© 2018, Jack H. Tyler
Takeri stared at O’Reilly with a ludicrous expression of surprise. Douglas’s phone bleated again in its high-pitched warbling voice. O’Reilly glanced up at a sea of faces, all alight with the question of how one of their own could afford, or even need, one the expensive toys of the rich. Her mind made the obvious decision before she was aware it was working.
“Ah, the impetuous Miss O’Reilly,” Douglas greeted her.
“You certainly took your time getting loose, then. Imagine where you’d be if I’d had duct tape and clothesline to work with.”
“Never mind our smart remarks. Are you aware that Lobo Gris has dozens of men scouring the city for you as we speak?”
“I expected no less. Half the British army is still scouring Belfast for me. What’s your point?”
“My point is that all it takes is one mistake on your part, one speck of bad luck, for one of these people to stumble over you and end your career with a ten-cent bullet. Whether you’ll admit it or not, you need my help.”
“Like I need a dose of arsenic. Listen, you aren’t going to fool me with your—”
“Miss Colleen,” Takeri whispered.
“Shhhhh,” she waved him off. “You aren’t going to fool me with your smooth talk and carefully rehearsed line of bullshit.”
“Colleen, I know you’re confused, I know you’re in a state of panic, so listen to me. These people are ruthless, and they know their business. They have home field advantage. You need my help. Now listen carefully, because I won’t be free to talk for long. Do you know the Zona Negra?”
“That’s the old marketplace, isn’t it?”
“Miss Colleen, please!” Takeri implored.
“Just a minute. What? What is it?”
“If they have the proper equipment, they can locate the phone.”
“Shit! How long?”
“If it is positioned correctly, almost instantly.”
“We have to run,” she said to Douglas. “Nice talking to you again.”
“Colleen, listen! Be at the Zona Negra in thirty minutes, and I’ll get you out of the country.”
She killed the phone, slowly stood up, motioning Takeri to follow suit, and without being too obvious about it, surveyed the room. The curious eyes had gotten bored with her and moved on. Giving Takeri a tiny head motion, she got them moving slowly toward the door. The room was crowded with merrymakers, and the large group at the big round table didn’t notice a thing when she dropped the phone into their pitcher of beer.
“Was that them on the phone?” Takeri asked.
“Aye, the big boy himself.”
“The man whose car we took?”
“What did she want?”
“He wants us to meet him.”
“And we will do this?” he asked, wide-eyed.
“Yeah, when pigs fly. We have to put some distance between us and that phone. Are you sure they can find it?”
“If they have the equipment.”
“Is it bulky? Could he carry it around with him?”
“Too big for a pocket. It may be in his car.”
“Or on his boat. Come on.” She started along the street.
“Where will we go?”
“The French Quarter. We need to get to the car.”
* * *
Takeri could feel himself trembling as he followed the incredibly sexy woman through as dangerous-looking an alley as he had ever dreamed existed. He was frightened out of his mind. He had seen her in action, knew she was capable of feats beyond his imagination, but he also knew that the man who was after them was capable of ordering their deaths as casually as he might swat a fly, and that the men who worked for him were as casually capable of carrying out those orders without the slightest qualm. All it would take was for one man to see through their flimsy disguise. He doubted his protector’s ability to stand up to a hail of bullets.
Still, he trusted in her ability to protect him to the extent that was possible, and following her instructions to the letter, he kept his head down as he followed her through the dusty streets. To quell his fear, he concentrated on her measured pace, a sandal appearing briefly beneath her colorful skirt, then darting forward for the next step as the other one came into view. He noted the Achilles tendons relaxing at the end of each step, remembered how they had kept her ankles firmly locked around the struggling two-hundred pound guard as her even more powerful thighs had squeezed his neck like a python, and he found himself becoming aroused again. He didn’t fight the feeling, as the terror it replaced was not nearly as enjoyable, but a corner of his mind found time to wonder at himself.
