Holly Jones stood on a dark side street at the entrance to an even darker alley between two abandoned buildings. She took a deep drag on the cigarette pinched between her left index finger and thumb, exhaled the smoke slowly, and then looked at her watch for what must have been the twentieth time in the last ten minutes. A frown creased her brow as she took in the smiling cartoon mouse that graced the front of her time piece. Not very appropriate under the circumstances, she thought. I hope he doesn't know something I don't. It was a just a simple watch of course, intended for the wrist of a young child, but it had a quartz crystal and it kept good time and that was what mattered most.

God is in the timing, she thought. It was one of the many lessons she had learned on the street and it was quickly becoming her own personal mantra.

"Come on Sasha, where the fuck are you?" she muttered to herself. The little mouse's white gloved hands were indicating eleven o'clock. If she didn't materialize in the next ten minutes the whole thing could be a bust, and if it was a bust it would mean both their asses. Cain had made that very clear when he had shanghaied them for this little errand. She nervously checked the left sleeve of her battered black trench coat to make sure that the ice pick was there. It was, held securely in place by the special sheath she had sewn into the sleeve.

Holly had spent most of the last two years in places like this alley; ever since she and Sasha had escaped from the government orphanage when they were fifteen. She hated such venues, they were filthy and she knew that she had much less tolerance for filth than most people. Whenever she was dirty she felt like she had bugs crawling on her skin, and of course sometimes she did; on her skin, in her hair, it was disgusting. She envied Sasha's ability to take the dirt and bugs in stride. Sometimes it seemed like her whole life had been a never ending struggle to stay clean. As much as the filth bothered her the smell bothered her even more. It was like a combination of urine and rotting garbage. The stench was bad enough now in the cool damp air of mid autumn. In the stifling heat of summer it was unbearable.

Removing her ski cap, she took a moment to arrange her straight black hair into a lose pony tail before resuming her vigil. While in the orphanage they had been required to keep their hair very short as a precaution against lice and other parasites, but she had always dreamed of having pretty long hair like the girls she saw in magazines. She hadn't cut it in the two years they had been on the street and it now reached the middle of her back. She knew it wasn't very practical, but it was her only real concession to female vanity and she refused to give it up.

Scanning up and down the street for any sign of her tardy friend's approach, she noted with relief that all the windows were dark; that was as expected. The entire block was abandoned, scheduled for eventual demolition. It was, in fact, why she had picked this particular spot for the night's activities. There was the moon however, and at three quarters full it was casting a ghostly glow over the area, providing just enough light to work by.

The waiting was always the worst part for her. She started pacing but was suddenly distracted by movement in the corner of her right eye. She already had the ice pick out before she realized that it was only her own reflection in a cracked and dirty window. She paused briefly to examine it. Her fair skin looked even paler than usual in the moon light, providing a dramatic contrast with her dark hair. She supposed she'd be pretty by most people's standards save for her eyes, which were a freakish pale blue-gray. She had been aware from an early age that others found them unsettling. They seldom said anything, but she could always see it in their faces.

Her attention was suddenly drawn back to the street by a wadded up page from some discarded newspaper that was blowing along the gutter like tumbleweed in a ghost town. Out of idle curiosity she stopped it with her foot, unfolded the damp crumpled paper and examined the print. It was dated October 10, 2093. Only a few days old, she thought. She scanned the banner headline. Coalition Forces Execute Federation Terrorists. There was a sequence of two photographs, one showing two men, each standing in front of a post while a Coalition officer read the charges against them and the next showing the same men's slumped bullet riddled bodies still tied to the posts immediately after the Coalition firing squad had shot them. The graphic image made her shudder. The war with the white supremest dominated United Federation of Freemen had ended with a Coalition victory almost ten years earlier, but there were still cells of die hard Federation fanatics operating from hideouts all over the remote Rocky Mountains. Of course that had only been the most recent war. There had been many over the last eighty years. The carnage had been horrible, especially among the adult population. The inevitable result was that orphans like Holly were now more the rule than the exception. They grew up in hellishly over crowed government orphanages managed with equal parts ineptitude and corruption. It was a Darwinian existence for these unfortunate children. The strong survived and the weak perished. It was to Holly's credit that, so far at least, she numbered among the strong.

She took another drag on the cigarette and was about to check her watch again when she saw the headlights coming from around the corner.

