Whole Damsel Thing
Part 9 of 10
Joanna stalked blindly down the nearly deserted streets,
too angry to really pay much attention to where she was going.
did she expect me to do? And
why did she have to go and ruin my plan? It
would have been perfect if she’d just gotten out of the way.
And there was a small part of her that was angry with
herself for actually starting to like the impulsive vixen.
Well, it’s not my problem anymore.
I don’t even know how I got mixed up in it in the first place.
As soon as I find that bus station, I’m outta here.
It was then that she realized that she had no idea where she was, let alone where to find the bus station; it was far too late for any place where she could safely ask for directions to be open. Staying in Land’s End till morning wasn’t an option.
As she was debating about what to do, a disheveled, sobbing creature grabbed her arm. Repulsed, Joanna started to jerk away, but paused when the thing spoke.
“You left me!”
She squinted. “Babette?”
Wiping soot from her face, the petite bear looked up at
her reproachfully. “Nice of you to
“Where have you been?”
“Like you care.”
Babette tried in vain to clean her face with the equally filthy hem of
her dress. Her red wig was sideways
on her head, and platinum curls crept out from beneath it.
She studied Joanna through reddened eyes.
“And what are you wearing?”
Self-consciously, Joanna rolled up the sleeves and tried not to think of the huge sweat stains on the back and underarms of the shirt. “Clothes.”
Before Babette could retort, a familiar, rough voice
that made them creep a little closer to the shadows of a nearby shop awning.
“Shut up,” Eggsucker snarled.
“But Mister Hardin will be so glad we got one of them,
maybe he won’t care about Babette,” Buck said brightly.
Joanna peeked around the corner to see Buck, Rogers, and Eggsucker turn down a side street and she gasped.
“What? What is it?” Babette
poked her head around the corner and her voice dropped to a frightened whisper.
“Look! They’ve got your
Joanna swore softly.
“My leg is cramping up.
I have to move.”
“No, don’t! They’ll hear you!"
Urgently, she waved the other to silence. “Of all the hiding
places we could have picked, we had to pick this one.”
“Th-they’ll kill her!”
“Shut up! I have to think.”
Babette began to whine.
“Oh, it’s useless! They’ll
find us and tear us apart and James will send me home in pieces!”
“Shut up!” Joanna hissed.
“You were his girlfriend… or whatever.
Now think. Where would
they be taking her?”
Babette looked at her wide-eyed.
“You… you can’t mean we’re going after her, do you?
Biting her lip, Joanna thought hard about rescuing the
captured vixen. True, presenting
Cody to their boss might make the goons forget about her.
While they were doing whatever it was they were going to do with Cody,
Joanna could hop the next bus out of town and put the whole mess behind her.
She could even knock Babette over the head, swipe the cash, and have even
more to add to the nest egg she’d begun to save.
Why should I go back for her?
What do I owe her, anyway?
Then she sighed. “I can’t believe I’m doing
With a few threats, Joanna pried the information
she needed out of the reluctant gun moll. As
they made their way to the factory that Hardin used as a cover for a hideout,
Babette alternated between muttering darkly and whining.
Joanna seriously thought about killing her, but decided against it.
I might need her for something.
It was early morning and the edges of the sky
were just beginning to be tinged with pink and orange as the two made their way
across an empty yard. A wire fence
surrounded the factory, but the gate was open.
Joanna slipped inside without a word and stood, staring at the massive
“They’re here,” Babette quavered.
“Let’s get out of here, huh? I
mean, it’s dangerous. They’ll
It was likely, but Joanna didn’t want to think
of that now. She needed a plan.
“How do we get in?” she asked abruptly.
Babette just stared at her, wide-eyed, so Joanna
did the only thing she could think of. She
grabbed the smaller woman and shook her. Hard.
“The door—where is it?”
Babette jerked away as her wig fell to the
ground. “Hey! You don’t have to be so
rough. The main entrance is around
“Is there another way in?”
“Do we have to do this?”
Joanna heaved an exasperated sigh.
“Look, why don’t you just get out of here?
I can do this better on my own.”
“Fine.” Babette sniffed and scooped up her wig.
“Where do you want your remains sent?”
She backed away, her eyes fearfully darting from side to
side as if she expected an ambush at any moment.
Joanna watched as she turned and hurried away.
Well, that was easy.
With a sigh, she
thought longingly of her trailer back at the carnival.
Even if it did reek of horses, at least she could get some sleep there.
Then, she gave herself a mental shake.
she’d wasted enough time, she crept up to the building, alert for any sign of
an ambush. She saw nothing except
for a couple of rats, which nearly made her scream and give herself away.
Resolutely clamping her mouth shut, she quickly scouted around the
building. The main entrance was, as
Babette told her, around the corner, but Joanna ignored that.
Instead, she searched for another way in.
Around the back of building, she found it.
A row of windows lined the wall and when she cautiously peeked into one,
she saw that barrels and wooden crates were piled high in front of them.
It took a little
work to get the rusty hinges to give and they made too much noise for Joanna’s
liking, but she finally eased open one window enough for her to slide through.
