Hide In Plain Sand by vivi07

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									Hide In Plain Sand By Tyrone Slothrop Part 2 Angel In The New World Chapter 8 - Across The Eighth Dimension , Malibu, California, July 7, Current Year Angel of the Morning Running. Sand moved under shoes, wet with the rolling wash from surf. Dawn cracked fissures in the gray, refracting in the mists and fog. Damp chill seeped through sweat stained cotton. Running. The solitary figure moved in silence, his black clothing seeming to wisp in and out of vision. Shamus O‟Malley watched the form moving swiftly, without a sound. He then saw Bob approach and move to close the distance. Shamus hoped it would be a friendly encounter. Breathing heavily, O‟Malley slowed his walking pace as the figure knelt before Bob. Thank God he thought. Nothing to worry about here. Another victim of Bob‟s attentions. Shamus O‟Malley checked his pulse. Damn, I shouldn‟t move like that since the damn bypass. Take it easy they said. As he came up to Bob and his newest victim, he looked closely. Man or woman? Most likely woman with that hair. There‟s something about the way they moved though, I‟ve seen that before… Bob was enjoying himself, licking the face of his new conquest. His brown eyes looked up at Shamus and pleaded, as if to say Can I Take This One Home? “Nice dog, sir. Labrador?” the stranger in black said, down on hands and knees, ruffling Bob‟s fur and scratching between his ears in just the right spot. Shamus reassessed quickly. The tone of voice, more than the sound, the means of address flipped his assessment to male. He saw the long brown ponytail, the medium height and the self assured manner. Then he saw the outline of breasts in the folds of the sweatshirt and flipped again. “His name‟s Bob. He‟s usually a little skittish around people. Sorry if he‟s bothering you…” Shamus stammered, indecisive on the pronoun.

“My name is Angel, and Bob is a fine dog. Very few of us on the beach this early..” “Shamus O‟Malley. Pleased to meet you. Any friend of Bob‟s…” Angel laughed and extended a hand. Shamus was now thoroughly uncertain. He watched as the runner took the steps to the beachhouse two at a time, Bob frolicking after and then sitting at the edge of the wooden stairs, waiting for Shamus to arrive. Shamus nodded and Bob continued their walk down the beach. The figure in black watched them from the deck, smiling at the dog‟s happy antics. Angel stood on the deck, moving in a slow circle, a series of kicks and lunges flowing at seemingly random points. He found his focus and let the exercise course through his body. The effects of old wounds, broken ribs and slowing reactions took a perceptible toll, requiring an adjustment to his timing. His mind was void except for focus on the steps and arm movements. Sweat broke out anew, covering his face and hairless body. His brown hair was wet and limp as it whipped in sympathy with his head twists. Angel bowed to the surf, now complete with his morning ritual. Time to hose down. The warm water poured over the shampoo, creating soapy rivulets on his back as he arched and let his hair hang straight down under the showerhead. Two hours before the household starts moving, plenty of time for a set and some work time. He rinsed off, and wrapped a towel around himself, tucking it tight over his breast prostheses. Another day of listening to Arlene‟s disdain and ego trips. He rolled his eyes and sighed. Oh well. Carolyn wants me to be nice, I can do that. I hope. Angel Buckaroo Coffee aroma curled up to his nostril seductively, the movement of the steaming mug to his lips filling the local environment around his face with heavy particles suspended in the air, particulates which had traveled from the lava rich soil of Hawaii. His tongue and taste buds cheered the arrival of the hot fluid like fans at the last game of the World Series. Ahhhhh Coffee. LCD panels spread before him as he sat in the Aero chair, top panel flipped back to allow the hair dryer bonnet covering his head full of three inch diameter rollers. Wires dangled from the earbuds and throat microphone jacked into the wireless transponder in his robe pocket. The whirr of the dryer tuned out, Angel did what everyone did at this time. Email. Today there were no urgent notifies, so he dug immediately into the pile. He scanned across the set of displays every few minutes.

Central-a large 20 inch display had his email client open to a message from Trevor, the Senior Group Australia member. Several lines on a child prostitution operation feeding from Sydney to Bali. Nasty stuff, and it looked like they were untouchable by normal means. Left Side Upper-Rolling headlines from around the world driven by some extremely customized search agents. Currency shifts to the Euro by narco trafficers. Missing child in Maine. Police Chief indicted in a Canadian border town. Missing child in Nebraska. Judge throws out case for sex offender. Child‟s body found in Florida. Terror cell broken up in Seattle. Yankee pitches no hitter. Third missing yacht in „death zone‟ in Caribbean. Right Upper-A loop of live views from the household security cams. Not a creature was stirring. Angel watched as his wife Carolyn sleeping in bed flashed by. He smiled at her peaceful face. Left Side- A video feed from Group Ops Center, including the situation board showing ops underway. He noted the one in Tucson was orange, indicating a delay. Right Side- Media –Currently tuned to an all news channel. Shots of the missing yachts or more likely stock footage of similar ones. The blonde read her teleprompter with the same sunny disposition she gave to a story on Santa Claus. Left Upper-Center- Video Conferencing, now showing color bars. Sol was going to be live in ten minutes from somewhere in Central Asia. Right Upper Center- Johnnie Cam, now showing a snoring chubby young woman with her head back and mouth wide open, sleeping loudly in a specially built reclining chair. His brother-now-sister in law was still under her own form of house arrest, sitting on in the middle of the desolate Oregon high desert. Finishing the reply to Trevor , requesting his recommended next steps on the Sydney end, he clicked on an icon. Jamie heard the buzzer in the Ops Center and turned on his own microphone, swiveling towards the camera lens. Newly divorced, Jamie had decided to try full time dressing as a diversion from his pain. His hair was dark red and just covering his ears, complimented by a perfectly made up face. He had been doing his nails when he noticed the call from Angel. “Morning Boss. I knew that orange flag would make you ring in. Tucson‟ s lost their victim. He‟s just disappeared. We thought we had a probable predator, college lit teacher doing summer school, but the vic is gone into thin air.” “Local law on it?” “Yeah, they are about to fire up an Amber Alert, the whole thing. Here‟s the kid. Whoops, here it is now…” Jamie said, looking off screen.

Angel glanced at the cable news channel, seeing the now all too familiar logo for a device most people would never have envisioned. Child abduction. Pictures of innocence. Pictures you knew were bordering on tragedy. “Anything else, Jamie? They still want me up in Portland soon for that op?” “Affirmative, Boss.” “By the way, Jamie, that color is a real change for you..” Angel said. Jamie had been like a younger brother to him and was in a lot of pain over losing Alice. “Yeah, well, thanks. I know I‟m overcompensating, but damn, the pool man is such a damn cliché. The law firm has been very understanding, they are covering my cases.” “You‟ll be fine, Jamie. Talk to you later, got a call inbound.” “Ops Out.” The sound cut off on the Ops Center video feed. A very grainy digital image tried several times to resolve on Left Upper Center, grabbing Angel‟s focus. Kyrgyzstan was eleven hours ahead, so Sol was probably having tea in the late afternoon. The image resolved showing Sol and his fellow curmudgeon Sergei standing by a Land Rover, mountains off in the distance separated by trackless desert. A canyon rim appeared off to the right. “You there Sonny Girl? Ah, doing yer beauty treatments again, good good.” Sergei smiled with his broad face and performed a bow that a courtier in the retinue of the last Tsar would have been impressed by. He was elusive to look at, average height, thin, his dark hair and eyes his only distinguishing memory. “Angel, how pleasant! I trust you are well?” Sergei continued. “No time for claptrap, you damned commie! This sat phone link is iffy at best!” Sol chided his long time friend. Angel noticed they were surrounded by a series of heavily armed locals who moved purposefully around the vehicle. “You are as courteous as ever, Sergei, son of Peter. Now what’s the hot news that couldn’t wait?” Angel smiled as the images struggled mightily to resolve over the bandwidth limits. “We’re on the trail, Sonny Girl! A Prime Charismatic! I can feel it. And we’ve found some link to your neighborhood. Seems there’s some weird financial

links coming from a series of dead drops across the Western US. File’s on the way.” “Are you sure? You told me you thought a Prime Charismatic was theoretical…” “He is real, and he is here, just like the one my Grandfather killed, Angel. He must like dust, because dust and human flesh are the only things here in surplus.” Sergei intoned. “Ok, we’ll check out the files. I see your itinerary has you back here in a week, Sol.” “If we haven’t killed this one by then, we’ve missed him big time. Going dark now. You won’t get much news from here, Lassie Boy. There’s so many militaries and paramilitaries running around it’s a free for all. One more random explosion won’t make the six o’clock news here. Love you, Angel.” Sol winked as the feed was lost. “Love you too, Grampa..” Angel said quietly.

Chapter 9 – Bliss Interrupted , Malibu, California, July 7, Current Year

After an hour of moving from issue to screen to issue, Angel felt under the dryer and determined his hair was ready. Glancing at the clock indicated he needed to get Carolyn moving, so he rose and opened the door. Looking back, he saw the system had gone into secure mode, all screens displaying a Ruben‟s screensaver program featuring his paintings of women. Not even close to my Carolyn he smiled lovingly. Stopping in the kitchen, he prepared Carolyn‟s breakfast tray, adding a single red rose in a thin vase to the sliced orange, coffee, pineapple juice, a slice of fresh baked cranberry bread and yoghurt with granola. He added the Wall Street Journal recently retrieved from the front steps. Entering the bedroom, he set the tray aside and let his robe fall to the ground. Carolyn was in the last vestiges of sleep, the last dreams of the night streaming through her mind. Angel moved his tongue across her breast and touched her soft hip with his outstretched fingers. “Ohh ohhh mmmmmm …” Carolyn murmured, her right hand reaching out. Angel moved his attentions to her thighs, and then slowly, rhythmically began to bring her to climax, his tongue moving with deliberate strokes. Carolyn‟s body went rigid and she emitted a cry of pleasure. “Oh you, and me not awake..” she said, looking into his eyes. “Just your wake up call, love. Breakfast is here. You wanted to get to the office early today.” “Not until we‟re done…” Carolyn moved her mouth to his erect member and began providing a pressure he found irresistible. Angel‟s eyes closed as he gently stopped her, pushing her back on the bed and entering her with a fluid motion. Later, showered and at her vanity, Carolyn was blow drying her short one inch curls while munching her orange slices. She watched Angel getting dressed, fastening his brassiere over his prostheses and working a padded control panty over his slender hips. “It‟s not fair! Look at me! Fat fat fat with monster hips and ass. Ever since I took over Dad‟s company I keep gaining. And my husband not only has better hair, he needs to add padding to round out his butt!” Carolyn whined, standing up and examining her spreading curves in one of the mirrors. At 35, she had gone from a size 8 to a 12 over the last five years, some related to a long convalescence from a shooting, much related to the stress of running a billion dollar real estate and construction company. Damn Daddy, he always ran to fat and he handed it down to me and Johnnie.

Carolyn walked up and squeezed Angel‟s breast. “Too bad these aren‟t fully functional, I would love to add these to my routine…” Angel grinned. “Mitzi tells me the next generation will knock my stockings off. Maybe, hon..” Except for family obligation Carolyn would have kept her law practice which specialized in a pro bono operation for abused women as her life‟s focus, but she owed her sister the duty of keeping Daddy‟s company afloat. Five years later, she still couldn‟t find anyone to turn it over to and had to admit to herself that she liked being the Boss Lady. The lifestyle was hectic and stressful. “You‟re welcome to run with me in the mornings, hon.” Angel chimed in with his usual comeback to her fat whine. “Get up at four thirty? Sorry, babe, I need more than three hours sleep a night. Slow metabolism. Besides, Arlene had me out and made me try jello shots last night at some studio thing.” Angel looked at his wife of five years. Her round, soft hips and derriere showed her perfectly soft alabaster skin which flowed to a slightly rounded belly, almost masking a series of surgery scars and a bullet wound from their first wedding day. Her breasts were full and generous. She was beautiful in his eyes, a sight which made him feel humble, unworthy and grateful for his good fortune. Angel‟s eyes were difficult to look at for most people, containing a hardness and cold which set the small hairs on the back of the neck to bristle. Carolyn saw all that and more. She saw his kindness and caring and concern for her, making her feel as if she were his whole universe. She also saw his smooth skin, his pretty features, his thin waist showing signs of thickening with age, and marveled at this unique man. “Jello shots make a bubble butt, hon. But I‟m glad you and Arlene are having some fun while she does this movie gig for you.” Angel said as he began removing his rollers at his vanity. “Well, we used to be close in school, and she‟s the reason I got tagged with my “Lesbian‟ image. Look, honey, I know Arlene can be a pushy bitch, but she‟s only going to be here for a few weeks while they hack out the script and casting stuff. Tunturo Corporation got stuck with this movie deal and it either makes money or we have to write off $50 million in bad debt. Daddy must‟ve been infatuated with some starlet when he set this up. “So I have to make it go, and Arlene is the best producer I know. She‟s the one who signed Trace Lavin to be the new Drake Stone, and he‟s almost a guarantee for box office. So please just put up with her and help her out a bit when you can? Please?” Carolyn nuzzled Angel‟s neck and began stroking his flowing curls from his head to his shoulder blades.

“Since you insist…” “Oh you. Look, it‟s your idea that you still have to play my les lover for the public. I know we started that when I ran the foundation, but we could stop that…” Carolyn began dressing, pulling the slip over her head. “You still have a lot of donors to your foundation dear, and your law partner Thelma depends on them. And like it or not, you are still a feminist icon, now more than ever. Besides, all the neighbors think one way, why bother them? So I have to dress up a little more inside the house, it‟s no big deal.” Angel began applying eye shadow as he spoke. “Well, given your line of work, you probably find the confusion useful. Look at poor Trace Lavin. Since I rented him the beach house next door, those tabloid photographers are practically camped out on his doorstep.” Angel nodded. The little army of paparazzi could be annoying unless they classed you as „nobody‟ quickly. A black dress wrapping her hips, Carolyn kissed her husband, grabbed her briefcase and ran out to her waiting driver, her workday beginning on her cell phone before she even sat in the back of her limo, her eyes scanning the printout Angel had prepared of her morning agenda. Angel watched her go, the empty feeling lingering for a full minute. Sliding on a pair of shorts and sandals to compliment his scoop necked camisole, he began his morning household chores. Arlene sleeps in until 9:30 he thought. That gives me more time before she becomes a nuisance… Vacuuming done, laundry running and the bathrooms cleaned, he sat at his console again. Time to talk to Johnnie.

Crazy Is A Survival Skill

Fixing his hair so the gently curled strands fell evenly front and back while flowing over his cleavage, Angel entered the password key combination and used the fingerprint touch pad to bring his console to life.. Johnnie was stuffing a Hostess Twinkie in her mouth as Marla Brokken fussed in the background. Her fingers flew over the keyboard as Marla took her blood pressure. Marla wore a white nurse uniform which amply displayed her long legs. Johnnie plumply lay on her recliner, her face round and beaming, her pudgy body encased in a sweatsuit, her feet bare.

“Angel! You always look lovely! I have a wonderful new recipe for coq au vin I must share with you! You must make it for my sister! Have you seen the new fashions from New York? Horrid! Horrid I tell you!. Not that I could ever fit them…Yes, I am fine. Marla won‟t agree, but I am feeling fine.” Johnnie‟s emotions ran from giggles to plaintive whining to resignation in short abrupt bursts. Angel smiled. Johnnie was a self imposed recluse, feeling guilty about seeking and getting her revenge for her condition. Hormone overdose, forced sexual torture and a probable early life of prostitution had wrapped a young boy with a fury that could not be contained. Angel had tracked her down in time to bring her home, but the physical and emotional toll was severe. A genius of sorts, the mentally quixotic and unstable Johnnie along with her partner Marla had retreated to the same location they had been imprisoned, now a modest home in the Oregon high desert, not far from the Nevada border. Carolyn had the company maintain the property and Marla had become Johnnie‟s nurse, caring for her as she settled in to a life of weakening kidneys and an immune system which had seen too many challenges. “Always on the lookout for a good recipe, send it to me, Johnnie. You really shouldn‟t eat those you know.” Angel said, chiding her sister in law. “Yes , yes yes, I know, sugar load, bad for me, bad for the old kidneys, and aggravates incipient diabetes, plus what it does to my figure! HA! Marla‟s such a bitch, she only lets me have one a day! One A Day I tell You! It‟s inhumane! It‟s against the Geneva Convention!” Marla smiled and took away the crumb filled plate. “Angel, she‟s as bad as ever. Fights me over her meds, won‟t take her exercise…” Marla said with a grin. “I am not! I‟m much more clever than that! I‟m annoying in new and unique ways every day!” Johnnie whined. Angel felt a sadness come from the scene. A life twisted and stunted, Johnnie was twenty and lived in pain and on the edge of failing health. Damn, we can‟t ever save them all fast enough… “Oh, oh! I did find something weird. Sol linked me a file from somewhere on the other side of the planet. There‟s a pattern but it‟s faint. Everywhere the money was sent to Asia and Sydney there has been a missing young boy in the last year and also a series of new business licenses issued to a series of front companies. The bastards were good, but I‟m better. The fronts have also done similar things together, mostly in media and info tech. I get to someplace in Switzerland and hit a wall. Know anyone in the Feds who can twist a

Swiss banker‟s arm?” Johnnie changed character completely when she began her „avocation‟. Looking for connections, patterns , a mosaic in the wealth of data flowing over the nervous system of the human race, she was in her element. She had found connections to several predators the Group hunted, and was becoming increasingly important in Angel‟s targeting of operations. “Do a larger pattern on those fronts and see what comes up as a controlling interest.” Angel suggested. Johnnie got a petulant look on her face. “Golly, why didn‟t I think of that? Gee, poor dumb Johnnie can‟t do anything…” “All right, sorry Johnnie. My apologies. I should know you always go seven steps ahead…” Angel grinned. Talking to Johnny was a challenge at times. Johnnie beamed. “Seven steps is right! These fronts have done a lot together, we still dead end in Switzerland, but I do have a physical location to check.” “Care to tell me?” “A data center in Amsterdam. Most of the traffic is routed or originates there. Again, the ownership goes to Switzerland and is under the cone of silence. You penetrate physically, get me past their hardware security and I‟ll rip them to shreds.” “Let me look at it, kiddo. Ship me the specs you have.” “Angel?” “Yes, Johnnie?” “I‟d like to come along, but you know…” “I know, Johnnie. You‟re doing great right on that couch. Now listen to Marla, you hear?” “Love you Angel.” “Love you too, sister.” “Bye, I‟m tired now…” Angel switched off the monitor. His eyes showed an uncharacteristic softening for a minute as a mist of tears passed over them. Guilt and sadness lingered after the mist.

Chapter 10: Wicked Witch of the West, Malibu, California, July 7, Current Year

Arlene was stirring on the video monitors, walking down the hallway to the guest bathroom, her gym shorts and tee shirt hastily thrown on her tall frame. Closing down the system, Angel locked the door to his office, now requiring a unique five digit sequence and a fingerprint to enter. Sandals making muted contacts on the hardwood flooring, he began breakfast preparations. Chopped shallots and Anaheim peppers sizzled in the pan as he grated some sharp white cheddar onto a plate. Timing adding the egg mix just as Arlene entered the room and plopped down in a chair, he handed her a mug of steaming coffee. She grunted acceptance and then saw him flip the omelet onto a plate. Tall with short cropped black hair and Italian looks, Arlene resembled a raptor, with sharp nose and dark, merciless eyes. “Is that for me? I told you I preferred egg white only. You are so hopeless!” Arlene first words of the day were consistent if never pleasant. Angel smiled as he sipped his coffee. “Oh yes you did mention that. Something about Gigli‟s Café and their fabulous breakfast? I assumed if you wanted an egg white omelet, you‟d go there…” She stared at him with an icy venom. “Look here, you little parasite crossdresser, I knew Carolyn a long time before you sunk your little claws into her money pot. So here you are, prancing around her house, living off her money, playing June Cleaver. At least you could be a decent hostess, you little swish. Some day you‟ll slip up and find yourself a daddy and Carolyn will toss you.” Arlene ate her food with a smile. She seemed to enjoy belittling people, it was her greatest skill. Angel maintained his composure, but his eyes began hardening. “Oh, yes, dear Angel, we‟re having four of us for our script session at one today. Please serve what‟s on the normal menu, I need that damn actor on a rigorous diet. And don‟t gawk at Trace. I don‟t need another headache fan chasing after his ass, he‟s hard enough to focus as it is. We‟re going on location tonight, so we won‟t be back for four days. You can watch your soaps or have your little friends over or whatever useless stuff you do then.” Arlene shifted to command mode, acting as if her insult process was just something people absorbed and then willingly jumped to her bidding. That movie set must be like the court of Louis the XIV mused Angel. Angel read this as a dismissal. It pleased Arlene Ferlenghetti to treat him like a live-in maid-mistress. What hurt was the sliver of truth in her cutting attack.

Even before this bitch-from-Carolyn‟s past showed up, he had felt uneasy about living on her wealth. He had a decent disability pension from the state and could have a nice little self sufficient life. However, his group needed sponsors, and Carolyn, or rather Tunturo Enterprises provided a lot of funding which allowed his scope of operations to expand. Parasite. Well, there‟s some truth there, but I‟ve never asked her for anything…mulled Angel. Then she had arrived. All sugar to Carolyn, all spittle and derision to anyone „below‟ her. Arlene had moved in while the movie deal was getting off the ground. It had been a testy few weeks, including Angel playing hostess to an almost daily several hour session held at the beach house with Arlene (executive producer), Trace Lavin (the star/producer), Bill Marley (the director) and Trish Haversham (the studio liaison). Angel‟s duty as he read it consisted of making food and cleaning up when they were done, and to date that seemed to have sufficed. So far, at most he had gotten his ass pinched by the legendary Trace and patted by Trish as he served whatever tofu salad concoction Arlene demanded. He had smiled and coyly snuck away. It must be in Arlene‟s interest to maintain my masquerade as Carolyn‟s lesbian lover he thought; otherwise she‟d be using the group to play humiliation games. He got up and took the list for the menu from the counter. Salad, fruit and yoghurt dip. He could whip that up without thinking, but decided her last outburst called for a counterstroke. Good thing they are going out of town. He thought. I‟d have to hire the Chin‟s to cater while I was gone, and they‟d end up killing her…well, there‟s a thought… He busied himself with preparations, checking his system remotely from his PDA for incoming email and text every few minutes. He made sure he checked his makeup and hair a few minutes before they arrived, and changed into a fresh blouse, having managed to stain the camisole while cutting up the fruit. Trish Haversham arrived first. A fifty year old California blonde from Kansas, she was gaunt without being thin, and perpetually had an air of desperation that followed her like a cloud. It was her job to say yes to everyone while making the studio executives happy, which required an acceptance of failure to stay sane, or the complete annihilation of every person involved. Trish had chosen the first approach. She handed her portfolio and briefcase to Angel, who promptly turned and dropped them on the entrance table. “Hello… um… Angel.. isn‟t it?” Trish stammered, looking to Angel to nod so she could just ignore him and move on to the important people. Angel grinned and nodded.

Bill Marley was a world famous director ten years ago, having had the luck to string two hits in a row in one year. Since then, the disheveled little man with his signature unshaven looks and bald head had produced a string of expensive failures. “Hiya sweetcheeks! Any decent food today?” Marley said to Angel as he breezed through the door. “Arlene‟s normal menu, Mr. Marley.” “Yuck! Semi vegan semi food. Oh well, you only make what you‟re told, eh?” Marley unsuccessfully groped for Angel‟s hips, which moved just in time. He wandered into to dining table where Trish had begun laying out papers while Arlene berated her. A big man, six foot four and two hundred fifty pounds with a buzz cut showing a heavily receding hairline stood there. Marley turned to Angel. “Oh yeah, sweetie. This is Jethro Flagg , or „Jet‟ as they call him in the biz. He‟s our stunt consultant for all the airplane gags.” Jet extended a massive hand which swallowed up Angel‟s. “Pleased to meet you, Ma‟am.” Angel was impressed. Jethro was the first genuine person he‟s met in the movie business. “Hope another guest doesn‟t upset your plans, kitten.” Marley said. “No, I have plenty. Pleased to meet you, Mr. Flagg.” As the pair entered the other room, a tall pretty face, midnight black forelock curling down his forehead, trim body moving with ease in his jeans and black tee shirt, pointy toed cowboy boots clattering on the floor flowed in behind them. Angel saw his hand being taken and brought to the man‟s lips. “You are an Angel, darlin‟. How come you never come over to visit?” Trace was charming, all his publicity said so. Angel was mostly amused. Trace seemed fairly harmless and so far had been fairly restrained in his advances. “Maybe sometime, when Carolyn‟s got the time, Mr. Lavin..” “Now, please. Trace. Call me Trace, love. And the invitation was for you, not our esteemed corporate financier, as pleasant as she may be..”

“Dammit Trace, get that twenty million dollar ass in here! We‟re trying to get started!” Arlene‟s shrill voice cut through. Thank you, Arlene thought Angel as the dejected star nodded and went to join the others. Angel set the salads and fruit out, drawing Trace‟s attention every time he entered the room. Arlene was sitting back munching a carrot , letting Bob discuss the filming requirements, while Trish wrote copious notes and managed to say “I need to check on that” a least every five minutes. Jethro looked uncomfortable in the corner. The counterstroke was ready. Angel slid open the door to the deck as he carried the platter of large, well formed hamburger patties, rolls and trimmings outside to the waiting gas grill, already roaring hot. The aroma of sizzling meat, fat dripping onto the steel rods and vaporizing wafted into the meeting within a minute Trace and Bill‟s noses led them outside, where Angel was flipping the searing meat on the grill. Arlene looked up and realized her meeting had adjourned itself. Jethro stood up and followed the pack to the aroma of burned animal flesh. Trish‟s mouth began to visibly water. “Oh sorry, don‟t mind me, I‟m just making my lunch and finishing this ground round I had in the fridge…” Angel said quietly, his hair gently blowing in the ocean breeze, his hand on his hip as he stood there over the flames. Arlene stormed out as Trace began his first bite of a luscious hamburger. “Angel, these are wonderful! I‟ve been eating tofu till it floats in my eyes! Real food! You are an Angel!” Trace babbled. “Beats the usual rabbit food sweetie. You know, you should test for one of the “Stone Girls”, what do you think, Trace?” Bill went on, enjoying watching Arlene glare silently, “Yes! Yes! She‟d be perfect! You have to set it up! Arlene! Set up a screen test for Angel here! I love to have her as one of my gals!” Trace was clearly excited. Angel rolled his eyes, hoping the idiot idea would blow over. Jet saw it and chuckled as he ate a massive burger in two bites. After everyone but Arlene had eaten and filtered back inside, she took Angel aside. “Clever little boy, aren‟t you? I‟m not amused. You do know I have to humor Trace‟s request, don‟t you? He‟s very fragile and this picture sinks without him. So, you twit, now I have to waste the time to test you. Don‟t get your hopes up, you won‟t be in the movies, as if we‟d ever book some transvestite freak…” Arlene threw her barb.

“Arlene, you are without a doubt a boss everyone just loves to get behind. Forget the screen test, I‟m not doing it, don‟t want it. Now shoo, go back to your meeting and let me clean up this mess…” Angel smiled. “If Trace wants you to, then you will. Keeping the star happy is your job now.” “Excuse me? Isn‟t that your job?” “And Carolyn asked you to „assist me‟. So „assist‟, you little fag, assist. Trace likes you and we don‟t want him all depressed now. I‟ll tell Carolyn just how helpful you can be to keep our temperamental star on an even keel…” Angel rolled his eyes again and turned away, picking up the assorted trash and remaining food. Later the meeting got ugly. Angel heard Arlene and Jet get into a yelling match while he stretched his legs on the deck. “Dammit Ms. Ferlenghetti, you‟re gonna seriously hurt the pilot in a low level ejection. Use a cut away shot.” Jet‟s voice rumbled. “You‟ve fought us on every big scene, Flagg. You will do this or we‟ll get someone who will.” Arlene yelled. “Fucking right, Jet! We need those shots!” Marley broke in, whining. “Then I guess I‟m fired. I‟ve picked up too many bodies to do it for a fucking movie..” Jet said in a tone Angel recognized as final. “Get Out! Right Now!” Arlene sounded on the verge of losing control. Angel heard the large man leave, and was impressed that the front door didn‟t slam. Using the side door, he walked around front to see Jet about to pull out his phone. “Mr. Flagg, can I have a minute?” Angel said, walking up to the small frontage on the Coast Highway. Traffic roared by.

Chapter 11: With Friends Like These, Malibu, California, July 7, Current Year

Jet looked at Angel and nodded.

