Preface

The neon signs pointed to the jumping building. From all over the town men and women found their way into the most exclusive clubs in all New York City.

The biggest party of the year was just getting started…but for the mutilated body in the dumpster it had just ended.

Hours before she was raped, beat nearly to death, then instead of finishing the job, her half-dead form was shoved into a large, plastic, bag and finally flung in a dumpster. She used the rest of what little energy she had left, to ask the sinister sky for help.



Chapter One

Four days later.


 

He was just getting started on his third round when she approached him. Her long legs clad in jeans, slithered noiselessly as the green trench coat danced to the music. She had on a dark purple shirt hiding her stomach, which she declared fifteen pounds too much. The annoying and somewhat embarrassing smallness of her chest was hid tightly underneath a set of knife holsters which dug deeply into her arm pits. A dark black hat accented the outfit pulled lowed to cover the dyed hair. ‘Joe Hardy I presume.’ She said sliding into the booth across from him. The blonde boy shakily nodded his head.

No one from Bayport U would have recognized their star player. Black spots had nestled themselves underneath his dark blue eyes that no longer carried the snap from his yester days. He had lost weight, too much to his family and friend’s eyes. No matter how hard he tried Joe Hardy could not mask the pain Vanessa’s death had given him.

‘Depends…if you want some entertainment tonight in your cold bed, then no I ain’t Joe Hardy.’ He had yet to lift his eyes off the mug.

‘And if I don’t?’ The stranger asked.

‘Then yes my name happens to be Joe Hardy.’ The woman shot him a sharp glance.

‘Good. My name’s Thorn.’ She shook his hand. Joe felt the strength of her grip. He winced feeling it intensify in his alcoholic state.

‘What do you want?’ He growled above the sad, monotonous music played every night at this bar. Her eyes stared hard into his. Through his blurry vision, he could see a sharp yellow light shining in them.

‘I? Well I shall be quite frank with you dear, I want people to be a little nicer to me, I want the world to be rid of evil, I want Bin Laden’s head on a plate…’ That got a smile out of Joe.

‘You and every other American.’

‘But mostly I want you off your ass.’

‘My ass is just fine where it is. Are you done?’ Joe snapped rising from the booth. But the moment he stood he felt the blood rush to his head and the world start caving in.

The girl beckoned the man who stood in the corner to help her. He grunted as he picked the heavy body off the floor.

‘Are you sure this is a good idea?’ He grumbled helping her lift the body onto the motorcycle.

‘If I didn’t think it was a good idea, do you think I would be doing it?’ Thorn snapped. The man shook his head.

‘I must leave.’ He said with a small growl. Thorn grinned at him and pecked him on the cheek. ‘I’m glad you were around tonight, this guy was pretty heavy.’ The man smiled at her and climbed into his car.

‘I hate you,’ He said as he passed her.

‘Yeah, so do I.’ She turned her attention to Joe’s unconscious form. ‘Well, at least he got off his ass.’ She laughed gunning the motor.


* * * * *

Joe woke up to the cry of a very loud infant. He laid on the dirty mat staring at the patched roof above his head trying to remember the events of the night before. After a few moments he gingerly rose off the pallet careful not to move his head. ‘Well good morning. I tried several times to wake you up, I guess Sammy is more useful as an alarm clock than I thought.’ The woman smiled. She was impossibly skinny. Her light mousy hair was tied behind her head as she cradled a baby in her arms.

‘Where am I?’ Joe asked glancing about; the walls were of a dinghy white wallpapering most of it peeling away from the walls. There were several women and men spread all about the place, most of them skinny and beautiful.

‘Thorn said she’d be back in just a bit.’ The women folded his pallet.

Joe kept a sharp eye on her and everyone else.

‘Where am I?’ He repeated, trying not to sound panicky.

‘Let’s just say you are standing in a first rate whore house.’ She smiled wanly. Joe was too stunned to do anything. He immediately started imaging what that girl in the bar was doing to him while he was unconscious.

‘So….’ He asked in an unusually high voice which he vainly attempted to shadow with casualness. ‘Why did you bring me here?’

The woman placed Sammy into a small crib. ‘I didn’t bring you here, Thorn did, though she didn’t say why.’ She looked at him thoughtfully, ‘Thorn does some odd things, but I have never known her to go barhopping. Hmmm…’ She turned. Joe swallowed the puke down his throat; things were getting stranger and stranger.

‘Myah!! I got the food. Sorry it took so long, McDonald gets pissed very easily at 7:00 in the morning especially with all the food I needed. Oh good you’re up.’ She said to Joe dumping the paper sacks on the table. ‘Come with me, you get to have breakfast at McDonalds. I have much to tell you.’ He simply stared at her trying to piece words together. The girl took no notice, she simply grabbed his arm, and pulled him out the door, Joe limply followed.


* * * * *

The sausage biscuit tasted like sawdust. Thorn hadn’t said a word since ordering the food; she was now staring intently at the tray it came on.

Joe quietly ate the rest of his breakfast listening to her stubborn silence. Five minutes later, Thorn pulled a picture out of her pocket, ‘This body was found behind Club Millennium three nights ago.’ Joe stared at the picture; the naked girl’s body was covered with blood and bruises.

‘The vic was raped then beaten…’ He said mechanically. Never could he erase the detective instincts that lived in him.

Thorn nodded. ‘She died of suffocation; they stuffed her into a garbage bag. When they found her, she had been dead for a couple of days.’ Joe wrinkled his nose, but Thorn showed no emotion.

‘What does this have to do with me?’ Joe demanded. After Vanessa’s death he swore he would not loose another that he loved. Two blows were too much to keep a man sane. So he turned to the cleansing power of beer, drinking himself away from his family. The only one who could stand to be around him was Frank, and he was out somewhere in New York City shopping for Callie’s engagement ring. ‘And why should you care either? Was this girl a whore too?’

The woman’s eyebrows shot together. No, she is not a whore. If you would just listen for two whole minutes without interrupting, I could explain why I care.’ Joe tried to contain the growing anger and annoyance. ‘First I am not a whore, prostitute, hooker, or whatever you call them. I’m an ex Network Agent.’

‘You’re with the Network?’ Joe asked in disbelief and relief. ‘Then you must know the Grey Man.’

Thorn nodded. ‘I did know the Grey Man. But I am not with the Network anymore, now I’m just a plain ordinary citizen like yourself.’ Joe highly doubted it. ‘And I am as “retired” as you are. But, you see, this is a very dangerous case that everyone’s taking to lightly. See, the vic in this picture--her name is Melindi Banks--she was working with the hookers, giving them condoms and New Testaments, kinda cleansing her soul ‘cause she’s an ex-con.

‘I know from my contacts she has been doing this for the past five years. But I believe she got too deep. She uncovered something big, something that could put this country in a lot of trouble.’

‘I don’t understand.’ Joe said mesmerized by her story.’ Why would anyone kill someone like that?’

‘Well, while I was at the Network I discovered quite a few things. These so-called terrorists group have been receiving funds and info from the last persons you’d suspect. Remember Enron? ‘ Joe nodded. ‘Let’s just say there was more than them getting rich off the money-laundering.’ Her voice was flat and dull like she had memorized this little speech and went over it millions of times.

‘But there’s more than one way to get money. Once a rich man becomes addicted to something--let’s say crack or heroin, he’ll do anything to get more…once you get hooked on something its hard to get…unhooked’ She added pointedly for Joe’s benefit.

Joe didn’t get the sarcasm of her last words ‘So, you’re saying that someone’s been selling illegal highly addicted drugs to the rich cats, then over- pricing them for more?’ Joe couldn’t believe his ears.