Landing in a crouch, she ducked behind a barrel and peeked out.
immediately started to tingle in a way that told her she was about to sneeze.
Frantically, she swiped at her nose with her sleeve and pressed her arm
hard against her mouth until the tingle had stopped.
Then, she peered over the barrels.
She was in a
large room with concrete floors and walls and metal rafters looped with chains
on the ceiling. A metal catwalk
skirted the perimeter of the room and three huge vats sat just under the
She saw them across the room.
Rogers and Buck were arguing about who would call Hardin while Eggsucker
carried Cody over his shoulder. He
abruptly tossed her to the floor where she landed with a grunt and hastily
scrambled to her feet.
“He has to be called, Buck,” Rogers pointed
“Yeah, but last time he yelled!” Buck
shuddered at the memory.
“But this time, he’ll be… happy to hear
“Then why don’t you call him?”
Eggsucker, who had been watching them argue,
growled. “One of you dips call him
so I can have some fun.” He leered
The vixen glared at him.
Rogers broke off, frowning. “Do
you hear that?”
Buck looked around as if he expected the sound to materialize above their
“I thought---there it is again!”
Rogers pulled out his revolver, glad that they’d taken the time to stop
and get more bullets, and moved silently into the shadows beneath the stairwell.
Joanna breathed a sigh of relief as he went in
the opposite direction of her hiding place.
Then, she experienced a wave of shock as she heard a familiar voice squawk, “Take your damned mitts off me, you
bum! Let me go!”
inwardly. You idiot!
“What are you
doing here? I thought ---!”
Then Buck quickly changed it to, “Babsie, what happened to your hair?
The former moll
saw Buck and pleaded, “Frank! Make
him let me go!”
Buck reminded Rogers.
She’s not going anywhere.” The elegant gangster released Babette, who
shot him a dirty look. “What are you doing here?
And where’s the other one?”
hands trembled as she adjusted her wig, she managed to say snottily, “Go to
hell, you pantywaist!”
For a fleeting
moment, Joanna admired her. Wow,
you’ve got more brass than I gave you credit for.
“You first, my
dear strumpet,” Rogers answered. And,
seeing Eggsucker’s eyes brighten, warned, “Don’t even think about it,
Schwartz. Babette is Hardin’s
girl. She’s off-limits.”
The lion looked
disappointed, then shrugged. “Fine.
I don’t like redheads anyway.”
He noticed Cody
trying to creep away. Grabbing her
fluffy tail, he jerked her back to him hard.
deal with her.” The handsome bear added
maliciously, “He’ll probably kill you for running out on him.”
run out on him!” She stamped her
foot. “I was shopping!”
Rogers said scornfully, “Oh, come now. You're not that good a liar. Look how fast Hardin found out you were gone.”
Her face turned
tomato-red with rage. “Okay, okay! I
overheard James talking on the phone and I thought you guys would louse it up,
so I tried to find them myself. Nobody
thinks I can do anything, but those days are over.
I’m just as good as anybody else, and I want some respect!”
For a moment the
room was struck dumb. Then both
Rogers and Eggsucker burst out laughing. Buck
watched sadly, but for once, said nothing.
Rogers said, as he removed a white linen handkerchief from his breast pocket to
wipe his eyes. “Why don’t you
just admit that you were eavesdropping as usual and got caught?”
caught! I mean --- the other
one’ll be here any minute. I just
stopped by to watch the fun.”
“What do you
I mean, she’s right here in this room.”
Frantically, Joanna looked around for an escape route.
Eggsucker peered at her. “And
where is she?”
What else would she be doing?” Babette
Rogers eyed Cody. “Somebody needs to watch this one while the rest of us go look for the other one.” He paused, remembering Smitty. “Maybe two of us need to watch her.”
“Lot of trouble for one pint-sized bitch,” Eggsucker
Babette grinned at Cody.
“Oh, this one won’t be any trouble.
There’s one way to keep her in line.”
Rogers glared at her darkly.
“And how is that, pray tell?”
The moll sauntered over and
whispered something in his ear. His
face took on a look of refined disgust and he conveyed her message to Buck and
Eggsucker. The former looked as
disgusted as Rogers, but the latter leered at the vixen.
“’Sat so?” He stepped
towards her deliberately.
Cody tried to look
disinterested, but her hands trembled as he caressed her shoulders and pushed
aside the wide neck of the stolen sweater to run a finger along the delicate
line of her collarbone. She lashed
out with her bound wrists, but he caught them in one hand and laughed at her.
Eggsucker ran a finger
between the vixen’s breasts and down her torso.
Her reserve broke and she gave an involuntary whimper as she began to
shake. Satisfied with her reaction,
“This is going to be fun,” he said.
From the shadows, Joanna
watched as Eggsucker intimidated Cody.
Even if the vixen had been an idiot to let them catch her, Joanna
felt rage course through her when she saw the Cody's agonized expression and
heard her whimper. She had a feeling
she knew what Babette had told the men, and just why the lion was taking his
In a sickening moment of clarity, it suddenly occurred to her that while she and Cody were confiding in each other in the warehouse that the third woman had been listening to them. Babette knew about their criminal pasts, and most frightening of all -- their weaknesses.