“Looks like they stranded you without a ride. I‟d be happy to give you a lift if you can wait downstairs for half an hour. There‟s cold beer and hot coffee. Please accept my hospitality?” Angel smiled sweetly, hoping he could make this easy. Jet looked the brunette over. Damn fine body, pretty. Those eyes are weird though. Something‟s not all on the surface here. Shit Jet, mysterious woman in LA asks you to stay a while. You‟ve just fallen into a detective novel or a black and white movie. “My Sergeant would laugh his ass off if I ever turned down a free beer, Miss Angel. And an unemployed guy never turns down a free ride in this town. Thanks.” Angel smiled and motioned for Jet to follow down the side steps, out of sight of the still bickering movie people in the living room. Settling Jet into the downstairs den, Angel handed him a manual with a host of inserts stuffed into the binder. “I need to freshen up a bit and check a few things. Would you mind looking this over while I do that?” Angel smiled, looking directly into Jet‟s eyes. Jet reached up and took the large binder. His eye‟s widened as he saw what it was. “Gulfstream G5? C37 military mods?” Jet flashed awareness that this was not some housegirl mistress type. “I‟ll be back soon, Mr. Flagg. Make yourself comfortable.” Angel smiled and closed the door. Jet looked at the aircraft manual and specifications. A private jet with a range to fly almost anywhere in the world, speed of .885 Mach. Multi million dollar toy. Milspec equipment made it similar to the model the Air Force used. Communications suite with satellite access. Anti missile defenses. Electronic counter measures which he thought were strictly classified. What the hell is this thing? Who is this woman? The open beer slowly went flat as he became absorbed in his second true love. Angel watched the group upstairs leave. Arlene had her overnight bag which Trish was loading in a waiting airport limo. “Well, you can relax now Angel. I‟m leaving for some desolate wasteland in Calgary. Trish here will contact you about that test.” Arlene put on a show of civility for Trace, who was beaming smiles at Angel from the doorway. Arlene leaned over and whispered “I‟ll get you, you little slut” and then pulled away and air kissed Trace as she hopped in the limo with Marley.

Angel stood in the doorway and was taken by surprise when Trace pulled his face to his own and kissed Angel on the lips. It seemed like a thousand flashes went off as Angel attempted to control his instincts to crush the movie star‟s windpipe. He turned to see a horde of tabloid photographers moving in. Trace turned and waved to the crowd. “Just for good luck on that screen test, darlin‟! I‟ll stop over sometimes when I‟m back from the set.” Angel managed to extricate himself from the arms of the star. He moved them both inside and closed the door, the screams and cries of the press unheeded. “Mr. Lavin, excuse me, but I‟m not…” “Don‟t worry darlin‟, you‟ll get a ton of free publicity from this.” Angel realized that the last thing he wanted was his face on every supermarket checkout. Oh Shit how do I stop this? “Aren‟t you married, Mr Lavin? I‟m very committed …” Angel stammered. “Sure, she‟ll be thrilled. Great buzz for the film and all that..” “Mr. Lavin…” “Trace! I‟m not leaving until you call me Trace!” “Ok, Trace. Look, you‟re very nice, but I have stuff I must do, and I really am not interested in the movie business..” Angel attempted to extricate himself from what was becoming a surreal situation. He decided just killing the idiot was probably not a good idea… yet. “Look, Angel, please, just take the test! I know you‟ll do well. It will make me feel better.” Trace managed to look like a pleading little boy. “Oh all right! Now scoot! I have stuff to do! And don‟t stop by, I‟ll be gone for a few days, and even if I‟m back, don‟t stop by! I really don‟t want my picture in the papers!” “Ok! See you at the studio, darlin‟!” Trace left, surrounded by the photographers, suddenly held back by his security, who had been curiously absent a moment before. That‟s curious….Angel mused as he went to his office and fired up the system. A half an hour later Jet looked up to see his hostess, or rather host, or something..

“Mr. Flagg? What do you think of the plane?” Angel said, using his male mode. His hair was pulled back low on his neck, the breasts were gone and he was clear of makeup. A black tee shirt and jeans over running shoes showed a lean body, without curves. Jet recognized the eyes. He had seen them in the jungles and the mountains, usually clutching a rifle as if it were an extension of the body. “Angel?” Jet decided to ask and wait for some kind of answer. “You need a job, I need an aircraft manager. I want you to call Sully. He‟s waiting for your call, and he‟s in a bitchy mood since he‟s at work at his bar. Should be peak time on the east coast. He will vouch for me better than anyone else can.” Angel said, refusing to acknowledge his change in appearance. “Sully? You know Sully? He was my squad leader when I was just…” “Eighteen, and in Laos, even though you were never officially there. I‟ve been checking you out, Mr. Flagg. My grandfather is Sol McConnell. And I occasionally work with him.” Angel said, calmly, watching Jet‟s face. “Sol? I haven‟t seen him in..” “Since 1972, yes, I know. Call Sully, please. I‟ll be back in ten minutes.” Angel left again, grabbing a coffee on his way out. Jet noticed despite the male body, Angel was still androgynous, the hair still shining and curled even tied back, the face still finely featured, the eyebrows shaped just enough, the nails just slightly longer than a man would wear them. Who was this guy? Was he even a guy? Sully‟s gravel voice came over the mobile phone. “What the fuck do you want, Jet? I‟m awful goddam busy right now!” “Fuck you too, Sarge. A friend of yours told me to call you…” Jet heard a booming laugh that must have scared the bar patrons. “Oho! You‟ve finally been sucked into the McConnell game! Welcome aboard, Jet. Angel‟s good people, he‟s Sol‟s grandkid, well really foster kid of Sol‟s daughter, but Sol trained him. I assume he‟s screwed your mind over with his girl/boy thing?” Sully continued. “Yeah, but this is Hollywood Sarge, You get kind of used to that shit out here.” “Ha. Hollywood Bullshit! You should see my bar! Look, Jet, he‟s a good guy, and he‟s also deadly as all hell. You don‟t want to piss him off. If he wants you to work it‟ll be more meaningful than the crap you‟ve been doing. Assuming you survive. Besides, you

still owe Sol for pulling our butts off that mountain. You know he got fired over that stunt.” “Yeah I know. Well shit, if it‟s that dangerous, I‟ve got two ex wives who will miss my checks like all get out. Ok, Sully, I‟ll give it a whirl. Does he give dental?” “Your teeth are the last fucking thing you should worry about, asshole. Watch your six, buddy. And give Angel a kiss for me. Got to go now, one of the girls wants a fucking Singapore Sling and she‟s bigger than me. Look me up if you get to Baltimore.” “Yeah Sarge, love ya too.” Jet heard Sully click off. Angel entered the room with two glasses and a bottle of single malt scotch. He poured a thin layer into each glass, barely half a shot. “Do we welcome you aboard or bid you farewell, Mr. Flagg? This is Sol‟s family label.” Jet took the glass and saluted. "Now how could this Flagg wave farewell to that?" Jet smiled. He took the glass and sipped the smooth golden fire. Angel smiled and sipped his own “Ok, I owe Sol, I‟m out of a job and that‟s one fine aircraft. Tell me about the job…”..Jet continued. “Well, right now I need this brand new aircraft to have a shakedown cruise, with two new pilots, by tomorrow afternoon…” Angel smiled. “Just drop me by my place so I can get my toothbrush, boss, and let me follow you to the hangar…” Jet said, smiling. Angel grinned. He handed Jet the salary and benefits letter and led him to the garage.

Chapter 12: Jazz in The Background, Civil Aviation Airfield, Ventura County California, July 8, Current Year Art Blakely and the Jazz Messengers wailed in his headphones as the Harley roared down the entrance road, gravel spitting up into the clear blue sky. Lt. Commander Preston “Spike” McConnell, USN downshifted as he approached the entrance, shut off Art Blakely and pulled a letter out of his leather flight jacket to flash the guard in the booth. The private security guard stiffened to attention, years of long habit from the presence of a Naval Officer, then relaxed. Spike also readied a salute return and restrained himself. I‟m a civilian now, whatever Detached Duty means… “Hangar 44, Lieutenant Commander, just turn left and it‟s the fifth on your right. Sign outside says “Tunturo Enterprises”. Spike smiled and gave a salute. “Thanks, Marine.” He noticed the guard‟s smile and accompanying salute as he slowly revved up and rolled left. Damn Great Uncle Sol and the horse he rode in on… damn, family obligations too. Careerus Interruptus…. Could‟ve made Commander soon, especially with a war on…so what the hell is this weird status?...Uncle Sol has spook connections….Captain Claymore told me to relax, enjoy the easy civilian life, come back in six months…no loss in time in grade…he also said to be damn careful… The Harley secure in a parking space, he removed the black helmet, adorned only with an American Flag decal and “SPIKE” in white block letters. His callsign, some kind of Anime geek thing from his wingman. Cowboy lean in black jeans and brown leather jacket, rapidly removed as the July heat worked him over now that he was no longer a moving target, McConnell stood tall, six foot two even in his relaxed slouch. Dark, shining hair just growing out from the ministrations of the last Navy barber framed a long face with lively dark eyes shrouded by lids which expressed perpetual sleepiness or detachment. Pushing the door buzzer brought a gruff, gravel voiced grumble from the intercom speaker. “McConnell! You‟re late! Get inside and let‟s get to work.” Spike smiled and shook his head. Welcome aboard never seemed to change. He opened the now unlocked door and entered the hangar space.

Spike‟s eyes saw a flurry of activity, aircraft techs scrambling around, pallets of stuff moving in from delivery vans, the whine of compressed air tools puncturing the general din. His eyes locked on two targets and he struggled to assign priority to either one. She won out. Sculpted long legs in iridescent pink hot pants made her look taller than she probably was, and her tanned body was evident, revealed except for the part covered by a sports bra-halter top holding reasonably sized and totally noticeable breasts. Chin length black hair hung a little lankly, she was clearly sweating from her exertions. His pilot‟s eyes made out the stencil block letters across each breast on the halter top. “FAYE” and “USAF”. Even without makeup, she was beautiful. The techs around her were clearly struggling to maintain focus. Coming in second place was the plane. A gray and white twin engine Gulfstream GV. It looked very new. Spike had flown the Navy C20G, basically a Gulfsteam GIV and loved the plane. Not an F-18, but damn fine for a non warbird. Come to think of it, that two months of ferrying the Admiral around Africa had been weird too.. “So the Navy arrives, in their own good damn time, as usual.” The woman said. Spike gauged her age at somewhere between 25 and 30, but conceded she could be older. “Spike McConnell, Ma‟am, pleased to meet you.” He decided to charm her with a short bow. Faye was not impressed. “I‟ve been running the preflight checks on this bird all on my own. You were supposed to be here hours ago.” Spike wondered if she was one of those women who didn‟t know the effect her body had on men. Nah, she uses everything she has… “I just got my orders ..I mean the memo by courier an hour ago. You lucky I got here this fast…” Faye gave the classic dismissive female head wave, ignoring the excuse as a typical excuse. “Go talk to the big guy in the office, I‟ve got to get this C37 ready to fly this afternoon. Oh yeah, and it‟s Matsui, Captain Sofiya Matsui.” She turned and went back to her task. Shaking his head again, he turned and carried his duffel bag to the glass window office across the hangar floor. Well, the old McConnell charm does it‟s magic again….She hates me at first sight…Damn she‟s hot…Oh well, what was that line about love and hate?....he thought. The man in the office was big, really big. He wore a stained mechanic‟s coverall with the sleeves cut off, showing off huge upper arms. Balding , with close cropped black hair, he was talking into a phone and waving a clipboard under a tech‟s nose as he chewed on an unlit cigar. Spike could make out the faded “Jet” name patch on the right chest pocket.

“You McConnell? Get your ass in here and bring Faye with you, now!” The man stuck his head out the office door while still waving the clipboard and holding the cell phone. Spike did a 180 turn and briskly walked back to the woman. “Our presence is requested immediately, milady.” He offered a hand to her to help her down off the scaffold by the starboard engine. She ignored it and jumped down, making him almost sprint to catch up to her lead. Jet ushered the flustered techs out of his office and motioned to the chairs in front of his desk. Faye allowed Spike to seat her, Spike giving her no choice by clever positioning. Always make your opponent scramble for position.. he thought. Jet poured three cups of steaming black coffee and set them on the desk. “I‟m Jethro Flagg, and due to a total failure of all personal judgment I am the ramrod of this little outfit. The Boss will be showing up in two hours or so, and we need to be ready to go wherever the Boss needs to go. You got your passports?” Faye and Spike nodded. Jet began his monologue. “Good. Well, I‟ve been told you both have flown similar aircraft when you were on active, which is good, since I‟m not fully checked out on this bird. I‟ve spent the last twelve hours getting this place together so we can do a shakedown run and I can tell you, it‟s been a bitch. I‟m tired, cranky and in no mood for bullshit from officers. So here it is. You two are the pilots. I checked, and despite your lofty ranks you are also old enough to act like friggin adults. So work out who flies when, and do it quietly, out of my earshot and no blood on the upholstery. I‟ll fly second seat when I can, when I want to, but not today. “Next, we do what the Boss needs done to complete the job. Carry luggage, rent cars, clean toilets, whatever. No job is outside your job description which is, shall we say “fluid and evolving” Don‟t ask me about your military status, I don‟t give a shit. And I also don‟t know. We‟re all on a six month deal here. “Last. If you don‟t like this set up, tell me now. Once you leave this office, you either leave forever or sign up. What‟s it to be?” Spike looked over at Faye, who had a sour expression on her face. She stared straight ahead. Jet sat back in the chair and sipped his coffee loudly. “Well, at least you didn‟t lie to us, Mr. Flagg. No sugar coating the briefing..” Spike started.

“Damn, that was the sugar coated version. And it‟s Jet. So are you in or not? We‟ve got work to do..” the big man broke a smile. “For my Great Uncle Sergei, because my family asks, I will do this.” Faye said quietly. Spike was stunned with the seriousness of her delivery. He had to counter. “Sure, I‟m in. Uncle Sol wants it, yeah, family honor, yeah, all that jazz..” Jet smiled again, the way a shark does. “Okay, just to prove I‟m completely nuts, you two are cleared for a one hour familiarization run. So that 50 million dollar toy better come back in perfect condition when the boss arrives. I would prefer the first run with the Boss not be your first time to light the candles, kiddies. And for the love of God, dress like pilots willya? Now scoot, I‟m busy..” Faye turned to Spike. “I‟m driving, Navy. A C37 is a G5 and this one is damn close to what I‟ve been flying for the last three months.” Spike was about to argue when he stopped. She was right. The C20 was a Navy version of a the last model, the G4 and he hadn‟t been in one for a year. “Sure, Faye. Ladies first.” Faye glared. “Damn right. Now let‟s go. I‟ll show you your locker.” “Only if I can see yours.” “Always knew Navy guys had a death wish.” “Take it outside!” Jet yelled. Angel’s Beach House, Malibu, California, July 8, Current Year “A screen test? For a „Stone Girl‟? Oh my!” Carolyn was struggling to get the words out in between gales of laughter. “Dammit, Carolyn, it‟s not funny! That airhead star is hitting on me!” Angel countered, his normal composure evaporating. “I‟ll say! Tess called me early this morning to tell me to get the World Observer. I never read this paper before. Did you know that space aliens run convenience stores? Oh yes, and this cover picture of Trace and you is very attractive! Too bad they didn‟t get your good side, darling…” Angel flushed purple. That damn Arlene set this up! Those tabloid jerks were supposed to be kept back. He got angry every time he saw the full color photo of Trace holding his

face and kissing him. They redid the picture to add two cup sizes to my boobs! Those bastards! “TRACE STRAYS AGAIN! VIXEN GIRL NEXT DOOR NEWEST LOVE MATCH! “ the headlines screamed in huge font letters. “Carolyn, you want me to play along with this?” Angel put it to her as directly as he could. Carolyn looked at her husband across the breakfast table. He was going out of town and she knew it was on an operation. She still worried, even though he had told her his real dangerous duty was behind him. Angel dealt with evil, as angels are supposed to do. She knew she couldn‟t change that. “Look, hon, go do your stuff, let it blow over. I don‟t have to tell you how important keeping Trace happy is to this movie, so just humor him a little. I‟ll tell Arlene to make sure this stays out of the trash papers. Besides, you being a “Stone Girl” is really appealing to me, in an unusual way. You are such a fox…” Despite his furor and embarrassment, a smile broke across his face. Carolyn leaning over and running her hand up his skirt, tickling his thighs felt good too. She kissed him with a fiery passion. Coming up for air, Angel grinned. “Okay, okay, just keep my face out of the papers and I‟ll deal with Mr. Action Hero. Can your limo drop me at the airfield?” “Of course, dear. Have I told you how cute that top looks on you? I‟m sure Trace will find it irresistible…” “He can find it however he wants. I understand with computer graphics they can edit out even a broken arm…” “Now, Angel, just view it like an undercover assignment, like you used to do…” “I was allowed to hurt them, then, hon.” “I know you can handle a stupid movie star.” “Sure , hon. More coffee?” Angel held up the carafe. And I can handle your old college friend, too, hon...he thought.

Chapter 13: Meet The New Boss, Ventura County, California, July 8, Current Year

Beach House and Limo , Malibu, California, July 8, Current Year

A gaggle of photographers were held back by company security as Carolyn and Angel slid into the limo. “Dennis, I‟m leaving town for a few days. I assume you have coverage on the house?” Angel asked the driver. Dennis was an ex-cop who Angel had known from his tenure with the State police. He now handled Carolyn‟s security at work, in a grandfatherly way. Medium height with dark skin and hair like silver wire, Angel heard a chuckle. “Told you we needed to cover the front with more guys, Angel. Is that guy as good a kisser as he looks?” Angel rolled his eyes. Living down his unwanted publicity was becoming a personal trial in patience. “Ok, Dennis, you were right. And tell the boys they are covered for any necessary roughness if those leeches get pushy.” Carolyn turned to the driver. “Dennis, wasn‟t he just lovely in that picture?” “Oh no, Ma‟am, I‟m afraid Mrs. Blackpool doesn‟t let my eyes linger on such trash. But she did say she loved the birthday present and says she‟s coming over to make you dinner while Angel‟s gone. Says you‟re too thin…” Carolyn smiled, and got the jab as Angel patted her rear. “Only if you join us, Dennis. I can‟t eat one of Belinda‟s meals unassisted.” Dennis chuckled. “I assume the airfield first, Ma‟am?” “Yes, Dennis, then my schedule as you already have it. Law office first, then headquarters.” Angel checked his appearance, satisfied his makeup was intact. He took a brush from his purse and tended to his hair. The white sleeveless blouse was covered with a lightweight black bolero jacket over a matching skirt which barely showed his knees. Can‟t let those tabloids get me out of character, last thing I need is for someone to pick up on the male Angel….

On the ride over, Carolyn occupied with her daily work, Angel engaged in a message session with Johnnie.



Civil Aviation Airfield, Ventura County, California, July 8, Current Year Spike decided Faye made anything she wore look extraordinarily good. A pilot‟s shirt with epaulets, open collar and black slacks didn‟t hide a single curve. His eyes kept focusing on that last buttoned button on her shirt, under just enough tension to make him wish for a structural failure on the part of the thread. She was relaxing, all checks done, reading a tabloid newspaper someone had left in the ready room.

“Did you know space aliens ran convenience stores?” Faye said as she sipped her coffee. Spike looked at the busty bimbo on the cover engaged in lip lock with some movie guy. “Well, if they look like her, then I must be going on the wrong shift for my slurpee.” Faye looked at the cover. “I can see why you‟d like her, cheap and flashy.” The test flight had shown her to be a real pro. Once they sat in the cockpit, she was all business, no insults, no attitude. In fact, when she was flying, she almost felt human. Spike had seen her skill and assurance with the controls and was silently impressed. No need to tell her she‟s a damn good pilot…might ruin my image as a wisecracking asshole… She began pointing out small differences about the instruments. Spike was shocked at the navigation suite, Didn‟t think this stuff was civilian yet… satellite comm., mil spec GPS, ….. real time imagery …what outfit is this? Spike took the controls on the return leg with Faye watching his every move. It‟s like flight school, but Wainwright, that asshole check pilot never had a chest like that….. “Not bad, Navy. You managed to find the ground.” She said as they rolled into the hangar. “Well, hell, at least it‟s not slipping and sliding around in heavy swell, Faye darling, Almost too easy…” Spike thought he detected a momentary smile cross her full lips. Damn, that perfume is driving me crazy…. Jet had looked over the aircraft and began the process of yelling, pushing and shoving to get the tanks topped off and all the systems checked again. New piles of moving parts need to be watched like a newborn baby until they acquire a character of their own, and this aircraft was no exception. “Rest up and you can greet the Boss. Should be arriving within the next hour. We‟ll leave for Phoenix Sky Harbor as soon as the Boss arrives. Oh yeah, give your keys to the guy over there, he‟ll park your vehicles inside.” The „guy over there‟ appeared to be about sixteen and looked at the keys with delight. He shot the pilots a grin and ran off. “Hope my bike makes it inside in one piece…” Spike muttered. “Harley, I‟ll bet. You are such a walking cliché for a fighter jock…” Faye said, her expression in it‟s usual „show no mirth‟ mode.

A red Dodge Viper roared into the hangar, it‟s V-10 echoing off the walls. “Cliché fighter jock, huh?” Spike said. Faye smiled, ever so briefly before returning to her „who you looking at?‟ face. Spike knew he would crawl through glass to see that smile again. A black limo rolled in behind the kid as he parked Spike‟s Harley. “I‟d say the Boss has arrived.” Spike said, once again talking to Faye‟s back as she strode off to the limo. He caught up and the two fell into parade rest as the chauffeur got out and opened the rear door. Spike‟s eyes went wide as the interior reveal two women in passionate embrace, just finishing a kiss. The brunette in the black jacket fixed her hair, which flowed in waves with gentle curls over her shoulders and towards her generous bosom. She got out, taking the drivers hand. “Take care of her, Dennis.” The brunette said, getting a smile and a nod from the big man. The other woman was already back on the phone as the door was closed. “Ah, you must be Captain Matsui, Sofiya, right?” Angel extended a hand to Faye, who took it with a welcoming smile, her face animating itself to convey pleasure at her new acquaintance. “Yes, yes I am.” “I‟m Angel, and I am so happy to have you on the crew. Your uncle Sergei speaks well of you.” Faye positively beamed. “I am pleased my honored Uncle mentioned me. Many thanks, Angel” Spike did a slight double take. Faye‟s talking like some Japanese Geisha and this hot chick is the Boss? She‟s the one on that tabloid cover! Must be the Boss‟s squeeze? “Lieutenant Commander McConnell?” “At your service, Miss Angel!” Spike took her hand and did a half bow, taking her fingertips and touching them to his lips, then raised his head and gazed into her eyes. Holy shit, those eyes are cold cold cold!!! A bemused smile crossed Angel‟s face just as Jet showed up, caught the scene and rolled his eyes in silent exasperation. Angel could see the big man subvocalize the word „officers‟ as if it were an epithet.

“Why thank you, Preston. And your Uncle Sol speaks of you too.” Angel extricated his hand gently from Spike‟s grip and turned to Jet. “Jet, be a dear and show me the cabin, please?” Angel grabbed at Jet‟s bicep, as Dennis came up and handed a pair of large suitcases to Spike. “Here ya go, Navy. You can be the bellhop for a change, heh heh.” Dennis said gleefully. Jarhead….Spike thought…Hey, wait a minute, she only said Sol „speaks of me‟… His arms almost came out of their sockets as he took the bags. He watched Faye stifle a laugh as she waited for him, respectful of the need to have an orderly procession to the plane. “I see you have you hands full, Spike dear. Need a hand?” Faye said, her voice dripping with sarcasm. “She must be a rock collector. No, no, Faye, I‟ve got it.” Following Jet moving across the hangar with Angel hanging on his arm, the two pilots brought up the rear, Spike straining with the luggage. The clicks of Angel‟s stiletto heels on the painted concrete counted cadence as the techs watched the hem of his skirt swing with his hips.

25000 Feet , Southern California Airspace, July 8, Current Year Clear sky with wisps of cirrus clouds ahead, Spike pulled off his headset as he eased out of the cockpit chair. “Back in a moment, Faye. Coffee?” “Sure. Black, hot, strong.” Faye said, her eyes focused ahead as she took control from the right hand seat. Opening the door, Spike saw Jet and Angel deep in conversation. Angel looked….different. Tee shirt and jeans and bare feet, hair pulled back, makeup gone..wait a minute…where are her tits? What the… “Ah, Preston, or Spike, right? Smooth flight so far.” Angel stood up, holding his hand out. Spike stared at it, realized the joke was on him and shook the offered hand. Oh well, time to show I‟ve got a sense of humor… “Don‟t worry about the kiss before, Spike, it was very gallant, but I am married. And I do appreciate you playing along with the role. What‟s our ETA?”

“Forty minutes, assume ATC doesn‟t get a whim to mess with us. Uh, Ma‟am, I mean Sir, um… what do I call you?” Spike struggled. “Just Angel, Spike. Unless I tell you another name to use for some operation. Good, we need to drive to Tucson tonight. I hate arriving late.” “You want us to change flight plans to Tucson, Angel?” “No, thanks but we‟ll put up with the nuisance. Let‟s just say it would be better to arrive by car. You want me to get you a coffee?” Angel began pouring from the galley urn, filling a foam cup. “Thanks, Faye wanted one, too. I‟m ducking into the head for a bit…” Spike closed the door to the bathroom cubbyhole behind him and exhaled. What the hell is he? she? Damn, what was that about an operation? …Looks like this isn‟t some cushy civilian job flying some rich guy‟s bimbo around to the hot spots…. Finishing up , he left the bathroom and saw the smirk on Jet‟s face. “Real smooth, for a Navy guy..” Jet laughed. Spike flushed. “Hey, don‟t take it hard, Spike. He fooled me too until he showed up like that. At least I didn‟t kiss his friggin hand….Har Har Oh yeah- Angel took Faye her coffee up front.” Spike shook his head and headed to the cockpit. Angel and Faye were smiling and talking about the instruments, with Faye explaining the controls and nav systems. “Ah. Spike! Good, you‟re both here. Look, we are parking the plane in a corporate hangar and then driving. We‟ll be checking into one of the mountain resorts outside town, and it would be good if you two didn‟t quite look like pilots this time. Faye, I have a wardrobe in the back and you are close enough to my size, so please go find something casual. Spike, jeans and tee shirt will be fine. Ok?” “Casual casual or casual dressy?” Faye asked. “Oh, say casual upscale sexy. Easy for you to pull off. Grab enough for two days, and assume we‟ll be in the dirt some of it.” Angel turned and left. The door closed, Spike turned to Faye. “Tell me you knew all along.” Faye smiled. “No, but the kiss in the car was not girl action. He is very good, though.”

“How would you know about girl action?” Faye‟s smile turned evil. Spike‟s mind reeled with mental images. “Take over, I need to get changed. Let‟s see if the Boss has good taste.” She got up from her seat after unsnapping her harness. “Don‟t forget the sexy part.” Faye stuck out her tongue and scampered out of the cockpit.

Resort and Spa, Tucson, Arizona, July 8, Current Year Well, this beats the officer‟s quarters in Kabul… Faye mused as she looked at the orange and purple sunset over the mountains from the window of her suite. Angel‟s wardrobe on the plane had been amazing, and she had struggled with uncharacteristic indecision to choose the silk blouse and pants outfit. Damn, his lingerie alone was worth a month‟s pay… Whatever their mission was, the drive down did nothing to illuminate it. Jet drove the big SUV at high speed down I-10. Angel slept for most of the ride. Spike, now back to tee shirt and jeans over boots snored in the passenger seat. Uncle Sergei had hinted at the great hunt, the one her family had been engaged in for centuries, but he had never specified much of anything. “Someday, babushka, my little Sofiya, we may find peace, but not, I fear, in your lifetime. It brings me great sorrow. Enjoy your life, enjoy being a beautiful American girl. Such pleasure is not to be ignored.” Sergei had said on one of his infrequent visits. Since the USSR had fallen, she saw him more often, maybe once a year. Uncle Sergei had been KGB, it was rumored. Father never said, and Momma would tut tut and tell her to never mind such talk from her cousins. Third daughter of a Japanese-American Father and Russian-American mother, Sofiya Matsui had decided to be an American-American in the Seattle suburb. The inevitable parent-child collisions occurred, with her losing the battle over whether she needed to achieve in school (she did) and whether she could be „promiscuous‟ with boys (she did not, until later). Japanese discipline and Russian fatalism was an impossible combination for a teenager to defeat. I swear, Uncle Sergei was behind my Air Force academy appointment…and Father was so proud…Momma held back her tears…”My little Sofiya is a warrior princess” Uncle Sergei had said.. Well, if this is payback to the family, it sure is starting out in a grand fashion. Angel was amazing. The man wakes up twenty minutes before we arrive, pulls up his tee shirt and

puts on a padded bra, ties his hair in a high pony tail , slaps some makeup on, puts on safari jacket and he looks fabulous. Then he gives us our roles for when we check into the resort. “Faye is our focal point, all eyes are on her. Act like she‟s some kind of celebrity, and we are her flunkies. Jet, you‟re the muscle bodyguard, Spike, you‟re the air head boy toy and I‟m the annoying social secretary. Faye, act pampered and … well, pampered. Ok? Let me do all the talking with the help. Anyone asks who she is, just give them a stare like they are not worthy of knowing. Let‟s go.” With her assumed position as „celebrity‟, she had been situated in the large suite, with fireplace, a huge bath with hot tub and shower, a large living room and bedroom. The water jets of the tub felt wonderful as she gazed at the sun sinking into Wasson Peak. She frowned at herself as she remembered Angel whispering in her ear as they approached the lobby. “Stop walking like a fighter pilot, Faye…a bit more flutter…..okay, that‟s better…” Angel had said. Damn, he‟s a better girl than I am… I wonder what Angel does? Jet‟s clearly ex-military. Spike is as confused as I am, maybe more. He is cute though, too bad he knows it… The suite phone rang, breaking her reverie. “Faye, we‟ll be over in ten minutes. I‟ve ordered dinner for your suite for all of us, plus one more. Hope you tried the hot tub…. See you then..” Angel‟s voice was pleasant but his abrupt hang up made Faye bolt from the churning water and run for a towel. When he says ten minutes I bet he means ten minutes… The room service trolley hugged the wall as the group stacked their finished plates, having depleted the chafing dishes of paella and barbeque ribs, as well as sundry side dishes. Faye looked at the newcomer to the group. Short, less than five foot six, his long straight black hair falling past his shoulders, streaked with random blonde flashes. She knew he was at least in his early twenties, he had been introduced as a New Mexico State Policeman named Ted Begay, but he didn‟t look a day past 16. Navajo genes gave his features a slightly exotic caste , high cheekbones combined with very fair skin. Faye figured he passed easily undercover for a teenager, and his thin frame combined with that face would let him do either boy or girl. Another Angel…… she mused.

