up.” Rally shifted gears and laid her foot down. Cowboy rolled down the window and adjusted the side mirror, so she could watch the BMW fade into the distance.

“He seems to be giving up awfully easy.” Cowboy commented.

“He thinks he’s going to cut me off – there’s some construction down this way.” Rally shifted again and made a sharp turn onto a loading ramp. “With luck, he’ll come out a the next intersection.”

Cowboy watched as the speedometer climbed. She gripped the dashboard tightly as she realized that the loading ramp was about to run out – and Rally hadn’t slowed down. The lights of the BMW were just visible as they pulled into a cul de sac below… and Rally hit the gas once more, forcing the car over the road below and onto the slightly lower ramp across the road. Pulling to the right, Rally got the Cobra off the ramp and smiled as Cowboy whooped.

“Damnation, Rall!” Cowboy was wishing she had a hat to wave as the Cobra spun and bucked around the construction site.

“Hey, I owed you for the bike ride.” Rally pulled her gun and drove with one hand.

“Makes me almost wish I had one of these to drive myself.” Cowboy grinned.

Rally spun around to the left and killed the lights and engine. “Let’s give ‘em a minute. We may have lost them, but I’m guessing they’ll be a little more persistent than that.”

Cowboy nodded. “Probably. I stole something from them. Keaton doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who forgives that easily.”

Sure enough, several pairs of headlights became visible, reflecting off the building walls. Rally floored the Cobra, its wheels spun and they screamed out of the alleyway. Three cars turned and followed, one turned around and headed the way it had come in.

The next few minutes went by blindingly fast. Rally seemed to have a minutely detailed knowledge of the streets – but so did their pursuers. When they got close enough, a few shots were fired, but nothing more than cosmetic damage was done, until Rally turned into yet another of those interminable alleys. Blocking the end of the alley was the original BMW that had chased them. In front of the Beemer stood two goons. Rally cursed. Each held something that looked way too much like a rocket launcher for Cowboy’s comfort.

“Rall?” Cowboy asked as she pulled her gun. “Can this car climb walls? ‘Cause unless the answer’s yes, I think we’re pretty much done for.”

Rally cursed again. There wasn’t room to turn the car around. She ducked, as a bullet shattered the front windshield. “Good, that’s one less bullet I have to waste.” She turned to Cowboy, who, grey-faced and tight-lipped, hunched her own form down as far as she could. “I’m going to let this baby ride…we’re going to have to jump clear. You see that door behind the dumpster? You get there and we have a way out.”

Cowboy nodded.

Rally shifted the car into first, then second and counted quickly. “On three. One, two…” she floored the accelerator, and slipped the engine into neutral a second later, “three!”

As the car raced towards the men ahead of them, Rally and Cowboy rolled out of the doors on either side of the alley. The goons with rocket launchers chose that moment to shoot, for which Rally forever thanked them. The Cobra was hit and exploded backwards in a cloud of shrapnel and smoke, which nicely covered their movements. The momentum of the rockets sent the car screaming backwards into the cars that had blocked them in from behind. Rally gnashed her teeth and sent up a fervent curse to the gods of retribution for the damage to her car, then slid behind the dumpster to join a panting Cowboy.

“You hanging in there?” Rally said, as she shot the lock off the door, and edged it open with her shoulder. She cast a last look at the wreckage that had been her Cobra and stifled another fit of cursing. There’d be time for that later.

“Yeah, but just.” Cowboy’s voice was strained. She followed Rally down a few dark stairs, and helped the other woman to wedge the door shut again.

Safe for the moment, the two women stood, leaning on whatever they could find to hold them up. Cowboy’s leg was bloodstained, and her face pale.

“We have to get you somewhere safe.” Rally said, and placed one of Cowboy’s arms across her shoulders, helping the woman to limp across the floor.

“How are we gonna get out of here?” Cowboy asked. “We’re pretty well trapped. They’ll figure out where we are soon enough.”

Rally nodded. “But we won’t be here by then. These old warehouses are great – they’re full of tunnels, loading passages and underground areas. Most of them have sewer entrances right in the basement. We’ll be out of here before they make it past the door.”

Cowboy shook her head. “I’m not going very far, Rall. Maybe you oughta leave me here.”

Rally shot her a look, but said nothing. They reached the far side of the room where an old, ratty door that had been painted shut many times over, barred their path. Rally smiled grimly. “Quit your whining and help me get this open.”

Cowboy stood and stared at Rally for a moment, then her lips set in a thin line. She nodded.

 

Chapter 7

Rally was pretty sure she knew where she was, but that wasn’t going to help her much. What she really needed, she thought, was a phone. She glanced at Cowboy who limped slowly along beside her. The tall woman didn’t quite look like dying yet, but for how long?

“There’s a place we can stop right up ahead. It’s a hole, but you can rest there.”

Cowboy nodded but said nothing.

The office *was* a hole, but it had a chair and Cowboy sank gratefully into it. Rally closed the door behind her, wedged it closed with the other chair and began opening drawers and cabinets.

“What are you lookin’ for?” Cowboy asked.

“Something to use for a bandage.” Rally replied.

“Pretty nasty place for that kind of thing, ain’t it?”

Rally smiled. “It wasn’t that long ago that this office was used by the manufacturer’s loading supervisor. Only twenty years or so…there might be something here.” She grunted as she pulled out a pile of uniform shirts. The top and bottom shirts were coated in dust, but a few of the ones in the middle seemed clean enough. Rally began to tear them into strips, as she turned to Cowboy.

“Get your pants off. We need to stop that bleeding.”

Cowboy nodded, but didn’t move. Rally walked over and shook her slightly. “C’mon girl – don’t wander off.” Cowboy’s eyes focused and she smiled a little.

“Damn, Rally, you’re one tenacious lady.”

Rally grinned. “That’s one way of putting it.”

Rally changed the bandages the best she could, and they wrestled Cowboy’s pants over the new lump. The sink in the office worked, so they were able to have a drink of reasonably clean water. When Rally was pretty sure that Cowboy wasn’t going to zonk out from shock, she sat herself down on the desk to think.

“We can’t stay here forever.” Cowboy said, one eye opened and fixed on Rally.

“No.” Rally agreed. “But we can’t leave yet. Anywhere we come out, they’ll have covered.”

Now that Rally had a moment to calm down and think, she found that she couldn’t quite focus her thoughts. A moment ago, she had been kneeling in front of Cowboy, and for some reason, that scene kept coming back to her mind. She felt her face get a little warm and turned away from the tall woman. Adrenaline still raced through her system and she could feel her heart pound hard in her chest. Her hands on Cowboy’s muscular leg…

The room was still. Rally could hear Cowboy’s breathing, a little unsteady, and her own, harsh in the silence. There was a squeak and Rally jumped.

Cowboy had propelled the chair close to the desk. “I haven’t really had a chance to thank you for not leaving me behind.” Her voice was soft, almost gentle. A little haltingly, she pushed herself to her feet, using her hands to pull herself upright. She leaned on her hands and closed the distance between then.

Rally’s brain ceased to function. She could feel Cowboy’s dry lips against hers, and a long heartbeat pass. Moving suddenly, Rally shoved herself away from Cowboy, almost sliding off the desk. The tall woman fell back on wobbly legs, and sat down heavily in her chair with a “whoomph” of effort.

Rally stood up across the desk from Cowboy and stared at her, panting heavily. The air in the office was dry and dusty and she couldn’t catch her breath.

Cowboy watched her from beneath lowered lids, with an odd half-smile on her lips. “C’mon, Rally. You can feel it, can’t you? After the initial rush passes, you want something more, don’t ya?”

Rally glared at Cowboy. “What are you talking about?”

“The adrenaline, Rall. The rush, the buzz. Your heart is so loud I can hear it over here. Don’t tell me it doesn’t get to you.”

“What if it does?” Rally was unsure where this was going. It’s not like she didn’t know about adrenaline rushes….

Cowboy’s eyes widened. “Sonofabitch,” she said almost to herself. Maneuvering herself to her feet carefully, Cowboy settled herself on the desk and looked into Rally’s eyes. “You’ve never done it before, have you?”

Rally’s face was hot. “What?”

Cowboy whistled, as she slid herself along the edge of the desk. “What do you do, Rally, after the edge wears off, when you want something, someone to lose yourself in, someone to take your mind off the pain in your heart?” She reached out and touched Rally’s sleeve. “What do you do?”

Rally didn’t move, nor did she answer.

Cowboy moved closer. “Don’t you want to be held? Don’t you want to find something real, something more than yourself at the end of the day?”

Rally choked on her words. Hoarsely, she croaked, “I don’t think about it.”

