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Ben _ Lara

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Ben _ Lara Powered By Docstoc
					Lara teams up with Ben Polecat in a tale of bikes, fights,
revenge, and justice, with a little bit of romance thrown
in

      Author's note: Lara can exist in any time and/or
campaign setting. The events of the game could have taken
place in the present, the near future, or even further
beyond. By my placing Lara '20 minutes into the future', I
think that I am remaining loyal to both her character and
vision. Ben Polecat and all events he refers too are from
the game Full Throttle, by Lucasarts. There is a great deal
of info that I either extrapolated or just plain made up. I
hope that the various powers that be understand that and do
not send me to hell. Oh, Corley Motors is an obvious clone
of Harley Davidson. My Ben expert thinks that the name
'Ultra Glide Classic' is too wussy for a Corley bike, but
is an actual model of Harley, honest. This story can be
considered either a stand alone, or maybe a preface to
something bigger, if it is well received.

      As a writer, I have always found it easier to put
real faces to the character's in my stories. I wrote this
with the following faces in mind for my characters
      Lara: Every one has their favorite face for Ms.
Croft, either Liz Hurley, Rhona Mitra or who ever. My
personal favorite is Yancy Butler. She played opposite Van
Damme in 'Hard Target' and Wesley Snipes in 'Drop Zone',
and is currently on the CBS show 'Brooklyn South'. She
doesn't have an accent, but her features are perfect.
      Ben: As far as looks, I think that Arnold from T2 is
the best Ben. He has the look, the jaw, the jacket, and the
bike. Of course, its harder to picture Arnie with out that
accent, but he looks perfect.
      Gunny: Hulk Hogan without the mustache and with a
crew cut.
      Jackson: Curtis Vondie Hall. He plays Dr. Hancock on
'Chicago Hope', but is probably bets known as 'Captian
Prince' in Romeo and Juliet.
      Big Willie: Jerry from ER.
      Father Torque: This one kinda stumps me. Jerry
Garcia? Ernest Hemmingway?
      Flo: Susan Sarandon, all frumpy like she is in
'Lorenzo's Oil' or 'White Palace'
      Williams: Thomas Gibson, the guy who plays Greg on
'Dharma and Greg'. He also starred in 'Far and Away' and
until this season was Dr. Danny Nyland on Chicago Hope.
      Mo: Holly Hunter


     Ben & Lara
     Chapter One
     by Ross Jenkins, c 1997

     Prologue, Voice Over
      Sometimes I can't help but think about Lara. She had
this scent: herbal shampoo mixed with gun oil and leather,
and she walked like queen. When she walked in the door in
that two bit desert bar, I knew then that she was trouble.
She said that she was just passing through, taking in the
sights. I know its not her fault, but my life went to hell
the day after I met her. Even now, I still don't know if my
meeting Lara Croft was a blessing or a curse, but one thing
is for sure, I'll never forget her.
      Chapter I-The Kickstand
      The scene was timeless. The sun had always been hot
here, the sky always cloudless. The rocks had always looked
old and weathered, even when they were young and new. There
had always been lizards and snakes, sunning on the heat
blasted rocks. Lichen and cacti had always been the only
vegetable matter hardy enough to eke out a meager existence
amidst the rocks and dust. The road though, that was new.
      Nothing in this desert stayed new long, and this road
was no exception. It was faded and cracked, the yellow
lines bleached almost white under the sun. It had seen many
tires of all types over its hundred years of life, but no
repair crew in almost twenty. It stretched in both
directions like a tired gray ribbon, a tired line that went
from horizon to horizon. The signs had all been shot,
smashed down or rusted out decades ago, and the impotent
government that ran what was left of the USA had more
important things to do - like clothing and feeding its
tired and weary population - than fixing up a road that
nobody drove in the middle of nowhere. Inhabitants were few
and far between in this endless desert, but despite that a
single rider on a single motorcycle defied the heat and the
aging road.
      She wore no helmet, and her waist long auburn hair
trailed behind her in a single long braid. She wore a faded
black T-shirt and ripped jeans under a cotton poncho to
ward off the heat and sun. Her skin was deeply tanned,
earned from hours under the sun, and her body was firm and
hard, yet undeniably feminine. The worn leather gun belt
was far from dainty, though, nor were the dull black 9mm
auto loaders that it held. If she was tired, hot, sore or
thirsty she didn't show it. Her eyes were hidden behind
oval reflective sunglasses, and her expressionless face
could have been made of stone.
      As Lara cruised the faded and cracked highway she
pondered briefly whether or not she had made a good
decision. She was an adventurer by nature, a professional
thrill seeker, and crossing the lawless Arizona desert on
motorcycle certainly qualified as dangerous. The tabloid
reading masses had a morbid fascination with the 'new old
west', and a prominent magazine had hired - no, dared -
Lara to cross them. With the same questionable wisdom that
had taken her on a one woman war with Natla Industries and
the secrets of Atlantis, she had accepted.
      Lara very seldomly regretted her actions. Regret
didn't move you in a forward direction and was a waste of
energy. Ever since Lara had been 'awakened' in that plane
crash 10 years ago she had moved nowhere but forward. Her
father had accused her of having a death wish, and perhaps
he was right. She had broken a number of bones over her
career on top of being shot, stabbed, scraped and bit by
various nasties of the world. Each scar - and there were
more than a few - was a medal, though; a testimony that
said 'I survived whatever you have thrown at me. I have
cheated death at your hands and I am that much more alive.'
      She had perhaps bitten off more than she could chew
on this latest expedition. The situation in the various
towns and shanties was truly appalling, worse than the
third world. It was worse because they existed right
outside the shiny mirrored towers of modern American
'civilization'. There was enough money in the private
sector, and indeed the government coffers, to repair these
homes but those who had the money were unwilling to spend
it on 'a bunch of outlaws and bandits'. Lara, in her
previous installments to her patron, had written a great
deal on the condition of the slums and the poor quality of
life in the desert, but she knew that it would be
'sweetened' by her editor. She knew what he wanted: sex,
violence and damsels in distress, with a few car chases
thrown in. She'd had all that so far, with an emphasis on
the second and the latter. There was next to no law in the
badlands, and the roads and towns were ruled by gangs. Lara
had fought some gangs, run from others. She had helped a
pair of star-crossed lovebirds from rival gangs start a new
life, been in a wall shattering bar brawl, and spent a long
time on the road, doing 'rolling meditation.'
      It was starting to wear her down: the heat, the
fighting, the ever present smell of petrol fumes. The man
next to her had been killed for no reason yesterday. He had
sat beside her in the bar, was about to order a drink when
his head had suddenly exploded, covering Lara in bits of
blood, brain and gore. The shooter had been high on some
sort of drug; he had shot the man because he had reminded
the kid of his father. It was completely random and
meaningless. She had taken a thorough shower but still had
bits of skull in her hair. The feelings and memories of the
incident would remain with her longer still. She was just
tired, and wanted this whole damned expedition to end. She
was over 30 now, although not much over. Maybe she was
getting to old for this.
      Her ruminations were cut short as she spied a gas
station/restaurant silhouetted against the giant bloody red
setting sun. The Kickstand. Her growling stomach reminded
her that she hadn't eaten a meal since that morning. She
pulled her bike, a Corley Ultra Glide Classic, into the
dusty parking lot. A rusted out pickup truck and rusty
garbage bin shared the lot with her, along with a dozen or
so low slung forms of motorcycles. Lara grimaced as she
killed her engine and pushed down the kickstand. A bike
gang. Just what she needed to make her day complete.
According to the decal painted on their gas tanks, they
were called the 'Polecats'. Their crest was a boot, fist
and chains surrounding a skull. How charming.
      As she walked up to the door, Lara wondered what
temperament the gang was in. She wasn't in the mood for a
fight. With a resigned sigh, she opened the door and
stepped inside.
      * * *
      Life was good. Just Ben, his bike, his gang, and the
road. The Polecats finally were out of jail after that
whole Malcomn Corley thing. His bike was all fixed up now;
it even still had that booster jet on, which was great. And
the road, well the road was always there. Always would be.
If Ben had these three things, he could be happy. Ya, life
was good.
      The Polecats and the Vultures had a kind of truce
now. The Cave Fish didn't seem to exist anymore, heh heh.
Rumour had it that those psycho religious albinos were all
in the bottom of a hole in their cave. Hmm. Wonder how that
happened. All of this suited Ben just fine. The Polecats
liked to live hard, fight hard and play hard. Drunken
brawls, races with other bikers, harassing newbies as they
entered the desert; all that was good fun. It was the
ultimate expression of living life on your own terms. It
was freedom.
      Ben's gang had never been into the bad stuff;
enforcement, drugs, prostitution, raping and pillaging, all
the things that the bigger badder gangs did in this lawless
land. Ben would have loved to go rumble with them, kick
their asses, but those gangs didn't fight fair. They had
guns and rockets and they liked to use them. They gave
biker gangs a bad name. Oh well. They had their turf, and
the Polecats had theirs. As long as no one strayed over the
invisible border into Polecat turf, then every body stayed
happy.
      Ben and his men had stopped off at their old haunt,
the Kickstand at the end of a long hot ride. Quohog was a
biker's barkeep. He knew when to talk, what to talk about
and when to shut up. Too many people tried to fill the
silence with stupid chatter, Quohog didn't. He also had the
best home made beer in the desert. His place was made for
bikers as well. It was run down, the tables were scratched
and the place stunk of old fried onions. The handlebars of
Corley bikes old and present adorned the walls, and the
jukebox, an old CD one dating back to the 90's, had none of
that country or techno crap. It was always on the fritz and
played what in wanted to when it wanted to, but that was
ok. No one ever put any money in the damned thing anyway.
Right now it was playing George Thorogood, 'Bad to the
Bone'. Ya, that was good.
      Ben was on his second brew, meditating on the finer
points of life, when they all heard the single motorcycle
approaching from the west. Jackson, his second in command
and best friend, went to the window. "Some chick on a
Corley Ultra Glide, looks like a `32 or a `33. Man that's
hot." Every single member of the Polecats worshipped at the
shrine of Corley, and could name every make and model they
had ever made.
      "What's hot, Jack, the chick or the bike?" Ben asked
in his low growl of a voice. The other guys chuckled.
      "Both, man. That bike looks cherry and the girl is
stacked." A pause, then he continued in a more serious tone
of voice. "She's packing, Ben. An automatic on each hip.
Looks like old Browning Hi Powers." Jackson had been a cop
and a gun collector before he joined up with the Polecats,
and he knew his stuff.
      At the mention of the guns, the gang grew a bit more
serious, and no one said a word as they heard the door
handle turn and that stupid electronic chime that Quohog
had on his door. The fading evening light back lit the
woman in the door, and Jackson had been right, she was
stacked. Thin waist, big knockers, and long legs. The first
thing you noticed about her, though, was that she was hard.
Her tanned arms had muscles and she wore those guns like
she knew how to use them. Her face was like stone. Ben saw
all this through the reflection in the mirror behind the
bar.
      The chick stopped in the open doorway to survey the
room. She still had her mirror shades on, so no one could
see exactly what she was looking at. The ancient juke box
chose that moment to quit, and to Ben this felt like a
moment out of an old clich‚ western. There was total
silence as every eye in the room followed the chick. She
walked slowly to the bar and stopped two stools from Ben.
Looking at the silent Quohog for a moment, she sat down.
Ben could see her cool face in the reflection of the
mirror.
      "Could I have a menu please, and a bottle of mineral
water." The voice surprised Ben. It was upper class
British, low and cool just like the rest of the lady. It
suited her, Ben thought. Hearing her talk like a truck
driver in a Midwest accent just would have been wrong.
      The guys snickered at her mention of mineral water.
Even Quohog let a chuckle go. "Mineral water? What do think
I am lady, a spa? Would you like the cold cucumber soup or
the escar-the fried snails?" The guys snickered. The lady -
even in jest Ben couldn't bring himself to label her as a
'chick', she just wasn't the type - didn't even crease a
brow.
      "I will take anything bottled, if you please, and
something to eat that isn't fried." She took off her
shades. Her eyes were a rich brown, and Ben was startled by
their intensity. "I am not in a mood for cucumbers and
detest fried snails, thank you very much." The corner of
her mouth went up just a bit, or maybe Ben just imagined
it.
      Quohog grunted and reached below the bar for
something. "I got some chicken pot pies in the freezer, or
lasagna if that's what turns your crank." He placed an old
dusty bottle of Bud in front of her.
      The woman stopped and thought a moment. "Chicken pot
pie, please." She took the bottle in dainty hands and
twisted off the top. She looked at the dusty bottle
disdainfully, then glanced at Quohog.
      He produced an equally dusty mug and placed it in
front of her with a smirk. "It's frozen. It'll take about
20 minutes."
      "20 minutes is fine, thank you." Her eyes were
surveying the bar through the mirror as she poured the beer
carefully into the mug. Every eye was glued to her as she
sipped at the golden brew. Ben watched her in the mirror,
still quietly drinking his brew. Her dark eyes met his in
the mirror and locked on.
      I'm just as strong as you are her eyes said to him.
Try anything with me and you'll regret it. Ben wasn't
cowed.
      You don't scare me, Lady his eyes replied. I've got
my gang with me. You're on my turf and a long way from
home. She met his gaze coolly and without flinching. Ben
noticed that her hands never strayed too far from the guns
on her hips.
      "Please? Thank You?" A loud sarcastic voice rang out
from behind her. Ben could see her body tense as she locked
onto the person talking in the bar mirror. It was Bill, who
the guys called 'Big Willie'. It was more for the size of
his ego than any outsized body parts. "Where you think you
are lady? Buckingham manor?" Big Willie walked up to the
bar and sat next to her. Several other of the guys chortled
as they watched the show.
      "Buckingham is a palace, not a manor," the lady
corrected in her singsong British accent. Ben saw her hand
opposite big Willie rest on her thigh next to her one
pistol. "and it never hurts to practice good manners." She
continued in her calm tone. "You should try it sometime."
      Big Willie's brow for a moment as he thought about
what she had said. Eventually he came to the conclusion
that she hadn't insulted him. He leaned into her and
grinned, showing off his missing front teeth. "Why don't
you teach me."
      The woman moved and suddenly Willie was standing,
yelling in pain as his arm was held at an unnatural angle.
"Very well," the woman continued in her prim tones. "Will
you please remove your hand from my leg before you lose
it." Willie said nothing and gasped in pain as she
increased the pressure on her wrist lock, then without
warning let him go. Willie deflated like a balloon and
backed off, holding his wrist. "Thank you. You see, its
simple enough that even you can get it."
      Willie bristled at her mocking tone and came back to
her angrily. "You bitch!" he yelled and grabbed for her
arm. The lady slapped his hand aside and slid back off the
stool, her other hand moving to her pistol. It was only
half drawn when Ben grabbed her wrist.
      "Don't start with the guns, lady." He growled, the
first words he had said to her. "It's a fight you won't
win." As he said it, there was the unmistakable sound of
multiple guns cocking. The lady pulled her hand free of
Ben's, not without difficulty, and looked about the room.
Every man except Willie and Ben had their hands on or had
drawn some sort of gun. Even Quohog had his hand below the
bar, where Ben knew that he kept an old Winchester
Defender. "Don't worry about Willie. He'll keep his paws
off you." As Ben said this, he met Willie's eyes and added
a non verbal or you'll answer to me. Willie backed off and
sat down with a grumble.
      "I came hear to eat dinner," she lady said stiffly as
she deliberately moved her hands away from her two guns,
"not start a fight. I'm more than willing to eat in peace
if you are." She turned to him and locked her gaze with
his. No mirror this time. Her eyes continued the
conversation. But if you aren't, I'll take as many as I can
with me before I fall. It wasn't a hollow bravado in her
eyes like Willie's. Ben saw strength and cold determination
there. If it came to a fight, he was pretty sure that he
could take her, but decided that right now it wasn't worth
the effort.
      Ben looked away first, submitting in their visual
duel. For now, he thought. He moved back to his bar stool
and signaled Quohog to give him another brew.
      "Ben Polecat," he said, by way of introduction. "This
is my gang." He took a sip.
      "Polecat? Is that your real name?"
      "Real enough." But it wasn't, of course. It sounded a
hell of a lot better that Benjamin Butterwell from
Springfield, Indiana.
      "I'm Lara Croft." She waited and looked at him. What?
Was her name supposed to mean something? If it did, he
wasn't aware of it. He steered the conversation towards a
much better subject.
      "Nice bike you got there," he commented in a neutral
tone of voice. "It's a Corley. '32?"
      The lady eased back on her stool, but her eyes never
stopped surveying the room through the mirror.. "Thirty
three, I think. Whatever year it was before they switched
away from the Intel engine processor." Her tone was as
neutral as Ben's was, though perhaps a bit more guarded.
      "That's the '32. They switched to some damn Jap
computer." His voice dripped with disdain. "It totally
screwed the bikes up. They bought out Apple in '37 and
switched processors again."
      "You know your bikes." She commented, sipping at the
ancient beer in her mug and grimacing. "American beer
tastes like piss."
      Ben grunted. "I gotta know bikes. They're my life,
and you get used to the beer." He added. Behind them,
seeing that there was no fight, the guys resumed talking
and horsing around. Big Willie kicked the juke box until it
begun playing again.
      "Not bloody likely" he heard her mutter. The two
continued to drink in companionable silence for a while,
until Willie brought her obviously freezer burnt pot pie to
her. She looked at it doubtfully, gave a mental shrug and
began to eat it. How she thought of it was obvious on her
face after the first bite.
      "Anything in his freezer's been there at least 10
years," Ben mentioned. "The only thing that Quohog can make
that isn't gonna kill you is a burrito. And that's because
his wife makes them in the morning."
      "Go to hell, Polecat." Growled Quohog. "If you don't
wanna eat my food, you can get your ass out that door any
time you feel like it."
      Ben ignored him and continued to drink. Quohog
grumbled about respect and retreated to the kitchen. The
juke box decided that it didn't like what it was playing
and switched to the Eagle's Greatest Hits. Hotel
California.
      "I apologize if I offend you, but is there something
horribly significant about a Corley motorcycle? You seem
very knowledgeable on the subject." She pushed the empty
plate away from her and took another grimacing sip of her
beer.
      Ben looked at her in astonishment. What was she,
drunk? What was Corley motors? "Corley's are the only real
bikes left on the market." He said with pride. "Only a
Corley has soul. Any other bike's just a piece of metal."
No truer words could come from a bikers mouth. Behind him,
the other Polecats murmured agreement and clinked their
glasses together. He even heard a sniff.
      "I wasn't aware that is was such a .personal
experience." Lara said.
      "I went to Corley Motors once." Ben's voice was
thick. "It was like a kind of religious pilgrimage for me."
Yah, one with lots of butt kicking he added to himself.
"The old man passed on last year," he continued. "It was
pretty hard. Old Man Corley was pretty important to all of
us." He didn't add that he had been framed for the old
man's murder, and that his gang had been arrested by the
usually non existent cops as assessories.
      "Who runs the company now?" Lara asked.
      "His daughter, Maureen." Emotion crept into his
voice, he couldn't help it. Mo had a special place in his
heart. If only. ah, hell. "She almost lost control of the
company, though, to some fat slimy slob named Rip Burger.
He wanted to make mini-vans." There was hatred and disgust
in his voice, and it was echoed by the angry murmurs of his
gang behind him.
      Lara looked at him blankly for a moment. "Is there
some horrible sin in making mini-vans that I don't know
about?"
      "Corley's about bikes!" Ben snarled. "It's what the
old man wanted. It's how he ran the company. If they
started making yuppie trash, then the old man and
everything he stood for would have been nothing but dust.
Luckily, Mo-I mean Maureen found out about it and put a
stop to it." With a lot of help from me.
      "What happened to this Rip person?" Lara asked.
      His voice was flat. "He took a long drive off a short
cliff."
      "I see." She finished off her beer and for a while
they both drank silently. The jukebox changed its tune
again, playing some Van Halen. Panama.
      "What's a fancy lady like you doing riding all alone
across this desert on a vintage hog?" Ben asked after a
while.
      For a while the gorgeous enigma named Lara said
nothing, drinking down a second bottle of 'well aged' beer
that had appeared in front of her. "Taking in the sights."
      Ben snorted. "What sights? There's nothing out here
except desert and gangs."
      "Maybe those are the sights I wanted to see."
      Ben looked at her. "Lady, you must have some death
wish." The comment seemed to shake her a bit, but Ben had
no idea why. "You ride around by your self looking like
that looking for gangs?" She said nothing. "You almost got
taken out by us, and we're small potatoes next to the Rott-
wheelers, or the dragons."
      She smiled enigmatically. "Did I?" Her eyes were
steel boring into his. I would have taken most you with me
they said to him.
      Whatever.
      Granted she thought she was tough, but one woman
against twelve? No one was that tough, not even Ben. He was
close, though. Against his own will, a charitable thought
popped into his head.
      "We could escort you to wherever you're going." Why
the hell had he said that? The Polecats weren't an escort
service. Granted she was hot, but it took more than a
pretty face and breasts and ass and legs to stop him from
thinking straight.
      "That's awfully big of you."
      "For a fee, of course." Ben added. At least she
hadn't addled his brain too much for him to forget the
bottom line.
      "Of course." Her face was unreadable.
      It was like a slap in the face. He offered his help
and she-what had she done? Not agreed, not thanked him, not
turned him down. Why did that piss him off so much?
      "Look, lady, if you don't have some one watching
your-"ass he wanted to say, but didn't. "-behind, its
either gonna get shot off or gang banged. You need us."
      Lara slowly, elegantly, stood up and threw a bill
onto the table. "Thank you for the offer Mr. Polecat, but
I'm a big girl. I have been taking care of myself for a
very long time." Again the juke box decided to quit, and
again every eye in the bar, including Ben's, followed her
and her swaying behind as she left the bar. No one said a
word as they heard the motor start up with that special
Corley purr. Her headlight headed off west.
      Jackson whistled after an appropriate moment of
silence. "That is both the hottest and coldest bitch I have
seen in my whole life." Ben just grunted. The juke box
decided to turn on again, playing Nirvana this time. Ben
stood up and slapped the counter. "Lets ride, Polecats.
People to do and places to see." Without another word he
went outside to his bike. Even in this screwed up country,
nothing smelled better than desert air at night, unless it
was desert air at night while cruising on a Corley.
      The other members of the Polecats straggled out of
the bar, getting on jackets and starting their hogs. "I'll
pay you later, Quohog." Ben yelled over the revving motors.
"Once I've got some cash."
      Quohog yelled back some reply, but all Ben heard was
'Deadbeat'.
      Hmph. Jerk.
      Without another word or thought, Ben led Jackson, Big
Willie and the rest of the gang onto the cracked faded
highway. They headed west.

     Ben & Lara
     Chapter Two
     by Ross Jenkins, c 1997

      Chapter II-Calm Before the Storm
      Date line: Baron's Head
      As jaded as this land has forced me to be, from time
to time some things still genuinely surprise me. Last
evening as I entered a hole-in-the-desert bar with a
parking lot full of motorcycles, the last thing I expected
to be a part of was a religious experience. Religious is
questionable, but the people I met were definitely an
experience. I entered expecting a fight. Bikers are
notoriously territorial, especially of their watering
holes. After the come-on/grope session that has become sort
of a tradition in these parts, I came up against something
truly surprising. It wasn't the beer; I still haven't found
an American beer that does not taste like watered down
urine. It wasn't the food; it tasted like sawdust. It was a
sermon about biking, complete with a congregation and the
occasional 'amen'. The local gang leader, with the
questionable name of 'Ben Polecat', which he surely wasn't
born with, read me the holy writ of motor cycling. That
writ is motor cycles, or more precisely, Corley Motors
motorcycles. If I can remember his wording correctly 'A
Corley has soul, any other bike is just a piece of metal.'
I find it fascinating that these people, who probably don't
know what the Magna Carta is or when it was signed, or know
the birth date of George Washington, were able to identify
the year of my bike at a glance as well as give me a run
down of the nationality of its parts, and a brief company
history. It would not surprise me if they all had lap top
computers with stock portfolios-with only one stock. After
saying all this I must congratulate Corley Motors, not only
for instilling such fierce customer loyalty, but for
seemingly also creating a way of life.
      Lara scanned over what she had just written before
smiling briefly and uploading it to her editor in London.
It wasn't a bad first draft. Her editor would probably axe
half of it and send a mangled, unrecognizable version of it
back to her tonight to 'correct'. She had learned not to
take it personally. It was just that no one in the blasted
newspaper community knew good writing if it bit them in the
arse, that was all. She pushed her lap top computer away
from her and lay back on the bed that she had been sitting
cross legged on.
      For a moment last evening she was sure that
everything was going to break into violence. It wouldn't
have been the first time. Perhaps she had been a bit flip
with that biker and his hands, but she had always been a
creature of the moment. Some things just felt right when
they happened, like that did, consequences be damned.
Despite what Mr. Polecat (surely he hadn't been born with
that name) had said, she knew that she could have come out
of the situation intact. She wasn't silly enough to start
gunning down bikers in their own bar, but a show of force,
of balls to coin the American term, was essential. If they
didn't think that she was capable of drawing and using her
guns then they would have walked all over her.
      Still, all in all, the evening had passed peaceably
enough. The leader, Polecat, had been tougher than she had
expected. There was iron in that man's gaze. He had been
through a great deal in his life, but still was calm enough
to extend the peace. He had even offered to protect her,
for a fee of course. It was sort of charming in a
chauvinistic way. Still, there was something about the
man.she was sure that they would meet again.
      With a sigh she rolled out of the bed and into the
shower, taking her gun belt in the washroom with her. She
had learned that it was wise to be forearmed in this land-
in fact in any land. Or to coin another American phrase
'your not paranoid when you know they're out to get you'.
Both guns, Browning HP-35 Mk3's, were loaded with a round
in the chamber. It was an act of questionable safety, but
Lara cared for them well and did not often have the time to
charge the weapons before using them.
      She had ridden into the small town of Baron's Head
late last evening, two hours after leaving the charming
company of the Polecats. Currently she was the sole
occupant of the 'Baron's Head Hotel'. The owner of the
place, and apparently its only employee, was a feisty woman
in her mid 40's named Flo whom Lara had taken a liking to
immediately. The paint in her room was faded and cracked,
the sheets were old, the sink and tub were rusty, and the
hot water was temperamental at best. Still, it was
luxurious compared to some of the hostels and dives that
she had stayed in during the last few weeks.
      After a short shower using the last of her herbal
shampoo - the dry desert air was hell on her hair - Lara
dressed in the same shorts and tank top that had gone with
her to hell - or was that the depths of Atlantis? - and
back. The were worn in a few places and had a few holes in
them, but were comforting in their familiarity. She didn't
plan to do any riding today, so the brief attire would do
just fine. Lara had always been a sun worshipper and used
strong sun block as a grudging concession to the severely
depleted ozone layer. As she began the lengthy process of
braiding her hair, she switched on the radio. It was
playing a truly awful country song that had apparently been
on the charts for a while. It was about a man who was happy
about being the last man on Earth, because he could finally
kiss his lady love. She shook her head in disgust. Only in
America.
      The sun was about ¬ of the way up as she walked down
stairs. Flo was sitting behind the counter reading an E-
zine. "Hey, honey," she called out in her thick Texas twang
as she continued to recline against the counter. "I owe you
a breakfast. I can make you some bacon and eggs."
      Ugh. Americans ate to much grease. "Could I just have
coffee and toast, please?" Lara asked politely as she
surveyed the area. No other vehicles in the parking lot or
the road, and no one else in the lobby.
      "Sure, honey, if you like." Said Flo as she tossed
the E-zine to the counter and moved to the door labeled
'Employee's only.' Flo had obviously been a beautiful lady
once, but time and gravity had taken their toll. Her hair
was an obviously artificial shade of red and Lara was sure
that her cleavage was somewhat enhanced. She reeked of
cheap perfume and wore far too much makeup. Still, she was
a sweet lady behind those old tired eyes. Lara liked her.
"I make great bacon and eggs, though." She called out.
      Lara was still surveying the area through the main
window. "No, thank you." She said absently as she watched a
building that looked to be an auto garage. There were a
number of bikes parked in front of the place.
      Flo clucked as she went back into the kitchen. "Your
loss, honey."
      The town of Baron's Head looked even more tired and
shabby by day light, and that was hard to do. It had looked
pretty sad when she had first ridden in. Two out of three
buildings were obviously abandoned. Any glass visible was
cracked and covered in a steel cage. There were various
forms of graffiti, some gang signatures (she recognized the
Polecat's crest at one point) and others were just the
results of restless youth. Street lights were bent and
dented, or just removed entirely. There seemed to be no
active trash removal system. Abandoned and stripped cars
sat about, awaiting decent burial, vying for space with old
boxes and newspapers. She reflected again on the sadness of
it all as Flo came back into the room. "Breakfast's ready,
honey. You'll have to come back here to get it though." She
popped her head back into the kitchen.
      For a moment Lara contrasted this to her pampered
life with her father and smiled. In every way, except
perhaps for the freshness of the bread, Lara far preferred
this. It was more honest. She walked into the kitchen where
Flo had turned what looked to have been the employee lounge
into a small dining nook. Steaming coffee in a chipped mug
sat next to some fresh toast and margarine. Flo sat on the
other side of the table, drinking coffee and leaving
lipstick smudges on the cup. She chatted about men, the
desert, and men as Lara ate.
      Lara spread what turned out to be soy-spread on her
toast in silence, pleased that in this culinarily
challenged corner of the world that they still couldn't
screw up toasted bread. Butter, or even margarine would
have been nice, though.
      "I thought all you English types drank tea." Flo said
around her coffee.
      "I used to," said Lara as she sipped her coffee, "but
I've been travelling for quite a number of years and have
gotten quite hooked, I'm afraid. I find I need that jolt
that coffee brings to get up in the morning." She a bite of
toast. It tasted a bit old, but beggars can't be choosers.
"I still drink tea in the afternoons, though."
      "I ain't got none, honey. I hope you know that."
      Lara smiled. "No worry, Flo. I brought my own
supply."
      The lady laughed. "You're real prepared." She paused
and looked at Lara. "What's a broad like you doing here in
Baron's Head anyway?"
      Lara lifted her eye brows. "A broad like me?" The
word didn't seem right coming from her mouth.
      Flo didn't seem to notice. "Yah, like you. Gorgeous
like a Holowood star, muscles like Miss Universe and armed
like Rambo." Lara chuckled at the imagery. "You ride a
Corley, but you don't look or act like a biker chick."
      "And what do I act like?" Lara asked, amused. She
sipped her coffee.
      "Well, shoot, you know." She gestured with her hands.
Unfortunately, she still held the coffee cup, which
sloshed. Lara quickly moved her toast out of harms way.
"That accent, those manners. Like the queen or something."
      "Well I'm not the queen. I used to be a Lord's
daughter, but he disowned me."
      Flo was shocked. "Disowned you? What the hell for?"
      "Being armed like Rambo, muscled like Miss Universe
and acting like Indiana Jones." Lara said with a straight
face. "He felt it wasn't a proper way for a lady to act."
      "No shit! What the hell are you doing here, anyway?"
      "I'm writing a series of articles about the New West.
I look for what's interesting and dangerous."
      "No shit!" Flo repeated.
      "No shit." Lara agreed.
      "Is that what your looking for in Baron's Head?
Trouble?" She gave Lara a worried look.
      "Yes, but I prefer to observe it from a distance when
possible."
      "About the only place in town that's anything is the
local watering hole, The Horny Bull."
      "Charming name." Lara commented.
      "Ya, well, anything interesting in this town's gonna
happen there. If you want dangerous, that's the place, too.
All the bikers hang out there, too. You might want to steer
clear of them." Flo warned.
      "I've met some." Lara informed her. "I think that I
can handle them."
      "You did, honey? Who?"
      "The Polecats."
      Flo cackled. "Ben?" Her voice was almost a shriek.
"Now there is a hunk of man. Those shoulders, that jaw."
Her eyes were bright. "I'll ride on his handlebars any
time." She paused. "Shoot, honey, him and his gang are a
bunch of pussy cats. They like to drive hard, get in a
fight every now and then and growl a lot, but they are tame
compared to some of the bad asses that ride in this desert.
Why, shoot, there are some that would just as soon shoot
you as look at you."
      "I've met some of those types, too." Lara said
quietly, thinking of the man she had sat beside two days
ago. "Thank you for your concern, Flo, but I can take care
of myself." Lara wiped her hands on a napkin and stood.
"Thank you for breakfast, Flo. it was wonderful."
      Flo snorted and shook her head. "It wasn't very much,
honey. If you want to mess it up with the bad boys, go
right ahead." She stood also and gathered up breakfast
dishes. "Don't say old Flo didn't warn you." She began to
turn away, but stopped. "But, honey?"
      Lara paused and looked back. "Yes?"
      "There is some new bruiser in town who is down right
evil. Goes by the name of Gunny. They say he's truly bad
ass and is recruiting for some new gang. Stay clear of him,
whatever you do." She turned away and placed the dishes in
the sink.
      "Thank you. I'll be careful."
      Flo gave some sort of 'mmhm' as Lara left the
kitchen. The garage across the street peaked her interest.
A name, 'Mike's', was spray painted over the door.
      "Excuse me?" Lara poked her head in the garage. An
echoing conversation from the back stopped. "Excuse me, is
there a mechanic here?"
      * * *
      The Polecats drove into Baron's Head 15 strong. Their
crest was displayed on both their bikes and jackets. Ben
drove in his customary position at the head of the bikes,
with the rest formed two lines behind him. All you could
hear was the sound of well tuned bike engines. It was like
a symphony from God. The column rolled to a stop across
from the Baron's Head Inn.
      "Ben, what the hell do you want to see Flo for?"
Jackson asked from his bike. "Last time you got within five
miles of her it took all of us to stop her from dragging
you to the alter. You changed your mind?"
      "Hell, no." growled Ben as he shut off his engine.
"That broad has so much make up and perfume she's a fire
hazard. Every time she light's up I think she's gonna
explode." He had bad memories about the last time that old
floozy tried to get her hooks into him. It still made him
shudder.
      "Hey, Ben, I think you two make a cute couple,"
called out Duke, one of the younger members. "It's one of
those May/December things." The guys laughed. "Or is more
like a September/December thing?"
      Everybody was a comedian. "You're a riot, Duke. Stow
it."
      Jackson spoke again. "What are we doing here, Ben?"
      "I hear Father Torque's in town. Gonna pay my
respects." It was at least partly the truth.
      "Ya, it ain't got nothing to do with that gloss gray
32' Ultra Glide parked out front of Flo's place?" Jackson
asked as he got off his machine. "We all know who rides
that thing." The other guys chuckled, whistled or howled,
except Big Willie, who just scowled. "What was her name?
Kraft?"
      "Croft," Ben answered. "Lara Croft."
      Jackson slapped his gang leader and friend on the
shoulder. "There ain't nothing wrong with going pussy
hunting, man, but at least admit it to your self that's
what your doing." He chuckled. "And that's one pussy that's
worth hunting, too."
      That much was the truth. Ben shrugged off the man's
hand. "I'm just gonna see Father Torque," he growled.
Jackson just laughed quietly and shook his head. "Put a
sock in it, cupid. Take guys out and go get a drink. I
gotta go see the old man."
      Ben trudged across Mike's Bikes as the others drove
off in a cloud of oh-so-sweet exhaust. It was like cologne.
Couldn't Jackson just stick to bikes? Ben didn't need
anyone to tell him what he was thinking, and that lady
Croft had nothing to do with why he brought the Polecats to
Baron's Head.
      That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
      The garage was pretty empty, but still smelled of
acetylene and old oil. Mike was probably sacked out; he
liked to party pretty late, but the garage was open and he
could hear the Father's gravelly voice echoing from inside.
There was another voice, higher and feminine. Ben walked
inside and went to the back where he knew Father Torque
liked to work on his bike. He heard light gentle laughter
that seemed too cultured to be here, and he knew who the
Father was talking to. Croft. It sounds pretty, like a
trickle of gas pouring out of a barrel. Ben scowled. Where
the hell had that thought come from?
      He made plenty of noise as he walked back. Sneaking
up behind a biker, even an gnarled old leathery one like
the Father, was a quick way to get hurt. He had a feeling
that sneaking up on Lara was bad for your health, too. They
were both there, sitting on crates and sharing a thermos of
coffee. Torque was saying something and Lara's beautiful
laughter filled the air once more. Man, he thought, just
shoot me now. He refused to notice how good looking she was
in that tight tank top and short shorts. Her laughter cut
off abruptly as she swung around and spotted him. Her eyes
met his, sizing him up. Ben locked gazes to hers and
smirked when she looked away first.
      "Ben," Father Torque raised his hand in greeting. His
voice was as old and scratchy as the desert. "Good to see
you." He could have been carved out of stone, that man. His
skin was like old leather and his long hair and beard were
solid white. "This is the guy who runs my gang now." He
said to Lara. "He's done the Polecats proud, except for
that whole jail thing last year."
      Ben returned the gesture and grimaced. Get your
entire gang framed for murder once and you never live it
down. "You used to lead the Polecats?" Lara asked the old
biker.
      "Yup." He took a sip of coffee. "I threw in the towel
a few years ago, gave the gang to Ben." He looked at Ben
fondly.
      "For a guy who's supposed to be retired, you hang
around an awful lot." Ben told the old man. "What's the
matter? Run out of guys to beat up on the Old Mine Road?"
He did his best to ignore Lara and her legs which seemed to
on forever in those shorts. Torque chuckled and didn't
answer. He extended his hand and Ben took it. The man still
had a grip like a vice and Ben tried not to wince. The old
biker motioned Ben to an empty crate between him and Lara.
Ben sat with the sound of creaking leather.
      "Hello again Mr. Polecat." Lara said politely. Mr.
Polecat? Ben couldn't remember any one ever calling him
that. It seemed weird. Ben ignored her.
      Torque barked out a loud laugh. "Ha! Mr. Polecat,
that's a fresh one." He slapped Ben on the shoulder, a blow
which almost knocked him off the crate. The old man still
packed a hell of a punch, and Ben wasn't a small man. "Call
him Ben, darlin," Torque said. "Polecat may be what he
calls himself, but he sure as hell ain't no mister."
      That was the truth. Ben nodded to her, wishing she
would go away so that he could pay his respects to the old
biker. "Croft."
      "Charmed." She nodded back coolly and made no signs
of leaving. Figured.
      Father Torque looked at the two of them. "You two
know each other?"
      Ben sighed. Looked like there was no way out of this.
"She blew into the Kickstand last night. We said hi." And
then she left his look told her.
      She was either too dense to figure out what he meant
or was just ignoring him. Torque nodded and smiled. "Good,
then I don't gotta introduce you two."
      Ben just shook his head and did his level best to
ignore Croft and her long legs. It wasn't enough. "How you
doin', Father?"
      Torque shrugged. "I need a lube job and new fuel
pump. New set of shock of shock absorbers wouldn't hurt
either. Other than that, just fine I guess." Ya, right. The
only way that Torque would leave was if some one punched
his ticket. He was too tough and stubborn to die.
      "How's the bike doin'?" Ben asked. Torque's bike was
older than he was, which was saying a lot. It was a classic
Corley that dated back to before the turn of the century.
How he got parts for the damned thing was a mystery to
everyone in the desert.
      Torque beamed and looked at his antique hog like a
favorite child, which it was, really. "Better than me,
that's for damn sure." He took a slug off coffee. "I just
came into Mike's to change the oil and give the damn thing
a check up."
      Ben took a moment to admire the low rider's classic
lines. "Treasure like that needs a lot of love." He
commented.
      Torque chuckled. "Ya, love and a new set of plugs."
      Ben turned back to the older man, getting Lara out of
his field of vision. "How long you been in town? Any one
else been into see you?"
      "I came in coupla' days ago. Only people who came
into see me were a coupla Vultures." The Father shook his
head sadly. "Ain't like the old days, I tell you."
      Lara spoke from behind him. "What do you mean?"
      Torque sagged and suddenly looked 10 years older. He
almost looked.frail. "That's what I was telling you before
Bennie came in." His scratchy voice was full of sadness.
"Back in my day, when the Earth was cooling," he added with
a twinkle in his eye. Maybe the man wasn't so old after
all. "Things were different. People had more respect."
      No. "Thing's aren't different." Ben's voice was hard.
"You've got plenty of respect, where it counts."
      Torque chuckled sadly. "Ha. You come see me, so do
the Vultures, but there are lots of bikers out there that
don't give me the time of day anymore. Times are changing,
Ben."
      Ben struck his fist on his leg hard. "Ya, well, I
ain't." It was a declaration. "When I'm on the road, I'm
indestructible, and that ain't gonna change."
      The older man smiled and looked at Ben
affectionately. "See what I mean, darlin'?" He asked Lara.
      Ben could hear her smile, even though he was doing
his damnedest not to look at her. "Yes, I do." She said.
      "Huh?" Morbid curiosity got the best of him and Ben
turned to look at her.
      The Father seemed to have regained his good spirits.
"We were talking about you before you came in." the old man
told Ben.
      Oh great. Just he needed. "Hope it was the censored
version."
      Torque laughed and slapped Ben's shoulder again. Pain
flared. Man, that guy's hands were like bricks. "You don't
have a censored version, Ben. Ain't been around long
enough." He shook his head and chuckled. "We've been
talking about the gangs and the Code of the Road. Your name
came up."
      "I've learning all about you, Ben," she said with a
smile. It softened up her normally hard features. Made her
almost...human. "From a number of sources."
      Ben groaned. "Great. Just what I need."
      Lara's smile took a nasty edge. "Yes, I had a lovely
conversation about you with a woman named Flo."
      Now everything was perfect. "Don't listen to a damn
thing she says." Ben growled. "That lady ain't playing with
a full deck."
      Lara raised her eye brows. "She seems quite taken
with you."
      "Ya, well, it ain't mutual."
      Lara looked at him a moment. "She seems to think that
it is."
      Couldn't she just drop the subject? "Like I said, she
ain't firing on all cylinders."
      Lara shrugged. "Yes, well she had some information
that you may find interesting."
      Ben shook his head. "What cock and bull story has Flo
come up with now?"
      "It was about a new gang forming."
      That got his attention. "Hmm? I haven't heard
anything about that."
      Father Torque spoke up. "I have. Some guy's in the
area sending out feelers, trying to round up some
independents."
      Not on my turf they aren't. "Either of you got a name
or place where this guy can be found?" He bit out the
words.
      Torque shook his head sadly. "Not me. Like I said, no
one talks to old Torque any more."
      Lara broke in before Ben could respond. "Flo said
that his name was Gunny, and that he might be in the Horny
Bull tonight."
      Ben rubbed the stubble on his jaw thoughtfully.
"Hmm."
      "Gonna pay the guy a visit?" Torque asked.
      Ben got to his feet. "Ya, I think I will." He slammed
one fist into the ball of his hand, planning violence.
      Father Torque stood and extended his hand in
farewell. Ben took it and felt the bones in his hand creak.
Lara stood as well. "Give 'em hell, Polecat." Torque said.
      Ben tried to ignore the fact that his hand had been
turned into hamburger. Again. "Always." Without saying
anything to Croft he turned and started to walk out.
      "And watch your back!" Torque called out.
      "Worry about his back, not mine." Ben called back.
      As he walked out of the garage, he could still hear
the two of them talking. "Heh. That really got a bug up his
shorts. Reminds me of me." the Father said. There was pride
in his voice.
      Lara's voice came through faint but clear. "I'll try
not to hold that against you." Ben frowned. Women.
      Torque's laugh came through loud and clear. "Hah!
What were we talking about before Ben came in?" He asked.
Ben shook his head and got onto his bike.
      "We were talking about the petrol uprisings."
      "Right. Well, I was pretty young then, but I
remember. pass me that wrench, would you." Anything else
was drowned out in the rumble of Ben's bike. He drove off
to meet up with his guys. The Polecats were going to spend
the evening in Baron's Head, looking for a man named Gunny.