“Angel, I‟ve been setting up this Jason Villechance legend for three months now, on my off days from the force. I think it‟s sticking in the hangouts, people know me. Neglectful upper middle parents who don‟t care, loser kid turns goth with Mommy‟s credit card. “I‟ve been attending this summer class at the community college, bunch of Goths gaggling around our target. He‟s a professor who runs the class in Literature and Rebellion, a real draw for the types.” Ted reported to Angel while the rest of the room went silent. “You think he took the other kid?” Angel asked quietly. “Tsubasa, that‟s Billy Grant, was really sucked into this guys orbit, Boss. He was far gone. I can feel this guy working his influence, it‟s almost like a fog descends on the room. You should see the eyes of the class when he lectures. He lectures on the sexual tension in A.A. Milne and they hang on every word.” “A.A. Milne? Like Winnie the Pooh?” Spike asked. Faye looked at Spike. Ok, so he‟s read something besides Maxim…. Ted looked over at Spike and nodded. “Yeah, Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Eyore, and of course, Christopher Robin. You listen to this guy read the words and it‟s friggin erotic.” Angel nodded, his eyes getting colder. “How does he treat you? Are you of interest to him?” “I think I‟m next. The class ends tomorrow night, and I think if this guy moves, he‟ll wait until after that. No sense providing a common link between two missing person cases.” “What‟s his type?” Angel asked. “Boys, definitely. He‟s neutral to the few girls. He likes small, thin, and confused. And femme. Submissive and skittish.” Ted continued. “Ok. Look, Ted, we‟ve got a pattern stretching back ten years here, at least twenty children who fit that profile exactly just dropping out of sight between Phoenix and Tucson. This guy could be the one. And it gets worse.” Angel paused. “You think he‟s sending some out?” “There is a good chance. We have „other activity‟ which overlaps this pattern. We need to force this one, Ted. If we are right, this one will need to feed again, soon, since he had to pass the last one out. You know what to do.”

Ted closed his eyes and inhaled. He sat perfectly still for several minutes. The rest of the room was frozen, the only sounds their own heartbeats roaring in their ears. “Yes. Well, you invented the game, Boss. I can‟t ask for better backup. I‟ll tell you when it‟s going down. Damn. I‟m going to have to shave my damn legs again.” Ted got up to leave. Angel stood, and embraced the man. Jet stood and shook his hand. Spike and Faye followed suit. Everyone knew what a risky mission looked like. They watched him leave with an eerie stillness. “Spike, I need you to do a little seduction tomorrow, you up for it?” Angel said. “Well…I‟ve been known to do that a time or two…” Spike began to drawl. “Good. Here she is. She works in a local bank and handles wire transfers. We need a description and name used by someone who moved $100,000 to Bishkek, Khirgizstan on July 1 this year, to a refugee fund. You can find her at the Blue Ruby bar after four pm. Keep your phone on.” Angel handed a file folder to Spike. Faye glanced over at the pudgy woman in the picture on the file. She devised several wisecracks and deferred each one. The occasion seemed too serious for jokes. “Faye, you and Jet be seen around the resort. Be seen doing the normal stuff and back up Spike if he needs extraction.” “Boss? Question?” Spike meekly raised his hand. Angel looked directly at him, eyes softening a bit. He nodded. “What‟s that bit about „need to feed‟? Are you a cop of some kind? This sure sounds like police work to me.” Jet and Faye waited impassively. Similar questions ran through their heads and they were happy Spike had chosen to step into it. “I was a cop, retired now. My organization tracks lost children and others who are victimized. Sometimes your Uncles Sol and Sergei ask us to look at something and it coincides with what we do. Okay?” Angel said, patiently. He had clearly been expecting this line of questioning. “Okay, but that feeding stuff sounded creepy.” Spike continued, not satisfied but also knowing when not to push too hard. Angel had an air of command similar to the best senior officers he had served with.

“Oh yes, it is creepy. Just a euphemism we‟ve used in our work, an extension of the predator-prey metaphor. We haven‟t found any vampires yet, although there was that one cannibal….” Angel said in a total deadpan delivery. Spike decided not to push any further. Jet was impassive. Faye‟s eyes had a flicker of …something. She knows or she‟s just made a connection…have to ask her when we‟re alone… “Okay, team, here‟s your equipment. These are for necessary expenses you encounter while on the job.” Angel handed out two gold credit cards to Faye and Spike. Their names were embossed along with their photos. “Faye, while Spike here is drinking with a target for data, you get to have some fun. You should try the salon here, their facials are wonderful. Jet, it wouldn‟t hurt your skin either.” Angel teased. Faye grabbed Jet‟s arm, interrupting the big man‟s blush. “Oh great, Jet! We‟ll have so much fun! You‟ll be even more handsome!” Jet grinned back. “Spike, here‟s an ID for you as an Army Aviation Major. I‟d suggest you go slow with Tilly the bank teller. Let it slip you‟re being posted to some hellhole in Central Asia and mispronounce Khirgizstan. See if she starts talking. Tell her you‟d love to find someone who‟s might know the area, something like that. Now, please remember, the description is more important than the name. Tilly is from Fort Worth, so you can use your Texas charm, Cowboy. Your Dallas upbringing might be good small talk. Can you do this?” Angel said with the serious tone of a mission briefer. “Give it my best shot, Boss. Her file says she‟s a real drinker.” “Yes, she is. Take a cab, but have Jet or Faye come get you. Jet, if you haven‟t heard from Spike by seven pm, go find him. If he‟s still working her, let him be.” “Check, Boss.” Jet acknowledged.

Chapter 14: A Child’s Dream , Tucson, Arizona, July 9, Current Year

Community College, Tucson Arizona Last class. Christopher Trent looked over the handful of bodies in his classroom. Rough clothes, in an array of artful rips. Fake tattoos, spiderwebs, black roses, broken hearts with knives dripping blood. Eyes widened by mascara and shadow, almost resembling raccoons. Black nail polish and lipstick, white faces. Some acne scarred faces, the imperfections of youth carried on to looming adulthood. Trent counted nine of them. Most with dullness exuding from every pore. Not like Tsubasa, little Billy Grant. That one had approached being almost worthy of life. Tsubasa, the delicate one. It should have been for Christopher! Christopher! Trent‟s inner turmoil never peeked from behind his placid mask. But the Other One demands an offering, once a year, every July. The fishnet gloves caught his eye. Fishnet covered smooth chest peeked from behind rips in the Slayer tee shirt in unimaginative black. Fishnet hose under the ripped jeans too. A little overdone, but Christopher likes them eager. The thing who named itself Coyote is attractive. Those blonde streaks! It should be all blonde! A dolly to set next to Tigger and Eyore! But never next to Pooh. No. Never next to Pooh Bear. Christopher shall proceed with the chase. The Coyote which is also Jason Villechance. “Yes, yes, last class tonight. Let this session close with your thoughts, as such they are. I shall read and you shall teach me and let me know if I have penetrated anything past your skulls. The first reading is “The Mirror”..” Trent began. The Mirror Between the woods the afternoon Its fallen in a golden swoon, The sun looks down from quiet skies To where a quiet water lies, And silent trees stoop down to the trees. And there I saw a white swan make Another white swan in the lake; And, breast to breast, both motionless,

They waited for the wind's caress. . . And all the water was at ease. (A. A. Milne) “Yes- what does that say to you?” Trent pointed at the pudgy boy in the back row. Fear of disappointing Christopher crossed his face as the boy attempted to close his eyes and formulate a response. Ted Begay watched the charismatic effect of Trent seduce the filters and skepticism of the class, twisting them to allow whatever he said to funnel straight into their minds as important truth. “I…iii…it‟s about death. The world wants you to see you need to die…” “Okay, that‟s an idea, how about you?” Trent whirled and pointed to Coyote. “You see yourself in beauty and it is enough. You are then motionless..” Ted said, his voice indicating an uncertain quiver. “Oh yes, very good, very good. To be motionless in beauty is to accept it, not to disturb it. Yes. Yes. Very good…” Trent said. The class went on for another half an hour before Trent declared an end. Ted waited for the other kids to file out. “Mr. Trent? I‟d like you to know I enjoyed these classes.” Coyote said. Trent looked up with scanning eyes. Ohhh, yes ohh yes, Christopher needs this one. Not as delicate as Tsubasa, but close enough. Just to be careful now. “Well, Coyote, thank you. I wrote a book a while back on Milne, would you like a copy?” “Yes, yes, very much.” “I‟m fresh out of them here, but I usually stop at the Coffee Coven on summer evenings. Stop by tomorrow night and I‟ll have a copy with me.” “I‟ll be there, Mr. Trent.” “Call me Christopher, please.” Ted made himself smile. “Okay Christopher. You can call me Jason.”

“I prefer Coyote.”

Angel sat in the SUV parked outside, an earbud relaying the conversation from the receiver on the front seat. “Nicely done, Ted” he said quietly. He could hear the charismatic tone even over the electronic connection. God, in person this guy must be powerful. He‟s got real skill at influencing people. He watched Ted heft his teddy bear backpack and begin his ten block walk to the house they had rented for his legend. Absentee parents, away for the summer, disaffected and lonely teenager left by themselves. It was like throwing bloody chum in the water to troll for sharks. He watched Trent start his car. “Okay, target is moving. Stay back. My guess is he will move tomorrow night if he doesn‟t get spooked. Just let‟s see what he does in the next twenty four hours.” Angel spoke into his radio. He started the truck and slowly moved into traffic.

Blue Ruby Bar and Grill, Tucson, Arizona, July 9, Current Year The world seemed softer through the bottom of a scotch glass. Tilly was droning on as Spike had given up trying to match her pace of a double every half an hour. “And that bitch Margaret, you know Margaret? She just keeps talking about her clothes and her car and her boyfriends…. Hell with her!” Tilly threw down the rest of her bourbon. “Yeah. Always one like that.” Spike muttered. “You‟re cute. Dallas you said? Where‟d you go to school? play football. I‟ll bet you played football. Sweetie.” Tilly patted his hand on the bar while she waved for a refill. “Wide receiver. Yup. Helluva team.” Spike muttered. The bartender was impassive and silent, keeping his opinions to himself. He poured another generous bourbon as Tilly slapped another five dollar bill on the counter. “Lemme get this, Tilly. Texas lady shouldn‟t have to buy her own drink.” Spike handed a fifty to the bartender and mumbled “Run a tab on that.” “Hokay, mister.” The bartender said, his flat nose and brown skin showing no expression.

“Might as well enjoy the USA while I can, Bastards are sending me to some crapper in Asia, Krigislam…no…Klangistoon…no thas not it..” Spike threw it out there. He knew if he didn‟t get this soon, he was going to pass out with one or two more drinks. Tilly seemed to have a hollow leg, the way she threw them down. “Khirgizstan? That‟s funny… I never heard of it until a week or so ago. Some guy came in and wanted to wire some money. Some kind of corporate charity thing. Said he visited there. Starving orphans and stuff.” “Yeah? Damn! That‟s weird. Is he around? I‟d like to talk to him, get the lay of the land before I get stuck there…” “Only saw him twice. He came in to set up the account and then comes in to clean it out. Funny guy. Real charmer. Not even good lookin‟ but wow, did all the girls drool. One of those guys, you know?” Tilly‟s eye‟s got misty with her remembrance. “No, I don‟ know. What was so special about him? “ Spike went. Tilly was in some kind of memory rapture. “Not tall as you, maybe six foot, dark hair dark eyes. Those eyes, wow, they looked right through you. Made me hot. Kind of big hands. Had two earrings, little hoops. That‟s not odd these days for a guy, I guess. Damn, I just wanted to jump on him when he came in my office. “ Tilly was clearly enjoying the recollection. Spike let her go on, listening to her discuss his face, his walk, his looks in a dreamy voice. “He had a scar on the back of his hand, like a burn or something. And he walked with a limp. Used a silver handled cane. Dressed nice. Real expensive suit. Oh, and his shirt was silk….wore his hair tied back. Elegant, very formal. He kissed my hand. Shit, I thought I‟d wet myself. Hey! You! Another drink here!” “Is he around here?” Spike asked. “Don‟t know. Don‟t think so. None of the girls ever saw him before, and this ain‟t that big a town. Guy like that, he‟d get noticed. Nope. Don‟t think so. He‟s never been in again. We talked about him for a week at coffee.” “He have a name? Maybe I can look him up?” “Fernando Marcos. And he didn‟t look Spanish or anything. Well, maybe Italian or something. Shit, who can tell…” Spike determined he was done, and the way his head was spinning, he was done in more ways than one. Tilly looked him in the eyes. “You‟re done, lover. Thanks for the drink. Always nice to meet someone from back home. You close your eyes, sweetie. Tilly‟s going home to feed

her cats. Hey, you! Jose! Give me some bourbon in one of those go-cups for coffee! I‟ve got a drive home!” She got off the barstool and waddled out the front door, sipping from the Styrofoam container as Spike‟s head fell on the bar. Half an hour later, Spike felt something lifting him up. “For God‟s sake, Spike! I‟m too old for this crap! Faye, hold the door and open the car! He‟s gone out!” Jet turned to the bartender and announced “His tab is paid, right?” It was not a question. Jose looked at the bulging arms of the big man, and the way he had lifted a full sized adult as if it were a small sack of potatoes and decided the balance of the fifty was enough to scam. He nodded in agreement.

Chapter 15: The Allure Of The Lure, Tucson, Arizona, July 10, Current Year

Visions, blurry and painful, assaulted his eyes. Someone had traded his tongue for a leather one lined with fur. “About time, Navy. Always knew you guys couldn‟t hold your booze.” Faye‟s voice cut through the unbelievable racket of the blood pumping past his ears. She offered him a tall glass of tomato juice with stuff in it. Spike sipped and spit. “Wha.. wha.. what the hell is that?” He managed to get out while sitting up. “Jet made it. Claims it fixes a hangover fast, and the Boss wants a report. Just drink it.” Faye‟s voice was her usual chill, but Spike detected a hint of sympathy in her eyes. Probably not…. Spike sipped the foul concoction and then decided to just get it over with, slamming the whole glass down his throat. Pepper.. raw eggs… who knows what else… Thirty minutes later, showered, shaved and feeling only half dead, he was sitting in Faye‟s suite drinking strong coffee when Angel entered with Jet. Okay, he‟s a guy today… “Hangover in the line of duty… I promise not to shout suddenly, Spike. Did you get anything from her other than a pounding head…dehydration….toxic buildup of complex molecules….disorientation….” Angel‟s voice was comically monotone. Jet chuckled. “Enough! Stop it!.... Fernando Marcos is the guy‟s name. Hand me that stationery from the desk please…..and a pencil if anyone has one…” Spike said, holding his open palm over his eyes. Jet found a reasonably sharp pencil embossed with the name of the resort and handed Spike the letter sized writing paper with a clipboard to hold it. Angel sat back and watched closely as the pilot moved the pencil edge in deft stokes over the paper. An image appeared in swatches of gray on the cream colored paper. Dark eyes, dark hair pulled back low, small hoop earrings, a roman nose. A face pleasing yet strong. Staring at it with a critical eye, Spike made a series of minute adjustments with the eraser and added small touches of pencil lead. He talked while the features came to life, adding to the mental image with the slight limp, the aristocratic bearing, the dazzling smile that Tilly had gushed over. Holding it up for the other three to see, he said “That‟s what she said. Made him sound like he was irresistible…frankly, I don‟t see it…”

“You wouldn‟t. He‟s a hunk. No wonder Tilly drooled over him…nice sketch, by the way.” Faye said. Angel took the paper. He removed a small device from a computer bag and cabled it to the laptop on the table. The paper inserted into the slot and Spike heard a motor engage and watched it move across what he assumed was the tiniest sheet fed scanner he had seen to date. “Thanks Spike. That‟s a nice talent. It will help us significantly now. You did good.” Angel smiled. “I take it this is a bad guy?” Spike asked, forcing his hand to be steady as he held the china cup. Cold eyes opened wide and locked on his own. Angel‟s eyelids closed and he inhaled. After a moment that seemed to suspend time, he exhaled slowly. “Yes. This is a very bad guy. A sociopath, a serial killer but a very clever one.” “Is this the guy that Ted was talking about the other night?” “No, but we hope he may lead us to this one. You folks enjoy the resort today, I hope my team can wrap this up soon. Have your phones on in case you‟re needed. Be ready to head back and fly, so stay sober.” Angel said. “I‟m sure Spike here will be avoiding booze for at least a few hours…” Jet laughed. “Well, if that‟s the plan, I‟m going to lay by the pool. Hey, Spike! You‟re supposed to be the Boy-Toy! Get your suit on and meet me downstairs! That sun is great for your headache!” Faye smiled and disappeared into her bedroom. “Don‟t look at me, I‟ve got stuff to do, Spike. So do your duty!” Jet growled. Angel smiled and left his crew to their own devices. Spike groaned, heading for his room in search of a bathing suit and aspirin.

Poolside, Resort, Tucson, Arizona, July 10, Current Year Oh my he‟s nicely built….Faye eyes smiled behind her large oval sunglasses as Spike approached across the poolside lounging area. The white hot Arizona summer sun washed over the area, making the water‟s surface almost a mirror of reflected light. 102

degrees Fahrenheit, with almost no humidity obviated the need for a towel. Water simply disappeared off your skin. “Jet said he‟s had enough tropical sun to last him a lifetime, so here I am, Ms. Matsui.” Spike eased down and sat on the chaise lounge next to the reclining Faye. Ray Ban Aviators, body hair and a Speedo, that‟s how men should dress…my God, he‟s got tight abs…pecs….and those arms are nice too…. Nice, not over developed….Faye ran her tongue over her top lip. “Don‟t sit down, Boy Toy. You can put this sun lotion on my back…” Faye rolled over to hide her smile as she handed a squeeze bottle to Spike. “Only if you answer a few questions, Sofiya.” Spike grinned as he undid her bikini top clasp and began long strokes of the creamy oil with his firm hands, starting from her shoulders and reaching to the waistband of her suit bottom. Forward bastard, undoing my top…oh well, I did ask for it… “Within reason, Preston…” “It seemed to me you have some inkling of what the game is here. You got a look of recognition yesterday when Angel started talking about the bad guys…” Faye closed her eyes and enjoyed the artful massage he was doing. “Just some family stories, my Mother‟s family. Old spooky stories about evil men who could charm you to your ruin…From the Russian side, the Taramovs….Stories that scare children.” “What Ted said, about that guy „charming‟ the whole class …was that it?” Spike added more cream to his palms and began working around her waist with his fingertips. “Dammit, don‟t tickle me!” Faye twitched momentarily, “Ah, a ticklish woman! That‟s a challenge! Stop changing the subject, Faye. You‟ve got more, and we‟re a team here. Spill it.” “Okay. Get the back of my legs. Let‟s see… Ok. Supposedly Uncle Sergei‟s grandfather hunted an evil man in the last days of the Tsar. He was some kind of detective, or secret policeman, and the Tsar‟s advisors were worried about who was influencing the Royal family…” “Wasn‟t that Rasputin?” “No, but it was related somehow. Very dark Russian conspiracies. Uncle Sergei would talk about the “Charming Ones”, like they were aliens , invaders from Mars, or Hell. All I

know is he wanted me out of it… the “family business”, except maybe he was really getting me ready for it all along. He‟s very hard to read, Sergei.” “Shoot, he sounds like my Uncle Sol.. My parents always dealt with him, but never welcomed him, if you know what I mean. Always had six cons and five card tricks going while he was hugging you…” Faye turned and smiled at him. “He and Sergei make quite a pair, you know. All those years on opposite sides of the Cold War…How they became partners I‟ll never know..” “Yep, strange bedfellows and all that. Hey, look at that!” Spike exclaimed.

Faye sat up quickly, realizing halfway up her bikini top was still unsnapped. With an almost miraculously fluid motion, she ended up sitting upright with only those who were directly looking her way getting a glimpse of her breasts. Unfortunately, Spike was one of them. “Look at what, you bastard?” Faye was blushing, made worse by the broad grin on Spike‟s face. Pilots! You should know better after eight goddamn years with them… “Oh, the Ferrari that just pulled in. Classic Dino. Million dollar car.” Spike said, a look of innocence belied by the grin. “Hope you enjoyed the view, Navy, because you‟ll need more than a cheap trick to repeat it.” Faye gained her composure. She was used to being admired, and had thickened her skin considerably over the years. Time to take him down a peg… “Can you swim?” Faye said it sweetly, masking the challenge. “Sure I can. Hard to be in the Navy and not swim…” “Well good. Are you fast?” “I‟m not slow..” “We‟ll see. For that cheap trick, we‟ll swim ten laps. If I win, you admit it was a cheap, dirty trick and pay me $100.” Faye said, standing up off the chaise and surveying the nearly empty pool. “And if I win?” “Well, you got a free look, and we‟ll call it an accident..”

“Sounds unfair…” “Chicken?” “Oh hell, if that‟s what it takes…it‟s too damn hot here anyway…” The pair strode to the end of the rectangular pool. Faye motioned the lifeguard over and whispered in his ear. Spike saw the ensuing grin on the teenager‟s face as he blew his whistle and cleared the pool. “Ok, ten laps, up and back from a diving start! On three! One…. Two….. Three!” the guard said, clearly enjoying Faye‟s supple body knifing into the water with nary a ripple. Spike knew he was in trouble by the third lap. He was a strong swimmer, but Faye was part otter. She sliced through the water , staying tantalizingly ahead as he stroked furiously. She was a half lap ahead by the seventh, and finished almost a full lap ahead of him as he stroked into the wall, breathing hard. Her face looked down on him as he caught his breath, bobbing in the pool. “So, what do we say now?” She said, showing no exertion from the race whatsoever. Spike closed his eyes for a moment. Ah, losing gracefully is a sign of a class..and also a friggin loser…..”It was a cheap, dirty trick, and I am scum. Ok?” he said, to the amusement and scattered applause of the gathered spectators around the area. Beaming, Faye smiled. “One hundred bucks by end of day, or I‟ll start charging interest…” “Yas, Ma‟am…”

The Coffee Coven, Tucson, Arizona, July 10, Current Year Every campus had one of these coffee shops somewhere, usually run by someone who could never bear to graduate. A block away, convenient enough to sit in between classes, serving expensive coffee and mediocre food, it provided intimacy lacking in institutional settings. This one seemed to have a supernatural theme, decorated with fantasy stories posters and pictures of Orcs and Elves, Witchcraft symbols and vampire novel covers. Angel had managed to tap into the video surveillance camera the owner had installed, and was watching from a handheld high frequency scanner while seated in the nearby

bookstore. Typical Lord of the Rings Nerd-Goth-Vampire groupie hangout, that owner sure knows their customer market segment… Early evening brought the beginning of shadows on the summer night. Bright sun seemed to cover the street in a sepia haze as the sun began to set. “Target inbound, driving white Suburban. Looks like he‟s parking across the street in the strip mall lot.” Angel‟s earpiece covered the surveillance team‟s chatter. I hope three plus me are enough…Angel mused. Putting their bait, Ted Begay at risk was the key to the operation. They had to allow him to be exposed until they knew they had the right guy and where his „handiwork‟ was done. Having survived over a decade of undercover roles similar to the one Ted was playing, Angel felt his guts churn every time he put one of his people at risk. Move in too quickly and they could not be sure if they target was real, move in too late and their man became a corpse. Just like the ten other boys over the years… Christopher Trent locked the Suburban, making sure he took one hardbound copy of “Milne Rorschach” from the cardboard box in the back seat. Coyote will come to Christopher tonight, but first a cappuccino, yes , and a muffin… Trent made his way into the coffee shop, selecting a clean table away from the other patrons. The waiter came over and felt a chill as the sociopath barked his order. No need to charm that one, it is lower than most… Closing his eyes, Christopher allowed his mind to wander to the secret place, the woods, where he would slowly walk alongside his friends. Tigger, Eeyore, and of course, Winnie. The erection came suddenly, painfully binding in his briefs. Best not to allow this now, time enough later...in the wood…in the wood…yes… Sipping the cappuccino, the foam leaving a residue on his upper lip, he sat back and began to examine the denizens of the shop. Mindless animals, animals in clothing. Livestock. Bored by the selection, he paged through his book with the eye only an author can bring to their own work, taking the time to drain his cup. The waiter brought another, avoiding eye contact with the customer. “He‟s been there for a half an hour, proceed.” Angel said quietly into his throat microphone, watching Trent flipping pages on his scanner screen. “Roger that. Earpiece coming out folks. I‟m in your hands now, guys” Ted Begay spoke as he walked down the sidewalk, removing his headset. His radio transceiver case was disguised as an MP3 player.

Entering through the front doors, he caught the rush of air conditioned chill escaping into the one hundred degree heat. His eyes struggled to adjust to the darkened interior. He saw Trent at a table in the corner, chewing on a large muffin. Ah, Coyote approaches Christopher! Oh yes! Trent felt his pulse quicken. The prospect of what was to come was exciting, titillating, thirst quenching. Coyote tentatively wandered up, muttered some pleasantries and sat before him. It went to extra trouble for Christopher- washed its hair, clean shirt and jeans, its eye makeup and nail polish is fresh… Coyote wants Christopher‟s attention, yes, yes…. “Ah, welcome Coyote. Are you here for a book, or other reasons, perhaps?” Trent turned on his full power of persuasion. His voice tone, facial expression, his scent, the subtle way he sat, hands in a welcoming gesture all create a palpable force. “More than the book… I guess…” He stumbled out a response, the hesitancy in his voice no mere role play. “Wonderful to hear, dear Coyote. Isn‟t this place wonderfully dark and foreboding?” “I guess so… Dr. Trent” Ted could feel himself being pulled in emotionally, all his skeptical barriers bypassed. Trent was attractive, warm, a figure he wanted to please. He felt a strangely sexual feeling, one he had never felt towards any man. I‟ve never felt anything like this before, it‟s…it‟s…frightening…. “Christopher, please. We settled that name thing the last time. I am glad to see you again, my Coyote...” Trent set “Milne Rorshach” down in front of his guest. Picking the leather volume up, Ted felt his heart racing. Give in to it, but never all the way… that‟s what Angel had taught during training. The conversation was deceptively seductive. Angel felt his pulse fluttering as he listened in. This one is very powerful. Better err this op on the side of acting too soon…. Time to act…. Trent thought as he stood up. “Would you like to continue this, Coyote? My car is the white Suburban across the street.” Trent whispered, making sure no other patron heard the invitation. Coyote nodded quickly, eagerly. He left by the front door. Trent sat back down, and finished his cappuccino, savoring the last dregs of sugary sweet syrup. He went to the men‟s room, wanting to provide a space of time between their departures.