‘Halfway, actually they slip it in their drinks or food, but they use morphine which is less mild, but just as addicted, then after a week or so of torment they come back with the cheap crack and wave it in front of their faces ‘till they break. Usually for one job they can get up to half a million.’

Joe smiled. ‘Which goes directly to all these Terrorist groups.’

Thorn returned with a dazzling grin. ‘I bet when you get over that hangover, you’re a bit smarter.’

Joe grimaced wishing she hadn’t brought up the headache he had tried to forget about. ‘So you think this Banks discovered who the rat is?’

‘Yes I do. The problem is no one is taking this seriously, everyone thinks that murders like this aren’t connected.’

‘And you think they are?’ Joe interrupted.

‘I know they are.’ She brought out five more pictures. ‘These bodies were all found in dumpsters--that’s why I need your help I’ve got to find out who did this, and you’re the only one who’s half as crazy as I am.’

Joe didn’t know whether to smile or slap her. He drained the last of his coffee this conversation was really starting to piss him off. ‘If I get you into the Network, then can I go back to my old life?’

Thorn smiled. ‘Of course I do and of course you can. But I really don't know why you would want to…still, suit yourself.’ She rose from the table deposited her tray on the top of the trash bin. ‘Next stop…Washington DC home of the Network.’

‘Oh by the way,’ she said as she climbed into the car. ‘Do you have a gun?’

‘No. I don’t carry a gun.’ Joe grunted.

‘Then, do you know how to throw a knife?’ Joe shook his head.

‘What are you? Amish?’ Thorn snapped.

‘I will not live my life in fear of weapons.’

Thorn raised her eyebrows. ‘That’s all well and good, Pilgrim, but in reality the defenseless are the first to die.’

‘And in reality those who hide behind guns are those who die with guns.’ Joe replied with a growl. Thorn smiled at him.

‘Then it’s a good thing I use knives.’


* * * * *

The whole way to DC Thorn and Joe never spoke two words to each other until they stopped at a broken-down gas station to each lunch.

As they sat down on the bench Joe took a small bite from the nachos she had ordered.

‘Do your chips taste as old as mine?’ Joe snapped. Thorn refused to stop at a bar to let him get a drink. So it had been one day since he refilled his thirst.

‘No, I like old chips, makes the cheese taste better.’ Thorn snapped back. She wasn’t in any better of a mood either, the case was starting to get cold, and so were the leads. ‘Why do you hate the world so much?’ Thorn asked after listening to ten more minutes of bellyaching.

‘I don’t hate the world…just you.’ A grin swept over her features. It took ten years off her face.

‘Good. Then we’re even.’

‘You know I did my part. I helped the hurt and sick. I saved people’s lives. And what do I get for it? One blown up friend, and another one who with a hole in her head. She thought I had forgotten our anniversary.’ Joe laughed horribly and bitterly. ‘I couldn’t come cause I was out saving this stupid world. Though it don’t matter. There’s still gonna be those maniacs, and there’s always the vics, like that girl in the picture.’

Thorn didn’t say a thing. She already knew how it almost pushed Joe off the edge, how he became a horrible alcoholic, how his family had given up on him--save maybe Frank--and how everything he had disappeared in a cloud of smoke.

‘I’m sorry Joe. I know how you feel.’ The words sounded hollow even to her.

‘You know NOTHING.’ Joe screamed standing from the table. ‘Just leave me alone you Bitch. Okay? God, just leave me the hell alone.’ He stalked off to the rented car leaving Thorn sitting at the picnic table keeping, as usual, her emotions deep down inside of her. For, as she learned the hard way, showing anything but passive thinking only leads to weakness, and weakness leads to death.



Chapter Two



She dreamt of fairies, wishing she could join them. What a beautiful site they were as they flew from her outstretched arms! But it was okay they would be back tomorrow.


Oh but, look one was returning, a very odd one, but that was beside the point. She had never touched one of the fairies before only watched them. His face was next to hers. She looked up shyly.

‘NOO!!!’ She screamed, yanking her eyes wide open, there in front of her was a man lying on top of her; a knife in one hand.

The girl started screaming with all her might, but no one was answering. He clasped a hand on her mouth, ‘Don’t bother; you’re the only one in this house that’s still alive. Though…’ He took her arm and cut a deep line. The girl screamed into his hand as he licked the blood.

‘Gotta go love, tell Mommy and Daddy bye-bye.’ He jumped out of the window leaving the girl sitting there staring at her mutilated arm.


Slowly Joe gingerly climbed out of the car he had learned to hate over the past week, not only was Thorn dull company (all she did was type on her laptop), but he couldn’t manipulate the radio into staying in for more than two minutes.

‘What I need is about fifty aspirins, a few doses of Nyquil and about twenty breathe right strips and I might make it through this.’ She angrily slammed the door only to see she caught half her coat in it. Growling under her breath, she kicked the door a few times then quietly pulled the handle and yanked her coat out.

Thorn was sick with the flu.

She checked her watch. ‘It’s ten o’clock. Okay, I will be in there with you, though you might not see me.’ While Joe started to ask her a question, she went into a coughing fit.

‘I hate my life.’ Thorn said gasping for air. ‘Let’s get this over with shall we?’ She said thickly as snot began to cloud up in her mouth.

‘And what exactly am I suppose to tell them?’ Joe asked finally going up the many stairs to the broken down building. Vaguely he remembered coming here to meet the head of the Network. Too many nights with too many drinks screwed up his memory.

‘Well, whatever the hell you freakin’ feel like. Sheash Joe! All I need is the records of Melendi Banks, how hard is that?!?’ Thorn cried out in fury.

Joe glanced at her in surprise.

‘Hmm…well,’ He grunted. ‘Why bother?’ He muttered clambering up the stone steps into the Network Headquarters.


* * * * *

Joe fumbled in his pockets for his ID tag. ‘Anytime…No hurry.’ Thorn mumbled. Joe spun quickly to tell her off only to see that once again she had disappeared.

‘Here it is.’ He handed the stern-looking woman a crumpled ID tag the Grey Man had given him years ago.

‘About time.’ Thorn snapped angrily. Again Joe spun around, but again she had disappeared. ‘Hey moron, I put a camera mike thing on you earlier, I am in the car seeing and hearing you.’ Her voice whispered loudly in his ear. ‘I thought you knew that.’

‘No.’ Joe murmured feeling like a total dope.

‘Well now you do. The Morgue is one the third floor, now its straight down the hall but Mr. G’s office is there too, so you’ll have to go up on the staircase then you’ll miss his office and be right in front of the morgue.’

Joe nodded climbing the concrete stairs. Silently he opened the door at the top, glancing quickly both ways to make sure no one was coming he tip-toed to the door marked MORGUE: AUTHORIZED PERSONAL ONLY.

‘Shit.’ Joe hissed seeing no keyhole, only a card swipe. ‘How do I get in?’

‘Swipe your card.’ Thorn replied.

‘But I…’

‘SWIPE THE DAMN CARD JOE!!’ Thorn yelled loud enough for Joe to hear ringing in his ears. Quickly he swiped his card. The red light turned to green and the handle clicked open.

‘It worked.’ He looked at the card in amazement.

‘Yeah well Peter Pan, I, Tinkerbell, changed the code--temporarily of course.’ Joe heard the grin in her tone.

‘Whatever.’ He muttered stepping into the office. ‘So what am I looking for exactly?’

‘A drawer labeled Banks.’ Joe turned on the small penlight.