     Ben & Lara
     Chapter Three
     by Ross Jenkins, c 1997

      Chapter III-The Brawl
      "You heard of a guy named Gunny?" Ben yelled to the
bartender in the Horny Bull over the cacophony of the live
music. God knows how, but they had hauled in a live band to
play tonight. They weren't bad either. The leader singer
was a dark haired chick in a black leather mini skirt and
she and her band were dishing out a kind of retro bluesy-
rock. [Author's Note: The band both looks and sounds like
Alannah Myles]They were inside a plexi cage that showed
signs of extreme wear with explosions from hurled bottles
and mugs and various stains caused by beer, vomit and
blood. It was part of the ambience that made the Horny Bull
the classy establishment that it was.
      The bartender thought about Ben's words for a second
and eventually came to the conclusion that they did not
include the words 'beer' or 'drink'. He ignored Ben and
turned to serve someone else. That jerk. Ben reached out
and grabbed the man's collar, then pulled him bodily onto
the bar. "You know," he growled into the bent over
bartender's ear. "If I thought that you were pissing me off
on purpose, I'd probably rip your head off and put it on my
bike." The bartender froze like a deer in headlights. "I
asked you if you heard of a man named Gunny. You might want
to think about whether you got an answer for me or not."
Ben pushed the bartender away from him. The guy almost
fell, but caught himself and came shakily to his feet.
      "Well?" Ben growled. He was suddenly alone at the
bar. Just the pasty faced bartender was left. The guy
paused, licking his lips, thinking rapidly.
      "He-he never comes in before 10."
      "What does the jerk-wad look like?"
      "Big. Bigger than you. Older too. Has a brush cut and
bad sunburn on his face. Guy's built like a tank." Hmm.
Gunny may have been bigger, but Ben was tougher. And with a
name like Gunny, Ben was smarter, too.
      Ben's face was stone. "You see the guy, you tell him
the Polecat's want to see him." He cracked his knuckles.
"And gimme a beer." The beer here was homebrewed, but
wasn't as good as Quohog's stuff.
      The bartender, rubbing his neck, drew Ben a mug of
dark beer. Ben took it and sipped slowly, scoping the
scene. All the Polecats were here in varying states of
drunkenness. He'd told them to try and take it easy
tonight, but a gang leader's influence only went so far. He
didn't want to push his men farther then they would go. He
saw some Vultures around, which made him think of two
things: Mo, and trouble. Before running off to head up
Corley, Mo had run with the gang for who knows how long,
and it was because of her that the Polecats had the uneasy
peace with the Vultures that they had. It didn't help much
that Ben had crashed their rolling headquarters, the
fuselage of an old C-330 transport plane, into the Poyahoka
gorge. The Vultures were mostly all chicks and they ran
under the charge of this big fat cow named Suzie. Depending
on which end of the PMS teeter totter she was on, the
Vultures would either side for or against the Polecats if,
hell when, a fight broke out tonight.
      The rest of the bar was full of various independents,
groupies and wannabes. Father Torque was at a back table,
sharing brews and stories with some other old war horses.
He saw Flo off at the other bar in full war regalia, her
ample charms oozing out of her too tight clothing. Oh,
great. Like this can't get any worse tonight.
      As soon as he thought it, he knew he was wrong,
because then he saw her. Croft. She was playing pool with
five guys drooling all around her. Her hair was undone,
cascading down across her back and onto the pool table. It
made her look a lot softer, like a real lady. She wasn't
wearing her guns and still had that worn, almost
transparent, tank top on, though she had changed from those
shorts, too bad, to a pair of tight black jeans that fit
her just as well. She was bending over the pool table to
take a shot and was gathering a large group of admirers. He
knew the guys that she was playing with, knew that it was
only so long before they tried to grab what they were
ogling.
      Not knowing exactly why he was doing it, Ben finished
his beer and starting walking towards the group. He was
protecting her, he told himself. She was up against five
bozos with no guns to back her up. If she pulled the same
crap on them that she had on Big Willie last night, those
guys were going to eat her alive. She thought that she was
tough, but no one survived five on one. Well, maybe me.
      The band broke into a slow bump and grind song, Black
Velvet, that had all the local love birds flocking to the
faded dance floor. The low heavy bass followed Ben's
footsteps as he stalked towards the pool table. He couldn't
really tell which of her fan club Lara was playing against,
but whoever it was, she was kicking his butt. Somehow that
didn't surprise him. He glared at the guys as he stepped up
to the table. Lara was leaning over the table lining up her
shot at the eight ball, giving all assembled a nice view.
Ben shoved the nearest guy away, and stood next to Lara.
"Get lost." He growled to the group as a whole.
      Some looked like they wanted to protest, but then saw
look of impending violence in Ben's dark eyes. For a moment
they wondered whether Lara's obvious assets were worth the
beating that Ben would give them and decided that there was
easier prey elsewhere. They left slowly, not wanting it to
look like they were running with their tails between their
legs, but they left. Only Ben was standing there as Lara
brought her cue forward and sent the eight ball rolling
towards the corner pocket. As it fell with a faint click
she slowly straightened up. Like a cat.
      She surveyed the now empty table then looked over at
Ben. "That was rather rude." She commented.
      Ben shrugged and crossed his arms with the sound of
creaking leather. "I flunked out of charm school."
      She might have had a hint of smile, but it might have
been the shadows. "Hello, Ben. Having a good evening?"
      I haven't found Gunny yet, Flo wants to jump my bones
and for some reason I'm here with you. Everything is
perfect. "No one's died yet." He said dryly. "Can't be that
bad."
      "Is that how you normally measure good nights around
here?" Lara asked wryly. She moved to a counter set against
the wall and picked up a half full mug of beer. "To what do
I owe the pleasure of your charming company?" She asked,
then took a sip of the homebrew and grimaced.
      Ben smirked. "Still haven't found a beer good enough
for you?"
      She shook her head and put down the mug. "Not on this
continent."
      A would be Romeo came to the table, smiling at Lara.
Ben glared at him and the guy took off. "You picked the
wrong place to come into unarmed." He grunted. Why do I
give a damn? He asked himself.
      Lara moved around the pool table, pulling up pool
balls. "I'll manage," she said lightly. With her hair down
and in those clothes, it didn't look like she could manage
much. She sure looked hot, though.
      "You look like a slut." Ben snapped. "You keep up
what your doing and your gonna end up pulling the biggest
train that's ever gone through this desert." Pulling a
train was slang for group sex.
      She raised an elegant eyebrow skeptically. "Thank you
for your concern, Ben, but I can handle myself."
      Ben snorted. "Ya, right." Who the hell did this lady
think she was? "Like you handled my boys in the Kickstand
last night?"
      She smiled menacingly. Without her guns and dressed
like she was, it didn't make much of an impression. "No one
got hurt, did they?" She asked.
      Not because of anything she had done. "You got out
safe last night because I let you." Ben growled. She moved
around the table like a dancer. If nothing else, she
certainly moved like Lady Grace.
      Lady Grace. It suited her.
      Lara stopped what she was doing, leaned against the
table and crossed her arms. "You think so?" Her actions
pushed up her cleavage and Ben couldn't help staring at her
chest.
      "This desert's going to eat you alive, Lady Grace."
He snapped, still not meeting her eyes. "You'd better get
on that bike and keep running until you hit ocean."
      She didn't seem impressed. Why am I not surprised?
"I'm quite capable of taking care of myself." She told him
pointedly.
      I've had enough garbage for one night. "Have fun
getting raped," Ben muttered and turned to walk away.
      Behind him, Lara was racking the balls. "You seem to
have chased off the competition," she called out to his
back. "Would you like a game?"
      Ben turned. She held out a cue to him, but he shook
his head. "I've got better things to do." Anything else
would be better than this.
      She put the cue back into the wall rack and leaned
over to take her breaking shot. "Like finding this Gunny
person." She said. The tank top she wore revealed every
line and curve of her back as she leaned over.
      Ben just stared at her. "Ya." He said absently. "Like
that."
      She had a good break, sinking three balls. She was
good. "Any luck so far?" she asked as she inspected the
table. Ben said nothing, just watched her as she leaned
over the table to sink the thirteen.
      They said nothing for a while as Lara cleared the
table. She was really good. After the eight ball went down
and Lara had another grimacing gulp of beer, she spoke up
again. "What is a Gunny, anyway? It seems sort of an odd
name."
      Ben snapped his attention back to the present.
"Marine corps term." he said without thinking. "Gunnery
sergeant. Usually tough as nails."
      She turned towards him, her dark eyes large and
luminous. "And how do you know that?" She asked.
      Ben grimaced. He'd gone a mighty long time without
even thinking about marines. "I called the psychic friends
network." He growled. I've spent too much time here,
popping eye candy. He turned to leave.
      Again she called out and he stopped. "Ben?" There was
concern in her voice. "Be careful."
      He crossed his arms. "Worry about your self, Lady
Grace, not me."
      Her smile had an edge to it. "Say hi to Flo for me."
      Great. Now they're teaming up against me. "Not in
this lifetime." He stalked away, looking for some kind, any
kind of trouble. Its gonna be a long night.
      * * *
      Well, he certainly seemed sensitive about that marine
thing, Lara thought as she played billiards. Despite what
she had said to Ben, she was thankful for the solitude,
however short lived it was going to be. The Horny Bull had
so far proved dull and bothersome.
      She had spent the afternoon and evening here, after a
wonderful morning with Father Torque. The man had truly
seen it all and had given Lara enough fodder for a dozen,
maybe a whole series worth of articles. It was interesting
to see the area's various bikers defer to the old, but by
no means weak, man. It was also a novelty to see Ben
respectful; she had a hunch that he was the one man on
earth who Ben respected.
      Afterwards she had gone back to her room and changed
into more appropriate evening wear. Flo had been cackling
about seeing Ben tonight and 'not letting him get away this
time'. She wished Ben luck. Against Flo, he was going to
need it. Lara wasn't sure why she had left her guns behind
or undone her hair. She was here on work, and this was most
certainly not the place to let one's guard down. She had
told herself at the time that she wanted to blend in,
appear non confrontational among these bikers. She wanted
to hear more about this Gunny character, and felt that they
would tell her more if they thought she was a 'biker
chick'.
      It may have seemed a good idea at the time, but she
was definitely regretting it now. These gorillas had been
panting and drooling over her since she had gotten here; it
was impossible to get a moments peace from them and even
more impossible to get a shred of respect. Dressed and
acting as she was, she was purely a piece of meat to them;
something to jockey over and compete for. It got very old,
very quickly.
      She had been keeping half an eye out for Ben the
entire time she'd been here. The moment she had mentioned
this Gunny person to him, he had become more alive. If he
had been a dog, his ears would have perked. That was why
she knew that he would be here at the Horny Bull. Even the
possibility of finding and confronting this potential
threat to his turf had to be explored.
      It was good stuff, and would make a great article.
Between Ben, his gang dominance and all the tales of Father
Torque, this place was a gold mine. It might be worth
sticking around for a while. She also couldn't wait to see
whether Flo netted Ben or not.
      "Hey babe, wanna use my stick?" came a crude voice
from her side. Lara looked over at the biker with the
incredible sense of humour and tried not to laugh. Instead
she gave an inviting smile.
      "I'll use my own, thanks." She began to pull up
billiard balls. "Five dollars a ball if your up to it,
sport."
      The guy smiled. "When I win, how 'bout I take it out
in trade?"
      Lara just sighed. If something happens tonight, she
thought, it had better happen soon, before she was forced
to injure someone.
      * * *
      What a night. That damned Gunny hadn't showed, and it
was after 11:30. Ben was beginning to wonder whether the
guy existed. When he wasn't looking out for him, he was
dodging Flo. Ben had no idea what he had done to deserve
that broad. He hadn't given her any come on's; in fact he'd
done everything short of punching her out to get her to go
away. The damn woman just wouldn't give up. She just kept
on coming onto Ben and shoving her cleavage into his face.
If the dame had just wanted a roll in the hay he'd probably
have obliged her. She wasn't bad looking even though she
had about 12 years on him. He could just tell, though, that
if he ever fell for that she would have him chained up so
fast his head would spin. Ben had been chained up once
already, in the Vulture's hide out, and that was once too
many.
      If it wasn't for trying to find this Gunny guy he'd
have just ducked out, but the prick hadn't showed so he'd
ended up dodging Flo all night. At least the music was
good. The crowd was kind of tense. Normally, at least one
brawl would have started by now, but so far nothing.
Everybody knew that Ben was waiting for Gunny, and they all
wanted to be around for the main event.
      Croft was still here too, shaking her booty by the
pool tables. Whatever. He'd tried to warn her off, and if
she ended up getting banged by every biker in the bar it
was her problem. So far it seemed that all she had done was
separate a bunch of fools from their money. Not a very good
way to make friends, either.
      He'd run into Suzie the Vulture a couple of times.
She and her gang were still here in force, though he had no
idea which way they were leaning tonight. As much as she
tried to act relaxed, he could tell that she was on the
look out too. The Vulture's turf bordered the Polecats, and
any new gang in the area would be a threat to them too. He
watched as Big Willie got into an arm wrestle with one of
the Vultures and lost. Poor guy was getting nailed on all
corners these days. He had been taken down a peg by Croft
yesterday in front of the whole gang, and knocked down
again right now by another woman. It wouldn't have been a
big deal if Willie's head wasn't so big, but that guy had a
lot of pride. Ya, well, life was tough some times and
Willie would have to deal with it just like everyone else.
      Out of the corner of his eye, Ben saw a hand at the
bar point towards him. That idiot bartender that Ben had
bullied earlier. He was pointing some tall bear of a guy
towards Ben's table. The guy was wearing faded desert
fatigues, combat boots, and a tank top shirt. A blue, faded
tattoo of the globe and anchor was on his left arm. This
must be Gunny. Good. It was time for some butt kicking.
      Ben stood and began to walk towards the guy, the
crowd parting before him like the Red Sea. Gunny saw Ben
coming towards him and just smiled. Tension filled the air
like electricity.
      As Ben neared the bar he realized just how big this
son of a bitch was. Ben was 6'2" and 220 lb. but this guy
had at least 6 inches and 100 pounds on him. He didn't have
rippling muscles on him but there sure wasn't any fat.
      It didn't matter. He was still in Ben's way and that
meant that he was going to go down.
      Ben stopped about two feet away from the guy and just
stared at him. Ben had stared down bigger guys before, it
was just a case of knowing that you were a bigger badder
mother who took no guff from anyone. You had to make him
know that you were more than willing to take the guy apart
with your bare hands. It was the same glare he had used to
stare down Lady Grace. Ya, but it didn't work so well on
her, did it? Well, it would work on Gunny.
      Gunny's eyes were pale blue, a colour that was
intensified by the redness of his face. They were intense,
too intense. The guy looked like he was going to flip out,
that he wanted to flip out. It was meant to intimidate Ben,
and it almost worked.
      "You Gunny?" Ben's voice was low and controlled.
Despite the sounds of the band, he knew that his voice
carried.
      Gunny's grin was one step away from being maniacal.
His voice was like chewed metal. "Ya. You Polecat?"
      Ben said nothing, just clenched his fists. It was
going to be a fight and they both knew it. It was just a
case of when. "I hear you want to start a gang." He said
after a moment.
      Gunny flexed his whole body. It started in his fists,
moved up his arms to his shoulders and ended in his chest.
Jesus, this guy was one big muscle. The guy was wearing a
tight muscle shirt, which made it even more impressive,
which Ben realized was just the point. Its just a scare
tactic, to put me on edge.
      It wasn't going to work.
      "This is Polecat turf. You wanna start a gang, you
gotta go through us." Ben paused and smirked. "Jerk."
      Gunny eyes popped out even more, which Ben didn't
think was possible. "That's the idea." Gunny yelled. He
reared back his left arm and swung a fist the size of an
oil can.
      The collective crowd let out a cheer. They had been
waiting for this all night. The evening's entertainment had
just begun.
      * * *
      Lara had felt the tension for the last hour or so.
She had made over $200 on hormone ridden morons who had
thought her an easy mark, and had been on the look out for
Gunny. She saw the crowd form around the two next to the
bar and heard the cheer that signified that the inevitable
fight had begun. Its about time.
      Gunny was huge. He towered over Ben and Lara was
worried for Ben's safety. If Ben's analysis of the name was
correct, this man had spent a great deal of time in the
military, and was most likely an experienced combatant.
Still, Ben had fought his way to the leadership of his gang
and was acknowledged by Father Torque as the toughest biker
in the area, which was no faint praise. Still, if she was a
betting woman she would give Ben one chance in three.
      In no time at all, the central fight had grown to an
all encompassing brawl. Any one with a hint of a grudge
against another person started a fight, and often just
punched the guy next to him. Lara would have liked to stay
out of it but was sure that violence on her part was a
foregone conclusion.
      The man she had been trouncing at billiards made her
point for her. As she scanned the bar area for a glimpse of
Ben, her companion grabbed her arms. "I've been losing
enough money to you. You owe me big." He pulled her close
for a lustful kiss.
      I don't think so, sport. Lara broke his grip on her
arms easily and drove her palm into his chin. His mouth was
forced closed with an audible 'clack' "No, thank you. I
haven't had my shots." She would have backed away, but he
had her backed against the pool table.
      The mans eyes flashed in anger. "You bitch!" he
yelled and swung at her. How charming. Why was it that
every man in this half of the world seemed to have the same
unoriginal battle cry? Lara caught his arm with an Aikido
move, pulled him in an arm lock, and used its leverage to
smash his face into the corner of the table. When he still
showed signs of struggle, she repeated the move. His face
met the table three times in total before he stopped
moving.
      Looking about, the brawl was in full swing. The band
was still playing, although they missed a beat when a
person was thrown bodily against the plexi cage, causing it
to shake. The show must go on. Curious as to how Ben was
doing, she started to make her way to his last known
position. Its for my story, she told herself, nothing more.
A big, beefy person came flying at her and she deftly hip
tossed him into a table. The tables at the Horny Bull were
made with bar brawls in mind, and the man just bounced off
of it. When he finally hit the ground, he just stayed
there.
      Lara continued to make her way towards the bar.
      * * *
      Ben had been in a lot of one on one fights, and they
could be broken down basically into two guys the same size
or big guy/small guy. If they were the same size, the two
guys pounded each other until one guy stayed down, but when
they were different sizes it was different. The big guy
crowded and tried to get his hands on the small guy, and
the small guy dodged out of the big guy's way and used
speed to get past his guard. Usually Ben was the big guy,
but this time the tables were turned. He wasn't used to
using his speed and trying to dodge, but with Gunny he had
no choice.
      Gunny had connected with Ben twice. He'd been hit
once in the arm and once in the ribs, and he couldn't take
much more of that kind of punishment. His arm was killing
him and it hurt to breathe. Ben had given as good as he had
got, though. One of Gunny's eyes was swollen shut and he
was limping from where Ben had stomped his foot with his
steel boots. Take that. The huge bruiser still had that
wild, out of control gleam in his eyes and Ben was starting
to wonder if the guy could feel the pain. Maybe he likes
it.
      They had moved around through the course of the
fight, and now Ben was backed against the stage. Gunny
drove a powerful fist from his hips which Ben dodged. It
smashed into the plexi with a resounding clang and starred
around the point of impact. Ben tried to circle around to
his side but Gunny was too canny for that. It was time to
try something else. Ben grabbed a bar stool and swung.
Gunny grabbed it in mid swing and ripped it from Ben's
grip. Gunny smiled maniacally for a moment, then threw it
over his shoulder.
      It was the opening Ben needed. While both of Gunny's
hands were occupied, Ben put his fists together and caught
the larger man in the side of the head. Gunny reeled back
from the blow and fell to the floor.
      Chivalry had no place in a bar brawl, and Ben had no
compunctions about hitting a man while he was down. Sucker
punches were part of the thrill and charm of bar brawling.
It was part of the unwritten code, like the fact that the
only weapons you were allowed to use were chairs, tables,
beer mugs and pool cues. Once one guy pulled a knife, or a
gun, it stopped being fun and all rules went out the
window.
      He was about to drive his boot into Gunny's ribs when
he heard glass break and everything went white. Some jerk
cold cocked me with a beer mug Ben thought as he lost
control of his body and fell to the floor. He tried to move
but was unable as he saw Gunny loom over top of him with a
manic grin. That's it, the game's over. Ben thought. I'm
sure gonna miss my bike. He waited for the final blow to
come when he saw a chair catch Gunny across the head. On
any one else it would have been a felling blow, but it just
pissed Gunny off. Whoever swung that should have gone for a
more vital organ, Ben thought, like his balls.
      Slowly, body control came back and Ben staggered to
his feet. He looked over and saw who it was that had taken
on Gunny and saved his bacon. It was Croft. Well, it was
one thing to hit a target from behind, but another to face
Gunny head on. Ben's punches barely phased the guy, and
Lara's little love taps weren't going to do crap. She was
dodging pretty good, jumping and flipping around, but Gunny
was a juggernaut, and she couldn't dodge him forever.
      I gotta stop him, Ben thought and grabbed a beer mug.
As he did so, he saw Lara slip on something and go down.
Gunny smile was chilling as he raised his huge boot and
prepared to stamp her out of existence. Ben reared back and
threw. The glass exploded on the back of Gunny's head just
before his blow could land and he staggered. Eyes blazing,
Gunny turned to face Ben with a roar, blood streaming down
his face. Behind him, Lara got to her feet, unnoticed.
      "Pick on someone your own size!" Ben snarled. There
is no one his size he thought just after he said it, but
was pretty sure that Gunny got the idea. They just stared
at each other, eyes locked, and then Gunny backed off. "See
you later, Polecat. Gotta go." He disappeared into the
crowd.
      I showed him Ben thought, and turned around to see
Jackson, five other Polecats, as well as Suzi and few
Vultures. Oh. Ben cast a glance over his Polecats, then
looked at Suzi. "Thanks." The head Vulture just smirked and
walked off, her gang following. Bitch. He turned to his
gang. "Jackson." They clasped hands and gripped shoulders
in the kind of camaraderie that only fellow warriors
shared. "Good timing, man."
      "Man, are you alright?" Jackson asked, concerned. "I
saw you go down, but didn't see who got you."
      Ben rubbed his head. Whoever hit me with that beer
mug is gonna pay for what he's done. "Either did I, but
I'll live. I gotta find Gunny and finish him off."
      "He went behind the stage." Jackson informed him. "He
probably ducked out the back door."
      Ben cracked his knuckles. "Let's go."
      * * *
      Lara counted herself quite lucky to have survived
unhurt from her scrap with Gunny. She had faced more
dangerous opponents, but she'd had her guns with her then,
and most of them weren't human, either. Admittedly Gunny
didn't hold a candle to Natla's final monster, or even
Natla herself, but he certainly gave everyone else she had
encountered a run for their money.
      She had stopped Ben from being stomped by Gunny, and
he had in return stopped Gunny from squishing her like a
bug. It made things even, which was all right, but it would
have been nice to have something to hold over him. Maybe it
would put a stopper on that insufferable attitude of his.
      She saw Gunny take off out back, and pursued him
outside. He was making his way to a motor cycle. "Get this
chick off my back!" He yelled in his chewed steel voice.
Easily a dozen men in leathers materialized out of the
shadows between them. He called as he started the bike and
drove off.
      Lara preferred to face her problems head on rather
than run away from them, but she knew impossible odds when
she saw them and tried to withdraw. Unfortunately, retreat
was not in the cards and soon she was fighting for her
life. Again.
      Well, its more exciting than marrying some aristocrat
and going to tea parties, she thought as she roundhouse
kicked her nearest opponent in the head.
      * * *
      Ben slammed open the bar's fire door with his
Polecats behind him. In the dim light he saw Lara fighting
off a crowd of brawlers and took a moment to admire her
before coming in to the rescue. The lady was grace in
motion. She moved like water, flowing around people and
behind their defenses, catching some in a ninja lock and
judo throwing others that came near her. Still, the odds
were stacked against her and sooner or later she was going
to go down. As he watched, one managed to get behind her
and get her in a bear hug.
      "Get 'em Polecats." Ben called out, and his gang fell
upon them. Ben took out one guy with a fist to the face,
and got hit in the ribs by another. It was right on the
same place that Gunny nailed him and for a moment all Ben
could do was gasp in pain. Then he tromped on the guy.
      Lara was still struggling with the one who had her
grabbed from behind. She kicked out and hit the guy in
front of her who had been about to nail her, but it was a
light hit and only pissed him off, As Ben tried to get
closer, the guy reared back and hit Lara in the face. She
sagged, but didn't go down, and then Ben was there.
      The guy's arm was reared back for another hit when
Ben grabbed his wrist. The guy managed one startled look at
Ben's frowning face and cold eyes before Ben smashed the
guy. The one holding Lara backed away and stumbled on a
crate. When he looked back to check his footing, he
loosened his grip on Lara and she did some ninja trick to
break out. When the guy looked forward again, Ben hit him.
The guy went down and stayed there.
      Ben looked around. Jackson, Willie and Kramer were
still standing, but that was it. All the bad guys were
either on the floor or were wrapped around furniture. Lara
came to her feet.
      "Where's Gunny?" Ben growled to her.
      Lara waved her hand towards the desert night. "Gone,
I think." She rubbed the cheek where she had been hit.
"These gentlemen did an excellent job of delaying us."
      Ben swore. "I'll meet up with him later." He looked
behind him. The scrap was pretty much over. The only ones
left standing either had no one left to fight, or were too
sore to continue. Ben looked around and cursed.
      Ben grabbed the nearest guy who looked even remotely
conscious and slammed him against the concrete wall. "Who
are you, jerk?" Ben yelled menacingly. "What gang do you
ride with?"
      The guy smiled with bloody teeth. "We're the
Leathernecks," he said proudly. "We're gonna run this
desert."
      Ben drove his fist into the guys face, feeling teeth
break. The guy slid to the ground, dead to the world. "Not
in this lifetime." Ben muttered.
      Lara looked at the unconscious man coolly.
"Leathernecks?" she asked.
      Ben knelt over the guy he'd just knocked out and
turned him over. There was a patch, his 'colours' on his
coat: a bald man with a thick leather collar and huge arm
flexing his bicep. "Another marine term." He stood up,
wincing at the pain in his side. At least I'm still
standing. It's more than I can say for these jerks. He
looked over at Lara. Her flowing hair hid her face in
shadows. "You were, ah, pretty good." Ben admitted
grudgingly.
      He barely saw her eye brows lift. "Thank you." Her
voice was slightly surprised.
      Ben smirked. "You wanna get on my bike, thank me in
private?" He didn't figure that he stood a chance in hell,
but if he didn't at least try then he would never live with
himself.
      She arched her eye brows. "Is that really your best
pickup line?"
      He knew that she was going to turn him down, but it
still hurt. "I don't let just anyone on my bike." The last
woman on his bike had been Mo.
      She smiled. Even with the ugly bruise forming on her
cheek, it still made her look gorgeous. "Thank you for the
offer, Ben, but the only bike I'm gonna ride tonight is my
own."
      Ben shrugged. "Too bad, Lady Grace. Your loss." He
smirked and crossed his arms, ignoring the pain in his
ribs.
      She frowned. "Everyone in this desert seems to have
some wretched nickname for me." She said crossly. "Could
you please call me Lara?"
      Ben slowly appraised her from head to foot. "You
wanna ride on my bike?" Ben asked after a moment.
      Still frowning, she looked him in the eye. "I already
said, no." Her voice was cool, but her eyes were less
polite.
      "Then it's Lady Grace." Ben's voice was smug.
      She walked up to him slowly, hips swaying. Leaning in
close to him, she whispered. "I'll get over it." She turned
away abruptly, her voice going back to its normal levels.
"If you really want a riding partner, though, however, I
know Flo is available."
      Ben's mood shattered. "I'm not that drunk."
      She smiled over her shoulder. "Then I'm afraid your
out of luck." She walked off, hips swaying, into the desert
night.
      I've spent long enough bullshitting. Ben slammed his
fist into his palm. "Jackson," he snapped out. "See how
many guys you can peel off the floor. Gunny's out there
somewhere, and we're gonna find him." He stomped off
towards his bike.

     Ben & Lara
     Chapter Four
     by Ross Jenkins, c 1997

      Chapter IV-The Betrayal
      It was the morning after the fight in the Horny Bull
and Lara ached. She had taken a few good hits in that
brawl, especially near the end. She had an impressive black
eye and there were a few other bruises and marks about her
body. It was nothing new; Lara had spent more than a few
mornings like this, nursing her wounds and exulting that
she was still in one piece. She still had memories of her
Natla adventure, injecting antibiotics with shaky fingers
while dizzy with pain, or stitching up wounds with a sewing
needle while miles underground and alone. It was hard to
keep the terror away in times like that, but Lara had
managed then -somehow- and next to that last night was
nothing.
      Lara was normally a solitary person and enjoyed it
that way. It drove her matchmaking parents crazy.
Sometimes, though, it would have been nice to have some one
to share things with. After a brush with death, to have
some one to celebrate life with. Maybe it was more base
than that, more physical. It had been a very long time, and
she was a healthy woman.
      Rubbish. Lara overcame problems, and that included
any itches she may need scratched. She knew what brought
those thought on: Ben Polecat. He was an arrogant, rude,
insufferable chauvinist but also strong, tough and
determined. This is pathetic. She was mooning about like a
school girl, but still those broad shoulders, dark brooding
eyes, that firm jaw.
      Ben may of caught her interest but if there was ever
a relationship more doomed to failure. They were too
different, no that wasn't it. They were too alike, each
used to being the toughest in the room and trying to
dominate the other. He couldn't handle a tough woman, she
thought, he needed them meek and submissive and that wasn't
going to happen with her.
      Lara shook her head in disgust and finished braiding
her hair. She wasn't wearing her shorts and top today. They
showed off her bruises too well and were dirty besides. Not
that she hadn't worn them for days, weeks, straight before
but this morning she felt like wearing something fresh. A
faded black Nike T-shirt and equally faded blue jeans, with
her boots and gun belt. She'd gone out unarmed one evening
to many and didn't care to repeat her mistake.
      She looked in the mirror and examined the deep purple
bruise there. Nothing could hide it, so she didn't bother.
It was a war scar, and she'd bear it proudly. Checking the
safety's on her guns, she left her dingy hotel room and
went down for breakfast with Flo. She hadn't survived last
night unscathed, either, Lara saw, with a bruise on her
cheek, but most of her bruises were on her knuckles. I bet
who ever picked on her regretted it.
      "Morning, honey!" Flo called out in her western
twang. "How'd you like our fine town's entertainment last
night?" She handed Lara a cup of coffee which had been
waiting on the counter. Lara took it happily and took a big
sip. Ahh, caffeine.
      "Charming." Lara placed the coffee on the counter.
      "I see you didn't get out of that place without some
sort of scrap, I see." Flo said, indicating Lara's black
eye. "You all in one piece?"
      Lara smiled and drank some more coffee. "I'm in
somewhat better shape then the man who did this to me." She
didn't add that Ben had been the one who had taken him out,
not her.
      "So I heard. You left a bunch of guys on the floor."
Flo chuckled. "Where'd you learn how to do that anyway? You
looked like you were doing some Bruce Lee thing to them."
      Lara shrugged. "Aikido and a bit of karate. I started
studying when I was in college." As a way to deal with
stress and grief, after I watched my fianc‚ die in front of
me.
      Flo smiled. "Well, you sure cleaned up. You want
breakfast? Toast?"
      "Yes, please." Lara looked out the window. It was a
lovely morning. "Could you bring it to me outside, please?
I think I'd like to be in the sun."
      "Sure thing," Flo said as she bustled back the
kitchen. "You take my electro-mag out with you, and I'll
bring out toast and fresh coffee." She disappeared into the
back. Lara took the E-zine outside with her and downloaded
the London Times. She made her way to a faded and dusty
picnic table and sat in an equally faded chair. Lara idly
flipped through stories while sipping her luke-warm coffee.
The weather was nice. It was still early, so the oppressive
desert heat hadn't swept in yet, and there was a mild
breeze. Somewhere in the distance a dog barked.
      She tried to find something of interest in the paper
but found herself unable to do so. Current events: the
latest Royals scandal, what bill was passing in parliament,
the latest round of aggression in the middle east, all
seemed trivial. She spent her time solving 2000 year old
mysteries or fighting off toughs that had no idea where the
middle east was. It was like she was in a different world
sometimes.
      Flo came outside then, interrupting Lara's musings.
She had a carafe of coffee, toast and that wretched soy-
spread. . "Thank you, Flo."
      "Ah, shoot, its just toast. You should have let me
make you something." Flo sat down and refilled both of
their coffees.
      "No thank you, toast is fine."
      "Hey, did you see Ben take on that Gunny character?"
Flo asked, her eyes dancing. She went on with out waiting
for an answer. "Man those two went into each other. I swear
that man is never as handsome as when he's pummeling
someone."
      Flo regaled Lara with a somewhat slanted version by
blow of Ben's fight. In Flo's version, Ben was just as tall
as Gunny, Lara fit no where into the equation, and Gunny
was sent off with his tail between his legs. Lara ate in
silence, letting Flo go on with her story. The woman was
allowed her fantasies, and this tale certainly had little
anchorage in the real world. Lara tuned out the words,
listening to the flow of the older woman's voice as she
studied the landscape. She was finishing off her last slice
of toast when something Flo said brought her back to
reality.
      Lara sat up straighter in her chair. "I'm sorry, Flo
what was that last bit you said?"
      "I said, I'm pretty sure Willie didn't mean to nail
Ben with that mug, but it sure knocked him for a loop."
      "I'm sorry, do mean Big Willie, one of the Polecats?"
      Flo nodded. "Yup. Ben's probably tanning the guy's
hide right now, but anyway, when Ben got up he was more
pissed off then ever." she continued to talk as Lara's mind
raced.
      How can you hit some one in the head with a beer mug
by mistake? Lara hadn't liked Willie from the moment she
had first met him, two days ago in the Kickstand. It was
more than his being rude and fast with his hands, the man
seemed untrustworthy, and this proved it.
      Things like this happen in gangs all the time, Lara
reminded herself, and this one had nothing to do with her.
Ben seemed like he was more than capable to handle
discipline in his ranks. Lara was sipping her coffee, half
listening to Flo, when someone caught her eye.
      Speak of the devil, and he show's up. Big Willie,
looking cautious, walked down the street. "I'm sorry, Flo,
excuse me please." Without waiting for an answer she got up
from the table and walked down the street. The way Willie
was moving, quickly and looking over his shoulder often, as
well as the way he jumped at any sound, set off Lara's
suspicion alarms. The man was sneaking around for some
reason, although he wasn't doing it well. Lara managed to
stalk him easily as he walked down the street without being
seen. The question was what was he doing in Baron's Head
that he didn't want anyone to know about?
      Willie walked up to an abandoned boarded up store
front and looked around him. Lara ducked behind an old
stripped Toyota, and when she popped her head up, he was
gone.
      She crept across the street to the building where she
had last seen him. Peeking between the cracks of the
boarded up windows, she peeked inside. Her field of vision
was pretty limited, but after scanning about for a bit she
saw him. Willie was shaking a man's hand whom she couldn't
see, then the unknown man put a large wad of cash in
Willie's hand. This does not bode well. She went to another
window, trying to catch a glimpse of who Willie was talking
to. When she saw who it was, for some reason she was not
surprised. It seemed appropriate, somehow. The man was
Gunny.
      After a concluding handshake, Gunny and Willie parted
ways, and Lara made her self scarce. If Willie and Gunny
were dealing together, then this had to be bad for the
Polecats, and for Ben. It's none of my business Lara chided
herself. Ben can take care of himself.
      For a moment she almost convinced herself, but then
she was running back to Flo's, to get her bike and warn
Ben.
      * * *
      The Polecat's home roost was secret. Ben didn't like
other gangs and independents knowing where he parked his
bike when he slept. All of the Polecats were sworn to
secrecy, and when one left they changed the location.
Currently, it was in a small steep sided canyon about 65
miles out of Baron's Head. The guys lived in tents, prefab
houses or motor homes. There was an old circus tent that
they used as a communal garage and storage depot. The gas
tank, a portable 200 gallon fuel trailer with electric
pump, was kept a ways away from everything else, just in
case. Power for the place ran off a gasoline generator.
Most of the set up and tear down stuff was handled by
Jackson, but it was Ben's camp, and he was proud of it.
      Ben's pad was a prefab wood framed tent. His bike and
an old worn ramp with day glow flames sat outside his door.
Inside, it had a marine issue cot & foot locker. A hardwood
dresser, booty from a raid, sat in the corner with only one
piece of ornamentation, a worn and bedraggled battery
powered yellow rabbit. Dirty clothes littered the ground as
well as several used paper plates and empty beer cans. It
wasn't the Hilton, but it was home and Ben liked it a hell
of a lot better than one of the other places he had stayed,
Portsmouth.
      It was after noon but Ben was still in bed. He was
dressed in what had once been a white T-shirt and a pair of
tan air of surplus fatigue pants. He and the guys had been
out late, scouring the desert for any sign of Gunny or his
wannabe gang, the Leathernecks. All it had gotten them were
headaches and a bunch of empty gas tanks. That Gunny had
vanished off the face of the damn Earth, but he couldn't
stay hidden forever. When he raised his ugly crew cutted
head, Ben would stomp on it once and for all.
      In the mean time, though, Ben was hurt, although he
would never admit it to anyone. That Gunny packed a hell of
a wallop. Next time Ben had a few tools that might put
things in his favour, like his tire iron, chain, chain saw,
or best, his lever action Winchester 12 gauge, which Ben
liked to call Betsy. He still wished that he'd had Betsy on
him when he got into that whole Corley thing last year. It
would have gone a lot differently.
      "Riders!" The call came from the look out that Ben
had posted at the top of the canyon. Ben had two lookouts
posted at any one time, unless the gang was out riding. Ben
had learned a big lesson last year to watch against
ambushes. He got out of bed with a curse, holding his side.
Gunny had nailed him there, and one of his Leathernecks had
too. Well, Ben was tough. He could take it.
      He got to his feet and grabbed his jacket, which hung
from a peg on the wall. Ben had gotten this jacket from
Father Torque himself when he first joined the Polecats
twelve years ago. It fit him like a second skin and was his
second most proud possession next to his bike. He put on
his shades and stepped outside. Most of the guys were still
sacked out, but Jackson was up and so were a few others.
Heads poked out of doors at the call, though no one was
really alert yet. The sentry hadn't called 'attackers' or
'code red', which was short for 'every body arm your self
with something'. Still, the guy hadn't sounded an ID or all
clear yet, so Ben strode over to his bike and grabbed Betsy
from its holster. Better safe than sorry. He levered a
round into the chamber.
      "Its father Torque!" the sentry called out. "And
Ben's chick!" Huh? Ben didn't have a chick. The only person
he could think of was either Flo-if it was her he was going
to shoot on sight-or else. "Croft." Great. Just what he
needed. He was pissed that she knew where the Polecats
called home, but if the Father brought her here, then it
must be on the up and up. He'd strangle her later.
      Ben could hear the bike coming now, the loud cutting
roar of Corley engines. He but Betsy back with a swear. He
thought that he'd seen the last of Lady Grace, but it
seemed that at least one more meeting was in the cards.
Walking towards the camp entrance, Ben waited for the two
riders.
      They were both on one bike, Croft's, which was weird.
Torque never took anyone else's bike unless something
serious was up. The hairs on the back of Ben's neck began
to rise. Something bad was going to happen, he could feel
it. Both of their face's were grim.
      Torque stopped the bike in front of Ben and handed
the keys to Lara. He got off and extended his hand to
Ben's. "Sorry to stick my nose in, Ben."
      Ben's hand was crushed in the Father's grip like
always. "No trouble's, Father. You're always welcome in my
camp." The reply was custom, but Ben's tone was pissed off.
      "The little lady said she had something really
important to tell you." He indicated Lara.
      Ben frowned and narrowed his eyes, glaring at Lara.
She leaned against her bike like she didn't have a care in
the world. "So. Tell me." He crossed his arms across his
chest and the only sound was that of creaking leather. This
had better be good.
      * * *
      Well, Ben certainly looked angry. If his sunglasses
were off, she was sure that his dark eyes would be spitting
fire right at her. He was angry now, but after what she had
to tell him he was going to be furious.
      "Hello, Ben." She said, leaning against her bike,
trying to set a light tone. Everyone near Ben and Lara made
themselves scarce, leaving the two of them alone. I wish I
could join them.
      "Don't 'hello Ben' me, Croft." His jaw could have
snapped chain. "What the hell are you doing here, and why
did you drag Father Torque into it?" Well, he certainly was
angry
      "Father Torque is the only person who knew how to
find you." She answered calmly. "I thought that it was
important enough, so I asked him."
      His frown grew bigger, if that was possible. "What
was important enough? What are you talking about?"
      Lara took a breath before continuing. He really
wasn't going to like this. "You have a spy."
      She saw his knuckles turn white, and could almost
hear his tendons creak. "Spy? for what?"
      She didn't answer immediately and began walking
towards the communal garage. She could hear Ben stomping
along behind her, impatient. "I would guess the location of
this camp."
      "That's sure as hell easy enough." He snapped off.
"They just have to follow you here. This place is supposed
to be a secret."
      She was handling this wrong. She wasn't here to bait
Ben, as much fun as it may have been. "This isn't about me,
Ben. I saw Big Willie take money from Gunny."
      He looked as if some one had hit him with a plank.
"Huh?"
      She tried to explain. "They made a deal for
something." She brought her hands up in frustration. "It
makes sense that Gunny would want the location of this camp
so that he can launch a pre-emptive strike against you." I
didn't betray you her eyes told him.
      He either didn't notice, or care. "Willie would never
betray me." Ben said flatly.
      Lara sighed. "He already did. I saw it."
      Ben leaned over and glared at her. "I'm his gang
leader." He poked his finger into the air in front of her
face to emphasize his point. "No polecat would move against
me like that." He poked his finger at her again. "It's
against the Code of the Road."
      Lara brushed it away in irritation. Was this man that
blind? "Well, I suggest that you ask him, then double your
guard, and move this camp to somewhere else." Her
irritation began to get into her voice. This man has
concrete for brains.
      He pointed at her again. "The Polecats are my gang,
Croft. Don't tell me how to run them." Or else he added non
verbally.
      Lara had enough. "Look, get pissed off at me all you
like, but if you don't double your guard then you are just
being stupid." This conversation was getting no where. What
did she care if his entire gang was wiped out?
      If looks could kill, Lara knew that she would have
been beyond resuscitation. "Not one more word, Lady Grace."
His voice was dangerous.
      Unfortunately, the argument was interrupted before
either of them could speak further. From the side of her
vision, Lara saw something large and flaming fly from the
top of the steep canyon walls and land in the middle of the
camp. It was a truck, she saw, and it burned from every
window. It smashed into the middle of the camp where it did
a grotesque rolling flip. Every eye in the camp watched the
twisted vehicle as it eventually came to rest on its side
in a groan of abused metal.
      "Every body get down!" Ben yelled incredibly loudly,
breaking Lara's reverie. Before she could think, or even
react, he had grabbed her and pulled her to the ground. Not
even two seconds later, the vehicle exploded with a
tremendous roar. A wave of petrol smelling hot air
assaulted her as Lara tried to become one with the ground.
      She felt Ben get up as soon as the explosion stopped.
She saw his broad shouldered run towards a wood frame tent.
"Polecats!" He bellowed. "Ride for your lives! Ambush!"
Lara got to her feet and ran towards her bike. Her ears
were ringing but still she could hear the approach of many
motor cycle engines. She drew her guns as she ran towards
her bike.
      Even before she got there, the first riders broke
into the camp. The first made to run her down and Lara
jumped to the side. She could smell the bike's exhaust as
it missed her by less than she would have wanted. She hit
the ground and shoulder rolled, coming up in a crouch with
her guns tracking the bike. The rider had a gun in his hand
and was targeting someone but never got the chance. Her
first two bullets were off, but the next four caught the
guy in the back and head. He jerked and lost controlled of
his bike, which skidded to the ground.
      Only the sound of gunning engines behind her alerted
her to more bikes, and Lara turned just in time to see
another bike coming. She dived to the left, missing the
tires by inches and rolled to her feet. Yet another bike
was there, and it was too close to turn and shoot.
      She managed to jump and plant one foot on the front
fender, then use that foot to force herself over the body
of the bike before it struck her. Unfortunately, that put
her right in the path of the rider. He swerved to avoid her
but they struck and tumbled as one from the bike.
      Lara's shoulder screamed at her but she ignored the
pain, knowing that if she gave into it now that she would
die. She disentangled herself from the biker and drove her
knee into his chin. That should keep him out of it for a
while. Gritting her teeth against the pain, she got to her
feet and looked about for a means of escape.
      * * *
      The moment he saw the truck fall Ben knew that it was
only a distraction; the grenade thrown to soften up the
room before you rush it. Damn it, this was the worse
possible time. Bikers were always vulnerable while
roosting, but the sentries were supposed to take care of
that. If Croft was right, Willie must have traded shifts
with one or killed them before the attack. He was gonna die
for what he'd done. There was time for that later. Right
now Ben and his bikers had to survive.
      Even as he was running for his bike and Betsy he
heard the riders. He heard some pistol shots ring out and
heard a bike crash. Sure hope that was a bad guy. The sound
of multiple bike engines was deafening as Ben finally
reached his bike. He mounted and started it up, then
reached down and pulled out Betsy.
      He held it in one hand and turned, looking for a
target. There was one coming right at him, and Ben shot him
in the face. The guy was killed instantly and the bike
flipped. One down. Ben gunned his throttle and used his
other hand to lever the gun. It swung back up, and Ben
looked for someone else to kill.
      A leatherneck was chasing down Kelly's girlfriend
with his bike. Ben gunned his bike towards the guy and
fired off a round from Betsy which missed, but was too late
for the girl. The Leatherneck rammed into her from behind
and slammed her into the canyon wall. From the weird angle
of her neck, Ben knew that she was dead. So was this guy.
      The Leatherneck barely had time to look up as Ben's
raised front wheel caught him in the chest. The biker flew
from his ride right into Ben's path. He managed to get his
head up just in time for Ben's boot to catch him under the
chin.
      Gritting his teeth, Ben pulled to a stop, Betsy
extended, looking for more targets. He shot two more
bikers, killing one and wounding another. As far as he
could tell he was the only one on his side inflicting any
damage. The Polecats were getting tromped and there wasn't
a damned thing he could do about it. Killing off the guys
who waxed his gang may have given them revenge but it
didn't bring the Polecat's back.
      He saw a Leatherneck throwing a molotov cocktail into
Jackson's RV and sped towards him. He brought Betsy to bear
over the handlebar and fired. The guy fell, the cocktail
breaking at his feet. The flames went up around the bike
but some caught on Jackson's RV.
      Ben stopped next to the RV and ran inside.
"Jackson!!" Looking around frantically, he saw his friend
and right hand man dead on the bed next to his girlfriend,
who had also been killed. They'd both crawled there and
died in each other's arms.
      A cold rage crept into Ben and he stomped out of the
RV, counting his shotgun rounds and comparing it to the
number of Leathernecks. If he ran out of shells, well there
was always his fists. He was so intent on the thought of
killing everyone he never saw the Leatherneck riding at him
until it was too late. Ben tried to bring Betsy to bear,
but the rider smashed his pipe into Ben's ribs first. Ben
flew back, gun flying. Laying on the ground, gasping for
air and trying to move, he saw the rider turn around to
make another pass.
      * * *
      Lara put her back to some rocks and reloaded both
guns, panting. She only carried two extra magazines, and at
the rate this fight was going, it wasn't going to be
enough. She had taken out one and wounded two others. The
Polecats were being slaughtered. The element of surprise
was effective, despite her efforts, and had worked to the
Polecat's detriment.
      She heard a person to her left and brought both guns
to bear. It was Father Torque. She relaxed. "Glad to see
you're OK, darlin'." He looked dirty, and winded, but
unharmed.
      "Likewise. Can you see any way out of here?"
      "Best I can figure, your bike is still out there in
the open, untouched. If we can make it out to that, we're
probably home free."
      Lara charged her guns. "Right then, let's do it."
      She ran into the main clearing where the trashed
truck still lay in flames. Her guns were held out in front
of her, ready to fire at any target. She ran towards her
bike with Torque behind her. She saw Leathernecks all over
the place and opened fire. She may have taken out one but
mostly she was keeping their heads down. It used up her
bullets quickly, but if it kept her alive she wasn't about
to complain about it.
      She and Torque made it to the bike just as her guns
ran dry. Torque jumped on and started the bike up as Lara
jumped on behind him. She was reluctant to leave without
knowing if Ben made it out and glanced around for either
him or his bike. Torque was just pulling out when she
spotted his bike next to a burning trailer. Ben was getting
to his feet woozily and a biker was bearing down on him
with a pipe.
      "We have to get Ben!" she yelled into Torque's ear
and pointed out the scene. The two bore down upon Ben and
his assailant and were unable to do anything as the biker
struck Ben again, sending him crashing to the ground. The
biker was pulling around for a third pass as they pulled up
to Ben. He truly looked like crap. There was blood running
down his shirt and his left arm hung at his side. "That
biker's gonna pay for what he's done." Ben growled under
his breath as he struggled once again to his feet.
      Lara leapt off the bike. "Ben, we have to leave!" she
yelled at him. He didn't seem to hear her, he just kept
muttering. "That biker's gonna pay for what he's done. That
biker's gonna pay for what he's done." She looked at Torque
desperately. "We have to get him out of here!"
      Ben seemed to notice them for the first time. "Not
without my bike." He growled. Lara just rolled her eyes.
Why could men never pick convenient times to be stubborn?
      Torque got off Lara's bike and went to Ben's low
rider. "I'll get him out on his bike. You follow on yours."
      Lara heard a revving motor cycle nearby and looked up
to check on Ben's assailant. "Torque, that rider's coming
back!" she called out. If only she had one bullet.
      Torque was already on Ben's bike, which had been
idling the entire time. The weathered old biker grinned.
"Don't you worry about that." He reached down to the side
of the bike and brought up a tire iron. "I was fighting
road duels before this kid was born!" He drove off towards
the cyclist.
      Lara watched as the two rider's closed. Torque seemed
to belong on the bike. With a speed that defied his age,
the old biker swerved his bike out to avoid the other man's
swing, then swerved back in and thrust the tire iron into
the rider's back wheel. The bike locked out and skidded,
with its rider caught beneath.
      A bullet impacted next to Lara's head, and she saw
three other bikes closing on her and Ben. She cursed her
lack of ammo and could do nothing other than duck. Torque
drove back and Lara pushed Ben towards him.
      "Get on the damned bike, Ben!" she commanded, "and
for once in your life do what your told!"
      "In your dreams, Lady Grace" she heard him mutter
under his breath. She had to help him, but he got on the
bike reasonably quickly.
      "Betsy," he groaned.
      She looked at Torque. "An old girlfriend?"
      The old biker shook his head, "His gun. There!" He
pointed to it. "Better give it to me or he'll never shut
up!"
      Lara grabbed the fallen weapon and handed it to
Torque, who slipped it into a scabbard on the side of the
bike. "Now ride!" She yelled, then Torque was spitting
gravel and Lara was alone facing three charging bikers.
      She leapt onto her bike and spit gravel herself, the
three Leathernecks right on her tail. Ben's bike was
carrying two and couldn't maneuver quickly or else Ben
might fall. He wasn't going to get away unless Lara did
something. She saw the stubby form of a rocket launcher
laying next to the form of a fallen Leatherneck and formed
a plan. Leaning out the one side of her bike, she grabbed
it as she rode by. A bullet flew by her shoulder. This had
to end now.
      She roared past Torque and Ben and came to a
screeching stop facing an overhanging section of valley
wall. She looked at the rocket she had nicked. It had
convenient diagramed instructions indicating how to
assemble and fire. Just extend, point, and shoot. Good.
Very simple was about all she had time for right now. As
Torque and Ben passed her, she shouldered the rocket and
fired at the overhang.
      There was a loud explosion, and the overhang
collapsed just as the first of the three riders came under
it. He managed to gun his engine and shoot out from
underneath the collapsing rock, but his two mates weren't
so lucky. The one who made it out was bearing right down on
Lara and barely had control of his bike. She was dead
stopped and barely managed to jump clear as the two bikes
and one rider became a tangled, bloody mass.
      At least Ben got away, she thought, although she
could guarantee that he wasn't going to be very happy when
he came to his senses. Right now she had other concerns,
such as getting out of here in one piece. No transport, no
weapons and a number of people who wanted her dead not very
far behind. It was just like old times.
      She heard bikes heading down the canyon towards her.
She climbed up to an escarpment and hid as they passed. To
her surprise, though, they stopped below her, at the base
of the rockslide. She poked her head out and looked down.
Gunny and two other bikers sat idling, looking at Lara's
rockslide and the mess of her bike. A fourth person walked
over the rockslide. It was big Willie, still in his Polecat
jacket.
      "Who got away?" Gunny asked, his voice like chewed
steel.
      Big Willie looked nervous. "Polecat."
      Gunny shut off and dismounted his bike. "I said that
getting Polecat was the first priority." He growled.
      Willie shrugged uncomfortably as the bigger man came
towards him. "I'm sorry. He got away"
      Gunny loomed over him. "Incompetent fuckwad."
      Willie shrunk six inches. "I can find him." He said
in a small voice that Lara barely heard. "He was with that
chick of his-"
      Gunny cut him off. "The one from the bar?"
      He nodded eagerly. "Umm, ya."
      Gunny turned away from Willie and looked at the
canyon wall opposite of Lara's hiding place. "Good. I got
business to finish with her."
      That didn't sound good.
      "He was with Father Torque, too. He helped Ben get
away."
      "We can grease two bikers just as easy as one." Gunny
said, and turned to look at the other canyon wall. Lara
ducked behind the escarpment.
      "You know I can't trust you, don't you, Willie?" she
heard Gunny rasp.
      "Wh-what do you mean?" Willie's voice squeaked.
      "You betrayed Polecat, you might betray me." Gunny's
voice was quiet.
      "No way Gunny I-" Willie's protests were cut short
and he started making gagging noises.
      She heard Gunny get back on his bike. "Make sure you
hunt down every last one of these pricks." Gunny growled as
he started up his bike. "I've got orders to make sure no
one survives." What in blazes did that mean? Three motor
cycles pulled away and drove out of the canyon. Lara waited
five minutes before poking her head over the escarpment.
Big Willie lay face down on the ground, a pool of blood
under him. Lara slid down the rocky face and made her way
back into the destroyed Polecat camp. There had to be one
working bike in there and she had to find Ben and Torque.

     Ben & Lara
     Chapter Five
     by Ross Jenkins, c 1997

      Ben & Lara V-The Code of the Road
      Ben hurt. His side was on fire from Gunny's hit and.
something else. That was a bruised rib if nothing else He
groaned and tried to open his eyes. Bright light flared and
he tried to raise his arm to block it out. More pain
flared. He squinted and the light became bearable. A blurry
form blocked out the light. a face?
      This all seemed too familiar. "Mo?" he asked in a
voice that didn't sound like his own. Where was he? What
had happened?
      "No, not Mo. Lara." A cool feminine voice with a
British accent told him. He felt a hand brush his cheek.
      Lara. Lady Grace. Everything came back. Gunny. The
Polecats, slaughtered. "Jackson!" He tried to sit up but
pain flared in his side.
      Strong hands pushed him back down. "He's gone Ben,
I'm sorry." Lara's voice said soothingly. "Just lay down.
There's nothing you can do now."
      "Like hell." Ben sat up anyway, minding his side and
ignoring the pain. "Gunny did this." It was a statement. He
looked around. He and Lara were in a wooden shack with one
wall missing. Lara sat next to him on the dirt floor, legs
curled beneath her. Her hand, which had been near his face,
started tracing patterns in the dirt.
      "Yes." She agreed quietly. "He paid off Big Willie to
take out the sentries then attacked with his Leathernecks.
We're the only ones that made it out."
      "Willie." Ben clenched his fist and felt fire move up
his side. "That turncoat's gonna die for what he's done."
      Lara smiled sadly. "I'm afraid Gunny beat you to it.
He slit Willie's throat."
      "Well, that's one thing I owe him." Ben grunted. As
well as his balls on a plate.
      Lara said nothing and Ben looked around. He couldn't
tell where he was; the desert outside could have been from
anywhere. "Where are we?" he asked. Once I find out where I
am and where my bike is, I'm that much closer to hunting
down every leatherneck that ever lived.
      "Father Torque's storage shed." Lara answered him.
"He took us here to hide out until he could find out what's
what.".