Joanna’s surprise, there was a crash of boxes at the other end of the
warehouse. Babette shrieked.
Rogers looked up, startled.
“What in the world was that?”
think your friend will be joining us, little lady,” she heard Eggsucker say to
Cody. He drew his gun.
“I think we’d better give her a warm welcome.”
“Right!” Buck followed
suit. “Lead the way, Eggy!”
“Quit calling me that, you dung beetle!”
Rogers just barely managed to keep Eggsucker from
pounding Buck into the ground.
“Stay here,” Rogers commanded Babette.
While Babette and the goons were distracted by the commotion, Joanna watched as they left and started to go help Cody, but stopped when she heard the clamor of bullets striking wood, and saw pieces of it fly in all directions.
In a moment, she heard their
“She’s not there.”
“Maybe it was just a kitty
knocking over the boxes.” Buck
stroked his chin, trying to look grimly contemplative.
“A really big kitty.”
Then, Joanna had a flash of inspiration. She
looked around until she found something to throw.
Her eyes lit on a container full of nuts, bolts, and assorted other hardware. Scooping up a handful, she
hurled them to the far side of the warehouse where they landed on the gangway
above the three huge vats of chemicals in the center of the room with a
resounding crash. A few of the nuts
bounced down the metal stairs, making it sound like footsteps.
The men and Babette paused.
don’t think we’re alone.” Rogers’s eyes scanned the room and he pulled
his gun from his jacket. “Schwartz,
take care of her, then come help us take a look around.”
Eggsucker leered at Cody.
Rogers caught his arm and
gave him a warning glare. “Just…
hang her over the acid for now. Don’t
hurt her. I want that
pleasure for myself.”
Grumbling, the lion did as he was told, mainly because
it wasn’t the vixen he was after. If
it had been Joanna, he would have done with her as he wanted and told
Rogers exactly what he could do with himself if he didn’t like it.
Grabbing Cody by the ankles, he jerked her off her feet, tied them
together, and carried her up the stairs to the nearest chemical vat, which had TOXICO
emblazoned on the side.
Cody suddenly felt nauseous.
She wasn’t sure which would be worse, an agonizing death by acid or an
agonizing death by whatever torture Rogers had in mind.
As Eggsucker hung her on a hook over the acid, she fought back, trying to
punch and kick him, so he slapped her hard enough to leave her dazed.
“I can still smell that perfume. You really need a bath.” Eggsucker whispered, then suddenly licked her cheek. She tried to bite him, but he dodged, laughing at her.
Rogers smiled without
humor. “Don’t worry, she’ll get one.”
Joanna noticed that the
vixen’s eyes were closed, but couldn’t tell if it was from unconsciousness
or fear. She heard their captors
crashing around somewhere in the back
Now for Step 2.
Suddenly, Cody’s own voice came out of the darkness.
“Well, darn! Which way is the exit?”
Cody was momentarily taken aback.
She heard her captor’s footsteps pause.
Then Eggsucker cursed.
“How’d she get loose?” Babette asked.
“We’d better find her or Hardin’ll have us
boiled in acid,” Rogers said.
From her hiding place behind some wooden crates, Joanna
stifled a feral grin. Then, for good
measure, she spoke in a loud stage whisper, making it sound as if Cody were on
the far side of the warehouse. “Crap!”
For good measure, she scanned the dirty floor and found
an empty canister. She picked it up,
took a deep breath, and threw it as hard as she could.
The canister sailed over their heads, but not low enough for them to see
it. She cringed as it clipped one of
the rafters before it bounced against one of the smaller vats and skittered
across the floor until it disappeared under
“Oh boy! She’s this way!
Come on!” Buck cried. He
leaped forward, as excited as a hound on a foxhunt --- which, of course, he was.
As Babette and the goons’s footsteps became fainter,
she cautiously came out of hiding and hurried up the gangway to Cody.
The vixen stared with fascination at the green liquid swirling in the vat below her, until the fumes made her eyes water, and she had to shut them tight. Would it be quick? she wondered. In a sudden flash of overactive imagination, she pictured the acid burning through her flesh, her bones. Her stomach churned unpleasantly and she sternly told herself not to throw up. She didn’t want to give these thugs the satisfaction.
is it. Oh, why didn’t I listen to Jons when he told me to give up this killing
A familiar voice interrupted her thoughts. “Hi. Need some help?”
She turned her head slightly and saw Joanna
leaning over the catwalk, smirking.
She turned her head slightly and saw Joanna
leaning over the catwalk, smirking.
up and get me down!”
okay. Keep your shirt on.”
shirt ain’t what I’m worried about.”
reached over, careful not to look down. It
took two tries to snag the end of the vixen’s sweater, which was practically
smothering her. Carefully, she
pulled Cody towards her. “This would be so much easier if you could grab my
hands,” she complained.
muscle tense, ears straining to hear their captors return, Joanna finally
managed to get Cody over the catwalk. She
unhooked the ropes and winced as Cody crashed onto the metal platform.