"Fuck, that better be you Sasha," she muttered.

The car came around the corner and headed towards her. She breathed a sigh of relief as she recognized her friend behind the wheel. Sasha pulled the car up to Holly's position in front of the alley and extinguished the head lights. Holly approached the open driver's side window.

"You're cutting it pretty fucking close Sasha," she said reproachfully.
"Sorry Scary; couldn't be helped. There's a building on fire over on Decker Avenue. I had to go the long way around."

Shit! Holly thought to herself. It's always those little unforeseen variables that screw up the best laid plans, she realized now that she should have allowed more time for Sasha to boost the car and get it to the alley. She quickly added this realization to the rapidly growing list of lessons learned that she was keeping in her mind.

"OK, back it into the alley and watch for my signal. Short blink, fire up the engine, long blink, bring it out and block the road."

The dark skinned girl acknowledged the order with a thumbs up and swiftly pulled the car forward then backed it into position in the alley.

Holly had known Sasha since they were both young children in the orphanage. Most people saw her as a black girl, at least at a glance, but the truth was that she was only half black, her mother being Asian. At five seven she was two inches taller than Holly and athletically built. She had the full lips and mocha colored skin of her father. From her mother she inherited the straight black hair and her eyes, which suggested just enough of the Orient to make her look exotic. Holly couldn't really remember what had initially drawn them to each other. Maybe it was because they had similar hair or maybe it was because they both had unusual eyes. What ever the reason it had been a fortuitous pairing, for they had survived the orphanage and the last two years on the street through a combination of Sasha's aggressive bravado and Holly's wits.

It was a dynamic combination. Holly had always thought that Sasha could charge hell with a bucket of water and come out on top. As for Holly, her wits were not to be taken lightly. She had known from an early age that her intellect was much greater than average. By the time she had reached the third grade she had found herself having to correct her instructors. Not that her well intentioned input was appreciated. In fact her interruptions had been met with harsh verbal rebukes and even harsher physical punishments. She had quickly learned to keep her mouth shut and hide her gifts.

Yes, the orphanage and the street had both been hard schools, but neither could hold a candle to their current situation, for now they were in the unexpected employ of John Cain.

It was common knowledge that Cain ran every racket on the east end of the city. He had been a soldier in the late wars, a good one by most accounts. He had in fact been much decorated and ultimately received a battlefield commission, but when the fighting drew to a close he had been discharged and found, like so many veterans, that his skills as a soldier were largely irrelevant in the civilian world. The harsh realities of war had made Cain a pragmatic man, and so being unable to make an honest living he had simply set about making a dishonest one. He had started small, organizing some of his former war time associates into a successful car theft ring. From there he had branched out into hijacking, fencing, money laundering and a host of others. Over the course of ten years he had run off, absorbed or otherwise eliminated most of the competition. Now, at thirty-five he controlled a small criminal empire.

As she stood in the darkened doorway of the abandoned building Holly thought how odd it was the way a particular twist of fate could send you careening down a totally unexpected path. Her current troubles, she realized, started with the hijacking scheme she had masterminded. It was a modest plan, really. The point wasn't so much to get rich as it was to keep them alive through the approaching winter. To that simple end they had targeted goods that would be of immediate use to them on the street, primarily canned foods, clothing, and occasionally other items that could be easily sold for cash.

They would stop the truck using any of a number of ruses, an injured child being a favorite. The nature of the cargo was such that the drivers seldom expected an attack. Once stopped, Holly would have the ice pick at the driver's throat. Sasha would pull up in whatever vehicle they were able to steal and they would load up as much as they could carry. Holly would puncture one of the truck tires with the ice pick and they would be off. Whatever additional manpower they needed was recruited from among their fellow street dwellers for a cut of the take. The stolen goods would be cached and the vehicle would be dumped near the location where they had stolen it.

They had been careful to spread the hits around town so the activity would look random and they never injured or robbed the drivers. The authorities had viewed the whole thing as little more than a nuisance and made no serious effort to catch them. At the end of two months they had taken seven trucks without a hitch.

It had, in Holly's estimation, been time well spent. They had warm clothes for winter and they had food to eat. More importantly they had sold off enough of their surplus goods to raise three-month's advanced rent on a one room apartment and a small storage bay for the merchandise.