“We‟re moving, do we have GPS track?” Angel said into his mic from his perch at the bookstore. “Affirmative” Ted slowly walked across the street, composing himself by slowing his breathing. He found the white SUV unlocked in front of the Payroll Loan store. The interior was spotless, odor free, with leather seats and expensive carpeting. He took a deep breath and settled into the passenger seat. I feel totally exposed. I hope they have my back now…. Angel left the bookstore to find a waiting Ford F-150 club cab pickup in the lot outside. He knew Trent had left the Coffee Coven as he entered the passenger side cab door. “Hey Bob. We all in place?” he asked the driver. Short, squat and thick, Bob Ramirez gave Angel a nod as he slid the transmission into drive and rolled into the street. A Tucson City detective, his young son had been kidnapped, molested and killed by a pedophile five years before. Angel had discovered him tracking the same man the Group was after. The collision resulted in recruitment, and Bob now assisted their operations when he could. The pedophile‟s body was found several years later, by hikers in a canyon. “Are we clear of any local police interest, Bob?” Angel asked quietly, while he struggled to retie his hair back. “The missing boy is off the radar, listed as a probable runaway, and there has never been any interest in Trent. We aren‟t stepping on any toes here, Angel. This guy looks bad.” “Let‟s hope he‟s the ten year killer and not just a professor who likes impressionable boys. He has no record at all, and if he has a lot of money, it‟s almost invisible. Ah, here‟s the signal. Thank God for body piercing, we were able to get a few transmitters onto our bait. “ Angel looked at his open laptop and saw the red dot blinking on the detailed map on his screen. “Nice toys. Wish we had them on my day job…” Bob smiled as he drove down the nearly empty boulevard. Trent continued his persuasive onslaught even while driving the big Chevrolet truck north. Need to keep this one calm and happy…. “So your parents are away for the whole summer? They must trust you a lot.” Trent said in a calm voice.

“They kind of leave me alone a lot. We don‟t talk much.” Perfect. No one will miss him for months…. “I was heading to my cabin for the weekend. Would you like to come? It‟s rustic, but beautiful up there…”

Ted was watching the scenery change from dense houses to sparse desert landscape, broken occasionally by a building of some sort. The mountains loomed in the distance, to the north, the sun making them glow orange and ocher. “Coyote? Did you hear me?” “Sorry, Christopher. I was daydreaming. What did you say?” Struggling to hide his annoyance, Trent calmly repeated the invitation. “You have beer?” Ted asked, trying to stay in character. “There is beer there, yes, Coyote.” Trent smiled as he turned left on a two lane road leading down a canyon. Ted felt as if he was being swallowed up in the night as they continued northeast. “Okay. Sounds cool. I need to be back Sunday.” “Some important appointment?” “Nah, just said I‟d hang out with some kids…” Trent smiled his warmest smile. “No problem. We can handle that, my Coyote.” Ted felt an overpowering wave of satisfaction come from Trent. This is so strange, I can feel what he wants to project…it‟s eerie…He wants me to feel safe and happy…and I do…how does he do it? “Listen to this, Coyote. It‟s a Navajo Shaman chanting. I find it amusingly relaxing, especially at night.” Trent powered on the cd player. Ted was shocked to hear the chant. Long ago memories of his Grandfather up on the mesa, sitting in a sweat lodge, sitting in his trailer, drinking milk with a touch of coffee, telling him tales of the People. It centered him. He found a renewed strength. This evil one, he was alone in the world. He could find the chant „amusing‟ all he wanted.

Shadows overtook the daylight and Ted centered his focus somewhere beyond the end of the high beams. You‟re mine, you bastard… Trent felt his passenger relax. Good. It will be Christopher‟s , soon. The exquisite delight. Dirt Road, Galiuro Wilderness, Arizona, July 10, Current Year “Where‟s he taking us, Bob?” Angel watched the red dot blinking on the map. They had lost signal several times, fairly common driving through mountains. Every time, Angel held his breath until the red dot returned, as if it were wired directly to Ted‟s heartbeat. “Middle of a lot of nuthin‟ Boss. Galiuro Wildness, the Galiuro Mountains. He‟s on a dirt road right on the edge of Federal land. I‟ll bet he‟s got a cabin right on the border of the Wilderness Area. Wild country. And lonely as all get out.” “Smells like a lair, Bob. Place he could bring them and do whatever he wanted.” Angel mused. Bob nodded, and gripped the steering wheel tightly. Angel saw the knuckles go white. “When you get onto that dirt road, kill your lights. Use the night vision goggles. I don‟t want to spook this guy.” Angel said, saying the same command into his mic to the other SUV following, that one several miles behind them. Twenty minutes later, the dirt road ahead was the fluorescent green as seen through the light amplification headsets. Bob had slowed down and the other Group vehicle, a Ford Expedition rolled behind them as they crawled down the track at less than ten miles an hour. Angel watched the red dot stay motionless two miles ahead, for at least ten minutes. “Either they‟ve stopped to take a leak or they are where they‟re going. Stop a mile away and let‟s reconnoiter. Looks like they are on top of a hill, near a natural spring.” “Check” Bob looked like some kind of B movie space alien wearing the goggles, his Diamondbacks ballcap turned backwards on his head. Angel decided he wanted to stay in the visible spectrum, so his eyes had adapted to the low light level. The moon was new, so there was only faint light. “Looks like they are stopped. Lets move in on foot and find a good position.” Angel said. The two trucks pulled off the track and parked. Four black forms began to move through the darkness.

Chapter 16 Tales of the Hundred Acre Wood, Galiuro Wildnerness, Arizona, 1 AM, July 11, Current Year Rustic wood belied the expensive construction of the spacious A frame cabin. Set on a hill overlooking sage and saguaro cactus in yellowish dirt backed by a series of rough hewn saw tooth mountain ridges, the view was one of sharp contrast in the daytime. The night air carried the desert chill as Ted stood on the deck, holding a Dos Equus bottle. The fire pit was cold, Trent saying there was a significant hazard in the tinder dry brush. Ted looked around and knew he could not see his support. Those guys are good, I‟ll never pick them out… “Coyote! Come in! Let‟s get some rest and enjoy the day tomorrow!” Christopher sounded almost bubbly. Waves of tiredness and exhaustion swept over him. Dammit, he drugged the beer… Oh well, I should have expected this… He twisted his right dangling earring, the black onyx, triggering a high frequency burst signal. Ted staggered into the living room and collapsed into a large overstuffed chair. The sparsely furnished room stopped spinning as he felt consciousness recede. Not yet… not yet…need to make sure… He remembered Trent‟s face hovering over him as he closed his eyes, a beatific smile almost glowing in the soft white backlight. Ten feet belowground, Galiuro Wildnerness, Arizona, 3 AM, July 11, Current Year Christopher sings of many Pooh things…many many Pooh things…and a new Christine will join us…a new new dolly…so so jolly…and Christopher will be pleased, pleased….not teased, teased… The tableau was almost done. An alcove hewn from the dry soil, a table and chairs. Tigger was there, three feet tall with a wide smile covering his plush fabric mouth, and Eeyore too, blue crushed velvet, perched on a Queen Anne chair. The stench was faint but still lingering as the ventilator fans exhausted the air relentlessly. The smell triggered a happy thought in the mind of the sociopath. Trent found his annual pleasure a vastly stimulating exercise, voiding the need for rest, firing his brain like a bottle of Dexedrine. The boy was heavy but easily slid down the stairs to the root cellar under the cabin. Quickly removing earrings, a navel ring and a nose stud from the unconscious form, Trent began to haphazardly cut the long black hair from his captive using a pair of poultry shears. The result was a random array of spiky tufts, good enough to serve as a base for the glue. Setting the long blonde wig on Ted‟s head, Trent fussed until it looked

acceptable. Bright yellow bangs and a fall of straw colored tresses flowed down Ted‟s back. Doll‟s hair.

All those nasty piercings! Disgusting! All gone now. Now Christine can wear the party dress and have tea with Tigger and Eeyore. A moment in time, frozen. A moment in beauty, forever… Carefully removing the pink and white ruffled dress from the dry cleaning plastic, Trent slowly worked the garment onto the unconscious Coyote, attempting to keep the dusty dirt floor from soiling the material completely. He carried the blonde figure over to the alcove, setting the arms and legs into the metal shackles attached to the steel chair arms of the bare straight backed device which looked like an old electric chair used for executions. He had poured the concrete himself which anchored the three foot steel rods which held the chair in the alcove. Coyote was stirring. Time for a wake up shot. Christine Robin will come…and Christopher will have fun…fun…fun… Opening the leather bound case on the workbench, Trent extracted a hypodermic needle and a vial from the extensive selection of vials. Slowly filling the needle to the 2cc line, he turned on the small fluorescent light over the prisoner chair. Taking the limp left arm of the captive, he found a vein and injected the solution with expert precision. Checking his watch, he decided to wait in the shadows. A groggy haze filled his mind but his eyeballs itched. He had to open them, no, he was compelled to open them. The light was painful at first and it was difficult to focus on anything in the room. After struggle, a large silly orange and white striped head resolved, with a wide smile. Tigger? And that smell? It‟s sickening! My skin‟s on fire! Control! Think! Observe! Regaining consciousness, Ted admitted his mind was struggling. Some kind of hallucinogen, and something making every nerve ending fire. My muscles are burning! “Oh, my Christine is here! Welcome to Hundred Acre Wood! Christopher Robin should have had a cousin, don‟t you agree? Of course you do!. Don‟t move, please. If you move you ruin the scene and Christopher gets upset…” “Wha..what? What is this? What the fuck is this?” Ted slurred the words, which seemed to dribble out of his mouth. Trent smiled and held up a metal rod with a handle, touching it to Ted‟s thigh. The electric shock combined with whatever drug he was given was a level of pain he had never conceived. His screams filled the room.

“Rules. Christine needs the rules. Very well. You are not to move. Or speak. Your role is to be Christine Robin at tea with friends. I will visit you periodically and enjoy the scene. If you move, it ruins my enjoyment.” “How long?” The electric shock made his body arch, held only by the chair restraints. “Don‟t speak. You resist Christopher. Let‟s try the gift from the Other One.” Trent filled another hypodermic from another vial. After it was injected, he stood back and watched. Ted slowly began to feel a fear rising, an unnamed, unknown fear surfacing. “It‟s called Primal Response and it makes the lower animals respond to higher ones more efficiently. Now Christopher wants you to hold still, if Coyote will be Christine and hold still, then there will be less pain…Nod once if you understand..” Ted nodded. He screamed as the electric probe touched his thigh again. “Trick question! I said not to move! Now be still for Christopher, and bring him joy.” Ted held still. Christopher smiled his saintly smile. His influence was stronger, more powerful. A deep part of Ted‟s brain wanted to please him. It must be this drug….Primal Response…amplifying my receptivity to the influence…maybe the pheromones… oh God…if they start using this it‟s going to get worse….where the fuck is Angel Memories of stalking small game with his Grandfather on the Res came back. He had learned to be still for hours. Trent stood over him for five minutes, looking for the slightest movement. Ah, this one is good….it will play along….time for tea, tea for Christopher “Very good. Very good. Oh, and others have tried before.” Trent walked to a switch panel bolted to a wooden beam. The first switch illuminated a similar alcove twenty feet away. A steel chair holding a skeleton, wearing the same blonde doll‟s wig. A second light revealed another victim, and another, each in progressively less forms of decay. Ted fought to remain still while Trent displayed his ten victims. “When the dolly won‟t stay still, Christopher has to cut tendons. It‟s so very messy. One would not stop screaming, so Christopher had to cut in the throat. Very messy.. The tea dribbled out there too.. Just hold still and there will be no cutting…and no mess.”

The cocktail of drugs made his body feel like it was on fire from the inside. Every muscle was screaming to twitch. The droning of Trent‟s voice was calming, and his scent was arousing. Ted exerted an iron will, allowing the signals of his body to go unanswered. It was like a thousand itches you could not scratch, the sneeze you could not sneeze. The stress was excruciating. That‟s what this bastard wants…the fear, the pain of fighting your own body…one drug makes you want to please him, the others make it impossible.. “Ah Christine feels the fire inside! Yes, oh yes! Christopher can see it in the eyes. Delicious, the pain. Let‟s add some acid on the skin, some pain on the outside to add to the inside. Yes, some acid, so Christopher can see the flesh turn black. And if Christine moves, oh yes! Those thighs will feel the touch again!” Trent turned and retrieved a small bottle with an eye dropper from the workbench. He filled the glass tube and held it over Ted‟s arm, fingers poised on the black rubber top. The slightest pressure and drops would fall on bare skin. Ted fought to hold still. The pain and stress was escalating. The cellar air was sepia toned, with the omnipresent dust swirling in the flow of the ventilation, the light bouncing off millions of particles. Ted found the light bouncing around unnervingly threatening. Must be the drug….. Trent was smiling as the taser darts stuck to his side. He shrieked as the 50000 volts found a path using his flesh as the conductor, falling in convulsions on the floor. Bob Ramirez cautiously approached the captive, holding the taser unit, the wires from the darts draped across the distance from the stairs. Angel jumped down, hitting every third step. “Ted! You ok?” Angel cradled the drugged and terrified agent‟s face in his hands. “Fred! You got those bolt cutters?” Fred, surprisingly limber despite resembling a partially shaved grizzly bear, assembled two foot long handles on a pair of shears, all parts retrieved from his combat vest, and began cutting the shackles holding Ted. Angel helped the shivering figure up. Ted shook off the guiding arm and stumbled over to the convulsing sociopath on the floor. “Hold still yourself, you asshole...” he said, towering over Trent‟s face as Bob added plastic restraints to his arms and legs. Landing Approach, Galiuro Wildnerness, Arizona, 3 AM, July 11, Current Year Flying by computer guided map arrays in the dark, Spike descended slowly. The evening had been crazy since Jet got the call from Angel around midnight.

“The Boss‟s extraction helo is down with a mechanical, and he needs us to pick up his team and deliver them. Spike, I need you and Faye to get to Phoenix as fast as you can without getting arrested, take off and land here in the dead of night. No offense Faye, but he‟s got more experience with rough landings, and it‟s gonna be on a county road. I‟m headed out there to prep the landing site. Make sure you have enough fuel to get there, and then get us here.” Jet pointed to a spot in Northern Nevada on the unfolded travel atlas, and then showed them the pickup spot in the Galiuro Wilderness on a USGS Topo map of the area. That had been four hours earlier at the resort. Faye had driven with cool precision north on I-10, quiet, scanning the scene for traffic cops as they barreled north at 90 miles per hour. Spike spent the time studying the route and landing zone. “This sounds crazy, landing a jet in the damn desert on purpose.” Faye had intoned as on coming headlights illuminated her eyes. “That‟s why they picked the cowboy, I guess. If Jet preps the site right, we can do it. Thank God the roads are straight and lonely out here. I‟m mostly worried about bending the landing gear in a chuckhole and getting stuck. Just help me make the shortest landing on record, Faye.” A rapid scene at the hangar was followed by a quick departure. Jet had obviously greased the skids over the phone, and his ground crews were top notch. The flight plan gave them lots of latitude to accommodate the mission, assuming all went as planned. It had been a quiet flight, two professionals communing with an array of sensors and computers to move the craft safely through the pitch black skies.

The cockpit display screen lit up, showing a runway path, receiving ground signals from the transponders Jet had set up for the approach. Descending below 1000 feet, Spike committed to a final approach, applying flaps and throttling down. Out the forward windows they saw a series of red lights come on, indicating a narrow runway path. “You are looking good, no wind down here, just stay on the centerline” Jet‟s voice came in loud and clear over their headphones. “Roger that” Spike replied into his microphone. “Ok, Faye, say a prayer…” Spike said with apparently calm as the nosegear bounced slightly on touchdown with the asphalt road, right on the centerline. “Finished those when we took off, Spike. Nice touchdown.” Faye actively did a visual scan as the landing lights illuminated the desert road. She saw road signs that had been sawed off at the base, and mile markers hacked off to allow the wings an unobstructed passage. Jet had clearly been busy.

The plane shuddered a few times as the road surface jarred the landing gear, and Spike had to furiously use the rudder controls to stay on course. Bringing the GV to a halt, they emerged into the chill of the night. Jet rolled up in a Jeep CJ-5, which looked to have seen its share of hard roads. “Ok, you managed to get it here without too many dents, good. Spike, the Boss needs some help, so you go with Greg here. The shootings over, they need to get the cargo out, so your strong back is your main attribute. Faye, you and I need to spin this around, collect our gear, and get ready to take off ASAP. Can you fly us out of here?” Jet growled, speaking as he brought the Jeep to a stop. “Sure. Take offs are easy. It‟s hard to miss the sky.” Faye responded, speaking over her shoulder as she began checking the battered landing gear. Spike shook Greg‟s hand, a no nonsense handshake, no time wasted on bone crushing or other macho games. Greg introduced himself as Greg Noonan, from Phoenix. He stood eye to eye with the pilot, but outmassed him by at least fifty pounds. Dressed in a combat vest, with assorted items of gear hanging from tabs and Velcro fasteners, he looked both professional and entirely lethal. Spike had met the type many times, whether they were Recon,Marines, or SEAL teams. Badasses with high IQs. Good guys to have on your side. “Lieutenant Commander, we‟re taking the pickup over there. It‟s about three miles over bad road, so I hope you‟ve emptied your bladder….” “Done before I got off the plane. Do I need any gear?” “Nope. Situation‟s under control. Just help us sort things out.” Driving over the kidney rattling road in pitch darkness, Greg used the night vision goggles to their limits. Spike decided that he could either panic at the sight of the big Ford barreling down the washboard road blind, or he could sleep. He slept, letting his body roll with the bounce and tumble. Trent Cabin, Galiuro Wildnerness, Arizona, 3:30 AM, July 11, Current Year The light shone through the cabin windows like a beacon, the only light for miles around. Greg escorted Spike inside, where he saw Angel ministering to Ted Begay, who was drinking from a water bottle and shaking. The blonde wig was slightly askew, while Angel was helping him remove the frilly pink dress. “Hold still….hold still….fuck him and his hold still…” Ted muttered as Angel threw the dress into a black trash bag.

“Damn wig is glued on, Ted. This may hurt a bit, but it hasn‟t cured yet, ok?” Angel comforted. “Get the damn thing off me! Please!” Spike watched Ted wince as Angel pulled and carefully began to break the still loose bonds the glue had formed with Ted‟s chopped up black hair. “Get the leather case, Boss! He‟s got a new drug! Primal Response! We need to figure it out! It‟s fucked me up something fierce. Actually made me like the bastard while he was jamming me with that cattle prod.” Ted was shaking violently, his agitation rising. Angel held him firmly, the blonde wig now off. “We got it, Ted. You did good. We got you‟re first signal and came in when you never sent the stand down signal. I‟m sorry we waited the full two hours.” “It was my call, Boss. He could have still been just a horny bastard who cheats with drugs. You wanted a one hour blow off, I set it at two.” Ted‟s eyes flared while his hands shook uncontrollably. “No word on Billy Grant, I assume? We didn‟t find anything to give a clue on where he was sent.” Angel grabbed Ted‟s hands with his own and gently stopped the trembling. “No. You‟re gonna have to drag it out of him.” Angel turned to the waiting pilot. “Ah, Spike. I‟m sorry to get you involved in this, but we need to get out of here and our other team lost their helo. Is the plane ready for takeoff?” Angel looked in his eyes, while holding Ted around the shoulders. “Yes, Jet and Faye should have it turned around, and that road should give us plenty of takeoff room, at least two klicks.” Spike said calmly, warily taking in the scene. Ted was not the same person he had met at the hotel. This one had that thousand yard stare he had seen in the war zone. Angel stood up, after giving Ted a comforting pat on the shoulder. Ted huddled over the water bottle. “Grandfather said be still, the Rabbit sees every movement, every movement. Wasn‟t there a Rabbit in the Pooh stories? That fits….” Ted began giggling softly as he rocked slowly on the couch. “Spike, go downstairs and help Fred and Greg get the prisoner upstairs. I‟m going to warn you, it‟s pretty gruesome down there.”

Greg waved Spike over to the cellar entrance. Shaking off the chilling scene of Ted shifting in and out of lucidity, Spike followed Greg down the folding staircase, feeling it creak and sway under his weight. The faint stench became more pronounced the lower he went. “Hi, you must be Spike, the pilot. I‟m Bob. We have our „package‟ trussed up. He‟s been drugged up and should be marginally aware, but he‟s fucking dangerous. We need to get him upstairs while one of us covers the action. You able to shoot him if he tries to make trouble?” A shocked look crossed Spike‟s face. Bob Ramirez looked at him while he kept an eye on Trent‟s unconscious form. “Take a look at the other wall.” Bob said quietly. Slowly moving past the body one the floor, Spike noticed the corpses shackled into the chairs. Smaller than average, all with the same blonde wig Ted wore. Each one in a pink dress. Kids….they were just kids…God….why?....why?..... He felt a churning , an acidic burning in his throat as bile tried to flow upward. “He did it?” Spike asked. Bob nodded. Spike held out his hand and accepted a Berretta 9MM automatic. “We don‟t do hostages. If he tries to get away, you take him down. If that means I die, then you better kill the son of a bitch. Ok?” Bob said firmly. Spike shook his head affirmatively. “Welcome to the Group, son.” Greg, Fred and Bob secured their weapons and manhandled Trent up the stairs like an ungainly sack of potatoes. Spike slid the safety off the Berretta and held it in a secure grip, barrel pointing straight up, ready to aim and fire. Angel stood at the top of the stairs, weapon ready. The three men lowered Trent into a coffin like box. Angel slammed the lid closed and spun the combination locks which secured the case. “How much did you give him Bob?” Angel asked quietly. “Enough for four hours, given his body weight, but with these socios, you never know.”

“Good. Fred, find anything which gives a clue to where the kid is?” Fred shook his head no. “You‟re gonna have to break this bastard, and fast, Boss. Kid‟s already been missing for seventy two hours. We know he‟s not downstairs.” Angel closed his eyes and breathed in. “Okay. We‟re taking him out in the pickup. Greg, you and Fred take the DNA samples from the bodies, record the scene and clean up any trace we were here. Then clear out. Thanks for your help, guys.” “What about the families of the kids downstairs?” Greg asked, a pained look evident. “We need to keep this quiet for another month at least, and maybe longer. I don‟t want to spook who ever is running this feeding network. The families have waited, some as long as ten years. They must wait a while longer.” Angel‟s eyes were hard and cold as he recited the necessity. Greg started to say something, then stopped. Fred grabbed his shoulder. “We save the living, buddy. As many as we can. It has to be done.” Greg nodded, and gave a small wave of his hand to Angel.

Chapter 17: Necessity is a Mother - Location 52, Northern Nevada Desert, 6:00 AM July 12, Current Year

Sunrise in the cockpit glowed as they descended into the Great Basin of northern Nevada. Faye pushed her sunglasses up on her nose as she adjusted the trim. “According to this, we are touching down in the middle of uninhabited desert. Looks like Angel thinks this is a helicopter.” Faye muttered. “Well, the Boss gave us this code, so I‟m sending it on the frequency he said. No response yet.” Spike said, looking at the screen in front of him. “Acknowledge transmission. Descend to Angels 7000 and land on beacon. Landing instructions in encrypted signal.” “I guess they heard us. I hope this gear is set up to decrypt that signal.” Spike muttered as Faye steepened the descent a small amount. “Strap in folks, we are going in, but damned if we can tell you where or how.” Faye announced over the intercom. “Faye, Spike, when the signal comes in, the system will require a passcode. Key in “SONNY GIRL”, two words all caps when the prompt comes up. Don‟t worry about the ground, appearances can be deceiving. Just assume there‟s a solid, safe runway there.” Angel‟s voice came back.. “S-O or S-U , Boss?” Spike came back. “S-O” came the chuckled response. Two minutes later, Pike entered the passcode and the instructions appeared before him. “Come about to heading 65 degrees and begin your approach, Captain. Straight in. Minimal winds.” Spike said in a calm, clear tone. “Roger that. Looks like sand and salt flat. Oh wait….look! a strobe! Must be the centerline…” Faye used the cascading lights on the ground as a final guide in. Touching down, the desert whipped by as the craft decelerated. “Feels like concrete to me, looks like sand. Amazing.” Faye said aloud. “I suspended disbelief a ways back on this trip to the Emerald City, Dorothy. Just keep looking for those ruby slippers.” Spike returned.

“Does that make you the Lion, the Scarecrow or the Tin Man?” “Tough call, I‟ll get back to you. Where the hell did he come from?” Spike startled as an early 60‟s GMC pickup in olive drab appeared from off the starboard wing, a large hand lettered sign saying “FOLLOW ME” held by a man in khaki fatigues in the truck bed. “Oh, this gets weirder by the second. I smell Uncles Sergei and Sol behind this….” Faye said as she slid the rudder right and maintained enough thrust to follow the truck. After five minutes of slow taxiing, the man changed signs to “SLOW”, then thirty seconds later, “STOP AND ENGINES OFF”. The man in the truck grabbed some wheel chocks and ran under the Gulfstream to apply them. He waved to the driver in the pickup. The plane shuddered as large hydraulics went into action. The whole section of ground around the plane began a slow descent, revealing a large cavern underground. Spike saw a King Air twin prop and a C-130 transport as the large elevator came to a halt. It was similar to the elevators on aircraft carriers, but bigger. He estimated a medium passenger plane, like a 757 or 767 could fit with ease. After a hasty movement off the pad assisted by a towmotor, the piece of surface rose rapidly and closed the hole above. “Okay, Faye, what fine mess have you flown us into now?” Spike said quietly, looking at the huge expanse of the underground hangar through the cockpit window. “You were the navigator, Spike, I just drive the bus….” Faye whispered as they watched the coffin like cargo being removed from the hold and placed on a forklift. “Okay folks, we‟ll be here for at least forty eight hours, so grab your gear for a short stay. They have bunks and showers, and the plane is in good hands.” Angel‟s voice came on the intercom. He sounded resigned, drained, and unhappy. Calling Stanley Kubrick - Location 52, Northern Nevada Desert, July 12, Current Year Doctor Oddlike was gracious and charming on the surface, and affected a vaguely metallic aura. Silver gray hair, mirror lenses with silver wire frames, a silver incisor, with a ubiquitous white lab coat over black chinos, he stood at less than five and a half feet tall, leaning on a chrome cane which supported his twisted right leg. “Welcome to Location 52. We get so few visitors, and those who do come to stay are usually so unsavory…welcome. I apologize for the somewhat primitive accommodations. When this facility was built, creature comforts were not high on the list….” Oddlike

spoke in a vaguely Eastern European accent, somewhat high pitched and atonally sing song. The group consisted of Jet, Spike, Fay, and Angel. Ted Begay had been taken by a medical team for tests on the pharmacological stew running through his veins. He had been calmer, but still clearly agitated. The room looked like a mission briefing room for flight crews to Spike, with fixtures clearly from US Government warehouses, maybe a few generations ago. Steel chairs, steel desks, chalkboard, map holders, there was room for at least fifty. Missing was any unit designation, or signage of any kind. Responding to the quizzical looks on the pilot‟s faces, the Doctor continued. “This place was built in 1953 as a base for fighter planes if the US was invaded, and was meant to house several squadrons. Obviously, time has passed it by. Think of it as a little taste of the early Cold War, a museum if you will. As governments will do, it was minimally maintained for years, almost forgotten. Our group put in a bid to take over the maintenance and we won, taking on several of the workers who had kept the place running. As you can see, much of our workforce is all over sixty, except for a few of our medical team. We have one man who will celebrate his seventy fifth birthday next week.” “Doctor, we‟ve been up for the last twenty four hours. Can you show us where you want us to bunk? I assume you won‟t be ready for me for a while.” Angel said, his voice conveying the exhaustion of the entire group. Adrenaline crash was taking it‟s toll on them all. “Certainly! My apologies, I should have known. Yes, the preparation will take at least twenty hours. Please, through that door and down the hallway you will find two rooms with cots, and a common toilet. The mess hall is back through here and across the hangar. It‟s fairly informal, and there are always snacks, day or night. Just ask any of us if you need anything! Oh, and Miss Matsui, my deepest apologies. There are no separate facilities here, the era back then was much less enlightened.” Doctor Oddlike said, concern edging into his high tones. The group grabbed their bags and trudged down the hall, finding two small rooms with canvas cots, chairs, desks and television screens. Angel began to move one of the cots. “No way, Boss. You‟re dead on your feet. No way you‟re cramming another cot into that other room. Besides, I‟ve already borrowed your clothes. We‟ll take this room and leave the snorers in the other.” Faye blocked the door way and put a hand on the cot. “I do not snore!” Spike said indignantly.

“No, snoring is quiet compared to you….come on, Spike let‟s grab some chow.” Jet grumbled, throwing his duffle on a cot through the other open door.

Angel gave Faye a look of gratitude and sat on the cot, removing his lug sole athletic shoes. Tiredness was like a shroud that surrounded him. “Thanks, Faye. You take the bathroom, I‟ll just rest my eyes a bit…” he said, reclining slowly onto the canvas. Faye gently covered the sleeping Angel with a blanket, grabbed her kit and headed to the bathroom. Returning a half an hour later, wrapped in a towel, feeling refreshed from washing up and thankful she had a shower cap in her travel kit, she began to find some clean clothes. Angel was sleeping peacefully, his hair framing his pretty features. Well, I guess this is the girl‟s quarters now…. She thought as she donned a clean pair of panties..Faye dropped the towel and pulled on her bra. Oh hell, he wears one too half the time…No modesty here…

The air conditioning was awfully effective, or maybe it was just being underground, but Faye felt a chill as she donned a clean tee shirt and shorts and crawled under her own blanket. Sleep found her quickly. Five hours later, Faye opened her eyes, shaking off the brief disorientation which comes from waking in an unfamiliar place. Angel smiled and poured her a cup of coffee from a carafe. “Good afternoon, Faye. Black no sugar, right?” Angel was freshly scrubbed, his skin looking moisturized. He was in his normal black tee shirt , jeans and running shoes, and even without makeup looked androgynous. His hair was slightly disheveled, the first time Faye had seen it less than perfect. “The boys are still sacked out, apparently they got sucked into a late night card game with the maintenance squad. I understand they lost. Want to give the crews a thrill and walk over to the mess hall?” “A thrill?” “You are the only female around for 100 miles in any direction that isn‟t a coyote or a rabbit. I‟m sure you‟ll draw your share of attention.” “Mom always said to never do that alone. And you can draw just as much when you want to…” Faye grinned as she made her way to the bathroom.