Quickly, she untied the vixen, who got shakily to her feet and leaned
against the wall, eyes closed.
she stammered after a moment. “You
know, your southern accent is much better now.”
on,” Joanna said urgently.
waiting for a reply, she turned and ran down the gangway, intent only on getting
out of there and heading for the bus station.
Cody staggered after her, head pounding from inhaling the chemicals.
stopped and tried to pull her along. “Hurry,
fought a wave of dizziness. “Can’t… head hurts…”
gotta do this. Come on, one foot in
front of the other --- let’s go!”
out!” Cody screamed.
Because Joanna was distracted in pulling her along, they slammed into a
solid wall of a bear --- Hardin. He
caught each by the collar and jerked them both off their feet.
no! Cody thought.
“Boss! Wh-what’re you
doing here?” Buck’s voice quavered. He
recovered. “I mean --- wow, great,
you got ‘em!”
up.” Hardin glared at his henchmen. “You nearly shot me, you
more ‘oops’ and you’ll be missing more than just your brain.” Then
he turned to glower at his henchmen. “And
you morons! Do you realize you
messed up my new jacket? What were
you thinking? What were you
shooting at, anyway?”
blame him, boss,” Buck said earnestly, “It was just an honest mistake.
We thought you were a kitty.”
Hardin’s fists clenched hard around Joanna and
Cody’s collars, causing them to choke. “A
kitty? You wasted all your
bullets over what you thought was a damned cat?
And for this, I pay you big bucks!”
He flung his captives to the ground.
They immediately scrambled to their feet, but took one look at Hardin’s
gang, which surrounded them, and made no move to run.
The mob boss wasn’t finished ranting.
Crossing his arms over his chest, he pinned each of them with a
raptor-like stare. “And guess what
I just found out? The Laramie
Company paid ten G’s to snuff Galloway before he could get back to me with
their plans. Ten G’s!
So I had to put a bounty on the killer’s head, just to let people know
I mean business.” He sighed
heavily and Joanna felt Cody stiffen beside her.
When she looked, the vixen had paled slightly.
“It hasn’t been a good morning, boys, and I come here at an urgent
phone call to tell me you’ve caught something interesting and then I get shot
at? If I didn’t know better, I’d
say I had a problem in the ranks.”
The three men looked confused.
Rogers was the first to voice what they were all thinking. “Phone call?
But… sir, we only just got here ourselves.
We didn’t call you.”
A quaking but defiant voice piped up. “I
For the first time, Hardin noticed Babette and did a
double take. “Baby doll, where in Sam
Hill have you been all this time? I
send you on a spree and you don’t come back.
That makes me worry, and I don’t like it when people make me worry.”
began, “Puddin’, I---!”
thought: Oh puddin’, I’m so
sorry. I got lost in the lingerie
Hardin remembered that others were listening and toughened his tone.
“What the hell are you doing here, Babette?”
get in here, anyway?" Joanna asked, curious in spite of herself.
Somehow she couldn't see Babette crawling through windows or air ducts.
“The front door, how else?” Babette said contemptuously. “I knew you were around somewhere, so I had to come in and tell the boys.”
“You’re the ones who ditched me and left me in that
burning building to die! You didn’t even go back to see if I was alive.”
“We thought you were dead. Why would we go back?”
“Oh, right, I should’ve known,” Babette said
sarcastically. “You left that
old lady and the rest of them to die at that hotel, too.”
“How’d you…” Then Joanna mentally slapped
herself. Of course Babette had
overheard that part too.
The former moll turned to go. “Well, I’ll let myself
out now.” Winking, she patted her
bodice, and Joanna heard the crinkly sound of money.
“I just wanted to make sure you were delivered to James before I left.
you go, anyway?”
“Oh, now you’re interested!
What, can’t a girl use the washroom without being left to burn
alive?” Enjoying the other’s stunned expression, she added, “I saw you two
fighting on the street before I came here. Kind
of took the edge off your street smarts, didn’t it?”
“Enough yakking, you hens.” Hardin nodded to his
Buck advanced on Joanna with a length of rope, and she
started to turn around and run, but stopped when Eggsucker wagged his finger at
her and said, “Uh-uh-uh --- wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
She glanced over her shoulder to see that he had one arm
wrapped around Cody’s neck.
“Why should that stop me?” she asked coldly.
“You’re going to kill us anyway.”
The lion tightened his grip, his free hand slowly
sliding down the vixen’s side to caress her hip.
Cody looked as though she might faint and her knees buckled. “There are
a lot of ways to die, you know.” He
paused, letting his words sink in. “Slow ways.”
Then he seemed to remember something, and his expression
darkened. “Isn’t that right… Joanna?”
“What?” She caught her breath.
“Who told you?”
“Your friend Freddy.
Skinny loser says he knew you at some… carnival, wasn’t it?”
Joanna said nothing.
“Your name’s not Lydia.