His dream woman was a Punjabi princess, dark and smoldering, with soft eyes and a softer body, who would depend on him for everything in her life even as she ruled him with her tender ways. Yet here he was, carrying an erection that could break down a door at the casual thought of this prickly Irish street-fighter with her milk-white complexion, her light dusting of freckles across her cheeks, and her long, supple muscles that could undoubtedly tie him in a knot and stuff him down a sink drain. There was no doubt in his mind; he was in love.
His surroundings forgotten, his mind began to rifle through its meager supply of life experience looking for a plan. Surely, he had something in his store of knowledge that would impress this woman, get her if not into his life, at least into his bed where he experience the excruciating ecstasy of those merciless legs tightening around him.
Lost in his masochistic fantasy, he failed to notice her stop, and bumped into her. She spun around and pushed him flush against the wooden wall beside them, hand covering his mouth. Though her eyes gave no indication, she couldn’t have failed to notice the rigid member that had been pressed between them for a split second.
But, releasing his mouth, she only cut her eyes toward the street. Following her cue, he peeked around the corner. She had parked the BMW between an ancient Chevrolet and a rusted trash dumpster, but now a dozen armed men milled around it, most examining the surrounding area, but one letting two Doberman pinschers get a good smell of the interior. He flattened back against the wall and looked at her with wide, terrified eyes, arousal gone like mist before the wind.
* * *
She slapped her hand over his mouth again, pinning him to the wall with her weight, sure he was about to cry out. With a terse, “Come on!” she led him back down the alley to the darkest, most dangerous-looking part, where they slid behind some boxes and other rubbish.
“Miss, Colleen,” he whispered as soon as they stopped, “we have to run!”
“Calm down. We can’t outrun dogs, then. They’ll lead their handlers around town, following our route, and eventually they’ll come right down this alley. What we have to do is find a way to break our trail.”
“We cannot break our trail. Dogs can follow a scent anywhere!”
“No they can’t. Get hold of yourself. I thought you were a boy.”
“Of course I’m a boy.”
“Well, you’re sniveling like a little girl. A boy would shake off his panic and help me. That’s what I need you to do, not be an anchor that will get us both killed.”
She needed his help like a bird needed a hang glider, but engaging an adolescent boy in protecting a young woman might make him forget that he was afraid. It seemed to work, as his eyes lost their wild look and focused on her face.
“What can I do?”
“You can think.”
His eyes widened again, and he sucked in air as the two dogs, growling and snuffling, pulled their handler past the end of the alley.
“Never mind them,” she said, snapping her fingers near the end of his nose. “We have about ten minutes before they get back here. First we have to backtrack to the street and head off in another direction. They might take the wrong path, but whether they do or not, we have to come up with something better than that, and quickly.”
She led him at a brisk walk back to the other end of the alley, looked both ways, then lowered her head back into her disguise and stepped out into the street. She reached back to grasp his wrist and pulled him up alongside her, holding his hand as they walked across the street and joined the recently paid revelers on the sidewalk.
“Maybe we can move on the rooftops,” he said quietly.
“Look at these roofs. I’m sure some of these are close enough for us to jump across. Surely they cannot track us through thin air.”
She stopped him at the end of another alley, studying the tops of the two- and three-story cantinas and cafes.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “It was stupid.”
“Stupid? Kid, you’re a genius! I could make a freedom fighter out of you in no time.”
“”Really? You mean a terrorist?”
“Yeah. Look at the other end of the alley. If we could get on that three-story, we could jump across to the two. Maybe we could even make another jump from there. Come on.”
* * *
She met him at the side door to the three-story cantina. She had sent him around the block while she had dared the alley. She had gotten some hard looks, and a lewd comment, but something in her eyes kept the taunter at bay, and now the dogs had two trails to follow; more confusion for their simple little minds.
Inside, she asked directions to the rest rooms, and led Takeri toward the back. As soon as the waitress turned her back, she pulled him under a rope from which a Cerrado sign hung, and fairly flew up the stone steps to emerge on a rooftop dining terrace. Tables, long and short, benches, and chairs were pushed to one side, while stacks of colorful tile waited to be laid over the old adobe floor. This couldn’t be better.