The apartment wasn't much, no hot water and no heat, but it had a door with a lock and it would keep them out of the wind and rain. No kitchen either, but they had kept a hot plate from one of the hits so they could heat up any of the numerous cans of soup they now possessed. Most important of all, at least to Holly's thinking, was that it had an attached bathroom with a shower, the ultimate luxury. Life was actually starting to look pretty good. Holly was already thinking about how they might capitalize on their gains when the course of their lives had been unexpectedly altered.

A cold, damp wind whipped through the street causing Holly to pull the trench coat tighter around her body. She lit another cigarette, inhaled the smoke deeply and checked her watch again.

Ten more minutes and we'll be in the window. Better check the lookouts, she thought. She walked down to the far corner of the street and looked around for the sentry she had posted behind the crumbling remains of a wall.

"Chiquito, where are you?" she called.

"Mírame, estoy aquí,"

It had come from above her. She looked up and saw the Hispanic boy on the landing of a fire escape. Holly had no idea what his actual name was or if he even had one. They called him El Chiquito on the street, but that was just Spanish for kid. He was only about twelve years old and, as far as Holly had been able to determine, he had been on the streets since he was seven. She knew nothing of his history, but for one that young to survive that long on the street was unusual to say the least. He was not to be taken lightly and he would be the first to tell you so.

"I told you to stay here behind the little wall," she said.

"I can't see Patti so good from there so I move," explained Chiquito, in his accented English.

"Look, if you move you have to tell me. I have to know where to look for your signal, understand?"

He gave her a hard look. He didn't like being scolded, especially by a girl.

"Entiendo, sí," he said, finally. He always switched to Spanish when he was pissed.

"Does your light work ok?" asked Holly.

"Sí, trabaja bien," he said, indicating the flashlight.

"Ensn?ame," she said, giving in to his insistence on Spanish. She had picked it up from the many Hispanic children in the orphanage. He shined the flashlight in her face to show her it was working. Holly threw her hand up to block the light.

"Not in my eyes idiot," she said testily.

Holly's eyes were extremely sensitive to light. By way of compensation, nature had given her truly exceptional night vision. She suspected this ability was somehow related to their strange appearance.

"You say to show you it works," said Chiquito, as if explaining something to a small child.

"OK, OK, just stay back in the shadows and watch for Pattie's signal, got it?"

"Sí," said Chiquito.

"Is Pattie where I left her or did she move too?" asked Holly, still annoyed.
"She's still there behind the little bush. I can see her," he said.

Holly rounded the corner and headed up to where she had positioned Patti at the end of the street. The road made a short dog leg here that would force their quarry to slow down.

"Patti," she called when she approached the little clump of Oleander bushes.

"Yeah," said Patti, sticking her head out from her hiding place. She was about fifteen; a pretty, though underweight, doe-eyed brunette.

"Did you know Chiquito moved?" asked Holly.

"Yeah, he's on the fire escape."

"Make sure your light's working," said Holly. "Don't shine it in my face," she added hastily. Patti held her hand a few inches in front of the light and shined it on her palm so Holly could see.

"OK, we're all set, once the truck passes meet up with Chiquito and wait for me. If this goes bad, and it might, get out of the area fast."

The younger girl gave her a thumbs up. Holly turned and headed back to her position across from the alley. When she got there she decided to touch base with Sasha once more before the hit went down. She crossed the street and entered the alley.

"Everything OK?" asked Sasha, from behind the wheel of the car.

"Yeah, Chiquito decided to change his position without telling me but we'll be ok."

"Fucking little bean eater is getting too big for his britches huh. Maybe I should have a talk with him when this is over."

"No, let it go. I think he was probably right anyway, I just wish he'd told me first."

"It's your call. Just give me the word if you change your mind."

"If Cain's info was right we'll be in the window in the next three minutes," said Holly, changing the subject.

"Well shit, you can bet he didn't get where he is by having bad info."

"Look we don't know what we're going to get into when we hit this thing so get out of the car as fast as you can. We're dangerously under strength on this one as is. I'm probably going to need help," said Holly.

"You got it," said Sasha.

Holly moved back to the doorway of the building across the street. She checked her watch again. If Cain's information was accurate their target could materialize any time in the next twelve minutes or so. She checked to make sure her own light was working then fixed her eyes on Chiquito's position and waited for the signal. She took a moment to evaluate the situation in her mind.