      "Hmm." Ben rubbed his chin stubble thoughtfully.
"I've never been here before. No one has. Everyone knows to
stay clear of Father Torque's place."
      "Why?" Lara asked. "Is it booby trapped or something.
      Ben shook his head. "No. You just don't. Its part of
the Code of the Road."
      "We should be safe here, then."
      "Maybe. I don't think these guys follow the Code,
though."
      "Why not?"
      "The way they do things. Its one thing to try and
muscle in on another guy's turf, but you do it straight up,
in a rumble. You don't ambush his camp and shoot everything
that moves." Ben's voice was bitter.
      "Ben, I'm sorry. I wish there was more I could have
done."
      "You did enough. They're all gonna die. Gunny, the
leathernecks, all of them. Dead!" He struck the dirt to
emphasize his point, and pain flared up his arm.
      "Ben, there's more you should know." Lara said.
      "Ya," he turned to look at her. She had trouble
meeting his eyes. "What?"
      "I overheard Gunny talking." She said slowly. "He
said that he had orders to make sure that no one survived."
      Huh? "Orders?" Ben asked roughly. "from who?"
      "I have no idea." She paused. "But whoever that
person is, he wants you dead, and he ordered your gang
killed."
      Ben's eyes narrowed. "I'm gonna find out who, and
then there's gonna be a reckoning." Ben got to his feet
with a grunt. He put his hand to his side and felt wetness
there. I don't have time to bleed.
      "Ben, where are you going?" Lara asked with concern,
coming to her feet smoothly.
      "To find Gunny and rip out his heart." Ben swore.
      "Ben, you can't." She put her hands on his shoulders
and tried to hold him back. To his surprise, she almost
succeeded. "Not like this."
      He grabbed her wrists and shoved her aside. She moved
around his push like water. "I'm good enough to kill that
bastard."
      You barely broke even with him when you weren't hurt
her eyes said to him. He'll kill you like this. He frowned
down at her
      They both heard the sound of an approaching bike.
Looking out, they saw Torque pulling up on his classic
Corley. "You two had better make yourselves scarce." The
old man called out as he got off his bike. "There's a posse
coming after you."
      "Leathernecks." Ben grunted.
      "Yup," Torque nodded. "And that Gunny guy, too."
      Ben opened his mouth, but Torque stared at him. The
old biker knew exactly what Ben was about to say and do,
and under Torque's gaze, Ben subsided with a grumble.
      "What about you?" Lara asked.
      "Don't you worry about me, darlin'" Torque said
gravely. "They want Ben's hide, and yours too because you
helped him."
      "You helped us too, and they saw you." Lara pointed
out. "You're in as much danger as the rest of us."
      The old man shook his head, white hair and beard
swaying. "I'm neutral and everyone knows it." He paused,
and his eyes darkened. "Besides, if we all high tailed it
they'd get all of us." He looked at Ben. "I can stall 'em
while you two make tracks."
      "Father, no!" Ben growled.
      The old man was firm. "Don't worry about me, Ben. I'm
an old biker and old bikers never die." He smiled wryly.
"I'll get out of this, don't you worry." He slapped Ben on
the shoulder with less than customary force. "Get out of
here!"
      Ben stood there stubbornly. Torque stepped over and
gripped his shoulder. "Go, Polecat." His voice was soft,
but booked no argument. "I used to be your leader, and I'm
giving you one last order." His face softened. "Let me do
this for you." The biker backed slowly towards his bike. He
was going to die and all of them knew it.
      For once Ben had nothing to say. Lara tugged on his
good arm with both hands, and reluctantly he turned to
leave. "Ride low, ride hard, Father." Ben's voice was
thick.
      "Always." Answered the Father of All Bikers. "Get
your butt out of here! Head up that path and don't stop!"
      There was something missing. "Where's my bike?"
      Torque smiled and shook his head "You make me proud
Ben. I stashed it about five miles off behind the old
interstate sign. Just follow the path and you'll get there.
Now go!"
      His face grim, Ben turned his back on Father Torque
and stomped up the path. Lara was in front of him, but this
time the sight of her swaying butt didn't move him one bit.
"I'll come back, Father, whether you like it or not."
      * * *
      "I'm going back there." Ben declared as his hidden
bike came into sight. It didn't surprise Lara one bit; she
was surprised that it had taken him this long to say it. It
made sense for them not to turn back. The best thing was to
take the opportunity that Torque had bought them with his
life and not look back. In her gut, though, Lara wanted to
see with her own eyes if the valiant old man had made it
through.
      Lara didn't make friends easily. Most women were too
flimsy for her to get along with, and the men that weren't
intimidated by her were usually so full of themselves as to
be completely insufferable. Torque and his gruff ways had
been different. He was totally accepting of who she was and
charming in a gruff sort of way. He had also volunteered to
give his life for her, which added a lot. He had only done
that, she knew, because of Ben, but she still wanted to
know how the Father of All Bikers had faired.
      Ben's bike was hidden behind some tumbleweeds and it
took him a moment to clear them. After that, though, he
mounted his bike and started it with a sound like thunder.
"You coming, Lady Grace?" He yelled over the engine. Lara
hesitated a moment, then climbed up behind him.
      "Watch your hands," he called back.
      "In your dreams, sport!" Lara yelled to him and put
her hands around his waist. The bike spun onto the faded
hardtop with a spray of gravel.
      Ben rode his bike like a madman, skidding around
corners and pushing the machine to its limits. The trip
that had taken an over an hour on foot took less than two
minutes on the road, and soon they were pulling up to
Father Torque's shack. A white haired body lay on the
ground in a pool of blood.
      "No!" Ben cried painfully. As soon as his bike came
to a stop, he was running. "Father Torque! Are you all
right?" he knelt by the bikers side. Lara approached
quietly behind Ben. She stayed respectfully silent.
      Torque was obviously not all right. For the first
time since she had met him, he looked old. His leathery
face was ashen and filled with pain. Blood flecked on his
beard. A moment after Ben spoke Torque opened his eyes and
slowly turned his head towards him. "Of course I'm not all
right, you idiot." His voice was faint and filled with pain
"I've been stabbed. I'm dyin'."
      Ben shook his head furiously. His voice was panicked
"No, your not. I'll get you to a hospital. I'll-"
      Torque cut him off. "Ben, Don't." He lifted his hand
up, shaking with the effort, and Ben took it. "I lived a
long life. It's ok. I'm a gonner and we both know it."
      "I'm gonna get Gunny." Ben swore. "He's a dead man
walking."
      Torque just smiled. "I know." It was barely a
whisper. He squeezed Ben's hand. "I-" he stopped and
gasped. Ben leaned closer. "I want you to have my bike."
      Ben swallowed hard and nodded. "I will." They were
silent for a moment.
      The old man smiled, his eyes sad. "I told you old
biker's don't get no respect any more."
      "You got respect where it counts." Ben was fervent.
      "I know." Torque closed his eyes. He was like that
for a minute, and Lara was sure he was gone, but then the
old man spasmed and began coughing blood.
      "Ben!" the old man managed to get out. "Ben! Gunny
he-" he coughed, deep racking coughs that were painful to
listen to. "Gunny said something."
      "What, Father Torque, what?"
      Pink froth covered his lips. "He said he had to meet
a man-" coughed,. "in Fulsome, day after tomorrow."
Torque's eyes bulged and he arched his back, gasping. "He-
he-said he going to-to-" He drew a huge breath, his last.
"The Rebar." he gasped the last word, and Lara watched the
life drain from his eyes. Ben just knelt there, holding the
dead man's hand.
      A minute passed, then five. Lara and Ben were
unmoving, staring at the corpse of a man who had given his
life for them. Lara was a hard woman, she had made herself
so, but there were still tears in her eyes. She began to
get uneasy. "Ben." Her voice caught. He didn't move or even
seem to hear her. She put a cautious hand on his shoulder
and gently shook him.
      "Ben." Lara said again, her voice firm but hoarse.
"Ben we have to go. The Leathernecks may be coming back."
      "Let 'em come." Ben slowly got to his feet, moving
like a man 10 years older. He turned to face her and she
gasped. He looked.frightening. His face was harder than
stone and his jaw was clenched. It was his eyes, though,
that truly chilled her. They were as dark and as cold as
death. He walked past her stiffly towards Torque's shed.
"I'm going to bury him. He deserves that much." His words
were quiet, but hard.
      They said nothing as they dug a grave for the Father
of All Bikers. When they rode away one hour later, there
was a fresh pile of dirt in the desert with a simple wooden
grave marker. On it were words carved with a belt knife.
      Here Lies Father Torque
      He died as he lived
      A Biker
      * * *
      A few miles out of Torque's place, Ben pulled his
bike to the side of the road and stopped. Neither spoke and
the only sound was the ticking of the engine. "Baron's
Head's about 10 miles up road." Ben said dully. "You should
make it there by nightfall."
      She didn't move from behind him. Figured. Women. "Get
off my bike, Croft." He wasn't in a mood to argue.
      Her voice was soft, but firm. "What are you doing,
Ben?"
      His jaw set. What was she, dense? "What does it look
like I'm doing? I'm kicking you off.
      "No. I don't want to leave."
      Well, one of them had to get off the bike. He
dismounted and stared down at the highway with dead eyes.
"This isn't your problem, Croft." He said softly. "You
warned me, we're even, now get out of here."
      "This isn't about keeping score, Ben."
      He turned back to her. She was still on his bike,
arms crossed. "Then what is it about?"
      "Gunny wants me too, you know." She told him, head
cocked. "He said so."
      Ben snorted. "You're just a trophy. He won't chase
you if you leave the desert.
      Lara shook her head. "I didn't know Torque long, but
I liked him. He didn't deserve dying like that."
      Amen. "That's not enough." Ben glared at her. "You
have no stake in this, Croft. I don't trust you."
      She raised hr eye brows. "And if I told you why it
might make you trust me?"
      He was regretting this conversation already. "It
might."
      "All right then," she dismounted and leaned against
the gas tank. "I think it might make a good story."
      Huh? Ben blinked. "Story?"
      "That's why I came to the desert. She looked over his
shoulder down the endless road. "I'm writing a series of
articles on the New West for a newspaper."
      "You're doing all this for a damned newspaper?" his
voice rose. Why am I arguing with her? I just don't care
right now. "You're crazier than I thought."
      She raised her chin. "My reasons are my own, and I
don't need your permission to do anything."
      "You're right, you don't." He walked past her and
mounted his bike. "Good bye, Lady Grace." He started his
engine and revved it loudly, shouting over its noise at
her. "Thanks for the tip. I hope you get a Pulitzer."
      She reached over to the handle bars and killed the
engine before he could put in into gear. Ben glared at her.
"I'm going to be sticking around, Ben, whether you want me
to or not." She looked at him hopefully. "I thought you
might like the help.
      "I work alone." He growled, but it sounded
unconvincing even to him.
      "Ah, like you worked alone this morning in your camp.
I saved your life."
      This morning seemed like an eternity ago. "I said we
were even, Croft." Ben growled. "I don't owe you nothing."
      She looked behind him with alarm "Actually, I think
that the decision has been taken from us. Riders!"
      Ben looked behind him and cursed. Five shimmering
forms are on the road, a mile or so distant. "Get on if
you're coming." He growled and started the bike. Lara leapt
on, and they burned rubber.
      "Can you shake them?" He heard Lara ask over the
engine. He looked back and the bikes were closing. They're
not carrying two people. They'll gain on us.
      "No one living knows this desert better than me!" Ben
called back. Anymore, he added to himself. He took his bike
off road abruptly, onto a faintly visible side road. Try to
catch me now, you jerks. Lara gripped his waist tighter.
      Ben's low rider hadn't been made with off road in
mind. The low suspension made riding these rabbit run
desert trails a pain in the ass, but Ben knew these trails
like the back of his hand, and he was one hell of a rider.
He felt Lara trying to keep on the bike and smirked. Hope
you're enjoying the ride, Lady Grace. "Are they still after
us?" He asked.
      He felt Lara weight shift as she turned around to
look. "Yes. They're falling behind but their still coming."
      Ben's bike bottomed out on a rock as he negotiated
the rough twisted trail. Don't worry girl, I'll fix you up
after. "Don't worry, I'll get 'em off our backs." The trail
turned ahead, but Ben ignored it, gunning instead for a
cleft between two rocks.
      "Where the hell are you taking us?" He heard Lara
yell into his ear. There was maybe a touch of uncertainty
in her voice. Hmm. She wasn't so tough after all. Ben said
nothing, just steered his bike up the steep slope.
      The narrow trail was not made for bikes and circled
around some boulders and ended up on top of a hillock. Lara
and Ben bounced and spit gravel, but made their way up to
the top of the slope. You could see pretty far from here,
from the high way below all the way to Baron's head in the
distance. Looking closer, though, the trail that Ben and
Lara had ridden along, as well as their pursuers, was
plainly visible below them. Ben came to a halt and grabbed
Betsy from her sheath.
      "Like fish in a barrel." Ben said quietly and put the
shotgun to his shoulder. There was a straight narrow
stretch coming up that his pursuers wouldn't be able to
evade in, and the steep angle to Ben's vantage point was
going to be invisible until it was too late. Nailing these
guys is just a start. His hand tightened on the hardwood
stock.
      "You might want to haul out those pistols of yours."
Ben said to Lara while he sighted down his gun. "Unless
they're just for show."
      "Empty. I used them up escaping from the camp and
saving an ungrateful biker." He heard the smile in her
voice.
      Hmph. "Guess you gotta let me do all the work, then,
huh?"
      If she replied, he didn't hear it because the first
Leatherneck came into the kill zone. One of them was
talking on a radio. Well, he was the first to go.
      Betsy barked once and the rider fell. Before the
Leathernecks had time to react, Ben had levered in another
round and was targeting a new bike, the lead this time.
Betsy barked again, and the cyclist in front went down. The
Leathernecks tried to evade, but with a fallen bike
blocking the narrow trail there was no where to go. Ben
fired off five more shells, but couldn't tell if he hit any
one or not. There were three bikes and bodies down on the
trail, though, and that counted for something. Three down,
who knows how many to go. Then its just you and me, Gunny.
      "Nice shooting," Lara complemented. Ben just grunted
and started reloading shells into Betsy. "Do we finish them
off or run?" It was nice that she was letting him take the
lead, but he was pretty sure that it wouldn't last forever.
Next time she was going to be as bull headed as ever.
      That's when Ben realized that he didn't want to show
her the road just yet. It would be nice having someone to
watch his back for what was coming up. Still, she was a
reporter, and Ben had a bad history with reporters. Ya,
well, she could stick around as long as she wanted, but Ben
was sure she'd crap out somewhere along the way. In the
end, it was just going to be him and Gunny. It just felt
right.
      Ben finished reloading and put Betsy back in her
sheath. "We ride. I saw one of those boneheads down there
talking on the radio. He may have been calling up
reinforcements, so we'd better make tracks." He revved up
his bike and began the harrowing ride back to the trail.
      About twenty minutes of hard riding got them to a
secondary road. Ben turned west. "We've gotta get into
Fulsome and find out who Gunny's meeting with." he said to
Lara.
      "Where's Fulsome?" She asked.
      "About 200 miles east of here. It's a corporate town.
They're hard as hell to get into."
      "What's a corporate town?"
      "The city got bought out by a bunch of companies
about 30 years ago when their economy bottomed out." The
road flashed by them, and the sunset they were riding into
was bloody red. "They have their own private police, and
they have the place locked up like a drum."
      "How are we going to get in then? And why are we
heading west? It's the wrong direction."
      "I got a friend who can help up out. So we're going
there." Ben paused and clenched his jaw. "Besides, we're
not going any farther until I have drink. A big one." They
said nothing else as Ben drove, heading to a certain bar
for one last drink. To say good bye.
      * * *
      They ended up in the Kickstand. It was dark and
Quohog had been about to close shop when they had pulled
up. Ben didn't say a word, just walked to a table in the
back in a storm of creaking leather. Ben had hung out here
a lot, Lara knew, and it must be filled with painful
memories. "A bottle of anything strong, and two glasses."
She said to Quohog and went to join Ben at his table.
Quohog, to his credit, knew when not to talk. He brought a
bottle of whisky to Ben and Lara and left without a word.
The jukebox, apparently sensing the mood, started played
Springsteen, Nebraska.
      "Go away, Croft." Ben said darkly once Quohog had
left. His shoulders were hunched and he stared intently
into the table. His face was unreadable but Lara could see
the pain in his eyes.
      "No." she said. "I'm not going."
      Ben brought his eyes up to hers, and she could see
anger warring with the pain.. "I want to be alone for a
while." His voice was quiet and sad.
      Again Lara shook her head. She met his level gaze
with her own "I'm not leaving you alone right now, Ben."
      His voice was touched with anger this time. "Leave me
alone, Croft.."
      Lara wouldn't budge. She took the bottle of whiskey
and poured two shots. "Being alone doesn't make it any
easier, Ben," she said quietly. Memories of Nepal came back
to her, frightened, paralyzed with grief, and alone. "It
just makes you lonely."
      He looked at her expressionlessly and said nothing.
But he didn't send her away. She pushed one shot glass
towards him and raised the other. "To Father Torque." she
toasted loudly. She stared at Ben for a short eternity
until he finally raised his glass.
      "Ride low, hide hard," Ben said, and they both drank.
She refilled their glasses.
      "To the Polecats." She toasted. Ben just stared at
her, and after a moment she wondered whether or not he was
going to meet her toast. After a long pause he raised his
glass.
      His voice was thick. "To the Polecats." They both
drank, slammed their glasses to the table and sat in
silence.
      After a moment, Lara spoke. "Tell me about them,
Ben." She urged. "The Polecats, who they were." She
refilled their glasses again. He just stared at the table,
then he reached for his glass and spoke. His voice low and
fond in remembrance.
      "Jackson was a cop. No one knew why he came out into
the desert, but the first day he was there, I knew that if
I didn't get him in my gang that I'd end up facing him..."

     Ben & Lara
     Chapter Six
     by Ross Jenkins, c 1997

      Ben & Lara VI-Old Wounds
      Lara groaned. Her head was pounding and her eyes felt
like sandpaper. She and Ben had been up until.when?
drinking and toasting. Oh god, how much had she drank?
They'd finished off one bottle of that shoe varnish that
Jules claimed was whiskey but after that.They'd spent the
last part of the night telling wild tales and comparing
scars. Everything else was a blur.
      Oh God, had she? had he? Eyes still clenched against
the world, Lara felt down with her hands to tell if she was
wearing any clothing. She still had her shirt and jeans on,
thank God, and she was sleeping alone. Thank goodness for
small miracles. With a groan she sat up, cursing and
holding her head. That wretched liquor left a horrible
hangover.
      Uncertain she wanted to know where she was, Lara
opened her eyes. She was in her hotel room at Flo's, laying
down fully dressed on the bed. Alone. She cast her shaky
memory over the night before, but could find nothing that
involved going to Baron's Head or meeting Flo. Where was
Ben, had he abandoned her after all? That would be bloody
typical of the man. She had spent the night commiserating
over his fallen friends, had helped to bury his mentor, had
shed blood with the man, and now he abandoned her like on
old shirt.
      Cursing his name, his bike, his gender and the
pounding in her head, Lara stripped and managed to stumble
her way into the shower. Never in her life had she prayed
for hot water as much as she did now. Thankfully, her
prayers were answered. Sluicing away the dirt and grime of
the day before did a great deal to wake her and restore her
spirits. It even seemed to reduce her hangover.
      She spent more time in the shower then was purely
necessary and eventually came out feeling clean and at
least half way human. She was wrapped in a towel that was a
bit too small to be used for that job and was in the
lengthy process of drying her hair when her door was shaken
with a rapid series of strong knocks. Lara winced. Did
whoever that was have to knock so loud? "Lady Grace?" She
heard Ben call through the door.
      Mentally, she took back some, but not all, of what
she had thought about Ben this morning. She rose and opened
the door. Ben's face was bleary and his eyes were
bloodshot. At least my misery has some company. His eyes
popped when they saw her state of undress and he openly
checked her out.
      Lara tried to ignore him, but his eyes were like
irons burning into her She was acutely aware of just how
little of her the towel covered. "I asked you not to call
me that." She said, turning back to the bed and rubbing her
head.
      Ben came into the room and she could feel him ogle
her behind. "So, Lady Grace," she took back the taking back
of some the things she had thought about him. "When are you
going to be ready to go?" He closed the door and leaned
back against it, his eyes fixed on the bottom hem of her
towel. She thought black thoughts towards him and made sure
the hem was still where is was supposed to be.
      She took a look at Ben. His hair was more unkempt
than usual and he looked soiled. It was a small consolation
to know that he hadn't spent his night any better than she
had.
      Lara resumed drying her hair. "About 20 minutes, I
think. Time enough for you to take a shower, at least."
      "I don't need a damned shower." He scowled.
      It was far too early to deal with his stubbornness.
"Ben, you look terrible and you smell like a trash heap."
Lara scolded him as she began to comb out her hair. He
watched her hands like he was hypnotized. "You need a great
deal more than a shower, but I am afraid that it is all I
have on hand. Where did you spend the night, anyway?"
      "The dumpster outside the Kickstand." He grunted. She
thought she heard him mutter "again," but wasn't sure.
      "Do you know how I got here?" she asked. She wanted
to change but there was no way she was doing it with him
standing there.
      "Quohog called Flo, and she came and got you. She
wanted to get me too, but I figured I was better off
sleeping in a pile of garbage." He knew she wanted to
change as well, and made no sign of moving. "We should
clear out before some one from the Leathernecks find out
we're here. You should hurry up." He smirked.
      In your dreams, sport. "I'm not going anywhere until
you bathe," she said stubbornly and pushed him into the
bathroom. When he opened his mouth to protest, she covered
it with her hand. "No arguments, sport, get in there," she
insisted and didn't stop pushing until the bathroom door
shut and she heard the water running.
      Lara congratulated herself for her decision to bring
her travel bags inside when she had first arrived here. If
she had kept her gear in her bike, then she would have
nothing on her back, and it would be in a flaming heap
outside the Polecat's camp. I have to get a new means of
transport soon she thought. Riding behind Ben on his bike
had its up side, but was far from a permanent solution to
her problem. Well, he was a biker, he must know some place
she could buy a new bike. Perhaps in Fulsome.
      Once she was sure Ben wasn't going to ambush her, she
dressed quickly in her last pair of jeans and her least
dirty shirt, which happened to be her tank top. She put on
an unbuttoned white collared shirt over top and rolled the
sleeves up. Her gun belt went on after her boots, with all
magazine pouches happily filled, although it cleaned out
her supply of ammunition. Again, she'd have to get some
more in Fulsome. Maybe something bigger, too, like an Uzi
or one of those rockets she'd handled the other day.
      She was packed up by the time she heard the shower
shut off. Lara always traveled lightly for situations just
like this one, and all of her belongings fit easily into
one medium sized back pack. She was braiding her hair when
Ben came out of the bathroom, wearing his T-shirt and jeans
and drying his hair. He doesn't look bad cleaned up she
said to herself, then banished the thought. There was no
time for anything like that, and that avenue was best left
alone. Ben's stubble was still there, but it was shorter
somehow. How does he do that?
      "You should leave you hair down." He said in his low
gravelly voice as he shrugged on his leather jacket. "It
looks better." Lara raised her eye brows. Where had that
come from? It was almost.a compliment. From Ben Polecat.
This was a pleasant surprise indeed.
      She smiled. "Perhaps, but it gets in my face when we
ride."
      He shrugged and went to the door. "You ready to go?"
      "Yes, but I should pay Flo before I leave. I promised
her I'd be here a week."
      She could have sworn that Ben had shuddered. "I'll be
out back. I hid the bike there so one could see it."
      Lara had to know. "What is it with you and Flo,
anyway?" she asked while she shouldered her bag.
      Ben shook his head. "I dance with the lady once, and
she starts picking out a china pattern." He ducked out the
door and went to the back entrance. Lara smiled and shook
her head.
      For the third and last time, Lara walked down the
dingy hallway to the front desk where Flo was reading her
customary E-zine. "Well I'll be," Flo crowed, putting her
hand to her ample chest in mock amazement. "I do believe
that the dead are walking." She smiled and crossed to the
front of the counter. "Honey, you were so drunk last night
I didn't think you'd be up 'till afternoon."
      Lara grinned sheepishly. "Not so loud, please."
      Flo just laughed. "So, you spent the night partying
with Ben Polecat. What's your secret?"
      "Well, I didn't try to get in his knickers at the
earliest opportunity. I think that helped."
      "Shoot, girl, why the hell not? Don't you know a
prime hunk of man when you see one?" She went to the
kitchen entrance. "You figger you're up for some breakfast,
or do you want to take a rain check?"
      Lara shook her head. Even if she hadn't been in a
hurry, she could have done without bland coffee, stale
toast and that wretched soy spread. "I'm afraid I'm in a
bit of a rush, this morning, Flo. I need to check out."
      Flo lost a bit of her smile. "Oh, well sure." She
moved back to the counter. "I know we agreed on a week, but
I won't charge you for food you ain't here to eat."
      "We agreed on a week, and I'll pay a week." Lara
said. She reached into her pack and took out a bill fold.
"Also, its to thank you for coming to get me last night.
I'm afraid I wasn't very lucid." She handed over several
bills.
      Flo laughed. The bills Lara placed on the counter
quickly disappeared from view. "Ain't that the truth. Hell,
I couldn't let my only paying customer pass out in the
middle of the desert." Her eyes twinkled, "besides, I
almost got Ben Polecat to spend the night in my bed."
      Lara chuckled. "I don't think he was that drunk."
      "You know, that's exactly what he said."
      Lara took out several other bills and put them on the
desk. "Flo?" The woman looked up. "You never saw me leave."
      Flo scooped up the bills without blinking. "Shoot,
honey, I'm getting senile. I don't even remember what day
it is."
      "Flo, something very dangerous is happening around
here." She laid some more bills on the table. "You might
want to take a vacation."
      Flo just stared at the money. "Where the hell would I
go?"
      "Well, you have enough for a weekend in Vegas, or a
very long road trip. It's up to you." Lara walked out the
door.
      "Is it that bad?" Flo asked softly. She was counting
the money Lara had given her.
      Lara looked back over her shoulder. "They killed
Father Torque and wiped out the Polecats. Any one who gets
in their way dies."
      Flo turned ashen under her make up. "Lordy. I-I had
no idea."
      "I hear Mexico is lovely this time of year."
      Lara walked around the faded building to the alley,
where Ben was waiting impatiently. "Let's go, Lady Grace,"
Lara rolled her eyes. Now that he knew that his calling her
that annoyed her, he was never going to stop. She stowed
her pack in one of the bike's storage compartments and slid
onto the bike behind Ben. He smelled like old leather and
soap, and a masculine musk. It was decidedly alluring. Stop
it, Lara told herself. We don't have time for this.
      "Flo sends her regards." Lara told his back and heard
him curse silently. Hah. Turn about is fair play, sport.
      They had to creep from alley to alley to keep out of
sight of prying eyes, but they eventually made it out of
town and onto the open road. Both were alert to any
traffic, but they were the only ones on the highway. After
about 10 minutes on the road, Lara spoke. "So who is this
friend of yours and where are we going?"
      "I can't get into Fulsome." Ben replied. "The
Polecats got into a scrap there a few years ago. They ID
check you at the city gates, and I've got an arrest on
sight order against me."
      "So if you can't get into Fulsome, then where are we
going?"
      "I've got a friend who owes me a favour. That
favour's gonna get me into Fulsome."
      He wouldn't say anything else on the subject. When
Lara asked about getting a new bike, he just chuckled. "It
won't be a problem." he said.
      It seemed that for the moment, there was nothing else
she could do. Lara sighed, sat back and enjoyed the view.
      * * *
      Ben pulled up in front of Corley Motors a few hours
later. As he passed their old hide out, he wondered whether
or not he should warn the Vultures about the Leathernecks.
There did have a truce. Na. The Vultures were tough, and
they could always rocket boost out of a problem.
      Ben's mind was whirling. What happened next? His
whole life had been turned upside down. Again. His gang was
gone and he'd been chased off his turf. Father Torque was
dead. That really hurt. Torque had been more of a father to
Ben then his son of a bitch old man had ever been. He's
taken a pissed off out of control brawler and made him one
of his own. The day Ben got his colours from Torque had
been the second proudest day of his life, right behind the
day Torque handed control of the gang over to Ben.
      Now he was here again, at the Corley Motors Factory,
re-opening old wounds. When he'd left Mo last year he'd
thought she was out of the picture forever. He had no idea
what seeing her again would be like. She'd asked once if
they could see a lot of each other. The answer had seemed
obvious then, but now? Mo was about his last friend on
Earth, maybe.
      I've gone soft in the head. He was still warped over
his gang being wiped out, and it was messing with his mind.
I've gotta stay hard, for them. He couldn't even the score
for the Polecats if he was all weepy, and he still had a
job to do. I gotta find out who ordered the Polecats
killed, then I can start butt kicking. It was a statement
he'd repeated to himself several times that morning and he
knew that he'd be saying it a lot more before all this was
done. He extended the kickstand with more force than was
really necessary and dismounted. After a night in a
dumpster and a few hours on the road, he was stiff as a
board and sore as hell. You're not a kid anymore, Polecat.
Lara, in contrast, uncoiled off his machine like a cat. She
moved like a dancer, and you'd never know that she had
spent the last two hours stuck on the back of a bike.
Bitch.
      "Corley Motors?" Lara asked, looking at the company
crest on its revolving sign. "Well it seems appropriate,"
What was she talking about? "Being a biker and all. Who do
you know here?" She paused and answered her own question.
"Oh, yes. Maureen works here."
      Ben shot her a look. How did she know about Mo? He
thought back and had a dim memory of telling Lara the whole
story last night during their second bottle. Right before
she had sold him that whole cock and bull Atlantis story.
"You just find a bike," he growled, walking towards the
main door. "There's a showroom out front. I'll meet you
later." He didn't wait for an answer.
      Let Lady Grace do whatever the hell she wanted. Right
now, he had to go open a book that he'd thought was closed
for good..
      * * *
      Lara wandered about the showroom, examining
motorcycles. Ben was certainly right about one thing:
Corley made excellent motorcycles. She recognized Ben's
model, though his was somewhat.modified from the version
she saw in front of her. Lara sighed. She missed her latest
bike. She had almost broken it in, but now it was part of a
chrome pretzel outside of the Polecat's camp. Her bike
before that, a Yamaha that she had owned for years, was
somewhere at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea . She was
hard on bikes. Actually, she was hard on a great number of
things: motorcycles, clothes, furniture, men. It was
regrettable and expensive, but it came part and parcel with
her rather unconventional lifestyle.
      She was examining the bikes on her own, after having
sent the annoying salesman away. The man was so artificial
that he was clich‚. His looks were obviously surgically
enhanced, and his smile was too big, to gleaming and to
white. She wondered idly if he was a refugee or burn out
from Holowood. It wasn't as much his appearance as much as
it was the way he so obviously looked down at her. He has
asked her if her 'husband' was coming to help her out, and
had taken care to show her the vanity mirror and other
cosmetic features. She had waved her gold card in his face
and threatened bodily harm before he had gotten her
'subtle' hint. Men.
      She couldn't help but compare 'Brett' with Ben. Next
to the ornery biker, the oily salesman seemed very small
and artificial. With Ben, everything was honest, everything
was real. He was 100% man and didn't have to hide behind
tooth brighteners or cosmetic surgery to prove it. He
radiated a presence that she couldn't help but be drawn
towards. He didn't just feel emotions, he exuded them. She
had been chilled when Torque had been killed. Ben had been
so cold. When he had declared Gunny and his Leathernecks
dead, it hadn't been a sorrowful cry for vengeance, it was
a statement of finality.
      She was mildly annoyed at Ben's snappish behavior,
but not surprised. The poor man was hurting right now. He
may have thought that he was hiding it, but he was a
walking wound. Hopefully the conversation he was going to
have with Maureen Corley, whatever relationship those two
had, would help him. If he was serious about hunting down
Gunny and his Leathernecks, then he was going to have to be
focused, otherwise he would get both himself and her
killed. Hopefully he wasn't so far gone that he didn't care
about that. He seemed to have his head firmly on his
shoulders, but grief was a funny thing. As well I should
know.
      She still wasn't sure what Ben thought about her
being here. He hadn't run off on her, which was a good
thing, but she was sure that she didn't rate very high in
his priorities. Right now she was just some one to help him
achieve his vengeance, a means to an end. It hurt a bit,
she was startled to find, but wasn't surprising. She was
going to have to watch her behind, and probably his as
well, but was all right. All he was to her was a means to a
good story, wasn't he?
      She wasn't being honest with herself. She was here
for the thrill of it plain and simple. She had no need for
money, any story she got out of this whole thing was just
that, a story. She was here for the same reason she had
taken that job for Natla: the challenge, the mystery, a new
notch on her belt. Yes, Torque had been a friend and it
would be satisfying to see his killers brought to justice
or just killed, but really Lara wanted to say that she had
tussled with a biker gang and come out on top.
      It wasn't a healthy reason for doing things. Her
father had disowned her for her daredevil attitude. It had
cost her a few friendships but gained her some notoriety.
So far it had been worth it, but would it be later? She
knew her fame was fleeting. If she stopped making headlines
she would be soon forgotten and after that, all she would
have was an empty house and no one to share it with. Maybe
she was getting to old for this, maybe it was time to
settle down.
      Ugh. Depressing thoughts were not in order right now.
She smiled at the salesman who paced impatiently in the
corner and beckoned him over. He scurried over to her
obsequiously. "Do you have any questions regarding our
motorcycles?" he asked with an artificial smile.
      "Yes." Lara looked at the machine in front of her.
"Do you have any in blue?"
      * * *
      The office was different than he remembered it. Of
course, it was daylight this time and he wasn't sneaking
around trying to expose a man for murder. It was also a
year later and a different person sat behind the desk.
Maureen's taste showed in her decorations. She had
thankfully gotten rid off that god-awful neo-gothic art-
deco stuff. There was native American art on pedestals, and
the walls were a light shade of brown. There was a portrait
of the old man next to the window. Pictures of Corley's old
and new adorned the walls, and the classic hard tail that
she had built with her father stood shiny and proud under
his picture.
      Maureen was different, too, and yet the same as well.
Her hair was shorter, more professional looking. She wore
pearls and ear rings and a mauve business suit. She looked
softer. When's the last time you cruised the road, Mo? Her
jaw still had that stubborn set, though, and her dark eyes
still had that rebellious light to them. For a moment all
he could do was stand in the shadows and watch her.
      She was on the phone, arguing about something with
someone. Her voice sounded like he remembered it, soaked in
bourbon. Ben had tried to come through the back way, the
secret passage he had used before, but Maureen had blocked
it. Obviously she didn't like surprises any more than Ben
did. Rather than have her secretary warn her about him, Ben
had ducked in when her back was turned. It seemed better
this way. Seeing Maureen was reliving a bunch of memories
and regrets, something Ben didn't do often. He wasn't sure
what he had expected to feel when he saw Mo, but what he
felt was.nothing. Fond remembrances, yes, but nothing more.
      He stepped out of the shadows and her eyes caught the
movement. For a moment she just stared at him, the phone
hanging forgotten from her hand, then she gave an absent
"I'll call you back." and came to her feet to meet him. For
a moment Ben wondered if he should have done this
differently, but then she smiled.
      "Ben," she seemed to taste the word for a moment
before continuing. "You crusty old biker. Its about time
you came to see me." She extended her hand to shake, then
opened her arms for a hug, then stopped, unsure. Finally
she did nothing, holding one arm while the other fell to
her side.
      Ben brought his hand out to shake hers, then stopped
and hitched it in his belt. There was an awkward moment of
silence. Finally, Ben opened his mouth. "Hey, Mo. Fix any
toasters lately?" He tried to keep his tone light.
      She laughed and leaned back against her desk. "Ya,
it's a side line." She gestured broadly with her arm,
taking in the entire office. "Even though I'm running this
whole company, I still keep in touch with my roots." Her
eyes were sparkling.
      Ben didn't ask for favours much; didn't know how to
do it. How do ask someone to help you get vengeance for
your entire life? "Umm, ya." He mumbled, unable to meet her
eye. "So, how are you doing?"
      Mo shrugged. "All right, I guess." She paused, then
continued eagerly. "So how's everyone? Jackson, Suzi? I-"
she broke off and looked away. "-well I haven't, I mean"
she trailed off, embarrassed. ".. I've been busy." She
noticed that wasn't into the conversation very much. "Ben?"
she asked with concern.
      He didn't know what to say. "Umm, aah"
      "Ben what's wrong?" She asked. "why are you here?"
      He turned and walked to the picture window, idly
stroking the contours of Mo's classic hard tail. He looked
out at the barren landscape, unable to let her see his pain
he bit out the words. "They're all gone, Mo." There was no
way to say it gently. "Torque, the Polecats, they've all
been killed." Saying it out loud made it seem more real,
and a lot more painful. He heard Maureen gasp. He watched
her in the reflection of the glass and saw her looking at
him in shock.
      "Ben , I -" she broke off, searching for words.
"That's terrible."
      Terrible doesn't begin to cover it. "They're gonna
pay, Mo." Ben growled. His voice was flat. It was a promise
made to more than the two of them. "They're gonna pay." He
clenched his fist.
      Maureen came slowly up behind him and put her hand on
his shoulder. "Do you-do you know about Suzie, or the
Vultures?"
      He shook his head. "No, but the Leathernecks don't
take any prisoners and they're tough as hell. If the
Vultures haven't been hit yet, they will be soon." He
turned and faced her. She was standing right in front of
him, her gray eyes filled with concern. He meant to turn
away but just stood there, locked in place by those eyes.
      "Why are you here, Ben?" Her words were barely a
whisper.
      Ben turned away and walked over to her desk. What he
had to say was hard. "I need a favour."
      She just stood by the window and watched him. "What
do you need?"
      Ben's voice grew angry. "The leader of the
leathernecks is meeting with some guy in Fulsome." He
slammed his fist into his palm. "I need to get into there
to find out why he ordered my gang killed." He looked at Mo
and tried to say the words, but they wouldn't come out.
Will you help me, Mo?
      She looked thoughtful for a moment. "Fulsome?" She
asked. "Ben, that place is a fortress.".
      He cracked his knuckles. "You're a big hot shot CEO,
you've got connections."
      She shrugged. "Yes, I guess I do, but."
      "I need to get inside, Mo." His voice was urgent. "I
need to know why."
      She looked at him earnestly. "I-" she looked like she
wanted to say more, but was unable.
      Ben interrupted her. "Can you do it?"
      She sighed and turned away. "Sure, I guess I can."
      "Good." He walked towards the office door. Everything
about seeing Mo again was too painful. He had to get away.
      Her voice stopped him. "Ben?"
      He didn't turn around. "Ya?"
      "Is that the only reason you came?" Her voice was
quiet.
      No. There was more, but he didn't really know how to
say it. "Umm, ah." You're the only part of my life that I
have left. I needed to see you, to know that part of me
still exists.
      "Ben, are you OK?" Mo asked softly.
      He snorted. There was no way he could be less OK.
"Once they're all dead I'll be fine." Maybe. He turned to
Mo again. She was standing near her desk, looking at him
with worried eyes. I'm fine, Mo.
      Her voice was quiet. "I've missed you, Ben."
      Ben opened his mouth then shut it again, unsure of
what to say. For a moment, they just stood there, looking
at one another. "Maureen, I-" Her desk intercom beeped,
interrupting him. Ben was glad of the delay. He didn't know
what to say, what to feel right now. All he felt was pain,
loss and rage. Mo's comment had blindsided him in more way
than one.
      Mo cursed and turned to her desk to touch some hidden
button. "Yes, what is it, Sheila?" Her voice was irritated.
      A tinny voice came from the desk. "Ms. Corley, there
is a Lara Croft here, says that she's here to see a Ben
Polecat. Do you know what she's talking about?" Ben
groaned. The last thing his muddled up mind needed now was
Lady Grace sticking her nose into things.
      Mo shot Ben an unreadable look. "Yes, Sheila, send
her in."
      Behind Ben, the door opened and Lara walked in. He
caught a brief whiff of her smell-herbal shampoo, bike
exhaust and gun oil-as she passed. She walked past Ben,
relaxed and looking at home in Mo's plush office. It didn't
matter that she was wearing black jeans and a T-shirt, it
was the way she carried herself, with a confidence and self
assurance that Ben couldn't hope to match. She walked up to
Maureen and smiled, extending her hand. "Hello, Ms.
Corley," Lara said in her accent. "I'm Lara Croft."
      Mo looked at Lara with another unreadable look as she
shook her hand. "Hello, Lara." Even to Ben, not an
incredibly sensitive guy, it sounded forced. "Nice to meet
you." If Lara noticed, she didn't show it.
      Both women lowered them selves to chairs on either
side of the desk. Ben stood behind them, uncomfortable and
seemingly forgotten. "I understand that you're old friends
with Ben." Lara said in a congenial tone of voice.
      Mo looked up at Ben, her gray eyes locked with his.
After a moment she spoke, her voice quiet, resigned. "Yes,
an old friend. I suppose I am." Huh? She looked back at
Lara "So, how do you know Ben?"
      Lara shrugged her smooth shoulders gracefully.
"Thrown together by fate, I'm afraid. I'm going to Fulsome
with him."
      "Oh." She gave Ben another look. "You are."
      Lara cocked her head, gave Mo a puzzled glance.
"Yes." She looked back at Ben. "Have you settled whatever
business you came here for, Ben?"
      Ben startled. "Ya." He said quickly.
      Mo spoke at the same time, contradicting him. "No -"
Ben looked at her Yes we are. She paused, choosing her
words "I mean-" she broke off.
      "I'm sorry, am I interrupting something?" Lara asked
concernedly, rising from her chair.
      Mo opened her mouth but Ben broke in, overriding her.
"No."
      Both women looked at him with the same cool
expression, in some weird feminine accord. Ben shifted his
feet, uncomfortably, suddenly out numbered.
      Lara walked towards the door, shooting another
mysterious look at him. "I'm sorry." She said to Mo, "I'll
wait outside."
      After the door shut there was a moment of awkward
silence. After a moment, Mo spoke. "Where'd you pick her
up?"
      Ben shook his head, "Croft." saying her name almost
like a curse. He shrugged. "She blew in out of the desert."
      Maureen just looked at Ben with another weird look.
After a pregnant pause she spoke. "Does she have a stake in
this?" She continued hurriedly. "I mean-"
      Ben cut her off. "She saved my butt when the
Leathernecks attacked. I'm not sure why she's here." But I
will. The reasons Lara gave weren't enough. She wasn't
telling him something, and before they went to much farther
Ben was going to find out what they were.
      "Can you trust her?" Mo asked.
      Ben had asked himself the same question more than
once. "I don't know." He thought for a moment. "I think
so."
      "You should be careful."
      Something in Ben snapped. "Every one is telling me to
be careful." He growled angrily. Lara had, at the bar,
Torque had-. Ben clamped down on that thought before it
went any further. As he continued to speak, his voice
continued to rise. "I'm not the one you should be worried
about." He had no idea why he was suddenly so angry, but
suddenly he was yelling. "Worry about Gunny, or his
Leathernecks! They're the one's in trouble!" His fists were
clenched so hard his knuckles were white. "They're all
gonna die. I gonna kill---"
      Maureen rushed up to Ben, gripping his shoulders.
"Ben!" she shook him yelled hi name. "Ben!" he blinked,
suddenly empty, the emotion gone as quickly as it had come.
"I'm sorry."
      Ben shook her off, ignoring her concerned look. He
walked over to the portrait of Malcomn Corley. "Sorry. I'm
having a bad day." That was an understatement.
      Maureen came up beside Ben and leaned against his
leather clad shoulder. "Is there anything I can do?" She
asked quietly. Thank god that was all she said.
      Ben shook his head, snapping out of his funk. He had
a job to do and a long ride ahead of him. Talking to Mo
hurt too much. "You're already doing it." He said to her
gruffly. "Get me into Fulsome. I'll take care of everything
else." He cracked his knuckles and started towards the
door.
      "Ok." Mo nodded and watched him go. As he approached
the door she spoke. "Ben?"
      He turned. "Ya?"
      "If you need me, you know where to call." He could
tell it wasn't what she had intended to say.
      Ben just nodded. "Ya." He opened the office door then
stopped. "And, Mo?"
      She answered almost too quickly. "Yes, Ben?"
      "Um, ah- I mean." It was hard to say. He looked out
the window, at the floor, anywhere but in her eyes. "Err.
Thanks Mo." He said it quickly and shut the door before she
could respond.
      * * *
      Lara leaned against her newly purchased bike, waiting
for Ben It was a small, agile bike, the kind Lara far
preferred over Ben's larger road monster. It was right off
the assembly line, so its chrome was still gleaming and it
still had that new bike smell. It had the latest, most
powerful Corley engine and on an open stretch was probably
almost as quick as Ben's low rider. She had a feeling that
it was going to be put through it s paces in the days
coming up.
      Ben came stomping out of the building about 10
minutes later, visibly in a fowl mood. His talk with Mo
didn't seem to have gone to well. She'd interrupted
something in that office. Hopefully, it wasn't anything to
serious. Ben had better snap out of his funk soon, for
everyone's sakes. She was cutting him some slack now, but
his growly bear act was wearing a bit thin.
      It was obvious that there had been something between
Maureen, sorry Mo, and Ben last year. It was in her eyes
when she looked at Ben, even if he was a bit too numb too
show anything back. Of course, Ben had shown all signs of
being about as sensitive as a brick, so maybe that's how he
acted all the time. Was it serious? Its none of my
business, she said, but she was still curious.
      Ben got onto his bike and scowled at her. "Nice
bike." He squinted at the long empty road. "its about a
five hour ride. Lets go." He left her behind in a spray of
gravel.
      Well, it's better than marrying a debutante and going
to tea parties Lara thought with a sigh as she pulled her
bike onto the highway and drove off after Ben.