“Do you think you can make it?” she asked, looking across the alley to the rooftop below.
“Did you see those dogs? I could jump the Grand Canyon! How will we jump with this wall, though?”
His concern was well-founded. A knee-high lip of adobe ran around the outside of the terrace. Above this was a split pole railing that they could easily slide open, but the little wall would require them to make a perfect step onto it at the end of their run-up to the jump, and a one-inch mistake would plunge them three stories into the alley below. To top it off, their destination didn’t look like any meaningful repair work had been done on it since Simón Bolívar had campaigned in the nearby hills; they were in as much danger of crashing through the adjacent roof as they were of falling into the alley.
Of course, they still had to clear the wall, and even as they opened the railing above their intended point of launch, her eye was casting about for something to break open a gap with. It wouldn’t have to be much, but debris falling into the alley would attract unwanted eyes upward.
Mother Mary, this is impossible!
Then her gaze lit and stayed on the disarrayed tables so casually shoved aside, two picnic-style tables in particular. She walked over to them, mind already figuring heights, distances, angles. Yes, this could work.
“Help me with these.”
She and Takeri moved the two long, hip-high tables to the edge of the terrace and arrayed them end-to-end, forming a raised eighteen-foot platform aimed at the flat roof across the alley. Finished, they stood at the edge and surveyed their shadowy landing ground in the harsh back lighting of the street lamps beyond.
“This didn’t look so far from down there,” she said solemnly. “You want to go first or second?”
“I am a firm believer in ladies first,” he said, wide-eyed.
“Great, a traditionalist. Okay, it looks like a clear spot just to the left. That’s important. You land on a pipe over there, it’ll go right through you.”
“How nice.” He gave a sick smile.
“Don’t worry.” She smiled back and tousled his hair, sending a high-voltage thrill through him. “Just do what I do – if I make it, of course!”
She climbed onto the table. “Looks worse from up here.”
He turned to look at her just as she hiked up the voluminous skirt and knotted it around her waist, turning it into a micro-mini. His face was two feet from her thigh, and liquid steel muscles bunched and flexed as she shifted her weight nervously. He almost fainted with his first look at her gymnast’s legs, and his arousal returned with the force of a sledgehammer.
“Hey, up here,” she said, snapping her fingers in front of his nose again. “Here’s the gun. If I don’t make it, you’re on your own. I’d recommend in that case that you get to the consulate any way you can.”
“But, those men!”
“Shoot them! If you get arrested, scream for the embassy. They aren’t about to let a kidnapped American citizen go to the wall for defending himself from a stinking-ass, murdering drug dealer, then, are they?” Seeing his fear, she knelt and put her hand on his face. “Don’t worry, Ami, you’re light and wiry. If I make it, you’ll make it. Once we put this jump behind us, the rest of it’s a joyride, then, isn’t it? Buck up, there’s a good lad.”
She stood then, giving him a good look at her panties because if his adolescent fantasies replaced some of his terror, this would be much easier to pull off, and walked to the far end of the platform. Making this jump in the dark was bad. She wasn’t worried about clearing the distance, but there were unknowns. If she landed on something that would kill her, that would be only marginally worse than crashing through the roof onto whatever waited beneath. Worst of all would be if she made it, and then the boy wouldn’t jump. She thought about making him go first, but discarded that idea. Time was running out, and thinking about this wasn’t going to make it any easier. She removed her hat.
“Ready, kid? I’m going on three, okay?”
As much to surprise herself as to break his tension, she suddenly shouted “Three!” and took off running. The end of the platform came instantly. She guesstimated how much thrust she needed and applied it with her strong legs, then she was sailing through darkness, straining to see anything at all on the the surface she was headed for in order to know when to curl for her landing. She misjudged it slightly, her sandals hit a split second before she was ready, and she pitched over forward, scraping palms and knees on a rough, gritty surface.
The impact forced a stifled cry from her, and before she could begin to take stock of her injuries, she heard Takeri calling in a suppressed shout, “Miss Colleen! Miss Colleen!”