Cowboy shook her head. “How old are you anyway, Rally Vincent?”

Rally said nothing.

“Goddamn.” Cowboy said sadly.

Rally hauled her arm out of Cowboy’s grasp. “This isn’t the time or place for this, Cowboy…” but the tall woman interrupted her.

Standing slowly, looking down at Rally, Cowboy said, “You’re wrong. This is the perfect time and place for this. Whenever you need it is the right time.”

Rally shook her head, but did meet Cowboy’s eyes. “I’m sorry if I’ve given you the wrong impression, I don’t need…”

“Wrong.” Cowboy interrupted again. She grabbed Rally by the shoulder, then slowly let her hand drop along Rally’s chest, just sliding past Rally’s nipple, around the curve of her breast. Rally noted, not for the first time, just how hard they were. “You need this as much as I do.” And the tall woman bent down. Capturing Rally with her hands, Cowboy leaned into her again and kissed her, hard.

Rally fought against her for a few moments, but Cowboy was strong, and Rally couldn’t get away. The next time Cowboy’s hands touched her breast, this time gently caressing her nipple, Rally gasped. As her mouth opened, she felt Cowboy fill it. Rally responded without conscious thought, holding tightly onto Cowboy’s arms, as they kissed. Once again she could feel adrenaline slide through her like hot ice, once again, she could feel the blood in her veins. Once again, she could feel warmth build within her, in her chest and between her legs.

When Cowboy withdrew from her mouth, Rally gasped, “We have to get out of here.”

Cowboy responded by kissing Rally’s neck, scraping her teeth over it.

“Now.” Rally managed to say. “We have to find a phone and call May…”

Cowboy stopped abruptly and stood to her full height. “Damnation and hellfire.” She said hoarsely. She let go of Rally and sat herself down on the desk again. “Just when it was getting good.”

Rally tried to get her heart rate and breathing under control. He body was on fire, she thought. Any second she’d explode. She watched as Cowboy pulled open her jacket and took a small object out of an inner pocket.

Not looking at Rally, Cowboy held the object out to her. Rally took it, being careful not to touch the other woman’s fingers. It was a cell phone.

“It’s mine, not the organization’s, but I bet they know the frequency anyway. Who do you think can be here sooner – May or them?” Cowboy pointed upwards.

Rally grinned ferally. “No contest.” She opened the phone and began to dial.

***

Rally looked at her watch. Fifteen more minutes and they could leave. Cowboy lay on the desk on her back, with one arm over her eyes, one behind her head. Rally stood by the door, still trying to pull her thoughts together. Time passed.

“Rally.” Cowboy’s voice came from behind her. “I’m sorry.”

Rally started to dismiss the sentiment, but found that she couldn’t. She looked at Cowboy for a long moment. “Me too.” She took a deep breath. “You’re right, Cowboy. I’ve never…”

“Rally.” Cowboy sat up suddenly. “Shut up and come here.”

Rally found herself moving towards the desk before she could even think to stop herself. Her arm lifted towards Cowboy, moving slowly to grasp her extended hand…when her watch began to beep. Slowly, as if coming out of a dream, Rally pulled back her arm and stared at the dial, her eyes unfocused. Rally pulled herself together with a shake and stepped away. “Time to go.”

Cowboy watched Rally move away and unblock the door, her eyes soft, but wary. To herself she muttered, “Be careful, Terri. You can’t afford to…” but Rally interrupted her thoughts and called for her to follow.

In silence, the two women left the abandoned office and continued down the empty tunnel.

 

Chapter 8

They stood just under a manhole, gazing up at it.

“What are we waiting for?” Cowboy whispered. The whisper disappeared into the darkness in a soft susurrus.

Rally didn’t look at her. “A signal.”

“What kind of signal?” Cowboy asked.

A second later, a blast rocked the walls of the sewer, shaking both women. If they hadn’t been holding onto to the ladder, they might well have fallen. The lid of the manhole popped out of its rim and lay half in, half out of the opening. Screams and shouts from above could be heard clearly.

“That kind of signal.” Rally said with satisfaction. She glanced at the other woman. “You okay to climb?” Cowboy nodded.

“You bet.”

Rally went first, drawing her gun as she reached the top. Poking her head out of the manhole, she was able to see the wreckage of what had been several parked cars. Men in nondescript suits ran this way and that. Several emergency vehicles were arriving and the scene was filled with chaos and smoke. Rally swung herself out of the manhole and helped Cowboy out. The two women ran low along a line of parked cars, and slipped around the corner. They stayed low, hiding among the trucks, when the noise of a car made them look up.

A police cruiser pulled up too fast and stopped too abruptly. Roy stuck his head out the window and motioned them to hurry up. The door opened as they ran up and the car was in motion before the door had shut.

Rally and Cowboy both started to sigh with relief as the cruiser moved away from the scene of carnage. Turning towards the front of the car to thank Roy, Rally found herself staring into the barrel of a gun.

“Sorry to have to do to this to you, Ms. Vincent,” a smooth voice spoke from behind dark sunglasses, “but your friend here has caused us quite a bit of trouble.” Rally looked towards Roy and saw that his mouth was covered in clear tape, and that his hands were now cuffed to a ring in the dashboard.

Rally cursed to herself. “You’ve just kidnapped three innocent people – including a cop. Why don’t you cut your losses now and let us all go?”

Sunglasses smiled at her brightly. “Four innocent people, Ms. Vincent. We couldn’t have your little partner interfering again, could we?” He slid his hand lasciviously into Rally’s holster; brushing her breast both times he passed. “And the others, too, please.”

Rally, slowly lifted a leg and pulled the Grendel from its holster. She thought about May and sighed. “OK, what is it you want from us?” Sunglasses motioned once again at Rally and, reluctantly, she slipped the Duo from its spring.

Sunglasses laughed. “Nothing at all. In fact, nothing ever again.” Sunglasses nodded to the driver of the car and they pulled off the main road onto a side street.

A few minutes later, they pulled up at a deserted lot, surrounded by decrepit buildings. Rally and Cowboy were motioned out of the car and told to kneel, with their hands on their heads. They were thoroughly and nastily searched. When the driver had made sure that they had no other weapons, he pulled Rally’s CZ75 and slipped back the safety.

“Before you shoot me, Mr. Keaton,” Rally said brightly, “Can you answer one question?”

Keaton pushed his sunglasses onto the bridge of his nose. “What?” he demanded.

“Can you tell me why gasoline is leaking out of your car?” Rally commented.

Keaton grinned. “Very nice try, Ms. Vincent, but really….”

The explosion was sudden, and violent. Rally, already hunched over, waited until the glass stopped falling and threw herself forward into a roll. Coming to her feet, she kicked the CZ75 out of the driver’s hand. He grabbed at her, but he had been caught in the forehead with a piece of glass and the blood dripping into his eyes impeded his vision.

Rally evaded his grab and kicked him hard in the groin. She moved in to strip him of Cowboy’s gun, but a shot pushed her back. Looking up, she saw Keaton aiming his own gun at her forehead. Before he could even speak, another shot rang out and the gun seemed to jump from Keaton’s hand. He screamed and grabbed his hand, cursing. Rally caught sight of Cowboy on the ground, holding the CZ75. Rally kicked the goon again, grabbed the SIG from his pocket and asked him, rather nicely, to kneel, with his hands on his head.

Keaton stopped cursing abruptly, as Roy joined the group, rubbing his hand across his lips where the tape had been pulled off.

“Arrest the bitch! She shot my thumb off!” Keaton held the hand to his jacket, trying to stem the bleeding. Roy looked at the Assistant Director in amazement.

“You’re kidding, right?”

Keaton cursed again, but Rally walked over and pushed the SIG into his temple, which shut him up pretty thoroughly.

“You can come out now, May.” Rally called and the young woman appeared from across the street.

“Nice work!” Rally congratulated her.

May smiled, pleased. “Wasn’t it? It’s a new mix of nitro I’ve been working on – small, but volatile. Did a great job on their car – I hope the company will reimburse them.”

Cowboy groaned as she pulled herself to her knees. Roy cuffed the driver, and spoke to him in low tones. They could hear sirens coming closer. Cowboy looked around.

“Nothing personal, officer,” she looked at Roy, who ignored Rally’s snicker, “but I probably should be going before your friends get here…”

Roy glanced at her, Rally, and May, and nodded. “Get the hell out of here before I change my mind.” Locking eyes with Cowboy he said, “Don’t leave town Ms. Simms – we’ll need to talk.”

Cowboy nodded and the three women moved off as quickly as she could limp; in a few moments, they had disappeared. When the police cruisers arrived, Roy explained how the thug had attacked the Assistant Director and himself. Looking pointedly at Keaton, he asked the AD for his confirmation. Scowling, Keaton gave it.