‘Azim, Bahner, ah here it is Banks.’ He opened the drawer. ‘Oh God.’ On it was the body of a poor girl; she was dead white with many knife wounds and bruises.

‘Alright, Joe I need you to lift the sheet. I know its hard but there’s something I am looking for.’ Trying not to touch the icy flesh he lifted the ashen sheet. Her body was worse than the face. He had never seen so many gashes and deep bashes.

‘Ok good. Now turn the body over.’ Thorn choked out before she began coughing violently. ‘Sorry. Okay fine, there it is, see it right there on her left butt cheek? That’s his sign--it was on all the other girls we found, but it’s so ordinary no one thought the better.’ She said with disgust.

Joe bent down to examine the mark. If Thorn hadn’t pointed it out he never would have noticed. It looked just like all the other knife wounds except this one was in the shape of...

‘A shoe.’ Thorn spat in his ear. Joe quickly covered the body back his insides quivering. ‘Though I have no idea what it means.’

Joe closed his eyes blocking out the hollow look the girl’s eyes showed him. He never really understood the mind of a killer. How could they not care about their prey? What would possess someone to take the life of another human, whether good or bad? Sure, Joe had wanted to kill plenty of bad guys, but he never all-out killed anyone while having to look into their eyes.

‘Babe, wake up someone’s coming.’ Joe snapped up at the sound of Thorn’s voice. He heard the sound of footsteps leading up to the door.

Quickly he slammed the drawer shut, turned off the penlight, and then opened the side window. Poking his head out he noticed it wasn’t that big of a fall and there were plenty of dumpsters. Why not?

‘Joseph Hardy don’t even think of~’ Thorn shouted, but it was broke off by the THUD Joe’s landing made.

He opened his eyes to see Thorn’s irritated stare burn into his skin. ‘You should have died when you had the chance, now I’m gonna personally kill ya.’ She grabbed his arms and roughly pulled him out. ‘Yeash! Scaring me like that, and then making me watch it in the car.’ She punched him in the chest.

‘Ouch!’ Joe cried his chest was already sore after all.

‘Oh did that hurt?’ Thorn looked sorry.

‘Yes it hurt.’

‘Good.’ And with that she stalked off back to the car.


* * * * *

‘Alright so now what are we gonna do?’ Joe asked from behind the steering wheel. Thorn was busily typing on the laptop she carried around with her everywhere.

This was about the third time he’d asked her this. ‘Mmmm. What…ohh…well…I need go back to New York.’ Angrily she stomped her foot. ‘See here’s the problem…Okay all these girl’s he’s killed were actual drug dealers, one of them was a wife of a well-known drug smuggler, Juan Carlos, he deals though down in Mexico…now that was a mess to clean up. He just about went bonkers when he came home and wifey-pooh was lying there in a puddle of blood. We probably wouldn’t have heard a thing about it except one of our agents was right in the middle of his gang. He snapped pictures of her body at the mass. Anyways, long story short, Carlos was extremely pissed off and he is looking for the bitch who killed his wife…well, he would be but we arrested him a year ago.’

‘You mean to tell me these murders have been going on for a year?’ Joe asked.

Thorn shook her head. ‘No, longer…we’re talking five years. That’s why no one thinks they’re connected…see, they think it’s a gang and when I told them about that shoe mark, they began saying it was their mark. They think that this group kills to warn others if they go snooping into their business what the consequences are.’

‘That makes sense.’ Joe said.

‘Ah, but the problem is Melendi Banks. She had no connections whatsoever to drug dealers or gangs…’

But you said she knew who the mole was.’

‘Yes, but I don’t know how she knew who Mole is. For all we know she may not have known him.’

‘Then why kill he? If she didn’t know then how could she be any threat to them?’ Joe’s mind was going back to the mark on her.

‘See what I mean, I figured Banks knew who the mole was and he killed her to keep her quiet. For all I know the Network could be right and it’s a gang who killed these women.’ Her fingers flew across the keyboard. ‘But, let’s say that the Network is wrong, and it wasn’t a gang. Let’s say my theory is wrong and Banks didn’t even know who the mole was.’

‘Then why kill her?’ Joe repeated.

‘Elementary. Why kill her if she had no ties to you, if she was no threat to you?’ Thorn sighed. ‘But something just doesn’t fit. I have been on this computer; I thought maybe Banks’ murder had nothing to do with the others. Just because her body was found outside a club doesn’t mean she was connected with the other girls. But that tattoo proves she was killed by the same person as the others.’

Joe’s head was swimming, it seemed as if everything she was saying was mud. Thorn wrinkled her nose. Her fingers stopped flying across the keyboard. She sat there in frozen horror.

‘What is it?’ Joe asked looking at the screen.

‘Apparently, Banks was getting threatening messages in her email, I hacked into it on a hunch, this was one of the messages she got. Two days before she died.’ She turned the computer screen to Joe.


THERE WAS A KILLER WHO LIVED IN A SHOE. HE HAD SO MANY WOMEN HE DIDN’T KNOW WHAT TO DO. HE GAVE THEM SOME POISON, THEN THE TASTE OF DEATH. THEN RAPED THEM ALL SOUNDLY AND PUT THEM INTO THEIR GRAVES.


‘The shoe…’ Joe said slowly.

‘Drive Joe. We got to get out of here. SHIT.’ Thorn slammed the laptop against the dashboard as Joe spun out on to the road. He watched Thorn chuck the laptop out the window. ‘He put a virus in the system. He’s been watching us the whole time. He knows where we are.’



Chapter Three.



After being tossed from orphanage to orphanage she was more than happy to go to this foster family.

These people had no children and they eagerly accepted her as their own. When she first arrived the lady took her and bought her more dresses than the girl had ever had before. And they weren’t those off-brand dresses her Mother bought; they were beautiful rich girl’s dresses.

The Father, well, he was a father. He was head minister at the First Baptist Church. Better than anything her Father ever did; he was a janitor at some restaurant; she never was sure what the name of it was.

All in all her life had improved dramatically since her parents death, but, as Newton said, all things that go up, must come down.

She was now fourteen years old, but that didn’t mean she was too old to dream about Fairies. She was just finishing her favorite book, Thumbelina, when he came in the room.

‘Its time for bed.’ He announced watching her as she put the book down.

‘Five more minutes??’ She begged. ‘I’m on the best part, when she meets the Prince.’

‘No.’ He took the book out of her hand, much to her surprise. ‘It’s bedtime.’

‘Okay.’ She whispered. ‘I just need to change into my PJ’s and brush my teeth.’ She got up to go to the bathroom when he grabbed her arm.

‘Change your clothes in here.’ He ordered.

‘What?’ She mouthed, wishing he would let up on her arm, her cut had not fully healed and it was quite painful.

‘Why…’ She lurched her hand free of his grip. He sighed and pulled her on his lap.

‘I know your hurting, I see you dragging about here like you do, your parent’s death, it hurt you didn’t it?’ He stroked her hair.

‘Well, yes it hurt me.’ She answered shakily.

‘I am hurting to Child. I have wanted you to help me and I could help you.’ He kissed the back of her neck; the girl wheeled herself around and slapped him in the face. He grabbed her fingers and bit each one of them, then pulled a gun out of his jacket. ‘Lay down on the bed and take off your clothes.’

The girl stared at him.

‘Do you think that dying bothers me?’ She motioned wildly towards the gun. ‘You filthy animal. Shoot me please, it would be a mercy.’ But he didn’t shoot her; he just stood there and laughed horribly.

