rushed to the red-light district, driving blindly past beggars and the
prostitutes who had come out at sunset.
don’t want her, but… I can’t leave her with him.
remembered the girl helping out around the bar, wiping mugs, cleaning up spills,
weaving her way through the drunks and dancers.
She hadn’t seemed shocked or frightened by the wild behavior.
She’d just hid behind the counter when things got really rough, like
he’d told her to do. At first, his
patrons had laughed at her, but now, very few of them even took notice of her.
he came to a ramshackle house that looked as if it were about to topple with the
next breeze. At his knock, a large
bear answered the door. When the
bear saw who his caller was, he scowled, grabbed the ferret’s arm, and pulled
him inside. He towered over the
slight bartender by a head and the shabby, ill-fitting suit did little to
conceal his muscular build. He was
the type who liked to use his size to intimidate, and he did so now.
was not impressed, however. It
was hard to be daunted by a man who sang love songs when he was plastered.
He’d been a regular customer at Jons’s bar for a year or two now, and
after a particularly good assassination job, he liked to get good and drunk and
entertain the bar with sentimental songs.
voice was less than welcoming. “What
do you want?”
a job for you, Hank.”
bear’s scowl lightened and a grim smile touched the corners of his mouth.
“A job? Thought you
didn’t approve of my methods, bartender.”
time, I’ll make an exception. But
I don’t want any killing. I just want you to hurt somebody. Badly.”
by the name of Toby Fletcher.”
was too professional to show his surprise, but Jons could tell he’d taken the
assassin off-guard. “Toby
Fletcher?” he repeated. “That
rich guy who lives on the estate outside of town?”
he do to you?” Hank asked.
my business,” Jons said calmly.
bear raised an eyebrow. “What’s
in it for me?”
had been thinking about this on the way over.
Saving a life wasn’t enough for Hank.
Like most assassins, he was in it for himself.
“Two years of free drinks at my place.”
held his breath as the assassin considered.
“Well, it’s not money, but I’m bored.”
do it, then?”
When do we leave?”
Jons was at the door in a stride. “He’s
got a friend of mine that he’s planning to hurt. We’re going to stop him.”
were too many methods to inflict torture in that room.
Her eyes darted from the neat array of scalpels to the needles.
If he caught her in there…
going to kill me. Or worse.
began to shake.
going to catch you, you know!” Fletcher’s called, his voice as smooth as
a cry, she started to leave the room, but stopped when she saw his shadow slowly
advancing like a raptor stalking a mouse. With
a tiny whimper, she looked wildly around the room, grabbed a scalpel, and dove
under the cloth-covered table. It
was the most obvious hiding place.
it was also the only hiding place.
him. He gets close enough, just
nearly wet her pants when she heard the door creak open and heard the slow,
measured tread walking across the floor, drawing nearer and nearer…
a dark shape blotted out the light, she held herself still and quiet, gripped
her makeshift weapon firmly, and raised her arm.
and Hank rode to the edge of town in the bartender’s truck, stopping in the
woods at the edge of Fletcher’s property.
Jons backed far enough into the woods that the truck wouldn’t be
noticed from the road. He didn’t
want anyone to know he and Hank were there.
With any luck, Hank would be persuasive enough that Fletcher wouldn’t
call the cops.
if Hank wasn’t persuasive, Jons had a plan.
He’d made a quick stop at the local costume store before going to
Hank’s. He’d stashed his
purchases in a box in the back and he went to it now.
He handed the assassin a rhinoceros head. “Put this on.”
looked at him as if he’d lost his mind. “Are
other man just looked at him and despite the fact that Jons was much smaller,
the big bear decided that it might be in his best interests to do as he was
asked. After all, the bartender was
his drink supplier.
he snatched the mask and shoved it over his head, shuddering at the stench of
dried sweat. For good measure, he
pulled on a pair of custom-fit leather gloves.
he finished, he glanced at Jons, who had donned a rhinoceros mask as well.
He looked completely ridiculous in it; his slender body was far too
slight to pass for the usual bulk of a rhino.
fit you,” Hank grunted.
walk to the gate was silent except for the crunch of gravel and dried leaves.
They approached the gate slowly, as if expecting an armed guard to stop
them. There was no one, however, and
for a moment, they stood, considering. Beyond
the barrier, they could see the outlines of a looming mansion.
It looked to be at least two stories and sprawling.
All the downstairs and two of the upstairs lights were on, but they
couldn’t see or hear anyone moving around.
pretty calm, bartender. You sure
arguing with the chance to cause a little mayhem?”
smile wasn’t pleasant and Jons found himself hesitating.
If the bear killed Fletcher, he’d no doubt demand more payment than a
couple of years of free drinks. “Remember…no
smile faded. “You’re no fun.”
gate was padlocked, but there was an intercom system beside the gate.