Hair brushed, bladder emptied, teeth brushed, some minimum foundation, lipstick and mascara, Faye adjusted her shorts and returned to find Angel waiting. How does he do that?.... Angel‟s hair was brushed shiny, flowing around his breasts, and his rear was straining at a pair of pink hot pants, nicely padded out to a pleasing curve. Similarly light makeup completed him. "Sorry, but I just loved these shorts, Faye. I didn‟t think you‟d mind. Especially since you wanted to see who drew more stares…” Angel said, his voice taking on a woman‟s inflection. “At least we‟re mostly the same size, Boss. My sister weighs fifty pounds more than I do and always used to stretch my stuff out. You look good in them.” “Come on, girlfriend, let‟s see if their pacemakers have fresh batteries.” Angel laughed as he gently took Faye‟s arm and led her out into the cavern.

Pause That Refreshes - Location 52, Northern Nevada Desert, July 12, Current Year

Jet fell out of his cot and sprang to his feet, shaking the tiredness out of his head. I hope Angel delivers a paycheck soon, Chief Murcheson, that old SOB took me good ..someday, I‟ll make that straight…. Remembering Faye was sharing the bathroom, he threw on his pants before heading down the hall. He turned around at the sound of giggling and laughter. Faye was laughing, and what was stranger, Angel was giggling hysterically. That is Angel, right? Yeah, has to be….. The two were showing a lot of leg, coming in from the hangar, and Angel was back in his girl mode. “You won! That guy on the C130 practically fell off the nacelle when you waved at him!” Faye said, struggling with getting the words out in between snickers. “Well Paul the Mess guy kept pouring syrup on your pancakes until it covered your tray. His eyes were fixed elsewhere, Faye.” “Hi Jet!” They both said, smiling widely, then disappearing into their room. Oh damn, I hope those poor hangar rats survived those two walking by….

Jet nodded and continued to the head. Half an hour later, Angel was working on his laptop while Faye read a novel. “Faye, what do you think of this?” Angel spun the screen enough so she could see it. “Looks nice, a little conservative for my taste. Is that the only color?” “It‟s for a role. I need to be a housewife in a Portland suburb, and I need to get something that fits for a cocktail party of sorts. Suburban thing.” “You need a sister?” Angel smiled. “Maybe. A wild younger sister could come in handy. It‟s a short gig, just a recon really. Later this week. I need to do a shopping excursion, you can help.” “Sure, Boss. Hey wait, look at this one! You‟ll get their attention, and it shows off your legs. I love that uneven hem.” The two of them spent an hour “Windows Shopping” as Angel called it. Spike stuck his head through the open door. “We‟re heading over to see Ted. You two want to come?” “Sure, and we need to meet anyway. Faye?” Angel said, closing his laptop. “A walk sounds good, plus I‟m due for coffee.” Ted was sitting up in a lounge chair, a series of wires attached to parts of his body recording a seemingly endless array of body processes. “Boss! Good to see you! Ivan here says I‟ve flushed most of the crap out of my system.” Ted said cheerfully. He looked tired, but infinitely better than the near zombie they had delivered to the medical team. “And Faye! Spike! Jet! Isn‟t this place wild? I feel like I‟m in a movie!” “It‟s a trip all right. You look better, Ted.” Spike said sincerely. Seeing him brought back the memory of the cabin cellar. Ted had been chained up in one of those little holes in the wall. Spike shuddered. “The new stuff, Ted. What was it like?” Angel asked, closing the personal distance and kneeling next to him. A doctor walked in, a tall dark haired man, with a bushy mustache, wearing standard white labcoat over bluejeans and a Metallica tee shirt. He stood quietly in the back of the room.

“It‟s bad, Boss. Amplifies the hell out of their powers, and you‟re fearful and jumpy unless you‟re near them. Hard to describe. Hey Ivan! This is Doctor Ivan, he‟s the one watching me. Ask him to explain it” Ted waved. “Hello, I am pleased to meet. Sergei has said much about you Angel. And we learned much from your Teddy. He is a very brave man.” Ivan spoke almost perfect English with the occasional dropped word, and his accent, while thick, was clear enough. Introductions and handshakes were performed. “We learn it affects the serotonin levels in the brain in a very specific way, and …and….focus…no…triggers!...yes triggers them to the pheromones of our enemy. The subject becomes attentive to everything, the …the.. yes… the „flight or fight‟ syndrome is tickled. Their pupils expand and contract even when "focused" on a friendly face, any sound causes nervous jumps and twitches. Without the scent that the victim is keyed to respond to, he/she responds to everything.” “Long term affects?” Angel asked. “We don‟t see any, but with repeated doses, the body adapts, so it could eventually create almost an addiction to the adversary. This is bad, very bad. We don‟t even have an idea yet on a counter agent, but we will. God willing, we will.” Ivan crossed himself and then held his hands in a prayer position to emphasize his point. “Ivan says I can go home tomorrow. I‟m on personal time anyway from the force.” Ted said, the lines in his face belying the enthusiasm in his voice. “Ted, you take some time off and rest up. Your boss was informed you had the symptoms of Lyme disease while fishing in Utah and were under observation for a few days, and will need some time to rest up. Sorry about the haircut, but you weren‟t actively undercover for them, so you can build a new street image now.” Angel held his hand gently. “Ok, Boss. I‟m fading here now. I hung on as long as I could, it‟s up to you, now.” “I know.” Angel‟s face flashed sadness and the look of a terrible weight bearing down. Faye and Spike looked at each other, and then at Jet, who shrugged. “Let my patient sleep, now, shoo, shoo away!” Ivan said, wearing a large smile as he waved his arms. Herding out after saying their goodbyes, Angel motioned for them to follow him into the mess hall.

Sitting around a table, coffees steaming, they waited for Jet to arrive, as he was last through the kitchen line. Chief Murcheson, the white haired guy about Jet‟s size was getting a refill and kidded Jet about the earlier card game. Two old NCOs engaging in friendly insults. “I have a task here which will tie me up for at least another ten hours or so, and I need a favor. Since you‟re stuck here, there‟s someone in our Group who lives nearby and is dying to meet you. It‟s about an eighty mile drive, desert roads over into Oregon. The person is kind of important, and I confess I indulge her. She‟s my sister in law, actually she used to be my brother in law… well, it‟s a long story. I warn you, she‟s a little hard to take at times, and you need to try not to upset her, just kind of play along. I don‟t know why, but she‟s demanding to meet you all. Will you do it?” Angel looked almost childlike, hopeful for a yes. “Oh why not. Sure Boss. “ Jet said in a sure, easy tone. “No problem. Be nice to get some sun.” Faye smiled. “Well, one of the techs was going to show me the F-86 they have in the corner….” Spike began. “Problem is, Johnnie, that‟s her name, wants to see all of you, or not at all. She can be obscure at times, and frankly, there will be a logical reason. Logical, but reasonable? Rational? Who knows.” Angel grinned. “Oh! Well, I‟m not going to ruin the party. Count me in, Boss.” Spike smiled. “Angel? What‟s the story here? What‟s this place all about?” Faye asked quietly. Staring into the black liquid for a moment, Angel sipped carefully and set the mug down. “Sol and Sergei needed a place to do a few things, research, interrogation and disposal. The irony was, for all Sol‟s years in the Agency, he never heard of this place sitting unused but still in the black budgets. Sergei knew it from his KGB days, and it was his company that put in the bid to take it over. Kind of funny, ironic almost.” “Yeah, the Chief was telling me that a lot of the tech here is so old, that they get spare parts from Russia, who had copied the gear and used it. Stuff not even available over here anymore.” Jet chimed in. “Yes, that‟s true. Sol made the deal to keep the crews he trusts, two shifts of ten who each do a two week shift. Who knows what they‟re going to do when these guys get really too old to work. Sergei brought over some researchers who used to do “human persuasion” work for him and were unemployed when the USSR went under. Ivan was one of them, and Doctor Oddlike , well, I never did find out his story. I‟m sure it‟s colorful.”

“I‟m trying to follow this stuff about „the enemy‟ and their power, Angel. That cabin cellar creeped me out big time. Are you saying these guys aren‟t human? They have some magic power?” Spike asked, his look indicating he hoped he hadn‟t cross a line. “If you check their DNA, they read as human as all of us, but they have hunted us like cattle, watching us and looking for the weak, the susceptible. They‟ve been doing it for a long time. The powers aren‟t magic. You all have met persuasive people, salesmen, fund raisers, religious leaders. What makes them persuasive is real stuff, they influence people with verbal cues, nonverbal body language, their looks, their tone of voice, and their scent. That‟s the list we know about. The guys here are looking for how it works. When you couple persuasive powers to the desire to take enjoyment, or sustenance from the fears, the pain and the death of people, you get a dangerous sociopath, one who can hide among us and be nearly impossible to find. Many are smart, very smart, and cunning. And the thing we know, is if left on their own, innocent people will follow them to their death. That‟s Sol and Sergei‟s game and they‟ve been playing it for quite a while. My Group helps them when we can.” The group sat silent, feeling a sense of mutual dread. The bogeyman was real, they had flown one here in the cargo hold, in a sealed container. Ted had faced one close up. “Okay, enough morbid stuff. It‟ll be daylight in eight hours, and I recommend you drive in daylight, the roads are pretty rugged. Be back here before four pm, hopefully we‟ll be ready for departure then. Ok?” Angel broke the mood with the agenda for tomorrow. Everyone nodded. Almost an hour later, Faye found Angel in their room, back in his male mode, reading a large looseleaf binder of handwritten notes. His hands were twitching and his face was clearly worried. He was fumbling, trying to weave his hair into one large braid, but his nervousness and preoccupation with the notebook was making it a series of botched attempts. “Angel, you ok? Can I help with that?” Faye offered, closing the door. He looked up at her, and she saw a hint of panic in his normally cold eyes. Faye grabbed a hairbrush and moved Angel‟s fumbling fingers away, gently. She proceeded to begin the long slow strokes down his brown silky hair. One hand, holding the brush, touching his head in a reassuring way, the other lifting a section of hair , then the smooth flow through the waves. “My Momma used to do this and it always made me feel better. And my sisters…..Natasha had the most beautiful hair, she still does, in fact….” Faye said soothingly, feeling the tension in Angel evaporate. His eyes were closed, his breathing slowed, his pulse calm.

“Yes. Tommie and I would do this when we were alone, and things were quiet. It‟s been a while since we just relaxed and did this...it was the only pleasure that was allowed….” Angel said, almost as if in a trance. Faye kept brushing. Who is Tommie?.....What is he talking about?....Not the time to ask…. Angel grabbed her hand, gently, and gave it a soft squeeze. “Thank you, Sofiya. Thank you very much. I have a challenging task to do and I‟m bit jumpy..” Angel whispered. “You want one braid or two, Boss? Let me help you.” Angel smiled. “One, please.” “Sure, Angel. I may be rusty, but we all took turns doing Momma‟s braid, and she was a perfectionist. You just relax.” Angel sat back and enjoyed the attention of Faye taking strands and beginning the weave. “I wanted it out of the way, I need to focus on the job.” “I understand. Your hair is gorgeous, Angel, you make me miss wearing it this long…” Faye‟s tone indicated it was a genuine remark, not mere flattery. “Be a hassle under a flight helmet. But your pictures from high school were very pretty. I‟ll bet you were very popular…” “Hah! There‟s a joke! I was scared of my shadow with people...” “The shy Sofiya? Yes, that works… Sofiya is reserved, but Faye is not….we all have masks and roles….I know about that…” Faye stopped and looked up, just for a moment. Wow…I never thought about that….he can see right into me…. “Want to talk about the job, Boss? Sometimes it helps…” Angel went silent, and still. Faye feared she had stepped in it, big time. After a minute of silence, Angel spoke, closing his eyes as Faye continued to weave his braid. “I don‟t know if Spike told you about what he saw in the cabin, but the guy we brought here had slowly murdered ten boys, one a year. Now imagine a being who scares him, one he sends his prey to. Somewhere, there is a fifteen year old boy we hope is still alive

and undamaged. I have to try and find out where…before that other one collects his prey.” “Sure, but you‟ve done this before, right? You can do it!” “Sorry, Sofiya, but your Uncle Sergei normally does this. This is my first time. And the clock is ticking.” Oh shit, this poor man….talk about performance pressure…and I‟ll bet he was abused as a kid.., you can see him identify with the victims…there‟s a fire burning inside him…Command School said to let them know you support them, any way you can…Faye‟s mind raced. “Sometimes you‟re the one who has to do it, Boss. Give it your best, it‟s all you can do…” “Thanks, Sofiya. Thanks.” Angel said, grasping her hand firmly. He seemed calmer, focused. “All done, Angel” Faye held the braid, tying a lavender ribbon in a bow on the end and draping it over his left shoulder. “Very nice. Your mother would be proud.” Angel turned and held both her hands, smiling right through her. Faye felt a warm glow. Not every persuasive person was a dangerous serial killer. Some were beautiful warriors.

Off To See The Wizard - Desert Road, Oregon- Nevada Border, July 13, Current Year Spike determined, after careful analysis and observation, that Jet‟s driving strategy on the desert road was to barely avoid any rock over a four inch diameter and hit all of those under that, while never slowing below 45 miles per hour. The washboard hardpack mud tested and exceeded any damping effect the fifty year old shocks gave to the 1961 GMC pickup. Conversation was almost impossible, and the windows were wide open, providing scant relief from the July Nevada sun, blistering hot even at ten in the morning. There was a bit more room, since Faye had decided to ride in the truck bed five minutes ago, a decision Spike hoped was not based on the inability of any deodorant to handle a small cab with three people in 105 Fahrenheit.

The truck was followed by a reddish brown dust plume, at least twenty feet high and tailing off at forty or fifty feet long. Spike heard a banging, something new to all the other truck parts banging he had heard for the last forty miles. Turning around, he saw Faye, or rather a brown and red coated apparition who resembled a Faye –like mud person, slamming her fist furiously on the back window. “JET! FAYE WANTS SOMETHING!” “WHAT?” “I SAID FAYE W A N T S SOMETHING!” “SHE HAVE TO PEE?” “I DON‟T KNOW!” “DAMN, THEY ALWAYS HAVE TO PEE!!! MY SECOND WIFE ALWAYS HAD TO PEE!!!” Jet slowed to a stop and Faye jumped out of the back and opened Spike‟s door. “Hey! You‟re all fulla dirt! You can‟t come in here!” Jet yelled. “Spike, either move over or I‟ll sit in your lap! I could barely breathe out there!” Faye said, removing her sunglasses and resembling a raccoon. Spike got out and Faye sat in the center, filling the interior with thick clouds of red dust. Jet grumbled and threw the shifter into second, first gear having been stripped off long ago in the truck‟s history. “Better not have to pee” Jet muttered under his breath, as he ignored the clouds of dust coming off Faye. Spike just sat and choked, while Faye fumed silently. Fish In A Barrel – Location 52- Nevada Desert, July 13, Current Year “Yes, yes, my dear Angel, we have taken all the precautions. The subject came out of the narcotics already in the sensory deprivation tank. The carrier coffin recorded no conscious activity, so he did not awaken while being transported. Even so, all our personnel used the nose filters and the modulating headphones while handling him. He is „marinating‟ as a chef would say.” Doctor Oddlike stood over the one way glass of the monitoring lab. “How long before we begin, Doctor?” Angel asked quietly. He looked down on Christopher Trent, floating in a body temperature mineral oil, dark tank, ears padded shut, nose plugged, an air hose taped into his mouth, sensors attached all over his body.

“Ergenplatz? How long?” Oddlike nodded to the other man in the room, watching the monitors. Gregor Ergenplatz rose to his full four feet ten inches, his wrinkled face making him look like a gnarled tree root, and began to speak. “The normal human averages forty hours before massive disorientation begins, time distortion, hallucinations. This was conformed by CIA trials in the late 1960s, and also by KGB experience. The adversary, being in a universe alone, would lead one to expect them to handle it for longer. This is not true! In a universe alone, they need the world to tell them they are alive.” “Ergenplatz! How long?” Oddlike said, agitated. “One hour more, maybe a bit less. That will be twenty hours, then” The small man stood tall, not bending. “Thank, you, Gregor. I assume we are set up for the voice synthesis?” Angel asked. “Yes, we can begin cycling a catch phrase until we get a spike in EEG activity, trying different voices. The subject will hear a garbled, distant set of words. Your description of the individual allowed us to narrow down the range.” Angel nodded. Spike‟s sketch of the target, the one from his drunken interview in Tucson, hung over the console. We‟re going to nail that one….. Pay No Attention To The Woman behind The Curtain – Johnnie’s House, Oregon High Desert, July 13, Current Year

Warm water sprinkled on the curve of her spine, droplets bouncing in all directions. Much better…and Spike enjoyed hosing me off way too much….Sofiya, you idiot, you ought to know deserts by now, after Afghanistan…. Faye turned off the faucet and grabbed the rich, fluffy towel Marla had provided. Marla Brokken, Johnnie‟s companion, lover, nurse and friend had met them outside. Tall and thin in her white nurse uniform, she welcomed them, and told them Johnnie was crazy happy they came. “Oh , Captain Matsui! We need to get you in some clean clothes, there‟s an outdoor shower by the horse barn, and I have some things you can wear after you clean up inside. Gentlemen, you can wash up a bit also. This desert dust does get into everything. Please feel free to use the guest quarters, that building right over there. Meet you here in half an hour?” Marla‟s voice was calm and soothing, and her smile was infectious.

“Come on Faye, let‟s take you to the barn after that hard ride…” Spike had grinned in his perfect Texas drawl. Faye, feeling embarrassed and awkward, not even being able to take Marla‟s offered hand, had stomped over to the gray planked barn. That smug cowboy just stood me there and hosed me down, and then said he would never „Put Away One Wet‟ after a ride….oooohhh that man!.... The guest rooms were palatial, large, almost like a luxury hotel room. Faye, still leaving slightly muddy puddles as she walked, saw a nicely made powder blue sweat suit, a sports bra and briefs, still new in their packaging, and a pair of moccasins that appeared to be her size. The bath was huge, with shower, whirlpool tub and well stocked vanity. Deciding the bath needed much more than a half an hour to enjoy, she opted for the shower, finding a nice collection of gels and body moisturizers ready, along with several shampoo-conditioner combinations. Spike and Jet met her at the door to the main house, showered and with clean tee shirts with lettering that said “Johnnie‟s Place” on the back improving their looks. The sweat rings were already forming as the noontime July sun broiled them in the short walk across the compound. The door opened and Marla shooed them inside, the air conditioning giving them a severe yet short lived chill as they dealt with a twenty five degree (F) drop. “Please sit down, refreshments are on the table. Angel asked me to explain a few things before you meet Johnnie. Oh, the iced tea is green tea, made fresh, very refreshing, and lots of anti-oxidants..” Marla indicated a pleasant kitchen table set off a large, expensively equipped cooking area. The windows had a polarizing effect, cutting the glare of the brilliant outdoor sun. Spike noticed a series of thin film covers that slid down on tracks, allowing different light qualities. “Thank you Marla, the clothes fit nicely…” Faye began. “Oh, we have a bunch of stuff here for visitors and never get to use much…I‟m glad it fits, and you look good in it. Your other stuff should be cleaned and dry before you leave…” Jet sipped the tea, and found it to be flavorful, barely sweet, with just a touch of lemon. He drained the glass, finding it wonderfully thirst quenching after the ride. “Too sweet for you, Mr. Flagg?” “No Ma‟am, it‟s great! Really cuts the dust!”

Marla smiled. “Ok, where to start? Well, Johnnie has some medical problems, kidneys, liver, generally low immune capacity, hypertension, beginning diabetes, enlarged heart. So if she seizes up, or looks to be in pain, she is, don‟t take it personally. “She‟s also ….I don‟t think genius is the right word…and neither is savant…her mind is different…she sees things others don‟t, and sometimes misses the obvious. “Oh yes, don‟t lie to her. She‟ll find it out. Assume she knows everything about you, if it‟s in a database somewhere and she wants it, she gets it. Especially if she likes you. If that upsets you, I‟m sorry, but it‟s her way.” “So why are we here, Marla? We‟ve been wondering, and Angel was pretty vague…” Spike asked directly, sipping his tea. “Ah, yes. Vague is a way of life with us..” Marla grinned. Suddenly, Spike saw her as much younger than she initially presented, maybe twenty two. “All I can say is Johnnie gets whims, and sometimes no one can see the point until much later. Sometimes it‟s silly. Once, Angel flew in from Florida, rush rush, had to get here and Johnnie just wanted to share a batch of snapper soup she had made. But many times, it turns out to be important. Even that time, it was lucky Angel was back in the west, because he was able to handle a situation only an hour away. So if today seems silly, just go with it.” Marla continued. “Okay, let‟s do the meet and greet.” Jet stood up. “One last thing, if Johnnie gets nasty, don‟t take it, just get nasty back…” Marla led them through an air tight door. Part of the house ran on heavily filtered air. Johnnie was standing, holding onto a handrail which ran around the wall of the room. Five foot six, with bulges of fat showing through the loose pink sweatsuit, brown hair falling to her large hips and buttocks, plump bare feet with pink toenails, she struggled across the room to extend a hand, always gripping a rail or a piece of furniture for support. A trick painting. Look at her one way and she was youthful, a pudgy youngster, all puppy dog curiosity. Another glanced revealed a worn and tired woman, lines of pain and acceptance of her fate. “Oooohhh, the crew! The Crew is here! Spike! Jet! And Faye Faye! It‟s too good to be true! “Other Who?” “No, Other’s On First” – Location 52- Nevada Desert, July 13, Current Year The sweat droplet hit the back of his hand, traveling from it‟s origin point on his forehead. Angel ignored the sensation, along with all impressions from the control room.

Trent was moaning softly, throat microphones picking up his intonations. Whispers in his earphones, each subtly different of the phrase “Why have you come?” cycled over and over. “There‟s a spike! We‟re getting the range!” Gregor said excitedly. He pointed at a monitor showing EEG patterns from the man in the sensory deprivation tank. Angel closed his eyes, immersing himself in the role he must play. “Slow it down, hone in on that pattern! There! Repeat, slowly….Yes! Now a bit louder….Yes! Go now, Angel! Your mic is on!” Gregor waved for silence to the other technician and Doctor Oddlike. “Why have you come to the One?” Angel spoke, his voice modulated and reproduced to match the one that caused the reaction in Trent. “The the the One? One? Other One?” Trent, lost in sensory darkness, alone in a dead universe, reached out mentally. Another One…one like Christopher….the Other… Imperious, aloof, superior. Treating with lesser animals. Demand with kind sounds, never kind words. Those had been Sergei‟s notes for taking on the role of a Prime Charismatic, a powerful one, one who led other sociopaths by proxy. Angel took on the mindset, like crawling into a lizard‟s skin. All in the tone, the inflection… “Where is the gift….” Angel said, his eyes fixed on the floating body in the tank.

Oddlike and Gregor began an electronic discussion, using silenced keyboards. ODDLIKE: HOW MUCH TIME DOES HE HAVE? ERGENPLATZ: MAYBE ONE MINUTE- MUST DO THIS DURING MAXIMUM DISORIENTATION ODDLIKE: CAN YOU SEE WHEN THAT HAPPENS? ERGENPLATZ: GUESSWORK-WE KNOW WHEN IT IS PAST BUT CANNOT SEE IT HAPPENING “Where is the gift…?” Angel projected the arrogance, the hunger. “Needles….Demons took Tsubasa…Needles….Demons…Wanderer….Needles” Never appear like you don‟t know….Angel felt Trent gaining ground on control.

“Undamaged? Demons are nasty…” “Demons….paid them….Demons reliable….” Trent muttered. “The location is not where the first meeting was, correct?” “First? First? First and only….And The Dragons….no….no…Needles….” “And the gift is undamaged?” “Just a cold virus….sniffles, dribbles…days to wait…but fine…” Angel paused. Sergei‟s notes were clear. When the subject began talking in sentences, it was almost over. They only tell the truth when they talk in riddles, or semi nonsense fragments…. Gregor waved a scribbled note in front of Angel. Times up! Angel decided to make one more stab. “What‟s my name?” “Drak….dark….Black..one….Other. You are not the Other….” Angel pulled his headset off. “Get him out of there. We got all we‟re going to get. Get me that recording and meet me in the video room, cue it up for replay. Gregor, what‟s your guess on the deception?” “Sergei would be proud of you, Angel. Halfway through that last one you threw at him. He was a slippery one…” Angel grasped Gregor‟s hand and shook it. “Thank you, Gregor. Now we have a puzzle to solve.” “We will continue with conventional means, Angel, but it will yield little. He will be yours again soon.” Doctor Oddlike began tapping his cane on the floor, nervously. Angel nodded as he quickly walked out of the room. Professor Plum, In the Library, With A Harley? – Johnnie’s House, Oregon High Desert, July 13, Current Year Marla, smiling and looking younger every time, was clearly happy to have some company. Johnnie, after her exhausting walk across the room, was ensconced in her lounge chair, rotated away from her six computer screens.

“It‟s so exciting to meet you! It must be sooooo cool to have met and realized the cosmic significance of your coming together! When I heard about it I was giddy!” Johnnie gushed to the puzzlement of her visitors. Spike smiled and sat quietly, holding his tall glass of tea. Jet was impassive, his features in a neutral set. Faye found the whole exchange amusing, and was enjoying watching Johnnie babble. “It‟s just been a few days, Johnnie. We just met each other…” Spike offered. “Angel is so brilliant! He must believe in the theory of art being paradigms for solving problems! Oooh, Marla, it‟s such an occasion, can‟t I have a cupcake? Please????” Marla shook her head with resignation. “Half a one Johnnie. And it‟s against my better judgment…” “See! Oh you‟re so mean! I‟m sorry love, I didn‟t mean that….half will be lovely,,, thank you…and you three, I take it you‟re all otaku? You must be!” Spike and Jet looked quizzically at Faye, who shrugged her shoulders. “Hey, I‟m from Seattle, not Tokyo…don‟t look at me…” Faye said defensively. Johnnie‟s face clouded over and then she began to laugh. “Don‟t tell me…you mean you didn‟t….you don‟t?....ooooohhh this is sooooo funny!!!!....and I called you here because….oh no…..” Johnnie‟s laughing fit was enough to cause Marla to check her monitors, but she relaxed after her glance. The three aircrew all possessed that look one gets when a joke is told and you feel you are the punch line. “Anime! ANIME! One of my geek vices, of many! None of you are anime fans?” Johnnie managed to say, interrupted by giggling hysteria at odd intervals. After exchanged glances, all three shook their heads from side to side. Spike eyes lit up. “Oh, you mean that Japanese cartoon stuff? My callsign, my nickname came from a wingman a while ago who was into that stuff, he told me the group already had a “Cowboy” so I should be “Spike”. I never asked much more…” “Aha! I knew it! Let me show you all something…” Johnnie grabbed a wireless keyboard and her fingers flew over it. The center screen, a large 40 inch plasma, came to life, and strains of brassy jazz filled the room while spacecraft intercut with animated figures running, shooting and smoking cigarettes.

The group watched with rapt attention as a big, balding gruff guy traded insults with a tall, lanky guy in a suit, and a leggy, scantily clad woman joined in. Pilots, gunfighters, bounty hunters, or “cowboys” flying around the solar system, managing to get into and barely out of trouble, all with a jazz score. Named Jet, Spike and Faye. Another character was Edward, a very weird girl who was a computer hacker and spoke in sing song rhymes half the time. After the episode finished, Johnnie turned to them. “Don‟t you see? It has to have meaning! We are a team! A cowboy, a beautiful woman pilot, a big tough guy with a heart of gold! And me! I just had to meet you!” All three managed to smile, while wondering what to say next. The same thought ran through all their minds. We drove across desert in this heat for this???? The conversation continued, with Johnnie asking about their background, and then showing off by filling in details from her own research. She would change from small child to adult, sometimes within the same sentence. “Jet, that mission to Hainan Island to destroy that spy plane, that must‟ve been something. And Faye, why didn‟t you stay on the Olympic swim team? Spike, how did you get your principal‟s car on the roof of the school?” Johnnie spun out little tidbits causing concerned looks from all three. “Never happened.” “What?” “I‟ll never tell” were the simultaneous responses. “HeeHee! Gotcha!” Johnnie giggled. Marla broke off the „tell all the secrets‟ session for lunch. Johnnie wheedled Jet into a discussion of the plane and some of the systems on it. As the group was chewing their sandwiches, a buzzer went off. “Ooops, excuse me, time to go to work….wait here, this usually is quick…” Johnnie turned her chair and Angel‟s visage came up on the center screen. “Hi Johnnie. We need a puzzle solved.” Angel began. “OOOOhhhhhh goody! I love puzzles!” “Let me playback a recording, which has a clue as to where to find a missing boy….we need to move quickly…” Angel replayed his interrogation of Trent, a duration of less than a minute. “This boy, can you save him, Angel?” Johnnie asked.