     Ben & Lara
     Chapter Seven
     by Ross Jenkins, c 1997

      Ben & Lara VII-Fulsome Nights
      Fulsome was an ugly city, Lara thought to herself as
she waited in a long, exhaust filled line to enter it. It
was essentially owned by a corporate conglomerate, and they
dictated its civic budget as they saw fit. Evidently, their
view of public spending did not include beautification or
anything beyond basic sanitation. It was surrounded by
thirty foot concrete walls that were stained by rust and
soot, and the occasional spire of a high rise or smoke
stack that poked into view looked equally tired and drab.
      It had a very effective and paranoid police force, so
Ben told her. They only enforced the laws they wanted, and
one of those laws was privacy. 'Getting into Fulsome is
harder than screwing a nun' were his charming and
descriptive words. There were only four city gates, one at
each end of the crossed highways that went through the
city. They were paranoid about who got in or out. If you
were on their 'shit list', another of Ben's colourful
descriptions, then there was simply no way in.
      He had supposedly taken care of his clearance with
Mo, during their visit to Corley Motors, but the moment of
truth was coming up soon. The line they were in was inching
its way towards the gate, as city officials did complete
and exhaustive searches of every vehicle. Ben had said that
no guns were allowed in the city, so they had buried Betsy
and Lara's pistols under a rock in the desert.
      Lara was not thrilled about going into the city
unarmed, but Ben had just laughed when she suggested
smuggling them in or bribing a guard to ignore them. That
worried her. Still, if they had to go in unarmed, then it
seemed logical that their enemies would be equally
disadvantaged. It was a small comfort, but a comfort none-
the-less.
      It was early evening and Ben and Lara had been on the
road for most of the day. According to Torque's last words,
Gunny was meeting who ever he was meeting tomorrow some
time at a place called the Rebar. Ben had been a rock for
the entire trip. He had only spoken when she had asked a
question, and most of his answers were rude or abrupt. She
understood his mood, though. He had taken a huge loss and
it was not like she had expected him to be Mr.
Congeniality. Still, a word that she didn't have to pull
out of him like a stubborn tooth would have been nice.
      In front of them a car entered the first set of
gates, then passed out of sight when the gates closed with
a clang. Ben hadn't been kidding about the paranoid
security. If there was a problem with your admission, then
there was no way out of the steel cage. From a impersonal
point of view, Lara had to admire their thoroughness, but
as a person about to be devoured by those same jaws she
found it very imposing.
      Ten silent minutes later, the steel gates opened and
a plain faced man motioned for Lara and Ben to enter. The
two of them drove their bikes in and parked them in the
indicated areas. "Shut off your engines and get off of your
vehicles," He told them in a bored, monotonous voice.
"Present your identification and place all items on your
person into the trays provided."
      As soon as Lara and Ben had dismounted their
machines, another group of inspectors in oily coveralls
swarmed over the vehicles. Lara could see Ben's jaw tense
at the sight of people on his bike, but thankfully he said
nothing. Their same flat voiced inspector fed their ID's
into a computer while another passed their belongings
through a series of metal and explosive detectors. Ben
wasn't exaggerating, Lara thought. The security in this
place is impossibly thorough.
      "Lara Estelle Croft, age 31, born in Sussex England,"
The man read off the computer screen impassively. "Hair:
brown, Eyes: Brown, Height Five foot eight, Weight one
hundred twenty five pounds." As he read off Lara's
statistics he glanced at her, making sure that they
matched. When he had assured himself that she was who she
claimed to be, he continued. "British citizen, in the US on
a three month visa. What's your business in Fulsome?" He
asked, voice flat.
      "Sightseeing."
      He just nodded and typed it into the computer.
"Duration of stay?"
      "Just a day or two."
      He looked at her, annoyed. "Which is it, one day or
two?"
      "Two, I guess."
      He nodded. "Pass through the turnstile. You may
collect your vehicle and belongings on the other side." He
continued speaking what was obviously a oft repeated
statement. "You must sign a waiver stating you know all of
this cities regulations before entry, and may exchange your
money for currency chits at the Currency Exchange only.
Next."
      Lara stepped through the turnstile and waited for
Ben. There was no way inside to see how Ben was going.
Here's where we find out just how helpful Mo was.
      * * *
      This guy was getting on Ben's nerves. "Benjamin
Richard Butterwell, AKA Ben Polecat, age 35, born in
Springfield, Indiana. Hair black, eyes blue, Height six
two, weight two hundred twenty pounds." Ben scowled. He
hated that name and every memory that came with it. Ben
Butterwell had died in a military prison 14 years ago, and
the less said about that the better.
      He glared at the bored inspector and wished violence
upon him. "Get on with it." Man, Mo had better have come
through. If she didn't I am one screwed biker.
      The man gave Ben a short, empty look before
continuing. "US Marine Corps, dishonorable discharge, no
reason stated." He glared at Ben a moment, as if the blank
record was his fault or something. "No current wants or
warrants. Last entered the Fulsome Urban Commercial Zone on
6 March two years ago." Here's where I find out how much
sway the CEO of Corley has in this city.
      The man paused for a moment, and Ben wished there was
somewhere he could run to. There was no jail in Fulsome,
just a coal mine that no one ever came out of. They called
it 'working off your debt', but the street term was much
more colourful: The Black Hole. I ain't gonna rot in no
mine.
      "What's your business in Fulsome?" The man asked, his
voice blessedly bland. Ben let out a breath he hadn't known
he was holding.
      "Tiddlywink convention."
      The inspector gave Ben another bland look.
"Personal." He concluded. "Duration of stay?"
      "Two days."
      "Pass through the turnstile." He continued to read
off his mental cue card. "You may collect your vehicle and
belongings on the other side. You must sign a waiver
stating you know all of this cities regulations before
entry, and may exchange your money for currency chits at
the Currency Exchange only. Next."
      Ben stepped through the turnstile and stepped up the
desk where Lara was waiting and signed away his soul. The
waiver stated that you understood the laws of Fulsome and
that they superseded normal US law in such areas as
privacy, right to bear arms, and freedom of speech. He
walked over to his bike and gave it a quick once over. He
didn't like other people messing with his bike; you never
knew just what they were going to do with it.
      "You somewhat understated the security of this city,"
Lara commented as they walked across the street to the
currency exchange. "I had less of a going over when I met
King Alistair."
      She'd met the king of England? "They're paranoid as
hell here. Corporate espionage is pretty fierce." Ben told
her as they got in yet another line. "Terrorism, too."
      "Why would any biker go into this city?" Lara asked.
"It seems far too. stifling."
      Ben shrugged. "Fulsome's neutral turf for every body.
You can deal in anything here: Guns, drugs, fenced goods.
The brokers stay here because no one can muscle them. The
cops'll protect anyone who pays em enough."
      "So did you get into trouble, the last time you were
here?" She asked.
      Ben grunted. "Some guy insulted my bike."
      She looked perplexed. "That doesn't sound that
terrible. I would think that even a brawl would only get
you deported."
      "The guy was a cop."
      She nodded in understanding. "I see."
      Ben was spared further conversation by their arrival
at the head of the line, and yet another bored looking
bureaucrat. Ben shoved a wad of cash into the slit and the
man handed Ben back a number of oblong plastic blocks, each
with different colours and numbers. What the hell was wrong
with paper cash?
      Behind him, Lara handed through her debit card. "Five
hundred, please." There she was, throwing cash all over the
place again. She took the plastic chips skeptically. "These
are quaint."
      A number of people watched them leave. "Everyone
calls them fuck-bucks." At her raised eyebrows, he
explained. "F C U, Fulsome Currency Units." Lady Grace had
acquired a fan cub, one that had everything to do with the
large stack of fuck-bucks in her pocket. There were three
members, and as Ben and Lara left the building, they
followed. Ben gave them his best glare, and they went back
inside. For now. Pretty soon, though, every mugger and cut
purse in the concrete jungle was going to know by the
grapevine that Lara was little miss money bags. Just what I
need to make this night complete.
      "So what do we do next, find this Rebar place or find
some place to spend the night?" Lara asked as they went
back to their motorcycles. Ben kept watch in his side
mirror, checking to see if any one was following them. No
one was, but several pairs of eyes were following their
progress.
      "I already know where the Rebar is." Ben growled.
"All we do tonight is find some place to lay low."
Hopefully someplace where these turkeys can't find us. He
knew just the place, if nobody had condemned it or burned
it down in the two years since Ben had last been here. It
was called the Four Star Hotel.
      It was in the fraying edge of the commercial sector,
near the industrial zone. The cops in the city didn't give
a damn about law and order unless it dealt with either the
industrial zone, or the executive residential area. Those
area were patrolled so tight not even a yellow bunny could
get through, but any other place in the city had to take
care of itself. No one gave a damn about the neighborhood
where the sagging hotel sat, which made it perfect.
      Ben started his bike and took off. He knew that Lara
was right behind him.
      * * *
      The Four Star Hotel didn't live up to even one eighth
of its name. Perhaps, back in the 1970's when it was built
it had been passable, but it hadn't been maintained since
then and was most definitely a dive. Ben and Lara had a
pair of narrow adjoining rooms on the fifth floor, with a
lovely view of the bright, noisy neon sign and beyond it, a
drab gray factory wall. It seemed appropriate that the only
working letter on the sign, the 'T', was on their floor. It
was hardly her first choice for accommodations, but it had
a bed and a shower so she couldn't complain to much.
      After all, this was Ben's show and she was just along
for the ride. He knew the city, and if he felt the best
place to hide out was in this rather disreputable place,
then she would have to trust his judgement. For now. At
least the laundry worked, and for the first time in days
she had clean clothes. She had even nagged Ben into
surrendering his garbage stained apparel. She was tolerant
and understanding of his moodiness but a lady had her
limits, and the man positively stank.
      At the moment Ben was down in the lounge. He said
that he was going to get some food, over which they would
discuss their plans for the next day, to surveil the Rebar
and find out who Gunny was meeting and why. Lara had been
on line with her editor while waiting for Ben to return,
discussing her story and editing her last submission. He
had been enthusiastic about her recent involvements, and
was eager for more.
      She was of mixed feelings about that. Up until
yesterday, the events that she had been writing about had
been to faceless abstract people: a biker and his gang, a
new tough muscling into his territory. It was different
now. The events that she would be chronicling were about
real people: Willie and his duplicity, Torque and his
valiant sacrifice, Ben and his loss. It seemed wrong to be
making money off of their loss and pain. Her editor hadn't
agreed with her moral dilemma, but that was hardly shocking
news. She'd agreed to discuss things later, but that was
only delaying the problem, not solving it.
      There was a pounding at the door and Lara's stomach
growled. It's Ben, his arms full of food. She got to her
feet from the double bed on which she had been sitting and
went to the door to open it for him, a smart remark on her
lips. She had just turned the handle on the door when it
flew open. Lara had very good reflexes and almost managed
to avoid the door, but it still caught her hip and sent her
flying.
      Lara rolled with the blow and used its momentum to
bring her to her feet. She automatically reached for her
pistols and remembered a moment later that they were buried
out the desert somewhere. Weaponless but by no means
helpless, she faced her intruders.
      There were three of them. The first was a wiry
Hispanic in jeans and an under shirt wielding a nunchaku.
Another had long greasy hair and had a pair of wicked
looking double edged knives. The third was very tall with
shoulders that could have spanned the English Channel. He
had a baseball bat. This is not good. Lara had no idea why
they were here and they said nothing that enlightened her.
      "Can I help you?" Lara asked, trying to keep her
voice light. In the past, some of Lara's opponents had been
enraged or had misjudged her on the basis of her light,
polite words. Considering that she was bare handed against
three unpleasant looking men, Lara needed every advantage
she could.
      "Chicka," the Hispanic said to her in a thick accent.
"You're going to give us everything you got." He grinned
ferally and advanced into the room.
      "Why do I get the impression that you want more than
my money?" Lara asked, backing up a step and looking for
either a weapon or an exit. Unfortunately, neither
presented itself.
      The Hispanic smiled again, revealing gaps in his
teeth. "You're a smart lady." He swirled his nunchaku
before him in a vicious figure eight. "You give us your
money and let us have fun, we might tell our boss we never
found you."
      Threats not withstanding, Lara's interest was peaked.
Boss? "And who would your employer be, then?" she asked,
keeping her eyes on the swirling block of wood.
      "Mr. Williams wants to meet you and your boyfriend."
The knife wielder said, stepping towards Lara with a leer.
He flicked a glance down to her bosum, and Lara took full
advantage of his momentary distraction.
      Lara lashed out with her foot, smashing it into the
knife wielders knee cap. "And who-" He cried out in pain
and stumbled forward. Lara drove her palm into his chin. He
fell and she turned to face the remaining two men. "-is Mr.
Williams?"
      The nunchaku wielder said nothing, just charged her
and lashed out with his flail. Lara jumped back, avoiding
his blows. It would only take one strike to take her out of
this fight, and then he would be free to have his 'fun'.
She could see the bruiser with the bat coming at her from
the side, trying to blind side her. Lara kept moving back,
trying to keep both men in her field of vision.
      This room is too damned small. It had taken her no
time at all to get backed into a corner. Lara needed a
great deal of room to fight effectively, and these
gentleman had so far been very unobliging. The 'chuck
wielder smashed the lamp as she ducked his blow and the bat
man, no pun intended, put a hole in the wall. As he paused
to rip his weapon out of the wall, Lara managed to get one
kick into his side, but it didn't seem to phase him. I
certainly hope that something I throw can take him down.
      The Hispanic lashed out with his two piece rod, and
Lara dove onto the bed to avoid him. She was getting
nowhere fast. She rolled of the bed to her feet just in
time to face the bat man. He swung at her but she stepped
into his attack, kneeing his crotch and driving a fist into
his short ribs. He grunted and sagged, but didn't fall. So
much for that idea. Before Lara could jump back or press
the attack, he smashed down with the pommel of the bat onto
her head, just above her hair line. Lara's vision flared
white and she fell.
      Gritting her teeth against the pain, she tried to
stay focused as the 'chuck driver leaned over her. Pushing
up from the ground, she slammed her foot into his face. He
staggered back, blood streaming from his nose, cursing. The
bat man swung at her, but Lara dodged and rolled behind
him. He turned to face her just as she came to her feet.
      He swung his bat in a powerful strike that Lara knew
would break something if it hit, but she retreated out of
the way. The power of his strike turned his side to her,
and she brought her foot up in a round house kick to his
head. The brute still didn't go down. Does he have any
vulnerable spots? Where was the nunchaku man? She cast her
eyes about, trying to find him. A blur from the corner of
her eye was the only warning she had. Ducking under his
swing, she stepped towards him and drove her fist into his
solar plexus.
      The blow stunned him, and Lara took full advantage of
it. She rose, using the motion of her ascent to drive her
elbow into his jaw. His head snapped back and he staggered.
Lara heard the unstoppable man the bat coming up behind
her. She grabbed the Hispanic by his arm and turning, hip
threw him into the oncoming attack. The bat man was unable
to stop his swing, and the Hispanic smashed into the bat
with the sound of breaking bones.
      Lara tried to move to the man's side to get an attack
in without having to face that wicked bat, but he was too
fast. He swung his weapon in fast, brutal arcs, to fast for
Lara to get past his guard. Gritting her teeth, she backed
away, dodging. It was the only thing she could do, and it
was only delaying the inevitable.
      He swung at her several times, backing Lara farther
into a corner with each attack. Lara was running out of
options when the man suddenly fell. Ben stood behind him.
      "Tire iron." He said dryly. "Don't leave home without
it."
      "I'll keep that in mind." Lara replied, looking
around the wrecked room, surveying the three sprawled
bodies. She turned to Ben. "Did you get dinner? I'm
starved"
      * * *
      Ben peeked into the hotel lobby and cursed. There
were five more guys blocking the front entrance. They'd
already tried to duck out the back, but that way had been
guarded. Now the front was blocked too. Whoever this
'Williams' guy was, he sure wanted Ben and Lara bad.
      He'd spotted the bartender slip something into his
beer and had 'persuaded' the guy to tell him that somebody
was after him and Lara. He had gotten back up stairs just
in time to help Lara trash the third of three bozos that
had gone after her. They had tied the guys up, packed up
their stuff, and made their way downstairs.
      It didn't make sense. The only people who might be
interested in Lara would have been anyone who had seen her
flashing all that cash around. That meant maybe a few
stiffs, or maybe a small gang. She hadn't shown off that
much money. Who ever these guys were, they were too tough
and too organized to be local thugs. Lara had said that
'Mr. Williams' wanted to see them, but the name meant
nothing to him. Ben knew who most of the major players in
the desert were, and this Williams guy wasn't one of them
either. Of course, Gunny had come out of the blue as well,
and toasted the Polecats. Ben wasn't as in the loop as he
had used to be. Maybe I'm getting old.
      About ten more guys came into the hotel. A bald guy
with shades, the leader from the looks of it, spoke to one
of the stiffs who waited by the door. Whoever he was
talking to shook his head, then Baldy and his guys walked
towards the stairs. It didn't take a motorcycle engineer to
figure out where they were going or who they wanted.
      "The front door is blocked and there's a bunch of
guys coming this way." Ben whispered to Lara, who crouched
in the stairwell behind him. There was blood trickling down
her forehead, but she was still standing and hadn't bitched
about it, so it couldn't be too bad.
      "Where can we go then?" she whispered. Her voice was
totally calm. She could have been asking what price the gas
was.
      Ben cracked his knuckles in frustration. "Back up
stairs, I guess."
      They were only one floor up when they heard the
stairway door open below them. Ben tried to stop moving
before they heard him, but it was too late. "Hey, some
one's on the stairs!" he heard a guy call out, then they
began to run.
      Ben cursed. He hated running and hiding, but he hated
unfair fights more. He could probably handle three on one,
maybe four on one, but there was no way he and Lara could
take on ten guys. He began to run up the stairs, Lara just
ahead of him.
      He had no idea how far he ran, but suddenly there
were no more stairs. We're at the roof. Lara slammed the
door open and Ben ran through at her heels. Ben panted with
the exertion, but Lara barely seemed winded. Bitch.
      Ben put his hands on his knees, gasping for air.
"Hold the door!" Lara barked. Ben heard footsteps and
looked over. The handle was turning. He slammed his body
into the door and gripped the door handle. He heard a body
on the other side stumble back at the force of Ben's hit
and fall. Take that.
      A person slammed into the door, but Ben was braced
and kept it closed. "Are you going to find something to
block it or were you thinking of having a tea party first?"
Ben growled at Lara. She didn't answer but came back a
moment later with a broom handle. There were two guys
pushing now, and it was getting harder for Ben to keep them
back.
      "Sorry, I stopped for biscuits," Lara quipped as she
braced the broom stick at an angle between the door handle
and the floor. "It will hold them for a moment, but not
much more."
      Ben said nothing, just walked out and tried to find
another way off the roof. After a moment he cursed. There
was nothing that didn't involve becoming street pizza. "Any
bright ideas, Lady Grace?"
      Lara looked thoughtful for a moment. "There's an
extendable ladder on that next building we can use as a
bridge." She told him, pointing it out.
      Ben looked. Yes, there was a ladder, but there were a
few problems with that idea. He glared at Lara. "Its on the
other building." He told her. Is this lady nuts? "If we
could get to it, we wouldn't need the ladder."
      She just smiled at him and patted him patronizingly
on the shoulder. Ben bristled. What the hell was she up to?
"Don't worry, Ben. I've got it covered."
      Huh? "What do you mean?" he asked, knowing full well
that he didn't really want to know the answer. He saw her
visually measuring the distance between the two buildings
and gaped. No way. She couldn't-she wouldn't.
      It was over twenty feet away!! She really was nuts.
No way Lady Grace, or any one who wasn't on the Olympic
track team, could make a jump like that. It wasn't worth
it, she couldn't do it, it wasn't the right way for a woman
like her to go. "Lara!" he yelled and tried to grab her
arm, but it was too late.
      With a running start eight stories above the cold
hard concrete, Lara Croft soared between the hotel and
whatever building was next to it. It was breath taking. She
looked natural in flight, like the rest of her life was
just those annoying moments between leaps. For a moment, a
beautiful, wonderful moment, it was as if she could ignore
gravity.
      Then the moment ended. Oh, man, she's gonna fall. Ben
watched in horror as she fell short of the mark. It was
like the last part of his life fell with her. No. She can't
go like this. As if there was anything he could do could
stop her.
      But she made it. Ben watched, thunderstruck, as she
managed to grab onto the edge of the building with her
finger tips. His heart stopped beating for a moment. She's
gonna fall.
      She stayed there a moment, hanging off the side of
the building. What the hell is she doing? Singing 'God Save
the King?' After a timeless moment she began to pull
herself up. She was so fluid, she made it look easy. Ben
remembered to breathe.
      Across the alley, Lara unfolded the ladder and
extended it across the gap to Ben. Behind him, the pounding
against the door was getting heavier. That broom stick
wasn't going to last much longer.
      As soon as the ladder touched the hotel roof, Ben was
on it, focusing on Lara, ignoring the thin metal frame that
was the only thing between him and street pizza almost
ninety feet below. He glared at Lara, focusing on her and
her cat-ate-the-canary grin. Behind him, he heard the
broomstick break and the door smash open. He'd deal with
Lady Grace in a minute. He had other things to do with
first.
      Ben stepped thankfully back onto firm ground and
reached behind him to pull the ladder off the hotel roof.
One of the guys made a dive for it but missed. By the time
Ben had pulled the ladder back up, all ten guys were at the
roofs edge, glaring. "This isn't over, biker!" yelled the
bald one.
      Ben smirked. "Ya, come over here and say that." Baldy
just glared and cursed, then motioned his guys back
downstairs.
      Two guys stayed up on the roof, keeping watch on Ben
and Lara. They were safe, for now. He turned to Lara,
suddenly furious.
      * * *
      Lara and Ben traversed roof tops for the better part
of an hour, taking care to avoid intrusion alarms and
maintaining a low profile. Luckily, they were in a rather
decrepit part of the city and security was somewhat lax.
She was fairly sure that they had evaded the minions of the
mysterious 'Mr. Williams'.
      They were, however, still on the lamb. They had taken
a look down at the hotel and found it still under watch
both front and back. There were still two thugs on the roof
of the hotel, so that route was out, too. The bald man and
his thugs patrolled every street and alley in a ten block
radius. Ben and Lara couldn't go beyond that range with
just their ladder, the buildings beyond that were either
too short or far too tall. They had been forced to spend
the night in a roof top green house, laying down among pots
of tomatoes and roses. In the morning when the streets
became congested with traffic, they would filter down and
see how much of their belongings were left. In the mean
time, though, there was nothing left to do but cat nap and
brood.
      Ben was furious enough to pull off body parts, and
Lara hadn't been in a mood to argue with him. She'd been
able to delay his tirade while they checked out what their
situation was, but now that they were holed up for the
night she had nothing left to distract him with. She
reclined against a bag of peat moss with a sigh and a wince
at the bump on her noggin.
      "You might as well spit out whatever it is you want
to say, Ben" She closed her eyes and tried to ignore the
throbbing pain. The floor was hard concrete and she was
going to wake up stiff, assuming she got any sleep at all.
It was going to be a long night.
      For a moment there was silence, and Lara wondered if
he was going to speak, but then she heard his low growling
voice "You're completely off your rocker, lady." he sounded
angry. Even with her eyes still closed, she could almost
see his jaw knotting.
      "Oh really?" Lara tried to keep the conversation
light. She was too tired to get into a knock down drag out
argument with Ben, especially on this subject.
      It seemed that Ben wasn't. "You were this close to
missing that jump."
      Lara sighed. "That jump saved your life, Ben. You
never thanked me for that, by the way." It wasn't a good
idea to bait him, but she was getting annoyed.
      "Are you that stupid?" He growled.
      Even if the man was a rude boor, she would remain
polite. "You say the nicest things, Ben."
      Her flip remark only seemed to make him angrier. "All
you've done since I've seen you in this desert is pull one
hair brained stunt after another."
      Lara gave up trying to sleep and sat up. There was
almost no light coming in the greenhouse windows, but she
could see Ben's silhouette sitting with his back to the
green house wall. She tried to keep her tone even, but some
of her crossness came across in her voice. "My 'hair
brained stunts' have saved your life at least three times,
Ben."
      He shook his head. "This isn't about keeping score,
Lady Grace."
      She pulled her knees up and rested her head wearily
on them. "Then what is it about?" she asked. "I've had a
long day and tomorrow will undoubtedly prove longer. I
would like to get some sleep tonight."
      His head shook in the darkness. "What are you doing
here, Lara?" he asked. His voice sounded tired. She
realized that it was the first time he had called her by
her name.
      "At the moment," she told him, "sitting against a bag
of fertilizer." It wasn't the answer he wanted.
      He snorted angrily. "You know what I mean." He
gestured with his hand, and it was momentarily caught in a
weak stream of light. "No reporter I know takes on three
guys in a hotel room then jump off a roof for a damn
story."
      She raised her head and looked at his shadowed form.
"Well, I'm a reporter" among other things "and I did."
      "You shoot, ride and fight too good." Ben said. It
was a compliment, of sorts, although I don't think he meant
it that way. "You don't need the cash," he continued. "You
bought a top of the line Corley with pocket change."
      Lara chuckled. "Hardly." Lara has used up her entire
home reno budget buying that bike. She was going to have to
sell her soul to the bank to keep herself in the black.
Hopefully the returns from her story would help, though.
      Ben wasn't listening. "And you've been flashing cash
around ever since I've met you."
      "It's an expense account." She told him. "It's not my
money." That wasn't totally true. Food and shelter were
covered by her magazine, but other things like the $1000
she had given to Flo had come from her own pocket.
      "No." His tone was flat. "I don't trust you. You've
got some sort of death wish, and sooner or later it's gonna
catch up with you."
      That hit a little close to home. Ben was more
intuitive than she had given him credit for. "What does it
matter, Ben?" It wasn't a denial. She didn't want to lie to
him. "I want to help you, and we work well together."
      "You jumped into this whole damned thing on a whim,"
he said accusingly. "And you could leave me in the lurch
just as easy."
      Ah, so that was what this was about. "What do you
want me to say, Ben?"
      He was silent for a moment. "I don't know."
      "Do you want my word?" She took his silence for
assent. "Very well, I promise that I will stay and help you
find Gunny and who ever hire him to kill Father Torque and
your gang." She paused. Her voice was quiet. "I'll stay
until you send me away." She looked into his eyes, or where
she thought they were. Something passed between them.
Agreement? Camaraderie?
      Again, he was silent. "Don't tempt me." His voice was
light, accepting.
      They said nothing for a few minutes, just sharing the
same space, comfortable for the moment with each others
presence. After a while Lara spoke. "If there's nothing
else, I'd like to get some sleep." She tried once again to
find a comfortable spot to lay down.
      She heard Ben lay as well. "Good night, Lady Grace."
      "Please call me Lara," she said softly. She wanted to
hear him say her name.
      He squirmed on the floor a few feet away from her.
"Lady Grace is a biker's name." She heard him say. "It
suits you."
      The man certainly knew how to ruin the moment. "I'm
not a biker chick." She said crossly.
      "I said biker," Ben corrected, "not biker chick. No
way you could be anyone's kept woman."
      Was that a compliment? Was he acknowledging her as a
member of his elite fraternity? She smiled. "Thank you, I
think."
      They shared comfortable silence for a while, until
Lara finally fell asleep.

      Ben & Lara Chapter Eight
      by Ross Jenkins, c 1997 Ben & Lara VIII-Killing Time
      It seemed very odd to Lara that the quintessential
biker bar, The Rebar, was in Fulsome, the most paranoid,
controlled
      city in the country. The Rebar was dimly lit and
spacious. A long battered bar went along the length of one
wall, and an
      annex held billiard tables and video games. There
were various chipped tables and chairs around one end, and
a hard
      wood dance floor. Gang crests, dating back to the
legendary Hell's Angels, filled the walls, along with the
occasional
      wanted poster, license plates, and motorcycle
posters. The staff all looked rough and ready, serving food
and beer to
      the varied clientele that occupied the place. Ben and
Lara had been here since noon, in disguise and keeping
their eye
      out for Gunny. They had snuck down off their building
around 8:30, after a brief and uncomfortable sleep in the
green
       house. They had paid a street rat to go into the
Four Star Hotel and get what was left of their things. Most
of their stuff
      had little value, such as toiletries and clothes, and
had been left alone, but Lara's computer had been stolen.
Luckily,
       she had had the forethought to upload her files to
her FTP sight and had wiped the drive clean. She did not
want the
      mysterious 'Mr. Williams' getting her files and thus
access to who she was. Their bikes were in a private garage
and
      thankfully hadn't been touched. She and Ben were in
disguise, and Lara hated it. Ben had argued that she had to
look
      different then she had when Gunny had last seen her,
and that she had to blend into the crowd at the bar.
Personally,
      she thought Ben had an ulterior motive in dressing
her like this, either just as an excuse to ogle her or as a
way to test
      her resolve. He still didn't totally trust her
motives and a 'test' like this was not beneath him.
Whatever his motives,
      she was dressed to 'blend in', and had to admit that
she certainly looked different. She wore a cleavage
enhancing
       halter and a black leather mini skirt that she had
reluctantly bought this morning. Her hair was down and she
was
      wearing far too much makeup. She felt like a piece of
meat, and only Ben's presence was keeping her from being
       ravished by the entire establishment. The former
leader of the Polecats certainly was changed. He had
reluctantly
      removed his precious jacket and wore instead a plain
studded denim vest over a ripped, sleeveless Corley T-
shirt.
      His hair had been died blonde and slicked back with
gel. The most amazing thing though was that he had actually
      shaved. Lara's jaw had almost dropped when she had
seen that. He must really take his vengeance seriously
      to make a sacrifice like that. He looked good, Lara
had to admit. He had an excellent physique that his tight
      shirt revealed, and his bare arms were corded with
muscle. His bare face emphasized his jaw, and his hair
brought the blue of his eyes. Hopefully it was enough of a
difference that Gunny would not recognize the couple if,
when, he came to the place to meet whoever it was he was
here to meet. It seemed a bit of a long shot, coming to
Fulsome to see who Gunny was meeting on the word of a dead
man. What if Torque heard wrong? What if Gunny said it as
misinformation and this entire thing was a trap? Lara had
asked herself these question and several others several
times as she and Ben sat here. In the end, though, it came
down to the fact that it was their only lead. They were
seated near the back with a good view of the door, slowly
nursing god-awful beer and eating their way through the
bar's limited menu. Lara's back was to the wall, which
meant that watching the entrance fell to her. So far,
nothing. Glancing over at Ben, she saw that he was smiling.
It was small, and a little bittersweet, not his customary
smirk but an actual smile. Only a biker could enjoy himself
while unarmed in a city filled with people who want to kill
you. "You look like your enjoying yourself far too much."
She accused him. Ben chuckled and grinned ruefully. "This
place takes me back." He said to Lara. He scratched at his
scalp in irritation. "Its like I just got out of Diego, and
came into the desert for the first time." He stuffed a
whole potato skin into his mouth. Too much grease. Lara
shuddered silently. "Diego?" She asked. Ben stared off into
the distance, eyes full of fond memory. "San Diego." He
told her. "Its on the southern end of the LA sprawl." Ah. I
knew that you weren't born in this desert. "Your home
town?" she asked. "No." Ben shook his head. "It was just
where I was before I came here." He reached for the last
potato skin but stopped and looked at Lara. She shook her
head and Ben devoured it. The man has no manners "I see."
She glanced at Ben but mainly kept her eyes on the door.
"And why does this remind you of that?" Ben trailed his
finger idly around the empty plate on the table. "I was
young, full of attitude." He was full of attitude then? "I
had no colours. First thing I did was walk into a bar just
like this and piss off the biggest Rott-wheeler you've ever
seen." Lara leaned forward, intrigued. It was easy for her
to picture the scene. Ben would have been younger, less
weathered. His eyes would have all the fire that they did
now but none of the wisdom. She could picture his macho
swagger, his pores oozing attitude. "What happened?" Ben
chuckled and grinned ruefully. "I got my ass kicked pretty
bad." He scratched his scalp again. "I was way outa my
league." Lara was surprised that Ben would admit to such a
thing. She raised her eye brows. "Surely there's a happy
ending to this story?" "Sure." Ben gulped down some beer.
"I was too stupid to stay down, so every time the big son
of a bitch knocked me over I got right back up again." Lara
had seen that same trait during the Leatherneck attack. She
wasn't sure if 'stupid' was the right phrase. "I would have
killed my self if Father Torque hadn't stepped in." Ben
continued. When he mentioned his mentor's name, pride and
sadness crept into his voice. "Even back then he was still
called Father Torque, the man was born old." Ben spent a
moment lost in nostalgia, then continued. "Anyway, he was
so impressed with my stubbornness he bought me a drink. He
gave me a shot to join the Polecats, which I took. I failed
the initiation test the first three times, but I was so
damn stubborn," You still are "I kept at it until they let
me in." Lara studied Ben's face. It was good to see him
relaxed. His jaw wasn't clenched and his eyes weren't
squinting. It made him look younger, better. "What sort of
test?" she asked. Ben looked up at her, met her gaze with
his own. Even relaxed, his eyes were intense, so full of
purpose. She couldn't help but be lost in those eyes. "The
Old Mine Road." His voice was absent, distracted. For an
eternal moment they just looked at each other, then Ben
looked away and the moment was gone. It took Lara a moment
to remember to breathe. "It's where all the bikers go to
break in newbies." Ben continued gruffly. "You just drive
around picking fights with whoever else is there." Lara
very firmly locked her eyes on the door. She could look at
anything but Ben. "Sounds charming," she forced herself to
say. Ben chuckled. "Ya, well, it ain't Wheel of Fortune."
He scratched furiously at his scalp. "You've gotta get
trophies from
       your wins, and the one I had to get to pass the test
was this one Rott Wheeler's jacket." She smiled. "And this
       person took you three tries?" "Ya. His bike had
more power than mine back then, so every time he saw me
      he'd just take off." Ben extended one hand away from
his body in a 'flying off' gesture. "I was getting pretty
       pissed at eating his dust," I can imagine, "So the
third time around as I got up to him I managed to stick a
      piece of wood into his spikes." Ben shrugged. "He
flipped up and I grabbed his coat. That's when I got Betsy.
      " The name sounded familiar. "Betsy, your gun?" Ben
nodded. "If he had a gun the entire time," Lara asked, "
      why didn't he just shoot you?" Ben looked at her like
he would a none-so-smart child. "It's part of the Code."
      He put an emphasis on the last word. "The Mine Road
is about bike fights, not gun fights." He spoke with
finality.
      Lara admired his faith in his code, but still. "Well,
I admire your self control. The people I tend to run into
tend
      not to have any rules of engagement." And I've got
the scars to prove it. Ben's eyes and face went hard. "Ya,
      I run into them sometimes too." Gunny. The name
passed unspoken between them, and suddenly the mood
      was shattered. She could see the change in Ben as he
remembered why he was here and the pain that the man
      had given him. His shoulders clenched, his jaw
tightened and his eyes turned cold. They sat in awkward
silence for
       a moment, then Ben began scratching at his dyed
scalp. "I hate this damn hair dye. It itches." Lara tried
to lighten
       the mood. "It will wash out in the morning, or" she
added with a smile, "next week, when ever you decide to
bathe
      again." It seemed to work. Ben relaxed, if only a
bit. "Funny." He grunted. He just sat there, looking at
her. Lara
      tried not to squirm under his scrutiny and kept her
gaze on the bar. So far, no Gunny. After a while he spoke,
his
      voice quiet. "I don't get you, Lady Grace." Believe
me, its quite mutual. "What is there not to get?" She asked
      coolly, still not meeting his eyes. He scowled a bit
at her obscure answer. "You're to good for this desert."
She
      smiled at the compliment. From Ben, they were few and
far between. "That's not saying very much." She said
       lightly. He narrowed his eyes. "You know what I
mean." He wasn't in a mood for banter. "You should be
hosting
      tea parties. Marrying some stuck up guy and having
rugrats." Ugh. By far her worst nightmare. "Believe me,"
      Lara told him, giving him a cool glance. "I far
prefer it here." He frowned. "Why?" His eyes pierced into
hers.
      "People only come to the desert when they've got no
where else to go." Lara was lost in his stare. "I'm only
visiting."
       She could feel herself flushing. Ben just kept on
staring at her. Did he know what his gaze was doing to her?
      "Slumming?" His voice was a low, sexy growl. She
swallowed. "I'm not slumming now." It was a whisper, full
       of passion and desire. Ben eyes were smoldering.
"Who are you?" he asked. It was too much, too intense.
       She couldn't do this right now. He was to.much
Suddenly looking away, she laughed lightly. "I'm Lara."
      It was a cop out and they both knew it. Ben's scowl
returned with a vengeance. "Yeah," his voice was disgusted,
      resigned. "I guess you are." * * * Ben was fuming.
Damn Croft. Damn her and her deep brown eyes and her sexy
      British laugh. Damn her sexy figure, especially in
the skimpy clothes she was wearing. Damn her and her
      'I'm tougher than the rest of the world and I'm going
to prove it' attitude. Most of all, damn him for getting
      sucked in by her. Shortly after their conversation,
Lara had ducked out to go to the can, leaving Ben fuming at
the
       table. He'd spent too much time drooling over Lara
and tripping down memory lane. He was here in this bar for
a
      reason, actually for 15 reasons: Torque, Jackson, and
the rest of the Polecats. He had a job to do. It was more
than
       just revenge, although that was part of it too. The
Polecats were known in the desert for being bad asses. It
was who they were. As it was, the gang he had fought and
bled for was going to go down as 'the guys wiped out by the
Leathernecks'. That wasn't how Ben wanted his boys
remembered. As their gang leader, he was responsible for
them, and as the only survivor he was responsible for their
memory. Even after almost all of them were wiped out, the
Polecats still managed to kick the asses of their enemies.
Ya, that was a good way to go down. It was a good legacy to
pass on. It was all Ben had left to give to his boys, and
it was the only way he could be loyal to the memory of
Father Torque. Still, with all these dark thoughts and
purposes, Ben had to admit that hanging out with Lara Croft
was nice. She was beautiful, smart, funny when she wanted
to be, and tough, though not as tough as she thought she
was. Just sitting back in a bar with a woman, tossing back
a few brews, chewing the shit and telling tall tales, it
felt good. Ben hadn't done anything like that, or found any
one he wanted to do it with, for a long time. Flo didn't
count. By enjoying himself with Lara while he was planning
vengeance for his gang, was he being disloyal to their
memory? He still didn't know. She still wasn't being
straight with him. She was more than a reporter, that was
pretty obvious. She had told him at the Kickstand about
running around in ancient tombs, hunting for Big Foot, and
breaking into buildings. If he had never met her, just
heard the stories, he would blown them off as pure bull
shit. After seeing her in action.well, maybe some of it was
true. It still didn't answer any of Ben's questions,
though. She didn't need the cash, that was for sure.
Considering the rag she was writing for, she wasn't doing
it to get her name in lights. He'd seen her face while
fighting in the Horny Bull, as well as after she had made
that impossible leap yesterday: she enjoyed it. She got off
on the thrill and excitement of it all.
       He was sure that was why she was here, not because
of him. She had blown into his life for the thrill of it,
and odds
      were that she would blow out of it again when the
novelty of hanging out with a biker wore off. As stupid as
it was, it hurt, knowing that she was just hanging around
him for the kicks. You can tell her off, make her hit the
road. As he thought that, he saw her walking back towards
him, with her long legs in that mini skirt, and her ample
charms in that leather top. She may be crazy, but she sure
is gorgeous. Maybe he'd let her stick around for a bit
longer. Even as he thought it, he knew he was acting like a
jerk. I've never gone over the deep end for a chick, why
should I start now? Lady Grace wasn't a chick, though. As
crazy as she was, there was something about her. You're
pathetic, Polecat. Lady Grace walked up to him, hips
swaying sensuously. Ben didn't think she even did it on
purpose, it was just part of her natural style and grace.
Her walk, combined with her sexy clothes, made Lara a very
noticed and admired woman. Even though it was stupid, Ben
still felt a flash of macho pride when she ignored the
other men and came over to him. Looking is as close as you
guys are ever going to get Ben thought with a smirk as
other bikers and wannabes sent him envious looks. "Any
luck?" Lara asked by way of greeting. Ben just grunted and
shook his head. It was the waiting that was a killer. When
the enemy was in sight, it was easy to keep his mind on
vengeance, but while he was just sitting here boiling in
his own juices and Lara was so close. He cursed. It was
going to be a long day. They said nothing for a while, just
sat at the table in silence. She still had that aura of
sexiness that had nailed Ben's tongue to the table earlier.
He did his best to ignore it, and her, but was only half
successful. She was to.much. Ben kept his eyes on the door,
the bar, the roof, the stage, anywhere but at Lara. She
seemed to have similar intentions, for she seemed focused
on a picture behind Ben's elbow. It was just as well, He
knew that if he looked in her eyes again, it would be to
late. After twenty quiet, tense minutes, Lara spoke.
"There's a table free. Would you like to play?" She
indicated the near by pool tables. Ben just shrugged.
Anything beat just sitting around. They got up and made
their way to the bar, where they paid for the table and got
fresh mugs of beer. empty table. Ben let Lara do all the
talking as he just stood back, brooding. They weaved around
the various bikers and toughs as they went to their table,
making sure it had a good view of the entrance. They sipped
beer, Lara grimacing the entire time, as they played pool.
Other then calling shots, they didn't talk much. It took
Ben a while to relax, but after a while he did. With the
pool table to distract them, there was no awkwardness, no
tension. It was easy to just.be.around Lara. There was one
thing had to admire about Lara: she was a very good pool
player, and she was focused. When she was leaned over to
study the table or take a shot, her entire being was intent
on the layout, or on just that one ball. Lucky ball. It was
not a claim that Ben could make himself. When she leaned
over, that black leather mini skirt became so tight.and her
halter barely restrained her breasts. It was hard to keep
his mind on the game, and she was whupping his butt. Both
as something to focus his mind on that wasn't wrapped in
leather, and maybe to distract her, Ben started talking.
"Where'd you learn to play pool?" She was lining up her
shot, and shrugged. "Boyfriend in college." Her stick
connected with the cue ball and it rolled gently down the
table. "He was quite a shark." So are you. The ball gently
nudged the seven and sent it into the corner. "It was
putting his lessons to use that gave me most of my spending
money at school." Ben's brow furrowed. "I thought you were
born into money." She moved around the table, studying the
layout. "Why'd you have to shark your way through school?"
"Thirteen in the corner." She lined up the ball and shot.
"My father has the money, not me." She told Ben as they
both watched the cue ball roll towards her target. They hit
with a 'clack', but her shot missed. "He used it to control
me, where I went to school, things like that." She backed
away from the table as Ben stepped up to it and continued
to speak. "He wanted me to go to a women's college and
marry some young lord, then give him an heir or two." Ben
sank his ball and shot at the five, but missed. "That fate
rested just above being eaten alive by rats, so we had a
fight, I got a scholarship all on my own, scrimped and
saved and went to Oxford." Lara leaned over the table and
tried again for the thirteen. She missed. Hah. Maybe this
is working. "Hmm." He ran his hand across his jaw. It felt
different with no stubble. He shouldn't have shaved. "Five
in the side." Ben shot and smirked when the ball went down.
"That must have driven him nuts." He said, referring to
her. Her old man was a fool if he thought he could control
Lara. Ben had learned that it couldn't be done the moment
he had met her. "Quite." Ben's next shot missed. Lara lined
up and sank three balls in rapid succession. "He cut me off
and disowned me." Right now I don't blame him. Ben glared
at the suddenly bare table. Lara only had the eight ball to
sink and he was behind by three. "That seems pretty harsh."
He said out loud. With no ceremony she sunk the eight ball,
winning the game. Great. She was ahead three games to one.
"Yes, well, my father is a very" she paused, choosing her
words carefully. ".authoritative man." She began pulling up
billiard balls. "Appearance is important to
       him," she continued, "and he's used to getting his
own way. His position and inheritance were very important
to him
       and he thought that they would be to me as well."
She shrugged and caught all the balls in the triangle. "I
don't think he really expected me to turn down his
ultimatum, but I did, and he had to follow through or look
impotent." It didn't surprise Ben at all. She'd laugh at
the devil to his face. "So how'd you get so loaded, then?"
Ben asked as he lined up to break. I'm gonna win this one.
He said to himself, but the pool balls weren't listening.
Nothing went down. Lara raised one of her high class eye
brows. "I'm not as rich as you think I am, Ben." She took a
shot at the two and sank it. "I have an empty old mansion,
some property in the Virgin Islands, and a brand new
motorbike. That's about it." Ben snorted. Oh. Just a huge
house and some property in a Caribbean paradise. That's
nothing at all. Lara took a shot at the seven, but missed.
"Hmm." Ben said as he came to table. "Do you still talk to
your old man?" At least you know where yours is. He took
down the fourteen but missed the eleven. "Yes." Lara
nodded. "Every now and then." She sunk the three and lined
up on the five. "We're both rather head strong," that's for
sure "and deep in his heart I think he's proud of me." She
missed her next shot and shrugged. "We exchange Christmas
cards and about once a year I go over for a very starched,
formal dinner that always ends up in a bloody row." "Hmm."
Ben sunk the fifteen but missed the eleven again. Lara
drank some beer and they played in companionable silence
for the rest of the game. It ended in a duel for the eight
ball and Ben won. Take that. "What about your father?"
Lara asked as she cued up the next game. Ben said nothing
as he watched Lara break and sink the twelve. He hadn't
thought about his father in years. "He ran out when I was
seven." Ben said flatly as Lara took down two more balls.
He only had a couple of memories of his dad, and none of
them were very nice. "My step dad was a son of a bitch,"
Ben told her as she missed the fifteen and Ben finally got
to the table. "He and my mom died in a car crash." He shot
at the five and missed. He frowned. His mind wasn't on the
game. "How old were you?" Lara asked, leaning against the
table and drinking some beer. Ben scowled. "Fifteen." She
made no move to take her shot. She just looked at him.
"What did you do?" She asked quietly. Ben didn't answer
right away, drinking his beer and not meeting her eyes. How
did this conversation get to be about me? He shrugged. "I
went through about six foster homes, ran with some teen
gangs, acted like a punk." I barely got out of that city
alive. Lara finished off her mug. "That was in San Diego?"
She picked up her cue and sank the nine. Ben shook his head
and answered absently. "No, Springfield." A place I'm never
going to go to again. She sank the eleven. "So how did you
get from there to here?" She asked. Ben opened his mouth to
answer, but closed it again when a face he recognized came
into the bar. He'd been keeping half an eye on the doorway
the entire time they'd been playing, and for the first time
in this whole forsaken day something right was happening.
"Enough of the biography." He snapped. "I recognize that
biker. He's a Leatherneck." Lara looked towards the door.
"The one in the red bandanna?" Ben nodded. "He was at the
Horny Bull." He's the one who slugged you in the face. Two
days later, the bruise was still visible on her face,
although it was fading. Ben wished he could hit the guy
again, harder this time. "He has to be here with Gunny,"
Lara said beside him. Ben just grunted. They both watched
as the guy went over to the bar and flirted with the
waitress. "He's not wearing colours." Ben said. The guy was
checking the place out, looking steadily over most of the
patrons. He knows what we both look like. Ben hurriedly
turned his back to the guy, making sure that Lara was in
front of him. They were both in disguise, but there was no
point in taking chances. "He's on point." Ben growled.
"He's here to make sure there are no traps when Gunny comes
in." Lara's brow furrowed. "That seems like too much
forethought for a biker." She sounded doubtful. "Biker's
aren't stupid." Ben snapped. He thought Lara was smarter
than that. Does she think we're all morons? "The only
reason Gunny got my gang was that he paid Willie to take
out my sentries. Otherwise, he would never have gotten
close. He glared down at her. Her brown eyes were wide.
"Ben" she tried to calm him down. "Be quiet. I didn't mean-
" He cut her off with a sharp gesture. He didn't want to
hear it. "Gunny's a marine." His voice was rising.
"Marine's always recon." Lara hissed something, and
motioned for him to be quiet, but he was too angry. "If we
go after Gunny thinking he's a moron he's -" She grabbed
him. Ben growled and tried to brush her hands away. He was
angry beyond words now. He didn't even remember why he was
so angry, he was just suddenly over come with rage. The
same thing had happened at Mo's office. Lara's hands
weren't budging and on his own, almost against his own
will, his fist balled up to hit her. He knew he was wrong,
but he couldn't help himself. He was about to swing and hit
her-with both of her hands gripping his vest she could
offer no defense-when she jerked his head down towards hers
and kissed him. It caught him totally off guard. His anger
vanished as quickly as it came, and all that existed for
Ben were Lara's
      urgent lips against his and her body pressed against
him. It was.incredible. She was very aggressive, pushing
her
       body against his and plunging her tongue into his
mouth. Her arms snaked behind his head and pulled it even
closer.
       Ben was rigid with shock for a moment, then he began
to kiss her back in earnest. He wrapped his arms around
her,
       feeling the smooth skin of her back against his
hands. Kissing Lara was amazing. The bar, the bikers, his
vendetta all
      ceased to exist. He ran his hands up and down her
back, feeling her responsive body as they embraced. She was
wild
       and passionate, just like he thought she would be. A
small part of his mind asked why she was doing this here
and now,
      but it was a small voice and he ignored it. Their
lips parted and he heard her gasp. She kissed and nibbled
along his jaw
      line, then moved to his ear. "He's right behind us."
She hissed into his ear before moving her lips back to his
mouth. Ben
      stiffened. The Leatherneck was right behind them.
That was why Lady Grace had kissed him. Set my world on
fire.
      It was an act, the passion, the fire, Croft had done
it purely as a distraction so they wouldn't get caught.
       "Kiss my neck so I can see if he's gone." She hissed
when their lips parted again. Ben was almost to addled to
       register what she said, but a moment later moved his
lips down along her jaw to the skin just underneath her
ear.
       Her skin was soft, and she smelled of apples. Its
her shampoo. There was a scent beneath it, though, a musky
       feminine odour that was infinitely more alluring.
Take it easy, tomcat, its just for show. Even as he thought
it he
       knew it wasn't true. He kissed and nibbled along her
smooth neck for perhaps thirty seconds, enough to trail his
      lips down to the cleft of her bare collarbone, to the
depression at the base of her throat where her scent was
strongest,
      and up to the soft line of her jaw. He was about to
bring his lips back to hers, gotta make it look good, when
with
      shaky hands she pushed him away. Ben's breathing was
ragged. That was...amazing. Whether she had meant to or
       not, Lara Croft had shaken Ben from the tips of his
fake blonde hair to the bottom of his boots. This ain't
over,
      Lady Grace, not even close. Lara looked at him, her
lips a bit red and her hair disheveled, but her face was as
      cool and in control as always. No way all of that
could be an act. She had been too hot, too into it. They
       stood a foot or so apart, full of awkward silence.
If she can act like that was nothing, then so can I. Ben
       looked around, trying to spot the Leatherneck, but
the guy was nowhere. "Is he gone?" Ben asked, glad his
voice
      was level. Lara fumbled a bit reaching for her beer
mug and took a long drink before answering. When she faced
      him again she nodded. "He's in the lou." Her voice
was as calm as if she was asking for groceries. Ben just
      looked at her wordlessly. "I had to shut you up." She
said to him after a few awkward moments of silence.
      "You were getting.a bit loud."