Jons pressed the button and waited a minute, his breath making a frosty
cloud in the chilly night. There was
a good sign. If he’s hurting
as Cody was getting ready to slash Fletcher, the intercom buzzed.
Her wire taut nerves snapped. With
a shriek, she dropped the scalpel. In
a flash, her assailant reached under the table and jerked her roughly from
beneath it. The sheet covered her
head and she frantically tore it away.
just laughed at her. “Fight all
you want, sweetheart. You’re not
going anywhere. You’re mine.
Who else would want you?” He let her go.
“You want to run some more? Go
ahead. It’ll just make it
she ran, feverishly wondering where she could hide.
She hesitated to go outside, knowing his guard dogs would tear her to
pieces. She wasn’t afraid of dogs
and had tried to make friends with them until he’d found out about it and had
beaten her so badly she’d been confined to bed for three days.
that, she’d left them alone.
she wished she’d tried a little harder. She
was faced with equally unpleasant fates: death at Fletcher’s hands or death by
if she were quiet and fast, she might have a chance of getting past the
dogs. She knew she wouldn’t
her decision, she bolted for the front door.
never made it.
she fumbled with the lock, he grabbed her tail and jerked her back to him.
He hit her a few times before he threw her to the floor and straddled her
midsection to keep her immobile.
Please!” She desperately
tried to fend him off as he tore greedily at her shirt with one hand while
reaching under her skirt with the other. His
fingers gouged her hips as he ripped her underwear, leaning on one knee so that
he could strip her.
worry, sweetheart. This won’t
hurt. It’s what little girls are
for.” His deep voice sent chills
down her spine.
he was unbalanced, she shoved him with all her strength, sending him sprawling.
The girl stumbled to her feet and tried again to run.
She made it as far as the office when he grabbed her again.
She screamed as his hands clamped around her arms and he slammed her
against the wall as hard as he could. As she slumped to the floor, dazed he
kicked her viciously in the ribs. She
heard him panting above her, felt him grab a handful of her hair and roughly
flip her over. Reality began to
blur, and she welcomed oblivion.
wasn’t aware of the crashing glass.
do we do now?” Jons turned to the assassin and found himself staring blankly
where Hank had stood a moment before.
the ferret looked up to see the assassin grinning at him from the top of the
you have just picked the lock?”
shook his head. “Takes too long.
Speaking of which, you’re taking too long.”
clumsily scaled the fence.
jumped off the fence and landed in the grass.
Jons tried to do the same only to find himself sprawled facedown beside
the bear. “Get us caught,
bartender, and I’m going to scalp you.
Now come on before somebody sees us.”
worry about me.” Jons got to his feet and they made their way cautiously to
were almost there when Hank stopped dead in his tracks.
slobbering, barking, growling Dobermans careened around the corner, intent on
tearing the intruders to pieces. The
men raced up the porch and Jons tried to open the front door.
hesitated, but Hank didn’t. Taking a running start, the bear crashed through
the window beside the door. Jons
took one look at the fast approaching fangs and followed him. Miraculously, the
canines stopped at the window and refused to come into the house.
cursed and Jons whirled around to find the man examining a rip in the hem of his
jacket. “That was my best jacket! Are you sure I can’t kill this jerk?”
grabbed the bear by the collar and shook him.
Hard. “No killing.
Listen, he’s got a little girl in here.”
frowned and roughly shoved Jons away. Then,
his expression cleared. “That bit
that Tony was teaching to dance the other night?”
He wants to hurt her. Bad.
I want you to hurt him. Bad.
didn’t have time to reply before a scream and crash to their left startled
them. Jons shoved past the bigger
man and skidded out into the hall and stopped dead.
All he could see were Cody’s feet.
Hank roughly shoved him forward, he stumbled further into the foyer as Fletcher,
alerted by the crash, whirled to face them, obscuring the girl from view.
out of here, ruffians, before I call the police!”
that supposed to be a threat?” Jons asked tightly.
“I don’t think you’re in any position to carry it out.”
girl whimpered and feebly tried to crawl away, much to Jons’s relief.
As Fletcher casually stepped on her tail, however, he felt his blood
begin to boil. Never had Jons ever
truly wanted to kill anyone, but he thought he could cheerfully disembowel this
arrogant, rich bastard with no regrets.
do you want?” Fletcher demanded.
a rich man, you figure it out,” Hank said roughly.
silently congratulated him. He was
so involved with rescuing Cody that he hadn’t even thought of using robbery as
a smoke screen motive. Taking his
cue from Hank, he moved menacingly around so that they had Fletcher’s exits
blocked. The only thing he could do
was turn tail and run, which Jons half hoped he would do.
As much as he would have liked to give in to his murderous side, a more
rational part knew it would complicate the situation.
glanced past Fletcher, then stared straight at him.
If he hadn’t been hidden behind the mask, the others would have seen
the sneer, but it was plain in his voice.
like you’re having a little party,” he said.
not welcome here.”
growled and started forward, but Hank held him back.