 

Chapter 10

“It’s not paradise,” Cowboy sang in a reasonably decent voice, “but at least it’s got working plumbing.” She flipped the omelet, hummed a few bars and noted that the coffee maker was full. Taking a deep breath, she yelled “Grub’s up!” and banged a spoon against the counter.

May came into the kitchen toweling off her hair, wearing a long dress shirt, but no pants. Cowboy made a show of checking out her legs and wiggled her eyebrows at the blonde, who grinned back. When no Rally showed, Cowboy banged the spoon again and called her by name.

Rally came out of her room, looking worse than she had when she went to sleep the night before. There were bags under her eyes, and her cheeks looked sunken. Cowboy gave her a hard stare and plunked down a plate with an omelet, bacon and toast in front of her. May was already chowing down, making happy eating noises. Cowboy seated herself at the table and sipped from a cup of coffee.

“You weren’t kidding, you really are a decent cook.” Minnie May was in ecstasy. “Is this home cooking, like your Mama made?”

Cowboy grinned. “Nope – this is home cookin’ like the chef at the greasy spoon I worked at made.”

May laughed and swallowed some coffee. “Well, it’s good.” Looking at Rally, who was moving her food around the plate, May commented, “If you’re not going to eat that…”

Rally didn’t even look up, but pushed the plate across the table. “Go ahead.”

Cowboy glanced at Rally again, who avoided her eyes. She cleared her throat and said, “Miss May,” May giggled at the name, “can I ask you somethin’? Where in hell did you learn demolition?”

May smiled around a forkful of omelet. “My boyfriend, Ken. He’s the best.” She paused. “At explosives too.”

Cowboy’s eyebrows rose. “But how did you know when to set off the explosion?”

May finished her coffee and sat back with a sigh. “Oh, that. Piece of cake. They had me stashed in the trunk, but I had blown it open about five minutes after they put me in. When I heard Rally’s voice, I tapped a message on the car seat back. You remember how she insisted she needed to wear a seatbelt? She undid the seat catch then…when they took you out, I set the charge, freed Roy and we were out of the car before you were even kneeling on the ground. All I needed was for Rally to ask the question we use as a password.” May beamed. “Pretty slick, huh?”

Cowboy nodded emphatically. “Slick indeed.” She turned to Rally. “You two work really well together. I’m impressed.”

Rally mumbled an agreement. May took a hard look at her partner and rose. “I’ll do the dishes later…I have to reload my emergency stash. I’ll be in my room if you need me.” Pointedly, she left the room.

Cowboy set her coffee mug on the table. “I meant what I said before, Rally. I am sorry.”

Rally looked up, her face serious. “We’ve got more pressing things to deal with. Have you read today’s paper?” Cowboy shook her head. Rally left the room and returned with the newspaper. Placing it before Cowboy, Rally took up the empty dishes on the table and carried them over to the sink.

Behind her, she could hear Cowboy gasp and say quietly, “Aw, dammit to hell.” Rally washed the dishes, and stacked them in the drain board. When she turned around, she wasn’t surprised to find Cowboy crying softly.

“Sorry.” Cowboy dashed the tears from her face. “I thought we got to her in time.” She rose and walked out of the room.

Rally looked back at the headline. “Double murder shocks city.” The article outlined the unsolved murder of prominent property owner Jason R. Welt and Tribune reporter Lynda Day. They had been found in a docked boat – both naked, shot through the head. It was speculated that the deceased were having an affair and that the deaths were related to this.

Rally sat and stared out the window for a long time. Eventually she heard footsteps in the hall, and Cowboy came back into the kitchen.

“She was the reporter that was going to break the story, wasn’t she?” Rally said quietly.

“Mmm.” Cowboy agreed.

“Good friend?”

There was a pause. “An ex.” Cowboy took a deep breath. “It was a while ago, though. I kinda wandered up this way to see how she was. We had dinner a few weeks ago. She was doing great. Good career, new lover, everything she could want. Even a big scoop, right on her doorstep. She was so excited about it.” Cowboy’s voice softened. “Got me all fired up, just like old times, too. I wanted to help her…wanted to help her get that scoop.”

“And now?” Rally asked.

“Now I want to shoot every goddamn finger off that sonofabitch who did it to her.” Cowboy said grimly. “Not just his thumb.” She paused. “Rall…I could really use some help.”

Rally smiled. “You owe us already. But you know – we have our own debt with that bastard. I’ll help.”

“We’ll help.” Minnie May added as she entered the kitchen. “We’re partners, after all.” She nodded at Rally, who nodded back. “I just got a call, I have to go out for a bit. I’ll be back by 6 tonight.” She threw her purse over her shoulder. “Be ready then.”

The door slammed loudly in the house.

“Going shopping?” Cowboy asked, gesturing to the front door.

“Boyfriend – she was wearing heels.” Rally smiled grimly. “I wonder what he’s doing in town?” she muttered. “Just passing through I sup…” She stopped and jumped up abruptly. “That’s it! They’re going to pull something big today – Ken’s in town and that means they needed him for something. C’mon Cowboy, we need to find him.”

Rally took two steps when a jerk on her wrist snapped her around to face Cowboy. “We need to talk.”

Rally pulled at her arm. “Not now, Cowboy, okay?” Her voice was pleading. “Let’s take care of this first.” The tall woman didn’t let go. Rally pulled back, and slowly released her arm from Cowboy’s grasp. She turned to leave, as her hand slipped through the other woman’s. Grabbing her holster from the closet, Rally looked back at Cowboy, who stood forlornly in the hall.

“C’mon. We have to hurry.” Rally opened the front door and stepped out. Cowboy stayed put a moment longer, grabbed her gun and followed Rally out the door.

 

Chapter 11

The rental car pulled into the parking lot neatly.

“You sure they’re here?” Cowboy asked. She looked around with obvious distaste.

“Yeah, pretty sure.” Rally commented dryly.

American hotels are a lot like Americans themselves. While they differ in taste and quality, on the whole, they have certain things in common…but not much. This example of the trailer trash class of hotel, for instance, boasted “Inddor Pool and Cab e.” Paving in the parking lot was apparently extra, however.

“Nice place he takes May to.”

“Not his usual class, I’ll admit.” Rally said. “I wonder why he’s here.”

The two women left the car parked well away from the office, and slipped around the back of the hotel. As they climbed the stairs to the third floor, Cowboy wondered out loud, “If this isn’t his usual kind of place, how did you know to come here?”

Rally gave a short laugh. “Because it’s May’s usual place.”

They approached Room 314 with guns drawn. At the door, Rally stopped, one hand extended to knock. At the sounds from within, Rally colored a little and Cowboy laughed. Rally grimaced and knocked.

“May – you’ve got to three to get off Ken and we’re coming in.”

Both women laughed out loud at the scuffling from within. When the lock was opened, Rally and Cowboy entered. Rally stepped into the interior past Minnie May, and pointed her gun at Ken.

“Sorry, Ken. We don’t have time for pleasantries.” Rally could hear the sound of Cowboy grabbing May and holding her back.

Ken smiled up from the bed. Before he had a chance to speak, May interrupted.

“Dammit, Rally. I won’t even go into the “you have no right” speech…but get your gun out my Kenny’s face or I’ll blow you and your car to pieces.”

Rally didn’t budge. “Who is it Ken? Where and how? We don’t have time to play games.”

Ken shrugged. “It’s a straightforward car bombing, and one building demo. The car bomb is rigged to go off at about 9PM and the building at about 3AM tomorrow, but…” he paused.

“But what?” Rally insisted.

“But,” Ken said smugly, “I told May all this and she was going to tell you tonight when she got home.”

Rally shot him a dark look, then holstered her gun. Cowboy must have let go of May, too, because the next thing she knew, Rally had been slapped pretty solidly by her partner and was sitting on the floor. Cowboy’s snicker was almost inaudible. Almost.

“What is WRONG with you?” May asked indignantly. “Do you think you need to pull a gun on Ken to get him to help you?”

Rally stood up, rubbing her face and her ass. “Hey, he’s got a job to do – he might not feel like he needs to report in.”

Ken nodded. “As a matter of fact, I didn’t like this one myself, but in my position, I didn’t feel I could say no.”

May glanced at Ken, then Rally, and hmphed off to the bathroom.

Ken smiled graciously and waved Rally to a chair. Rally glanced at the chair and declined. She didn’t like the look of the stains on the upholstery.

“So, who’s the car bomb?”

Ken nodded. “That’s why I didn’t like the job – it’s someone high up in the Mayor’s office. The Director of City Planning, in fact.”