     Ben & Lara
     Chapter Nine
     by Ross Jenkins, c 1998

      Ben & Lara IX-More Questions
      Well, that had been.interesting. Lara would liked to
have said that her kissing Ben had purely been for
camouflage reasons, but she was it wasn't very truthful.
She'd seen the Leatherneck duck into the washroom almost as
soon as Ben had started on her neck. She could have stopped
him then, or maybe even earlier, but it had felt so good.
Admit it, girl, you've wanted to do that for days.
      Ben had been cold to her for the last half hour or so
since they had broken their embrace. It was understandable,
she supposed. One look at his face and it was obvious. He
felt that by enjoying himself with her he was betraying his
gang. She hoped that what they had done, even though it was
an innocent or maybe not so innocent kiss, didn't affect
their-for lack of a better word-professional relationship.
Oh well. If it did it did, if it didn't.well the next few
days may prove to be very interesting.
      The Leatherneck that Ben claimed was a scout had left
the restaurant about fifteen minutes ago, and since then
about twenty or so Leathernecks in colours had drifted into
the place. They weren't forming mobs or anything, but there
was a pair or a trio near every exit. Ben was right. These
people are very organized. If I continue to under estimate
them, it will be my down fall. She only recognized about
five of them from either the Horny Bull or the Polecat camp
ambush, but still didn't want any of them to see her face.
That's why we are in disguise.
      Yes, she and Ben looked very different than when
these bikers had last seen them, (and they sure won't be
looking at your face Ben had said to her. A compliment of
sorts) but they didn't look that different. All things
considered, died hair and a mini skirt was rather thin
armour to cling to, but it was the only armour they had.
She and Ben were keeping their movements to a minimum,
trying to steer clear of the various Leathernecks, but it
was getting harder to do.
      The one thing they had going in their favour was that
as the afternoon turned to evening, the Rebar was beginning
to fill up. Lara had no idea that there were enough bikers
in the city of Fulsome to occupy a bar like this, but she
couldn't argue with the empirical evidence.
      "There he is." Ben growled. She felt him bristle
beside her. Lara looked to the door of the bar and saw
Gunny's imposing bulk enter. She kept forgetting just how
huge the man was. He was wearing a black leather jacket
with chains and studs and stood head and shoulders above
anyone else. I went toe to toe with that. He strode in,
clapped one of his fellow gang members on the shoulder and
surveyed the bar. Lara suddenly found herself studying the
picture on the wall. He was the length of the bar away but
still.
      Beside her, hate and vengeance rolled off Ben in
almost tangible waves. He stood rigid, muscles bulging,
eyes locked onto Gunny's large form. Don't do anything
stupid, sport. You'll get us both killed. This was about as
far from an ideal place to confront Gunny as was possible.
Gunny strode across the slowly filling dance floor to,
ironically, the table Ben and Lara had been at earlier.
There was no one else seated there, and Gunny sat down to
wait.
      For a tense hour, Gunny sat at that table, waiting
with visibly increasing impatience. Ben and Lara gave up
their pool table and occupied a place near the bar, trying
to keep an eye on Gunny and hide from the depressingly high
number of Leathernecks in the place. She was tense and
jumpy, and knew that Ben was champing at the bit. The music
wasn't helping. It was kind of a industrial/hard rock with
glaring guitars that was setting Lara's teeth on edge. Her
stomach was growling, having had nothing put into it today
but the occasional nibble of bar food, but she was too
anxious to eat.
      Gunny's table was on the far side of the dance floor
and as it filled up it was getting harder to keep an eye on
the man. She saw Ben craning his neck to keep an eye on
Gunny and frowned. Could you be any more obvious, sport? He
was attracting attention again, and Leathernecks were
crawling all over the place. There was only one way to keep
an eye on Gunny, and it was a way Lara was reluctant to
try.
      She got to her feet and lay her hand on Ben's arm.
"Would you like to dance?" Dancing with Ben was dangerous
in more ways than one. He was wearing heavy boots, probably
had no sense of rhythm, and Lara feared for her toes. More
than that, though, the last thing either of them needed
right now was to move rhythmically in close proximity to
each other. Still, I'm not a victim of my hormones, and
either is Ben. We can both keep out minds on the task at
hand. Hopefully
      Ben stared at her hand dumbly for a moment, then
shrugged and walked wordlessly to the dance floor. My,
aren't you the charmer? She knew that the only reason they
were here to find out who Gunny was meeting, but the man
could show even a modicum of courtesy. When he reached the
edge of the dancers, Ben turned to face her.
      They were closer to Gunny, and while it wasn't the
ideal place to surveil him from, it was adequate for their
purposes. Ben had been a bit stiff when they had started,
but once he warmed to it he actually wasn't that bad a
dancer. Her toes remained happily uncrushed. The style was
a little more free form than Lara had been trained for,
more moshing than actual dancing, but she got the swing of
it soon enough. Ben's face was stone the entire time, and
his eyes were only on Gunny. She ignored the sudden pain
that went through her. It is, Lara reminded herself, why we
are here, after all. The object of his vengeance was right
before him, but he was unable to touch him. It must have
been hard, but Ben was doing it. If the circumstances were
similar, she wondered if she would have been able to do the
same. She wasn't exactly known for her self control.
      They kept it up for about twenty minutes, dancing to
the awful music and keeping an eye on the increasingly
irritated Gunny. Lara was aware of Ben the entire time, how
his body moved and how good he looked, but more what
presence he had. She was getting more and more attracted to
him, and it was frustrating. As much as she may have wanted
to act on her desires, there just wasn't time or room for
anything. Ben had his vengeance and if she did anything now
it wasn't going to work. Later, maybe if there was a later.
      Out of the corner of her vision, she saw someone go
to Gunny's table. She tried to bring it to Ben's attention
but he had already seen it. The man was in his early
thirties, thin with short black hair. He was maybe six feet
tall but looked dwarfed next to Gunny. His suit had the
unmistakable shine of orbitally grown silk. Expensive. He
looked out of place and uncomfortable. Lara didn't know
what she had expected when she saw Gunny's contact, a bolt
of lightning perhaps, or maybe a neon sign above him saying
'This man is a criminal', but he was totally unremarkable.
Lara brought her head close to Ben's. "Do you know who he
is?" she yelled in his ear. He just shook his head.
      The two men began to speak, but between the volume of
the music and their proximity, they couldn't hear a word of
it. She began to maneuver closer to the table, trying to
listen in, but it was no use. They were so close! They had
to find a way to hear what the two men were saying.
      The music chose that moment to change. The selection
thus far in the evening had been a variety of metal and
industrial music. The spirit of Father Torque must have
been watching over the two of them at that moment, for the
next song seemed tailor made for their situation. Stairway
to Heaven. It was slow and went on for ever. The various
couples on the dance floor chose this moment to either
leave the floor, or clutched each other and began to
shuffle and sway.
      Lara looked at Ben, trying to gauge his expression,
then stepped close to him and wrapped her arms around his
neck. Ben's face was blank, and his body wooden, but after
a moment he put his arms around her and rested his hands on
the small of her back. She rested her head against his
shoulder and sighed. Even though they were here for the
most unromantic reasons, standing in Ben's arms
felt...good. His chest was strong and warm, and his arms
felt good wrapped around her. His jaw, rough with a half
day of stubble, rested against her head. They clutched and
swayed like every other couple on the floor and strained
their ears to hear the conversation happening not even five
feet from them.
      "It's about damned time you got here." She recognized
Gunny's steel grated voice from the other conversation of
his that she had overheard, at the Polecat camp massacre.
      The other man's voice was smoother and calmer, though
tinged with irritation. "I had business." He had an East
coast cultured accent. Every syllable was clipped and
enunciated. "I was detained."
      She and Ben rotated a bit and out of the corner of
her eye she could see Gunny wave off the man's explanation.
"I don't want to hear your stupid excuses." The big biker
growled. She wanted to move her head and watch the two men,
but was unwilling to perform any action that would alert
Gunny to their presence. "I don't even want to be here,
Williams. You wanted this damned meeting." Williams. Lara
startled and she felt Ben's hands tighten. Was he the same
man that had tried to abduct them last night?
      "I want a progress report." Williams said to Gunny.
      She could almost hear Gunny's teeth grind. "I could
have radioed one in. I didn't have to come eight hours out
of my way to this damned city to do that."
      "I don't want anything being said on open air."
William's clipped voice said. "If anyone in the government
gets the slightest hint of what we are doing, and it is
over."
      Gunny snorted. "Yeah, whatever."
      There was a pause and Lara cursed silently. Being
able to do nothing but stand and listen was frustrating. "I
wish we could have done this in a place somewhat
more.private." Williams said to Gunny.
      "I like it here." Gunny replied. "Its too public, so
you can't screw me, and it's the kind of place that won't
have ears." Lara was glad that Ben's shoulder hid her
smile.
      "Yes, well, I still don't like it."
      Gunny chuckled. "I can just leave. I've made enough
on this deal so far that I can cut and run and still break
even." She felt Ben stiffen. The money that Gunny had made
had been on the bloody corpses of Ben's gang. Ben, don't do
anything stupid. She thought at him urgently. This isn't
the time or place for it. After a moment he relaxed
marginally
      "You can't leave." Said Williams urgently. "Dammit
Jordan-"
      The biker cut him off "Gunny. Call me Gunny." Touchy,
aren't we?
      "Very well, Gunny." Williams over-emphasized the
name. "You don't want to leave yet." He continued
furiously. "You still have a great deal of money to make."
      "I've heard all this before." Gunny sounded annoyed."
Let's just get on with it."
      Williams hesitated. "Before you begin, I have to ask
you something." He sounded reluctant.
      "Yeah, what?"
      "Do the name's Ben Polecat or Lara Croft mean
anything to you?" The blonde man asked. Both Ben and Lara
stiffened. This was definitely the same man who had ordered
them captured last night.
      Gunny answered with a grunt. "Croft, no. Polecat,
yes. What about him?"
      Williams exhaled loud enough for Lara to hear it. "My
father received a suspicious call from the chairman of
Corley Motors," Mo "asking him to personally guarantee that
a man named Ben Polecat entered the city with no problems."
Who was this man's father? Obviously someone in the upper
echelons of the city. "He had the entry guards let him
through, but I put a flag on his name to alert me when he
entered."
      Gunny came more alert. "Polecat's in the city?" It
was almost a shout. His voice continued to rise, until it
was easily audible. "You had him and you let him through
your fucking fingers?" She heard his fist smash into the
table.
      "I didn't know who he was." Williams hissed quietly,
but not quietly enough. "He entered with this Croft person.
I thought that it was suspicious, him getting permission to
enter the day before our meeting." He paused. "I ordered
some of my people to have him captured, so that I could
question him-"
      Gunny interrupted the man's explanation. "Did you get
him?" he asked.
      Williams hesitated. ".No. He and the woman evaded
capture." Lara smiled into Ben's shoulder. Sorry to
disappoint you, sport.
      "I can't believe you didn't tell me that Polecat is
in this city and loose."
      "I asked you before if there were any loose ends."
Williams protested. "If he was a problem, you should have
advised me on it then."
      Gunny's voice was an irritated hiss. "You didn't want
any radio traffic, remember?" He continued loudly. "I was
supposed to come here and give you your fucking report."
      "Yes, well, that not withstanding," Williams
continued, "who is he, and who is this Croft person?" Lara
frowned a little. Even though her anonymity had probably
worked in her favour, she was still a little annoyed that
he hadn't heard of her. She had books in print, articles.
She wasn't a complete nobody
      "Polecat is the head of one of the gang's in the
corridor. The chick is just a chick." Lara frowned. I beg
your pardon?
      "I thought you took care of all of the gangs."
Williams voice was filled with distaste.
      "I said that I had secured the area." Gunny
corrected. "I did. The corridor for the pipeline is under
Leatherneck control. As far as anyone knows, we're just a
new gang that has come into the area. Polecat and some
others may have escaped my trap, but they just think we're
just another gang that muscled into their turf."
      Lara's mind was whirling. Pipeline? Why weren't the
Leathernecks just another gang? What was their agenda? This
is infuriating. This meeting at the Rebar was supposed to
answer Ben and Lara's questions, but all it was doing was
forcing them to ask new ones.
      "I see." Williams paused. "If Polecat knows nothing,
then why is he here?"
      "I don't know." Gunny answered. "Hiding?"
      "He had a corporate CEO call in a personal favour to
get him into this city." Williams replied testily. "It
seems to me that there are easier rocks he could have
hidden under."
      "Shit." Gunny paused a moment. "He couldn't have
heard anything-"the big biker mused, trailing off. "the old
man!" He said suddenly. Father Torque. She felt Ben's arms
stiffen.
      "What old man?"
      "Some old biker." Gunny answered absently. Ben's
hands ball into fists against her back. "He stalled me
while I was hunting for Polecat." Control yourself, Ben.
"The only time I mentioned to any one that I was coming
here was to Turner after I knifed the old bastard." Ben
tried to step away from Lara, but she held him fast with
her arms. Just hold on a little bit more! "If Polecat got
to him before he croaked, he might have mentioned it."
      Ben tried to pull Lara's arms away from his neck, and
in desperation she stepped hard on his foot. He grunted and
she whispered fiercely into his ear. "Just control yourself
a little bit longer! Find out what he has to say first!"
Ben subsided but his muscles were rigid. This had to be
hard for him.
      Williams voice was worried. "Then he might be here,
in the bar." Lara hid her face in Ben's shoulder, mentally
willing them both invisible. She got ready to run, or
fight.
      "No way." Gunny's voice was flat. "My boys have this
place bottled up tight." You think so, do you? "There's no
way Polecat or that bitch Croft could have gotten in or out
of this bar." You're wrong, sport. Lara thought. And your
language is terrible.
      Williams did not seemed convinced. "It still seems to
me that things are not in your control."
      "Shut up." Gunny snapped. "If you'd grabbed him when
he entered the city, we wouldn't have this problem."
      "My father called the head of security personally."
Williams protested. "I couldn't countermand that. I was
barely able to place the flag on his name."
      "We can whine about this all day, but it won't change
a damn thing." Gunny growled. "If Polecat's in this city,
I'll find him."
      "The pipeline cannot face any more delays," Williams
answered, "but I don't want to go ahead while this Polecat
is out there."
      "The pipeline is on schedule!" Gunny barked. "I'll
get Polecat, don't worry. Let me know if any more flags on
him or his chick show up, and I'll take the bastard out."
      "I don't like this."
      "Relax." Gunny drawled. "Other than Polecat,
everything is going fine. I'll nail his ass, then get back
in time for the first shipment."
      "You're sure?" Williams asked doubtfully
      "You hired the best, Williams." Gunny reassured him.
"I'll be there." I'll be there as well, Lara thought, with
Ben. Maybe then they would get some answers.
      "For all our sakes, you'd better." Williams sounded
only slightly mollified. "I've invested far too much into
this venture to lose it to a rogue biker."
      "You won't."
      "Very well, then." She saw Williams get to his feet.
He did not offer his hand. "I'll meet you in fort Kennedy
in two days." Lara exulted. Fort Kennedy. She had a name.
      "I said I'll be there." Gunny growled. "Just let me
know if Polecat or Croft show up anywhere in this city. If
they go through the gates, stall them."
      "I will." Williams sounded pleased that the meeting
was over. "Good bye, Jordan."
      "Its Gunny." The biker corrected with a growl.
      She could almost hear the smirk "Yes, of course. Good
bye Gunny"
      Ben and Lara continued dancing. After Williams had
left, she heard Gunny mutter. "What an ass hole." She had
to agree.
      * * *
      Ben was torn. He wanted to charge over to Gunny right
now and rip out his heart. He could do it, and he even knew
how. A beer bottle to the back of the head, smash his face
into the wall, then kick him until his ribs smashed and he
coughed up blood. Let him drown in his own body fluids. By
that time, the other Leathernecks would be on him and he'd
probably die. If Ben did that, he'd have his vengeance, but
it would cost him his life. Was it worth it? Was Ben
willing to die for his boys? If it was only Ben, and if
there weren't any unanswered questions: maybe, but as it
stood now, no.
      There was this whole business with this Williams guy.
There was the mysterious pipeline, and the corridor it ran
through. There was Fort Kennedy, and the secret that 'if
any body got wind of, would be over'. These were the
reasons the Polecats were killed, and Gunny was just a
hired thug. If Ben took Gunny out now and died in the
process, then he'd never know why William's had ordered his
gang killed. Until Ben answered that question, there could
be no reckoning.
      There was also Croft. If he went after Gunny now, he
knew that she'd back him up. That meant that if he went
down, she'd go to. It just wasn't an option. Ben watched as
Gunny got up and walked out of the bar. For better or
worse, the opportunity was gone, and Ben hoped the he would
get another one. He swore under his breath.
      Robert Plant crooned the final bars to Stairway to
Heaven and it was replaced by a faster, more modern tune,
all full of screaming vocals and wailing guitars. The magic
and feeling of intimacy between himself and Lady Grace
shattered with the grating noise. Lara's enticing smell,
the same as when they'd kissed, stayed in his nose, and his
body ached with the memory of where she'd been pressed
against him. She took away the arms that had felt so right
across his neck and stepped away from him. Her face was
unreadable. Considering everything that happened in the bar
tonight, Ben should have felt anger, frustration, or
something, but all he felt was emptiness as he and Lara
parted and left the dance floor.
      The two of them made their way to the bar. Ben
ordered a beer and some hot wings. At least while he was
stuffing his face he had an excuse not to talk. He knew
Lara was waiting for him to speak and he was doing
everything he could to delay it. They sat and drank in
silence. Lara shifted impatiently and after a few moments
spoke up. "Shouldn't we be leaving or seeking revenge or
something?" Her voice was sarcastic.
      Ben just shrugged. "The city gates are closed," he
said flatly. "We can't do squat until morning." He took a
draw of beer. "Might as well have a drink."
      Lady Grace crossed her arms and leaned one svelte hip
against the bar, looking at Ben crossly. "Do you intend to
swill back beer in this bar the entire night?"
      "You got a better idea?"
      She didn't answer, just grinned evilly.
      * * *
      Lara winced as Ben drove his fist into the
Leatherneck's gut. The big biker had put his entire body
into the hit and his victim lifted bodily off the ground
with the force of the blow. The guy fell to his hands and
knees, coughing up blood and gasping for air. "Where are
they?" Ben's voice dripped with the desire to inflict
violence. Lara had lured the Leatherneck and his now
unconscious partner into the alley with a few smiles and
deep breaths, then had stepped back and loosed Ben upon
them.
      After finally leaving the Rebar around midnight, Ben
and Lara had gratefully changed out of their bar clothes.
Ben's hair was its normal shade and he wore his precious
Polecats jacket. Lara was pleased that she was out of her
'biker chick' clothes. In a black Nike T-shirt and jeans,
she felt much less like a piece of meat and more like a
real person. They were trying to find out where the rest of
the Leathernecks were holing up for the night. Unlike Ben
and Lara, who were running on almost on empty, their
enemies were most likely enjoying a full nights sleep. If
she wasn't in such a hurry to escape the city Lara would
gladly have imitated them, but she and Ben unfortunately
had miles to go before they slept, and Ben at least, had
several promises to keep.
      The biker tried to get to his feet but Ben kicked the
guy's arms out. He fell to the dirty pavement with a gasp
and a groan. "Where," Ben growled again, "are the rest of
your scum-sucking gang hiding out?"
      "If I-" the biker gasped out in a faint voice, "If I
tell you, Gunny'll kill me."
      Ben's voice was as cold as death. "If you don't tell
me, I'll kill you." He was so intense that even Lara, who
was only listening, was chilled by his words. It was, she
realized, the first time since the massacre that Ben had
come face to face with any of the people that had killed
his gang. He had a great deal of anger to get out, and it
seemed that a good deal of it was going to go into this
unfortunate biker. Lara might have felt some pity towards
the man, if she had not recognized him as one of the
raiders from the Polecat camp. The bastard deserved
whatever he got.
      The man paled visibly at Ben's threat, and begin to
sing like a songbird. "They're in the-the Fulsome Motor
Hotel."
      "How many?"
      "Just one squad." Lara frowned. A squad? That seemed
most ungang like.
      Ben seemed to agree with her. "What the fuck is a
biker squad?"
      "A squad. Five fists."
      Ben frowned at the guy. "A fist?"
      "Five guys."
      Ben's frown grew bigger, if that was possible. "How
many squads are there, and where are they?"
      "Five squads." Now that the biker had decided to
spill his guts, it seemed that there was no way to shut him
up. "There's Hell Squad, that's us, here in the city, plus
Bastard Squad outside the gates. The other three are either
hunting down gangs or waiting back at the Fort."
      "You mean Fort Kennedy?"
      He looked surprised that Ben knew the name of the
place. "Umm...Yeah."
      Ben reached down, grabbed they guy by his shirt front
and slammed him against the wall. He reared back with his
other fist. "Then you ain't got nothing else to tell me."
His voice was flat.
      The biker paled and tried futilely to get out of
Ben's grip. "Wait, no man you can't...." His voice was a
frightened squeak that ended abruptly as Ben drove his fist
into the guy's face. The biker went limp, his face a bloody
mess, and slid bonelessly to the pavement. Ben just watched
the guy fall and stared at his crumpled, bloody form. Lara
looked at Ben's face and saw only rage and pain. Was he
going to kill him? She knew Ben could kill in the heat of
combat; she'd seen him do it, but in cold blood with an
unconscious victim?
      She spoke quietly. "Ben, don't do it." He showed no
signs of hearing her, just stood and stared at the guy with
eyes of hate. His conflict was plain on his face. "Ben,
he's beaten." She placed a hand on his shoulder and tried
to pull him away, but he wouldn't budge.
      Ben voice was cold. "He killed my boys."
      She stepped between him and his fallen opponent,
trying to break his spell. "Ben, he's unconscious."
      It took his Ben's eyes a moment to focus on her. His
reply was so quiet she barely heard him. "I'm gonna kill'em
all. I swore it to Torque."
      She made another attempt to reason with him. "This
has to be against the Code" She wasn't sure though. The
Code of the Road was made by bikers, who tended to be a
blood thirsty lot.
      Ben just stared at her. His blue eyes bored into
hers, and she forced herself not to look away. It was hard,
much harder than she expected, but after a long minute of
silence he turned away. "Yeah, it is." He walked silently
towards their bikes and Lara fell in step beside him.
      "Twenty five guys inside, twenty five more outside."
Ben said after a moment. By his tone, he could have been
discussing the weather. "Almost a hundred more at Fort
Kennedy. You gonna split?"
      Lara thought a moment of why she was still with Ben.
A story. Not hardly. The promise she had made to Ben? He
was leting her out of that right now. No. She couldn't
leave Ben to do this alone, and that was more than just
lust talking. She wasn't about to risk her life just for a
cute pair of buns, and what a pair of buns they were; there
was more to it then that. What Ben was doing was right. It
was the Code; it was justice. She had been a loner when she
had rode into the desert. Now, with Ben, she was just a
little bit...more. "Are you?" she asked.
      Ben just snorted, the question not worth answering.
"This is more than you signed on for." He growled.
      "I'm not going to leave you Ben." She said. "I
promised, remember?"
      He threw her an unreadable look. "Don't be stupid.
You promised to stay until I wanted you to go. I want you
to go."
      She shook her head. "I'm not ready to leave yet."
      They walked in silence for a few moments, the comment
hanging in the air between them. "You really do have a
death wish."
      A day ago she would have denied it, or started an
argument. Right now she didn't want to fight. "Then we
should make the perfect pair." Their bikes came into sight,
hidden behind a overflowing dumpster. They both mounted in
silence.
      She felt him watching her as she sat on her bike.
"Whatever." He said after a long pause. "If we're going to
go get killed, we might as well get started." He started
his bike with a road and burst of flame. Lara's bike
started with a quiet purr a moment later.
      She yelled over the sounds of their machines "I hear
the Fulsome Motor Hotel is wonderful for an evening's
entertainment."
      Ben didn't reply, just rode off in a cloud of
exhaust.

     Ben & Lara
     Chapter Ten
     by Ross Jenkins, c 1998

      Ben & Lara X - Escape From Fulsome
      Author's Note: Despite my best efforts for the last
month, I cannot seem to make this chapter work. I am
getting tired of beating my head against a wall and have
given up-for now. I want to and need to tell the rest of
this story but have been unable to do so with this chapter
looming over my head. I will (hopefully) come back later
and finish this part, but in the mean time will continue
with writing chapter 11 (or is that XI?) and beyond. If any
one has any ideas or suggestions please, please feel free
to tell me about them. From a story perspective, chapter 11
will pick up the next morning outside the Fulsome City
gates, after a long night ducking Leathernecks and cops.
Ben and Lara have sabotaged the Leatherneck's bikes, giving
them (hopefully) a bit of breathing room as they make a
break for the hills.
      Once again, I'm really sorry and frustrated, but, as
they say, the story must go on.
      We now return to our program, already in progress.
      * * *
      "Splunge, sir, Splunge!!"
      The shocked executive stood up, clad only in his
tutu, and pointed his bony finger towards the door.
      "Get out and take the chimp with you!!"
      Somewhere in the background, a large foot came to
earth with a 'splutting' sound. The sound of singing
Mounties could be heard.
      Sorry, wrong program.

     Ben & Lara
     Chapter Eleven
     by Ross Jenkins, c 1998

      Ben & Lara XI - The Biker Chase
      Despite their best efforts, Ben and Lady Grace didn't
get out of the city till after 9am. They had been in line
since before six, but had spent hours sitting around while
the customs officials had 'lost' files and had to 'verify'
their records. If it had gotten to Lady Grace, Ben couldn't
tell. Despite the fact that she hadn't had a square meal or
a decent night's sleep in over 48 hours, she looked as
polished and as calm as a fashion model. Figured. He both
looked and felt like crap, and it didn't help that with
every minute the two of them spent inside Fulsome's
claustrophobic walls he felt like he had a bull's-eye
tattooed to his head.
      They had scattered and slowed down the biker's inside
the city last night, but Gunny kept in contact with his
guys with radios. That meant that 'Bastard Squad' knew
where and when he and Lara were going to leave Fulsome, and
without the Fulsome neo-nazi šber-cops cramping their style
they were going to be armed to the teeth. Great.
      Still, they were finally out of the damned city and
even if they were riding into the barrel of a gun, at least
for they moment they had the freedom of the road.
      The two of them wove in and out of the thick morning
traffic at high speed, tense and waiting. They knew where
to go: about 50 miles off, in the foothills buried under a
cactus were Lara's pistol and Betsy. It didn't seem like
much against over a hundred well armed bikers, but it was
more then they had now, which was Ben's tire iron and harsh
language. Hopefully, Bastard Squad were spread thin along
the hard top looking for them, and he and Lady Grace would
only have to take on a couple of them. Ben was
indestructible on the road, but even he was only so good.
He knew Lady Grace was tough, and he knew she could ride,
but he didn't want to find out just how tough.
      Ben looked in his side mirror and saw five slow slung
bikes powering up the road behind them.
      It was too late. They were here.
      Ben waved and caught Lara's attention, then pointed
behind him to the pursuing Leathernecks. She nodded and
poured on the gas. Ben floored it as well. Ben's ride was a
big road eating monster; a big bike with a big engine. It
wasn't as manoeuvrable as a smaller machine like Lara's,
but nothing on wheels could match his top end. Mo had
installed a recoil booster on his bike last year, and Ben
could have used it now to blast him even faster, but that
would leave Lara behind. Her motorcycle was smaller than
his, but it had a newer, more efficient engine that gave
her a top end pretty close to his. The Leathernecks, if the
bikers inside the city were an indicator, had older bikes
that weren't even Corleys. As long as he and Lady Grace
could keep up the speed, the bastards behind them would
only be eating dust.
      The problem with going totally red lined was that the
roads weren't all that great. The pot holes and the
roadkill came at you too fast to dodge, and all it took was
one screw up to turn you into street pizza. Ben usually
liked to keep his road speed between 80 and 120 mph, or
even as low as 40 if the road was the shits, but this
wasn't a usual time. He was doing an insane 165mph, the
howl of the wind vying with the scream of his engine to see
which would deafen him first. He had his goggles on to keep
the crap out of his eyes, but every bug and bit of dust
that hit his face stung like a hot poker. He would have
gritted his teeth, but didn't want anything to get in his
mouth.
      Ben looked in his side mirror and smiled grimly. Lady
Grace was keeping up pretty good, her slender form bent low
over the bars of her bike. Her face was a mask beneath her
mirror shades and her braid flew straight out behind her
like a pole. The pursuing Leathernecks about 200 yards
behind them and not getting any closer. At this speed, they
were doing almost three miles a minute and that fifty miles
to Betsy was getting eaten up pretty fast.
      He and Lara weaved around a slow moving land train
and Ben swore. Ten bikes, maybe more, were in front of them
They were going in the same direction, but slower and it
wasn't going to take long before he and Lara overtook them.
Those bikes were surely armed, and if the two of them got
nearer, then they were going to get chewed apart. At the
same time, if they slowed down, the bikes behind would
overtake them, and they would be equally screwed. Stuck
between a rock and a hard place. Damn.
      On the open road, the Leathernecks held all the aces.
With their guns, they could keep their distance while
picking Ben and Lara apart, and with their numbers, the
bikers could herd them where ever they wanted. On top of
that, according to that dumb jerk last night in the alley,
the Leathernecks were broken down into twenty five man
'squads'. That meant that there were still ten bikes
unaccounted for, and that was what worried Ben most of all.
The only thing worse than an enemy you knew was an enemy
you didn't. Double damn. Ben had to get off this highway
and find a way to even these sucky odds, or he and Lady
Grace were buzzard bait.
      A sign flashed by saying that the road ahead split,
with a branch heading south to the Mexican border. Ben
grinned. All he had to do was wait until the bikers ahead
committed to one route, then take the other. Once he was in
front of them, he and Lady Grace could burn rubber and be
home free. The jerks following them would eat exhaust all
the way to Fort Kennedy.
      The Leathernecks in front approached the fork, but
instead of going down either route, they split into two
groups of five, and each took one branch. Ben swore. These
bastards are smart, I've gotta keep remembering that.
Hadn't he just made that point to Lady Grace last night?
      He and Lara came up to the split and Ben thought a
second over the route. Either one they took, they were
screwed, but if they could manage to survive for a few
minutes, the left branch met up with a pain in the ass back
road that took them right to where Betsy was buried. Lady
Grace flashed him a cool-as-a-cucumber look and in answer
Ben left. Great. They knew where to go, now they just had
to find a way to get there.
      Father Torque seemed to be watching, for what Ben
needed suddenly appeared in front of him, a ten truck
convoy in tight tail-to-nose configuration. Ben grinned.
Thank you, Father. It was just what he needed.
      As the convoy approached, doing a sedate eighty miles
per hour, Ben slowed himself to match speed, then weaved
his bike into the one motorcycle wide gap between two of
the trucks. Lady Grace, either trusting in him or more
likely, having the same idea herself, did the same. The
trucker blew his horn and gave Ben the finger, but did
nothing else as Ben's bike entered the small gap between
the front bumper and the rear of the preceding semi.
      Ben grimaced. He'd had bad experiences with semis.
Both Emmett and Rip Burger had done their level best to
either run him off the road or turn him into street pizza
in big trucks. The damned things were just too damned big
and impersonal. They didn't notice if they ran over
something small and crunchy like a motorcycle, and more
often than not, the drivers of the damned things were
jerks.
      With Ben jammed between the two trucks, the bikers
could only come at him -hopefully- one at a time, and at
close quarters. Ben was an expert at close quarters bike
fighting. He'd spent years cutting his teeth on the old
Mine Road, and he'd been taught by the Best. Ben cast quick
glances to either side of him, unsure from which way the
first biker would come. With his left hand he gripped his
tire iron and gave a brief fond smile. The worn steel rod
didn't have the history the Betsy did, but it had seen him
through all the crap he'd been through last year. That was
the good thing about steel: it was always there and it
never let you down. Unlike people.
      Ben didn't let himself pursue that train of thought
any longer, because a Leatherneck came into view on Ben's
right side. Ben quickly switched hands on his tire iron and
veered into his opponent as fast as he could. As Ben came
in close he saw the guy raise a machine pistol up to fire.
With a heavy grunt Ben brought the tire iron down on the
guy's wrist. When it connected Ben felt the bones break and
a moment later both bikes collided into each other. Ben's
bike was the heavier of the two and Ben had been expecting
it. He kept control easily, but the other guy wasn't so
lucky. He was still stunned from the pain of his broken
wrist and his lighter bike was harder to keep control of,
but he still almost managed to keep the bike on its wheels.
Ben took the decision out of the guy's hands by smashing
his tire iron into the guys head. The bike and rider slued
clear of the truck convoy before pitching over, but by then
it was out of sight and out of mind. Ben ducked back
between the trucks and waited for the next rider to come at
him.
      One down, twenty four to go. He couldn't keep this up
for long. These guys all had guns, and sooner or later they
would shoot him before he could close, or they would come
in on both sides. When that happened he was one dead puppy.
Either he had to get armed, or something else had to happen
to even the odds. He wondered how Lady Grace was doing.
      * * *
      Lara watched as Ben ducked between the trucks and
silently congratulated him for the idea. It was really the
only choice they had, and she intended to make the most of
it. She quickly manoeuvred her motorcycle into the gap one
truck behind Ben's then wondered what to do next. In these
narrow confines, the Leathernecks could only come at them
one or two at a time, but that was one or two to many. She
was on a lighter bike and had only the hunting knife she
had nicked last night as a weapon.
      Her first priority, whatever happened, was to relieve
one of these gentlemen of their guns. Then she could use
her greater agility to evade their fire while picking them
off one at a time. It was a technique she used to great
effectiveness while on foot, jumping diving and rolling
about while raining pistol fire upon her opponents.
Unfortunately, while she was stuck hiding between these
trucks her main asset, speed, was nullified. It was a
factor she had to change, but she was damned if she knew
how to do it.
      Further thought on the matter was brought to a halt
as the first Leatherneck came abreast of her hiding place.
He had a large calibre revolver in his hand and when he saw
her he extended it to shoot. Lara cursed. Her knife was
still tucked in her belt and she had no time to draw it.
All she could do was dodge, and she couldn't do that in
here. That meant, unfortunately, leaving her cover and
exposing herself to the entirety of the Leatherneck biker
squad.
      Well, she was damned either way, and this way, at
least, gave her a modicum of a fighting chance. She leaned
her body all the way over the side of her bike, giving the
shooter only one of her arms and legs to target and sped
out from her hiding place in the opposite direction. Over
the roar of the engines of the trucks, she still heard the
report of the gun and felt/heard the bullet pass narrowly
over her.
      Lara came out of hiding near the back of the convoy
on the left side. The Leathernecks had surrounded the
convoy in an effort to both contain and keep an eye on Ben
and Lara. That meant that they were fairly spread out along
the sides of the ten truck convoy. Since she was near the
back of the convoy, she could see six bikers in front of
her. That was six bikers that could not look behind them or
-more important- shoot at her.
      Lara knew that she was an inviting target to however
many bikers were behind her and did not intend to make
herself an easy mark. As soon as she cleared the trucks she
gunned her bike and began to weave back and forth. From
behind her she heard gunfire but thankfully none hit.
Looking back, she saw three bikes. Sooner or later they
were going to hit her.
      Blast. Lara hunched over her bike as much as she
could, making herself as small a target as possible. To
give the bikers behind her pause, she tried to line herself
up with the nearest Leatherneck in front of her. Maybe with
their comrades in the line of fire, they would hesitate a
moment before shooting, and for Lara that moment was one
more she was alive. God, it was exhilarating.
      Lara closed quickly with the biker in front of her.
He was peering between the trucks trying to get a glimpse
at what she thought was Ben and didn't see her. Grinning
ferally, Lara drew the knife from her belt and shifted
around to his right side, where he held his gun-some sort
of machine pistol-in a barrel up ready position.
      With a hearty battle cry, Lara plunged her knife deep
into the man's leg, then pulled it out again for another
blow. The biker cried in pain, but despite his wound wasted
no time in trying to smash Lara with the butt of his gun.
She parried aggressively with her knife, bringing the blade
along the side of his wrist as his hand descended, then
used her forearm to deflect the blow. The strike did little
bit piss him off more and make him bleed, though it
certainly made her arm hurt. The biker tried to veer away
from her but she kept her bike in close with his as they
fought. She was in too tight for him to use his gun, and
had to find some way to grab it. Unfortunately, she needed
one hand to control her bike and the other to fight, or she
would have just grabbed it. He tried to smash her with the
gun butt again, but when he raised his arm to strike she
slashed him across his ribs. Again, he made no notice of
the cut and swung the heavy gun butt down again. Lara's
brought her arm up again to block, but it was a 'hard'
block -one that pitted her strength against his with no
attempt to redirect the force of the blow- and this time it
proved too powerful for her to deflect. His strike smashed
down on her back, just behind her shoulder, and left her
arm momentarily numb.
      Her opponent swung his gun down again and being
currently unable to block, all Lara could do to avoid the
hit was veer her bike away. It worked, the attack missed,
but now he had enough room to extend his arm and bring his
gun to bear. Lara slammed on her brakes for a moment and
shot backward, barely dodging the burst of gunfire.
Desperately, she swung her bike around his rear to his
other side, trying to stay out of his arc of fire. The
biker, alert despite the wounds she had given him, swerved
to his right in an attempt to keep her in his sights, but
Lara and her bike were too quick. Coming up on his off
side, she switched hands with her knife and tried to plant
it in the guy's back, but he dodged and she struck the
seat. Trying to get another shot off, he brought his gun
across his body and fired, but Lara used her bikes
nimbleness to dance out of the way and duck behind him.
      Unfortunately, when the biker fired across his body,
he forgot about one important factor: the expended brass
casings that were ejected when the gun fired. Normally they
fired safely away from his body, but he was holding the gun
now-on its side with the ejection chamber pointed up-and
the hot rounds flew right into his face. Instinctively, he
tried to cover his face with his free hand-which happened
to be on the handlebars-and the vehicle lost control.
      Lara, who had been coming around behind him when this
happened, was quick to take advantage of her opponent's
weakness. His hands had gone immediately back to his
handlebars, but his gun hand had been flung out and up in
an attempt to balance himself. It was almost too perfect.
Coming up close to him, Lara stood up on her bike and with
a back handed swing plunged her knife straight into his
chest. It was a poor blow with weak penetration, but it was
enough to make the stunned and wounded biker loosen his
grip on his gun. Lara plucked it easily-if any manoeuvre
done on the back of a racing motorcycle could be considered
easy-and smashed the butt down on his wounded leg. He lost
control and crashed.
      Lara didn't have time for self congratulations. In
her side mirror she saw another Leatherneck coming up
behind her, gun pointed towards her. She veered to the
left, dodging his burst, then decelerated until she was at
his side. The biker tried to bring his gun to around bear
on his agile target, but Lara beat him to the chase. With a
quick trigger pull, she fired three rounds into his body,
then accelerated beyond his body and cartwheeling bike.
      Two down. Lara grinned and bared her teeth. The odds
were still far from even, but she was armed now, and that
made things a damn sight better than they were before.
      * * *
      Ben swore as the trucks he was hiding between began
to split up and break formation. He couldn't blame them for
not want to stick around a bike fight-they had cargoes to
haul and they were the ones who had to foot the bill if
their goods got shot up- but he had to admit they had lousy
timing. He had wasted one more Leatherneck that had come in
from his right side. Something on the left side of the
trucks, probably Lady Grace, had kept them too distracted
to try and get him. With a blast of their horns, and a few
angry gestures, the big rigs split up, leaving Ben suddenly
alone on the road with a lot of angry bikers and no cover
to hide behind. One of the Leathernecks, taking the
opportunity to try and bag himself a Polecat, appeared on
Ben's suddenly vulnerable flank and began spraying wildly
with his machine pistol. Ben swore and began to jink and
dodge like mad. Shooting with one hand from a moving
motorcycle was damned hard, as well Ben knew. Betsy was a
single shot rifle for that reason, but a lot of weaker -and
lazier- shooters made up for that with a 'spray and pray'
technique that was mighty thirsty on ammo.
      The guy behind him was shooting up a storm and Ben
heard at least one round go into his exhaust pipes. Ben
frowned. He messed up my bike. That biker's gonna die for
what he's done. He steered his bike onto the road's gravel
shoulder and heaved back with his arms. The massive bike
seemed to defy gravity as it rose ponderously onto its back
wheel and before the guy behind him figured out what he was
up to, Ben triggered his recoil booster for just a second.
It wasn't enough to send the bike anywhere-Ben wasn't gonna
leave this battle without Lady Grace-but it created a huge
cloud of dust and shot the gravel on the road beneath him
into the air like bullets.
      Ben let his front wheel hit the ground, thankful that
it stayed there (popping a wheelie always made him nervous
now) and immediately veered right while he hit the brakes.
The biker behind him, stung by the flying gravel and
blinded by the dust, never saw Ben and his outstretched
tire iron until it was too late. The impact from the ran up
Ben's arm all the way to the shoulder and almost disarmed
him, but it sent the biker crashing to the ground which
made it all worth while.
      Ben looked around frantically for bad guys, but more
importantly for Lady Grace. He didn't even try to
rationalise the intense relief-almost enough to make him
feel giddy-that he felt when he saw her alive, zipping
around like a hornet and firing off her stolen pistol like
she was born with it. As he watched, her gun ran dry and
without a moment's hesitation she threw it into the front
wheel of a bike close to her, making it pitch up and send
its rider flying. He was struck by the grace of the
manoeuvre-she made it seem as natural as breathing-and also
by how much he suddenly realised he felt for her. Love.
He'd never used that word before in a sentence not
involving the word Corley but nothing else seemed to fit
what he was feeling now. That realisation shook Ben to his
core, but he couldn't dwell on it, not now, not with a
whole slew of Leathernecks still out there and all of them
wanting his -and Lara's-hide.
      The side road to Betsy was coming right up, and it
was about damned time. Staying on this highway being shot
up by merc bikers was running the odds a lot narrower then
he cared to. Sooner or later, he and Lara were gonna get
nailed. He drew in a breath for courage, then let it out.
This road, especially while getting chased, was going to be
a bitch. It was pitted, narrow and twisted like a
sidewinder. It was going to take both hands to drive, so
the Leathernecks wouldn't be able to shoot as they chased
Ben and Lara, or if they did try maybe they'd end up as
smears in the bedrock.
      With no more hesitation, knowing that Lara would
follow him, Ben turned off and burned down the road full
throttle.
      * * *
      Lara cursed as he gun ran dry. She'd been trying to
conserve ammo as much as possible, but a gun had only so
many bullets and hers had run out. Also, shooting from a
moving motorcycle while dodging and evading was bloody
hard. She'd managed to perforate three of the Leathernecks
with it, so she couldn't complain too badly, but there were
still far too many remaining and now she had only harsh
language with which to stop them. Her throw of the empty
gun managed to catch one more, an act that surprised her
surely as much as the biker she upended with it, but still
left the odds horribly uneven.
      She was glad to see Ben's smirking face alive and
well, and when he vanished down the side road she followed
immediately. Two Leathernecks made it in before her and it
turned into a bizarre race. Ben was in the lead, riding
hell-bent for leather, with two riders behind trying to
match his insane pace. Lara came behind them on the narrow
twisting road, and the rest of the Leathernecks followed
her in some sort of insane motley parade.
      The road twisted and curved, with loose gravel and
some wicked potholes that Ben was somehow negotiating like
a pleasant Sunday drive. The rest of them, Lara included,
were having a somewhat harder time of it. Lara, in her
lighter, more agile bike, had an easier go of it then the
man in front of her. Slowly, yard by dangerous yard, she
gained on him. As she drew near to the rider, who wore a
Highway Patrol style helmet and goggles, spotted her and
tried to run her off the road. Lara frowned. Trying to keep
up on this sorry excuse for a road was bad enough, but to
try road combat? The man must be daft.
      She squeezed her brakes briefly, letting the biker
hit only air, and tried to pass around him on his other
side. The biker swerved back, trying to mash her between
himself and the rock face that made up the side of the
road. It was an unfortunate side effect of having a small,
agile bike; every single one of these riders could ram and
force her wherever they wanted. It was a price she was
normally happy to pay when she was armed, but she wasn't
and thus was truly out of luck. She tried to accelerate
past her adversary, but he jockeyed back to the middle of
the road, preventing her from passing.
      They continued to play cat and mouse on the narrow
treacherous roads for a few moments, and Lara became
increasingly frustrated. They were stale mated; he couldn't
seem to manage run Lara off the road and she was unable to
pass him. On a particularly straight and rare patch of
road, he tried to swipe at her with some sort of club, but
Lara wasn't fool enough to get into a bike fight on these
trails.
      As the two of them swung around a wide turn, Lara saw
her chance. The biker went wide on a turn, and she managed
to cut inside him and break ahead. She spent a moment
congratulating herself, but began to curse as a bullet flew
past her ear. The crazy bastard was trying to shoot her, on
these roads! Either the man was a demon of a biker, one
hell of a shot, or just insane. She was leaning towards the
latter. As if just riding this road and keeping ahead of a
horde of bikers wasn't enough, she had to dodge bullets,
too? Not bloody likely, sport.
      Unfortunately, he was quite a good motorcyclist. He
had attached himself to Lara's flank like a limpet and was
only shooting when he got to a fairly flat, straight
stretch. Thankfully, they were few and far between on this
road. Still, he was getting far to close to the mark. As
they entered a straightaway, Lara zig zagged back and forth
like mad. Bullets were flying all about her, but none of
them seemed to hit. She began to aim for pot holes and
rough patches, anything that might through her pursuer off.
This has to end one way or another. Either he has to shoot
me or he has to crash.
      He crashed. The Leatherneck's bike caught a tank
sized pot hole and the front wheel lurched to the side. If
the man had had both hands on the wheel perhaps he could
have kept control or even avoided the obstacle, but with
only one hand controlling the bike and the other raised to
shoot, he had no chance. His bike jerked away from Lara's
and tumbled end over end twice before slamming into the
rock face on the side of the road. Lara rode around him
with a fierce grin, mentally punching the air as she
triumphed once more over Death, if only for a moment.
      Ahead of her she could see Ben grappling with another
biker. Ben had his tire iron in his free hand and was
trying to club the other man with it, but his opponent had
Ben's forearm gripped in his hand, and they were struggling
for supremacy. Lara was amazed that even with one hand on
the grips and while wrestling another bike, Ben still
managed to outride every other biker on the road. As she
watched, Ben forced the other biker closer and closer to
the rock wall at the side of the road until she could see
sparks being struck off the metal side of the bike. Lara
could see an outcropping of rock jut out of the stone wall
in front of the biker, and apparently he did to, for she
could see him trying to disengage from his fight with Ben.
      Ben, however, was having no part of it. His bike had
the other man pinned, and his big arm was keeping the guy
there. With a flat crunching sound, the Leatherneck and his
bike slammed into the outcropping and stopped dead. Ben
avoided the same rock with no difficulty, holstered his
tire iron, and put both hands back the controls. Firmly
back in control, he gunned his bike and started going even
faster up the road. It was all Lara could do to keep up.
      * * *
      Ben and Lara shot out of the narrow canyon road onto
the faded asphalt with no Leathernecks in sight. Ben
couldn't help but be a little bit proud. He could honestly
say that he had just done the best, hardest riding of his
life, and Lady Grace had kept up to him the whole time. Of
course, her bike was a lot more suited to the kind of back
road travel that they had been doing, but the fact that she
had kept up at all was proof that she had a biker's spirit.
      Ben's bike began to make unhappy noises, and he felt
a pang of guilt. He had promised his bike a good fixing
after the chase from Torque's place (God, had that only
been three days ago?) but had never gotten around to it,
and now he had just forced it to perform way above and
beyond the call of duty. A quick glance at the dash showed
the engine light on, and a glance behind him showed a
smelly black cloud of smoke. Hmm. Over heating and burning
oil. He needed that like he needed a kick in the head. If
he had to ditch his bike, a thought that ranked right up
there with vivisection, he and Lara on her cute little
machine wouldn't be able outrun an old lady on a walker.
Besides that, who would drive?
      Come on, darlin', just make to where Betsy's hidden.
Ben urged his flagging bike along silently. We can hide out
then, but you've gotta last me that long. He wasn't sure
how much of Bastard Squad had made it through that narrow
road, but whoever was left was going to be pouring out of
there like pissed off ants pretty time soon, and his plume
of black smoke was an easy trail to follow. It was the
perfect time to red line it and get as much space between
them and the Leathernecks, but Ben's bike wasn't co-
operating much. He was nursing it along, doing maybe 60,
and against the Leathernecks that wasn't anywhere near fast
enough.
      The only upshot to the whole situation was that he
and Lady Grace were maybe five miles from where they had
hidden their guns. Even with Ben limping along, that was
still only four or five minutes away. He and his bike could
make it that far, couldn't they?
      Lara pulled up and yelled to him over their combined
engine noise. "How's your bike doing? Will it make it?"
      Suddenly Ben didn't know what to say to her. He tried
to keep his mind on business. "We'll be fine."
      "Do you think we lost them?"
      Ben shrugged. "For now. They'll be on us before too
much longer."
      Lara frowned. Even with her dusty and wind chapped
face, she still looked beautiful. "Is your bike up to a
chase?"
      He looked glumly at all the warning lights blinking
on his dash. "It kinda has to be, doesn't it?"
      "We should hide, or -"
      Ben cut her off. "I'm done hiding, and I'm not
leaving my bike."
      "Even if it gets you killed?" Even yelling above the
bike noise, he could still hear the disapproval in her
voice.
      "It won't get me killed." Hopefully.
      "And you said I had a death wish." She accused.
      It's not a death wish. I trust me and I trust my
bike. "Like you said, it makes us the perfect pair."
      She flashed him a blinding smile. She seemed about to
say something, but then she caught sight of something
behind her. "Ben, they're coming!"
      Ben glanced behind him. Five of them, two miles off
and they were closing fast. Between himself, Lady Grace and
the road, they'd taken out ten riders. Not bad, Polecat.
Not bad at all. Still, they were out of tricks and Ben's
ride was wounded. Five Leathernecks would be more than
enough to finish them off. "Go on ahead, get the guns." And
what about their ten man reserve? Where were they?
      "Ben, I'm not leaving you." Lara's voice didn't brook
any argument.
      Dammit, there wasn't time for this! "If you stay,
we're both dead." Besides, Ben still had one trick up his
sleeve. "Go, grab Betsy and cover me," he growled. "It's
the only chance we got." He stared Lara down, trying to
convince her through sheer force of will. She was,
unfortunately, just as damn stubborn as he was, and for a
moment he thought she was going to defy him just for the
hell of it.
      Lady Grace returned his determined gaze with an
intense brown eyed stare of her own, but after an eternal
moment, nodded and roared off at a speed that right now Ben
could only envy. As he rode along alone, Ben did the math
and found he didn't like the numbers He was five minutes
away from any sort of fire support, and the Leathernecks
were about three minutes behind him. That left, what, two
minutes? Not long enough to cook an egg, but more than
enough to turn me into toast. Was it enough time for Lara
to get the guns, dig them out, and come save his ass?
      Probably not. Ben, however, was damn well not giving
up without a fight. He was going to fight for every second
he could, and hope it was long enough for Lady Grace to do
her thing. He still had one ace up his exhaust pipe, but he
had to let the Leathernecks into spitting range to use it.
      It was just Ben and the road. Up until a couple of
days ago that would have been ok, but now that he had met
Lady Grace that number seemed too small by one. I'm getting
soft in my old age.
      Ben gritted his teeth. The Leathernecks were still
about a minute off, and all he could do was sweat and wait
for them to come. I hate this part. It was like a damned
target was tattooed on the back of his head. He glanced in
his side mirror and saw the five remaining Leathernecks
getting fairly close. A flash came from one of the bikes,
and then his mirror ceased to exist. Shit, they were
shooting at him. Now for the fun part. Ben swore and began
to weave erratically. There was no cover for him to duck
behind this time, and even if they just kept spraying like
a fire hose, eventually some rounds were going to connect.
      He gunned his engine, but the only effect seemed to
be an ungodly grinding sound noise and an even bigger cloud
of smoke behind him. Damn. His poor bike couldn't take much
more of this, and the Leathernecks were getting way too
close. Bullets brought up puffs of dust in front of him,
and he felt one round impact with his exhaust pipe. Well,
he wasn't sticking around for any more of this. Sayonara,
suckers. Ben stabbed his thumb down on the button for his
recoil booster, and braced himself for the sudden
acceleration that came along with the rocket blast.
      Nothing happened.
      Ben began swearing in earnest. He began with cusses
he had learned in the streets of Springfield, moved onto
the huge volume of curses that he had accumulated over his
four years in the Marine Corps, and ended off with every
single swear he had learned over thirteen years hanging
around the desert. All said and told, it was a fairly
impressive collection of profanity, but other making him
feel a little better did nothing to improve his situation.
Just when it looked like things couldn't get worse, the
recoil booster erupted in a tooth rattling explosion. It
rocked Ben's ailing bike and nearly face planted him in the
asphalt. Ben blinked, trying to keep his bearings and
somehow managed to right his bike. The booster must have
taken a hit from the gunfire or during the chase. He said
all of his curses over again, but with more feeling this
time, and kept riding his bike erratically. That, at least,
was easier to do.
      This wasn't part of the damned plan. Ben continued to
ride desperately, jinking all along the highway and
watching helplessly as the Leathernecks came nearer and
nearer. They weren't shooting now, now that they saw he was
wounded. Ben gritted his teeth, feeling the heat from the
invisible bull's-eye burn into him. Everything had happened
too fast. There was no way she could have gotten to the
guns this quick. He was helpless. It was a feeling he
wasn't familiar with, and one he hated. Ben swerved and
jinked like mad, trying to avoid that one final shot, but
the damn bikers kept pace easily, keeping him inside their
horse shoe. They all had guns out, pistols and SMG's, and
they were all pointed at Ben.
      Ben knew that he had stretched this out as long as he
could. Getting out of this whole thing had been a long shot
at best, and this time he wasn't beating the odds. No way
in hell this Polecat is going out with out a fight. Ben
gritted his teeth and reached for his tire iron. "Get it
over with!" Ben yelled, picking a Leatherneck at random and
charging. The biker just grinned and lifted his gun to
shoot. It was over, Ben said to himself and time seemed to
slow. He saw the guy raising the gun, saw the smile on the
biker's face, and two thoughts went through his head. I'm
sure gonna miss my bike, and then another, unexpected one.
I'm sure gonna miss Lady Grace. We only kissed once, we
never even-
      Still in slow motion, Ben watched as the biker's
chest erupted in blood. The gun he was about to shoot Ben
with fell from nerveless fingers as he slowly began to fall
off the bike. Reality snapped back into normal time. Lady
Grace. She made it. Must be snipering from the ridge. He
didn't even try to figure out the gamut of emotions that
ran through him. There was just too much.
      Ben swerve around the falling bike and tried like
hell to get outside of the firing arc of the remaining
bikers. He'd still be in at least one guy's field of fire,
but hopefully their tight formation would work against them
and keep them from shooting. If he was lucky they might
even shoot each other, and save Lady Grace some bullets
      It was an odd sensation, to put himself in another
person's hands, to trust another person with his life. He'd
thought that his trust had died along with Torque and the
Polecats, but now...
      Four guns opened up with Ben as their only target,
and somehow he managed to evade most, but not all of them.
He felt one round graze his leg and at least four bullets
impact with various parts of his bike, and then he was out
of their field of fire. He saw another biker jerk and then
fall, followed by another five seconds later. Ben urged his
bike into one last burst of speed, and the bike leapt
forward with an almost human like shriek. He raced up
behind one of the two remaining Leathernecks and swung his
tire iron into the back of the man's head. The last rider
tried to evade Lara's fire and lost control, his bike
sending a shower of sparks as it slowly slid to a halt.
      Ben's bike, with a last seizing gasp, shut itself
down and he coasted to an oddly quiet stop. Ben let the
bike rest. It had lasted as long and done as much as you
could ask any machine, even a Corley. After the hours of
screaming engines and gunfire, the silence was deafening.
He put the kickstand down along the flat road, and for a
moment just took in the glorious sights, sounds and smells
of life. I did beat the odds. It was an exulting moment,
and he had a thought. This must be what Lady Grace feels.
Suddenly she made a bit more sense. He took a deep breath,
taking in the smell of exhaust and cordite and feeling the
sun beat down upon him. It all seemed...brighter, somehow.
The colours, the smells, the sounds were all so much more
vivid; like his life up until now had been lived with
blinders on. With a hand over his eyes, Ben scanned down
the dirt trail where he had buried his guns, scanning for
Lara. In the distance, a hundred yards or so off, he could
see a cloud of dust as she rode towards him. 100 yards, and
that was just the final shot. She had hit two other bikers
still farther out. That was damn good shooting.
      About 20 yards off, Ben heard a man groan. He looked
over to where the last biker had skidded out and saw the
guy, bloody and limping push his bike off of himself and
slowly get to his feet. He was unarmed.
      "When Gunny finds you," the biker said between gasps
of breath, "You're a dead man."
      Ben glared at the defeated Leatherneck. "You tell
Gunny to watch his back." There was hatred and venom in his
voice. "You tell him Ben Polecat's coming for him."
      The biker said nothing, just slowly and painfully
righted his bike. "You tell your brothers," Ben continued
in his low, rough voice. "Any man I see wearing Leatherneck
colours is gonna die." The guy mounted his bike wordlessly
and painfully. "You should just toss that jacket and start
running," Ben warned. "Next time I see you, I shoot to
kill."
      The biker flinched at the word 'kill', but started
his bike and drove away, saying nothing. Ben just sat there
and watched him go. After a moment he turned to look for
Lara. Lady Grace stood straddling her motor bike, her
Brownings in her holsters and Betsy on her shoulder with
the gun trained on the retreating Leatherneck. When she saw
he was looking at her, she leaned the lever action rifle
over her shoulder, put her other hand against her hip and
smiled. She was covered in dust, half of her hair had
escaped her braid, her clothes were mussed and there was a
rip in her jeans, but she was the most beautiful thing Ben
had ever seen.
      Slowly, minding his bullet wound that was just now
beginning to hurt in his leg, Ben got off his bike and
began to walk towards her. Words and emotions went through
his head in a cacophonous jumble: respect, anger, lust,
love, an overwhelming desire to crush her in his arms and
never let go, but no words came to his lips. What do you
tell a woman who had just stolen your heart and saved your
life at the same time? As he neared her, she set down her
kickstand and leaned against her bike, propping her
sunglasses up and smiling. He stopped about three feet off
and opened his mouth to speak, but only silence came out.
The only sound was that of the desert wind and her engine
ticking.
      Ben licked his lips and tried again. "That was pretty
good shooting." It wasn't what he wanted to say, but it
would do.
      "Thank you." She replied politely. "Are you all
right?"
      Ben shrugged. "A few scratches," he looked in her
deep brown eyes and saw...something. "I'm fine." He added
softly.
      They just stared at one another, lost in each other's
eyes.
      "How-how's your bike?" Lara asked, her voice
catching. It was barely a whisper.
      Ben walked closer to her, reached out and took away
Betsy from loose fingers, all the while staring in her
eyes. "Needs a tune up," he mumbled and set the gun down.
      Lara licked her lips and took in a breath to reply,
but there was no point in talking. He slipped an arm around
her waist and pulled her to him. She wrapped her arms
around his neck and stared into his soul. Gently exhaling,
Ben lowered his lips to hers and they melted into each
other.
      There was no pretending this time; no bar, no mixed
messages. The bike chase that had happened didn't matter;
nothing mattered right now, just one man, one woman and the
road.