You lied to me, Joanna.” He
suddenly swung his fist and punched her in the stomach, and she went down,
retching. It was as like being hit
by a sledgehammer. Cody gave a strangled yelp as his massive arm tightened
briefly around her neck as if he’d forgotten he was holding her and she
strained to see if Joanna was all right.
“Oh yeah?” Unwilling to cave in completely, she tried to sound defiant, but to her distress, her voice come out as a squeak. “Well, my name’s not Joanna, either, chump!”
He was enjoying himself immensely. “Freddy said some
nice old bat named Helen Haley is waiting for you to come home.”
She felt the sledgehammer again. “No,” she croaked,
“He’s lying. I don’t know
anyone by that name.”
“You lying to me again, baby?” He watched her face blanch. “What you think, Joanna? Should I send her your ears, nose, a few fingers and toes, one at a time? Or maybe I should just go see her personally.”
Her face went dead white.
As Hardin surveyed their two captives, one white with
fear, the other green with nausea, the mob boss permitted himself a small sneer.
“Good work, boys,” he said.
“Now, ladies, we’re going to play a little game.”
towards the three chemical vats. “Have
you ever had an acid bath? They’re
very beneficial. Really cleans out
your whole system." He gave an unpleasant laugh. "Right down to the
“I thought you said we were playing a game, boss,”
Hardin favored him with a sour look. “The game
part is coming, Buck. Have a little
Turning back to Joanna and Cody, he continued, “Now
what we’re going to do is put hooks through your
palms and hang you from the ceiling. The one who holds on
longest gets a quick death by shooting before we throw you into the pot—the
loser just gets an acid bath as a
Rogers pulled a couple of fish hooks out of his
pocket and flourished them. With an
anticipatory grin, Eggsucker tightened his hold on
Cody, who began to struggle. But
when he tightened his
grip, threatening to cut off her
air supply, she stopped.
cold look in the mobster’s eyes made Joanna involuntarily gulp.
It would take some creative thinking to
get out of this one. No --- a
miracle. Cody was looking a little
green, though whether from Eggsucker’s offensive smell or because of the
stranglehold he had on her neck, Joanna couldn’t be sure.
it, Puddin’!” Babette cried, her heavily made-up eyes two vicious slits.
“Kill ’em both!”
scowled at her. “Shut up, skirt. Don’t tell me what to do.”
right! I’m sorry!” She
ground her teeth, trying to concentrate. Come on, think!
Babette had said at the diner came back to her.
was supposed to get the money and meet my boyfriend here, but he never showed
this was important. But why?
had the money. She had the money.
me…” Joanna’s mind was racing fast. “Not
that I want to cause trouble or anything…”
but do you really think that Babs here was lost in the department store
all this time? I mean, come on!
Your boys have been chasing us for two days.”
up!” Babette snarled, nervously glancing at Hardin.
you, Cody thought sourly.
I want to hear this,” Hardin addressed the reddening Babette.
“Where were you?”
mentioned making plans to meet a boyfriend with the money they stole from you.
She said he stood her up.” Joanna
shook her head. “That didn’t
make sense… I was too distracted by everything else to think about it much
then, but now I know. Babette had
the money --- all she had to do was run like hell. Why would he stand her
up if she had the money?”
narrowed, Joanna studied the mob boss’s henchmen.
To her satisfaction, the stocky one they called Buck began to sweat.
We have a winner. “In
fact,” she continued. “I think
your little baby doll has been
playing Hide the Salami with one of your men.”
telling me that she’d prefer one of these dolts over me?”
shrugged and glanced meaningfully at Buck. “Ask
His tone was disturbingly calm. “You’re the one.”
dark stain appeared and grew rapidly across the front of the terrified
henchman’s trousers. Eggsucker
nudged Rogers and snickered, but was shushed.
mouth opened and closed like a fish as he
tried to work it to form words that would save his life. He gulped and tried
again. “W-w-well… it was this way, y’see... it’s a really funny story…
ha-ha!… this one’ll kill ya…heh…”
he’s half right,” Rogers muttered, discreetly stepping behind
Eggsucker. His suit had just come
from the dry cleaners, after all.
see… it all started in the little town of Dungheap, Papoopskie…”
your pie hole," Hardin growled. Whirling, he grabbed Babette’s arm as she
edged towards the door and yanked her back to him.
"You've got some explaining to do, doll.
You steppin’ out on me with the babbling idiot here?”
Her voice cracked. “I just
went shopping like you told me to…with the money you gave me, remember?
I just got lost in the department store, that’s all---!”
the money you stole,” Joanna put in helpfully.
listen to her! That’s not true!” She ignored him, too flustered by his
unforgiving stare to give much thought to the foolish henchman.
you steal my money, Babette?” Hardin asked with quiet menace. “To run off
with this loser?”
I didn’t steal it!”
asked, “Then how did you afford those nice clothes you bought us?”
up! I didn’t buy them anything,
Puddin’, I swear!”
croaked, “I bet he hasn’t seen that new hat before.”
This old thing? It’s just
something I found in --- in the back of my closet!”
liked the perfume you picked out. Didn’t
you say Oblivion was your favorite? And
that Puddin’ here bought it for you all the time?”