“I’m okay,” she called back. “Be quiet!”
She could tell by the hot, stinging sensation that her knees had been scraped bloody, but that seemed to be the extent of it. As she got to her knees, then stood up, her assessment was confirmed.
“Your turn,” she said, approaching the edge. “It was easy. Just jump right toward me. I’ll guide you.”
She came to the edge and glanced down to see the dogs coming up the street. They had followed Takeri’s trail, and would be entering the cantina within seconds.
“Ami, they’re here! You have to jump now!”
“I don’t know . . .” He was up on the platform, crouching, afraid to even stand.
“I know! Once they realize our trail doesn’t come out of there, they’re going to let the dogs go, and you’ll wish you’d jumped then! Now, come on!”
“I can’t! I can’t even stand up!”
“It’s easy! I did it, and I’m only a girl! Come on, Ami, or they’re going to kill you!”
He stood up slowly, beginning to hyperventilate.
“They’re going in, Ami. You’ve got maybe ten seconds. Jump, for Christ’s sake!” She watched him move back out of her view. God, this was bad! He had the gun, he was out of reach, and there wasn’t a thing she could do to help him. If he couldn’t make himself do it, Rodriguez would have him.
As she unknotted the skirt from around her waist, the boy suddenly came flying across the open space, arms and legs waving like an overturned beetle’s, to land in a heap beside her. She moved to help him, but he bounced up like a rubber ball, stammering, “They’re here! They’re up there!”
She looked back toward the roof to see two men look over toward them.
“Fuck!” one of them shouted. She grabbed the pistol from Takeri and aimed it in their direction, but they disappeared back toward the stairs.
“Can you walk?”
“Oh, hell yes! Where do we go?”
“This way.” She led him away from the cantina into the darkness. As soon as those men could find a stairway, their dogs would be up here, and they had to be somewhere else. She reviewed the plan as they jogged as fast as they dared in the darkness. It was basically sound, only that damned little wall had ruined it. Even if they had arrived later, one look at the dismantled rail and the end-to-end tables would have told them where they had gone. They had to repeat the action more successfully, and quickly!
The end of the roof looked down onto a single-story row of shops. She led him to an easy drop onto that roof, but that wasn’t going to fool any canine noses. A delivery truck was parked alongside the building, and it was close enough to step across to, but there again, their trail led right to it.
Then she saw the X-factor, that random piece of luck that always came along if you could just stay ahead of the pursuit long enough. Among the thinning traffic, hugging the safety of the roadside, was a donkey cart, its high rails holding a load of straw, maybe for animals, maybe for craft projects, she didn’t care. Tapping Takeri on the arm, she pointed it out to him, and as it passed below, they dropped into the cushioning reeds. As they flattened into the upper layers, she thought, just let the sons of bitches try to track us now!
* * *
Rodriguez paced nervously around the gazebo. Bolívar Park was host to plenty of rough trade these days, but that wasn’t about to bother a shark like Lorenzo Rodriguez. No, what had him worked up was the audacity of this female, a Goddamned little bitch, for Christ’s sake, who had run his guards ragged, escaped from them twice killing three of them in the process, and waltzed out of his fortified villa as pretty as you please with a hostage he had reached out across thousands of miles to kidnap.
“Just let me get hold of that fucking cunt!” he muttered around the filter as he lit a second cigarette from the butt he had just finished.
“You know those things will kill you,” Douglas said with maddening calm as he turned a page of the newspaper he held before him.
“What won’t? You’d better get excited about this, man. That bench is way more comfortable than the cot you’ll in your cell if she gets out of town.”
“She won’t. The dogs won’t have any trouble now that we know where she is.” He turned another page. “Worst mistake she could have made, taking my cell phone.”
“Maybe. I’ll tell you this, when we catch her this time, she’s not going to have any more energy left for any more great escapes.”
“As long as she’s left alive. She’s worth lots of money to me.”
“She might be worth more dead.”