     Ben & Lara
     Chapter Twelve
     by Ross Jenkins, c 1998

      Ben & Lara XII - Making Plans
      After a brief eternity, Lara and Ben had parted. It
would have been easy to stay lip locked and see what
developed, but the uncertainty of the situation as well as
the limitations of their fleshly shells had gotten in the
way. Sooner or later, whatever Leathernecks from Bastard
Squad had survived were going to come back, and it was best
if Ben and Lara weren't there when that happened.
      It was really hard for Lara to stay awake right now
as she helped Ben tinker and cannibalise from the various
bikes littering the area. Every part of her -including
parts she hadn't known existed until now- was sore and
aching. Her skin was raw and sore from all of the flying
dust and rocks from the chase, and the various blows she
had taken over the last few days were making themselves
very well known. Lara groaned. During the nail-gripping
chase she had been able to ignore her pain and fatigue, but
now that the rush of adrenaline was gone all her body
wanted to do was shut down.
      Shutting down, however, was not an option. They had
to flee the area, find a place to refuel and plan -not to
mention eat a decent meal- and to do that they had to
somehow resurrect Ben's fallen motorcycle. Lara had
suggested abandoning it and taking one of the fallen
Leatherneck cycles, but Ben had given her a flat
disbelieving look and a harsh 'no' that had almost removed
the growing feelings she was having for him.
      It was a bit frustrating and Lara had experienced a
moment of totally irrational jealousy. I wish that he would
give me as much attention as he gave that bike. She was on
her third bike so far, having sacrificed one in the Polecat
massacre and drowned the other in the Med, but she knew
that with a biker it was different. To Lara, a bike was a
tool to be used, but to them, their bikes were part of who
they were, a crucial part of their identity. The care and
affection they gave their machines was akin to that of
Arabian cavalry, who fed and maintained their horses before
making camp or tending wounded. A biker without a bike
wasn't a biker.
      Ben had gone over his sad looking machine with a look
of pain that would have been humorous in any other
circumstance. In truth, though, the bike was in a sorry
state. It's forest of exhaust pipes and headers were
riddled with bullet holes and set at odd angles from the
destruction of his rocket booster. The front forks were
bent from the jarring they had received on that horrid road
and the rest of the bike looked, well, tired. Ben had said
that he had cracked the oil pan during the chase, and had
barely kept the engine from seizing. The two of them had
been going from fallen bike to fallen bike hunting for oil,
fuel hoses, washers, and a new back wheel. Ben's rear tire
had shredded when the booster blew, and he had mangled the
rim in his subsequent riding.
      The two of them had been silent other than the
occasional mechanical question and reply. After all, what
was there to say? During and right after that toe-curling
kiss -it made their embrace last night in the Rebar seem
tame- they had experienced a very intense, intimate moment
and she for one did not want to ruin it with awkward and
meaningless small talk. Instead, their tasks had a
comfortable and companionable feeling to them that Lara
couldn't remember having felt for quite a while. It was
something she could get used to.
      Somehow, in the last hour Ben had performed a miracle
and pronounced his bike ready to ride, but Lara remained
dubious. It didn't look fixed. Admittedly, the back wheel
had been replaced but the bike still looked like a wreck.
Still, it was Ben's baby, and he pronounced it road worthy
then she was willing to humour his delusion.
      The sooner we get out of this place the better. The
Leatherneck reinforcements, or at least a clean up crew,
were overdue, and while they were armed, Lara didn't think
that she and Ben were up to yet another stand up fight.
They had been burning the candle from both ends and sheer
exhaustion was going to be by far their worst enemy.
      "So do you know where we're going?" Lara asked as Ben
mounted his fragile machine. He had Betsy sheathed at the
bike's side and she wore her pistols happily on her hips.
The bike groaned ominously as Ben settled his weight onto
it.
      "A guy called Maury," Ben answered laconically. "He
runs a bike shop about two hours north west of here."
      Lara mounted her own bike and got ready to ride.
"He'll help us? Can we trust him?"
      "He was a good friend of Torque's." Ben said flatly.
"He won't turn down a biker in need." He brought his leg
down on the bike's starting lever. The bike wheezed,
groaned and spat out a black cloud of smoke, but didn't
start. Ben frowned, caressed the gas tank in an intimate
manner that made Lara frown and whispered something under
his breath. He kicked down on the starter again, and after
a moment of indecision, the bike grudgingly coughed itself
to a semblance of life. It was running very rough, but at
least it was running, though Ben didn't look very happy
about it.
      Without any further conversation, he rode off in a
cloud of smelly black exhaust, and Lara quickly followed,
though she made sure to stay at his side where the air was
cleaner.
      * * *
      Even though Ben had gotten his bike road worthy, it
wasn't up to sprinting. Hell, it was barely up to running
period.If their situation wasn't so shitty, he would have
limped his bike along at maybe thirty of forty, but in the
interest of not getting his ass blown off by Leathernecks,
he somehow managed to urge his tired bike up to an insane
eighty. Driving at that speed was a full time job, keeping
an eye on the gauges and trying to keep the wobbling bike
from pitching over. Lady Grace was keeping a eye on the
road, for which he was grateful, riding ahead to scout or
falling back to check something over. Twice she had
motioned them to pull over and hide, and both times a pair
of Leathernecks roared past their position.
      Ben was positive that the very thin line they were
balancing on was going to break, but two and a half tense
and weary hours later, he and Lady Grace pulled up in front
of Maury's place. The place was a retired gas/service
station, with an attached home for the operator on the
second floor. It was old, dusty and windblown like
everything else in this desert, with antique analogue pumps
and an old, shattered neon sign that still bore signs of
red and blue 'Chevron' stripes. A stripped semi tractor sat
in the lot, vying with the tumbleweeds for the best sun.
The name of the place, 'Last Chance Auto and Gas' was spray
painted on a piece of plywood hung over the door.
      Ben mercifully shut his bike off, ending its misery
for now, and put down his kickstand. Getting off the bike
reminded him just how tired and sore he was. Once he got
this bike under cover and into Maury's hands, he was going
to find a nice dumpster and pass out. Then some kind of
meal, even sawdust would do, and then finding out more
about Fort Kennedy. Ben had spent enough time dicking
around; it was time to start kicking ass and taking names.
He had fifteen deaths to set to right, and hanging around
here in the middle of nowhere was doing nothing towards
that end.
      Ben took off his shades and pushed open the dusty
screen door. A wind chime attached to the door tinkled; it
was the only sound in the room. "Maury?" Ben called out as
he walked in, "where are you, you old bastard?" It was said
with affection. Faded sunlight lit the room and filled it
with dark shadows. Old motor part posters covered the wall,
as well as an old calendar featuring a young woman draped
over a motor bike. She didn't, Ben noted, even come close
to holding a candle to Lady Grace. The whole place was
covered in dust, and for a moment Ben wondered if the old
guy was still around. Maury had never been in the best of
health; if he had popped off odds were no one would notice
for months. Ben hadn't been to see the grizzled old bastard
in a couple of years. Anything could have happened.
      Lady Grace came into the building behind him and gave
the room a once over with her cool brown eyes. "Charming."
      Ben grunted in reply and pounded his fist against the
Formica countertop. "Maury!" He yelled, "you old cripple,
get your ass out here!"
      Lara shot Ben a startled look. "Ben," she chided him,
"don't you think that's a bit rude?"
      From the back, Ben heard machine parts clanking and a
door slam. He gave a short laugh. "You think that's bad,
you should hear Maury," he told Lara. "The guy has a worse
mouth than Gunny."
      Lara gave a very slight frown and raised her
eyebrows. "How charming."
      "Don't listen to a damn thing he says, honey," Maury
called out in his gruff voice. The man hobbled into view a
moment later. "I don't know who this Gunny person is, but I
am a complete gentleman." He was looking ok, Ben thought,
all thing considered. Maury must be in his -what?- late
fifties. He was about five eight, maybe 180 lbs. He had
long unruly salt and pepper hair with an uncut beard just a
shade lighter. He walked smoothly with two canes, like he'd
been doing it for years, and Ben knew that his pants hid
the two prosthetic legs that the guy wore.
      Ben snorted. "You don't even know what a gentleman
is." He offered out his hand and mentally winced when the
older man set down one of his canes and took it. The guy
was a gimp, and as a result used his hands a lot more than
normal. Besides that, he was a mechanic. His grip was
harder than Torque's. Slowly, methodically, and completely
on purpose, he crushed Ben's hand into hamburger. It was a
modern test of manhood, however, and Ben didn't flinch.
Snatching his hand back and flexing it to see if he had any
circulation left, he introduced Lady Grace. "Maury, this is
Lara Croft." He smirked as she took the old guy's weathered
and callused grip. For a moment, the two just stood there,
staring at each other, and Ben winced as he saw the old
guy's arm tightening with exertion. Ben looked at Lara, and
saw that her arm was flexing as well. The two just stood
there, faces calm, each trying to out vice the other, as
they stared each other down.
      After a long, quiet moment they both let their hands
drop. Maury's eyes were lit with amusement. "Hell of a
woman you got there, Ben." He leaned against the counter
with both hands. "What can I do for you?"
      "I don't got her, Maury," Ben corrected. "We're just
riding together."
      The old guy chuckled. "You got it for her that bad,
huh?" He kept talking before Ben could protest. "What the
hell brings you out my way? You and your boys don't come
out this way very often." Maury leaned over the counter and
looked outside. "Where is your gang, anyway? You on a
honeymoon?" he asked the last bit with a smirk and a
sparkle in his eyes.
      Ben suddenly wasn't in the mood for small talk.
"They're all dead Maury, Torque too." It was easier to say
this time. It had happened a few days ago, and the reality
of it seemed more concrete.
      Maury frowned. "Damn." He looked of into space for a
moment, then looked back at Ben's face. "I'm sorry Ben, for
everything." Ben just shrugged. "You on the run? Need place
to lay low?"
      Ben nodded, happy he didn't have to explain any more.
"My bike took a beating. I need you to fix it up."
      Maury craned his neck to look outside as he gave
Ben's machine a once over. He whistled. "That's one trashed
bike." He turned back to Ben. "What the hell did you do to
it?"
      Ben didn't say anything. Words didn't begin to cover
it.
      "I'll do what I can, Ben, but I think that bike has
ridden its last ride." Ben grimaced. These were words he
did not want to hear. Maury gave Ben a quick glance. "You
look like shit, Ben," he glanced at Lara as well. "Both of
you." He began to hobble into the back. "Come on and I'll
give the two of you a place to crash."
      With the word 'crash', the weight and pressure of the
last three days hit Ben like a wave. Suddenly he could
barely keep on his feet. However, there was one thing he
had to clear up first. "Maury." Ben called out. The old man
stopped and looked back. "I ain't got no money."
      "Are you gonna get some payback?" Maury asked from
the door. Ben nodded solemnly. "Then its on the house."
      He led the two of them up a fight of stairs to a
small, neat living area. "What do you want to do first?
Eat, sleep, or shower?"
      It didn't take much thought. "Sleep."
      Maury gestured with his cane. "Spare room's through
that door." He looked at Lara as Ben stumbled off to the
spare room. "What about you, honey?"
      Ben frowned as he took his jacket off. As tempting as
getting Lara into bed with him was, now just wasn't the
time for it. When he finally did sleep with Lady Grace, he
wanted to be conscious for it. "Another bed, if you have
one, or the couch." She said from behind him.
      Ben slowly and painfully stripped off his pants and
boots. He couldn't remember ever having been this tired. At
least during all the crap that had happened last year, he'd
either been knocked out or had passed out enough so that it
didn't matter. He was still fighting with a stubborn sock
that refused to leave his foot when his head hit the
pillow, and then he remembered no more.
      * * *
      Lara woke to the late afternoon sunset. Blinking and
covering her eyes, she looked about to get her bearings. It
took a moment, but then she remembered. She was on Maury's
couch under a blanket, and an errant ray shining though an
open window had made its way slowly across the room until
it had rested on her eyes. Falling back with a sigh, Lara
took a moment just to stretch out and luxuriate in the
sensation of not being chased, threatened or shot at. From
the moment she had seen Big Willie skulking around the
streets of Baron's Head almost four days ago, she had been
constantly moving, riding or fighting. Her sore muscles and
dark bruises were testament to her body's unhappiness to
the situation. She really needed a hot bath and a good
stretch, and by hook or by crook was determined to get both
before she left this place.
      Her growling stomach reminded her of her less than
ideal diet as of late. She thought about what food she most
would like to eat, more as a form of torture than anything
else. Grilled marinated chicken breast on a fresh sour
dough roll with saut‚ed mushrooms and Spanish onions. Mmm,
yes, that would hit the spot. Beef vindelou with steamed
vegetables and saffron rice. A bit spicy, maybe, but Lara
could never resist Indian food.
      She continued to tempt her stomach as she got up from
the couch and dressed. She looked over at the door to the
room where Ben had gone in, but it was closed. Poor man
needed the rest even more than I did. Ben had been through
all of the running and fighting that she had, but he had to
do this with his entire life shattered before his eyes.
      She padded over to the kitchen table where Maury had
left an assortment of canned and dried food to choose from.
All dreams of gourmet faire aside, she was more than
content to dine on tinned beef stew, stonewheat crackers
and fruit cocktail. Leaving some on the stove for Ben, she
next went to the bathroom. Thankfully, Maury had hot water.
      The next thirty minutes were quite possibly the most
blissful of her life, definitely the best in recent memory.
The water was hot, almost too hot, and she used its
penetrating heat to work all the aches out of her body. For
the first time in days she was totally clean, with her hair
washed and combed out, and it was a wonderful feeling. Only
when her skin threatened to wrinkle up like a prune did she
reluctantly remove herself from the water's gentle embrace.
      Lara changed into her familiar tank top and shorts,
noting that Ben was still dead to the world. What she
needed now was a good stretch and workout in the desert
sun. On her way out, she heard sounds coming from the
service bay and decided to pop in and thank Maury for his
hospitality. He was seated on a wood bench and working on
Ben's bike. Ben surely would have had a heart attack if he
saw his beloved machine in its current state. Maury had it
completely disassembled and bike bits were everywhere.
There was a radio playing an old country tune that Lara
didn't recognise, and Maury was singing along as he used a
steel brush to clean off some obscure engine part. He had a
surprisingly good voice, a whiskey soaked baritone that
rose and fell with the song easily as he worked.
      In another part of the empty service bay Lara saw her
new bike sitting cleaned and tuned. Maury stopped singing
when he saw Lara. "Oh, hi, sweetheart." He called, raising
his brush in greeting and shutting off the radio. He openly
admired Lara's new attire as she walked up to him. "You
look pretty good, honey."
      She didn't respond as she cleared away am oily rag
from the bench and sat.
      "Thank you for your hospitality," Lara said by way of
greeting, but Maury just shrugged.
      "You looked like you needed it." He said absently as
he inspected the cylinder for defects. "Ben still dead up
there?"
      She nodded. "He needed the sleep."
      Maury grunted and continued to scrub with his brush.
"So what the hell happened, anyway? Ben said Torque was
killed?"
      For what he was doing for them, letting the man know
how his old friend was killed and why was the least Lara
could do. She gave a brief summation of the last few days,
starting with Ben's first encounter with Gunny in the Horny
Bull and with their escape from Fulsome. Maury listened
quietly until she had finished.
      "So what the hell is going down at this Fort Kennedy
place?" he asked when he was done.
      Lara shrugged. "We don't know. Something about a
Pipeline and a Corridor."
      "And who the hell is this Williams guy?"
      "We think that he is part of Williams Consolidated
Chemical." Lara replied. Maury motioned for a rag and she
handed one to him. "They're one of the companies that run
Fulsome."
      The legless man buffed for a moment. "Sounds pretty
weird." He said finally.
      Lara smiled thinly. "I don't think weird begins to
cover it. I'm prone to use the word 'sinister'." She
watched Maury work. He was very good with his hands.
"Whatever they are up to, they are willing to kill anyone
to keep it secret."
      His voice was bland. "The two of you going up against
all this, sounds pretty hairy."
      She began to trace patterns in the oily dirt with her
toe. "I have no intention of taking on over a hundred
bikers, thank you very much." She replied. "This is just a
reconnoitre."
      He finished cleaning the cylinder and picked up
another engine part. "And then what?" He picked up his
brush and began to scrub.
      "I don't know." Lara admitted. "I suppose it depends
on what we find." She paused and thought. "Contact the
authorities, I suppose."
      He gave out a bitter laugh that sounded more like a
quack. "You think Ben's gonna be happy to call the cops?"
he asked. "Even assuming they do something about it, he's
got a lot to avenge." Maury looked over at Lara. "He's
going to want blood."
      She met his gaze sadly. "I know."
      He quirked an eye brow up, then went back to his
work. "So what are you going to do?"
      There weren't really that many options. "Watch his
back, I suppose." She said after a moment. "Try to keep him
from getting killed." A bloody fat lot of good that's going
to do.
      "So what's your stake in all this?" Maury asked her.
"Why are you involved?"
      "I'm still trying to figure that part out." Lara
admitted. "For Ben, I suppose."
      "Is he worth dying for?"
      It was a simple question, yet impossibly hard to
answer. "I..."
      Maury cut her off, his voice hard. "If he ain't, then
you had better get on that bike and high tail it while
you've still got a chance."
      "No." She said quickly, without having to think about
it. That wasn't an option. "I'm not leaving Ben."
      Her statement hung heavy in the air for a moment.
Maury paused his work, then said with deceptive easiness,
"You must really love him."
      Love. The word hit her like a runaway train. "I...I
suppose I do," she admitted, both to him and to herself.
The room suddenly seemed lighter, happier.
      "Then what the hell are you doing down here jawing
with me?" He barked loudly, jarring Lara out of her
reverie. "You're both going into hell tomorrow. This is
your last night to make it all worthwhile." He made shooing
motions to her with his hands towards the stairs.
      Lara was almost too stunned to speak. "Yes, I suppose
it is." She rose to her feet began absently walking towards
the exit.
      "I'll have both your bikes fixed up by morning, so
don't let that worry you," Maury told her reassuringly from
behind her, but she was only half listening. "Just get out
of here before you make me feel any older."
      Lara smiled. "Yes, I will." She stopped at the base
of the stairs "Oh, Maury?"
      "Yeah?"
      Her voice was soft. "Thank you." It was for more than
his hospitality and both of them knew it.
      The older man waved her off with an oily rag. "Stop
it. You're making me blush." Lara chuckled and made her way
upstairs, but before Maury was totally out of ear shot she
heard him mutter to himself, "Youth is wasted on the
young."
      She walked slowly up the stairs, her mind reeling.
She was in love with him. They'd known each other less than
a week, but that didn't seem to matter. Maybe it wasn't
rest-of-your-life type love, but it was close, and Lara
knew that she couldn't deny her feelings any more.
      She came quietly up the stairs to Maury's home. Was
Ben awake, or was he still sleeping? With a light smile,
Lara wondered what would be the best way to wake him. Maybe
slipping under his covers... but as she crested the top of
the stairs, she saw that he was up and had already eaten,
though he hadn't cleaned up after himself. Typical male,
she thought affectionately. He had showered and was
standing in the window, watching the desert sunset and lost
in thought. He hadn't heard her.
      He was a beautiful sight. The setting sun through the
window covered the horizon burnished gold, and orange and
pink clouds radiated from the deep red orb. It cast an
orange light over everything, leaving deep shadows
everywhere. Ben's skin seemed to be glowing, with the other
half of him in shadow. His hair was washed and slicked
back. He was wearing jeans and a white undershirt which
clung to his muscular chest like a second skin. He was
leaning against the window frame with one arm, the other
cocked absently at one hip. His face was in profile as he
stared out at infinity, propped against his hand, and he
looked both very sad and very wise.
      It took Lara's breath away. Biting her lower lip and
mentally steeling herself, she walked towards him.
      * * *
      Ben had been thinking about everything and nothing
when he heard Lady Grace's light footsteps behind him.
      He'd realised before that he had loved her, but that
was during the heat of battle. Sure, they had necked a few
times, but was that really love, or was it just the
accumulated lust and tension of the last few days? He
didn't know. Did it really matter? The two of them had been
through a lot over the last few days, it was only natural
that they gravitate towards each other.
      On top of that, there was his vengeance. He was
supposed to be getting revenge for his boys, and for
Torque, and sitting here thinking about Lara hot body
wasn't doing anything for their memory. He'd asked himself
before if thinking about Lara was betraying his boys, and
he still had no answer. One thing for damn sure, though, no
matter what he did someone was gonna get gypped and he was
going to feel guilty.
      Ben blinked, trying to think of what to say to her
when he felt her warm hand against his shoulder. He slowly
turned. She was standing not even two feet away from him,
wearing that transparent tank top. Her hair fell in auburn
waves, leaving her face lost in shadow. Her brown eyes were
deep pools that Ben was lost in immediately.
      "Hello Ben." Her voice was low and cool.
      He nodded and responded just as coolly. "Lady Grace."
      They said nothing for a moment, just stared into each
other's eyes. He could feel the heat from her body. "What
are you doing?" she asked after a long moment.
      A short eternity passed before he answered. He
shrugged. "Just thinking."
      "About?" Her voice was quiet. Ben found himself
tracing her with his eyes; the slope of her eye brows, the
line of her nose.
      "I don't know." He was drawn back to her eyes.
"Stuff, I guess." Life. Death. Me. You.
      She smiled a Mona Lisa smile and Ben knew he was
lost. "Ah, stuff."
      He tried to look away, but couldn't. "What are you
doing here, Lady Grace?" His voice was hoarse.
      Her smile disappeared. "Will you please call me
Lara?" Her voice was sad.
      It took Ben a moment to clear his throat. "What do
you want, Lara?"
      "I..." she looked down at his neck for moment, then
reached out with her finger and gently began to trace his
collarbone. His skin burned where they touched. After a
moment she brought her eyes up to his again. "I don't want
any regrets, Ben."
      His soul ran cold. "What do you mean?" She just
looked at him and didn't answer. He hated to say the words,
but he had to know. "Are you leaving?"
      She smiled. "No, I'd definitely regret that."
      Ben remembered to breathe. "Then what?"
      Wordlessly, Lara stepped close to Ben and wrapped her
arms around him.
      The hell with it, Ben thought. Vengeance can wait
until tomorrow. They brought their lips together for a
perfect, timeless kiss.
      "If we don't do this," Lara whispered into his ear,
"I'll regret it the rest of my life." Ben couldn't agree
more.
      There were no more words to be said as they
disappeared into Maury's spare room.

     Ben & Lara
     Chapter Thirteen
     by Ross Jenkins, c 1998

      Ben & Lara XIII - Behind the Lines
      "I don't know what to tell you, Ben." Maury said
apologetically. "Your bike is a piece of shit."
      It was the next morning. Despite the fact that he'd
had almost no sleep last night, Ben hadn't felt this well
rested in years. Spending the night with Lara had been...
He frowned. No time for that now. There were more important
things at stake.
      Ben groaned. "Oh, no. Not again." The last time his
bike had been trashed, Mo had been able to fix it right up,
better than before.
      Hmm. On second thought, Ben didn't want to think
about Mo right now, not with the imprint of Lara's body
still hot in his memory.
      "You can fix it, though, right?" He was disgusted to
hear how pathetic his voice sounded.
      "Nope." Maury shook his head and looked sadly at the
bike he had spent the entire night trying to breathe life
into. "I fixed it up a bit, but it ain't never gonna gonna
be anything other than a piece of shit."
      Ben shook his head. This couldn't be happening. "You
want me to get something for you? New forks? A blow torch?
I can-"
      "Ben!" Maury cut him off. "I already got a blow torch
and new forks won't help. Ben, I'd have to replace every
damned component. The engine is shot, the frame is being
held together with tin foil, and your engine processor
can't play tic tac toe." He put a comforting hand on Ben's
shoulder that the big biker shrugged off. "It'll run for
now, but the first time you push it, it's gonna to blow up
in you face."
      "But-" The old guy had to be wrong. He had to.
      "No buts, Ben. It's time to give that bike a rest.
Send it on to that highway in the sky."
      Ben looked at his bike sadly. "Damn." That bike and
he went way back. He'd beat a guy into pulp for it fair and
square, almost twelve years ago. With a sigh he got onto
it. "Well, it has to last me at least through today. We've
got business to attend to."
      Maury just nodded. "Fort Kennedy." He gave Ben a long
steady look. "Do you have any idea what you're gonna do
when you get there?"
      It was a question Ben had been asking himself for
days. "Get in, bust them up, get out." It was as good a
plan as any.
      "What about Lara?"
      Ben glared at him. "What about her?"
      "If you go in there and get yourself killed with a
damn brainless idea like that, what's gonna happen to her?"
      Ben cut him off with a sharp gesture. "Listen, you
old bastard. I put up with a lot of shit from you 'cause
you and Torque go way back, but you're pushing it!"
      The old guy gave a sage nod that made Ben want to
knock his block off. "Hit a sore spot, huh?"
      Ben's glare could melt armour plate. "Watch it."
      Maury angrily shook a cane under Ben's nose. Ben
tried to swat it aside, but Maury was having none of it.
"No, you listen to me." Ben just stared at him, fuming.
"That woman upstairs loves you, and she'll follow you to
hell. If you go off with some half baked plan like the one
you gave me, you're either gonna get her killed, or you're
gonna get yourself killed and break her heart. Either way,
you won't be doing Father Torque's or the Polecats memories
any good."
      Ben was mad enough to chew steel. "I made a promise,
and I'm gonna keep it!"
      Maury stared down an Ben, an angry frown on his face.
"You're vengeance won't mean a damn thing if you die along
with them."
      It was only deference to his dead mentor that stopped
him from slugging Maury right in his big fat face, cripple
or no. Instead, he reigned his temper in and let out a long
unsteady breath. "Are you done?"
      Maury turned away in disgust. "Yeah, I'm done. Go get
yourself and Lara killed. See if anyone's dumb enough to
avenge you."
      Ben just sat on his bike, fuming. If he didn't have
to wait for Lady Grace, he'd have ripped out of here. Where
was she, anyway? She had said that she would be right down.
All she had to do was 'freshen up a bit'. Women. It had
been a while; Ben had forgotten that 'a minute' to them
could take forever.
      They'd crawled out of bed at dawn, not that they'd
really been sleeping before that. Ben had no adjectives for
what waking up with Lara Croft in his arms was like. It was
like every night in his life that she hadn't been there was
incomplete. The way she smelled, the way her breath
whispered out of her barely open lips. The way she curled
up against him, how her long sinuous back lay against his
chest...
      It wasn't just the sex, although that had been great.
More than great. They'd sat up and talked
about...everything. About her plane crash in the Himalayas,
her problems with her father, Ben's time in the marines;
how he'd decked his CO and spent almost a year in the brig
before being dishonourably discharged. It wasn't like she
was the only person in the world he'd slept with, but he
could honestly say that he'd never been closer to a person
or more intimate then he was last night with Lara
      That was what had made Maury's little 'hint' so hard
to swallow. From the very beginning, he'd known that
hunting down Gunny was a fool's errand, a suicide trip.
That was OK; it was a price that Ben had been willing to
pay. Up until now, he'd always assumed that Lady Grace
wouldn't be there when the end came. He'd tried to persuade
her last night to let him go this alone, but she'd been
against that in pretty uncertain terms.
      Lara didn't do anything by halves. It was probably
the one main reason that she had survived all the crap
she'd put herself through. When she fought, she fought with
everything she had. She made love with the same intensity,
and she stuck to what she believed in the same way. Now,
like it or not, he had a partner, one that would stuck with
him through thick and thin. It meant he had to change his
game plan, only the damn thing was he didn't know how.
      Gunny and his boys were too many. Never in his
wildest dreams could Ben, or Ben and Lara, take on over a
hundred bikers. More than that, how did Williams and this
damned 'Pipeline' fit into things? Even if Gunny had pulled
the trigger, Williams had given the orders, and that had
all been done for the Pipeline. Was getting Williams
enough? Did he have to shut down this pipeline, too?
      Tell me when enough is enough, Father. Ben silently
implored. Let me know when I've done you right. Just like
every other time, there was no answer. Ben was alone.
      Well, maybe not alone. As Ben sat scowling on his
bike, Lara came downstairs and his mood lightened right up.
It was hard as hell to stay pissed off when a woman looked
like she did and smiled at you like you were the greatest
man on Earth. She swayed up to him, trailing her rucksack
and gave Ben a long, lingering kiss.
      "Good morning," She whispered into his ear. The way
she said it was like foreplay. Ben tried to keep his scowl
up but couldn't. He mumbled something and then she skipped
off to her bike, stowing her bag in one of her saddle
pouches. She got onto her bike and then waved to the
stairway. Ben looked over and saw Maury. His scowl
returned.
      "Thank you, Maury" She called out across the garage.
"For everything." Maury waved back, which pissed Ben off
even more. Lara cocked Ben a curious look. "Aren't you
going to say good bye or anything?"
      In answer, Ben started his bike with a thunderous
roar then burned rubber out of the garage. Maury was right.
It was running rough and the timing was off. It wasn't
burning as much oil as it had been yesterday, but it still
was. Damn. He didn't want to get a new bike.
      Knowing that Lady Grace was on his tail, he pointed
his wheel towards Fort Kennedy and sped off full throttle.
      * * *
      Lara chased Ben down the faded roadway. She was in
good spirits, despite the fact that she and Ben were riding
into the mouth of hell. She most definitely had no regrets
about last night, save that it was over. She and Ben had
squeezed as much out of the time they had, but inevitably
morning had come.
      After Ben had gone downstairs to check on his bike
with Maury, Lara had a few calls to make, to her editor and
then one other. She had been on her way downstairs when she
had heard Ben and Maury's shouting match. She was touched
by Maury's concern, even if it were perhaps misplaced. She
and Ben would be fine. By no stretch of the imagination
would the going be easy, but they'd pull it off. Lara had
been in worse scrapes, and she'd always pulled through. She
just knew that she was going to make it. When a hundred
thousand tonnes of stone was coming down around her ears in
the Atlantean pyramid, she'd had that same confidence, and
this was no different. Now she had Ben on her side. That
could only make things better.
      When she had come downstairs, Ben and Maury's mood
had been palpable as soon as she walked through the door.
Ben was sitting on his bike with a dark scowl on his face
and Maury was grumping away in the front office. She'd
plastered a smile on her face and given Ben a quick kiss in
an attempt to lighten him up, but it had done no good.
      His scowl and rude send off miffed her a bit, but
Lara held high hopes. They would come through all right.
They had to.
      * * *
      It was a long ride to Fort Kennedy, about seven
hours. They had stopped off for a quick stretch and to wolf
down some food. He and Lady Grace had stayed fairly quiet.
Ben was as frustrated as hell. He and Lara had spent an
amazing intimate night together, and as much as he wanted
to spend today and a whole bunch of tomorrows just hanging
around her and screwing until his dick fell off, there was
serious business coming up. He had some serious planning to
do, and he couldn't afford to be distracted.
      For the most part it was working. I've just got to
ignore the way she fills out that shirt, forget how her
lips felt as they ran down my chest... Ben shook his head,
trying to clear it. Planning would have been easy if he
just knew what he was facing, but he knew bupkiss about
Fort Kennedy. He knew the area, but hadn't been there in
almost ten years. It had just been a burned out two hundred
year old fort before. Who knew what had been done to the
place since then. All that rushed through his head were
possibilities and eventualities. What if Gunny had his guys
fortify the place. Maybe there were sentries and security
systems. If the Pipeline was being funded and set up by WCC
[Williams Consolidated Chemical], was it flammable?
Explosive? Poisonous? Most importantly: how was he going to
get into and out of this whole mess keeping himself and
Lara in one piece?
      More questions he couldn't answer, and every time he
encountered another one his mind kept going back to Lady
Grace and her slip hips that haunted his vision as they
rode. This road trip had better end soon, before I lose my
mind.
      * * *
      It was late afternoon, and Ben and Lara were on foot.
Ben, it seemed, knew the back roads of the desert very
well. When they had driven within a hundred miles of the
fort, he had led them onto a series of narrow winding roads
and dried river beds. It added a few hours to their time
but they didn't encounter any Leatherneck patrols. It would
be sheer lunacy to presume that the area wouldn't be
guarded. They had hidden their bikes beneath some
tumbleweeds in a gully and were proceeding -armed, of
course- up a rock ridge to where they could overlook the
Fort.
      They were both ready for anything. Ben was carrying
Betsy with both hands, the lever action rifle locked and
loaded while Lara's hands were itching to draw her pistols.
Lara was having no troubles with the steep rocks. Compared
to some of the things she had scaled, this was child's
play, but Ben was having a somewhat harder time of it.
      She was crouching on the top of a twenty foot
vertical face, watching the hillside below them for
movement while Ben huffed, puffed and cursed below her. He
was making slow, if unsteady progress up the cliff. She
didn't offer to help him, knowing that he was too proud to
accept it. It didn't stop her, however, from chuckling at
his expense.
      A minute or so later he pulled himself up and lay on
his back, gasping for breath. "You're out of shape, Ben."
Lara chided him.
      "Are you getting to old for this?"
      "Blow me." He gave Lara the finger and groaned.
      "Maybe later," she smiled and patted his hip. "If
we're going to be here for a while, I could order a pizza
or something." She offered.
      He got to his feet with a grunt and glared at her
evilly. She just grinned and handed him his rifle. "Can you
handle the rest of the slope, or would you like me to get
you another ladder?"
      "Any other biker chick wouldn't give me this much
lip." He muttered and continued to climb. Lara just
laughed.
      Ten minutes later, they came to the top of the ridge
and looked below them at what was happening at Fort
Kennedy.
      The fort sat in the bottom of a steep mountain
valley. The valley floor was mostly flat, but a faded
gravel road made its way along the bottom. The ruins of the
old fort were visible in on small rise, but that was not
the most notable feature in the valley. There were about
twenty large storage vats, easily thirty feet in diameter,
all along the far side of the valley wall. They were all
painted with desert camouflage patterns and no doubt were
invisible to satellites. There were plenty of connecting
pipes and hoses running from container to container, with a
larger set of pipes running out of the ground. All the
pipes were either painted to match the terrain or had rock
formations built on top of them. The next thing that Lara
noted was the trucks. There were about thirty tractor
trailer rigs, also painted in camouflage patterns, sitting
under the sun. All of the trailers were the ovoid cylinders
of liquid transport containers.
      "What the bloody blazes," Lara said softly to herself
as she went to her hip for her binoculars. Beside her, Ben
frowned.
      "How the hell could they have set this up and not
have anyone notice," he muttered to himself.
      Lara handed him the binocs. "They obviously went to a
great deal of trouble to avoid detection. If you try hard
enough and have enough money, I suppose anything is
possible."
      He just grunted. They surveyed a moment in silence
then Ben pointed down into the valley. "Leathernecks. Eight
of them." He handed the binoculars back to Lara.
      They were sitting in the shade of one of the tanks
with their bikes parked near by. "If that's all the
security they have, I imagine that we'll have an easy time
of it."
      Ben snorted. "Dream on, lady. There's a whole lot of
stuff we can't see from here. They could have a hundred
guys down there and we'd never see them."
      Lara continued to look for more bikers but Ben was
right, there were too many points of concealment. "So what
now, then?"
      "We gotta get closer, find out what's going on."
      "That is a very wide open space we have to cross."
Lara pointed out. "We'd be spotted for sure."
      Ben had a thoughtful look his face. If Lara leaned
close to his ear she was sure that she would hear gears
turning. "We'll go in disguise."
      Perhaps his gears needed lubrication. "What disguise
would that be?" she asked dubiously.
      "Them." Ben pointed down to a rough road cut out of
the valley wall below them. A two bike patrol could be seen
on it, about two miles back. "We take them out, put on
their jackets and drive right up to those storage tanks."
      Lara thought for a moment. "It's probably not as easy
as that."
      "Gotta better idea?" Ben asked.
      Unfortunately, no. She surveyed the terrain between
them and the road that was being patrolled. "We'll have to
be quick about it."
      "Fine." Ben was already on his feet scrambling down
the rocky slope.
      Lara got to her feet easily and started down the
slope, quickly outdistancing Ben. "The terrain's kind of
rough, can you keep up?" she called out, hardly winded yet.
      "You keep up." Ben replied to her as he started down
the slope in earnest. Lara smiled and shook her head, then
began to run down the slope. The two of them were too
absorbed in their task to talk much further, and Lara had
to admit that what she was doing was maybe a bit extreme.
Running as fast as she could down a steep slope with gravel
and loose rocks on it? Maybe I should put this on my
assault course. It certainly was challenging enough, and
surprisingly, Ben kept up to her the entire way.
      She made it to the road maybe a second ahead of him
and all either of them could do for a moment was put their
hands against their knees and gasp for air. Lara grinned
her victory to Ben, who accepted defeat gracefully.
"What..." Lara gasped out, "...do we do now?"
      "You're bait." Ben said in between huge breaths.
"Stick your tits out and smile while I nail'em from
behind."
      She gave him a cross look. "Why do I have to be the
bait? Can't you distract them?"
      Ben shook his head. "They'll recognise me and shoot
on sight."
      "I'll probably be recognised just as easily." Lara
pointed out.
      Ben started climbing up the rocks for a place to
hide. "Yeah, but they won't shoot you." Then he was gone.
      Lara stood alone in the middle of the road, listening
to the sound of the approaching motorbikes. "Bother." She
muttered. She unbuckled her gun belt and tossed it into the
ditch. Maybe if I'm unarmed, it will give them an extra
second of pause. A week ago she wouldn't have trusted
anyone enough to disarm herself and place her at their
mercy. A lot could happen in a week.
      The pair of bikers rounded the corner and slowed down
as they saw her. Now what? How had Ben put it? Stick my
tits out and smile? She frowned briefly before pasting a
smile on her face and taking in a very deep breath. I'm
going to have to teach him to use better language.
      Both Leathernecks came to a stop ten feet from Lara.
One drew a stainless steel revolver and the other a Calico
machine pistol.
      Lara kept her smile painted on her face and wished
that Ben would get on with it already. "Who the fuck are
you?" yelled out revolver-boy.
      "I'm so glad that I've found someone." Lara gushed.
"My car crashed, and I've been wandering-"
      The one with the Calico cut her off. "Hey, its that
Croft chick Gunny warned us about."
      Revolver boy got off his bike and stepped close to
look at Lara. "Are you sure? She don't look so danger-hey!"
Ben obviously was waiting for her to sweat for a bit before
he got off of his duff and took out the bikers, so she put
her own plan into motion. And this one doesn't involve me
acting like a brainless Barbie doll, either. Before he
could finish his sentence, Lara stepped in, slapped his gun
aside and put him on the ground in a painful submission
hold. Even while she was digging her knee into his spine,
she was bringing his heavy revolver to bear and training it
on the other rider.
      Before she could shoot him -or he could shoot her-
Ben finally graced all of them with his presence and butt
stroked the remaining biker in the head. Lara shot him an
annoyed look and lowered her gun as he came out of hiding
above the road. "You took your bloody time." Her prisoner
struggled beneath her and Lara elbowed him in the head. It
seemed to slow him down, if nothing else.
      Ben shrugged and begin stripping the unconscious
Leatherneck of his jacket. "You were doing OK."
      Lara frowned. I was rather hoping for an apology. She
forced her groggy prisoner to his feet and pointed his-now
hers- revolver at him. "Strip." He looked briefly at the
gun, then at her stern face, and began to quickly remove
his clothes.
      Lara liked the feel of the revolver, a Colt Python
according to the barrel. It weighed almost twice as much as
one of her Brownings and only carried six shots, but it was
a heavier bullet with a lot more stopping power. There was
no way she could fire it with one hand, but with its eight
inch barrel and tight rifling the Python had a great
reputation for accuracy. There was no way she was going to
stop carrying her Brownings any time soon, but maybe a
third gun in a chest holster...
      "What are we going to do with the two stooges here?"
Ben asked as he tried to put the one biker's jacket over
his broad shoulders. He only partly succeeded.
      Lara pondered the problem as she put first one arm of
her prisoner's jacket on, then switched hands with the
revolver and slipped her arm in the other. As prudent as it
may have seemed to do so, she had never been able to bring
herself to kill an unarmed or helpless man. "This one," she
indicated the Leatherneck she held at gunpoint with a flick
of her barrel, "has a length of chain for a belt. We'll
lash him and his friend to a rock out of sight from the
road."
      "They'll die of from exposure in a day or two," Ben
pointed out. By the tone of his voice, he couldn't care
less either way.
      "I'm sure they'll wriggle their way to freedom before
then." She motioned with the revolver for the man to remove
his belt.
      * * *
      An hour later, they were cruising their way on high-
jacked bikes on the valley floor. There was a lot of stuff,
Ben noted, not visible from the ridge. For one thing, there
were a lot of people here. Each truck had two drivers, and
with thirty trucks that meant sixty guys, not to mention
over forty Leathernecks hanging around. Plus, there was a
loading and servicing crew that were filling up the tankers
with who knows what, so tack on about fifteen guys. There
were some caves cut into the valley wall and a bunch of
rooms in the ground beneath the web of pipes and conduits.
It all added up to one hell of a confusing maze with pipes,
bikes, trucks and people who wanted to kill him everywhere.
      So far they were staying unrecognised by wearing
Leatherneck colours and not stopping their bikes. Ben
looked OK in his stolen coat. It was tight across the
shoulders but it fit alright. He had his own coat stowed
away in the bike. When he took action, it was going to be
as a Polecat, not wearing the colours of their killers.
Lara had one of those leather peak caps on with her braid
stuffed into it and was keeping her jacket zipped up.
Luckily she was fairly tall and they had stuffed one of the
patrol guy shirts into the shoulders of the coat, so she
could pass inspection as a guy at a distance. If anyone saw
her up close, though, it would be pretty easy to tell that
she was no man.
      Unfortunately, to really poke around and get some
answers, they had to hoof it. He and Lara pulled their
bikes into an empty maintenance shed and killed the
engines. Making sure the coast was fairly clear, they
stepped out into the open. It was hard to stroll around
like you belonged there when the moment any one recognised
you were toast.
      "So," Ben said quietly to Lara as they walked along.
"Any ideas what this place is yet?"
      She stopped talking and moved to Ben's side, using
him as a blind as they passed a pair of truckers. "Well, it
involves shipping chemicals." She said when they were
clear.
      Ben rolled his eyes. Talk about stating the obvious.
"Thanks," he said sourly. "I hadn't figured that part out."
      She shot him a look from beneath the peak of her cap.
"You shouldn't be so snappish, Ben. It doesn't become you."
      He just snorted. "I'll try and get over it"
      Their walking took them out from the shadow of a
storage tank and by a set of large pipes set into the
valley wall. "Well," Lara said, "the chemicals come in from
those large pipes there."
      Ben grunted his agreement. "Yeah. Must be from a
refinery or factory or something."
      They turned and started walking towards what looked
to be a set of offices. "Does WCC own anything near here?"
Lara asked.
      "This isn't our turf , I'm not sure." Ben squinted
his eyes in thought. A Leatherneck in the distance waved to
them. Ben waved back. "I think there's a factory or
something about fifty miles north of here."
      "Fifty miles is a lot of pipeline." Lara replied.
      This is getting us nowhere. "Yeah, well it doesn't
really matter where it comes from." Ben said sourly. "It
goes into these tanks and onto those trucks."
      They both looked at the trucks in question, hoping to
divine some answer from their presence. "And from there to
who knows where." She concluded glumly.
      "What does shipping chemicals have to do with wiping
out gangs?" Ben punched his leg in frustration. "It doesn't
make sense!"
      She slipped her hand into his and gave it a gentle
squeeze. To Ben's surprise, it helped. He gave a gentle
squeeze back. "It does if you were in the path of where the
trucks went." She slipped her hand back before people
started wondering if the two bikers were fags. "If they
wanted to keep everything mum -and by the looks of this
place, they really want it kept secret- then anyone who
could see these trucks would have to be hushed up."
      Ben thought about it for a moment. "Makes sense, I
guess."
      They spotted a group of about ten people coming
towards them. They were in a fairly narrow path, and would
be found out for sure. Lara pointed towards an open door
and they both made for it-casually.
      Lara tried the door. It was open and they made their
way inside quickly, but not too quickly. There was no lock
on the inside of the door, so Ben held it shut with his
hand. Hopefully anyone checking it would think it was
stuck. If not, well as long as they only came in ones and
twos, he and Lady Grace could take em out and hopefully no
one would be the wiser. Yeah, right. That'll happen the
same year Gunny runs for President.
      They waited in tense silence. Ben locked his eyes
with Lara's brown ones and saw that she was ready and
waiting. Knowing it was a bad time to think about it, Ben
thought about how lucky he was to have Lady Grace with him
on this. She was no shrinking violet, that was for sure,
and when the shit hit the fan he knew that she could watch
his back with the best of them. He gave her a small smile
and almost melted when she returned it. Things could be a
lot worse, Polecat. A lot worse.
      The sounds of footsteps against the desert ground
filtered through the door and Ben tensed for action. Betsy
was too big to carry around off the bike, no other bikers
seemed to carry long guns and he didn't want to make waves,
so he was toting the Calico pistol he'd ripped off the
biker on patrol earlier. He liked Betsy for the stopping
power of the 30.30 round as well as the feel of the gun,
but there was something to be said for a fifty round mag
capacity. He saw Lara pull out the big ass revolver she'd
taken and the two nodded. The second anyone tried the door,
it was hot lead time.
      The sounds of footsteps grew closer, and Ben also
heard voices talking, though he could not make out what
they said. The talking continued and made no sounds of
going away. Ben tightened his grip on the Calico and made
sure the safety was off. That would be a really sucky way
to start a fire fight. Lara had the revolver braced in a
two handed grip pointed at the door. Sweat was starting to
trickle down into Ben's eyes, and he wished fervently for a
third hand to wipe his brow with.
      The sounds of the voices and footsteps started to
recede. Ben relaxed and took a steadying breath. Squeaked
through another one. Father Torque must be watching us. He
put the Calico back into its oversized holster on his belt
but kept his grip on the door handle. "I wonder what's in
here," he heard Lara say softly. Ben turned to see her
rummaging throughout the room.
      They seemed to be in a storage room of some sort.
There were shelves and crates through out the room, but
most of it seemed to be pipe fittings, camo netting, and O
rings. Lara, near the back, seemed to find something more
interesting. When she came to the door again, she had a
wrapped bundle in her hands and an evil smile on her face.
"What's that?"
      She just smiled. "A surprise." Ben glared at her, but
she still said nothing, just held the bundle and smiled
devilishly. Ben shook his head. Women.
      They cautiously made their way outside again. "Is
there anything to be gained by staying down here any
longer?" Lara asked him.
      "No," Ben concluded after a moment's thought. "We
know the odds, we know the placement of things, and
basically we know what's going on. Lets get back in the
hills and find out where those trucks are going." She
nodded and they started their way back to where they had
parked their bikes. It'll also give me a chance to ditch
this jacket, Ben thought. Wearing this thing is giving me
hives.
      They made their way back slowly and carefully,
avoiding detection and groups of people. It was getting
harder, though. As the sun sank lower on the horizon,
people starting scurrying around with a purpose.
Something's happening after sundown. Something big.
      He and Lara rounded the corner to where the bikes
were and saw fifteen bikers with guns out sitting by the
door. Ben swore, drew the Calico, and turned to run. There
were ten more behind him. Oh, shit.
      In a split second dilemma that slowed to an eternity
Ben faced two not so great choices. Fight or flight. If he
fought right now, he'd take out maybe four guys before they
cut him to pieces from both sides, but then again maybe
not. There were guys both in front and behind him. Being
stupid disorganised bikers, they'd set up fields of fire
that faced one another. If they opened up on him, they'd
probably hit each other too. Still, he might end up taking
more with him when he went, but all these guns would still
cut him and Lady Grace into hamburger.
      Lady Grace. Shit. Any fight right now would kill her
too. That left flight. If he made a break right now for
cover, he might just make it. Also, a lot of the cover here
carried possibly flammable chemicals. That might give the
Leathernecks pause. Or maybe not. They might just fire,
cover me in toxic shit, and even if I survive this my kids
will be squids.
      Hmm. Rock/hard place. Hard place/rock. No decision
really. Time sped back up to normal and suddenly Ben was
running, running, running for cover as he pulled the
trigger of the Calico over and over. He may even have hit
someone, he didn't know, but as soon as he started running
a truly impressive hail of fire erupted both in front of
and behind him. Thank the Spirit of Father Torque, none of
them hit him but a lot came close, and he knew that he
heard at least one guy go down in the cross fire. Its
pretty obvious that Gunny is the only military guy in this
whole gang, because they wouldn't be that stupid.
      He realised in a panic that Lara wasn't with him. Ben
scanned the fire zone for a slender, braided corpse and was
relieved to find none. With the unique magic that was Lara
Croft, she'd somehow managed to jump, flip and shimmy her
way into cover without getting hit. Ben grimaced. He could
use a bit more of that magic right now. I don't care what
kind of magic it is, I'll take whatever I can get. With his
back to the wall of a storage vat and with a forest of
pipes in front of him, Ben gripped the heavy Calico with
both hands.
      Come on and get me, you bastards. I've got fifty
rounds of payback waiting for you.