“Then how’d she know that? Answer me.” He gave Joanna a warning glance. “And don’t call me Puddin’.”
lowered her eyes demurely. “Okay.”
cut the act!” Babette yelled. “Can’t you see what she’s doing?
She’s making a fool out of you!”
the fool?” he asked softly. “Tell
me, baby. Who’s the fool?”
cowed, she quavered, “I-I am?”
nodded approvingly. “That’s right. And
why is that?”
nobody makes a fool out of James ---!”
he slapped her, knocking her to the floor. A
tiny rivet of blood dripped from her left nostril.
A brief, angry flicker of light came into Buck’s eyes, and he started
forward, but Rogers reached, caught his collar and hauled him back.
be stupid,” he hissed at him.
stood over her, studying her thoughtfully while his men looked on. “That’s
right, bitch. Now you better give me
answers. And I better like ‘em,
because I could so easily take this cigar and use that pretty face for an
grinned. “Maybe you shoulda asked her for the receipts.”
up, Eggsucker or whatever your name is,” he said, not taking his eyes off
Babette. “Well? How’d she know
gave a squeak of terror as he advanced on her.
“I-I told her. You know how
we girls are always talking about clothes and makeup --- it was just girl
“You rotten, dirty, double-crossin’…” Hardin’s eyes glowed like live coals as he glared at the guilty couple. “Nobody double-crosses James Bartholomew Hardin! Nobody!”
closed her eyes. Great.
boss…” Buck began.
up, you stupid punk!” Moving with surprising speed for a man who spent most of
his waking hours sitting at a desk, the mob boss lifted him by the lapels and
threw him against the chemical drum, making a gonggggg sound. “I’ll
deal with you later. Right now I
gotta take out the trash.”
Babette across the face, making her cry out in pain.
He did it again, knocking her to the floor; her hat hung almost comically
on one ear, tangled in pins. “You
were nothin’ when you met me! Nothin!”
he snarled at his ex-moll, who stared up at him with a mixture of terror and
loathing. “I took you in, put
clothes on your back and you double-crossed me, you little tramp!
I shoulda left you on the curb where I found you.”
lying, James! Can’t you see what she’s doing?
The old divide-and-conquer routine!”
don’t know,” Joanna said sweetly. “She’s
being awfully defensive. I
think she’s got something to hide.”
looked at Babette menacingly. “Oh
yeah? Well, she’d better start
defending herself real soon or she can kiss that pretty face of hers bye-bye.”
threw herself against him, startling him. “Oh, Puddin’… he made me
help him. He said he’d kill me if
I didn’t. It was terrible!”
listened to the exchange in disgust. So’s
snorted. “Buck? Don’t
make me laugh. A dead trout has more
smarts than he does.”
Buck started to protest, but remembered just in time that he did not want to
draw his boss’s attention.
Puddin’…” she whispered, raising her eyes to meet his, hers welling up
with tears. “With everything we
have, all you have given me, why would I leave you?”
less conceited man would have seen through her act, and he wasn’t stupid, but
there was a grain of truth in her words. He
chuckled derisively. “You wouldn’t. Where would you go --- back to the
street where you came from? You even thought you had a shot at Starrywood,
flinched, but accepted the ridicule, as always. “I gave up auditioning because
you wanted me to. I never called you
at home. You spent Christmas and
holidays with your family and I never made trouble, did I?
I’ve always been good to you, haven’t I? You were my life!”
She buried her face into his coat, sobbing.
started to push her away, but her sobs gave way to a triumphant cry and she
shoved away from him, the revolver he kept in his inside coat pocket in her
mobster’s jaw clenched. “Baby
doll… that’s not a toy. Why
don’t we sit down and talk this over before somebody gets hu--!”
glittering, Babette cocked the gun and aimed it at him. “I
laughed, although it sounded forced, like the polite reaction to an unfunny joke
at a cocktail party. “You
mean you wouldn’t. You
don’t know the first thing about guns, Babette, so why don’t you give it
here and we can… talk.”
gun didn’t waver, and when Hardin looked at her --- for the first time --- he
saw pure hatred.
other men watched, engrossed in the standoff.
Cody, who thought she was going to pass out from the stench of Eggsucker,
was able to slip out of his grasp with no struggle.
She moved to stand beside Joanna.
“So you’ve been robbin’ me for months, huh?” He took a step towards Babette, but stopped when her finger closed around the trigger. At this close range, even a poor shot wouldn’t miss. “That takes guts. Real guts.”
tossed her head. “I'm surprised you didn't figure it out sooner, James.
You were so busy that you never noticed that I've been doing my own manicures
and that…” She briefly gestured towards her mussed hair and gave a bitter
laugh. “… I wasn't keeping up my dye job and that I hadn't bought a new
outfit for months?”
Eggsucker and Joanna both muttered, “Should’ve got a receipt.” Cody elbowed her in the ribs. Joanna swallowed a curse and elbowed her back. Her ribs were still sore from her earlier confrontation in the alley with Eggsucker.