Rally looked back at Cowboy, who stood by the window, her gun still drawn. Cowboy let the curtain drop and spoke, as May came into the room fully dressed.

“We got company.” Cowboy said.

Rally looked through the window, saw three men with drawn guns and let the curtain back down. “Well, Ken. I think they think they don’t like the sound of you, either.”

Ken laughed. “Par for the course. It’s okay – I have a few tricks up my sleeve.” Turning to May he nodded. She turned and left the room once more.

“This room does have a fire exit, doesn’t it?” Rally asked.

Ken bared his teeth. “This one does, yes. May and I made it a while back. If you cover us up here, I think we can flank them…” he rose, ignoring the two women in the room and walked naked across the floor. Drawing on his clothes quickly, he said, “We’ll meet you at your car in fifteen, okay?”

Rally, her eyes fixed on the window, nodded. “It’s the Ferrari parked around the right. Can’t miss it. If it hasn’t been jacked.” She smiled grimly.

At the snick of a door closing behind them, Cowboy looked over her shoulder. There wasn’t any sign of another door, but these two women hadn’t ceased surprising her yet. She patted herself down and came up with two extra magazines.

“Rall, you live an interesting life, y’know that?”

Rally laughed. “That’s an old Chinese curse you know.”

“Everybody knows that.” Cowboy said, and hefted her gun.

***

As gunfights went, thought Cowboy, that one was pretty darn boring. She felt so strongly about it, she went so far as to say it out loud. Rally looked up from where she was going through one of the six gunman’s jackets and agreed.

“Can’t get good help these days, for love or money.”

Cowboy dragged one of the unconscious lackeys into the room, slung his body on top of the other four and stood, slapping her hands ostentatiously.

One had been brained by the door opening; another had a broken arm from the door closing, and a concussion from it opening again. Cowboy has taken out the third with a bullet across the hand and a left hook to the temple…funny how people always assume you should hit the jaw.

The three below couldn’t have hit a stampede of prime beef, and Rally and she had taken them out with nearly no major injuries. One guy might never shoot again, but that wasn’t any great loss.

“What a mess.” Cowboy commented as she stared down at the pile of thugs.

“Less than usual.” Rally commented. “I bet they were only the vanguard. What do you say to braving the lion in its den?”

Cowboy looked up sharply. “Keaton?”

Rally bared her teeth. “Yeah. You know where the guns are made?”

Cowboy shook her head. “Nope. I never even saw one until I saw the ones they tore my place up with.”

“I do.” Rally said and handed her a card.

Cowboy read it out loud. “Yu-Genics Labs? That’s just plain gross. How does anyone get away with a name like that?”

“Illiterate government employees. C’mon, Ken and May are waiting for us.”

As they locked and closed the door behind them, Cowboy grinned a little. “Uh, Rally, I guess we should probably be pretty loud as we get to the car, huh?”

Rally looked at the other woman with a puzzled expression, then her face cleared. “Oh. No. They’re professionals. No problem.” So it was with some shock that she turned the corner to find her rental car rocking on its tires.

***

Rally grit her teeth again before answering. “I am NOT annoyed, so stop asking!”

May leaned forward and leaned on the passenger seat. “I don’t know, you seem awfully annoyed.”

“Just because you and Ken here wasted about half an hour…” Rally snarled.

“Waste is in the eye of the beholder,” May said with a giggle. Ken looked pointedly out the window, trying to be invisible, while Cowboy did her best to not to draw Rally’s wrath towards herself. She toyed with the pagers and cell phones they had taken off the guys back at the hotel.

“Say, Ken…” Cowboy began, hoping to distract everyone from the quarrel that was brewing, “Can you do anything with these?” She held up a phone and waggled it around.

“Do something?” Ken asked. “You mean like…”

“Well I don’t know exactly, but I was thinkin’ that you and the little lady here might be able to do something useful with them.”

Rally, watching in the rearview mirror, saw Ken and May exchange looks. Cowboy passed them the electronics and sat back, her arms behind her head.

Rally glanced at her. “Good idea.” The tall woman nodded, but said nothing. She watched Ken and May ripping the electronics apart and discussing the various explosives they had available.

“Cowboy…” Rally began, then stopped. “We’ll get this resolved. Clear up Lynda’s death and….”

“Rall,” Cowboy’s voice was toneless. “that’s the past for me. I’m more interested in my present.”

Rally found her answer sticking in her throat. She looked at Cowboy out of the corner of her eye. Cowboy turned and gave her a meaningful look. Rally, caught in that look, almost drove off the road. The car bouncing over the rumble strips brought her attention back to the road ahead.

***

It looked more like a military unit than a laboratory. Guards were visible, and they assumed others were not visible. Two towers covered front and back, although they were disguised as a clock tower and a viewing platform. Rally counted at least half a dozen visible guards.

Ken put his hand on Rally’s shoulder. “I think this is my department. I can’t go in with you anyway…you know….” Rally nodded and Ken continued. “May can handle anything once you’re inside.”

Rally looked at May. “You know what you have to do?” The blonde nodded.

“Okay then. Ken, you’re up.”

The three women faded back as Ken stood and walked towards the guards at the main entrance. He asked them for directions, bummed a cigarette of one and took out one of the cell phones they had purloined from the goons at the hotel.

Ken spent about ten minutes in easy conversation with the three guards, then thanked them, and turned away. May, who had left to plant a few charges of her own, now returned. They could see Ken take a last puff off the cigarette and throw it to the ground, grinding it out with his shoe.

“That’s it – ten minutes from mark.” May whispered. She led the other women to a shaded copse, which pressed up against the electrified fence. A gully ran below the fence and was covered in low brush. May turned to the others and explained. “Ken left one of the phones with the guards…by accident. I’ve got three charges that will blow the electrical connection to the fence, at the same time the phone goes off. We’ll be able to get in here. Getting out will be a whole ‘nother game.”

“If this goes right,” Rally said, “it won’t be an issue.”

They could hear the explosion at the gate from where they crouched. Rally pulled out a pair of wire cutters and snipped them a little hole in the fence. The three women wiggled their way under the fence and were in. They could hear shouting, but turned away towards the loading dock. People in work clothes were running towards the front gate. Rally, May and Cowboy hunched down under a truck and watched the hubbub.

When the loading dock was nearly empty, Rally slipped behind one of the workers and pointed her gun behind his ear. “Don’t move. Take me to where your uniforms are kept.” The worker went to set his clipboard down, but Rally hissed at him to stop. “You keep your hands where I can see them. Now walk.” The three followed the worker, until he led them to a utility closet. Spare uniforms were kept neatly on industrial shelving and Rally smiled. “Good. Now face the wall.” The worker did so and Cowboy stepped up, slammed her gun on the back of his head, then caught him as he sagged.

“I hate this shit,” she muttered as she tied the worker hand and foot. “I feel like one of the bad guys.”

“Pretend you’re James Bond if you have to, but get him tied up.” Rally finished zipping up the work overalls and opened the closet door. “Come on,” she said urgently.

The three women pressed on. They followed conveniently printed signs for the processing plant. When they arrived, the plant appeared nearly deserted. A few plainclothes guards stood smoking, but there was little other movement. Waving May to wait, Rally and Cowboy stepped forward, and greeted the guards.

Rally waved vaguely at Cowboy and muttered. “Uh, this lady says she has an appointment to see Long.”

The guards looked at Cowboy, then Rally. They stood in front of the door waiting, until Cowboy handed over a card. The shorter of the two guards looked at it, passed it to the other guy, then nodded. They parted to let Cowboy through, but the short guard slipped in front of Rally and glared down at her.

“Don’t I know you from somewhere?” He asked suspiciously.

Rally shrugged. “I’m new here.”

“When d’you start?” The other guard demanded. “What division? Who’s your boss?”

Rally looked up and caught Cowboy’s eye. She looked up and smiled sweetly. “C’mon guys – don’t be mean. Maybe, if you’re nice to me, we can be friends.” The two guards relaxed their arms a little, letting the guns hang. Rally shrugged again, letting the Duo drop into her hand and bringing it up to the shorter guard’s chin.

The other guard turned and was met with Cowboy’s pistol between the eyes. “Now, do like the nice lady says, and you won’t get hurt.”

Minutes later, the two guards were tied together in a side office. May, Rally and Cowboy stepped into the main processing area…and gasped.

It was empty. Not just empty of people – devoid of any equipment, debris or any other sign that the plant had ever been in use. May groaned comically.

“Guess there’s no point in me blowing anything up,” she said, obviously disappointed. A shot rang out and the three women dove to the ground. There wasn’t anything to use as cover. Rally ducked her head as another shot came way too close for comfort.