Spike, Jet, and Faye stopped eating, attempting to make no sound. Marla smiled and began cleaning up, as if this was an everyday occurrence. “We hope so, Johnnie, we hope so.” Angel looked tired, his eyes distant, like a far off pair of stars in the night. “Lets see…” Reams of associations, output from search engines scrolled almost faster than Faye could scan them across three different screens. Johnnie was seeming to absorb it all. “Angel, did you try that recipe yet?” Johnnie asked, his eyes darting across his monitors furiously. “Not yet, Johnnie, it‟s been a little hectic, but I promise to serve it to Carolyn as soon as I get back in my kitchen. Are you sure about the tarragon?” “It makes the dish! Wait…ok. Tell me what you‟ve got so far.” Johnnie stopped scrolling on all three screens. “We just got this, so I brought it right to you. I‟m guessing the Demons are a gang who handle the transport and storage of the boy. Needles could be an alias. The Dragons threw me completely….” Johnnie closed her eyes, and linked her fingers together, almost as if praying, or was about to crack her knuckles. She began to chant. “Needles a name, Needles a thing, Needles a place, Needles a verb…..Demons a myth, Demons a team…Demons a band….Demons a car…Demons a group….And The Dragons….The Dragons?....A place?....a statue?.....a joke?....Wanderer a song…Happy Wanderer…No….Dion and the Belmonts….not a place…..a name….” Opening her eyes, she sat up and stared directly at Angel. “Needles is Needles, California, south of Las Vegas, with high probability. It was the first word, the most direct answer…” “Okay, makes sense.” “You are right about the Demons. A minor gang, listed in the Phoenix PD files, small time smuggling, odd jobs, transporting stolen goods, stuff like that, kind of a family business…” “I‟ll check with Greg, he‟s an Arizona State Police guy.” “And The Dragons, your op report says the socio was a literature prof? Then that‟s a twist on Saint Georges, Utah, probably. Also not far from Las Vegas…”

“Okay, a pattern emerges..” “The Wanderer is a motel outside of town, looks pretty seedy, lots of health code violations. The name thing is incomplete, I need more data…” “Great! We‟ll get on it right now. Thanks Johnnie.” “Angel?” “Yes, Johnnie?” “Save him, if you can..” “We‟ll do our best, Johnnie. If we do, it‟ll be because of you…” Johnnie began to cry, and Marla came over and held her, rocking her gently. Spike, Jet and Faye exhaled, feeling the tension release in the room. Listening to the interrogation made their spines tingle, it had an eerie, horror movie quality. Watching Johnnie scan and integrate data at machine speeds was startling. “Can you folks wait in the kitchen? Johnnie needs to rest now, she loved meeting you. I‟ll be out there in a little while.” Marla said, her soft eyes communicating her compassion for the sobbing woman. The three got up, their hearts affected by the little wave that Johnnie gave them while holding Marla tightly. “Bye, Edward, you did good…” Spike said quietly, using the name of the hacker girl in the anime they had seen. They saw a smile break across Johnnies tear strewn face, her head raise up for a moment and then settle back down into Marla‟s bosom. The door closed, Faye brought a cup of coffee from the carafe to Spike. “Just when I think you‟re a completely insensitive jerk, you do something like that. That was very nice, Spike.” Startled by the comment, Spike looked up at Faye and winked. “Cowboy Chivalry, I guess, Ma‟am…although I did like the outfits your namesake was wearing…” “They wouldn‟t do a thing for you…unless you shaved your legs…” “It wasn‟t me I was thinking of…” “Dream on, Space Cowboy…”

Jet looked at his watch. “We need to be pulling out pretty soon. I don‟t want to find that place in the dark.” “And I sure don‟t want to drive in the dark in that old wreck…” Faye retorted. A few minutes later, Marla joined them. “She‟s sleeping now…she really got so excited about you all coming…thank you so much..” “All we did was show up, Marla. And thank you for the hospitality.” Faye smiled. “Your clothes are clean and I put them in your bag, Captain Matsui..” “Call me Faye, Marla, please..” Marla smiled again. “Marla, with all of Johnnie‟s medical problems, why are you all the way out here? It seems pretty far from anything..” Faye asked. “That‟s a long story. This is the place where I met Johnnie, back when we were captives here, he was a boy then, well, they were changing him…that‟s what ruined her health, I guess, all those hormones and drugs they fed her…don‟t worry, if she needs help, Carolyn has an air ambulance on call. The point is, Johnnie is comfortable here, since she took her revenge, maybe she is punishing herself, kind of a self imposed exile. “Angel rescued you?” Spike interjected. “No, but a friend of his did, you should meet her, she‟s wonderful. Well, after all the fuss, we did some things to the people who wrote the scripts… those poor TG authors… I feel so bad now….but it wasn‟t as bad as what happened to us, I guess…we found out they didn‟t know… and then Johnnie finished her surgery, and then there was that thing in Mexico, and on Saint John, well Angel did save us then, and he brought us home…I‟m sorry, I‟m rambling…” “It‟s ok, Marla. Take care of Johnnie, and yourself. I promise to come back and visit.” Jet spoke softly, holding Marla‟s hand. “And if she can, tell her we‟ll give her a ride in the plane, Marla.” Spike added. Marla lit up. “Oh yes, she‟d love that! So would I! It would have to be short….” “No problem. Take care Marla.” Faye hugged her.

The crew filed outside, after a few more exchanges, leaving Marla waving out the window as they wiped the dust off the truck seat. “Now I know why Angel wants to keep Johnnie happy…” Faye said. “Yeah. Hard to believe if I hadn‟t seen it. Hope they find the kid.” Jet said as he started the engine. Trashman – Location 52- Nevada Desert, July 13, Current Year “Yes Greg. Good to hear that. Empty motel, outside of Needles, right? Anybody hurt in the takedown? Good. Billy Grant is ok? Good. No, let‟s let the SP take all the credit, you got a tip and solid police work, yadda yadda yadda. The parents are ok? Great. Maybe Billy learned something, maybe they have. We can always hope. Yes, the Doc says we got lucky due to his cold or sinus thing, it bought him enough time. Yes, thanks. Thank you, Greg, and tell Fred and Bob the same. Let me know if you get anything from the gang members. The package? About to deal with that right now. Yeah, I know. You‟re a good man, Greg. See you.” Angel hung up the phone. Doctor Oddlike stood there, impassive. “Yes, the boy‟s headcold saved his life. The Adversary wants them to be able to detect the scent, especially in one designated as „prey‟.” “I‟ll take whatever luck we get, Doctor. I assume the subject said nothing useful?” “As usual, nothing. They are bringing him into Room G now.” Angel looked at the monitor, and saw three guards, wearing headphones, nose filters and dark sunglasses with a naked Christopher Trent. Two held Trent from behind and frog marched him into the room, while the third hung back, MP5 submachine gun at the ready, safety off. “Angel, don‟t forget my requirements.” “I won‟t forget, Doctor.” Angel left the control room and strode down to Room G. Room G. Gray walls and floor, coated with an anechoic material, deadening all sound, almost absorbing it. Light panels ten feet above washed down a thin, monochromatic light, lacking in any warmth. No furniture, decoration, or any content whatsoever broke the rectangular space, measuring five by ten feet. Angel entered. He nodded to the guards, who, one by one, silently left the room after spinning Trent around to face him. The door closed and three feet separated the two. One naked and hunched, blinking furiously at the light. The other in black. Tee shirt, jeans, running shoes, all black. Brown hair braid over his left shoulder, a lavender bow on the end the only color in the space.

“It is not afraid of me? No mask? No filters? What manner of thing is this?” Trent said, having trouble modulating his voice. Angel stood impassively still, his eyes locking on Trent‟s. Eyes like gray wells, maelstroms….pulling Christopher in….what is this?....like the Other One….eyes….sucking in….Trent‟s mind swirled dizzily. In contrast to the rest of the room the lavender ribbon became blindingly bright, painful to Trent‟s vision. “What……Do….You…..Want….Of….Me?” Trent spoke haltingly. Surrender of will which had only occurred once before came painfully. Angel pulled a piece of paper from his shirt pocket, slowly unfolding it to it‟s full letter size. He handed it to Trent. The sociopath looked at it, a look of confusion emerging from his features. “Names?” “Read them.” Angel spoke, quietly. In the room it seemed like a shout which had no trace, no echo. Trent looked hopeful for a moment. “And if I do?” “Read them.” Angel repeated, just as quietly. “Michael Atwell….Zebediah Barlett….Jessie Parmenter….Jose Rodriguez….What are these? What are these to me?” Angel took the list back. He read the balance of the list. All ten names had been uttered. “They deserve to be remembered.” Angel said with a cold voice. “My fair entertainments? Yes, some of those names are familiar. You cannot prove anything. You did all this to make me read names?” “That‟s not all.” In a blur, a Sig Sauer P232 appeared in Angel‟s right hand from the holster at the rear of his belt. Two shots cracked the air, two circular black holes appeared in Trent‟s chest, two .380 rounds penetrated Trent‟s heart.

The flash of lavender ribbon flying through the air caught Trent‟s attention as he stood there. The sensation of sharp pain, the jarring double impacts, the blood oozing, warm down his chest and back receded as his vision drew to a narrow circle. Angel stared at him and Trent‟s universe flew into the gray pupils, twin singularities attracting the essence of Trent into an accelerating rush of destruction. “You….you‟re one of us…..” blood flowed from Trent‟s mouth as he collapsed, dead. Angel grimly looked at the corpse and waved his left hand, a signal for the cleanup crew. “No…I am not….” He whispered as a team of workers in coveralls entered the room. Doctor Oddlike came in, cane tapping the floor as the team wrapped the corpse in a body bag and moved it on a stretcher. “Ah, yes, you preserved the brain! Thank you. It will add to my studies. Come along now, Angel. We can handle this. The crematorium is already hot.” Angel allowed the gentle tug of the elderly scientist to guide him out of Room G as the crew carried out the body, replaced the bullet damaged wall panel and removed the floor section, revealing a large drain. “Lock it down and run the water jets after you do the chlorine rinse, Al.” said the supervisor in the brown coverall. “Same old same old, Bubba. Got it.” Al replied as he swung the door latch.

Chapter 18: And Now For Something Completely Different– Galleria Mall, Scottsdale Arizona , 1 PM July 14, Current Year Lights and glitter, mannequins in colorful frocks, aroma of fresh baked chocolate chip cookies amid the muted sounds of salespeople on commission blended into Faye‟s senses, leaving a pleasant residue. “Oh Faye, try it on! Come on! You know you want to…” Angel giggled, his eyes transformed by liner and shadow. Faye held up the pastel blue dress and felt the softness of the silk, her eyes sparkling like the sequin trim in fleur de leis patterns leading to the bodice. I love this dress…. “There‟s no way I can buy this! Or anything in this whole mall! Imagine a mall with a Bentley dealership next to the coffee nook!” Faye protested. “Just try it on for me, then. I want to see what it looks like.” Angel smiled and put his hand on his hip, the white pants showing ample curves and contrasting with his coral nails. “Oh, all right, but it‟s hardly what you said we were looking for…hardly the thing for a suburban cocktail party…” Faye grinned as she entered the changing room, handing her bag off to Angel. Removing her sandals, blouse and slacks, Faye wriggled into the gown. The radically sloping hem touched below her left knee and came to mid thigh on her right, and the waist fit snugly but comfortably. Her long legs looked graceful and the shine in her black hair made her close her eyes and reopen them, to savor the image in the mirror. I could pay off my car for the price of this….but it feels…..wonderful…. She stepped outside, happy that the dress didn‟t require a slip. Angel looked her over. “Turn around Faye…..yes….oh my God that looks fabulous on you!” Angel bubbled. The saleswoman hovered in the background, a veteran who knew when to shut up and let the customer sell herself. Faye‟s smile was dazzling as she slowly ran her hands down the curve of her hips, engaging her tactile appreciation of the moment. A day ago I was being hosed down in a horse barn, then I flew us to Santa Fe to drop Ted home, then we stopped here so Angel could „pick up some stuff‟ for his next role….and now I feel like a movie star, or a princess…this job is very weird… Angel nodded and called over the sales woman.

“She‟ll take it. Put it on this card, have it delivered to us at that restaurant across the way there. Thank you very much.” Faye looked up like a headlighted deer. “Come on Faye, I‟m starving, and we need to meet someone soon.” Angel laughed, his curls bouncing on the bosom of his floral blouse as he tilted his head. “You bought this….for me?” “Consider it a dress uniform. Besides, you‟ll need it in Monaco. Now get changed unless you want to wear it near marinara sauce and prawns.” “Monaco?...” “I‟m hungry, Faye…” Taking the hint, Faye scampered back to the changing area. Sizzling prawns, coated in oil and garlic next to angel hair pasta with a rose sauce settled in front of Angel, the waiter smiling as he looked at the cleavage displayed. He gave Faye the same deep scan when he lay down her plate of grilled chicken with yakisoba noodles, covered with a teriyaki sauce. He considered enjoying the looks of all the fine women who came to eat and gossip to be the major perk of his job. “He‟s cute, Faye and he certainly gave you a deep inspection.” Angel smiled as he delicately cut a small piece of prawn. “Only after he nearly fell into your boobs, Angel. Does it bother you?” Angel chewed thoughtfully. “Can‟t say it does. I take it as applause, or at least an indication I did a decent job… oh, I thought that red strapless dress was perfect for my „kid sister‟. You looked hot, girl.” “Yes, I did like it the best. You don‟t think it‟ll stand out too much?” “Oh, the men will be glued to you, which makes it easier for me to pass. So that one, not the black one?” “Only if I get those strappy stilettos that matched.. and you! Boss, why are you ..why are you …a little…oh hell, did you make your ass and hips bigger than before? You looked better …” A smile crossed Angel‟s lips. “I know, I look fat. Lets say I‟m playing my age..”

“Don‟t be silly! You‟re hardly fat looking. That waiter didn‟t think so, and neither did any guy in the mall. And that crossed bodice black number you tried on was sexy as hell.” “It was cute, wasn‟t it?” Angel asked, a happy, carefree look lighting up his face. Faye was slightly stunned, not thinking it was possible. “So we‟ve been shopping, and you even had us both measured in every dimension at the first store, do we go back and pick them up?” Taking his PDA-phone combo out of his shoulder bag, Angel taped keys for a few seconds and then leaned over to Faye. A picture of her modeling the red dress popped up on the small screen. “Your second choice, Faye?” “Let me see the floral one……oh…..and the slit skirt with the lavender blouse….damn….give me a minute….” “I thought so…I ordered both. Marty should have them later.” “Marty? Who‟s Marty?” “You‟ll see. He‟s a friend, quite a character. The both attended to their food for a moment, feeling a pleasant silence. Faye looked up, and found Angel‟s eyes. Normally, they were hard to take, but somehow, today, she saw a softness , a comfort instead, just a flash. “Angel, do you like dressing as a … acting…I mean playing a part… oh shit I can‟t find the words. I‟m sorry.” A mischievous grin formed on his face. “Do I like being a girl? Quick answer, at times yes. Other times it‟s a pain in the ass, especially when you‟re stuck in heels, or your hair just won‟t cooperate or guys pinch your ass and you can‟t shoot them.” “You sound like every girl I know. Long answer?” He lost the grin. “Faye, frankly, after times like the last forty eight hours, it‟s a release, a freeing of my emotions. I‟m happier now than holding up the male me after an op. Shopping with you has been more fun than I‟ve had in a long time.” “Me too. The Air Force hasn‟t exactly been a day at the spa, it‟s still a boys club. I had a blast.”

“Can I tell you a secret?...don‟t answer that, it‟s stupid. Of course I can, after what you‟ve seen. One of the reasons I added the extra pads was I thought I might have to borrow some of Carolyn‟s clothes for the next op….” Faye smirked and suppressed a giggle. “I‟ll never tell.” “You better not, she pays for your salary…and it is nice to play my age for a change.” “Yes, but you can peel those hips off, it‟s not fair…” “I don‟t see any problem with yours.” “You keep buying me lunches like this and I‟ll blow up like a sow.” Angel laughed as he fed a piece of prawn to Faye. “Ohhh, those are sooo good!......Angel , I‟m sorry, but I just keep feeling like you‟re… I mean I feel comfortable with you in this…oh hell, Boss, you‟re like a …..” Faye stumbled, her exasperation rising. Angel raised his water glass. “Girlfriends?” Faye smiled and matched his offer with a clink of her own goblet. “Girlfriends! Right.” “Lately, there have been days when I wish it was harder to pass. Carolyn is my love, and she‟s great, but sometimes….well, for the last few weeks she asked me to „help‟ her old college friend. Turns out she‟s a gold plated bitch, and I‟ve been playing her girl maid and servant. And then she set me up with that movie star….” “I‟ve been meaning to ask you about that. She set you up? Are you sure, „cause, girlfriend, you can get a guy hot without help.” “I can‟t prove it yet, but I‟m pretty sure. She‟s got some game going.” “Well, I feel sorry for them, amateurs. They‟re outmatched, Boss. By the way, is he a good kisser? I‟ve seen all his movies…” Angel rolled his eyes. “Yes, he‟s a good kisser. Damn, I‟m never going to live that down. And now I have to get through a screen test with the jerk.” Faye giggled. “No, you‟re going to have that one around your neck forever, I think. And a screen test? You‟re gonna be a „Stone Girl?‟? Oh that‟s comical!” Faye tried and failed to suppress her chortled laughter.

“I get to deal with this stuff tomorrow. I‟m glad it‟s so funny.” “Angel, I‟m sorry, but it is funny. And I told you you were hot! You must enjoy looking good?” “Sure. Yes, there are days when I wake up and just get into it. And there are days when I just slob around in a sweatsuit.” “Again, you sound like every girl I know.” “Okay Faye. You‟re turn. What happened to Sofiya? When did Faye take over?” Faye blinked and chewed a piece of chicken. “Sofiya is still there when I visit Momma and Father, you know how you get when you go home…Faye arrived when I went to the academy at Colorado Springs, I suppose, or she began to come alive. Sofiya was too scared to even accept a prom date.” Angel looked wistful, sad. “Ah yes. My foster parents always could bring out the kid in me. I‟d like to meet Sofiya someday.” “She‟s a ghost, a memory.” “She sounds endearing, and I‟ll bet she‟s still here in many ways.” Faye smiled and fed Angel a piece of chicken. “I think we better powder our noses before Marty picks us up. We may be riding around for a while. I told Spike to be ready to get us when we‟re done. You ready?” “Lead on, girlfriend.”

Cadillac Crusing , Scottsdale Arizona , 2 PM July 14, Current Year “Oy! Bubbula! I called all over! Pictures from a phone! Who would‟ve thunk it? You look so good! I feel shpilkes , me, old fart Marty Davidowicz, driving around with two such sexy shikses. Angel, Faye, two lovely lovely girls! “ Faye was amused as Marty lived up to Angel‟s billing. He had told her as they waited outside for the huge maroon 1976 Cadillac “Marty is old school garment district from New York. He tried to retire down here and went crazy when he outlived everybody. His motto is “Wholesale? That‟s too high!”. Just let him ramble, buy him coffee, and we‟ll get what we need. And if you feel you ass being pinched, smile. Okay?”

Marty was short, bald and smoked an immense cigar as he wheeled the battle cruiser sized car around the streets of Scottsdale at an average speed of twenty five miles an hour. Despite the heat, he wore a white long sleeve dress shirt and a black narrow tie, with a gold tie clip resembling a dancer‟s leg. The eight track tape player looped a well used Sinatra tape, which elicited the occasional mismatched duet with Frank and Marty on the chorus of “Fly Me To The Moon”. Faye and Angel sat in cavernous back seat, windows open despite the heat to avoid full saturation of cigar fumes. “Angel, if you gave me more time, I have a factory in Nogales, top notch. We could make those dresses, custom to your fit, in three days.! Good work, too, not shmates, trust me! No, you, like that Sol, always in a rush! You‟ll pay too much, but I found them, we make a few stops, you girls come along, maybe show some wiggle, just a little, let Marty make the deal with the warehouse man, and you‟ll have them! You‟ll buy me coffee now?” “Yes Marty, and some pie too.” Angel laughed. Faye grinned. It was hard not to like Marty. An hour later, after watching Marty flirt with a seventy year old waitress in a diner, and then following him across three loading docks at different locations, they had their dresses secure in bags from a well known department store. Angel gave Marty cash which told Faye they were buying the goods at about one quarter of retail. “Angel, you want I should drive you somewhere else? This is not that good a part of town, sometimes.” Marty said as they took their bags out of the cave like trunk. “Marty, our ride will be here in a half an hour, it‟s broad daylight, and there‟s a restaurant over there. We‟ll be fine. You make your rounds, and thanks so much for the help.” Angel leaned over and kissed Marty‟s bald head. Marty grinned and relit his cigar, waving as he sped off at a blistering twenty MPH. “He‟s a cute old guy, but my ass will be sore for days. His grip is like steel.” Faye said as they trudged over to the single level restaurant, bags of clothes and shoes in their hands. “That‟s Marty. My extra padding was worth it today.” West Side Story, Western Style- South Phoenix, Arizona 4PM July 14, Current Year The heat was bearable inside Manuela‟s, the air conditioning kept at 80 but ceiling fans moved the air. The place was empty except for a group of five women, all heavily made

up and dressed to attract business. The bartender was tough, hawk faced and beady eyed, her hair back in a severe bun. Where Scottsdale was a town of immense wealth, opulent resorts and winter homes of the well to do, it seamlessly blended into Phoenix, a sprawling town with a strong blend of white and blue collar, differing ethnicities and many newcomers. Manuela‟s sat on a seam in the social fabric. “I hope Spike can find this place, I‟m ready for a quick swim at the hotel pool before we fly out tonight.” Faye said as she sipped her bottled water. Angel closed his eyes and held still, picking up the muttering across the room. “It sounds like we‟re less than welcome here, Faye. The ladies over there seem to be concerned with our presence.” “Ah….well, I think they‟re afraid we might give away for free what they have set a price for…” Faye said , looking over at the table but careful not to lock on or stare. “Yes, nothing more unwelcome than some competition. Oh well. A swim sounds good to me too.” “How do you do a swimsuit? Do they hold up in water?” Faye asked, her hand gesture indicating Angel‟s breasts. “You should meet the man who does these, he‟s a magician. The only thing I have to avoid is a sauna, which Marty‟s car was approximating. I was beginning to get worried I‟d have a „wardrobe failure‟ there. Swimming is fine, the seams don‟t show.” “You seem to know a lot of interesting people, Angel.” Angel laughed. “One of my hobbies. What did you folks think of Johnnie?” “I‟d love to know the story. She‟s so sad. And amazing. Overwhelming.” “Johnnie is special, Faye. I hurt inside every time I see her, what happened to her shouldn‟t ever happen.” “You save the ones you can, girlfriend. That‟s what they taught me. And you know it too.” Faye gently grasped Angel‟s hand in hers, adding touch to her words. Angel nodded, his lush hair moving with a shiny glow, still holding the waves from his last set, despite the assault of the heat. “I‟m going to find the ladies room, be right back.” Faye said, rising.

“Fine. I‟ll watch for Spike.” Crossing the darkened bar area to the restrooms, Faye caught a warning glance from the bartender, one of those signals which set her nerves on alert. It was a quick movement, and the woman turned to washing the bar with her rag. The bathroom was reasonably clean and Faye went into the single empty stall, listening carefully as she wiped the toilet seat with paper from the roll, checked the sliding lock, unfastened her pants and sat to relieve herself. As she finished, the door flew open and she heard two women enter, chattering in mixed Spanish and English. She recognized the five inch heel open toed shoes as belonging to the tallest one from the restaurant, the one with the elaborate updo, held together with silver combs. The one who had been muttering the loudest. “These white bitches, they think they can go anywhere…” “Their men come down here for what they want…” Nasty laughter broke out. Faye decided her position was tough to defend, time to improve the ground. She quickly fastened her pants and kicked the flush lever with her right foot. Exiting the stall, the tall woman blocked her way. “Where are you going, puta? You alzado bitch!” “Get out of my way.” Faye said, her eyes narrowing, feeling the situation in the room, the placement of bodies, objects. “You going to make me, you skinny bitch?” “Leave her alone, Consuela.” Her companion said, tugging on her larger friend. “Her? She‟s no problem…” Faye began to move forward, brushing against Consuela, who made a wild grab at Faye‟s head. A shift, block and grip on Consuela‟s outstretched arm, a twist and the woman was spun around and bent over the toilet bowl, as Faye dunked her hair into the water. Consuela‟s scream was blood curdling as her black wet hair streamed around her , in total disarray, her coiffure half collapsed, her blouse soaking wet in rivulets. Faye released her and stared at the other woman who retreated to the sink. Faye washed her hands while the wet woman began moaning and moved purposefully with no indication of panic out of the bathroom.

“Do I need to get my piece out, Faye?” Angel asked, calmly sipping his Dos Equis as Faye sat down. The other women were talking excitedly and Consuela was moaning and crying, distraught while they tried to restrain her, while avoiding getting soaked as she whipped her hair about like a wet dog. “I don‟t know, she ambushed me in there. I didn‟t hurt her.” “Other than her pride.” Consuela was sitting with a blanket over her, her eyes burning holes in Faye from across the room. The other women began moving closer to Angel and Faye‟s table, and the whole place had gone eerily silent. “Oh shit. Sorry Boss.” Faye said. Angel could sense her getting ready to spring. Most of the time, things happen at the wrong time, but every once in a while things happen as if written by a lazy screenwriter. Spike chose that moment to walk through the door just as Angel and Faye were circling their shopping bags. Angel saw his opening to defuse things and took it. He lit up with a huge smile and walked up to Spike with his best hip sway. Grabbing Spike by the butt cheeks Angel pushed his breasts into the pilot and rubbed against him provocatively, moving to nibble Spike‟s ear while throwing his arms around his neck. “Spike! Darling! You finally came! We‟ve been waiting!” Angel squealed happily. “Spike, kiss me, really really good, like you‟re going to get the best blowjob of your life when we get home, or we may have to shoot our way out of here!” Angel whispered as his tongue licked at Spike‟s earlobe. Training took over, Spike followed an order without hesitation. He wrapped his arms around Angel and prepared to kiss him. Angel‟s current appearance helped immensely but he hesitated as what he was about to do hit him. Angel saw it and whispered. “Dammit, kiss me! I don‟t want to have to pull your pants down and go to work there…” Oh shit, do it. You just got an order Spike…Spike pulled Angel in and planted a long soulful kiss on his boss. Angel went limp and let Spike take him in his arms, adding to the show. Faye, picking up the cue, grabbed the shopping bags and opened the door, seeing Jet waiting by the rented SUV. She began tossing them and pulled Spike out the door. The women in the bar were stopped cold, silently watching a woman and her lover being passionate. Even Consuela was transfixed. The bartender grinned.

Angel regained his footing and waved to the crowd as he was pulled through the door by Faye.

Spike was last in the SUV in the passenger side, Jet driving, Angel and Faye in the back, laughing hard. Jet looked at him and was about to say something. Spike glared at him. “Not a fucking word, Jet. Not a word.” Jet grinned and nodded as they made their way back to the hotel. Angel leaned over the seat. “Spike, I‟m sorry about that, but it was the easiest way to get out of there. A man changes the dynamics of a cat fight, and you arrived at the nick of time. Thanks for being a good sport.” Spike nodded, and grinned, seeing the humor in the situation. “Boss, I want to know, was he as good as Trace Lavin?” Faye giggled. “Spike is better than Trace, Faye.” Angel smiled. Faye looked at Angel, wondering if he said that to make Spike feel better, or it was true.