Douglas lowered his paper. “How’s that?”
“Try thinking for once instead of waiting for a computer program to tell you everything. Born and raised in the IRA, and then how many years of doing this sort of freelance goody-two-shoes work?”
“I don’t know, four maybe, five.”
“Yeah, and who has she had for clients? With skills like hers, you can bet she doesn’t come cheap, so who uses her? Cabinet ministers? Celebrities? Captains of industry? How many secrets must she be sitting on?”
“Yes, how many indeed?” Douglas sounded bored as he raised his paper again.
“Are you really with the CIA? Because I can’t imagine how you got through their training without learning the value of information. That, and the power of blackmail. People will do anything to protect their dirty little secrets.”
“She may not be as deep a well as you think.” Another page turned. “She quit the Army because of her newly developing sense of justice and morality. She’ll take a job that appeals to her sense of right before she goes for the big payday. I’m sure most of her clients are just like Takeri.”
“Oh, and he doesn’t have any secrets?”
“Not any more.”
“No, not him. Anyway, if she knows anything, I will have it out of her.”
“And what if she doesn’t feel like telling you? I have a feeling she can be very stubborn about that.”
“Look, my friend, she has eyes and teeth and genitals, and I have soldering irons and needles and drugs. Stubbornness will only take her so far.”
“We’ll see. Anyway, you’ll have to catch her first.”
Rodriguez turned to see one of his men hurrying up the path toward them.
“Señor Rodriguez, the dogs tracked them to a rooftop.”
“No, sir, not so excellent. They jumped to another roof, so we took the dogs across the street, but there is no trail.”
“No trail? Then they are still in there.”
“No. We took the dogs in, and they found nothing.”
“God damn it!”
“Calm down, Lorenzo,” Douglas said, standing up and tossing the paper on the bench. “They can’t fly, so let’s get over there and work out where they went.”
* * *
O’Reilly looked over the edge of the hay wagon as it ambled almost aimlessly down the rough street. Cantinas, night clubs, and gambling establishments still lined the street. Apparently this guy was in no hurry to leave the red-light district.
No, it was worse. The cart lurched to a halt, and O’Reilly risked another peek over the top which revealed the owner tying his burro to a lamppost. She ducked quickly as he turned and headed into a garish watering hole.
“What is it?”
“End of the line. Our chauffeur stopped for a bottle.”
“What do we do now?”
He started to get up.
“Too many eyes.” She waited for a large, boisterous group to pass, rose to her knees, and with a terse “Now!” vaulted over the side. Takeri landed beside her an instant later, brushing straw from his hair. Looking around, she followed his example.
“This way,” she said, heading immediately for the shadows. He wasn’t as reluctant to follow this time.
“Now what happens?”
“Now we put some distance between us and this manhunt.” She led him into another alley, stopping just inside the shadows. “Let’s try the marina. Maybe somebody left their keys in a boat.”
“Miss Colleen!” The boy pointed down the alley, and though she couldn’t see anything back in the darkness, she heard the unmistakable sounds of a dog, claws scratching on the pavement, sniffing for a scent, chain leash rattling faintly.
“Come on!” She led him quickly back onto the street, turned to the left, and started off at a brisk walk. They had covered maybe thirty feet when another dog came around the corner leading a rough-looking customer on a short chain. She instantly spun Takeri so that they were looking into the window of a pawn shop. Their disguises would stand up to a cursory examination, but if that rottweiler had their scent, it wouldn’t make a damn what they looked like. She took his arm and leaned against him, pointing at a jewelry display in the window.
“Turn left and walk,” she whispered. “We go in the first door past the alley, and straight out the back.”
She turned him and pushed to get him going, looking at him and smiling as if he were her date.
“Miss Colleen, the alley!”
“Keep walking,” she whispered, and pushed against him, making them both stagger as if they were drunk. Lurching precariously, they cleared the alley and pushed the door of the painfully bright storefront, ringing a tinny bell which announced their entry. A dozen faces lifted from the cheap crap and roulette tables to look disinterestedly at them before returning to their games. No one continued to stare, began doing something else, or suddenly became purposeful. This was good. No one cared.