“Wrong again, May. Do it.”

May grinned and pulled several grenades from her pockets. Tossing a few in the general direction of the shots, she cheered as they went off and shouts could be heard.

“Let’s get out of here!” Rally shouted. “May, cover us!” Cowboy and Rally got off a few shots as they backed out the door through which they had entered. May tossed another grenade, but didn’t stay to see it explode. The three women ran as fast as they could, retracing their steps. Gunshots occasionally whizzed by. Twice, Rally turned a corner and laid down some cover fire, once Cowboy did.

By they time they got outside, they pretty much had given up on subtlety. The pursuers had more ammo and more people, but Rally and Cowboy placed careful shots, taking out one guard after another. At last the wooded copse was within sight.

Rally turned to May and said, “Get out of here. Go!”

May stood for a moment, then nodded. She pressed several objects into Rally’s hand, and sprinted for the trees and the cut fence. A few shots were sent in her direction, but the bulk of the fire was aimed at the two women with guns. Rally was quickly running out of ammo. More guards were coming from behind and she was getting itchy to be out of here. She glanced at the objects in her hand. Three pagers, all taken from the guys at the hotel.

“Cover me,” Rally said and stepped out from the corner. Sliding one of the pagers along the floor, she stepped back behind cover before the stunned guards could take a shot. “And again, this way.” She slid another of the pagers down the floor, and stood next to Cowboy. “On three – we go out the window, got it? One, two…”

Her “three” disappeared into sound of explosions at both ends of the hall. Cowboy and Rally both shot the door out from behind them, and ran across the office, shot out the window in front of them and tore for all they were worth.

Cowboy was limping, but she kept up with Rally. “What the hell did they do to those pagers?”

Rally grinned. “Neat, huh?”

Cowboy grinned back, ducking as bullets came too close. “Yep.”

The two women hit the fence at full speed and were up and over before the surprised guards noted that the electricity didn’t seem to be functioning.

As they came across the small, forested area, they could hear dogs, but the screech of tires drowned out the noise. Rally held her gun ready, but the car that came up the road was her rental. Rally and Cowboy piled in and Ken took off as fast as the car could move, while guards, led by the dogs, spilled out onto the road behind them, shouting and firing weapons.

Chapter 12

“What now?” Ken asked, as they hit the main highway.

Rally sighed. Her body ached; she was hungry and frustrated. “I have no idea where they might have gone. Do you?” She glanced at Cowboy, whose face was drawn.

“Nope.”

“Becky might,” May suggested. “Why don’t we A) call her and ask her to look around, B) get food, C) get some rest.”

Rally nodded. “Good idea all around. But we can’t go home – someone will have recognized us, I’m sure.”

Ken cleared his throat. “We need some time to rest anyway, why don’t we hit up a motel? If we pick one at random…after dumping this car, of course…we should be okay for a few hours at least.”

Rally considered. “You’re right. I think I know a place. But we’ll need a car.” She looked in the rearview mirror and caught Ken’s eyes. He nodded.

Thirty minutes later, a late-model sedan pulled out of a used car lot. No one noticed, which was the point, even though the lot appeared to be closed. Ken drove, with Cowboy in front with him. In the back seat May had shoved a baseball cap over her hair and Rally was slumped down in the seat, trying not to chafe.

“Motel?” Ken asked. Rally hmphed and Cowboy shrugged. May and Ken thought over several possibilities and decided upon an anonymous place along Route 80. Ken went into the office and registered them, coming back with keys. He tossed one to Cowboy. “We have two rooms, I asked for top floor, around the back.”

“Yay!” May enthused. She leaned forward and put her arms around Ken’s neck. “A night with my Kenny!”

Rally rolled her eyes. She thought about what May just said and her heart stopped beating for a second. She choked, but what could she say? Wait, May, stay in the room with Cowboy and me ‘cause I don’t trust myself? Rally closed her eyes and withdrew into herself in misery.

They separated at the third floor elevator, May and Ken into one room, and Rally and Cowboy to the room across the hall. Cowboy held the door open and pressed herself back to let Rally in.

“At least we’re not next door to them.” Cowboy laughed. “Or we wouldn’t get any sleep at…” her voice tapered off. Rally walked past her, lost in a funk.

Rally grunted that she was going to take a shower, and disappeared into the bathroom.

Cowboy stood for a long time looking at the bathroom door, then closed the room door behind her. There was a mirror and sink in the entrance hall of the room, and Cowboy splashed her face in cold water, then toweled herself off. She sat on the bed staring at the TV, without turning it on. The water in the shower went on, and she could her the sounds of a person moving under the water. Shuddering slightly, Cowboy reached for the TV remote and spent the next twenty minutes flipping channels, unseeing.

Rally came out of the bathroom without speaking to Cowboy, indeed avoiding the other woman’s eyes. Her shirt was pulled loose from her skirt, and her jacket lay over her arm. Cowboy stood, waited until Rally had passed her and entered the bathroom herself.

Cowboy came out of the bathroom some time later, wearing only her t-shirt, which hung loosely on her frame. Rally looked at her, then away, but didn’t move from the chair in which she sat.

Cowboy dropped her clothes on the dresser. “You can have the bed tonight. I’ll sleep on the floor. I’ve slept on worse.” She gestured at the chair in which Rally sat. “You can’t sleep there…”

Rally stared at nothing, but said quietly. “No, go ahead, you take the bed. I don’t think I…I don’t feel like sleeping.”

Cowboy stood and took a few steps towards Rally. Stepping behind her, Cowboy put her hands on Rally’s shoulders. “Rall. C’mon. You can’t sit there all night.” Rally tried hard to relax her shoulders, but couldn’t. When she felt Cowboy begin to press into them with her hands, massaging them, Rally leapt from her seat and faced her.

“For Christ’s sake, Rally!” Cowboy was getting angry. “I’m not going to rape you or anything.” She pushed the hair out of her eyes. “I won’t do anything you don’t want to…it’s just that…”

“What?” Rally asked hoarsely. “It’s just what?”

“Dammit to hell – why can’t you be honest? I know you feel this thing between us. Why do you keep pushing me away?” Cowboy stepped back to the bed and sat heavily upon it, staring at the floor.

Rally stood by the window, her arms crossed tightly against her chest. “I don’t know.” She gave a dry laugh. “That’s not entirely true. I know, but I don’t know how to say it.”

“Say what?” Cowboy looked up.

“Do you know,” Rally asked suddenly, “how many collars I’ve made where the perp in question was in bed with someone?” Cowboy shook her head, but Rally didn’t see it. “Dozens, probably. They got soft, all for a little sex. Lost their edge.” Her voice was quiet. “I don’t want to lose my edge.”

Cowboy snorted, but then saw that Rally was being serious. “You’re not kidding, are you?”

“No.” Rally paused. “And I like you, Cowboy. Probably too much. I’m not used to feeling this way. I’m afraid of making bad decisions…of having a weak spot…of …getting in too deep.”

Cowboy stood. “Rall,” she said after a moment, “I’m a drifter, a gunrunner, and a nobody. I make my living in the cracks between one thing in another. I won’t be here forever and I won’t promise you anything.” She fell silent. “But you can’t live afraid,” she said finally.

“C’mon…you look like you’ve been beaten up today. At least let me give you a neck rub – no funny stuff, okay?” Cowboy forced her voice to be light. She patted the mattress. “You’ll fall right asleep with a patented Simms-o-matic massage.”

Rally turned around and gave Cowboy a wan smile. “Thanks.” She laid face down on the bed, pillowing her face on her arms. Within seconds, she was asleep.

Cowboy looked down at the sleeping figure and shook her head slowly. She grabbed an extra blanket out of the closet, and rolling herself on the floor, was asleep about a minute later.

***

At breakfast the next morning, May glared balefully at Rally. The blonde kept shooting her partner questioning looks, which Ken and Cowboy pretended not to notice. Fed up, Rally finally snapped at May and asked her to step outside a moment.

Standing outside the diner, Rally put her hands on her hips and asked May what the hell she wanted. May was taken aback at Rally’s anger.

“I was just wondering if you and Cowboy settled your differences.” May said after a moment of thought.

“Yes, we did.” Rally said, practically yelling down at May. “But if you want to know whether we slept together, that’s none of your business.”

May looked shocked, but then her face flushed with anger. “Well, it’s pretty obvious that you didn’t!” she shouted. “You’re becoming a bitter old maid, Rally.”

Rally turned on her heel and walked away from May without a word. May watched after her for a moment, then returned to the diner. She smiled at Ken and Cowboy. “Difference of opinion. It’ll pass.” She took a sip of coffee, but her eyes wandered to where Rally had disappeared from sight.