‘No.’ And with that he sunk down on the bed, his gun clenched between his teeth and started raping her.


* * * * *

She lay there, her naked body sweating in the darkness. She was trying hard to forget what just happened, but no matter how hard she could, his face would not leave her mind.

‘Well,’ She said after awhile. ‘I’ll make sure he doesn’t hurt anyone like this again.’ Quickly she put on the clothes she had worn from the orphanage. Sneaking down the stairs, she stole into the kitchen grabbing the butcher knife from the bloc on the kitchen counter.

Silently she swept up there stairs and entered their bedroom. The moon shone in the window while she rose the knife over the sleeping man’s form.

 

‘Stop!’ Thorn barked as they reached an old, worn~out building. ‘Ugh my head is killin’ me!’ She sighed heavily.

‘Think we lost ‘em?’

‘Yeah. They only had the comp tracked, crap now I’ll have to get a new one.’

‘What do we do now?’ Joe asked surveying the cars flying by them.

‘Well…we do need to get back to New York but I also need to…shoot! There’s no other choice.’ Thorn started talking to herself. ‘Yep only way…unless…no. Defiantly can’t get any help from him, but what if…? No he can’t possibly still be mad, I mean he did it in the first place.’ She looked at Joe. ‘When I get frustrated talking to myself is the only thing to calm me down.’

‘Oh.’ Joe didn’t know what else to say.

‘Fine.’ Thorn snapped. Joe looked at her in alarm. ‘Be right back.’ She smiled leaving the car to call somebody on her phone.

Joe sat there watching her animatedly talk on the phone. As he did he let his memories of the night his world collapsed sweep over him.

‘Vanessa.’ Joe screamed in the phone, relief washing over him. ‘I thought you had gone to bed.’

‘No.’ Vanessa whispered. ‘I couldn’t sleep.’

‘Worried sick over me, huh?’ Joe teased.

‘Yes I guess I was.’ Vanessa answered with a touch of sarcasm. ‘Where are you?’

‘Almost to Bayport. I should be in front of your house in 15 minutes.’

‘Did you bust those guys?’

‘Of course.’ He bragged. ‘It was like swatting a bunch of flies.’

‘Oh.’ Vanessa replied in a pathetic, droning voice.

‘Is something wrong?’ Joe asked in mild alarm.

‘Nothing.’ Vanessa snapped.

‘Okay.’ Joe said slowly. ‘Hey, Vanessa, I picked up a-- CLICK.’ Joe stared at the phone. Vanessa had hung up on him.

Absently, he looked at the dozen roses he had bought to give her for their anniversary.

‘Joe…Joe.’ Thorn waved a hand in his face. ‘Come back to earth.’ Angrily he opened his eyes to see her yellow ones shining back at his.

‘Guess what?’ She sounded excited.

‘What?’ Joe mumbled rubbing his eyes so she wouldn’t see the dry tears.

‘Well, first I got me a new laptop. And a lead…’

‘Oh yeah,’ Joe asked forgetting his troubles, ‘What’s that?’

‘Well I had a buddy of mine screened that addy that sent Banks her email. Now, wait til you get a load of this. The man who sent it is a prominent businessman who lives in New York City. Apparently, he has been arrested three times for suspected drug abuse, but somehow the witness who accused him turn up missing.’

‘Mob ties?’

‘No, at least the Network doesn’t think so. Do you remember that talk we had in Mickey D’s?’

‘He’s one of the ones being blackmailed!’ Joe said triumphantly. ‘And if Banks found out that he was taking drugs… wait,’ A strange light came in his eyes, ‘if Banks knew one of the witnesses who disappeared, then confronted him~’

‘Or what if Banks was one of those witnesses?’ Thorn interjected.

‘But that doesn’t add up, the tattoo…ah copycat?’ Joe asked.

Thorn smiled. ‘Copycat. Now see how fast you are without the beer.’

‘So Banks found out about his secret life turned him in, and then he killed her~’

‘Or, could have had someone else kill her.’ She pointed out.

‘Whatever, the point is, if he did kill her and make it look like a copycat, then what about all the other girls?’

‘One thing at a time.’ Thorn sighed heavily. ‘First things first, this guy, Peter Townsend’s his name. He is having a big, grand ball at his mansion this weekend. Now if a certain girl and guy were to crash the party…’

‘Ah.’ Joe smiled. ‘I’ll dig my tux out of the closet.’


* * * * *

‘Joe, are you okay?’ Frank asked again. Since Thorn’s party wasn’t until the weekend Joe had three days to kill before he had to put up with her. So he asked Frank to wire him some money; jumped on the nearest plane, and headed home. He was eager to put some distance between that girl and himself. Plus, over the past two days he caught back up on his drinking.

Right now he and Frank were at Mr. Pizza’s. Joe had been crashing with his brother the past few months not willing to face his parents and their disappointment in him.

‘Fine.’ Joe answered nursing a hangover. ‘Why wouldn’t I be?’

‘Well, I don't know Joe.’ Frank said sarcastically as he started counting off his fingers. ‘Maybe because you disappeared on me, coming back telling about this girl and a new case, then staying out all night drinking yourself unconscious.’ Frank Hardy angrily retorted.

‘Frank I’m twenty-one years old, I’m more than capable of taking care of myself.’

‘Yeah, I can tell.’ Frank muttered. ‘So how pretty is this girl, Joe?’ He knew that his brother could never resist a pretty face. No matter how bad or crooked she was.

‘She’s not that pretty Frank.’ Liar. Joe’s conscience replied crossly.

‘So let me get this straight--she just met you in the bar…’

‘Yes Frank.’ Joe said through gritted teeth, he knew where this line of questioning was going.

‘And all she wants is you to help her on a case?’

‘Yes Frank.’ Joe whispered in a monotonous tone.

‘And you trust her? What if all this is all a front and she is really wanting to kill you?’

‘I assure you Mr. Hardy, I, in no way desire to kill your brother. If I did, I would have done it a long time ago.’

Frank turned to see a tall woman behind him. She was dressed in dark clothes with a large hat drawn over her eyes.

‘Frank, meet Thorn.’ Joe said in mockery.

‘Oh,’ Frank fumbled. ‘Nice to meet you.’

‘Yeah. Whatever. Listen Lover-Boy, mind if I borrow your brother for just a sec?’ She smiled sweetly. ‘Don’t worry, I ain’t stupid enough to axe him right here in front of everyone in broad daylight. I usually kill people at night.’ She turned and walked off.

‘Be right back, Frank.’ Joe said, grabbing his jacket. ‘Whoa, major headache.’ He groaned as he walked out into the blinding sun.

‘That’s what you get for going out and getting your dumb, idiotic, self drunk.’ She hissed grabbing a large case out of the car.

‘What’s that?’

‘This, Mr. Hardy, is your new toys for tomorrow night.’ She brought out several pieces of equipment. ‘First, this is an earpiece which will enable us to talk to each other a different ends of the house. This is the blueprint of Townsend’s mansion.’ She unrolled it atop the hood of the car.

‘Where did you get a blueprint of the man’s house?’ Joe asked, scanning the map.

‘Channels. Now look right here--see those?’ She pointed to tunnels running under the house. ‘Now these were once sewer lines but they aren’t used any more. The Network has been watching this man closely as I said and the biggest problem we have with him is he never withdraws any large amounts of money.’ Thorn smiled. ‘We even broke into his house to find the safe…but it’s not there, but if he was exchanging and storing the money and drugs in these sewer lines. We might catch a break.’

Joe looked at her in bewilderment. ‘Why did the Network fire someone as smart as you?’