The smaller man fought him, trying to get to the fox.
it, idiot,” Hank snapped, knocking Jons backwards.
fox lunged suddenly. Grabbing a
fistful of the girl’s hair, he jerked her to her feet and pressed the edge of
a scalpel to her neck. “You
wouldn’t want me to hurt this sweet little girl now, would you?”
snorted. “Think you’ve hurt her
enough. Now where’s your safe?”
don’t keep money in the house.”
said I wanted money?”
what are you going to do with my safe?”
you do have one.”
not for sale. Or theft.”
said I wanted to take something out of it?”
The assassin turned to Jons, who was standing slightly behind him.
“You grab the girl and get out of here.”
hand tightened around her hair and he backed away. “She’s mine.
I have the papers. It’s
all legal and if you try to take her, I’ll call the police!”
moved quietly towards him, but Fletcher saw him and pressed the scalpel
tight enough into her neck that drops of blood glistened on the blade.
At her whimper, Jons involuntarily started forward.
said no.” Fletcher’s voice had lost its pleasant, melodic tone and had
don’t know what that means,” Jons spat, dark eyes flashing as Cody began to
do you, my good thief. Now get out
of here. You think I don’t know
what you want? You can’t have her!
She’s mine! Go get your
girl’s red-rimmed eyes were wide and fearful.
“Help me. Help.”
up, you ungrateful wretch,” Fletcher snarled, hand tightening in her hair
until strands were ripped from her scalp.
said flatly, “Don’t worry, Cody. You’re
not staying here.”
gave a choked scream as Fletcher let go of her hair, his arm snaking around her
waist as he roughly yanked her off the floor.
doing your research, thief? Know my
little toy, do you? Know what she likes? Know
what she needs?”
jaw tightened and his lips compressed into a tight line.
He wanted to rush the bastard and beat him until he no longer
belonged to the land of the living. But
Fletcher had a firm grip on the letter opener and the bartender was no fool.
He knew that running forward would most likely mean Cody’s death.
It was a standoff. The only
sound in the room was the girl’s struggle for breath.
now,” Fletcher said finally. “Leave
peacefully and I won’t call the police.”
was a lie and they all knew it. The
bartender glanced at Hank, who returned the glance out of the corner of his eye.
He gave a small nod.
you’re a big man, doing what you do to little girls?” the assassin scoffed.
Fletcher made two mistakes. He took
his eyes off Jons and smiled carelessly. “That’s
what they’re for.”
Cody’s head dropped in shame, the bartender felt his face flush with anger and
without stopping to think, he brought up his revolver and fired off two
shots---one for each knee. Cody was
too close to his face and chest for him to take killing shots, and later, he was
the fox collapsed. His captive
yelped and moaned as he landed on top of her.
Hank was at them in two quick strides, grabbing the fox by the scruff of
the neck and lifting him into the air, blood from his ruined knees dripping onto
think so? Maybe I can change your
mind.” The assassin’s voice was dangerously silky and Jons found himself
shivering again as he grabbed Cody under her arms and pulled her out of the way.
clothes were blood soaked, her blouse ripped beyond repair.
So much blood spattered her body that it was impossible to tell what was
hers and what was Fletcher’s. She
lay there, her eyes staring sightlessly at the ceiling and he felt a stab of
fear. Hurriedly, he felt for a pulse
and was relieved to feel a weak throb in her wrist.
sorry. I’m so sorry,” he
said quietly. “Let’s get you out of here.”
blinked when she heard his voice, and her eyes seemed to focus on him for a
brief instant before she closed them, trembling as tears streamed silently down
come on,” he said urgently. “Come
on, let’s go.”
stiffly curled into a fetal ball. “Don’t
hurt me, don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me.”
shock, he realized she thought he was here to…
why shouldn’t she? Two masked men
breaking in while she’s being…
glanced at Hank, who had Fletcher shielded from view, taking gleeful inventory
of the office. Hurriedly, he whipped
the mask off.
me, Cody. It’s me.
I’m not going to hurt you. I’m
here to help you.”
cried out when he reached for her chin and pulled her around to face him.
Her eyes were squeezed tightly shut and she made inarticulate sounds in
the back of her throat. Realizing
she wasn’t going to calm down, Jons took off his coat, wrapped it around her,
and carefully scooped her up.
okay,” he whispered, clumsily smoothing back her tousled hair.
“You’re going to be all right.”
gentleness broke through to her and she slowly opened her eyes and looked up at
he said softly. “Let’s get out
rigid body went limp.
about the disguise, he whirled to face Fletcher, his normally pleasant face dark
and murderous. “As for you, you’re not touching her. Ever again!”
the mask, Hank smiled and tightened his grip on the fox’s neck.
another word, the ferret turned and left. He
got to the door just as the howls began.
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