Hardin was turning purple. “Let me get this straight... you never spent anything?”
contemptuously, “Sure I did. I spent the last three years of my life as
your dirty little secret --- I didn’t exist.”
gave you everything, you ungrateful little slut!
A penthouse on LaCoeur Avenue! And a
pedigreed puppy ---!”
bastard! You threw poor Lulu off
was allergic to that yappin’ furball. Do
you realize how hard it would have been to explain to the wife why I was sneezin’
all of a sudden?”
Do you really think your lousy presents make up for having to be invisible?
You blew smelly cigar fumes in my face, even during ---!” She stopped
for a moment, then added venomously, “And I had to smile and take it!
I had to pretend you didn’t make my flesh crawl!”
could react, he slapped the gun out of her hand, sending it spinning across the
room. Unfortunately, it went into
the opposite direction from where Cody and Joanna were standing.
They looked at each other, thinking: Damn!
Raising a heavily ringed hand, Hardin backhanded his ex-mistress across the face, and suddenly had her pinned underneath him. Her eyes darted wildly around, but her teary vision was filled with overhead pipes and his rancid cigar breath. Her hat was still barely attached to her tangled hair, lying near her head.
had a good thing, Babette,” he whispered, his rage making him oblivious to
everything else. “And you had to
screw it up.”
do it again,” she whispered. With
that, she whipped out her hat pin and plunged it into his ear. His
eyes bulged in shock. “And again.
Buck cried, jerking away from Rogers. “Don’t!
He’ll get mad!”
turned away, lips twitching. As
always, Buck had a fantastic gift of understatement.
rubbed his paws together. “Hoo,
baby, this is better than prizefightin’!”
grabbed Joanna’s sleeve and nodded meaningfully towards the exit.
It seemed impossible that they could just walk out of there, but no one
was paying attention to them. Joanna’s
diversionary tactic had worked, but the vixen wasn’t about to congratulate her
at the moment. Together, they inched
towards the door. Cody glanced over
her shoulder to see if their escape was being noticed.
She didn’t even see the empty bucket that Joanna tiptoed around.
The vixen tripped over it and went sprawling.
Still, it was a plastic bucket and Hardin and Babette were making so much
noise that they almost covered up her slipup.
noticed first. “Hey!”
a growl, Eggsucker went after Joanna, ignoring Cody completely.
The bear darted towards the shadows of the warehouse, looking around
wildly for a weapon. She was no
fool—she knew Eggsucker would knock her out with his offensive body odor if
she let him get too close. She hoped
it would kill her before he began.
Rogers made a grab for the vixen, but Cody whirled out
of his grasp, wishing more than anything that she had her knife. She came up
behind him and slammed both her fists into his kidneys. He grunted and swung his
elbow back to connect solidly with her chin, making her bite her tongue. While
she was preoccupied with making sure her tongue was still intact, he got to his
feet and punched her solidly in the eye, sending a sharp wave of pain through
her skull. Eyes tearing, she
immediately dropped to one knee and, bracing herself with both arms, used the
other leg to sweep him off his feet. He crashed to the ground, and she didn’t
give him a chance to get up. Grabbing his muzzle and the back of his head
firmly, she gave a sharp jerk, breaking his neck.
Buck shook his head as he stiffly got to his feet.
He saw that Hardin and Rogers were dead, but he didn’t waste time going
after Joanna or Cody. He made
straight for Babette and tried to put his arms around her.
“You all right, honey?”
She shoved him away impatiently.
“Get away from me!”
He looked at her, shocked.
“Don’t touch me, Frank!”
Cody, who had been watching the little scenario,
smirked. “Your baby don’t like
you anymore, huh? Too bad.”
Buck growled and reached into his jacket pocket.
To Cody’s surprise, he didn’t pull out a gun.
Instead, he waved a knife at her. Her
knife! Anger overrode common sense
and she rushed him. He wasn’t
expecting it, though Babette was. She
stepped out of the way, eyes flashing with malicious amusement.
It would be entertaining to see what the midget could do.
As the vixen lunged at him, Buck slashed wildly with the
knife. It was obviously not
his best weapon, Cody noted disdainfully. He
wielded it like a meat cleaver. She
danced just out of reach of the slashing blade, feinted a kick with her left
leg, which he fell for. While he
focused on her left leg, she kicked him in the shins—hard—with her right.
Cursing, he dropped the knife and rubbed his shin.
The vixen dove for her favored weapon, smiling a little
as her hand closed around the worn hilt. Buck
tripped and landed on her ankle, twisting it slightly.
With a little cry of pain, she jerked away from him.
He scrambled to his feet and started towards her, his expression
Cody drew her arm back and flung the knife, aiming for
Buck’s heart. Without thinking, he
grabbed Babette and held her in front of him, using her as a shield.
The rapidly spinning blade caught her in the throat.
She gave a surprised gurgle, then died.
The vixen looked for Joanna and saw that Eggsucker had
cornered her on the catwalk above an acid vat.
Lips compressed, she started to go help her when she was tackled from
behind. Her head slammed against the
concrete floor and she lay there on her side, dazed as Buck began pummeling her
stomach and already bruised back.
“Why?” he sobbed.