‘Who said I was fired?’ Thorn answered sharply.

‘You’re not the only one who has friends. I looked on the Network records. You were fired for “conduct unbecoming”. But I happen to know when the Networks gets someone like you they fire them only if they’re passing info.’

‘What do you mean?’ Thorn placed her hand on her hips.

‘Forget it. Now what’s this?’ He held up a wicked looking fork.

‘That’s a scrambler. If you run into a security alarm, jam it into the wall socket and it scrambles electricity and turns it all off.’ Joe breathed a sigh of relief as Thorn was too absorbed to continue her angry questioning. Joe had called the Grey Man yesterday and asked him about Thorn just in case. But the Grey Man wouldn’t give him any details.

‘Now lastly, here is your gun and holster. I don’t think you should be sporting that rifle I gave you.’ She grinned. ‘Make sure its loaded, I don’t know who we might run into. Also, we are Mr. and Mrs. Joe Smith; we’re what they call “new money” you smartly invested in stocks which took off over night and now you’re a billionaire. I shall come by Frank’s apartment to pick you up at 8:oo--gots it?’ Thorn asked before she started coughing.

‘Yeah, whatever. 8:oo, see you then.’ Joe watched while Thorn drove off.

He sighed; he had a bad feeling over tomorrow.



Chapter Four.



She ran out of the house her hands covered in blood. Breathing heavily, guilt poured over her in waves she couldn’t control. Now that her nasty deed was done, her conscious wouldn’t leave her alone.

Tears streamed down her cheeks as she slammed into a wall of flesh. ‘Hey! Watch it.’ A man’s voice cried out. She looked up to see a man of about twenty look sternly down at her, but his face softened when he saw her tears. ‘Hey, Baby I’m sorry.’ Gently he touched her forehead. ‘God, you’re freezing. Here.’ He gave her his leather coat. The girl was too numb with shock. She barely noticed his hands leading her into a back alley. A man sat before them and her hero argued with him silently while she stood and stared at her hands.

He patted her head gently. ‘Now, Jake there’s no reason for you to get in such a fit. She’s just a girl…why can’t she stay with us just for the night?’ The girl’s hero drawled. ‘It’s not as if she’s gonna give away any of our secrets.’

Jake rose up from his seat on the tire and went to examine the girl. He lifted her chin to meet her eyes. Then he let them rest on the blood that had caked on her hands. ‘Is this your blood?’

The girl shook her head. ‘It was the blood of the man I killed.’ Jake let out a slow whistle.

‘You killed?! Why?’

‘He raped me. I wasn’t gonna let him do it again.’ The Girl felt tears flow down her cheeks. Damn it! A stupid tear, now they know her tough guy act was put on.

‘One so young, to have already taken a life…’ Jake shook his head. ‘She may stay this night. But tomorrow I want her out of here.’

The girl smiled. Well, maybe this could be her family.

 

Joe irritably stood waiting for Thorn. All the gadgets she had given him were piercing his skin, not to mention the fact that she was ten minutes late. He knew Frank’s eyes were baring into his back. The two had a wonderful argument an hour before hand which caused the attendants to come chew Frank out, Joe had a feeling he wouldn’t be invited over anytime soon.

But who needs a brother anyway? He thought as the lights of a taxi illuminated his form.

‘You’re ten minutes late.’ He announced climbing in the car.

‘Well, I had a few last minute things to do. Here put this on, we caught a break; tonight's little get-together is a costume ball. So, here’s your mask--be careful with it, I went broke buying it, and here’s your top-hat and cloak.’ She handed him a dark hat and a rich black cloak trimmed with velvet which was a rich purple color.

While he scrambled into the cloak, Thorn started putting powder on. It was too dark to see her face; Joe figured whatever she had on was big, for he was sitting on half of it.

‘Now partly through the ball, I shall create a diversion while you saunter down to those sewers. I’ll meet you there when I get a chance.’ She pulled something out of the small purse. ‘Here’s a copy of the blueprints. Ahh…we’re here.’ The cab pulled up in front of the largest mansion Joe had ever seen. Complete with a huge fountain spewing water in the front.

Women dressed in beautiful costumes with men pawing on their arms climbed the stone steps to the oak doors. ‘Joe, now I know you hate me, but for tonight we have to at least attempt to enjoy each other’s company. Okay? Oh and my name is Brier.’ Thorn whispered steeping out of the cab. ‘Here’s a hundred bucks, see how fast you can get out of here.’ She said to the cabbie.

Joe watched as the cabbie took off (breaking a few speed limits) then walked to take Thorn’s arm.

As he took her arm he took in the rest of her body. She was wearing a blue dress with tiny crystals fluttering all over it. Her hair was piled on top of her head, but flirty little curls rested on her neck.

‘Hey, you and I know I look awesome in this dress. So let’s skip the “Wow! I didn’t realize you were so hot” crap. And pretend we’re married. Okay?’ Thorn said irritably. She was already tripping on the hem of the billowing skirt.

‘Okay.’ Joe muttered shaking his head. Thorn handed the man at the door her invitation. She put on her sweetest grin, arched her back, and pretended to be money.

Joe’s ears exploded as they entered the ball room. The man had a full orchestra in his living room! Joe looked about him in awe. Men and women were gracefully spinning in time to the music, their colorful masks creating a rainbow of beauty.

‘I’d give anything to live like this.’ Joe muttered under his breath.

‘Sweetheart. Trust me you don’t want what they have.’ Thorn leaned in and muttered in his ear. ‘Believe me, they’re all like vultures fighting over something that none of them will ever have.’ She took his arm and led him out on the floor.

Joe never knew how good of a dancer she was. She kept in time perfectly with each beat of the music.

A hand tapped Joe on the shoulder. ‘Hello, I am Dr. Frederick Troope and this is my wife, Lorie. I don’t believe we have met before.’ He extended his hand which Joe shook just as gracefully.

‘Yes, well I am Joe Smith and this is Th…er…Brier.’ He felt Thorn angrily pinch him in the back.

‘How do ye do. Monsieur Troope?’ Joe turned to Thorn in surprise. Her accent was thick with a deep southern roll.

‘Much better if you would grace me with a waltz.’

‘Why certainly Monsieur.’ Thorn bowed to him and they danced off. Joe and Mrs. Troope stood there in awkward silence.

‘Would you like a drink?’ Joe finally asked after another two minutes. ‘I’m afraid my wife is the dancer of the family.’

Lorie laughed. Though her face was hidden by a great gold mask; Joe could tell she was a very beautiful woman.

Joe remembered Thorn’s nagging about him drinking. And he figured it wouldn’t bother her one bit to slap him right here… so he decided he best not risk it.

‘Have you been married long?’ Lorie asked him, sipping the crystal liquid delicately.

‘About a year.’ Joe answered absentmindedly.

‘Frederick and I have been married for about ten years now.’ She said with just a pang of despair in her voice.

But Joe was too busy scanning the room to notice it. ‘Babe,’ Thorn whispered in his ear. ‘Townsend’s just to the right of you. Get your ass up to him and starting kissing his, and make sure to mention your hot wife who can sing like a songbird. Great! Here he comes, get going.’ Joe looked up and spotted a very large man coming towards him.

But he wasn’t large in a fat kind of way; he was huge and muscular, standing about seven feet tall. The man was not what Joe had expected.

‘Mr. Townsend? Joe Smith. Nice to meet you Sir.’ Joe said with a tiny bow. Peter Townsend just nodded in his direction. ‘And may I extend gratitude on behalf of my wife and I on your invitation to your lovely home’ Joe trailed off.