     Ben & Lara
     Chapter Fourteen
     by Ross Jenkins, c 1998

      Chapter XIV-Dead Man's Bluff
      When Lara saw the group of Leathernecks waiting she
knew that the game was up. She didn't know how they had
been discovered. Maybe some one had recognised a jacket
belonging to the wrong person, perhaps someone had spotted
the two motorcycles where they were not meant to be. It
didn't really matter, for the end result was the same
either way.
      Urging every ounce of strength from her muscles, Lara
sprinted and dove behind a nexus of pipes, bullets chasing
her footsteps like a cloud of angry hornets. When she hit
the ground, she kept moving, rolling fluidly, seeking
something a bit more solid and a wee bit taller before she
stopped. After a crazed few seconds, with bullets still
landing closer to her than she liked, she managed to climb,
roll and dive her way out of the line of fire.
      Lara quickly pulled off the Leatherneck jacket. It
made her sick to wear it and it was too large besides. She
was going to need her freedom of movement in the near
future, and that jacket was going to trip her up. Panting
both with the rush and the exertion, she drew her new heavy
steel revolver. She was between a chemical tank and the
valley wall, with some sort of retaining barrier at her
back. There was only one way in which people could come at
her, through the narrow gap between tank and wall.
Unfortunately, that also meant that it was the only way for
her to get out. With her back to the retaining wall, she
held the Python out and waited.
      Fortunately, she had been able to plant her
'surprise' before all this had happened. Not only would its
bulk have been rather debilitating right now, if it
happened to get shot...well, the results would have been
very unpleasant. And rather messy.
      She didn't have to wait very long. A biker poked his
head around the corner of the tank and Lara removed it with
a single trigger pull. The boom of the powerful handgun
seemed larger in the confined space and the recoil stung
her hands. She smiled. I could get to like this. Hopefully
the dead body would deter his companions from venturing
around the corner any time soon. Maybe it would be long
enough for her to find another way out.
      Walls and storage tanks were probably enough to
contain any other foe the Leathernecks may come across, but
Lara Croft was not so easily contained. Sticking the
revolver in the back of her belt, she looked up the wall of
the storage tank until she found what she was looking for:
a lip, about ten feet above the ground. An easy jump
compared to some of the ones she had attempted. Gathering
her legs beneath her, Lara leapt straight up until her
strong fingers gripped the composite surface. She quickly
pulled herself up, leaving the ground entirely and soon was
on the top of the container.
      I hope Ben's all right. They had been forced to run
in different directions when the fur started to fly, and
now all she could do was hope that he had escaped the hail
of gunfire. She had told Maury that she intended to watch
his back, but circumstances had made that impossible. Well,
better late than never. From her new vantage point, she had
almost a complete view of the area, including the junction
where the first shootout had taken place.
      Lara gasped. There were three bodies bleeding on the
ground, and they all wore Leatherneck colours. She examined
them a well as she could, then breathed a sigh of relief.
One was blonde, another dark haired one was far too skinny,
and the third had a beard. None of them were Ben. She heard
a flurry of pistol fire coming from behind a group of
pipes. Lara smiled. Give'em hell, Polecat.
      "Hey, there she is!" yelled a voice below her. She
looked to her left and saw a biker pointing up to her
position. His two companions followed his finger to her and
then lifted their weapons. In the time it had taken them to
do that, Lara had already drawn her Brownings and began to
lay fire down upon their position.
      She hit the one that had spotted her, and winged one
of his friends before the others fire forced her back from
the edge. She holstered her guns and looked for a way off
of this container. There was really only one: down. She had
the advantage of surprise for now, but sooner or later they
would have her treed like a cat. It was not an acceptable
option.
      Lara made a running jump across the top of the
chemical reservoir and flew into space. The next container
was easily thirty feet away, too far for even her to jump,
but that wasn't Lara's target. There was a pipe in the air
between the two platforms and that was what Lara aimed for.
She caught it with both hands and, remembering her
gymnastics lessons from when she was a teenager, swung
herself around and pulled her feet up to the bar. Just as
the bikers below began to fire on her, Lara pushed off from
the bar with her entire body, stretching it as far as she
could, using every extra inch that her training and
stretching gave her to... got it! Her fingers found
purchase on the edge of the cylindrical container and she
quickly pulled herself over the edge and out of harms way.
Quickly rolling in place, Lara drew her pistols and managed
to get one shot off, winging a Leatherneck, before she
ducked back.
      Below, the gunfire from what she assumed was Ben's
position continued unabated. She smiled. As long as there
was shooting, he was alive, and as long as he was alive,
there was still the possibility that they would both get
out of this OK. She caught motion from the corner of her
eye and saw someone trying to climb onto the platform she
was hiding. After making sure that it wasn't Ben, she fired
one quick shot into his head and dropped him.
      Lara scanned the terrain from the top of the
platform. She had several places to jump, duck and hide,
and plenty of ammunition. As long as the Leathernecks kept
charging her like testosterone charged lemmings, she would
be alright, but once Gunny or another biker started giving
decisive leadership, the jig would be up. I suppose the
challenge is to see just how many lemmings I can force off
the cliff before that happens. She slapped fresh magazines
into her guns and grinned ferally. It was time to see who
was hunting whom.
      * * *
      Life for Ben was the smell of cordite, empty shell
casings and the sound of 9mm gunfire. Seven dead or injured
bodies lay before him, but the seemingly bottomless
magazine on the Calico had finally gone dry. By some
miracle -or maybe just Ben's fierce desire to come out of
this thing in one piece- he was mostly uninjured. He had
blood trickling down his arm from a nick on his shoulder,
and a matching graze on his left leg to match the one he
had received on his right yesterday escaping from Fulsome.
Still, he was a damn sight better than the blood soaked
corpses laying before him.
      It was make or break time. Sooner or later they were
either going to storm his hidey hole, or some guy was going
to chuck in a grenade and ruin his day. Having no ammo made
his need to get the hell out of Dodge even bigger. Ben
looked around urgently, trying to find someway, any way out
of this alcove that didn't involve charging down the guns
of a dozen pissed off bikers. He spotted a grate set below
the pipes. He tried to lift it, but it was locked down. He
pulled his trusty tire iron out of his borrowed coat and
pried the thing open. Like I told Lady Grace, don't leave
home without it.
      With a quick glance to see if any Leathernecks were
coming, he shimmied into the crawl space and pulled the
grate shut behind him. He had at most a minute before they
figured out where he was and posted look outs at all the
exits to this tunnel. Ben took off in a half stoop/half
run, wishing like hell he had a gun with bullets in it.
      The first grate he came to had a padlock, but one
swift kick took care of that problem. He felt a slight
twinge from the gunshot in his leg, but did his best to
ignore it. A line from an ancient action movie he had seen
as a kid came to mind: I ain't got time to bleed.
      Ben got to his feet and looked around, trying to get
his bearings. So far so good. He could hear gunfire about
thirty meters from his position, pistol, double shots. He
smiled. It had to be Lara. For the moment, no one who saw
him seemed to recognise him. It was the jacket, he
realised. He was still wearing Leatherneck colours, and no
one could tell who he was, yet. Straightening up and trying
to act like a biker, Ben did his best to run around like a
chicken with his head cut off like everyone else.
      "Form up by squads!" yelled a booming voice to Ben's
right. He looked over to see a guy who positively reeked
Career Military, probably a sergeant. He was black and
wasn't that tall, but his head was shaved like a bullet and
he was built like a brick. He had a cigar clamped in his
mouth and was bellowing orders. Every biker in sight
stopped and listened to the guy. "Killer squad, that bitch
is on the south end. Keep her boxed in, and get word to me
when she'd contained!" He devoured about an inch of his
cigar and glared at a biker. "Move your ass!"
      Well, Ben knew where he was going next: the south
end. Killer squad my ass.
      "Death squad!" the sergeant bellowed. "Polecat's gone
in the tunnel system somewhere." He raked his gaze across
the bikers standing near. "He could be anywhere. Move out
by fists and do not split up." He began giving out
directions. "Turner. Take your boys, make sure he doesn't
get to our bikes like he did in Fulsome!" Four bikers took
off at a run across the compound. "Second fist, watch the
crawlspace entrance near the seventh and eighth reservoirs.
Third, take the other end and keep your eyes peeled." More
bikers took off at a run, leaving Ben with less bikers to
hide behind. He really didn't like sitting around in plain
sight like this, but didn't know how to get out of it.
      "Fourth fist. Go back to Ebb & Charley's bikes and
make sure he doesn't double back." He pointed a warning
finger at the remaining bikers. "Check your fire zones this
time. Any man gets in any other guys line of fire and I'll
personally rip his head off and shit down his throat!" Yup,
definitely a sergeant. "Fifth fist, your with me. We're
gonna hunt this asshole down."
      Hmm. That didn't sound very good, but Ben knew where
they all were stationed. It was going to make avoiding them
easier. All he had to do now was get out of here unnoticed.
"You, biker!" Ben jumped. The sarge was talking to him. He
met his eyes with a mix of fear and belligerence.
      "Yeah, what?" Ben tried to find a way out in case the
shit hit the fan, but he couldn't find one that could get
him under cover before the rest of the bikers here filled
him with holes.
      "What fist are you with?" Ben could see the guys jaw
bunch.
      Ben picked a number out of the air. "Third." His tone
said 'wanna make something of it?'
      "Then MOVE, asshole!" The sarge extended a fat finger
in the direction where the third fist had gone. "What are
you waiting for, a chauffeur ride?"
      Conditioned reflex thought long erased compelled Ben
to run where the guy pointed. He still hadn't been found
out, which meant that he and Lady Grace still had a chance.
As soon as he was clear of where the sarge was, he planned
to duck out of the way then go help out Lady Grace.
Something made him look back, though, and he saw the big
black asshole watching him. Damn. I can't cut and run while
this guy's eyeing me.
      He trotted up to a group of bikers that he thought
was the third fist. Maybe I can convince them not to kill
me. "Who the fuck are you?" asked a wiry guy with a purple
mohawk.
      Hmm. Maybe not. Ben had always been a rotten liar,
but he gave it a go anyway. "I'm a runner from the first
fist. We saw the guy heading towards here. Your supposed to
be on your guard."
      A Chicano with a goatee squinted at Ben, examining
him. "You ain't with Turner's fist." His eyes widened in
recognition. "Hey, your-"
      Ben smashed him backhanded across the jaw with the
barrel of the Calico. Boring conversation anyway. The other
bikers were stunned for the moment, and Ben used the
opportunity to barrel into Mohawk. If he was all tangled up
with the guy, hopefully they wouldn't shoot.
      The two of them slammed into the ground, Ben making
sure his shoulder was in Mohawk's gut. The guys gasped out
and fought for breath as Ben drove his fist into the guy's
chin. He heard a gun being cocked and dove to the side. A
string of automatic fire stitched the ground over Ben's
head. Oh, shit. I'm in for it now. He threw the empty
Calico at the guy, hoping against hope for a lucky hit. No
dice.
      The guy's gun jammed. Ben heard the fire die off
abruptly and the guy's angry curse. He turned and looked
behind him and saw the Leatherneck fighting with the action
on his machine pistol. There were two more guys around here
somewhere, but Ben couldn't get a tag on them right now. He
scrambled to his feet, looking both left and right for the
guys before they could blind side him.
      He wasn't fast enough. Ben was about to jump the guy
with the jammed gun when he got whacked from behind.
Another of the bikers in Third Fist, Death Squad brought
the butt of his pistol down on Ben's collar bone and Ben
grunted in pain at the hit. It was a tough blow, but he was
tough biker too, and it didn't take him out the way the guy
probably expected him to. It slowed Ben down, but still
managed to slap down the jammed machine pistol of the guy
he was going for and slug him in the chin.
      A hand grabbed Ben's shoulder and spun him around.
Ben tried to get his hands up to block, but couldn't do it
before a big scarred fist smashed into his face. Ben
staggered back, seeing stars, and tripped over the guy he
had just slugged and knocked down. By fortune or
coincidence, the jammed machine pistol was right below his
hand.
      The biker who had just decked Ben stepped in for a
kick. His foot was still raised, getting ready to kick
Ben's balls for a thirty yard field goal when Ben grabbed
the pistol, cleared the jam, and held down the trigger. A
spray of bullets caught the guy in the head, legs and
torso, and he jerked around like a bloody marionette on
drugs. Ben kept hosing him down until he fell, then turned
to find the last biker.
      He heard a flurry of gunshots and Ben felt a searing
pain in his gun arm. He cried out in pain and dropped the
machine pistol. He rolled over and tried to get to his feet
when a kick to his jaw took him right out. His face
exploded in a white blast of pain and all Ben could do was
fall face first on the ground. He tasted blood in his mouth
and knew he had lost at least one tooth from when his jaws
had smashed together.
      They can't take out a Polecat that easy. He got his
hands under him and tried to pull himself off the ground
when he felt another kick, this time in his ribs. He gasped
at the pain and fell as another kick laced into his guts.
      "Don't kill him!" Ben heard through his haze of pain.
"Gunny wants to finish this one off himself." Oh, great. I
bet that will be a lot of fun. "Besides," the voice
continued. It was the sergeant, Ben realised. "We can
probably use him to lure the Croft chick out."
      No way, thought Ben. I'll die first.
      "But Apone," another voice, the guy who had been
kicking him protested. "He just killed knocked out Hoight
and Lefty, and shot up Swann, too."
      'You wanna tell Gunny when he gets here that it your
fault that Polecat didn't make it?"
      The threat of Gunny's displeasure seemed to be enough
to shut the guy up.
      "Good," Apone continued. "Now pick that asshole up
and bring him with me." Two pairs of hands grabbed Ben by
his armpits and lifted him to his feet. Ben was too out of
it to fight it. "Lets go catch us a bitch."
      * * *
      Run, shoot, jump, then run some more. Lara had been
doing all right for herself, all things considered. At
least four more Leathernecks killed, with probably that
same number wounded. For about ten minutes, the bikers had
been going about in disorganised ones and two, and taking
them out was almost too easy. She could sneak up either
behind them or from above them and they were dead almost
before they knew they were under attack.
      However, all that had changed. Until then, she had
been hunting them, now she was the one being hunted. They
were travelling in larger groups, watching all around them
and covering each other. Also, they were systematically
driving towards the south end of the complex where,
presumably, more bikers were waiting in ambush to shoot her
like a dog. Herd me like a lamb to the slaughter? Sorry,
sport, I'm not playing that game.
      At least there were no innocents in the line of fire.
All of the support staff had hidden themselves in various
buildings and sheds, and the truckers seemed to have
retreated to the armour plated sleepers in their rigs. In
this compound, of course, the term 'innocent' was relative.
Surely all the men here knew they were involved in an
illegal operation. The camouflage on the trucks, the covert
nature of this entire thing, not to mention the army of
armed bikers were all signs that things were not on the up
and up. Innocent maybe didn't apply, but perhaps 'non
combatant' did.
      Lara was not a big fan of killing people, she never
had been. However, life had shown her that not everyone had
the same compunctions. If anyone had the intention of
causing her harm, Lara was more than willing to cause them
harm first, but if they didn't, she was also able to live
and let live. If the truckers and loaders were sitting this
fight out, then Lara was willing to give them the benefit
of the doubt and assume they didn't want her dead. She had
more than enough people trying to kill her without adding
to the pot.
      Currently she was crouched on a quartet of pipes
about twelve feet off the ground, watching a quintet of
bikers slowly go beneath her. She was wearing mostly black
and was firmly in the shadow of the tank the pipes were
attached to and had few worries about being seen. You can
look around for me as long as you want, but I can hide up
here and avoid you all day, thank you very much.
      Avoiding their ambush was one thing, but she was
getting worried about Ben. There had been almost no noise
from the other end of the compound for the last five
minutes. That meant that Ben had either escaped, was hiding
somewhere, or, more likely, had been captured or killed.
More likely perhaps, but certainly not what she was hoping
for. Hopefully his lust for revenge had not got the best of
him. Even if he took a number with him to his grave, Ben
would still be dead and that did Lara or himself no good.
      Silently, she waited until the Leathernecks below her
had moved on, then climbed up onto the top of the
reservoir. Tiger crawling along its top, she made her way
north, back to where she had last seen Ben. The crunch of
her knees and elbows against the infrared shielding spray
rock on the top of the structure was the only sound she
made. She peered cautiously over the edge to the grounds
below. The coast was clear.
      There was a wire of some sort hanging between the
tank she was on and the one adjacent to it, about thirty
feet off. Lara gritted her teeth. Yes, she was agile and
had a good sense of balance, but she wasn't a bloody circus
high wire artist. Still, if there's no other way... Lara
firmly clamped her tongue between the teeth on the left
side of her mouth and with arms extended to her side, put
first one foot and then the other on the power cable.
      This isn't so bad. She was doing all right. Ten feet
out across the way, and not so much as a slip. I wonder how
many high wire artists carry guns, though? She continued to
put one foot in front of the other, trying not to rush
herself or do something stupid. It wasn't like the fall
would kill her or anything, it was just twenty feet. She'd
fallen from higher and come out with no more than a
sprained ankle, but she did not want to be stuck lame on
the ground in her present circumstances. Her only asset
right now was that she held the high ground. It gave her
cover and manoeuvrability that the bikers just couldn't
hope to match. Ten more feet now...
      "Hey, there she is!" A gunshot rang out to punctuate
Lara's urgency and precariousness. She swore. Of all the
places to be caught with my knickers down. She was only
eight feet away from the edge. Surely she could jump that.
More gun shots rang out, one whistling past Lara's ear.
That was too bloody close. They were going to hit her in
the next few seconds, and all she was doing was walking
calmly in a straight line twenty feet in the air. Six feet
now. She couldn't hold out any longer.
      Lara sprung forward with a cry, pushing off of the
power line with all the strength in her legs. The line
shifted under her, absorbing most of the force of her jump
and throwing her off balance. Lara found herself falling
short of the mark. More gunshots rang out, flying through
the air she had just only just vacated, and Lara stretched
out with her fingers, trying to find some sort of grip on
the wire, the edge of the of the chemical tank, anything.
      Her left hand caught the lip of the storage tank and
she gripped it like a vice. A bullet slammed into the
container not even an inch from her face, and shards of
metal dug into her face like hot stinging needles. She
clenched her teeth and swore under her breath while she
grabbed onto the edge with her other hand and pulled
herself up.
      Once over the edge, she lay on her back for a moment
and breathed in with big sucking gasps. So much for
sneaking around. All thoughts of stealth were now gone
right out the window. A year ago, this would have made her
excited and exhilarated, having cheated death one more
time, but right now she was just scared for her life and
more, for Ben's. She had to find him.
      Over the sounds of gunfire behind her, she heard the
revving of motorcycle engines. Not just the sounds of
powering the machines up, but running the rpm as high as
they could go and maintaining it. In her experience, it was
either done in challenge, like at a drag race, or in
celebration, much like firing a pistol in the air. Somehow,
she felt this was the latter.
      Lara dragged herself to her feet and began to run
along the top of the tank she was on. She had to get to
where those bikes were. It had to do with Ben, somehow she
knew it. By going straight across the diameter of the tank,
she knew that she could outrun the chaps who had to go all
the way around the damned thing. Maybe that way she could
get to Ben and free him -or do whatever it was that needed
doing- before any reinforcements arrived. It was rather
anorexic as far as plans went, but it was all she had to
work with right now.
      The edge of the tank came up and Lara leapt off into
space. She spread her arms out as in flight and for a brief
moment it was almost as if she was flying, the air flowing
past her, the sensation of weightlessness in her stomach,
and then she came to the next tank and caught its lip with
both hands and quickly pulled herself up before anyone
spotted or shot at her. She pulled herself to her feet and
continued to run, her lungs beginning to burn, trying to
get to where she somehow knew Ben was in trouble.
      Lara came to a stop at the edge of the cylinder. The
sound of revving bikes was just below her, and now she
could see what they were up to. There were four bikes, each
with a chain or rope attached to their back fender.
Attached to the other end of each chain was either a hand
or foot of Ben Polecat. The riders were running their rpm
up and occasionally popping in the clutch, making their
bikes jerk forward, each time coming closer in their
attempts to draw and quarter Ben.
      Ben looked beat up. They had stripped off his stolen
coat and she saw blood stains cover his body. Some of it
probably belonged to his opponents, but most of it was
probably his. His face was black and blue and Lara winced
when she saw it. He was bleary and semi conscious. At least
all of his limbs were still attached to him, which in his
current circumstances was a very good thing.
      There were about eight bikers standing around
watching and laughing at his predicament. Each time a bike
jerked and pulled at Ben, they cheered and punched their
fists in the air. One of them, Lara saw, was surely their
leader. He was Negro and bald, with military bearing and a
cigar sticking out of his mouth.
      Lara looked at the scene at a bit of a loss. She
could hit one or probably even two of the riders, but if
she did that than the others would drive off and leave Ben
minus a few limbs, if not ripped entirely in half. Besides
that, there were eight more people there with guns who
would either finish Ben off or just shoot her. Bother. An
open firefight was not going to work.
      Lara smiled. She still had a plan up her sleeve. Of
course, right now she didn't have any sleeves, but that
wasn't important. She had to get their attention, and she
knew just the way to do it. With a tight grin, she drew the
.357 Colt Python. The gun had a louder report than her
Brownings and was much more accurate besides. Bracing it in
a two handed grip, Lara took aim and fired one careful
shot.
      The Negro commander's cigar ceased to exist as the
magnum bullet ripped through it and impacted in the ground.
An inch to the left, and it would have been his face. He
jumped back in surprise and reached for his holstered
pistol. The gunshot galvanised the bikers into action and
they all either ran for cover, drew a gun or both. The
commander looked around until he saw Lara, standing against
the edge of the chemical tank, the steel plated revolver
pointed at his head.
      Within two seconds, every gun in sight was pointed at
Lara, and her common sense screamed at her to take cover
and run for her life. Lara ignored it. She hadn't paid
attention to her common sense in years. There was a tense
moment of silence. Finally the commander grinned and
dropped his gun.
      He pulled a fresh cigar out of his chest pocket and
lit it. "I was wondering if you were gonna show up." He
called up to Lara as he began to pull contentedly.
      Lara was not in the mood for small talk. "I want you
to untie him right now." The Python was held rock steady
aimed between his eyes.
      The commander didn't seem intimidated by his
situation. "You ain't in no position to make demands,
missy." He gestured at her with his cigar held between two
fingers. "There's one of you and twelve of us." He pointed
out. His voice became ugly and cold. "Even if you get away
from this, there's no way you're leaving this valley alive,
and we've got your boyfriend here right where we want him."
      He was right on all counts. She was severely
outnumbered, and her tactical situation was poor. They had
Ben, though, and that told her to screw the odds.
"Perhaps," she said evenly.
      "Perhaps, hell." He snapped. "If you don't come down
from there right now, we're going to fill your sweet body
with so much lead they're gonna think you're a pencil." The
various bikers pointing guns at her seemed to relish the
prospect.
      "No, you're not." She snapped. Lara was to angry and
worried over Ben to be intimidated. "You're going to untie
Ben and back away slowly." She cocked back the hammer on
her revolver.
      He just laughed. Not a chuckle, but a deep belly
laugh that got the other bikers laughing as well. "And why
would I be doing that?" he asked Lara between laughs. "If
you shoot me then my boys here are gonna kill your ass."
      Lara wasn't amused. "I'll tell you why not," she said
crossly. "I've planted a bomb."
      There was a moment of stunned silence. "You've what?"
The commander asked incredulously.
      Lara gave a tight smile. The revolver didn't shake by
as much as an iota. "Somewhere in this valley, where it
will do a great deal of damage."
      He gave Lara a scrutinising look. "You're bluffing,
honey." He said after a moment.
      Lara looked straight into his eyes. "I never bluff."
      She saw a glimmer of uncertainly in his eyes. "Yeah?
And where did you get your hands on a bomb?"
      "In your storage shed." Lara spoke quietly and
evenly. "A standard demolition charge. One kilogram of
commercial grade plastic explosive." He grimaced when she
said what and how much her bomb was. "Its on a two hour
timer." She seemed to have their complete attention. Lara
continued speaking. "This place," her gesture took in the
entire valley, "seems to be made for secrecy. It's
camouflaged and thermally insulated to be invisible to
satellites. I rather think that if this place goes up in a
fiery explosion that Mister Williams and WCC will be rather
displeased."
      The commander glowered at her. "What do you want?" He
asked quietly.
      "Untie Ben." Lara said simply. "Give us both a pair
of bikes and let us go. I tell you where the bomb is."
      "No deal."
      "Then we all stand here." Lara shrugged. "You die.
This place turns into a fireball and everyone loses."
      "I got a better idea." He grinned and took a drag on
his cigar. "You give your gun to the guys behind you." As
he said this, Lara heard a footstep behind her and spun
around. A rifle butt smashed into her kidney and Lara fell
to her knees, immobilised with pain. Below her, the
commander kept talking. "I tie you up and we find out if
there s a bomb. Sound good to you, honey?" She writhed on
the ground and clutched at her back. Through her pain she
felt hands removing her guns from her holsters and grabbing
her by her arms. She tried to twist free, but was to
stunned to make a decent go of it.
      She'd been captured. Bloody hell.

     Ben & Lara
     Chapter Fifteen
     by Ross Jenkins, c 1998

      Chapter XV-Touchy Feely Crap
      Ben slowly and painfully came to his senses. He never
really lost consciousness, but he'd been in so much pain
that for the longest time it was all he could concentrate
on. Only now that people had stopped beating him, racking
him and tearing him apart with motorbikes -again- did he
slowly regain his powers of thought.
      "Ben?" It was Lady Grace. Ben didn't bother
answering, just groaned and opened his eyes. He was laying
on the ground chained to a bar by his wrists. His whole
body hurt. "Ben, are you all right?" He looked over with
bleary eyes to see Lara chained up just like he was about
three feet away. She had a shiner and looked like she'd
been in a scrap. "Ben how do you feel?"
      "Taller." He replied sourly. He sat up painfully and
leaned back against the forest of pipes. His joints ached
from being spread eagled like that and his arm hurt like a
son of a bitch from being shot. He flexed his hand
experimentally. He had full strength and mobility; must
have been a clean shot, right through the meat. Clenching
his teeth against the pain, he glanced around and took in
the scene. They were in some sort of room, made for
servicing the pipes that they were currently chained to.
"Looks like we're pretty screwed."
      "Perhaps."
      Ben turned to face her and glared. "What do you know
that I don't?
      She gave him a Mona Lisa smile. "A great deal,
really," her voice was mischievous, "but most of it deals
with ancient cultures, global affairs, or etiquette."
      "Cute." Ben rolled his eyes. "What do you know about
our situation?" he clarified.
      She pointed with her eyes and head towards the closed
door. "I'd rather not say. We may have eavesdroppers."
      He grunted. She knew something, that was for sure. If
only she could tell him what it was. "Great. So we just sit
here and wait for some Leatherneck to come kill us?"
      She gave her head a slight shake. "Not a Leatherneck.
The Leatherneck." Her lips tightened. "I overheard someone
say that Gunny was on his way here with Mr. Williams."
      "Oh, perfect." Just when you think things can't get
any worse....
      "Don't worry, Ben." Lara reassured him. "We'll be
fine."
      He shot her a look that said 'don't feed me any
bullshit'. "While you're living in your private little
world," he said, his voice dripping with sarcasm, "do me a
favour and get me a cheeseburger." He settled against the
post and closed his eyes.
      They were quiet for a moment, listening to the sounds
of various bikers and truckers going about their business
outside. After a while Lara spoke up, her voice quiet.
      "I have no regrets, you know."
      Ben didn't even open his eyes. "Hmm?"
      "Coming here. Being with you." Ben opened his eyes
and looked at Lara. She was gazing at him with a mixture of
sadness and sincerity. Like always, the moment he met her
eyes he was lost. "I have no regrets."
      "What are you, on crack?" As soon as he said it he
regretted it.
      "Don't be vulgar." She flared with hurt anger. "Here
I am, pouring out my heart to you. The least you could do
was listen."
      She was right. "Sorry." He said gruffly. "I'm not
into all this touchy feely crap."
      That made her smile. "I've noticed." She looked at
him fondly for a moment. "Do you?"
      Huh? She was changing tracks in this conversation
faster than he could keep up. "Do I what?"
      "Have any regrets? About me? Or what's happened."
      Ben deliberately misunderstood. "Do I have any
complaints about what's happened here?" He snorted. "Don't
get me started."
      She wasn't letting him off that easily. "That's not
what I meant."
      He sighed. "I know." He opened his mouth to speak,
but no words came out. Dammit, didn't she know how hard it
was for him to talk about things like this? It had been
hard enough for him to thank Mo for getting him into
Fulsome. When he tried to speak the second time, it was
harder, but he did it. "Lara, meeting you is the best thing
that's happened to me in years." He looked away. "I
only..."
      She smiled encouragingly. "You only what?"
      Ben let out a pent up breath. "I wish I'd met you
before all this happened." He tried to gesture with his
hand, but the chains got in his way. "Every time I look
back at how we met I'm gonna think about Gunny, Torque and
the Polecats." He gave a sad smile and a shrug. " I can't
think about you without thinking about them."
      Her eyes were filled with sympathy. "Ben, I'm sorry."
      He snorted, trying to change the mood. "Don't get
your panty hose in a knot," he growled.
      She didn't rise to the bait. "Ben, I know its hard to
say but I...." ...love you. It was written in her face and
she didn't even have to say the words. It was just as well,
because at that moment the door slammed open, startling
them both.
      The incredibly large and imposing form of Gunny burst
into the room. He monstrously huge, and was wearing a olive
green T-shirt that was too small for his frame. It only
made Gunny's massive strength even more evident. He wore a
set of desert camo fatigue pants and combat boots. A knife
that was more of a short sword was on his belt, as well as
the largest handgun Ben had ever seen. Behind him, almost
totally eclipsed by Gunny's bulk and presence, was the man
Ben recognised from the Rebar. Williams.
      "Well ain't this a pretty sight." Gunny said in a
voice like shredded steel. "Am I interrupting you two love
birds?" he asked with a leer. "Can I get you two a room?"
      With Ben chained to the floor, Gunny looming over him
seemed even larger then he had before. Ben glared at the
large biker and was filled with sudden rage, the pain in
his body forgotten. This is the bastard who killed Father
Torque. "Gunny, this is your last chance," he said in a
voice thick with hatred. "Free us or die."
      Ben's tone almost gave him pause. Almost. Instead, he
gave out a sharp laugh. "Ha! Not in this lifetime."
      Ben's eyes bored through his thick crew cutted skull.
"You know I'm gonna kill you."
      Gunny just put his arms across his massive chest and
looked down at Ben. "Not chained to that wall you aren't."
He sounded so smug, and Ben wanted to kill him all the
more.
      Ben jerked against his bonds, trying to stand, to get
his fingers on even one part of the bastard. "So unchain
me." He taunted. "We'll see who's the tougher biker."
      Gunny didn't fall for it. "I don't think so. "
      Lara interrupted then, her cool voice cutting through
the tension. "What's all this about? What is the Pipeline?"
      The ex-gunnery sergeant looked at Lara and cackled.
"Oh, I forgot. This is the part where I reveal my sinister
plot, right?" He wagged a massive finger at her and
chuckled. "Then I leave you two in some weird fucked up
death trap, and wait for you to escape." His face turned
red with anger. He drew the gun, which had the distinctive
triangular barrel of an IMI Desert Eagle Magnum. "Well, you
can forget it." He yelled. The room shook with the power of
his bellowing voice. "I ain't gonna tell you shit, and in
about five seconds I'm gonna blow both your fucking heads
off." He pointed the gun right at Lara's head.
      Ben jerked towards Gunny, trying to stop him or do
anything, but was caught by his chains. Ben was both
furious and frantic. He couldn't imagine a worse fate then
having to sit here helpless and watch Lady Grace be killed.
      Lara, with a calmness that amazed Ben, just shrugged.
"You can't blame a girl for trying." She said it as if she
were ordering a soda.
      Forgotten behind Gunny, Williams spoke up. "What
about the bomb?" He sounded nervous.
      For five seconds Gunny stood there, the barrel of his
gun aimed al Lara's forehead. Veins were popping out of his
forearm he was gripping the gun so hard. His eyes were wild
and Ben was sure that he was going to pull the trigger. He
wanted to look away, but was unable. Lara looked calmly
into the man's eyes. "Fuck." Gunny turned away abruptly and
lowered his gun. Ben was too stunned to do anything. It had
come so close... "The bomb." The head of the Leathernecks
thought for a moment, then whirled back to Lara. "OK,
Croft. Here's what's happening." He brought the pistol back
up to bear, but this time on Ben. Ben just stared up the
gun's barrel, entranced, following the rifling patterns
with his eyes. "You tell me where the bomb is or I give
your boy toy here a third eye. How's that sound?"
      "If you shoot Ben then I tell you nothing." Her voice
was cold. "And in one hour we all die."
      Gunny just snorted and kept the gun trained on Ben's
head. "You're full of shit, lady." There was maybe a hint
of doubt in his voice.
      "Perhaps." Out of the corner of his eye, Ben saw Lara
give a small shrug and a tight smile. "Can you take that
chance?"
      Gunny grinned wolfishly. "You bet."
      Ben watched with infinite slowness as Gunny's finger
tightened on the trigger. Like Lady Grace said. No regrets.
He waited quietly to die.
      "NO!" Williams stepped in front of Gunny and tried to
force his weapon arm down. The smaller man could have
jumped up and down on the ex-marine's arm for all the good
he did. "Gunny!" He stared the big man in the face. "We
can't kill either of them until this bomb is found."
      Gunny didn't move the gun, but looked at Williams
standing before him. "There is no fucking bomb." He
growled. "She's yanking our chains."
      Williams shook his head emphatically. "I can't take
that chance. I've invested far to much in this to blow it
now."
      Gunny shoved the smaller man aside like a rag doll.
"You put me in charge of this, Williams," he accused. His
free hand wagged a finger in Williams' face. "Trust me.
There's no fucking bomb."
      Williams remained unconvinced. "She said we have one
hour. Keep her alive until then and start to look for it."
      Lara chose that moment to add her own two cents to
the conversation. "Even if you'll find it." She said
coolly, "You'll need me to defuse it."
      Gunny snorted and gave Lara a condescending look. "I
can undo any bomb a limey bitch like you comes up with."
      She kept her cool. "Really?" She met Gunny's wild
gaze with her own. The big man stared back in a contest of
wills. Ben knew Lara was the most stubborn woman o the
planet, but she was trying to stare down the man who had
murdered Torque and slit Big Willie's throat in cold blood.
I give Lady Grace 3/2 odds.
      Williams stepped between the two of them, cutting off
their visual duel. "Why are we sitting here arguing about
this, Jordan?" He asked.
      Gunny grew incensed at the mention of what Ben
assumed was his real name. The huge biker whirled on his
employer. "Gunny!" He shouted in the man's face. "Its
Gunny!"
      Williams just stood there for a moment, obviously
shaken and stunned by the sudden confrontation. "You are
still my employee." His voice was thin and shaky, but he
did stand up to the big biker. Ben had to reluctantly
admire the guy. He seemed to have some balls. "Gunny."
Williams's voice strengthened. "We keep them alive."
      Gunny seemed taken aback for a moment, then grinned.
"You're just to much of a fucking wimp to take em out your
self."
      Williams blinked at the change of subject. "No, I'm
just protecting all of our interests." He glanced quickly
at his watch. "Our blackout window from here to the border
is in two hours." He looked Gunny briefly in the eyes
before looking away. "We can't afford any delays."
      Gunny reached out and grabbed the guy's wrist. He
pressed the Desert Eagle into William's hand. "Here's my
gun." He pulled the dark haired man's arm and aimed towards
Lara. "Do it right now. Put it right up to her fucking head
and pull the trigger." Just like before, Lara stared down
the barrel of the weapon like she was waiting for tea and
crumpets.
      Williams tried to jerk his arm away but couldn't
escape Gunny's grip. "What? I-What are you doing?" It came
out as a squeak.
      "She' can't dodge. Gunny growled quietly. Quietly for
Gunny, anyway. "Do it. Blow her head off. Do it. It's
better than sex."
      Ben looked at Gunny with revulsion. Just when you
thought you couldn't hate a man any more...
      The Vice President and Heir Apparent of Williams
Consolidated Chemical braced with his whole body and
managed to get his hand out of Gunny's vice-like grip. "You
are insane." He looked aghast at the huge man. "We need her
to tell us where the bomb is."
      "There is no fucking bomb!" Gunny yelled. He turned
his back on Williams in disgust. "And you're a god damned
wimp."
      Williams face turned purple in embarrassment and
rage. "That's enough!" He turned to Lara and tried to speak
in a calmer tone of voice. "Miss, would you be so kind as
to tell me where you planted the bomb."
      She responded with a cold voice. "Not until you
release both of us and escort us to the compound's edge."
      With a roar of frustration, Gunny smashed his massive
fist into the wall. It went straight through. "That's
fucking it!" He yelled. "We keep them alive just in case,
and in the mean time we'll find out if this fucking bomb
exists."
      "It does," Lara informed him.
      He whirled to face her. "Shut up!" He bent down and
crouched in front of Lara. Their faces were maybe three
inches apart. "You've got one more hour to fuck like
bunnies and then I'm gonna come in here and personally
shoot your fucking head off." Ben could see flecks of
spittle spraying onto her face. Gunny got to his feet
explosively and turned to leave.
      "It's a date then." Lara said calmly as she wiped her
face. "I'll mark it in my calendar."
      "Fucking slut." Gunny muttered as he and Williams
walked out the door.
      "Charmed as always." Lara said to his retreating
back. The door slammed shut so hard it nearly jumped off
its hinges.
      After the two of them left the silence was deafening.
Ben let out a rattling breath. He had really thought that
Lady Grace had bought it. After a few minutes, he had
collected himself enough to speak.
      He looked over at Lara. She was sitting cross legged
on the floor, her back to the pipes. "I still don't know if
you're lucky or insane." He said to her.
      She looked over at Ben and smiled. "I'd like to think
that I make my own luck."
      Ben still didn't know if he was angry at her for
goading Gunny, or just relieved that they were still alive,
for another hour at least. "He was this close to taking
your head off." Ben held his fingers about an inch apart.
      "I knew he wouldn't do it." Lara said calmly.
      Ben just shook his head. "How?"
      "I just knew." She looked over at him thoughtfully,
her head angled a bit. "He couldn't risk it. Not with that
bomb out there."
      "So there is a bomb?"
      "Of course." She looked at him like he had just asked
a really dumb question. "I never bluff."
      Hmm. "I'll have to remember that."
      Lara uncoiled herself and braced both legs against
the wall behind her. She looped her chain tightly against
the steel bar that held them both and braced herself.
"Unless my timing is off, we have about one minute."
      Ben just looked at her strangely. "One minute until
what?"
      "Until we escape." She said simply.
      All that shouting with Gunny must have knocked loose
some brain cells. "How do you plan to do that?"
      She began testing the bar for weak points. "The two
of us working together should be able to pull this pipe out
of the wall." She motioned for him to take the same pose.
      Ben was still slow on the uptake. "Huh?"
      She rolled her eyes. "We probably could have done it
earlier, but it would have made far too much noise."
      Ben shrugged and braced himself to pull against the
pipes. "So what's happening?"
      Lara waited expectantly for something to happen.
About four seconds later Ben heard a large explosion
outside.
      Beside him Lara smiled. "That." At his amazed look,
she explained. "I set the timer for one hour, not two."
      Ben just sat there, dumbfounded. "Your amazing," was
all he managed to say.
      She gave him a dazzling smile. "You're not so bad
yourself." She turned back to the wall and began to heave.
"Now brace yourself and pull."
      * * *
      The bomb trick had worked beyond her wildest
expectations. Finding it on that storage shelf, with a
timer and everything, had been stroke of luck. She
certainly hadn't been planning to use it in this fashion,
but you couldn't argue with results. Pulling the pipe out
of the wall was a noisy and messy affair, but in short
order she and Ben were free. They still had about eighteen
inches of chain apiece shackled to their wrists, but they
could solve that problem later.
      "Come on, lets go." Ben led them out of their little
room. They were covered in concrete dust and sweat from
trying to pull free. He limped as they left the room.
      Lara was worried about him. He'd been beat pretty
badly by the Leathernecks and had been shot through the arm
besides. He was a walking wound, although his rage and
determination was making him go on for now. Once they got
out of here -and they were going to make it out- she would
have to see to dressing his wounds, because god knew the
man would never do it himself.
      The sun had set over the horizon, but there was still
plenty of light to see. Lara's little surprise had ignited
the petrol reservoir for all the trucks, and it was burning
merrily. There were bikers, truckers, and service personnel
running around trying to put it out. People were sealing
off tanks and driving trucks out of the danger zone,
creating blocked traffic and general insanity. It was
wonderful.
      "We should be able to get out of here no problem."
      Ben turned and gave her a look. His face looked
tired, though his eyes burned with feverish intensity. "We
can't leave now. We've got them on the run!" He gave a look
at the mayhem. "Let's go kick some ass."
      Lara gripped his wrists. "Ben, we're wounded and
unarmed." She stared into his eyes, trying to make him see
reason. As always, it was a losing battle. "It won't take
them long to get that under control and regroup." By the
stubborn set of his jaw she could tell she was making no
headway. Lara set her jaw as well. Two can play the
stubborn game. "We don't have any more tricks up our
sleeve," she said firmly, willing Ben to come around. "If
we stay here, we will die. We have to fall back, lick our
wounds." Again, no progress. Lara tried her trump card.
"I'm not going to stay here and watch you die, not after
everything we've been through. I'm leaving with or without
you."
      She saw indecision warring on Ben's face, but before
she could persuade him further, she saw a pair of bikers
running towards them.
      "Shit, Gunny was right. They're escaping!" They
approached, guns drawn. Lara bit her lip. While those two
had their weapons out, there wasn't much she could do.
Beside her, she saw Ben groan and go down on one knee. I
hope he's faking it, and not really succumbing to his
wounds.
      "Ben?" Lara asked, trying to keep him upright. He
continued to sag. "You have to help him!" Lara said to the
bikers, who were looking a bit confused right now. "He's
been shot."
      One of the bikers, the dumber one, came close to Ben.
"I ain't gonna help this bastard. He killed Swann." He
reared back to kick Ben.
      With a roar, Ben lashed out, holding his chain in his
hands and wielding it like a cudgel. It smashed into the
biker's gun hand, breaking the guy's arm and sending the
pistol crashing to the ground. While the Leatherneck stood
stunned in pain and surprise, Ben brought his chains across
the man's face. The biker collapsed like a rag doll.
      Lara dove for the fallen gun, rolling with it in her
hands and coming up in a two handed firing stance. The
second biker, who had wisely stayed back out of hand to
hand range, was bringing his gun to bear on Ben. We can't
have that. Lara put three bullets through his centre of
mass.
      Lara smoothly got to her feet. "Ben, this is our once
chance to get out of here. We have to leave NOW."
      Ben grunted noncommittally and held the chain away
from his one wrist. "Maybe your right. Get this damn chain
off me, will ya?"
      Lara blinked. Ben conceding a point? He must be hurt
more than she thought. She brought the pistol -some 10mm
automatic- up to Ben's bonds and pulled the trigger.
      They were unshackled in a few more moments, and both
armed. Lara realised with a frown that she had lost her
Brownings, and her new Python as well. Well, easy come,
easy go. They were tools, easily replaced once she returned
to civilisation, and in the mean time these bikers' guns
would have to do.
      "We should put on their jackets. It will help us
blend in."
      "No." Ben's tone brooked no argument. "The only
colours I'm gonna wear are Polecat."
      Lara sighed with exasperation. Does that man even
know how to not be stubborn? "Ben we don't have time to
argue about this. Let's just go!" Gunny would surely send
more people to check on Ben and Lara's status soon, if not
come herself. Once word got out that they were free, no
place in this complex would be safe for them.
      The two of them made their way quickly to where they
had stashed the bikes that they had come in on. Ben's limp
was getting worse, and she could see that he was barely
keeping upright. The combination of shock and blood loss
was getting to him. They had to get out of here soon.
      The had walked no more than fifty feet before Ben
began to slow and stagger. Lara rushed to his side. "I
think," Ben gasped out, his face grey, "That I should sit
down for minute."
      "Yes, alright." Lara helped him to a place to sit,
her mind whirling. What was she going to do now? She
couldn't carry him out. He weighed almost a hundred pounds
more than her. She half led, half carried Ben behind a
large pipe. Hopefully it would hide him from casual
observation. "You just stay here, I'll go get us some
transportation."
      "I'm riding out of here," Ben muttered stubbornly.
      Lara patted him on the shoulder. "Of course you are."
With me, sharing a bike.
      Lara was about to leave him when she felt Ben's hand
on her leg. "Just give me a minute, I'll go with you."
      She bit off a curse as she knelt down next to Ben and
grasped his face with both of her hands. She stared into
his eyes at a distance of three inches, trying to sheer
force of will to convince him to see reason. "We don't have
a minute, Ben.," She hissed fiercely. "You can barely
stand. You're bleeding from at least four different wounds,
and probably going into shock." She bit off each word.
"Stay. Right. Here." Not giving him a chance to reply or do
anything, Lara took off for the bikes at a run.
      It took a bit of ducking and evading to get to where
they had hidden their 'borrowed' bikes, but Lara made it.
Things were beginning to calm down as the workers got the
fire under control and Gunny restored order to his
mercenary bikers. It wouldn't be long before they
discovered that she and Ben were free, and then they would
really be in trouble.
      She ducked into the darkened alcove, tucking the
pistol in the back of her belt, wishing once more for her
gun belt and for her guns as well. Wishes and dreams won't
help me get out of this one, Lara my girl. She opened the
cargo box of the bike Ben had been riding and pulled out
his treasured Polecats jacket. Even if he were on the brink
of death, she knew Ben would come back for this jacket.
Telling herself that it was only to make sure it didn't get
lost, she slipped it on. It both felt and smelled like Ben,
and felt good on her shoulders.
      "I just knew that you'd come back here, sweet heart."
Lara cursed and went for her gun, but Ben's jacket slowed
her up. Before it could even clear her belt, Lara was
staring at the blocky shape of an automatic pistol pointed
at her. She brought both hands away from her waist and
raised them in the air. That's twice today some one has
gotten the drop on me. I must be getting old. A shape
materialised out of the dark shadow. It was the Negro
commander whose cigar she had shot earlier.
      He motioned her out of the alcove with his gun and
Lara could do nothing but what he wanted. "Lose the gun."
Under his watchful eye, Lara had no choice but to throw her
pistol to the ground. "You were right about that bomb," he
said as he put his unlit cigar in his mouth with his free
hand.
      "I never bluff." Lara replied quietly. Easily a dozen
bikers were waiting outside the alcove, covered with soot
and grinning at her predicament. They formed a loose ring
around the two of them.
      "Where's your boyfriend?" He asked around his cigar.
      "Safely away from here." Lara said to him, trying to
find some way out of this mess. "He's gathering
reinforcements even as we speak," she bluffed.
      The commander shook his head slowly. "I don't think
so. I don't think he would have taken off without his sweet
honey pie." He stayed about ten feet away from Lara and
kept his gun trained on her. "Besides, he was pretty hurt
and Gunny must of tuned on him a while." He chewed down on
his cigar. "I bet he's hiding somewhere licking his wounds
while you scare up some transport."
      Lara gave what she hoped was a wicked smile. "He's
gone by now, and there will be dozens of bikers streaming
into this place in an hour or two. Like I said, I don't
bluff" Lara said, lying through her teeth. "I didn't lie
about the bomb, I'm not lying about this."
      "Yeah, well, maybe," conceded the commander. "But in
an hour, you'll still be dead and we can handle however
many bikers may come down here." He slowly circled Lara,
inspecting her like she was a chunk of meat. She kept her
hands in the air, not moving, more nervous now then when
Gunny had been screaming in her face. I had a bomb up my
sleeve then.
      "You're that Croft chick, right?" The commander asked
after a moment's inspection.
      "Pleased to make your acquaintance," She regarded him
coolly, "but I'm afraid you have me at a disadvantage."
      "They call me Texas Apone," he said to her.
      "Let me guess. You were in the Marines."
      "Best twenty five years of my life." He answered,
chewing on his cigar.
      Lara raised her eye brows. "You went from serving
your country to becoming a mercenary?" Disdain dripped from
her voice.
      "I'd rather know who by boss is and see his face than
answer to some faceless asshole in Washington." was all he
said. He continued to walk around Lara. All of the bikers
surrounding them looked like they were waiting for a show
to begin. I don't like where this is going.
      "I talked to Kramer in Fulsome." Apone continued. "He
said you did some Jap-slapping bullshit to him."
      Lara blinked. "Excuse me?" What in the name of god
was 'Jap-slapping'.
      "Jap slapping." Apone answered. "Jackie Chan shit.
Kung fu."
      "Ah," Lara said, catching on. Now I know what the
show is. "It's jujutsu, by the way, not Kung Fu."
      Apone just shrugged. "Same shit to me." He handed his
gun to one of the bikers in the 'audience'. "I taught CQB
in the Corps for ten years," he said as he began to
unbutton his shirt.
      "CQB?"
      "Close Quarters Battle," he informed her. "Hand to
hand." He stripped off his shirt to reveal a big, brawny
and scarred chest. "I always did want to fight some jap
slapper. I hear your supposed to be pretty good." He walked
back to Lara, stopping again about ten feet away.
      "Better than some." Lara replied. She watched him
closely as he approached her. He had five inches on her and
about eighty pounds. She was going to have to rely on
agility to save her. One or two of his punches would be
enough to ruin her day. "And why pray tell would I want to
fight you?"
      Apone grinned. "If you don't, I just have you shot.
If you do, I figure you still got some chance of getting
out of here." He put his hands up an a classic combat
stance.
      Lara gave him a weak grin and fell into her own
fighting stance. "I see your point."