“She loved me! I know she
did! You told her I didn’t
love her, didn’t you?”
Coming to her senses, she flipped over and brought her
knee up swiftly to his crotch. He
turned green, clutched himself and fell over.
“Idiot,” she snarled with as much contempt as she
could muster as she gasped for breath.
His eyes darkened and he dove for her.
Rather than stepping out of the way, she crouched and used his own
momentum to slam him hard against the vat. He
sat there, legs straight out in front of him, looking up
at her reproachfully.
“I wish Rogers had killed you.”
She bashed him on the back of the head with the hilt of
her knife until he was unconscious. Then,
she slumped to the ground, shaking.
Joanna’s voice invaded her thoughts.
Let the bad guys rub each other out. Let ‘em do
what comes naturally. And don’t
kill a spider unless it crawls on you.
“Baby, you still owe me that dance.” Eggsucker
glanced at the drum. “Hope you
like being dipped.”
Joanna swallowed, tasting sour bile.
“This is gonna be sweet.
You gave us a good chase, doll,” he said conversationally, slowly
advancing on her. “Oh, yeah.
You knew what you were doing… not like that dame at your hotel.
But the old bat didn’t go easy --- I hadda bash her skull in.
I like ‘em awake.”
Joanna’s stomach dropped.
“It’s an art, y’know…sucking
out people’s eyeballs. Takes some
practice. ‘Course, it’s hard to
do when they’re thrashing around under ya.
I always wonder what they’re thinking.”
Eggsucker leered. “I wonder
what you’ll be thinking.”
She backed away, forcing herself to smile maniacally at
him, even though she was terrified. No
way would she beg for her life.
I won’t beg. Then:
Please don’t let me beg.
She dodged around him as he made a grab for her.
Her heart pounded wildly as his hand closed around her arm.
Almost without thinking, she drove her thumb into the corner of one of
his eyes. He yelled and she jerked
away from him, saw that he was standing a little too close to the edge of the
gangway, and grinned. While he was
still rubbing his eye, she slammed into him.
He teetered for a moment, arms wind milling.
Then, he lost his balance and fell over the edge.
At the last second, he managed to reach up and grab the ledge.
“Well, well.” Joanna
leaned over. “Isn’t this
She forced his thumb off the edge. “This little piggy
went to market.”
“You rotten bit---!"
She flicked off his index finger next. “Say please.
This little piggy stayed home.”
“Say pretty please. This little piggy had roast
“Pretty please! Stop!”
“With a cherry on top. This little piggy had none.”
“With a cherry!
With a cherry!”
Snapping the bone of his remaining little finger, she
finished cheerfully, “And this little piggy went to hell.”
He didn’t yell as he plunged towards the vat.
As soon as the acid touched him, however, the lion let loose an unearthly
scream that made both Joanna and Cody cringe and clap their hands over their
ears. It didn’t matter --- they
could still hear the sickening sounds of his flesh as it blistered and popped.
Their eyes tearing from the rising vapors, they watched in horrified
His eyes were the first to go --- he shrieked in agony as they melted on his cheeks. His ears and nose were next --- they fell off and sank in the hellish elixir. By now, his innards had become soupy and his arms, legs and torso fell off and sank, piece by piece, and he came apart like a doll. Last to go was the head, its mouth momentarily stretched in a hideous mask --- for a moment it floated, pieces of flesh coming off it like algae, until all that was left was a gleaming white skull, boiled clean. Soon the cauldron was bubbling red, and the monster that was Eggsucker was dead.
As the rest of him hissed and dissolved, Joanna fanned the smell away with her hand and found herself saying, "That would've hurt."
Cody looked at her, stunned. “Why didn't you do that
Joanna didn’t answer.
Her heart hammered her chest and she kept staring at the place when their
nemesis had been.
As though by silent agreement, the women began emptying
the gangsters’ pockets. Both being
of a practical nature, each disapproved of money going to waste.
Joanna whipped out two wallets from Hardin and Rogers’s pockets.
“They won’t be needing these anymore.”
“Nope,” Cody agreed.
“I think there’s free admission where they’re going.
Nice and warm, too.”
The other woman gave a low chuckle. “You’re
something, you know that?”
Neither, however, was eager to plunge a hand into the dead Babette’s cleavage to retrieve the wad of bills.
Joanna wrinkled her nose. “Ugh. You do it.”
“No, you do it.” Cody folded her arms stubbornly.
“I ain’t touching those.”
Exasperated, Joanna suggested, “Well, what if we got a
pair of tongs or something?”
After a quick search of the warehouse, Cody found a hook
and length of chain. They made an
impromptu fishing pole and after a few tries, managed to drag the money from
“So what do we do with ‘em?” Cody surveyed the dead gangsters dubiously.
Joanna shrugged. “We
can’t just leave them, that’s for sure. This place is too far from the bay,
anyway. They’d probably float to
the surface after a few days and then we’d have a problem.”
They looked at the chemical vats, then at each other.
Joanna smiled grimly. “Are you thinking what I’m
Cody smiled back.
End of Chapter 9
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