***

Rally struggled against her bonds, but couldn’t find any purchase – they’d tied her up pretty thoroughly. She looked around. The guy on her left was the driver she’d beaten up the other day, he wasn’t likely to be friendly. The other guy looked familiar, but she couldn’t place him. What an idiot she was! So lost in her own thoughts about Cowboy, and May, she hadn’t even seen him sneak up behind her until he had her in a lock. This was, she thought acidly, exactly the kind of thing she meant last night…she glared at her captor, displacing some of her frustrated rage.

Seeing her watching him, the second man turned to her and smiled a mean, tight, little smile. “We haven’t been introduced yet.” He pushed his glasses up his nose. “I know you’re Rally Vincent…and I’m…I’m the last thing you’ll ever see before you die, bitch.” He backhanded Rally. Her grunt of pain was lost against the tape they’d used over her mouth. He pressed his face close to hers. “And you’ll be glad to die, when I’m done with you.” Sliding one hand along her stocking-clad leg, he lifted her skirt lasciviously. Rally struggled, but there wasn’t any escape.

He licked her cheek and laughed as she tried to pull away. She caught sight of a cast on his right arm and the face snapped into place. He was the driver she had shot from the motorcycle. Well, that would explain his attitude anyway. He pulled away abruptly, sneering, and walked to the window.

The room they were in looked like the one she had slept in last night. The lights were off, the guy with the cast stood by the window, watching the diner across the parking lot. At last he turned, and motioned to the goon by her side.

“Here she comes…stay here and don’t let her out of your sight.” The driver nodded, but said nothing. Cast drew his gun and stepped out of the room. Rally tried to make noise loud enough to be heard, but the door slammed home and the driver just grinned at her.

She heard nothing but the beating of her own heart for a few minutes. When the door opened again, Rally sagged where she was tied. Cast had returned, dragging May with him. Rally glared at her careless partner, but May didn’t have a chance to respond. As Cast pushed her forward, he jerked oddly. The door behind him began to close, his hand slipping from the handle. Slowly, as if deflating, Cast fell to the floor, practically burying a squirming Minnie May underneath his bulk. The guy to Rally’s right jumped up and drew his gun but the door exploded inwards and Cowboy pumped a few rounds into a very surprised thug.

It seemed forever, but a few moments later, Rally was freed. She stood unsteadily, while Cowboy helped support her. Rally didn’t even protest the arm around her waist.

May pushed Cast’s body off her and smiled as Ken helped her off the floor. “I called Becky. I wanted to tell you what she had to say, but you hadn’t come back…”

“Tell me on the way back to the city.” Rally said, as she retrieved her guns from the driver.

 

Chapter 13

“That’s it.” Rally said, and stuck another clip in her jacket. “We all set?”

Cowboy and May nodded. Each woman bristled with armaments of her choice. May waved to Ken, who stood in the window. Turning away, she said “Poor Ken. He’s not going to be able to work much longer.”

Cowboy glanced down at the blonde. “Why not? He seemed to be pretty good with those makeshift bombs in the phones.”

“MS.” May replied. “His muscular coordination is going. I’d like to be able to settle down with him, but he’s got to keep moving…” She shrugged. “He’s got too many people after him now.” Cowboy led May to the Ducati and handed over the extra helmet.

“Ah.” Cowboy said, sagely. “Ready?” May tapped her on the shoulder in affirmation and the two women looked over to the Opel in driveway. Rally waved and pulled out onto the street. A moment later, Cowboy pulled the bike in behind her.

When May finally caught her breath, she laughed. ” Now I understand why Rally liked this so much.”

Cowboy’s voice crackled in her ear. “Yep.” There was a pause. “Are you sure we can trust your friend’s info?”

May nodded, then said, “Becky’s the best in the business. If she says that all the vacated areas connect, then they do. All we need to do is get some evidence that the guns are being made there, and we can let the police do the rest.”

“I don’t mean to be indelicate or anything…” Cowboy hesitated.

“Go ahead.” May said brightly.

“That hit your boyfriend was going to make…was he really just going to kill innocent people like that?”

May thought about that. “Probably. He was in trouble with the mob and he needs the work. Plus, he’s got a reputation to keep up. He’s not just good – he’s the best.” Almost to herself, she said, “He can’t screw up and expect it to be okay.”

“But I thought you worked for the law?” Cowboy insisted.

“Yeah, well, sometimes there’s grey areas…and Ken knows it. That’s why I had already placed a few anonymous calls letting the police know about the bombs. But…”

“But?”

“But,” May continued, “if the police didn’t get to them in time, then yeah, the hit would have gone down as planned.”

***

The vacated area didn’t look vacated at all. There were trucks, cars and a bustle of people and boxes that seemed much like any transportation center.

The three women watched from a nearby rooftop. “Becky says that the middle building is the one with the lab…that’s the one we’re going to have to target first. We may not get to Keaton, but if we don’t, it won’t matter…we’ll have proof.”

“You see that door?” Rally pointed. “We’ll enter from there – it’s got cover, and no one seems to be guarding it…it probably dead ends, but May here can help make a new entrance.”

The three women slouched their way to the fire escape and lowered themselves to the ground. “Subtlety be damned,” Rally said. “Let’s blow these bastards to hell.”

They snuck as close as they could, but when they were about to be spotted, Cowboy and Rally let loose a flurry of shots. People dove every which way to find cover. May lobbed a few grenades to add to the joy and the three of them were at the door in seconds. Another round and they were in. Or, at least Rally and May were. Cowboy, still outside, began to shut the door behind her.

Rally shouted her name, but the tall woman just said, “I got something to take car of, Rall. You get the proof – I’ll meet you back at the car.” And the door closed with a thud.

Rally stared at the barrier, then looked around for something to wedge it shut. May stared at her. “That’s it? You’re going to leave her there?”

Rally muttered, “Her choice. Come on,” and ran down the hall. Gunfire grew distant behind them. No alarm sounded, but Rally kept her pistol up and twice had to pick off pursuers. They moved through offices, and down halls, heading inexorably for the plant, which was even now churning out impossible and untraceable guns, to be sold to syndicates everywhere. Rally grit her teeth and kept running.

***

Cowboy dropped her gun and raised her hands. Three men grabbed her and forced her to her knees. One picked up the gun, and grinning, slammed it down on her head, hard. The world went blurry for a while, and at last, completely dark.

When she came to, the pungent smell of ammonia made her head ache. She turned away from it and was slapped across the face. Her eyes opened to see the leering face of her ex-employer, Eustace Long…small-time gunrunner and drug lord. His sallow complexion didn’t get any better with proximity, Cowboy thought.

“She’s awake.” Long’s nasal voice was especially irksome right now. Cowboy grinned at him and was rewarded with another slap. His ring caught her cheek and cut it. Blood dripped down her cheek.

“Well, well.” A second voice came from behind her. “Ms. Simms – so nice of you to join us.” Keaton walked around to greet her. One hand was gloved. He grabbed her by the chin with his left hand and squeezed, hard. “I’m so very glad we have a few moments to talk.” He let go abruptly and stepped away. “Before we dispose of you.”

Keaton turned to the two men who sat in chairs by the desk. “Leave. Make sure no one rescues our lovely guest here…we have some unfinished business, she and I.” The two men stood and left without a word. When they had gone, Keaton seated himself behind the desk. “Ms. Simms, I have to say that I am very disappointed in you. You obviously have some brains – you might have gone far in this organization. But they say that a woman’s heart rules her head.” He shook his head sadly. “And so it seems with you. First the lovely…the delightful Ms. Day,” his voice insinuated something Cowboy didn’t want to think about, “and now the equally fascinating Rally Vincent.”

Long shoved his face back into Cowboy’s. “Stupid bitch dyke. We’ll give you twice what we gave your little friend. She was loving it by the end, you know.” Cowboy glared, but didn’t bother to speak. Long lifted a hand to hit her again, but Keaton’s voice stopped him.

“No, Eustace, don’t. There’s no need to be excessive.” Keaton leaned back in the chair. “It really is a pity, Terri. May I call you Terri? We might have been able to come to some accommodation, but now…” he shook his head sadly. “Now there’s really nothing we can do but kill you and your friends.”

Cowboy grinned. “I think you greatly underestimate their resources. The police are coming, you know. You can’t possibly move this all out in time.”

Keaton smiled nastily. “No, no. It was a good idea, you know, but our people intercepted the message before it got to Ms. Vincent’s police friends…there’ll be no cavalry, I’m afraid. In fact,” he looked at his watch, “I’m waiting for a phone call. When I receive it, I’ll be handing you…and your friends over to some of my associates to deal with.” He turned to Eustace. “I assume you’ll want to sit in on this session too?”