Chapter 19 Homecoming- Beach House, Malibu, California, 10PM, July 14, Current Year The house was dimly lit as Angel walked in from the garage door, the gaggle of photographers seemingly gone elsewhere for a scandal. Carolyn waited, sitting with her legs crossed on the couch, wearing a diaphanous negligee, her amply curved upper thigh peeking out from the gauzy garment. “Arlene is stuck in Canada, we‟re alone now, Angel.” She said, getting up and embracing her husband, snuggling her breasts against his as she kissed him slowly, holding his head with both her hands and lifting it to meet her lips. “And I called Jamie at the Ops Center. I told him you are off duty for the night. You didn‟t tell me he was a redhead now, he‟s darling that way.” Carolyn continued, leading Angel by the hand to the master bathroom. Angel felt the wear of the last few days, and the last few weeks with Arlene making domestic life a torture weigh down on him. Carolyn saw it in his face, the pattern of lines around his eyes becoming more pronounced, despite his cosmetics. “Sounds wonderful, hon. Any plans?” “You‟ll see. Stop fighting me, help me get these pants off you….there. Oh yes, …I like that reaction….” Carolyn ran her hand over the bulging front of his panties while she undid his bra. “Do you need to remove these tonight?” she asked, referring to his pads and breast prostheses. “Probably should…I need to go to your movie set tomorrow, should reapply them tomorrow…” “Then go do that while I get the bath ready, and our snack…” Twenty minutes later, Angel was soaking in warm foam while water jets massaged his tired body. Carolyn fed him a piece of seared ahi , yellowfin tuna, covered with wasabi and ginger while he fondled her floating breasts. “I feel I‟ve been neglecting you, Angel, tonight I get to pamper you...just lay back….” Carolyn‟s hands found his erect penis under the water and slowly moved down the length. Angel closed his eyes and began breathing faster. She moved to straddle him as he lay back on the vinyl padded reclined couch in the whirlpool bath, allowing him to easily penetrate her in the warm water, slowly, deliberately and with passion. He grasped her buttocks and pulled her to him, the suddenness damped by the floating sensation of their bodies meeting under the foam.

“Oh , Angel….I missed you…” Carolyn moaned as they finished. After their embrace began to stiffen muscles, Carolyn stretched, and arched her back, stretching over him, water dripping from her body. “Now there‟s the best view I‟ve seen in a while.” Angel said, running a finger from her cleavage to her vagina. “Time to scrub you up, that solvent remover always reddens your skin, dear. And then you need that lovely hair washed.” “How can I argue with that?” After a session in the double massage shower with a soft wash cloth and skin cleansers, followed by moisturizers, Carolyn felt the silky smoothness of he husband‟s skin, running her hands over his hairless chest. Her touch brought out the inevitable response, and she giggled as Angel pulled her onto a waterproof futon in the huge master bath. She felt him enter her and she began rapid breathing almost immediately as he moved with strong yet sensuous strokes. She cried out at the pleasure of the cascading orgasm and felt his release. “I missed you too, Carolyn….” Their cuddle lasted another ten minutes, and then, by force of will, Carolyn forced herself up and retrieved a plate of appetizers. Feeding her lover with her fingers turned into a playful exercise in licking and kissing after chewing the morsels of ahi, boiled shrimp and cheeses. “Come on, lover, I said I‟d do your hair. Come to the sink.” She pulled the grinning Angel off the futon and he settled into the chair by the shampoo sink. He lifted his long brown hair up and settled his neck on the padded collar piece, letting the strands fall into the deep basin. Carolyn kissed Angel while they waited for the water stream to get warm, and she squealed as Angel licked her nipples as she rose up and they passed in front of his face. “Now this time I mean it, just relax, I know you love this.” “You would too if you grew yours out some, hon.” “You didn‟t notice?” “Of course I did, you missed your last trim. You going long or just teasing me?”

“We‟ll see. Now lets work this shampoo in……we want it nice and full…” Carolyn worked in the soapy, soft gel, massaging his scalp and kneading the masses of soft strands. Rinse, repeat. The sensation was peaceful, relaxing beyond words. Angel produced a sound indicating contentment as Carolyn worked in the conditioner. “hmmmmmmmmmmmmmm” “Now let‟s let that work for a while.” Carolyn said in a whisper in his ear. Angel continued to hum, feeling that supremely loose state that occurs just before sleep, when Carolyn‟s tongue touched the tip of her target. Taking it in, she moved rhythmically up and down as blood rushed and his eyes rolled back in his head. Sleep receded, content with it‟s replacement in attention. He let go all restraints and Carolyn felt the anticipated surge. When she finished, her wide smile showed she was unquestionably pleased with herself. “I love my man…..” “I love you.” Angel replied, in a whisper. “Let‟s get that conditioner rinsed out, baby. Then you want rollers or blow dry?” “Rollers I think. Got that screen test thing tomorrow.” “Oooh, yes, my little Stone Girl, you‟ll be so hot…” Carolyn squealed as Angel swatted her rear. “Ok, you can help me glue on my „Stone Girls‟ afterward. Think of the damage to poor Trace‟s ego if he knew ….” Carolyn laughed conspiratorially. “It would be a movie plot all in itself…very funny.” “True, but lets get the idiot through this one.” “You can do it, honey. Just do this damn thing and maybe he‟ll lose interest, hopefully he‟s thinking ahead to who he‟ll screw on location.”

Later, when the lights were down, the couple lay in their bed. Not quite asleep, they were resting, touching each other gently, just for the joy of feeling each other. Angel, laying on a pillow which supported his neck, was in rollers and his blue peignoir, his breasts softly

held in the cups. Carolyn chose her black silk negligee, which felt wonderful to his palm resting on her hip. “Angel?” “Yes?” “Did it go all right?” “We saved the boy, yes.” “Was anyone hurt?” “Our guy who was bait was worked over pretty well, but nothing permanent. Physically at least.” “Did you have to…” “Yes, I did.” “Oh.” Carolyn rolled over and held his face with her hands. She leaned over and kissed him. “Carolyn?” “Yes?” “Can we just talk a bit?” “Of course, baby.” “I‟ve got some things….about Arlene…..some concerns” “I‟m listening.” That’s Entertainment! - Studio Lot, Burbank, California, 10AM, July 15, Current Year The blue cloud of smoke from the chain of Winstons seemed perpetually to follow Madge‟s movements. Angel sat in the makeup chair while the wrinkled woman coughed and wheezed as she attended to his face. “Friggin Nazis, can‟t even smoke in my own place of business! Ah, the world‟s going to hell in a handbasket! Sit still, sweetie, those eyes are great, but we have to cover those

lines…you sure aren‟t a spring chicken, are you?...Good for you, honey, we older girls deserve it….your the one Trace has his eye on, eh?” Angel got a pained look on his face, trying not to move while Madge was so close to his eyeball with pointed objects. “You‟re Angel, right? I recognized those boobies…Mitzi told me about you when he sold me the franchise…don‟t worry, the seams aren‟t showing, I‟m in the trade….” “You know who I am?” Madge let her wrinkles form into what passed as a grin. “When the rumors started about the bet, I checked you out, and knowing Mitzi, I‟ve got sources here no one else does. And don‟t worry, aside from it being funnier than hell, I haven‟t told anyone Trace is in for a surprise if he ever won…” “So there‟s a bet? About me?” “Yeah, that friggin producer bitch Arlene is behind it. She got the stunt guys to egg on Trace to have you „suck him dry‟, telling him he was a fag, he couldn‟t get even the girl next door…you know, guy shit. Well, it‟s now a contest, and half the people on the movie crew are in a pool.” “So where are you betting?” A cackle rose from Madge‟s throat, followed by a coughing fit. “Hah, after talking to Mitzi, I‟m taking most of the money on the „Pass‟ line. I‟ve got great odds.” “Why would Arlene risk Trace losing? Or getting caught up with me? The publicity could ruin him and the movie?” “Damned if I know. She‟s doing a lot of strange crap. I‟ve been in this business for forty years and I‟ve never seen a producer do some of the stuff she does…almost as if she wants the thing to fail before we roll any film…” “Talk to me, Madge. I can make this interesting for you.” Angel decided his background investigation of Arlene Ferlenghetti was far from over. “Oh, I know you can, sweetie.” Madge‟s eyes twinkled.

I’m Ready For My Closeup, Mr. Demille- Studio Lot, Burbank, California, 11AM, July 15, Current Year

The luxury suite overlooked the French Riviera, brightly lit in the evening, the Mediterranean glistening with a brilliant moon. The white satin sheets shone on the king size bed, invitingly turned down. Angel took a step forward, toward the window, his leg revealed by the long slit in the silver gown. Damn, I can barely breathe and these heels are killers…. “Dammit! Where the hell is Trace?” broke the silence. Angel turned and saw the myriad of lights, cameras, technicians and various support people. The second unit director, Gina Trillia was stomping her foot and waving her arms in excited furor. “Honey, he‟s not here, can you stick around for a minute? We want to try something.” Gina said to him. Angel nodded and began to walk the off the set, looking for someplace he could get off his feet. The five inch spike heels were wonderful for moving his hips but managed to cause numbness and pain simultaneously. Madge came up and threw an arm around his shoulder, guiding him to a small lounge off the cavernous sound stage. “Madge, this waist cincher is breaking my ribs…” Angel said through clenched teeth. “Oh sweetie, that gown looks fabulous! If you get the part, they‟ll have one that‟s fitted.” Madge leaned over and whispered, low enough so no one else heard above the racket of the set. “And for a guy , you have a really nice shape. Now let me touch you up. Sit still.” Aching calves relaxed as Angel found a canvas back folding chair. Someone handed him a cup of warm tea, which felt good as he sipped cautiously. The argument , or rather single person rant was loud enough to overhear. Gina Trillia‟s Brooklyn accent carried well when excitement brought it out of dormancy. “Fuckin‟ Marley! Where in his large asshole did he find this idea? A single, no cutaway shot of a Stone Girl, close in, running under gunfire in a gown and heels! No stunt double, no pull back! If I didn‟t need this gig, I‟d tell him to screw himself….Oh well, let‟s try the girl he picked and see…let‟s see if a jiggle queen can do Rambo” Her staff scurried rapidly about, simulating activity, avoiding her gaze. The diminutive Gina Trillia, her pixie cut blonde hair flying back in wisps strode forward, her black boots clicking on the floor, her black silk blouse matching her black slacks, offset by a floral scarf tied loosely around her neck.

“Miss..Angel, is it? Look, Trace is delayed, he‟s probably hungover in his dressing room, and this was supposed to be a courtesy run. Frankly, I don‟t know why we‟re doing this, you‟re all wrong for the part. But I need to work out a scene, it‟s an action thing, and that gown is in it. Can you give it a try? There‟s no dialogue.” Angel looked up at her. “You want me in an action scene? Wearing this?” “That‟s my point! I think it‟s crazy, but that idiot Marley thinks it‟s a good idea. So give it a try, and lets see how crazy it is?” “Sure, why not? Whatever I can do to help.” Angel got reluctantly back on his heels and followed the director and her entourage to the next soundstage. Despite his desire to have nothing to do with the whole enterprise, her comment about his „being wrong for the part‟ rankled him. The next set looked like a maze of catwalks and industrial equipment, lots of large moving levers and metal parts on overhead conveyors. “Now this scene is the one that‟s tough. Fred here will stand in as Drake Stone and you‟re Stone Girl Number Three. You‟re stuck in this factory and the guys on the catwalks are firing at you. Drake throws you a gun and you have to run across the floor, dodging fire while explosions occur all around you. The problem is we need the actress in close on the whole shot, so we can‟t use a stunt woman. Marley wants the audience to see you jiggle. Are you afraid of loud noises or guns, dearie?” Trillia rattled off, her New York accent thickening as she went. “Only when they‟re aimed at me. You want me to run over there? Do I shoot back?” Angel flipped his hair back with a head wave and examined his nails. “Honey, I just want to see how dumb this is. We‟re shooting videotape just to play with the scene blocking. The guys will be firing blanks, just noisemakers, sure go ahead, play with it. Talk to Elrod, he‟s the Stunt Coordinator, he‟ll fill you in.” Built like a barrel, Elrod was intimidating even at five seven, where he and Angel looked eye to eye. He walked them through the set, showing the layout. “Now watch here, honey. In the real scene, these will be impressive and loud. Today, we just want to give you an idea there‟s a boom boom going off, so we have a speaker and a smoke puff. The sound is recorded, and the puff is harmless. Fred! Number seven!” Angel jumped when the sound of a huge explosion and smoke cloud went off three feet from his side. “That‟s it honey! There‟s a bunch of these on your route, there, there, there, there…well, you get the idea. Now the guys up on the catwalk will be firing at you, we‟re using ammo just like noisemakers, it can‟t hurt you. Jim! Shoot at her!”

Angel cringed as he heard an AK-47 rip off a burst, thankfully accompanied by no impacts. “Now, the noise is just to give you a clue, beats going BANG BANG. The real scene, we have stuff that makes it look like bullet impacts around you, but we‟ll do without that today. You signed a release, right?” Angel nodded. “Good, now you need to carry a gun. Ralph! Where‟s her gun?” A large sandy haired man in a tee shirt and jeans with a multi-pocketed vest stepped up, carrying a nasty looking weapon. “Uh,..er…Angel? I‟m Ralph. This is the gun they‟ll throw you, see if you can handle it.” Ralph spoke softly, and never took his eyes off Angel‟s expansive cleavage. “HK MP5? Chambered for the 10mm round, twin transparent mags?” Angel carefully took the weapon, sliding the stock in. “Yes Ma‟am! And this one‟ll go full auto! You know this one?” Ralph looked up from his mammary focus, clearly impressed. “Oh, I read about it the last time I had my hair done.” Angel handed it back, and flashed a wide smile at Ralph. Elrod looked amused, and a smile crossed his face. “Anything you want to know, baby?” “Yes. Can you put a body there, over by the first piece of machinery, and make sure it has a decent knife on it?” Squinting at the set, Elrod laughed. “Damn, I bet I can guess. Ok, lady. You sure you never did stunt work?” “Oh no, that sounds so dangerous.” Angel cooed, pitching his voice just a tiny bit higher. “Fred! Dammit Fred! Pay attention and stop jerking off up there!. Get a dummy into a bad guy uniform , and put a K-Bar on the belt!” Fred waved and went off. Within five minutes, they were ready. “Ok, let‟s see how this might work, people! Places!” came the shout from behind the lights.

Fred grinned at Angel, taking in the long brown hair, still flowing in curls around large breasts barely contained by the cups of the gown, the waist flowing down into curves that the silver fabric clung to like paint. “Okay, I can just hand this to you, sweetheart, it‟s just a run through.” He said, holding up the weapon. “No, Fred, let‟s do it right. Toss it about here so the barrel is pointing away from me.” Angel indicated a point in the air with his silver coated nail. At the word “ACTION” the popping of blanks began. Fred tossed the HK, Angel made a one handed grab, his finger landing right inside the trigger guard. He readied the weapon and squeezed off a short burst of automatic fire at the catwalk, running six feet and rolling down behind a machine as a smoke puff went off, coupled with a loud boom. Grabbing the K-Bar knife from the mannequin‟s belt, he reached down and sliced the straps of his heels, sliding them off his aching feet while popping off single rounds. The waist cincher restricted his movements, requiring extra force to bend and stretch. Another explosion rocked him, but he took advantage of it and ran to the catwalk, leaping from the run and grabbing the rail with one hand, swinging himself up while firing with his other hand. Damn, almost missed that, can barely twist in this thing… After raking the latticework with a few bursts, he flashed a full toothed smile and stuck his stocking clad leg out of the slit in the skirt of his gown, amazingly unrumpled after his exertions, hand on his hip, head held so that his hair fell down his shoulders and back, breasts thrust out, cradling the submachine gun in his other hand. “Cut! Holy shit girl! Oh my God! Holy shit! What….no….where…no…who …Damn it that was great!” Gina sputtered. “Am I done now? Can I go home?” Angel asked sweetly. “Done! What the hell, done? You‟re a Stone Girl, no THE Stone Girl! Damn it! Who‟s your agent?” Gina babbled, waving at her assistants. “No, you were right, I am all wrong for the part.” he said coyly, enjoying Gina‟s discomfiture. “Whoever said that is fired! You‟re perfect!” Gina shouted. Angel heard a loud, slow clapping, a single person, who walked over to him. Trace Lavin, still handsome despite the bloodshot eyes. “Bravo! Bravo! I knew you were gonna be great! Now Arlene has to sign you up! We go on location in two weeks!” Trace said, moving his arm around Angel‟s waist.

Angel twisted enough to break free without it seeming violent, handing the weapon to Trace, assuming it would occupy his hands. “Ok, we‟re even. I did the test. Now I need to get back to my life.” Angel said, knowing it fell on deaf ears. “You owe me a love scene, darlin‟” “Well, next time, show up! I must be going now, and I have to get out of this.” “I can help with that. Dinner, my place? Tonight?” “Oh, I have a commitment.” “Then Friday! Don‟t say no, it‟s a date!” “Well see.” Angel added, hoping he‟d be out of town by then. Madge thankfully came up and took Angel in tow to the wardrobe room. “Come on, dearie, let‟s let you breathe….” Madge rasped out as Trace kissed Angel‟s hand and bowed. “Madge, I have a favor to ask you….” Angel said quietly, when they were out of earshot.

Late Lunch- Coffee Shop, Venice Beach, California, 2PM, July 15, Current Year

Breathing is frequently under-rated as a source of joy, Angel mused as he drove through the streets of Venice Beach, feeling much relieved to be out of the silver gown and especially the waist cincher. Pulling past narrow homes, with well maintained tiny front yards, neat warehouse spaces and small restaurants, he pulled the Jaguar XK8 into the visitors lot outside the white building. LORD RANDOLF THOMAS CENTER read the small sign. Angel locked the car with the remote and dropped the keychain into his purse. Checking his hair in the reflection off the driver‟s side window, he softly touched the curls flowing down his silk blouse. He wondered if the skirt was too short for the third time and decided he looked good. The blue sky was almost overpowering as he soaked in the July afternoon sunshine. A boy and a girl, laughing happily, ran past him, the boy holding a water balloon and the girl a water pistol. They looked to be twelve, maybe thirteen. The boy threw and missed,

the purple grenade splashing harmlessly on the front door of the center. The girl turned and fired, soaking the boy‟s shirt, bringing on more squeals of youthful joy. Turning, the boy froze as he saw Angel, who stood there smiling at the display. “Oh, sorry….oh my God… you‟re ….you‟re ….him….her…sorry” he stammered. The girl stopped firing and stood next to the boy, looking up at Angel‟s face. “I‟m Angel, and you are?” “B b b billy! And this is June!” Angel shook their hands, gently. He knew all the case histories, it was his obsession. Two children, given away by their mother for drugs, being prepared for a life of prostitution and slavery. June still would not talk. “I‟m so sorry, kids, but I have to meet Miss T. Is she inside or has she left for the Coffee Bar?” “She‟s waiting at her regular table, Angel. Will you come back soon?” Billy asked, holding June‟s hand. “Yes, I will. As soon as I can. Say hello to all the others in the center, will you? Tell them I miss them.” Angel hugged the two children, and waved as he turned and walked across the street. The sight of June, waving back made his eyes moisten and his throat get tight. We save the ones we can….

The Coffee Bar was , like everything else in the neighborhood, eclectic. In midafternoon, on a summer‟s day, it had a collection of customers showing the neighborhood social cross section. Angel heard at least four languages and a variety of slang. He received a number of appreciative scans as he entered, the bells on the door clanging, some from a few young men, some from their dates, and a few from the ancient chess players in the corner. The smile from the tiny platinum blonde in the pink sleeveless blouse and white skirt was dazzling. Her Ladyship Maria Teresa Tomasina Windsor-Hockney , who insisted everyone call her Tess or Miss T in her professional capacity as a wedding planner rose to greet him. Everyone except Angel. To him, she would always be “Tommie”, the one who had shared his own captivity, when they were both young boys. The two best friends said everything without words, as they hugged each other close. Miss T waved at Cassie, the barista, who carried over two steaming mugs.

“You look tired, „Gel. I can see it. You‟re pushing yourself too hard again.” She said, holding her cappuccino with her small, perfectly manicured hands. His iced coffee was refreshingly strong, black, no sugar. “You‟re right as always, Tommie. I need you to help me think through some things…..” “Oh my God, you are in trouble! Telling a girl she‟s right is such a guy thing, not before you‟ve told me how I look….” Miss T grasped Angel‟s hand. Angel grinned. “You caught me, Tommie. You look fabulous, as always. Forgive me?” “Ooooh you. Of course. As if I could get mad at you of all people! Ok, dish, girlfriend. What deep scandalous stuff are you caught up in now, now that you‟re the kissing bimbo? By the way, how is kissing Trace? Like you imagine in the movies?” A lengthy sigh, accompanied by an eye roll. “He wasn‟t as good as you, Tommie, but he is good. Ok, the story. It all began when Carolyn got caught in a movie investment her Dad made, and she brought in an old friend….” Angel relayed the tale of Arlene, the movie, Trace Lavin, the bet and Carolyn‟s need for it all to work out. Miss T nodded, sipping her cappuccino the whole time. She frowned slightly and her brow furrowed. “You‟re not telling me everything, lover. You‟re a born snoop when you‟re pissed off. What did you find out about Arlene?” “You know me too well. Ok, I ran her phone calls. She‟s been talking to a number in Monaco.” “Elise Lafey.” “How did you guess?” “No guessing, „Gel. You remember I married into royalty, despite Lord WindsorHockney becoming Lady Windsor-Hockney. Poor Hermoine, those miserable assholes in the press were so mean to her.” Miss T said with a sad, wistful tone. She continued. “Well, that means I still have lots of Eurotrash friends. It‟s no secret Elise Lafey took an interest in you after your little introduction five years ago. You were the one who got away from her, you know.” “No, I didn‟t know. Sheesh, I felt like I escaped a shark tank then.”

“Well, it‟s not like she obsessed over you or anything, but she did make some inquiries. This whole thing of making you femme full time at home, and Arlene bossing you around? It‟s just too cute.” “Ok, so it‟s a big practical joke?” “Listen up girl! The Lafeys never do anything that doesn‟t involve money. This movie failing would put Tunturo Enterprises in a bind, right?” Angel nodded. “I don‟t see all the pieces, but there is a squeeze play coming up, and the Lafeys will ride in, and grab a chunk of Carolyn‟s company with you as a bonus, or some flavor of that.” Miss T said in a conspiratorial whisper. “Ah, I see. And the film of this „bet‟ is part of that deal.” “Right. A private showing for Carolyn, to drive a wedge between you. Now how far have you gone with the lovely Trace? The truth, now…” “What you saw in the paper was it, Tommie.” “Ah, he doesn‟t know what he‟s missing then.” “And I‟d prefer he kept missing it.” “I know, you big silly. Well, I have an idea. You can help me, and I can help you. Some friends of mine could stand some of your special influence. Can we go meet them now? They are only two blocks from here.” Angel knew better than to pump Tommie for her plan. “Sure. Let‟s go. Do I need to change?” “Oh, dear, you look perfect for them. That skirt is really cute, shows your tush nicely.” “It‟s not too short?” Angel asked immediately as he stood up. “No! With your legs? Don‟t be ridiculous. Now let‟s go meet the girls.” Walking through the streets, Angel felt it come back. His past. It was just a block away, in that black building, the one that‟s a parking lot now….

Flashback- A Personal Hell- Loft, Venice Beach, California, , Twenty Three Years Prior To Current Year Expertly extracting the cigarette from the pack despite his long nails, Angel kissed it with his painted lips and inhaled as he brought it to life with the gold lighter, a gift from one of his best „boyfriends‟. Tommie was brushing Angel‟s waist length hair, fussing over it with gentle touches. The two twelve year olds waited in their room, safely locked away by their Mistress. Tommie was tiny, finely featured and doll like in his panties and training bra, his budding breasts just barely noticeable. “Do you think they‟ll hurt us again, Angel?” Tommie‟s eyes were tearing, something Angel had foresworn long ago. He turned and held the shivering young boy. “I don‟t know, Tommie. I‟ll try to draw them away from you. Maybe they just want to watch us suck each other, like yesterday.” “I hope so. That‟s better than what some of them make us do…” Tommie looked up at his protector. “Why?” was the silent word that formed on his ruby red lips. Why this had happened to them kept coming back in their minds. What had they done to deserve this? “Someday, Tommie. Someday. I promise you.” Angel said, quietly. Freedom, someday.

Three Wild And Crazy Girls, Venice Beach, California, 3PM, July 15, Current Year

The tea was strong and sweet, the samovar maintaining it at a hot yet drinkable temperature. Miss T sat like a queen, surrounded by her court. Kiki, Didi and Mimi fluttered and bounced around her like kittens in outlandish costumes. Kiki was a brunette, darker than Angel but similar in height and bearing. Didi wore his raven tresses up, taller yet, and Mimi was a statuesque blonde at five ten. It seemed they never stopped changing clothes, Angel had stopped counting after seven blouses moved between the three of them. “So, you are the famous Angel? The one we hear about?” Kiki giggled as he filled Angel‟s cup with an set of exaggerated gestures. Angel smiled. It was hard not to smile at the three boys, barely eighteen and having so much fun being alive, laughing, playing and teasing each other. Tommie had filled him in on their background.

The three boys had appeared at the center, having met some of the kids going through care there from their captivity traumas. Russian nationals, students at a gymnastics school in eastern Europe, they had been graceful young boys, self dosing themselves with a collection of hormones to enhance their girlish features. Coming to Los Angeles on a tour, they had fallen in love with America, or maybe more specifically Southern California, and had „disappeared‟. It isn‟t hard for pretty boys to make their way, if they have street smarts, few sexual inhibitions, and friends who can watch their back. Dreaming of meeting the right man, or making it in show business kept them going. A collection of steady gentlemen callers eventually set them up in the loft space Angel and Tommie sat in, drinking strong tea. Tommie extracted their story, and found them infectiously endearing. She took them under her wing, helping them get legal prescriptions for their hormone therapy, full medical physicals, and generally keeping an eye on them. “Yes, Kiki, that‟s me.” Angel replied, sipping the steaming beverage. “You are fabulous! A boy like us and so beautiful! But Miss T, Tess, she told us you could help us? We expected tough guy?” Kiki said, as seriously as he could say anything. “Kiki! Is bad thing! You don‟t say boy is girl.. girl is boy! “ Mimi broke in , a horrified look on his face, shocked at Kiki‟s breach of transgendered manners. “Yes, Kiki! That was bad! Now she will never help us! Miss Angel, we are sorry for Kiki, she is such a ….ditz!! yes, such a ditz!” Didi slapped the back of Kiki‟s head, gently enough to just send a message. Angel laughed. Maybe if Tommie and I had escaped, we would have become these kids… “Kiki, it‟s fine. Now can you tell me your problem? For Miss T, I will help if I can.” The three boys huddled , streams of Russian interspersed with English and Spanish breaking out. Kiki stuck his head up, flipping his hair back off his petite breasts and down his back, revealing a swan like neck, his adams apple noticeable. “Miss Angel. We have a problem….some of the.. some difficult people on the street think we should work for them…they think we are…prostitutkas…putas… whores…and they want us to go through them.” “Why do they think you are?” Angel asked, knowing the answer already. Three eighteen year old boys, pretty, dressing full time as girls, years of hormones making their bodies feminine, dating a series of men who financially „helped their living expenses‟, presented a threat to the street girls and boys. Freelance versus organized labor.

“Ah, those bitches on the street, with their fat asses and big mouths, and the women are as bad… they don‟t like us.” Kiki answered. Didi and Mimi nodded in synch, like backup singers. “Ok, who is bothering you, and what have they threatened?” “Fender Freddie, he‟s the one. He came at Mimi and threatened to cut her tits off if she didn‟t work for him.” Angel turned to Miss T with a quizzical look. “Oh, he‟s the front man, little weasel, who hangs out down the street. I‟m sure he works for someone else. Can you help?” Miss T asked. “Let me make some calls. You three, stay out of trouble and away from the street for the next twenty four hours, ok?” The three boys bobbled their heads and rushed up to hug and kiss Angel, draping a feather boa around him and giggling. “Fine, that‟s taken care of. Now Kiki, stand next to Angel. ….good…” Miss T compared both their hair colors and made a humming sound. “Yes, Kiki, well lighten you up a touch, and trim an inch…you‟re close in height, and we can plump up those boobies, Kiki, Angel likes his so big…yes….Kiki, show Angel your room, please.” Bemused, Angel was led to Kiki‟s bedroom and was astonished at the saturation of pictures, posters and the shrine like quality of the small place. A monument to Trace Lavin, fandom and infatuation on the border of obsession and stalking. Kiki help up the cover of the World Observer, the one where Angel was being kissed by the movie star. “It‟s you, you‟re so lucky! Is he a dream? Kiki must know!” Oh, for God‟s sake, when will this end?....Angel shook his head slightly. “He was good, Kiki. But I‟m sure it was wasted on me…” “Oh, so sad! I would love to make him cry for joy! He would beg for Kiki!” Miss T giggled. “Kiki, we may make your dream come true…”

Chapter 20- Real Estate Blues, Portland, Oregon, 8PM, July 15, Current Year

The minivan rolled smoothly down Interstate 5, the sun still casting a glow over the terrain. Faye one handed the steering wheel while stealing a glance at herself in the visor mirror. Not bad….on my first undercover operation… The red strapless dress fit her nicely, but made her feel very exposed. Well…if Angel wants me to draw the looks, this oughta do it…. “Ok, Larry, give it to me from the top again. Mitzi‟s missing? He was with Mort? And Brian and Carmen? The loft is rubble? The self destruct, not a bomb? Sean‟s OK? In New York, with Marissa, ok. Tell me more about the data problem….. yeah…..ok…..uh huh……you‟re assuming it‟s related…..right….send what you have to Johnnie, too. Sure, anything we can do…yeah….I‟m in Portland, a short op, just a few hours…ok… I‟ll call you when it‟s over….” Angel closed his phone and began checking his makeup. “Faye, something‟s come up, it‟s important we don‟t waste anytime here. This is just a quick recon, sizing up the opposition.” “Sure Boss. You look great in that black dress, by the way. Marty seems to buy well. All I do is make sure you‟re not alone with the target for more than five minutes… I got it. I wish your guys here had better taste in earrings…” “I‟ll let them know, they are kind of plain, that dress needs something more noticeable. But they do work. One twist on the right one and the cavalry arrives.” “Right.” “What‟s the tale, one more time, please?” Angel asked as he adjusted his hair. Faye sighed. Angel had drilled their cover story relentlessly. “Ok. You are Angie Morrell, thirty five, and newly divorced, and your bastard husband is screwing you on the settlement. You split up over your son, who is transgendered, or thinks he is, or he was the final straw. You are selling your house in Canterbury Hills as quickly as you can so you can leave town for a new life. I‟m your sister…” “My younger sister…: Angel interrupted. “I‟m your younger sister, Faye Barstow, who is holding your hand through this trying time. I live in Seattle, I am a flight attendant and I am single. The party is held by the realty firm, of sellers and buyers, and Brad Remacks runs it. He‟s the target, the sociopath.” “Suspected sociopath, Faye. We don‟t know, he just has a suspicious pattern. He could just be a sleazy guy who uses his position to hit on vulnerable women.”