‘Your wife?’ Townsend’s head jerked up. ‘Where?’

‘Oh, well, she’s over there dancing with Dr. Troope, the one in the blue dress.’ Joe pointed towards her, though he himself barely recognized her.

‘Why you’re a very lucky man, Mr.…uh…’

‘Smith, sir.’ Joe growled he didn’t like the way this man was looking at his Thorn.

‘Smith.’ Townsend grunted grabbing a cocktail off the platter. ‘Your wife is quite lovely.’

‘Why thank you Sir, I shall tell her that. Of course she’s extremely modest. She claims being a singer forces her into wearing packs of makeup and eating nothing but carrots.’ Joe was grasping at straws. Townsend tended to breathe heavily, and he was a very imposing figure.

‘She sings?’ Townsend asked.

‘Yes, and I also play piano.’ Thorn said form behind Joe. ‘I see you’ve met Joe.’ She wrapped her arm into Joe’s. ‘I am Brier Smith. Very pleased to meet you.’ She was still talking in her southern accent. ‘And might I compliment you on this lovely party you’ve put together.’

‘Why thank you Ma’am. Now if I may, might I ask for your hand during the next waltz?’ Townsend asked in his low voice.

‘Yes, I shall be more than happy to, but can we make it the next one? I need to talk with my husband for a second.’ She smiled.

‘Why yes, if you will excuse me.’ Townsend’s great formed disappeared in the dazzling array of skirts.

‘C’mon let’s go stand on the patio.’ Thorn whispered in his ear.

‘Alright.’ Joe folded his hands on his chest. ‘What the hell do you know about that Townsend that I don’t know about?’

Thorn leaned against the railing. ‘I think I’m gonna…’ And with one mighty belch Thorn spewed all over the railing.

‘Hey!’ Joe rushed to her as she slowly rose form her bent position. ‘You alright?’

‘I’m fine!’ Thorn snapped. ‘Stupid Asshole in there was trying to push his hand up my leg.’ She muttered under her breath. ‘Shoot, is any of it on my dress?’

‘No.’ Joe said, noticing how pale she was. ‘Maybe we should just call it a night~’ He was trying to help her to a standing position. She batted off his hands.

‘No. Here’s the thing,’ She sighed leaning back over the railing. ‘Townsend deals in more things than drugs…he used to come by the place in his fancy car. Then he’d wait outside honking his freakin’ horn ‘til one of the girls came down.’ She said in disgust. ‘It’s all I can do not to kill him with my bare hands. Now I’ve got to get in there.’ Joe lightly touched her arm.

‘Don’t worry I’ll be all right. Next time you see me, get down to those sewers, Okay?’ Joe nodded. ‘I’ll meet you as soon as I can. Wait for me.’

And with that she breezed back into the lion’s den.

For the next twenty minutes Joe sat on the railing waiting to see Thorn, but Vanessa’s memory met him first.

‘Mrs. Bender?’ Joe touched her elbow.

‘Joe?’ Her eyes were red with grief. And one can’t blame her. First her husband who divorced her so many years ago and now a daughter who shot herself in the head. ‘I asked you not to come.’ She hissed through clamp lips.

‘I know. But I had to say Goodbye to her~’

‘None of us would have had to say goodbye to her if you would have stayed with her and not chase after that whore!’ She shrieked.

‘Ma’am, she was not a whore she was a client and she needed my help. I thought Vanessa knew that, she knew I care for no one but her.’ Joe croaked. He knew it was his fault. After she slammed the phone down on him, Vanessa ran to her room, pulled out the gun, and shot herself.

And it was all his fault.

‘Mrs. Bender, I am sorry. There’s no way I could show how sorry I am.’ Tears formed behind his eyes.

‘GO SHOOT YOURSELF!! STAY AWAY FROM ME, YOU KILLED MY DAUGHTER YOU FREAKING ASS!!’ People were now looking at Joe, the same contempt on their faces.

‘C’mon Joe.’ Frank touched his shoulder. ‘Let’s go home.’

‘NO!!’ Joe screamed. Every time…every time…it was ‘C’mon on Joe let’s go…first Iola, now ‘Nessa. It wasn’t fair! Joe ran from the church in blinded sorrow.

‘Mr. Smith…Mr. Smith…’ Joe’s eyes flew open to meet the face of Lorie Troope. ‘Mr. Smith, are you alright?’

‘Yes.’ Joe said, wiping his face with the back of his hand. ‘I’m fine. Is something wrong?’

‘No. I just thought you should know, your wife is in there singing.’

‘What?’ He mouthed. He thought the whole singing thing was just a show. ‘Well, I guess I better go see what song she is singing.’ He escorted Lorie back in the ballroom.

Sitting on stage behind a piano was Thorn singing a Vanessa Carlton song. ‘GO!’ He heard her hiss in his ear.

‘Right.’ Still not believing his eyes, he snuck out of the room only to slam in to Peter Townsend.

‘Ah Mr. Smith, your wife has a voice of an angel.’

‘Yes, and I have a bladder that’s just about ready to burst. Can you tell me where the bathroom is?’ Joe asked, trying to control the fury in his voice. And to think I actually shook his hand!

‘Down the hall, fifth door on the left.’ Townsend rudely said. Joe chose to ignore it.

‘Thank you Sir.’ He turned to go to the bathroom. Nevertheless then on the way he bumped into Dr. Troope.

‘Joe, old chap, your wife…I didn’t know she sang. Wow!’ He closed his eyes. Joe could tell he was quite drunk.

‘Yeah, and if you lay a paw on her, you’ll wont be able to talk, much less sing--got it?’ He sneered angrily shoving his way to the bathroom.

‘Okay, map where too?’ He sat on the toilet trying to find where the tunnel from the house was. Slowly, he traced his way from the biggest tunnel to the…

‘Ah Master Bedroom, how clever! Now that is two doors down from here.’ Quietly he slipped out of the stall, down the hall, and into the Master Bedroom.

‘Whoa, I gotta get me one of those.’ There in the middle of the room was a giant Jacuzzi.

‘Now where the heck is the tunnel?’ He scanned the room looking for a trap door.

‘Babe, look under the bed.’ Thorn’s voice rang in his ear. ‘I’ll meet you down there, I have to dance with God’s gift to women one more time.’

While she was talking, Joe crawled under the bed. ‘Bingo!’ He pushed the red button on the bottom of the bed. In one swift motion the bed flew up, the floor opened and Joe fell through.

‘Yelch.’ He whispered to the muck on his tux. ‘Frank’s gonna kill me.’ The tux was Frank’s after all.

Glancing in the darkness, he took the flashlight Thorn had given him from his pant leg. ‘For someone who has more money than sense, this guy needs a decorator.’ The sewer looked like, well, a sewer. Joe had figured it would look like something out of Star Trek. But then again he thought Townsend himself was some fat, bald, guy.

He took out another cool thing Thorn had given him. Actually it was nothing but an aerosol can filled with smoke. ‘To spray,’ She had said, ‘in front of you to pick up laser alarms.’

He sprayed it all around him in a circle, but didn’t pick up one alarm. Then he looked on the ceiling for any cameras, there wasn’t any. Something was weird. ‘I have a bad feeling about this.’ He whispered to himself.

‘Good. Then I ain’t the only one.’ Thorn said from behind him. ‘Either we’ve tripped an invisiy alarm or we’re in the wrong tunnel.’

‘No this is the right one. Why else would he have a button and a tunnel for it in his room?’ Joe began walking, Thorn following close behind him.