Long licked his lips. “Yeah. It’ll be even better this time, with the three of them.” Cowboy made a moue of disgust and Long sneered back at her. He pulled a hand back to hit her, then thought better of it. Laying his hand on one of her breasts through her shirt, he squeezed, hard. “Laugh it up, Simms – you and your friends are dog meat now.”

Cowboy didn’t give him the benefit of wincing. Glancing at the clock, she smiled. “I’m not worried.”

Keaton sat upright at this. “Why, Terri, I think you think you have an ace up your sleeve.” He stood and pulled a metal case from one drawer. Steeping around the desk, he opened the case and withdrew a hypodermic needle. “We can’t have that now, can we?”

Cowboy’s eyes widened at the sight of the hypo. Long snickered.

“Look, the big butch bull dyke is afraid of needles.” His laugh was tiring.

Keaton shot Long a look, and approached Cowboy. “Hold her.” Long threaded his arms through her bound ones. He was a strong little weasel, Cowboy thought. She struggled but he held her steady. She winced as the needle punctured her skin, and tried to turn her head. Long’s breath rasped harshly in her ear and she could smell his breath.

The drug slid through her blood like a flame. She knew Long had let go of her, but she had no real sense of it, the sensation receded rapidly. Smiling pleasantly, Keaton leaned close to her.

“So, Terri. What is it that you and your friends have planned? You can tell me.” His voice was gentle, reassuring, and Cowboy smiled, relieved.

“Nothin’ much.” Her voice slurred a little and was very quiet. Leaning a little closer Keaton had all his attention on her. She grinned up at him, like a little girl. “Just this.” She stomped once with her right foot, then kicked it up quickly between Keaton’s legs. His eyes bugged out as he slumped forward. Cowboy retrieved her foot, then shoved Keaton away, the spike projecting from her boot’s toe dripping with blood.

Long jerked away in shock, but he pulled himself together quickly. Drawing his gun, he aimed at the tall woman, who was trying to stand. Cowboy lurched as she got to her feet and the bullet missed her by millimeters. Stumbling towards Long, she was unpredictable, he couldn’t aim as she weaved, fell, stood and made her way inexorably across the office.

Long retreated behind the desk, but Cowboy barely even saw him. She rolled over the desktop and swung her legs at Long, while the sallow man tried to bring his gun up. Cowboy’s boot caught his hand and the gun went flying.

“You little pervert.” Cowboy hissed through the haze, “I’ll carve you up and eat you as breakfast sausage.” Long jumped out of her way and tried to reach for the gun. Cowboy laughed. She couldn’t see anything but colored blurs – the room was beginning to spin. Slowly the tall woman corkscrewed into the ground and lay there, motionless.

Sneering, Long stood up and brushed himself off. He retrieved his gun and walked over to the unconscious form. He felt a hand grip his leg and looked down. Keaton was trying to pull himself up, while blood streamed from his nose and down his legs.

“Help…” Keaton hissed. Long stared down at the politician for a second, then leveled the gun at him. Keaton’s body was slammed back into the floor with the violence of the shot. Long aimed down at Cowboy and fired.

His hand jerked as he pulled the trigger, and blood erupted from it. His shot went wide and left a hole in the carpet just above Cowboy’s head. Staring at his bleeding hand, Long didn’t think to look up for a long time. When he did, he noticed that the office door was open and Rally Vincent stood, her legs spread, her gun leveled right between his eyes.

“Do it,” she hissed. “Move. Please.”

Long stared at her, and began to lift his hands over his head. At what he thought was a motion of relaxing the gun, he leapt forward to grab his pistol once more. Rally’s shot was so clean, he never knew what hit him. By the time he hit the ground, Eustace Long was dead.

Rally holstered her gun, as May kicked Keaton over. Taking one look at his wounds, she made a face and stepped over to the telephone. Rally didn’t notice, her eyes were on Cowboy’s slumped form. Grabbing her shoulders, Rally shook the tall woman a few times, until Cowboy’s eyes fluttered.

“Cowboy, you in there?” Rally asked urgently.

Cowboy opened her eyes and saw a blurry Rally Vincent hovering over her. Her smile was bright, genuine. “Hey Rall. Glad you could make it.” Sirens were audible in the distance.

Rally smiled grimly. “You hurt?”

Cowboy’s eyes closed, then opened slowly. “Nah. Just some truth drug stuff.” Her eyes closed again. “Keaton dead?” she asked, her voice slipping.

Rally shook her slightly and grabbed for a wrist to take a pulse. “Yeah. You do it?” Cowboy nodded, sliding her hand out of Rally’s grip, wrapping her hand over Rally’s own.

Rally looked down at Cowboy, watched her blue eyes phase in and out of focus. They locked on Rally’s own for a moment, then crinkled up in a sardonic smile. “I gotta tell ya, Rall, I’m pretty far gone on ya.” They went unfocused again, and her head lolled back.

Rally lowered Cowboy’s head onto the floor and brushed the hair off her face. “I know.” She stroked Cowboy’s head gently, waiting for the sirens to come, while May stood guard over the two of them.

 

Chapter 14

Roy chewed his pizza with gusto, chugged a few swallows of beer, then sat back, in a very receptive mood.

“It’s amazing how sloppy Long really was.” He said, with a nod to Cowboy. “Keaton told him to have the operation moved out of the vacated area, but Long didn’t want to lose a few bucks.”

Cowboy nodded her agreement. “He was a slime for sure.”

“So,” Becky prodded, “the cops knew about Keaton’s man on the inside?”

Roy nodded. “Practically from the first, but we couldn’t do anything about it until he actually interfered. Your call was just what we needed.”

Becky smiled and said “ka-ching!” happily. They all laughed.

Roy slapped the table lightly. “I have something for you, Rally.” He reached into his jacket and pulled out a laminated card. “You’re officially off suspension as of three days ago.” He grinned. “Just had a few of the records backdated, so you wouldn’t be in any trouble for your escapades.”

Rally thanked him and took back the license with a grin.

“What happened to the repulsively named Yu-Genics Labs?” Cowboy inquired around another bite of pizza.

May coughed a little. Cowboy stared at her until the blonde blushed. “Uh, they had an accident.” She glanced up at Ken, who seemed to be very busy with his beer. “Right, Ken?” He looked startled, then grinned.

“Maybe.”

Becky’s eyebrows shot up and she laughed. “A small explosion, perhaps?”

Neither Ken nor May would confirm this, but, May explained, they seemed to have some real safety issues there. Things like that can be dangerous.

Roy nodded. “Yu-Genics won’t be developing any new products anytime soon.”

“But what about the guns Keaton was shipping out?” Cowboy asked.

“You have to read the paper more. There was a terrible fire yesterday in the vacated area.” Rally commented. “The Mayor’s office is thinking of suspending the program, since so many of the vacated areas don’t seem to be any safer. Arson, murder, rape…it’s all so grim.”

“Well,” said Becky, “it’s not like they know about everything that went on.”

“Yes they do.” Roy said. “The Mayor knows that Keaton was shot by Long – they found the gun, which was one of the new paper ones…they traced it back to the double murder.”

“How?” Rally asked. “You can’t get ballistics reports off a paper pistol, can you?”

Roy made a face. “Long made a lot of mistakes. Including using unusual ammo. Plus he had a strange quirk.”

“He carved his victim’s names in the bullets he used to kill them.” Cowboy interrupted darkly. “Little pervert got off on it.”

Roy nodded. He swigged the last of his beer and stood. “I gotta get back to the office. Thanks for dinner.” He waved at everyone.

Becky wiped her mouth and stood, as well. “Can I bum a ride? I need to get back and get some work done.” Roy nodded and held out a hand to guide her to the door. Becky looked back over her shoulder. “Thanks for the dinner, Rally – but don’t think that evens us up. You owe me $750 for the info about the warehouse – I got bills to pay too.”

Rally reassured her offhandedly and ignored Becky’s scowls as she and Roy left.

May also stood. “Ken and I have a date tonight.” She grinned, “And tomorrow…possibly the next day, too.” She tugged at Ken’s arm. He rose willingly and let the blonde drag him off. “We’ll see you later – much later.” Laughing, May and Ken left the restaurant.

When the door had closed behind them, Rally stared down at the table in front of her. Cowboy looked down at her and asked. “I feel like a little speed, don’t you? How about a ride? Your Cobra’s still in the shop…” she let the sentence linger.

Almost as if to herself, Rally answered, “That would be nice.”

***

They had left the city behind and hit open roads. Cowboy opened up the throttle and fields were passing by at a dizzying rate. Rally closed her eyes and let the motion carry her away. The air buffeted her arms and legs, and robbed her of breath. Cowboy’s body protected her against the full force of the wind, but Rally wasn’t sure she wanted that.