Keeping her hold on his arm, she steered him through the room toward a curtained doorway in the back which she assumed led to offices, rest rooms, and hopefully, a rear exit. She held the curtain back for him to pass, and followed him into the darkened hallway, taking a glance back as she released it. Still no one cared. But then, as she turned to follow him, the front door opened again, and tinkle of the little brass bell was lost in the single gruff bark of the rottweiler.
“Go, go!” she said, pushing Takeri at the small of his back.
“Arriba, Asir! Matar, matar!” she heard the man exhorting the dog to maul them. With a half-dozen doors recessed in the dark walls ahead, and a hundred-pound killer dog coming at them like a runaway train, she was out of choices. She turned in time to see the huge dog, blood lust contorting its face, rip half the curtain loose in its haste to taste their flesh. The Glock came level, the white-outlined sights virtually aligned themselves, and the thunderous report of the big .45 rattled her teeth. The slug hit the dog like the hammer of God, and with a loud yelp of pain, it was dead.
“Go!” she shouted. “Find the back door. Hurry!”
Sounds of panic pushed in from the game room as the dog’s handler rushed through the curtain, took in the dead animal, and started toward her. She raised the gun again, and the look in her eyes told him there would be no hesitation on her part. With a strained cry, he turned and threw himself back through the torn curtain.
“Ami!” she called, turning and seeing nothing but the empty hall. She ran to the first door and turned the knob. It opened on a cheap desk, a bald head, and two huge eyes peeking over from the far side.
“Where’s the back door?” she demanded. “La puerta trasero!”
“Left,” the bald head whimpered. “In the back on the left. Don’t shoot me!”
Without answering, she stepped back into the hall, checking the curtained opening again. There was no sign of the thug; out gathering reinforcements, no doubt. Certain he was out of the picture, she fairly flew down the hall, making a jarring stop at the door.
“Ami!” she stage-whispered as she opened it, and her heart sank. Rodriguez and Douglas stood side by side in the open lot that faced the back of the building, two guards beside them. A third cleared his throat, making his presence known to her right. Her body tensed to jump back into the dark hall for a game of musical doors, but she already knew that wouldn’t be an option because that simpering fool Bradford stood behind Takeri, arm around his throat the twin of Douglas’s gun pressed against his temple.
“Ah, Miss O’Reilly, there you are,” Douglas greeted her. “We were beginning to think you were going to make this difficult.”
“You’ve not seen anything yet,” she said.”
“Let’s not do anything impetuous, dear. I’m certain Mr. Takeri wouldn’t appreciate it, and I’m afraid that if we have to kill one of you, we will kill the other, too. Sort of a package deal, you see.”
The look on Takeri’s face was painful to behold.
“Be strong, Ami,” she said to him. “This isn’t over.”
“The hell it isn’t!” Rodriguez snarled, walking up to her and taking the gun from her unresisting hand. “What’s all this gab? You think this is a God damned Mexican soap opera? You fucking bitch, you’re dead!”
He punched her in the face as hard as he could, knocking her back against the door, from where she fell to the damp asphalt.
“Get some cuffs on this whore,” he snapped at his men, “two sets, double-tight! I don’t know how you got out of that container, but you’re not getting out of anything else. This is a man’s game you’re playing, little girl, and you’re about to find out what happens to little girls who try to play with the men.”
“Men?” she mocked him, swallowing blood as his thug tightened the first set of handcuffs on her. “You call yourself a man? You’re nothing but a yellow coward. You hide behind a private army, hunt us with dogs, and you’re afraid to get near me without holding a gun to my friend’s head, and then you have the gall to call yourself a man! I have a deal for you, puto. You let the kid go, and I’ll show you how we play over in the women’s league.”
“I have a different deal in mind for you. We’re going back to my place, and I’m going to pull your ovaries out through your nose while you beg to tell me anything I want to know. Put her in my car. We’ll ride back together.”