“Well, we can‟t go around taking all of those guys out, can we, girlfriend?” “Not enough bullets, girlfriend.” Angel grinned.

Buyers And Cellars, Remacks Estate, Portland, Oregon, 9PM, July 15, Current Year Lights broke through the darkness as the summer sun finally gave way, decorating the valley floor with a display of electrical magic. The tall buildings, the bridges gaily lit with green and red hues over the Willamette River, a dark curving line bisecting the city centered the scene, blending into suburbs and highways with pinpoint illumination indicating houses and moving cars. The deck off the swimming pool was built out on the side of the hill, providing a panoramic view of the area. The hills west of the city were the site of some fascinating homes, built in multiple layers to make the most of the vertical as well as the minimal horizontal ground available. Angel stood at the rail, glass of wine in hand, feeling the warm breeze flow around his legs. The party was a small gathering of twenty, mostly couples, all looking to buy or sell properties worth over a million dollars. Brad Remack‟s estate was an intricate series of decks, gardens and pathways, masking the four layer main building which from the street looked to be a modest, single level home, but was huge, clinging to the side of the granite rock, each layer with decks and balconies. There were several outbuildings, and the party was mostly concentrated on the pool and patio area, the roofing retracted to enjoy the warmth of the Northwest summer, ready to be put in place for the rains of the fall, winter and spring. Despite the warm day, the evening was a pleasant one, hovering in the high sixties. Angel enjoyed the climate, so nice compared to the heat of the desert. His shoulders were bare, although most of the women had sweaters either draped over them or at the ready. He watched Faye dazzling the men, clearly drawn to the svelte, leggy dark haired pilot, an eye catcher in her red dress. Four or five single guys, or at least supposedly single guys gathered around her, working their acts, attempting to impress the fair maiden with tales of corporate and legal achievement. Breathing easy, Angel enjoyed the feeling of allowing himself his normal waistline, offset by the extra padding on his hips. He felt good, relaxed, the dress comfortably hugging his curves. After the usual introductions and meaningless small talk, he had drifted away from the crowd for a moment, to take in the vista and compose his plan of action.

Brad Remacks is charming, unusually so…but then again, many salesmen are gifted at persuasion…He ran the case around in his head. The local Group had picked up on the disappearance of three effeminate boys, between the ages of 14 and 17, along with their mothers. All had left town and then vanished into thin air. Only the friends of the boys had raised an alarm, through a crossdressing chat room. The only common denominator was they all had sold their homes and vanished after they had left town, and Brad Remack‟s firm had been involved on either the buying or selling end. Then the rumors and gossip had come into play. Brad was a wealthy bachelor, and was rumored to have some „naughty‟ pastimes. Bondage parties, role play games, dominance and submission for pleasure, the stories were quiet and hushed as they were retold. Portland, while a sizeable city, was small enough that the upper middle class all knew someone who knew someone, with only a few degrees of separation. Then Sol‟s infamous list of financial dealings from Asia had uncovered a movement of funds from Remack‟s firm to a „charity‟ in Thailand. Angel had instructed the Oregon Group to construct a legend, a cover story for him, he wanted to see the suspect close up. So here I am, and the guy seems perfectly normal…maybe it‟s a coincidence…. Angel could hear Sol lecture him, years ago. “Coincidence? Arrrrgh! Save it for miracles and Sunday school, lassie boy! Never believe in coincidence! Better you take out the unlikely bastard who is a victim of „coincidence‟ then let him kill you by being what you suspect…” “Beautiful, just beautiful.” Came the words as Brad Remacks walked onto the deck, carrying a pair of champagne flutes. Angel turned, flashing a broad smile. Brad was tall, late forties craggy looking, with sandy hair cut short, and green eyes which drank in a person. “You startled me, Mr. Remacks.” “Brad…please. Isn‟t the view great from up here?” “Yes, it is beautiful….” “It‟s not the only thing beautiful here….” “You are a good salesman, Brad.” “Easy when it‟s true, Angie….if I may call you Angie?” Brad moved to hand Angel a crystal flute with golden fluid, effervescing under his nose with gentle tickles. “Thank you. You have a lovely home here….Brad” Angel sipped the champagne. “May I give you my personal tour, dear?” Brad held his arm out.

“That would be wonderful.” Angel bubbled as he took the man‟s arm. Faye managed to keep an eye on Angel and Remacks as they made their way around the grounds, while chatting up what she thought was the most smug and full of themselves collection of males she had ever encountered. She wondered how any of them could handle a high G turn, or would react to mortar rounds near their bedroom. Quivering jelly masses was her conclusion. The conversations, mostly one way monologues of the men‟s great status, also began to give Faye the impression that there was a „party within a party‟, talked about with veiled comments, carefully. “Do you like to be naughty?” Steve Rickerson asked her. He was the most vapid of the vacuous collection around her, good looking in a calculated way, the product of tanning booths, and spa care. “Ohhh, that‟s depends on who I‟m with, Stevie!” Faye smiled her best flirt smile, and pointed a finger at Steve, which gently contacted his chest and drew a line downward for several inches. Momma, forgive your Sofiya for this… Steve responded with a noticeable bulge in his slacks, and took her arm to lead her to the lowest level of the house, with the hot tub on the deck and the large glass doors. She had watched Angel and the target slip inside those doors not a minute before. “Good thing we got here, baby. I can see Brad‟s picked his prize for the night, and that means the party upstairs is over. His gal Friday, Babs will begin shooing everyone out up there now.” “I guess I‟m so lucky, Stevie! What‟s in there?” Faye pitched her best little girl squeaky voice, hoping it wasn‟t over the top. As if any woman can be „over the top‟ for a sleazebag like this…. “Playtime for the big kids, honey. Playtime. We‟ve all been very naughty and need to be dealt with.” “Has widdle Stevie been naughty naughty?” Faye asked, the child voice seeming to make Stevie almost split his crotch. Wow, talk about lack of self control…I‟m going to take a loooong shower after this….. The man got a glazed look to his eyes. He held his head down and muttered “Yes, yes I have…” Two couples were frolicking in the hot tub. Dresses, lingerie, polo shirts and socks were strewn on the deck as the four adults played a version of “Duck Duck Goose” in the

swirling water. Steve led Faye through the glass sliding doors, inside, where she saw a glimpse of Angel disappearing with Brad into a wood paneled room, the door closing behind him. Okay, the five minute clock starts now…. She examined the room, a series of alcoves with a collection of restraints, scaffolds, whips, hoods and sparse wooden chairs. Oh my God… this is twisted…what have I gotten myself into…. The glass looking out was one way. She could see the water soaked orgy in progress over the lights of the city below, but they were blind to the interior. Steve began stripping off his shirt and then kneeled in front of her. “I need to be punished…please?” “You want me to…what?” Faye was stunned, and realized she had dropped the child voice. “Punish me….I can‟t get off unless you punish me….” I need to get closer to that door…Faye thought, and hatched a plan. If I can stand doing this, it should work… “Ok, Stevie. Let‟s see…oohhh, here‟s nice leather hood…oooohh it‟s like kid gloves…let‟s try it on you…yes!...and lets set you up for what you want…” Faye put the hood over his head, making sure the air holes aligned properly. He was now blind to her actions. “My safe word is „mommy please‟, ok?” Steve said as she bound his wrists with the velvet ties and hooked him to the pulley above, lifting him higher and higher until his toes were his only contact with the ground. “Mommy hears you, bad bad boy…now tell me about how bad you have been…..” Faye inched over to the door, barely paying attention to the litany of impure thoughts and descriptions of masturbation Steve mewled through. In The Lair Of The Real Estate King, Remacks Estate, Portland, Oregon, 10PM, July 15, Current Year ”More champagne, Angie? What do you think of the place?” Brad said, filling Angel‟s half full glass as they stood in the library. That little trip through the BDSM playroom was to see if I freaked out..and now he‟s going to pitch me hard…Angel mused. He had managed to slowly spill half the glass, assuming it was laced with something, maybe that “Primal Response” that had been used

on Ted. He could taste something just off in his first sip, and had been careful to appear unconcerned, making sure Brad saw his glass slowly empty. “I think I‟ve had enough, Brad, thank you. The house is just fabulous! A dream home.” “This is my private room, where I come to read , and think. It‟s soundproofed, keeping the outside world away. I understand you have a son? Or is she a daughter?” Angel let his face cloud. “A son, you were right the first time. He‟s just fifteen, and we‟re very close…” “Do you have a picture?” Angel smiled and grabbed his purse, opening the clasp wallet and holding out the picture of Francis, the Group member posing as his son. A pretty boy, his eyebrows shaped slightly, hair long and conditioned, flowing around his shoulders sat in a classic yearbook pose. He could have been a girl , would have been clearly one with more makeup. “Your son is very nice looking, he resembles his mother a lot.” “He‟s my life now…since the ..divorce. I worry, he‟s so sensitive, so fragile…” Angel choked up, sounding on the verge of tears. “I expect he has some trouble with the other boys…” “Oh yes. It‟s been hard. Moving away is partly due to helping him start over, somewhere else….his father was horrible to him….” Brad took Angel in his arms, a show of comfort. “You know, I checked you out, Angie. I know you‟ve run an office before, and you have a real estate license…” “Yes, but it‟s been years…” “I‟m opening a branch , in a town near Las Vegas, Pahrump…funny name. Are you interested in setting up a branch office for me? I‟d need you to go right away, and bring your son…it would be like a new life. We have several houses there you can live in, temp, until you get settled.” “It sounds wonderful! But why me, Brad?” Brad‟s eyes went cold. He stepped away from Angel and looked at him like inspecting a slab of meat for his next meal. This one is elusive…not reacting like she should…worried the sociopath.

“You saw the room outside. I have certain…..tastes. If you came this far….” Angel nodded. He could feel the full power of the sociopath‟s influence wash over him like a warm wave. The tone, the facial movements, the hand gestures, the scent, it all seemed to enter his mind and pass directly to his emotional core. Like a lion mesmerizing a gazelle by the waterhole…no superpower….just stuff wired into our simplest minds and reflexes… Damn! I hadn‟t expected him to move on me… this fast…he must need the boy…right away…shit….if I bolt he‟s going to smell a rat…and Faye will try and come in in two minutes… “Brad…I‟m ….not…” “I said...I…have…certain…needs…” Remacks eyes were like drills, making Angel‟s muscles lock momentarily. Damn, I feel like a deer in the headlights…this one is frightening…. Remacks pulled a Sig Sauer 9mm automatic out from a slip case under the desk, in and held it on Angel. “Do not move. This room is soundproof, and I am going to lock the door. There is something not right about you….you are too perfect….and you resist….none resist me…hold your hands on your head and sit in that chair….now! I am an excellent shot, and disposing of you and that other one is very easy….” Angel complied, moving his hands up, twisting his right earring as he did. Brad moved back slowly to the door, never letting Angel get out of the line of fire. Faye, deciding she only needed to swat Steve‟s ass and back with the whip every thirty seconds or so, as he continued incredibly detailed descriptions of trivial and excruciatingly boring transgressions, had edged to the library door. Looking at her watch, she decided to just pop in. Still holding the whip with nine strands of leather, she figured a quick bold entrance would be the best. Opening the door strongly she managed to spin Brad around, who was facing away from her and reaching back to the doorknob while keeping the handgun pointed at Angel. “Howdy folks! Oooops. Sorry Sis!” Faye began until Angel‟s eyes lit up like beacons and she noticed the Sig Sauer in Brad‟s hand. Remacks was strong and quick, recovering and coming around on Faye.

Kogo Matsui had trained all his daughters in the art of fighting to defend themselves, and had a simple and direct philosophy. “Never Give A Sucker An Even Break” was his favorite, along with “Never piss on your opponent until you are sure he is dead.” The latter caused much tittering laughter among the Matsui girls. Whipping the punishment toy around on Brad‟s face, she caused him to defend his eyes, slowing his bringing the weapon to bear. A bending side sweep kick followed, connecting cleanly with his jaw, spinning his head around to snap his neck. Angel raced over as Faye recovered her footing. Faye checked Brad‟s body, making sure he was dead. Daddy had trained her well. It was the third man she had killed up close, but this one elicited no feeling, no remorse, no exhilaration. It felt like killing a snake. “Sorry Boss. And Shit! I broke a heel! I loved these shoes! Damn. He had a gun on you…” “Faye, if I had wanted you to keep him alive at all costs, I would have told you. You did good, and saved my life. Did you call the cavalry?” “Oh shit no! I wanted to see if you were in trouble first…” “Again, right move. Anyway, I did. Let me hold them off a bit, I think we need Plan B.” Angel grabbed his phone and speed dialed a number, giving cryptic instructions to the party on the other end.

This Never Happened, We Were Not Here, Remacks Estate, Portland, Oregon, 12AM, July 16, Current Year Spike wondered what mess awaited him this time. Jet was in the sedan ahead of the ambulance with one of the Group guys. Dirk, the guy driving the ambulance had handed him a coverall with „Medi-Ride‟ printed on the back and over the pocket, matching the one he wore. They had just been baby sitting the jet in the hangar when the call came. Snaking through the hills, no siren, they encountered almost no traffic. “All right, mate, we‟re here. Just follow my lead and don‟t talk to any fucking innocent bystanders. Capoose? As you Yanks say?” Dirk said, his Aussie accent making everything he said sound like a late night television commercial. “It‟s capise, Dirk. And yes, I got it. Angel said there were only five civilians there.” Spike retorted.

Jet and Mark Oshgiven, a local city detective got out and preceded the two phony paramedics into the house, opening doors for the stretcher and oxygen gear. The house looked small from the street, only showing the top level. The interior showed a large atrium and four levels of downward cascading staircases, leading to the lower three stories. “Damn, look at this! Four stories! Hope you guys can get that thing down four flights!” Jet said, looking at the staggered staircases at the end of the upper level. The four people in the hot tub continued their moveable version of group sex, oblivious to all the activity around them. “I sniffed my sister‟s bicycle seat…..” Steve Rickerson whined, still hooded and suspended from the ceiling. “What do you think that‟s worth, Angie?” Faye asked, throwing a ten of clubs on the pile. “Oh gee, Faye, I guess two swats……and thanks….that‟s Gin” Angel picked up the card and dropped his hand on the table. Faye groaned, got up and walked over to the whining hooded man. “Bad! Bad! Stevie!” she said in a bored monotone, lightly flaying his back with the whip. Steve‟s skin showed slight discoloration but no distress from the repeated marginal touches of the leather strands. “You need to hurt me more!” “You need to tell me something worse you did, little man. Let the punishment fit the crime.” Faye retorted. Faye returned and sat down as Angel dealt another hand. They had both searched the house quickly, Angel removing the hard drive and a pack of CDs from the office computer. The papers from the office were all bundled and ready to go, no safe or hiding place was evident. Finishing that, with Faye keeping Steve on the edge of titillation by occasional whippings when he remembered some past transgression, Angel had found a deck of cards and they waited for the cavalry. “Damned if I can figure out what a woman gets out of being a Dominatrix unless she‟s well paid.” muttered a bored Faye as she looked at her cards. “Always eluded me too, seems like a real chore.” Faye cocked her ear. “Oh, he said another one. Your turn Boss.”

Angel rolled his eyes, moved his skirt and stood up, taking the whip from Faye. “Leave those cards down till I get back…” “Hey Faye! We‟re relieved!” he called back as Spike and Dirk, sweating profusely, knuckles banged up, jammed the stretcher and gear past the orgy in the hot tub, the commotion enough to cause multiple coitus interruptus. “You called, Lady?” Dirk asked Angel as they wheeled the stretcher past the suspended Stevie and into the library. “Yes, in there! He needs help!” Angel said in a scared, high pitched voice. The hot tubbers were scattering for towels as Mark flashed his badge. “Hi Councilman! Mr. District Attorney! Funny seeing you here. No...don‟t get up, I‟m the shy type. Just a routine call and I was in the area. Heart attack…Mr.Remacks…No drugs here, right?” Oshgiven was clearly enjoying the discomfiture of the powerful politicians caught so much more than red handed. He knew Mrs. Councilman and Mrs. District Attorney were not in the tub, or even near the place. “Oh well, looks innocent to me” Oshgiven continued, to the nods of both men. Neither wanted the area to be an investigation scene, which would mean their presence would be difficult to hide. Jet flashed pictures of the scene with a digital camera. “Oh, don‟t mind him, guys, we always take photos now and just trash em. These digital cameras are great, nobody worries about wasting film. You might want to get out of here now, before the neighbors stop by…” “Good work, Oshgiven. You‟re a good man…” the DA said as he threw his pants on and ran up the stairs, the Councilman close behind. The two girls scrambled almost as quickly. Angel pointed at the suspended man, to indicate staying in role, and handed a note to Mark, indicating where the files were for removal. Spike looked at Faye and Angel, holding the riding crop, gently lashing Stevie with incredible boredom on their faces. Faye shot him a look indicating certain painful death if he opened his mouth about this anytime in the near future. Spike grinned and helped Dirk roll the body onto the stretcher, placing an oxygen mask on the corpse. Ten minutes later, Faye was starting the minivan. “I keep thinking we forgot something…” Angel murmured. “I assume I‟m not to worry about charges and stuff..” Faye asked, looking behind in the mirror.

“Oh, no, we have a doctor at an ER who will pronounce him dead from a heart attack, and there will be a fast cremation. No problem. Now wait. Let me think. We got the papers.. the hard drive…” “We closed up….wait…” Faye mumbled. The two turned and looked at each other, the same thought made vocal simultaneously. “Stevie!” “Oh shit, I‟ll let him down…back in a minute.” Faye said as she set the handbrake. “Hurry up, we need to get back to Malibu tonight.” Angel said, laughing hard.

Chapter 21- All Good Things Come To…., Ventura County, California , July 16, Current Year

We Have A Favor To Ask, Thousand Oaks, California, July 16, Current Year The playground was covered with kids, all doing what kids do when let loose on objects designed for climbing, crawling , sliding and swinging. A pleasant woman in her early forties sat on a bench , watching over her six year old girl on the slide. It was a pleasant summer morning, warm, but not excessively so, with puffy clouds in a blue sky. A very tall woman, powerfully built, wearing an expensive silk blouse and jeans, walked up and sat next to her. She looked out at he children. “She‟s really cute, Wilma.” Clementine Robertson said, with a calm tone. The woman spun around and stared at her. “Who are you?” “Oh, Wilma, frankly you‟re a prize. Soccer mom pimp. You have an MBA, you live in a nice neighborhood, and you make your living pimping gay boys out in the city.” “I don‟t know what…” Wilma sputtered. “Oh, stuff it, Wilma. I‟m not a cop. Your attack dog lawyer husband can stay in his office. Let‟s say I represent some other interests. My brother wants you to leave Kiki, Didi and Mimi in Venice Beach alone. Forever. Tell that scumbag Fender Freddie he‟ll end up as part of a fender if he ever talks to them again.” “Or what? I didn‟t get this far…and leave my child…” Clementine turned to the woman and lifted her sunglasses. At six four and two hundred twenty pounds, she was fearsome looking. “My brother is Spider Robertson. And no, we won‟t hurt your little girl…that‟s frankly insulting to me…no, we‟ll just let your neighbors in Thousand Oaks know what you do for a living. Honey….ask around. This is a favor for Spider. Don‟t piss him off. Ok , sweetie!” Wilma nodded her head, shaking slightly. “Have a nice day, Wilma.” Clementine rose and walked away into the sunshine.

Beach House, Malibu, California, July 16, Current Year

Long, slow brush strokes through silky brown hair. Waves flowing strand by strand , gently bouncing on the lace cups of his brassiere, framing the object of his scrutiny. The lighted vanity mirror displayed Angel‟s face as he smiled inside. Getting harder to mask the lines around the eyes…still not too bad for an old girl…. A curling wand applied to a section of hair, he began thinking about his color scheme for the early dinner with Trace Lavin. Plum shadow? Or maybe something a bit lighter? That floral dress should be good….not obvious, but definitely saying „I‟m interested‟…as if I need to help Trace get „interested‟…oh well, tonight he gets what he‟s been after… Angel finished up his hair and once again began modeling clothes to finally decide which outfit he would wear. Slipping a peasant blouse on over a knee length skirt, he twirled in the mirror. His expression was one of simple pleasures. The world, present, past and future receded for a moment and there was just Angel and the mirror. The floral dress won out Filmy, almost floating just above his knees, with a very revealing décolletage, he wore it without hosiery, his legs nicely tanned. A pair of four inch heels on his sandals enhanced the long legged look he had admired in Faye and was trying to emulate. Clipping on a necklace, a diamond pendant given to him by Carolyn, and the matching earrings, he smiled at the finished product in the mirror. The eyes are softer….not too bad…. lips …. nails …look good….okay, game time! The Boy Next Door, Next Beach House, Malibu, California, 5 pm July 16, Current Year “More wine, Angel?” the glow of the late afternoon California sun suffused Trace Lavin‟s face as they stood on the deck of the beach house. He looked perfect, with short dark hair tousled about, the untamed forelock edging down his tanned forehead. Pupils larger than any Angel had seen made his eyes like pools of compassion. He was tall enough at six foot, but not bulky. Lean, wiry, whipcorded muscles allowed him to stand or move with grace. “Just a little, Trace, thank you.” Angel flashed his smile, feeling charmed by his companion. I guess I could have drawn a worse man to want my ass in bed…. Angel had decided the tactic of letting Trace talk was the safest and best route to navigate the evening. Feigning interest at first, he managed to elicit the innermost deep feelings of the movie star, deep feelings Angel decided were about a millimeter below the surface.

As the wine and appetizers turned to dinner, he found Trace a likeable person, shallow, emotionally driven, but not evil, not even all that selfish. Trace kept his hands off, and was flattering but not lewd to Angel, and seemed to enjoy the company to just talk. Of course, the subject was Trace‟s favorite, the life, loves and passions of Trace Lavin. The waiters were silent and efficient, whisking in courses and removing plates without a sound or a disturbance to the conversation. “Do you like the fish? It‟s from my favorite restaurant, just down the road..” Trace smiled as Angel took a bite of the petrale sole, poached in a white wine and lemon sauce. “Yes, it‟s wonderful!” “I‟ll bet you can do better, Angel. You‟re an excellent cook.” Angel managed to blush. He appreciated that one. Dinner flowed into coffee and sunset. The waiters gone, Trace held Angel as they moved to the samba beat of the classic Stan Getz – Astrid Gilberto pairing. “You‟re a great dancer.” “I have a great partner, Trace.” “Angel? Question?” “I‟m listening.” “I know you and Carolyn Tunturo are an item. Are you only into girls?” “Well, it‟s been my nature..” “I find you very attractive….you‟re different…so independent…so feminine…so…and that screen test! Oh my God! You were so good!” “Trace…your hand is on my ass….” “I don‟t see you moving it. Want to try the other side? It‟s just us here…” Damn, ok just when I was feeling sorry for the bastard, he lies to me…‟just us here‟ bullshit! “Trace…I don‟t know…men scare me…” “Angel…baby…don‟t be afraid…what can I do to make you comfortable?”

“Let‟s get away from the windows, first. Isn‟t the bedroom over there?” Trace almost drooled. He led Angel through the door, while Angel grabbed his purse. “Trace, I have a confession to make….” Angel recovered from the deep tongue penetrating kiss Trace planted on him. “Your fantasy is mine, baby.” “I wondered about tonight, and decided I‟d like to try with you, you know…make you happy…you know…down there, but…” “No buts, baby. I‟ll be whatever you need.” “Ok, let me use these, so I feel …safe…and maybe less self conscious…you know….” Angel removed a black plush mask and velvet restraints he had „borrowed‟ from the house in Portland the night before. “Oh, games! Sure baby! Tie me down! Oh yes!” Trace smiled a triumphal grin. Angel giggled as he kissed Trace while tying the mask around the movie star‟s eyes. Removing the shirt and pants, he found Trace was not an avid user of underwear. He led the now blind man to the bed and gently tied each arm and leg to a bedpost, allowing for a lot of slack. Trace was going to be very comfortable. “Oh yes, baby…” The masked man murmured. Angel looked back, to make sure the hidden camera got a full face shot, and then stepped to the spot he knew was just out of view of the lens. Kiki moved out of the closet, a near twin in hair, clothes and build. Only his face gave lie to the deception. Madge had done well, amplifying Kiki‟s endowments to match Angel‟s. Kiki saw his screen idol tied up, penis engorged with anticipation , masked but still beautiful, and smothered a giggle. Angel shot him a look and Kiki nodded a silent “I‟m sorry.” The whole exchange had taken less than ten seconds. Kiki moved to Trace‟s body and began his expert ministrations, keeping his face away from the lens. Madge had cut a deal with the cameraman who had agreed to film the event for Trace. Half her bet winnings, if he went along with the switch. Joe Jaquimot was one of the best in the business. He knew exactly what angles and lighting allowed Kiki to pass as Angel, as long as Kiki kept within a certain range of motion.

Angel silently moved out of the room. Kiki was a master at oral stimulation, and genuinely loved men. Trace was in for an exhausting night. “Suck him dry” was the mission, and Kiki was the man for the job. Trace emitted a loud moan as Angel closed the door behind him.

Blow Up, Beach House, Malibu, California, 7 pm July 16, Current Year

Arlene Ferlenghetti viewed the tape her security chief had delivered only moments ago. Yes! Proof that little sissy faggot can‟t be trusted! She heard Angel and Carolyn exchanging words, with a bitter tone coming from the other room. “What do you mean you‟re going to Monaco! Just like that?” Carolyn asked, her voice cutting with a tinge of anger. “I told you a month ago I might see Gwennie and do some shopping, and maybe a little , you know…business?” Angel said as he finished closing a suitcase. “Right! Business! I can guess!” Carolyn walked off, past Arlene. Oh, this is perfect! Arlene‟s mind raced as she grabbed the tape and Carolyn‟s arm, leading her to the living room. “Carolyn, please, you have to see this!” “Oh, all right, Arlene, but this isn‟t a good time…” “It may be the only time, dear. Watch this. My security man intercepted this and prevented it from circulating. You know what this would do to the movie…” The large screen came to life and there was Trace and Angel, in an embrace, Angel removing the actor‟s clothes after putting on a mask, tying him to the bed, then a turn to the camera with a huge grin. Carolyn let her eyes go cold as she watched Trace being unmercifully brought to erection and orgasm, time and time again, the brunette‟s tongue licking and moving with precision and enthusiasm.

“Shut it off!” Carolyn thundered. She turned to see Angel, standing transfixed, a panicked look leading to an expression of horror. Arlene knew when to shut up and let your adversaries commit suicide. “Honey…this isn‟t ….this is not what it seems…there was a bet…” Angel stammered. Carolyn stood fixed. She drew her hand and made the motion to slap Angel but stopped herself. “Is this why you‟re going to Europe? You‟re going to see Elise Lafey, aren‟t you. You‟ve never gotten over that time, you …you …little whore. Go ahead! Go ahead and be Elise Lafey‟s little bitch!” Angel went cold. “You wanted him handled. So he was handled. Goodbye, Carolyn. I won‟t bother you again.” Arlene watched Carolyn storm off to her room. Ah, wait a bit, and then console her….I can be very helpful to sweet Carolyn now…. Angel got his bags and threw them in the Lincoln Navigator in the garage. Arlene watched him drive away, a thin smile of triumph on her bloodless lips. END PART 2

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