     Ben & Lara
     Chapter Sixteen
     by Ross Jenkins, c 1998

      Chapter XVI-Jap Slapping
      Ben got to his feet with a groan. Stay put my ass. He
just had to sit down for a minute, and it had been a
minute. He limped out of his hiding spot and heard some
cheering and shouting from where Lady Grace had gone.
Great. Leave her alone for one minute... He saw a ring of
people and inside the ring the distinctive movements of
Lady Grace. She was fighting Apone, the sergeant who had
taken command of the bikers earlier.
      There were way too many guys for him to sneak up and
take out, even if he hadn't been shot and beaten into
hamburger. He needed a distraction, and Lara had used up
all their bombs. Ben looked around frantically, searching
for something, anything. Damn, damn, damn. What did you
distract a bunch of bikers with? The traditional answer was
beer and women, but he was all out of beer -though I sure
could use one right about now- and the only woman on the
scene was what he had to distract them away from.
      Through a forest of pipes Ben saw the blocky form of
a tractor trailer rig. He smiled.
      * * *
      Lara knew a little about military style hand to hand
combat. Her major domo was an old salty British infantry
man, and they sparred every now and again. What she had
learned from Ian told her was that the last thing she
wanted to do was let Texas Apone get anywhere near grabbing
range. If you couldn't shoot an opponent, cut him with a
knife, stab him with a bayonet or bop him with a rifle
butt, you were to get as close to him as possible and rip
him limb from limb. In the course of doing so, you used
every dirty trick in the book: face attacks, eye gouges,
biting, harsh language; whatever. There was pretty much
only one rule: do whatever it took to win and survive.
      Seeing as Texas Apone had no rifle, combat knife or
bayonet -much to Lara's relief- he had to rely on his
eighty pounds of weight, five inches of height and massive
upper body strength. If he managed to get those mitts of
his on her, all it would take was one good hit and she
would be out like last weeks laundry.
      They circled each other for about ten seconds, each
eyeing each other, psyching each other out and testing
reaction time. Normally Lara would have taken a strong
offence, striking out at atemi, or vital points like the
knee or throat. With Apone's size and build, hitting him
was going to be like kicking a brick wall, the only way she
was going to score was going to be through striking at his
body's natural weak spots. However, he was proving to have
very fast reflexes, and besides that it was only going to
take one punch to send her packing. Odds were he was just
going to absorb whatever she threw at him and throw a
simultaneous counterstrike. It meant she had to be very
fast and very careful when she attacked.
      With a growl, Apone stepped in, jabbing at her with
his left fist. Lara blocked his punch to the outside,
trying to turn his body away from her to expose his kidney
and make his defence harder. Apone was having none of it.
He resisted her easily then released a strong combination
of punches, stepping closer and crowding all the while.
      Lara danced back, using her greater agility and speed
to keep her distance while she blocked his powerful fists.
She managed to slip a blow past his guard and drive her
left fist into his face, but Apone didn't even feel it.
Lara felt a very small bit of satisfaction. She may have
managed to strike the first blow, but it hadn't fazed him
and this little scrap wasn't for points in some tournament.
      Lara tried to step around him, to expose his back and
his vulnerable kidneys, but the black former hand to hand
instructor lashed out with a back hand strike. She blocked
it with both hands but the force of the blow still sent her
stumbling. This man is too bloody strong.
      He was on her too fast for her to dodge. He grabbed
her wrist and tried to get her into a submission hold, but
Lara used her speed to break out and throw him to the
ground with a hip toss. Her positioning wasn't good for any
sort of follow up, so she tried to back away from Apone and
wait for an opening, but he grabbed her ankle and jerked
her off of her feet.
      She fell onto her front facing away from Apone. He
reached in with his other hand to solidify his hold, but
Lara brought her free leg up and with a snarl kicked him
savagely in his short ribs. When that didn't seem to stop
him she reared back and struck him squarely in the jaw. It
seemed to so the trick.
      Lara jerked herself free and scrambled to her feet,
watching as Apone did the same. "Nice hit, sweetheart," He
gave her a bloody grin and spat out an ivory tooth. "It's
the only one you're gonna get."
      Lara couldn't think of a witty reply. She leapt
forward, faking a head kick and bringing her heel down
squarely on his knee. He made to grab the leg but Lara was
too quick for him.
      This is going to be a long bloody fight.
      * * *
      Ben hobbled up to the big truck, keeping an eye on
the two guys leaning against the front fender. They were
almost hidden in its shadow and the main thing Ben could
see of them were the bright red cherries of their
cigarettes. He could hear them talking faintly as he
approached.
      "You're shittin' me. Now we ain't moving out until
four in the freakin' morning?" asked one of the guys in a
beer belly voice.
      "With all the crap that happened here tonight, we're
gonna miss our satellite window or something," answered the
second guy, the taller of the two who was closest to the
front. Ben had to take them out in order to get in their
truck. He reached for his trusty tire iron before
remembering that one of Apone's men had taken it.
      "Shit." Replied the first trucker, banging his fist
against the armoured side of the tractor. "We could have
been to Santa Ana and back five times in all this time
we've been sitting here waiting." Ben's ears perked up.
Santa Ana? Mexico? He pulled his appropriated autopistol
out of his belt and approached the two men, trying to keep
his walk steady.
      * * *
      Apone's fist bulldozed past Lara's defence and
clipped her in the jaw. A bright light of pain flared in
Lara's eyes, but she managed to keep her senses enough to
deliver a punishing counter blow to his floating ribs.
Apone accepted the hit like he had every other one Lara had
delivered to him: with no indication that it had effected
him what so ever. Lara was becoming convinced the man had
no nerve endings.
      She had hit him no less than six times, and other
then the one kick on the jaw, none of them had had any
effect what so ever. He, on the other hand, had only to
throw a strong attack, and even if she managed to block it,
more often than not, it still either powered through her
defence or sent her stumbling. He still hadn't managed to
connect with a full force blow, but once he did it was good
bye Lara.
      Her luck was running out. She had to end this now.
      Lara had spent most of the fight frantically
retreating from Apone, so when she stepped into him and
delivered a lightning fast crescent kick to his head, she
could see him smiling. This sort of flashy 'Hollywood'
attack was the sort of thing he had been expecting from the
beginning. It was an attack that Lara would normally never
use against an experienced opponent; head kicks were slow,
obvious, and easily blocked. Besides that, they threw you
totally off balance.
      Apone intercepted her kick and caught it, just like
she knew he would. She knew that he was going to use his
grip on her leg and her fragile balance to get her to the
ground and end the fight in a horrible, brutal fashion, or
at least that he was going to try. Lara knew that what she
was about to do was very risky and that if it failed she
was finished, but Lord Henshingly's little girl had always
taken foolish risks, and -so far- they had always paid off.
      Apone's two hands were both gripped on Lara's leg,
and that meant that he had none free to block. In the
second before he could take her down, she launched herself
from the ground with her free leg. With a powerful kiai and
every ounce of power she could muster, Lara delivered a
powerful roundhouse kick to the big ex marine's exposed
head.
      She knew she connected. She knew it was probably the
most powerful blow she could have struck. She felt his head
snap back under the force of the attack, but somehow the
man still managed to retain his grip on her leg as he fell.
It was by no means a perfect technical takedown on his
part, but with his two hundred pounds of weight and his
unbreakable grip on her leg, when he hit the ground she was
pulled with him like a rat with an anchor.
      He was still stunned, but that wasn't going to last
long. Any other man she fought, that kick would have
knocked him out like a light, if not broken his neck, but
if Apone was conscious now odds were he was going to stay
that way. I certainly hope I can 'persuade' him to let me
go before he comes to his senses. On the ground, in close
combat, they were in his domain. Unless she could cripple
him or break free in the next few seconds, he was going to
tie her into a pretzel.
      Lara tried to pull her leg free but it wouldn't
budge. Apone was laying on her captured leg, covering it
from shin to thigh, with her free leg around his back in a
kind of scissors. She leaned forward and smashed one fist
into the side of his head and, not waiting to see if it had
any effect, extended her other fist into a rigid knife hand
and drove it into his throat.
      Unfortunately, it seemed that the term 'Leatherneck'
seemed rather apt describing Apone. The blow only seemed to
draw him back to his senses. With a furious expression and
a roar, the big marine grabbed her leg and tried to flip
her over. Lara wasn't inexperienced in ground fighting; in
fact jujutsu taught a great deal of it, but Apone's weight
and training still gave him an incredible edge.
      Fortunately, his wounds seemed to be slowing him up,
and for a few moments she actually held her own. Not enough
to get him into a lock or break a limb like she had been
trained, but enough to keep herself alive. Two can play at
fighting dirty, sport. Lara tried everything she could to
get out alive. She clawed his eyes, grabbed his scrotum and
pulled, but in the end it was taking a healthy bite out of
his nose that got him to release her.
      Lara scrambled away from Apone and to her feet,
bruised, twisted, and weary. Her shirt was ripped almost
off from Apone's grip and she could taste blood in her
mouth. The booing and jeering from the 'ring' reminded Lara
that even if she managed to beat her opponent, she still
had over a dozen bikers to contend with. With their
attitudes towards women, she knew that she would be lucky
if they just killed her.
      The possibility of being passed around to be raped by
every man present was enough to keep Lara fighting. There
is no possible way I will allow that to happen to me. I'll
take as many with me as I can before bring me down. That
was how it was going to end, Lara knew, unless somehow Ben
could come and save the day. Unfortunately, that was
unlikely to happen. Ben was laying hidden out there
somewhere, probably in shock or passed out from loss of
blood.
      Lara watched grimly as Apone, bloody and weary, got
to his feet, still ready to fight. As always, it was up to
Lara to fight her battles alone.
      * * *
      Ben walked up to the two truckers.
      "Who the hell are you?" The tall one asked. Ben
didn't reply, just walked up to the guy and swung the gun
barrel into the guy's gut. He doubled over with a 'whoop'
sound. Before the other one could react, Ben swung with
pistol barrel up with a wordless roar and brought it across
his face.
      "I need to borrow your truck." Ben growled to the two
men who lay on the ground, then he opened the semi's door
and pulled himself inside. When you get it back, though, it
ain't gonna be drivable. He shut the door behind him and
locked it.
      Ben looked around the cab with trepidation. The last
time he had been in the driver's seat of one of these
babies, it had been hanging out of a plane suspended over a
cliff. It wasn't a fun memory. He brushed a fast food
wrapper off the dash. These two guys were slobs, but if
they'd been waiting out here for Gunny's go signal for a
few days, it kinda made sense.
      Ben cast his eyes over the controls, and in a moment
found the onboard computer console. He flicked it on and
scrolled through menu screens until he found the command
for 'trailer release'. He punched it and heard a hydraulic
click from the back of the truck. Good. For what he was
going to be doing, he was going to need all the speed he
could get, and he couldn't get that hauling a few thousand
gallons of whatever the hell they were hauling.
      Ben twisted the key and the truck's big diesel engine
roared to life. He put the thing in gear and it started
with a lurch. Ben frowned. Now I remember why I hate these
things so much. Too big, too clunky and -as he tried to
gear up and listened to the transmission scream- too many
damn gears. He sounded the air horn and hit the retarder
brakes, anything to make noise and get peoples attention.
      I've had enough of sneaking around. Come on, shoot at
me with your little pop guns. This baby is armour plated!!
With a fierce grin, Ben steered the big truck towards where
he'd last seen Lady Grace. Hopefully he wasn't too late.
      * * *
      They both staggered about like punch drunk fighters,
which in a way they were. Lara didn't know why Apone was
still fighting. They were both beaten mostly to a pulp. Her
hip felt like it was almost dislocated from when he had
tried to twist her leg off of her body. If and when she
made it through this, she was definitely going to need some
physiotherapy. Apone could barely see out of one eye and
was finally limping from that kick she had scored on his
knee. She may have stretched the fight out to a draw, but
she'd lost the battle and they both knew it. All he had to
do now was step back and let his various and sundry
subordinates finish her off.
      They certainly wanted to. Her ripped shirt was
certainly giving them a good show, and the comments and
threats they were yelling were not the sort you could
repeat in polite company. It was only stubbornness and
refusal to be beaten by a woman, she supposed, that kept
Apone standing and coming back for more.
      He threw a strong left hook that Lara ducked. She
jabbed him in his cracked ribs with her fist, and he
brought his knee up to strike her in the face. Lara managed
to get up an double handed block, but the blow still sent
her back a few steps. Apone followed up on her with a
powerful right hand roundhouse swing, which Lara deflected
with both hands and tried to turn into an arm bar. He spun
around with his other fist and tried to take Lara's head
off. She had to duck and retreat from the blow, forcing her
to give up her grip.
      They were both tired and slowing. Lara sucked in
lungfuls of air, trying to stop the leadenness that was
infecting her limbs. She circled around Apone, trying to
find a moment of weakness before he found one in her.
Suddenly, she heard the shriek of an air horn and the roar
of the engine of a semi truck. She wanted to look and see
what it was, but knew that if she did so that Apone would
clock her. Instead, she kept herself focussed on the fight.
      Apone didn't seem to have Lara's self control. He
turned briefly to glance at the noise and she used the
opportunity to bury her foot in his groin. Apone gasped and
tried to shake off the blow, but Lara wasn't finished yet.
She stepped into him and drove a near perfect side kick
into his sore ribs. He staggered back and Lara attacked
full force. She had to get him down now, showing no
quarter. Her only chance was to knock out Apone and maybe
she could get away while the confusion from this truck was
going on.
      She smashed her foot into his leg with a kiai, and he
fell to one knee. Summoning every remaining bit of strength
she had, Lara leapt into the air and brought the heel of
her foot down in an axe kick across the back of his head.
She thought she felt/heard a 'crack' as the blow stuck
home, but it may have been her imagination. Whether it was
from a broken neck or he was just knocked silly, Apone,
former Marine Corps hand to hand instructor, fell to the
ground and stayed there.
      Lara didn't have time to congratulate herself on her
victory. Her slim chances of escape hinged on her seizing
the moment. She gave a brief look around, seeing where the
bikers were and what was going on with that semi. Lara
cursed. The damn thing was right on top of her.
      She had never truly appreciated just how large a semi
tractor was until it was barrelling towards her at twenty
miles per hour. They were bloody huge! Six and a half
tonnes of steel and tires and it was coming right on top of
her. She leapt to the side, hoping it was enough. At least
the thing seemed to have scattered the various bikers. They
had all dived for cover when the big rig had come through,
and now it was just Lara and the truck.
      Lara rolled to her feet about one yard away from the
things massive wheels when it screeched to a halt. Lara ran
behind it, hoping to get to some cover before it could turn
to face her again, when she heard Ben's voice call from the
cab over the growl of the engine. "Lady Grace, get your ass
in here!"
      Lara stopped and looked into the cab in surprise. It
certainly was Ben, and though he looked like hell, seeing
him here in one piece, he was one of the most wonderful
sights she had ever seen. She nimbly climbed up the cab,
opened the door and slipped in.
      "For a guy who can barely stay on his feet I sure
saved your ass," Ben growled.
      "Your right." Lara said quickly as she gave him a
brief kiss on the cheek. "I was totally wrong. You're
healthy as an ox." She shut the passenger side door with a
slam. "NOW GET US THE HELL OUT OF HERE!"
      Ben chuckled and they took off with the sound of
shredding gears.
      * * *
      I could get used to this. So far in the armoured
truck, they had been able to just drive through the various
Leathernecks they had run across. The bikers had sprayed
them with small arms fire, but the truck's Kevlar lined
siding and ballistic windows made the cab totally immune to
the 9mm and .45 rounds that the bikers were firing.
      The truck caromed off of a post that Ben tried to
swing around but failed. Then again, maybe not. This thing
is about as manoeuvrable as a brick. Lara shot Ben a look
that said 'you do know how to drive, don't you?' Ben
scowled back and tried to figure out what exactly he was
going to do now that they were in the truck and he had
saved Lara from the fight with Apone.
      Not that she needed saving, mind you. She'd cleaned
his clock pretty good by the time I show'd up.
      "Do you have a plan or were you just going to drive
in circles all night?" Lara asked acidly as Ben slammed on
the brakes to make another turn. So far, he had been
driving in sort of a crazy figure eight through the
compound, not wanting to drive in a straight line long
enough for anyone to line him up with a real weapon. He'd
seen a few assault rifles and old surplus anti tank rockets
on these guys, and didn't want to give them any more of an
inviting target then he had to,
      "I haven't thought that far yet," Ben snapped back.
"I was too busy saving your hide." She was right, though,
as usual. They had to find some way to ditch this target on
wheels and get the hell away from here. Even as the thought
went through his mind, he saw Gunny step into the path of
the oncoming truck.
      Ben stamped on the accelerator, a ritcus-like grin on
his face. I was hoping to end this with a scrap, but
running over the murdering bastard in a truck will do just
fine. Ben's grin disappeared when he saw that Gunny was
carrying an old surplus M 60. Ben swore and frantically
tried to bring the truck around. That 7.62 hardball will
cut through this cab like butter.
      The truck was going too fast. Ben had floored it when
he saw Gunny, and now wouldn't be able to take the turn
without flipping the truck over. Ben didn't have much of a
choice. He grabbed Lady Grace and ducked under the dash,
hoping that the fire wall and engine block of the big truck
would be enough to save them from becoming swiss cheese
when Gunny opened up on them.
      Ben couldn't see the machine gun open fire, but he
could hear it. He could hear the high velocity bullets
tearing into the engine and cutting through the windshield.
The truck began to lurch and sway, and Ben knew that Gunny
had nailed the tires as well. "Hold on!" Ben yelled as the
truck jerked to the side and flipped.
      Ben's world turned upside down as the roof of the
truck became first a wall and then the floor. Ben held Lara
firmly in his arms as they bounced around inside the cab
like beans in a castanet. He felt the steering wheel gouge
into his side and his head bounce off the gear shift as the
truck continued to slide gratingly across the valley floor.
Suddenly, the truck collided with something very solid and
came to an abrupt stop. Ben groaned. Can this night get any
worse? He mentally kicked himself the moment he thought it.
Dumb question, Polecat. It can always get worse.
      In his arms, Lara stirred to life. "Not another
bloody car wreck." He heard her mutter under her breath.
"And I'm sure the bastard is going to try and shoot me just
like before." Ben didn't pretend to know what the hell she
was talking about. She was right, though. Gunny probably
had a lot or rounds left in that squad automatic, and he
would be an idiot if he didn't come and finish the two of
them off.
      Yup, they had to get out of this death trap of a semi
and they had to do it now. Ben looked over at the passenger
side. No way out there. The truck had slid into the valley
wall and the only thing past that door was rock. The
windshield was out, too. The ballistic glass hadn't broken,
just starred up, and there was no way he was going to be
able to kick it open. Ignoring the pain in his body, Ben
crawled along the roof of the semi to the driver's side
door and with a heave popped it open. He could hear guys
yelling in the distance. So far, though, no Gunny.
      He and Lara came out of the truck and checked out
where they were. They had flipped and skidded right past
Gunny and had in fact cleared the compound. From the dim
reflected light of the fire from the bomb Lara had set, he
could see bikers running towards him and the little flashes
of light from their muzzle flashes. A bullet impacted near
Ben, making him swear.
      Lara grabbed his arm. "Ben, we have to leave!" Ben
just grunted his agreement. The two of them had just
started running when Ben saw a burst of light erupt from
one of the bikers and saw the flash of a rocket.
      "Oh, shit!" He and Lady Grace jumped to the ground
and covered their heads, a moment before the truck they had
stolen erupted into a huge diesel smelling fireball. The
hot, smelly concussion wave hit them like a hammer, jarring
Ben's teeth and making his ears ring. Hot bits of truck
shrapnel fired out from the explosion all around them, but
through the never ending grace of Father Torque, no big
pieces hit either of them. Countless small shards of hot
metal filled Ben with agony wherever they hit and every
part of him that didn't ache before -which wasn't many- did
now. He spared a look at Lady Grace, his ears ringing. All
of her body parts were still there and one look at her face
told him that she was plenty pissed off, but alright.
Summoning reserves of strength that he never knew existed
until now, he grabbed Lara's hand and got both of them to
their feet.
      They really had to make tracks now. The Leathernecks
were gonna check out the area, and there would be no more
playing games. No more one-on-one macho fights or chaining
people to a bar. It was going to be one shot in the head,
along with a few clips in the body for good luck.
      Gritting his teeth, Ben forced his body to move. He
had really been through the meat grinder today. Only his
desire for revenge and fear for Lady Grace's life had kept
him going. Once this whole thing ended -if it ended- he was
going to sleep for a month. Lara, by far the less injured
of the two, moved out ahead of him and began to look for a
place to hide. She came back a moment later.
      "Ben, there's a ledge about eight feet up. In this
light we should be alright." She gave him a concerned look.
"Can you make it?"
      He gave her a patented Ben Polecat smirk. "I kinda
have to, don't I?"
      His cocky words aside, climbing up to the ledge was
really hard and it was mainly through Lara's frantic
pushing and pulling that got the job done. Ben had just
pulled his leg up and out of sight when the first of the
Leathernecks came near. He lay on his back, wheezing and
listening.
      "How can two people cause so much fucking trouble?"
Ben heard the unmistakable voice of Gunny ask.
      Another biker answered him. "But their dead now,
right?"
      "If it were anybody else, yeah." Gunny gave a snort.
"These two should have been killed three times over by now.
They've got more lives than a fucking cat."
      "But they were in the truck." The biker made it sound
more like a question. "You shot them full of holes and then
the bodies were fried in the explosion."
      "You wanna go in there and check?" Gunny snarled. "We
won't be able to tell for a few hours, until the damn thing
cools down, and in the mean time we've gotta try and fix
all the fucking damage they caused." He cursed. "One
tractor greased, at least fifteen guys dead or wounded,
including that stupid son of a bitch Apone, and who knows
how much damage caused to the depot."
      "What about Polecat and Croft?"
      "It'll take too much manpower to hunt'em down in the
dark, if their not crispy critters. Fuck'em. We'll triple
the guard tonight and get this shipment off in the morning.
Even Batman and Robin here won't be able to stop a convoy
with sixty Leathernecks riding escort." Ben heard Gunny
punching his fist into his palm. "Once that's done though,
I'm gonna hunt that son of a bitch down and rip out his
heart. As for that Croft chick, I'll show her what a real
man's like."
      Over my dead body, Gunny, Ben thought fiercely. You
and I are gonna rumble. Then we'll see who the tougher
biker is. It was Ben's last thought before he passed out.

     Ben & Lara
     Chapter Seventeen
     by Ross Jenkins, c 1998


      It was the sound of voices and the familiar smell of
bikes that woke Ben up. Oh, shit. The Leathernecks got us.
His whole body hurt and it was hard to think, but something
in that equation didn't seem right. Why are we still alive?
He felt a damp rag press against his forehead, and the
light touch of a woman's hand brush against his jaw. It
sent his addled brain reeling in confusion, but after a
moment he came to the sleepy conclusion that if some one
was tending to his wounds, then they must have gotten away
and couldn't be in that much trouble. He relaxed, still
half asleep.
      His eyes closed, Ben managed a light smile. "Don't
stop, Lady Grace, that feels good." The hand stopped for a
moment then pulled away. Ben reached out blindly until he
felt a leg. He rubbed it, feeling the taut muscles beneath
it and smiled. "Just because I'm awake doesn't mean you
have to stop."
      "Actually, Ben, I think it does." Ben blinked. That
wasn't Lara's voice. It had an American accent, and it was
lower, like it had been soaked in whiskey. Ben opened his
eyes and squinted, only able to see a feminine silhouette.
Other than maybe Flo -wherever she was hiding, it had damn
well better have been a long way from here- the last person
he had expected to see tending to his wounds was Maureen
Corley. He snatched his hand away from her leg like it had
been burned.
      He pushed himself up painfully onto his elbows. "Mo?
What are you doing here?"
      With strong hands she helped Ben sit up. "I'm tending
to your ugly hide again, that's what, you crusty old
biker."
      "Yup." Ben rubbed his head and winced. His whole body
ached. "Just like old times." He blinked and looked around,
trying to take in the scene. The two of them were in a
steep sided gully, and a number of small campfires winded
their way along its floor. Around the fires were a number
of motorcycles and people, about twenty or so. Ben looked
at Mo, confused. What the hell was going on? Who were these
guys, and -more importantly- where in hell was Lady Grace?
He looked at Mo. she was wearing her old Vulture colours.
Ben had to admit that she looked a hell of a lot more
natural in her turtle neck and leather vest than she ever
did in a business suit. "Mo, what's going on?"
      "I got a call this morning, from Lara Croft," Mo told
him. Her face was enigmatic in the distant fire light. "She
said that the two of you were going to go against the
Leathernecks today, and if we wanted a piece of it we
should meet about five miles north of Fort Kennedy at
midnight tonight."
      Ben blinked. Lara had done what? Why? When? He wasn't
sure if he should be angry at her or thank her. Confused,
he pushed his feelings back and tried to get more
information. "So you went to Suzi and called up the
Vultures, huh?" He looked around, counting bodies. "There's
more than just Vultures here."
      "The Leathernecks hit every one pretty bad, Ben." He
couldn't see her face, but her voice was sad. "Suzi figured
that every one would want to get some payback, so she got
the word out to all the gangs."
      "Hmm." Ben's mind was racing. Two bikers against
sixty was a lost cause, but twenty some was a possibility.
"So who's here?" He tried to keep his voice casual.
      Mo stirred the ground with her finger. "Suzi and the
Vultures, some Rottwheelers and a few Dragons."
      Normally you couldn't get two gangs together without
having a pissing contest over a million old slights and
grudges. Tonight there four here, if he including himself
as a Polecat. "How many?"
      "Including you and me, twenty seven."
      "Twenty six." Ben said flatly. "You ride a desk now.
You shouldn't be part of this."
      Maureen flared with anger. "I may wear a suit during
the day, Ben, but I'm still a biker." With that fire in her
eyes there was no doubt of that. "These guys killed a lot
of friends of mine." She poked Ben in the chest to make her
point. "I'm in." Her voice brooked no argument.
      Ben had learned with Lady Grace not to bother
fighting a woman when she had that tone in her voice.
Besides, it seemed pretty obvious that Mo was still tough
where it counted. She'd hold her own. "With Lady Grace that
makes it twenty eight."
      She gave Ben a curious look. "Who?"
      "Lara."
      Maureen gave Ben a long, considering look. "I have to
admit, Ben, the two of you...I never saw that coming."
      Ben gave a sour chuckle. "Me either."
      "Does she make you happy?" She asked quietly.
      Ben thought a moment before answering. Happy? Since
he'd met Lara he'd been to hell and back. His mentor had
been killed, his gang and his best friend rubbed out over
some sort of chemical smuggling pipeline, and Ben himself
had been almost killed more than a few times. But despite
all that, there was really only one answer. "Yeah, she
does."
      "I'm glad." Mo said. She reached over and squeezed
his hand.
      "Me too." Why am I putting up with all this touchy
feely crap? Ben thought. I must have hit my head pretty
hard to sit here talking out my feelings, with Mo of all
people. Ben shook his head in disgust. Brain damage. It had
to be.
      She seemed to sense that the moment was getting too
maudlin. They sat for a moment in awkward silence, then Mo
slapped her palms on her thighs and got noisily to her
feet. "Sooo, are you going to tell me what this whole thing
is about? Who these Leathernecks are and what they're up
to?"
      Turning a deaf ear to his aching bones and shrieking
muscles, Ben stood up. "I don't know," he admitted
reluctantly. It pissed him off. After all he and Lara had
been through, he still didn't have half the answers he
wanted. He knew enough, however, to kick some ass. His
voice turned grim. "But I know their numbers, I know where
they're gonna go, and I know when they're gonna leave"
      Beside him Mo shrugged. "Sounds like you know enough
to me."
      Ben frowned and looked around the darkness. "I
guess." Where was Lady Grace? She'd obviously gotten him
away from the blown up semi, but now she was gone.
      "So." Mo's voice snapped him back to their
conversation. "We came for a fight, Ben. Are you gonna give
us one?" Her voice had a violent edge to it
      Ben looked at her and frowned in confusion. "What do
you mean?"
      She gave him a thin smile. "I mean every one knew
that you were Father Torque's heir apparent." Oh really?
Ben raised his eye brows. I guess everyone knew but me.
"You know what we're going against." Mo continued. "Are you
going to lead us into a rumble with the Leathernecks or
not?"
      "I can't do that," Ben protested. "I'm just a biker
without a gang. I've fought against these guys." His
gesture took in the entire camp. "They won't let me lead
them."
      "Yeah, they will." Mo insisted, her blue eyes filled
with determination. "No one else can, Ben. No one has been
through what you have, or knows the Leathernecks as well as
you." She looked at Ben earnestly. "You have to lead us."
      With a sinking feeling in his stomach, Ben knew she
was right. "That's was Torque's position," he argued
feebly, "not mine."
      "Torque is dead, Ben." Hearing it from her lips
didn't make the words hurt any less. "We need a new Father,
and no one else can fill his shoes."
      Ben looked off into the distant moonlight, at a loss
for words. In a dusty part of his brain, Ben had always
knew that some day he would inherit Father Torque's
position among the bikers. But not like this, and not
now.... "That would make me..." his voice trailed off. He
couldn't say the words.
      "Father Ben." Mo finished for him. "It suits you."
      "It doesn't sound right," he grumbled. When she said
the words aloud, though, Ben felt the responsibility come
down like an engine block on his shoulders. He also knew
that he couldn't buck the job. Not now. Not with the future
of all of the bikers -all his bikers- at stake.
      He heard as well as saw her smile. "Get used to it,
Father Ben."
      Ben grimaced. Well, there's no point sitting around
waiting for grass to grow. "What time is it?" He asked,
walking over to a clear flat space near the edge of the
gully. It was as good a place as any.
      "Just after one." Hmm. That trucker said that they
weren't leaving until four. That leaves me around three
hours to scrape together some kind of plan.
      Ben stretched his muscles, ignoring the anguished
groans from his various body parts. He could lay back and
let his body heal later, but not now. He put two fingers to
his lips and let out a loud, piercing whistle. Around the
gully, all conversation ceased and everyone's head
swivelled to Ben.
      A bike's head lamp came on, illuminating Ben in its
beam. His mouth suddenly dry, for a moment Ben had no idea
of what to say. Another headlamp turned on, blinding him.
He put his hand up to shield his eyes. "Get that thing out
of my face or I'll crack your heads open." Ben would
normally have objected to the glare of the headlamps. A
headlight travelled pretty far at night, and they were in
hostile territory, but they were five miles away from Fort
Kennedy, with a mountain between him and the Leathernecks.
Gunny had said that he wasn't sending out any patrols and
they were in the bottom of a steep gully.
      It seemed to break the ice. The collected biker's
gave a chuckle and the light swerved to splash against the
rock at Ben's back. In the reflected light he could see the
several leather jackets and chains that made up his
'flock.'
      He couldn't put it off any more. Taking in a deep
breath, Ben began to speak. "All right, listen up." He
cracked his knuckles to hide his nervousness. "Some company
called WCC had some sort of secret depot built at the old
Fort Kennedy sight. They've got all these tanks of
chemicals there, and they've put together a convoy to take
them south of the border to Santa Ana in about three
hours."
      A voice from behind the light piped up. "Santa Ana?
What the hell are they gonna do with it there?"
      Ben frowned at where he heard voice come from. Just
what I need. Comments from the peanut gallery. "Have a
bath," he snapped. "How the hell should I know?" Ben ground
his teeth. "Look, I don't know what all this is about, but-
"
      Another voice, this one feminine and very familiar
spoke up. "I do." Ben rolled his eyes. Trust Lady Grace to
make a dramatic entrance.
      Every head swivelled to the dusty and curvaceous form
of Lara Croft as she stepped into the light. She was
wearing Ben's leather jacket. He had to admit that it
looked a hell of a lot better on her than it did on him.
She held Betsy lightly in one hand. So that's where she
went. He gave her a flat look as she walked up to him. "You
want to fill me in, Lady Grace?"
      She handed Ben his rifle and sat down on a nearby
rock with a smooth, fluid motion. She kept the jacket.
"Actually," she said in her quiet voice, "it wasn't until
you mentioned their destination in Mexico that it all made
sense."
      Ben folded his arms and frowned down at her. "So why
did my boys and a lot of good bikers die?" Behind the
lights, he could hear a few angry grumbles from the various
bikers.
      Lara was, as always, unflappable. She sat on the rock
like she was ruling over her court and began to speak in
prim tones. "Where would you like me to begin?"
      "The beginning."
      "Well, I believe that would be about the turn of the
millennium."
      Ben could almost hear twenty seven pairs of eyes
rolling. Only Lara would start this whole thing with a
history lesson. "We don't got all day, Lady Grace."
      Lara raised her eye brows and looked at him coolly.
"Bear with me on this, Ben."
      He felt about an inch tall under gaze and motioned
for her to continue.
      She adopted a kind of lecturing tone and Ben sighed.
This was going to take a while. "As you all may or may not
know, in the late nineteen nineties, the economies of
several South East Asian nations bottomed out, which
threatened many of the first world nations."
      "Yeah. The Ninety Nine depression." Ben interrupted,
trying to get a move on with things. "What has that go to
do with all of us?"
      She gave him a patient look. "Well, as you may also
know, in an effort to preserve the value of their national
dollar, the United States instituted a series of very stiff
trade tariffs on all imports and exports." The subject
matter was dull enough to dry paint, but whether it was the
way she said it in her high class accent or they were just
ogling her, the assorted bikers gave Lara their rapt
attention. "It was thought at the time that if they could
keep American jobs and products in the country, that they
could stave off the economic upheaval."
      Somewhere in the ring of lights an anonymous biker
spoke up. "Yeah. It turned this part of the world into a
regular paradise, didn't it?" There was a round of
chuckles.
      Lady Grace continued as is if she hadn't been
interrupted. "Well, the wisdom of the policy not
withstanding, one very similar to it is currently being
implemented."
      Where was this going? "So?"
      "So," Lara continued coolly, "that means that America
is a very tight market. If you are a small petro chemical
company trying to expand, there is almost nowhere you can
do so. The export tariffs make trading outside the country
virtually impossible." All the bikers here knew about the
stiff fines for taking goods over the border. All of them
had made some cash over the years by smuggling.
      Mo spoke up. "So why don't they open a subsidiary
chemical plant in Mexico and bypass the tariff that way?"
She was standing, listening patiently outside the ring of
lights. Ben had forgotten she was there. "There are Corley
plants in Canada, France and Taiwan."
      Ben blinked. There were? It had never occurred to him
that Corley dealt with the rest of the world. Hell, before
he had met Lady Grace, he hadn't really thought about there
being a world outside the desert.
      Lara pursed her lips in thought, then answered Mo's
question. "Too much of an investment, I would think. WCC is
a comparatively small corporation compared to Dow or
Exxon." Her face hardened. "I saw the names painted on the
chemical reservoirs in Fort Kennedy. Drexxol, an industrial
solvent. Synthodran, a high temperature lubricant. These
chemicals are all very much in demand in third world
industry."
      Ben didn't like where all this was heading. His voice
was ugly when he spoke. "You mean that Father Torque and
everyone else died so that some prick in a grass hut could
get bootleg gas?" By the end he was yelling. His boys had
been killed so a damn company could smuggle chemicals out
from under the government's nose? It damn well wasn't fair
      "That's not how I would have phrased it, but yes."
Lara's look shared his pain. "I'm sorry Ben." It made Ben
feel a little better, but not much.
      A Rottwheeler spoke up. "It still don't make sense to
me why they created the Leathernecks and went after us."
      The question snapped Ben out of his sorrow. "I do,"
he replied. The dead were dead, and it was up to the living
to avenge them. He had a job to do. They all did. "Draw a
line between Fort Kennedy and the Mexican border. Whose
turf do you cross?" He let the question hang for a moment.
"I'll tell you. Polecat, Vulture, and everyone else whose
been shot up by Gunny and his psychos."
      There was a moment of silence as everyone digested
what he had just said, There were more than a few angry
murmurs. "So why start a gang war over this?" someone
asked. "What kind of biker would become a corporate stooge,
anyway?"
      "Gunny ain't no biker." Ben snarled. "He doesn't
follow the Code." Everyone cursed or grunted at that
statement. "He's just a merc who hired some thugs."
      Lara's smooth voice cut through everyone's anger.
"The government has almost no control in the desert. All
they ever see are bike gangs and the dregs of society. If
any of you tried to stop a convoy of trucks, or made some
sort of fuss, the government might notice and start and
investigation. Williams had to control the route his trucks
travelled, and he had to do it in a way that didn't attract
attention."
      "Yeah." Ben's voice was bitter. "No one cares if a
bunch of bikers kill each other off." The words sat in his
mouth like ashes. "This whole thing was a god damned
blind." He wasn't sure if he was more disgusted or sad.
      Lara gave Ben another sympathetic look. "I'm afraid
so."
      He met her eyes and suddenly it was just the two of
them. Mo and the rest of the bikers didn't exist. "It ain't
your fault." He said it softly, meant for her ears alone.
      Mo's determined and angry voice brought him back. "So
what do you want us to do, Ben?"
      Suzi, the head Vulture, chimed in. "Yeah, Ben. We're
all behind you. Tell us the plan."
      "The plan." Ben blinked and cleared his head. This
was no time to go all soft for Lady Grace. "Yeah. Well,
best as I can figure there are a few routes they could take
to sneak through the border." He called out to a portly
biker who headed the Dragons, the southernmost gang that
was represented here. "Hey, Fats, that's your turf. What do
you figure is the best place to sneak a bunch of semi's
past Uncle Sam?"
      The old fat biker rubbed his cue ball head for a
moment before answering. "That'd be...Spirit Canyon."
      "Spirit Canyon." Ben nodded. "That's what I figured."
The actual name for the place was Espiritu Canyon, but no
one north of the border used that tongue twister Spanish
name. "Its pretty narrow right, and winds a lot?"
      Fats nodded. "Yeah."
      Ben rubbed his fingers along his stubble. It always
helped him think. "They'd have to take those trucks through
pretty slow, huh?"
      Fats caught on and grinned. "Yeah. They would."
      "That's where we hit'em." Ben drove his fist into his
palm with a loud slap. "They'll be taking off out of Fort
Kennedy at four." He looked at Fats. "They should reach the
Canyon about, when? Six?"
      Fats squinted one eye as he worked out the times.
After a bit he nodded. "About that."
      "Dawn." Ben savoured the word. Four hours until
everyone got some payback. The other bikers made happy
sounds, anticipating violence. "That should give us enough
light to hit em. How many of you guys got rifles and know
how to use'em?" Twelve people put up their hands. Ben
smiled grimly. "Good." With him that made thirteen. "How
many of you could hit a moving bike at a hundred yards?"
This time only eight guys put up their hands. Ben nodded.
"Not bad." It was actually more than he had been expecting.
"If we snipe at them from the back first, and then the
front, we can get off two salvos before they break
formation. That should get the numbers down closer to
even." Even assuming every guy hit and got a kill with two
shots, that only took the Leathernecks numbers down by
eighteen. Then it would be forty to twenty seven. Closer to
even, but still way too much in Gunny's favour.
      "That gives us just over four hours to get there and
set ourselves up." Mo said, her mind on the practical
stuff. Like always. "We should leave soon."
      "No." Ben shook his head. "Gunny's pretty smart. He's
gonna send some of his guys out as a reserve. We're gonna
have to nail them first."
      Mo raised her eye brows but didn't dispute him. which
surprised Ben a bit. "Where are they gonna be?"
      "Gunny's got all his guys grouped in the depot at the
fort." Ben replied. "He's probably gonna send out an
advance element to scout the way, and leave his reserve to
follow up behind." All the crap he'd thought he had
forgotten from his time in the Corps popped back into his
head. "They'll be taking off from the fort about a half
hour after he leaves."
      The same biker that had been asking annoying
questions through out this bull session spoke up again.
"How do you know what he's gonna do?"
      "Gunny's a marine. That's how marine's think." Ben
cracked his knuckles. "We'll hit the fort about ten minutes
after the trucks and their escorts take off."
      Suzi spoke up. "Why don't we hit them on the road?"
      Ben shook his head. "It'll be too dark for a road
fight. We're gonna have to get them roosting." Just like
they caught my boys roosting. That's when a biker's most
vulnerable. "Besides, I wanna nail Williams where it'll
hurt him the most."
      "Where's that?" Mo asked.
      "His assets." Ben grinned evilly. "He got into this
whole thing for cash. That depot must have cost him a
pretty penny, and he made the whole thing on the sly. He
can always get new bikers and truck, but if we bust up his
depot, he's gonna have to tell his daddy where the money
went. Odds are Big Bob Williams won't be too happy." The
other bikers chuckled.
      "But we have to get to Spirit Canyon before the
trucks do." Mo protested. "How can we do that if we nail
their base after they leave?"
      He'd asked himself the same question, and didn't
really like the answer. "They have to stick to back roads
and travel on the sly," he replied. "Besides that, they're
a bunch of semis and travel pretty slow. If we head to the
interstate and red line it, we should be able to beat them
there." Maybe. He would have liked to split up his bikers
and nail Gunny's reserve with about a third of his guys,
but he only had just under thirty riders. Their best odds
against the Leathernecks was take them on in bits with
their whole number. It would minimise their own losses and
maybe that way they could bring the odds down. That was the
theory anyway.
      Everyone nodded slowly. "So what do we do until
then?" Suzi asked.
      "We have to pack up and be ready to go by three
thirty. Its not even two, so every one catch some zees."
Ben yawned and stretched. His body picked this moment to
remind him how sore and tired it was. He tried to ignore
it. "We're gonna have to be frosty when the time comes. He
turned to go but paused. These guys were going to fight and
die for him. He had to say something. "Listen, ah," he
swallowed. "I know we've all had our differences, and we've
been on the opposite sides of a few rumbles, but I...."
words escaped him.
      Mo cut in and let him off the hook. "Don't sweat it,
Ben. We know." Suzi and a few other nodded. "This is bigger
than all of us, and we trust you to see us through it."
      Ben was relieved that even with all the touchy feely
crap he'd in over the last few days, he was till man and
biker enough not to tear up. "I, ah, thanks." It was hard
though.
      All the bikers went off to their respective gangs and
fires with a lot of quiet talking. More than a few slapped
Ben on the shoulder as they walked by. It was an act of
camaraderie that he had thought he'd never experience
again. It felt good.
      Finally it was just Ben standing there, and he sat
down on a rock. His mind was still whirling furiously,
trying to work numbers, tactics and trying to outthink
Gunny. He felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up. Lara
was beside him in his leather jacket, watching him with her
deep brown eyes by the starlight. "You handled yourself
very well with them, Ben."
      "Hmm?" It took him a moment to focus his mind. "Oh.
Thanks." They sat for a moment in silence. The fight in a
few hours was going to be a bloody one. He made one try to
get Lara to stay out of it, already knowing what her answer
was going to be. "You don't have to be a part of this, Lady
Grace."
      Lara gave Ben a faint frown and wrapped her arms
around his. "Don't you pull that on me now, Ben," she
scolded. "We're linked, you and I." She tightened her grip
on his arm to emphasise her point. "There is no way that
I'm going to let you out of my sight until this is over."
She stretched up and planted a kiss on his stubbled cheek.
"I have a vested interest in getting you back all in one
piece."
      Ben just chuckled. "Linked, huh? Is that like
hitched?" The words came out before he could stop them and
big alarms began to sound. What the hell had he just said?
Hitched? Ben Polecat? He knew he had brought it up, but she
was a chick. The second the 'h' word was mentioned, a chick
tightened her jaws like a pit bull. He liked Lady Grace. By
the light of day maybe he even loved her, but hitched? He
was definitely brain damaged.
      She just lay her head against his shoulder and let
out a soft laugh. "Lets at least get to know each other for
a month before we start talking marriage." Ben relaxed a
bit. Off the hook...for now. "Besides," Lara continued, "if
I was wed in anything less than a cathedral, my father
would have a fit." She chuckled at the image. "He'd
probably disinherit me, just before he had a heart attack."
      Ben looked down at her. "I thought you already were
disowned."
      She casually wrapped her arms around Ben's chest. He
barely noticed when his ribs began to protest. Lara's voice
was light. "Then I imagine he'd have to find something
worse to do to me."
      "Like what?" Ben shivered at the touch of her hands.
"Send you off to the states and hook you up with a biker?"
It probably is his idea of a worse fate, too. Ha. His loss.
My gain.
      "I can think of worse fates." She leaned her face up
and Ben could see she was beaming. She brought her lips to
his and they shared a long, passionate kiss. "I do love
you, Ben," she whispered when they parted.
      I love you, too. He wanted to say it to her, but the
words just wouldn't come out. Too macho, I guess. "I know."
      Lara looked up at him quizzically in the starlight.
"That wasn't quite the response I was hoping for."
      "You'll get over it." Her kisses awoke a deeper
desire in Ben. "Lets go find some place to lay down for a
while."
      They rose as one and went to find a private shadow.
"I thought we were supposed to get some sleep," she
murmured.
      "I don't feel like sleeping." She just laughed.

      Author's Note: That's all I wrote. Unlike some
authors (right, Chuck?) who tack on on a wried or surprise
ending, I just didn't finish. Before you start yelling and
crying at me about this, you have to understand why I wrote
this story in the first place.
      I wrote Ben and Lara because I was fascinated by the
characters. The whole point to this whole thing was the
journey of two tough, scarred individuals. All I wanted out
of this was to turn Ben and Lara from what they were into
something that was greater than the sum of their parts.
      By the end of this last chapter, that journey is
complete. I have no more characterization to do, just to
resolve the plot, but the plot was always secondary to me.
I mean, sure, I wanted it to be interesting, but it always
came after the characters. It has holes in it, (why the
heck are Gunny and Williams talking in that dumb bar about
such a sensitive matter? Why didn't Apone just shoot Lara
instead of having that stupid fight?) but who cares. It was
all just trappings and weight.
      At this point I have said all that I wanted to say,
and found that the burning desire that I had at the
beginning of this story has faded. Besides, all that is
left is a boffo action sequence, and we all know how that
ends up, right? This story was meant to be nineteen
chapters and an epilogue. The chapters that I have not
written (incuding chapter 10) I will leave an abreviated
'TV Guide' Version to.
      I may finish Ben and Lara some day, or I may not.
Only time will tell
      Chapter Ten--Escape From Fulsome
      Ben and Lara get into a conversation detailing
exactly why organizing bikers into squads goes against the
biker life style and why it is so dangerous, not only to
Ben and Laara, but to the biker way of life. They discover
that Williams is in fact Robert Williams Jr., the son of
Big Bob Williams, who is the CEOof Williams Consolodated
Chemical, one of the five companies that runs Fulsome. They
also manage to sugar the gas tanks of most of the
Leatherneck's bikes and manage to get into a fight while
doing so. It is here that Lara fights Kramer, Gunny's Right
hand, and breaks his arm using 'Jap Slapping.'
      Chapter Eighteen--Payback
      This is, of course, the big fight between Ben's Biker
army and the remaining Leathernecks. Allen Wong Kah Weng, a
cyber-friend of mine (and fellow fanfic writer, if he ever
gets it out.) pointed out that if Ben and company blow up
the Fort Kennedy plant with Gunny and his pals just ten
minutes away, they'd notice and come back. This kinda
stumped me and is one of the reasons why this chapter was
never written. Anyway, Ben plans his ambush but of course
it doesn't go as planned. Gunny is no dummy and knows that
Spirit Canyon is a perfect ambush point. He sends half of
his guys away from escorting the trucks and has them swing
around, so Ben's ambush get's ambushed. Much violence
ensews, which leads to...
      Chapter Nineteen--The Reckoning
      Ben's biker army fights for its life and comes out on
top (barely). Ben and Gunny end up on the top of one of the
trucks and have a huge fight, which ends (of course) with
Gunny falling to his doom off a cliff. Ben survives, but
only because he does the one thing Gunny never thought he
would do: he sacrifices his bike. It's pretty much a gonner
anyway, but it is the one thing Gunny didn't expect. Lara
has a part in this somewhere, but I could never figure out
where. I gave her her big fight against Apone in chapter
16, so I figure that she can take a back seat while Ben has
his moment. In the end the good guys win, with about eight
guys (including Mo. even I couldn't kill off the president
of Corley Motors), which leads to...

      Eplilogue, One Month Later
      Ben and Lara are chilling out. The two of them have
had a month to relax and get to know each other while they
figure out where their lives are going. Ben inherits Father
Torque's bike, of course, and is kept busy in his new role.
Lara writes her story and makes a few bucks. Robert
Williams Jr. is terminated from his post at WCC. After a
month (remember Lara's comment to Ben 'Lets get to know
each other a month before we start talking about
marriage'?) the two have a chat. Ben says to Lara "Stay
with me here in the desert." At the same time Lara says ""I
just heard about the Dagger of Xian. Come with me and we'll
search for it together (it sure would have changed the plot
to TR II). Ben says "No, my place is in the desert."
      "I want to settle down," Lara says, "But I just need
to do this one last adventure. You understand, don't you?"
      "Yeah," Ben answers. "If you change your mind. you
know where I am." They both know, however, that if they
part now, that its for good. The story ends (how can it end
any other way?) with Lara standing there while Ben rides,
alone, into the sunset. (Or maybe Ben is standing there
while Lara rides into the sunset. I never quite decided)
      The End
      Oh, finally, a small challenge, but you don't get
anyting if you win. In the course of this story, as an
homage to George Lucas and the creators of Full Throttle, I
added a few lines from the Classic Sci Fi movie, Star Wars.
Can you spot them? There are three, if my memory serves,
but maybe there are more, I can't quite remember.

				
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