‘You’re probably right.’ She sighed. ‘He’s a lot dumber than I give him credit for, I suppose.’ And that was the last thing said as the two trudged on for the next twenty minutes, unless you count Thorn groaning whenever she tripped over her dress.

‘I suppose I owe you a thanks.’ She said after a while.

‘Why?’ Joe asked flashing the light about the walls of the sewer.

‘For telling that Troope idiot off and sticking up for me.’ She said in an odd voice.

‘Men shouldn’t treat women like cattle.’ Joe replied.

‘I agree. But you do anyway, and women are as dumb as cattle and lick it up.’ She smiled. ‘That’s why three-fourths of the population today aren’t virgins. They just can’t control themselves, and act like ladies and gentlemen.’

‘Thorn, can I ask you a question?’ Joe asked after another period of silence.

‘What?’ Thorn choked out before going into another coughing fit.

‘I wish I hadn’t insisted on Vanessa and I not doing it ‘til we were married.’ He laughed bitterly. ‘She was the one who wanted to, but I told her no. And now…’ He trailed leaving Thorn waiting for the question.

‘You know Joe; I grew up around people who all-out worshipped it. And I guess I did too, until I started staying with Myah. To them sex is nothing but money. There’s no “making love” in it for them. All they get is STD’s, pregnancies, and maybe twenty bucks. That is if that jerk of a pip doesn’t take it. Everyone looks down on them because of what they do, but if you ask me these other people aren’t any better. The Bible names a lot of other sex sins besides prostitution. Yet, when you tell these idiots that all they say is ‘Well, I ain’t as bad as them.’ When in reality, they’re just as bad if not worse, and they know it.

‘No, Joe I respect you for waiting. A lot of guys can’t do that…but trust me you didn’t miss much.’

‘Have you…?’ Joe asked.

‘Yes.’ Thorn whispered quietly. ‘And to this day I regret my stupidity.’ She lowered her hand, a sign the conversation was over.

‘Joe, pull your gun. I saw something.’ Thorn whispered. Joe quickly pulled the gun out of the holster and turned the safety.

‘What did you see?’ He asked softly.

‘A shadow, or at least I think it was a shadow.’ Thorn muttered, dropping the shawl wrapped around her shoulders.

‘Where’s your gun?’ Joe hissed.

‘Turn off the light! What in the world?!’

‘Mr. And Mrs. Smith, how nice it is for you to join me.’ Townsend boomed from a big leather chair sitting in the center of the lavish room. They were in a large room, furnished with lavish oriental carpets, Greek Statues, and four, very angry… very large men. ‘Though I doubt you two are Smiths…much less married. Are you police, FBI? CIA?’

Thorn and Joe just stood there glaring. ‘Well, I’ll figure out who you are in a little bit. By the way, you missed my cameras Master Smith, they were part of the wall, I’m not so primitive that I use cameras you can actually see.’ He sighed flatly. ‘I thought you would give more credit than that.

‘Oh and Mr. Smith, if you don’t mind, drop your weapon. Or else these gentlemen will have to take it from you.’

Angrily, Joe released the gun. ‘And you young lady, do you have a gun?’ He asked, his voice dripping with honey.

‘No, I don’t have a gun.’ Thorn walked to towards him. ‘But I do have a question.’

‘Name it.’

‘Well, since your gonna kill us anyway…’ She arched her back in a flirting way. ‘Did you kill Melendi Banks?’ She curled her hair with her little finger.

He sighed. ‘Yes, I’m afraid I had to, you see. She was getting in the way. Though I myself didn’t kill her…some of my best people did.’

Thorn nuzzled his neck with her lips, and then moved back to Joe’s side. ‘I’m glad you’re the one to kill me, a lady always wants to be killed by a gentleman.’ A smile crossed his lips. Joe felt sick.

‘Well, my dear, I wish I didn’t have, but since you know all my secrets, I’m afraid I must. Business you see.’

‘Oh yes. I see.’ Thorn’s voice had lost the girlish charm in it. Joe saw a darkness coming over it. ‘But there’s one little problem.’ She whipped a knife from her leg and threw it at his chest.

‘I have business to do as well.’ Townsend fell to the floor, clutching his chest as blood surrounded the knife hilt.

Then the room broke out in chaos.

The three goons, stunned by their leaders death, stood there in a weird trance. However, it didn’t last long enough for Joe to come out of his. They started firing, while Joe and Thorn ducked behind the recliner.

Joe peeped from his spot and shot off two bullets. ‘I got one!’ He shouted lowering back down.

‘Keep them busy.’ Thorn roared back, crawling to the other side.

Joe rose back up, hearing one them reloading. Crap, missed both. The shooting started again, for they had machine guns while Joe had some dinky Network gun. And to top it off, he was down to two bullets.

‘Hey, Beevus! Butthead! Over here.’ Thorn was in the corner. She threw a statue straight at them. She knocked both guns out of their hands.

Nonetheless, they weren’t going to give up so easily. They came at her fists swinging, In their blind fury, they never saw Joe ram into them, slamming them into the wall.

Thorn went to check their pulses. ‘Well, they’re still alive.’ She ripped their jackets in half and tied it around their hands and feet. Then she stuffed their socks into their mouths.

‘The Grey Man should be proud to see this.’ She looked about the room. ‘When we get out of here, you may have the pleasure of calling him.’ Her eyes went up to the ceiling. ‘Oh, a trap door. So that’s how they beat us down here. Joe? You Okay?’ He was sitting on the floor staring at Townsend.

‘You killed him.’ He whispered.

‘Yeah, well, he didn’t give me much choice.’ Thorn answered stiffly.

Joe turned to her. She looked at him stubbornly, but Joe noticed there was something different in this gaze. She acted like it didn’t bother her to kill a man in cold blood, however, her eyes told a different story. Joe could see some sort of pain buried deep with in her.

‘Anytime, no hurry. I’ll just warn you, I feel like crap, and I think I’m gonna puke.’ And she did in fact look extremely pale.

‘Here, let me jump up here and I’ll pull you out.’ Gracefully, he made a vertical leap; grabbed whatever his hands could hold onto and pulled himself up. ‘Here, give you hands.’ Thorn raised her hands to meet his and limply allowed him to pull her, which was none to graceful.

‘Where are we?’ Thorn asked.

‘The parking lot…so that’s how he got here so fast.’ Joe exclaimed. Slowly, he and Thorn walked to the street and he hailed a taxi. Climbing in behind Thorn, he suddenly felt a wave of sickness wash over him. ‘If Townsend didn’t kill Banks then her killer must still be out there.’

‘Yep.’ Thorn said grimly. ‘Basically we’re right back where we started.



Chapter Five.



One night had turned into two years. The girl was a woman now, or a viper as the gang called her. She was sixteen years old with the face of an angel.

But she had the personality of Satan’s demons.

The man who had rescued her that night so long ago stared down at her stonily. ‘Will you run this by me again? You had to kill that boy because he pulled a gun on you?’

‘Yes.’ It was the truth; the boy had in fact pulled a gun on her forcing her to defend her honor.

‘But was absolutely necessary to kill him?’ He asked again. The girl always thought he had the most gorgeous eyes of any man he had ever seen before. They were a light brown flecked with bluish wings around the pupil.

‘Yes. Absolutely.’ She smiled. ‘Am I forgiven?’

The man never could argue with her, she always had a charm that possessed most men. ‘Yes, your forgiven. Though if they come back with machine guns we’ll put you at the head of the line.’ He tried to look stern.