She could feel their speed climb, and the lazy, winding roads of the countryside became a grand prix course. Taking turns too low and too fast, Cowboy pushed her bike to its limits. Rally could feel her blood pound in time with the engine, feel the buzz that speed always gave her. Light-headed, she laughed out loud.

Cowboy answered the unspoken thought. “It’s all good out here, ain’t it?”

Rally tapped Cowboy on her right arm and gestured. Cowboy headed them that way, following progressively narrower roads, then at last a dirt path to a long, low airstrip in the middle of nothing.

Both women climbed off the bike. Rally took the helmet from her head and looked down at it. “Was this hers?” She asked.

Cowboy, who was stretching, looked over in surprise. “Uh, Lynda’s, you mean?” She shook her head. “It was left to me by a pretty little thing named Janie. She was little in every way but one.” Catching Rally’s eye she grinned. “Her heart…you got a dirty mind.”

Rally grinned back. “I keep bad company. It gets to you after a while.” She leaned back against the fence and stared up at the stars. They wheeled overhead and made her giddy.

“I’m not used to this much space.” Rally said. She could feel Cowboy lean against the fence next to her.

“I didn’t realize how much I miss it.” Cowboy commented softly. “At home all there is is space.”

“It’d crush me.” Rally pushed off the fence and walked a few steps into the night. “I’d feel positively two dimensional under all that weight.”

Silence fell.

After a few minutes, Cowboy shifted where she stood. “Rall, I’m going to have to leave soon…”

Rally interrupted, turning to face the tall brunette. “Cowboy,” she said, “shut up and come here.”

Cowboy stood to her full height and took three long steps. Looking down at Rally, she gathered the shorter woman in her arms and kissed her. This time, Rally didn’t hold back. She threw herself into the kiss with a passion that made Cowboy gasp. When Rally pulled away, Cowboy found herself breathless.

Rally walked back to the bike and picked up the helmet once again. “You were right about something.” She looked back at Cowboy. “You can’t live afraid.” Rally shoved the helmet onto her head. “Let’s go home.”

***

It wasn’t what she expected. It wasn’t like losing control, nor was it the opposite. Making love was, Rally thought, just like a good session at the firing range. Blood humming, senses alert, body and mind functioning together. Cowboy was gentle and hard by turn, coaxing Rally, ordering her, teasing her, until any resistance she might have had simply disappeared.

Every time Cowboy touched her, it was as if she traced shapes of fire along Rally’s skin. When the tall woman lowered her head to suck at Rally’s breast, sounds she couldn’t have imagined making were ripped from her throat. She found herself holding Cowboy there, trapping her, asking her to suck on her.

Cowboy sounded content to do so, and for a very long time, but not long enough, stroked, squeezed and sucked on Rally, until she thought her blood would burst from her body. Pressing herself against Cowboy’s lean form, Rally gasped repeatedly as tongue brushed over sensitive nipples. Warmth, then coolness, as Cowboy lifted herself away, blowing lightly on Rally’s skin. Never before had she felt so hard, so hot. Rally ran one leg up Cowboy’s body, feeling smooth skin underneath her, trying to pull the tall woman closer.

Cowboy began to kiss her way down Rally’s body. Rally was ready for her and wrapped her legs around the other woman’s shoulders. Cowboy brushed lightly at Rally’s belly, then drew her hand lower. She parted Rally, opening her, then lowered her head once again to lick and suck at Rally’s center.

It was nothing like a good day at the range. There was no way that this sensation could be replicated. Tongue and fingers stroked her, electricity shot through her until, arcing her body with pleasure, Rally surrendered herself completely to Cowboy’s mouth and hands. Cowboy entered her, thrusting gently, deeply and Rally moved with her, finding a rhythm together. It wasn’t long before Rally could feel something build within her, her body raced to find it, as she pressed into Cowboy, feeling slick tongue glide across wet lips. Rally came silently but her body, rigid with tension, spoke volumes. Again and again, Rally could feel Cowboy on her and in her. Panting with raw desire, she kept Cowboy where she was until she was sated.

When Rally once again realized where she was and with whom, she felt herself blushing. Unclenching her hands, she disentangled her fingers from Cowboy’s hair and loosened the grip she had with her legs. Rally noticed Cowboy’s bright eyes watching her and the blush deepened. Blinking, trying to control her breathing, Rally lay back, listening to her heart pound against her ribs.

When at last Rally relaxed, Cowboy lifted herself on her elbows and leaned her head on Rally’s thigh. She smiled, a smile Rally hadn’t yet seen on her face. A lover’s smile, she thought with some surprise. Rally reached forward and stroked Cowboy’s face gently.

“Well?” The Texan asked, after a long pause. “As bad as you feared?”

Rally smiled. “Worse.” She leaned forward and kissed Cowboy, tasting herself on the other woman’s lips. Rally lay back down and Cowboy joined her, holding the smaller woman in her arms. Rally laid her head against Cowboy’s chest. She could hear Cowboy’s heart, beating loudly.

“How long will you stay?” Rally asked, her mouth muffled slightly against Cowboy’s skin. She kissed what she could reach without moving, and brought a hand, almost hesitatingly, up to stroke Cowboy lightly. She traced shoulder and upper arms, sliding down to ribs and carefully, gently began to stroke Cowboy’s breast, pulling herself close. Kissing around the nipple, she allowed her tongue to linger, then stroke across it. Rally smiled at the noise Cowboy made.

Cowboy sighed happily. “As long as you want, Rall. I don’t have anywhere I particularly have to be…at least for a while.” She leaned down to capture Rally’s mouth with her own.

“Then stay – for a little while.”

***

Fall was fading and winter wasn’t too far away. Business was brisk again, both in the shop – and in the streets. Rally found that she had stopped looking up hungrily every time a motorcycle whined its way by her.

She sighed. Cowboy had been gone a few months now and life was returning to its normal craziness. Good and bad, she guessed. The door chime rang and an express messenger walked in.

“This is Gunsmith Cats, right?” The messenger looked around.

“Like the sign outside says,” Rally said dryly.

“I, uh, got a delivery for a, uh, R. Vincent.” The messenger looked as if he expected to be sent away. “Can you sign for it?”

Rally waved him over. “Sure, I’m R. Vincent.”

The messenger sighed wearily. “Sign here.”

Rally signed the form, waited for a receipt and took the package from the messenger. He looked at her, gave the store a glance again, shrugged and left.

Rally looked down at the package she held. Unmarked, except for the address and the postmark, which read Reno, Nevada. Rally held the box up and gave it a small shake. She gazed at the box, and ripped away the paper wrapping. Underneath the packing material lay a gun. Rally’s heart leapt into her throat.

Reaching into the box, she pulled out a SIG P-210-4…her breath became rasping. Had something happened to Cowboy?

She looked at the gun carefully. Some wear and tear on the trigger, it needed a good cleaning, but no major damage. Who had sent it? She saw a corner of paper sticking out of the barrel and extracted it. The paper unrolled and Rally read the note.

Hiya, darlin’! I hope I didn’t scare you with this little trick. To be honest, I was noticing that baby here was looking kind worn. I can’t think of anyone else I’d trust to clean her up, so…if you don’t mind…

Rally grinned. “I’d be honored, Cowboy.”

I also thought you should know, I plan on swinging by to pick it up again in person. Figure sometime around the new year. I’ll pick you up, say, around 5.

Sorry – I crack myself up.

I’ll see you real soon, Rall.

C.

Rally folded the note, and stuck the SIG back in the box. “Yeah Cowboy – I’ll see you again real soon.”

 

 

THE END

 

***

Notes:

While all the gun info in this story is accurate, it may not be complete, or even relevant.

The Ducati M900 Monster really can do over 200 mph without strain. It is, by all accounts, *the* bike to die on. ;-) OTOH, I have been informed that it is unlikely to go over 200 mph with two passengers. Oh well. I don’t see the Cobra doing 150 on any American road *I* know, either, so we’ll call it even.

There is, in truth, an Industrial Street and Alleyway Vacation Program in Chicago, but the corruption (and the individuals) in this story is completely fictitious. I’m sure the politicians in Chicago are as upstanding as those in my own hometown.

“Cock and lock”  – one can set the safety with a bullet chambered. Sonoda claims it is specific to the CZ75, but I’ve been told that many modern guns have it.

There was something else I wanted to note, but I’ve forgotten what it was. ;-)

Any questions, comments, positive feedback and objective criticism can be sent to yuricon@gmail.comNegative feedback will pretty much be ignored unless I’m in the mood.