‘What? You mean yall would let me have all the fun?’ She said evilly. ‘It’s a shame, I, the woman have to do your jobs for you.’ She sighed an obviously, fake, sigh.

‘Oh get out of here.’ He said laughing. ‘Go show them boys just how manly you are.’

She laughed leaving his room.

For the first time in her life she was living a life full of big brothers who were willing to do anything for her, and a man who could very easily be her Father.


* * * * *

‘Do you have anywhere to stay?’ Thorn asked tentatively climbing out of the car.

‘Frank’s’ Joe mumbled. He knew what it was going to be like when he got there. Fight after fight.

‘Why don’t you stay here tonight? I’m sure I’ll feel better in the morning, besides Myah’s quite taken with you.’ She smiled.

‘Well…’

‘And tomorrow we can go back to that cave and see if we can find the two Townsend had hired to kill Banks.’

Joe gave her a half grin. ‘The chances of us finding that are slim. But I’ll stay here anyways, I kinda miss Sammy.’

Thorn laughed. ‘Change him a few times, you’ll be taking those words back.’

‘Myah!’ Thorn called. ‘I’m back and Joe’s with me.’ She and Joe emerged into the second floor room where Joe had once laid not so many days ago.

‘Is he drugged?’ Myah shouted from somewhere.

‘No.’ Joe answered before Thorn. Suddenly, Myah appeared behind the two.

‘Joe, why you look good! Much better than you did when Thorn brought you here.’ She patted his shoulder. ‘You on the other hand, young lady, look horrible.’ She rounded on Thorn with both hands back on her hips. ‘I told you not to go out tonight, but would you listen? Of course not.’ She threw up her hands in disgust. ‘Everyone else is gone so we got the place to ourselves. Are you hungry?’ She asked Joe sweetly, still glaring at Thorn.

‘Starving.’ Joe answered.

‘Good. There’s some food on the counter, Thorn here’s you some pills…they’ll probably knock you out. But you need to rest anyway. By the way when was the last time you slept?’ She didn’t give Thorn a chance to answer before she began ranting. ‘Well, at least tell me tonight was a success…did you catch him?’

‘Yes and no.’ Thorn answered vaguely sipping down water and her pills. She leaned against the counter. ‘Myah I’m gonna have to take a rain check on that take-out. My stomach feels like its gonna explode I’m just going to bed. ‘Night.’

‘I’ll be up to check on you.’ Myah called as Thorn climbed another flight of rickety stairs.

When she disappeared, Myah started muttering under her breath. ‘What?’ Joe asked reaching for a hamburger.

‘Oh, that girl. I was hoping she had quit this for good. You should have seen her when she was in the Network.’ Her eyes turned a deadly brown at the thought.

‘She’s worse than she is now?’ Joe asked. I thought Thorn was fired, the report said she was. But she said she wasn’t…what?

‘Oh much worse. Most times she’d come here with three guys all clad in handcuffs and then expect us to put them up for the night. One time she dragged in one of her partners with a bullet in his thigh, we worked all night fixing him up, I don’t think she slept any that day. See, her problem is she takes everything as her fault. Everything. So she doesn’t sleep cause she has a bad conscience, we actually used to slip her that drug she laced in your drink. Just so she would get a few hours of sleep.

‘Yes, I was damn relieved when she told us she quit.’ Myah poured herself a cup of coffee then sat down on the moldy couch. Joe followed suite.

‘Why did she quit the Network, Myah?’ Joe innocently asked. Now was the time to get some questions answered.

Myah shrugged. ‘One of these days she’ll tell you. I just know bits and pieces myself. But I’ll tell you this much when I first met that girl she was a wreck. What she is now is nothing like she used to be.

‘Used to I’d come here and find her cutting herself, for no reason at all, and the bad part was she didn’t even realize what she was doing, it was as if she had left this world and gone into one of her own. So, after I’d caught her doing it the zillionth time I went straight to the Grey Man. He was her boss at the time.’ She paused. ‘That man was Thorn’s lifesaver, he did something for her that I believed saved her life.’

‘What?’ Joe was a little surprised to hear the Grey Man described like that. He always had thought of Arthur Grey as a grown-up Frank, never breaking the rules, straight as a ruler.

‘He took her to church. That girl came back a whole new person she had Jesus. All her poison and bitterness had left it was as if she was a whole new being.

‘Course that posed a problem because we knew what Christians were like. Judgmental, preachy, uptight, so we were just waiting for Thorn to start chewing on us. But you know what? She never did not once to this day. And I respected her for it.’ Tears crept up in her eyes. ‘I felt so ashamed in myself that I quit prostitution and asked Thorn to help me find her Jesus.’ She shook her head. ‘I became a Christian, and now that child is giving me every dime she makes so I can go to night-school and raise Sammy.’ She smiled brightly, and then patted Joe on the knee. She looked at Joe meaningfully.

‘When you lost Vanessa,’ Joe winced, ‘she just about lost it. She was still at the Network, but I believe that was her last week or so. Anyway, she came in here crying her eyes out, which is strange for Thorn because she doesn’t believe in crying.’ Her voice was deep with a hidden secret.

‘Doesn’t believe in crying?’ Joe was taken-aback.

Myah waved her hand impatiently. ‘Ask Thorn. Anyways she cried and cried and cried, and when she was done she cried some more.’ She sighed heavily. ‘It was very depressing. We were all worried about her not a one of us took our eyes off her we were scared half-to-death she’d kill herself.’

‘But I don’t understand, what did me and Vanessa mean to her?’ Joe reasoned.

‘Well,’ Myah said slowly. Then stopped. ‘She…uh…well…like I said she always blamed everything on herself, and well, see the Grey Man wanted her to take the case you were working on that night but Thorn refused because she wanted to take the day off and shop.’

Joe stated at her in disbelief. That explains everything. She was trying to redeem herself from the guilt. She never really wanted his help she wanted to clear her name. He stuck his fist in his mouth. It was her fault Vanessa was dead if she had taken that damn case he wouldn’t of had too.

Myah put her hand on his arm. ‘She hated herself, for being so selfish.’

‘Well, she should.’

‘Oh really?’ Myah puffed herself up. ‘It wasn’t as is you couldn’t have backed off that case either, my friend. Nobody is at blame here, but Vanessa.’

‘Vanessa? What the hell did Vanessa do?’ He cried in frustration.

‘She gave up on you, Joe, can’t you see that?’ She stood up to her full height ‘She as the one being selfish and apparently I am the only one who can see that.’

‘Well, if Thorn woulda just did her job, none of this would have happened.’ Joe screamed. ‘Shit. I could be married right now. I might even have a kid on the way. But thanks to that Bitch up there!’ Myah’s eyes glowed a new fire. ‘If it wasn’t for her…’ Fury clouded his face. He walked toward the stairs.

‘Where do you think your going?’ Myah screamed, spinning him around.

‘I’m gonna give that whore a piece of my mind.’ He growled, no longer thinking like a human. A pure rage flooded through his soul.

‘You will not go up there, she’s already’s got enough on her plate.’ Myah tried to block his way. ‘Please Joe she can’t take anymore pain. Please don’t do this to her!’ Myah begged. But they weren’t very strong.

‘Why! It can’t be anymore than waking up each morning knowing your only love is gone, not knowing how much you loved her.’

‘You’d be surprised Joe.’ A sleepily voice said from the top of the stairs. Thorn was standing (or rather swaying, grabbing hold of the railing) dressed in boxer shorts and a T-Shirt with the sleeves rolled up.

‘Now if you’ll just calm down, I’ll tell you the whole story. ’

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