Great, I'm about to steal a truck for a man I barely know, and he won't even tell me who I'm stealing it from or what's inside that makes it worth stealing. Hell, for all I know there's twenty guys in there armed with machineguns, and here I stand, five foot five, one hundred ten pounds and I'm armed with a fucking kitchen utensil. Yeah, this is real good. I love this situation. How did I get into this mess again? Once again she let the events of the previous morning play out in her mind.

It had been their third morning in the apartment, now luxuriously furnished with a small card table, two folding chairs and an air mattress, which they had purchased at an Army surplus store. They had both been huddled together under the blankets on the air mattress when Holly had awakened to discover a strange man sitting in one of the chairs calmly watching them sleep. He was a big man, about six-foot-three and probably two hundred and forty pounds, most of it muscle. He had red hair cropped close to his skull with a matching mustache and beard. He was well dressed too. Black dress slacks, fancy black boots nicely shined, blue dress shirt and a very expensive looking black over coat. Her initial thought was that he must be a cop, but then she realized that the clothes were well beyond a cop's salary, besides a cop would have just kicked the door down. This man had deftly picked the lock and then sat there waiting for them to wake up. There was only one possible conclusion. Gangster, she thought.

"Good morning Holly," he said affably.

"Who the fuck are you?" she asked, trying hard to affect nonchalance that she in no way felt.

"Maybe you should wake Sasha up so we can all discuss this together," he offered.

It was then that Holly noticed the large black revolver resting on the table next to his hand. She reached over and shook Sasha until she woke.

"What is it?" she asked sleepily.

"We have company," said Holly. Just then Sasha noticed the intruder.

"Shit! Who the fuck are you?" she asked, not bothering to feign nonchalance.

"Jesus, do you girls kiss your mothers with those mouths?" asked the stranger.

"We might, if our mothers weren't dead," said Sasha bitterly.

"Oh yeah, you're orphans aren't you?" said the stranger.

"No, we live like this because we're eccentric millionaires," said Holly.

"Let me guess, she's the tough one, and you're the funny one, right?" said the stranger, indicating first Sasha then Holly with his index finger.

"Getting back to my original question, who the fuck are you and what, are you doing in our apartment?" asked Holly.

"Who the fuck I am isn't important. As for why I'm here in your apartment, you two have a breakfast meeting and I'm here to give you a ride."

"A meeting with who?" asked Holly, apprehensively.

"Cain wants to see you," said the stranger.

A chill went down Holly's spine. Everyone on the street knew Cain ran the East side. Being summoned to his presence was seldom good news.

"Did he say why?" asked Holly.

"I didn't ask, now get dressed. Breakfast is waiting."

Both girls hurriedly dressed while the stranger with the gun watched. As Holly slipped into her coat she felt the strangers hand close hard around her left forearm. He reached into the sleeve and extracted the ice pick.

"I'll hold onto this for now," he said. "And the stiletto Sasha," he added.

Sasha looked hard at the stranger and seemed to be contemplating the odds of a successful move against him. The stranger moved his right hand to the coat pocket where Holly had seen him stash the big revolver.

"Remember what the wise man said Sasha. Never bring a knife to a gun fight."

Sasha shrugged and forked over the switchblade she routinely carried.

"OK, let's go," said the stranger, indicating the door.

Once they reached the street a nondescript black van pulled up. The red haired stranger slid the side door open and motioned for Holly and Sasha to get in.

"All the way to the back girls," he said.
They seated them selves in the rear most bench seat. The stranger sat in the next to last bench facing them. Once the stranger pulled the side door closed Holly noticed that the van had no windows, they were even separated from the driver by an opaque partition. As the van made its way through the streets of the city she couldn't help but wonder if this was going to be a one way trip, and she knew Sasha was thinking the same thing. She only knew Cain by reputation and rumor but the word on the street was that he didn't tolerate competition. Could it really be that he had seen their little crime spree as a threat? She could think of no other reason why he would want to see them.

Holly guessed that they had been driving for about twenty minutes when the van reached its final destination. They came to a full stop and the engine was turned off. The stranger pulled the door open and motioned them out. They stepped out of the van and found themselves in a large enclosed complex. Holly was awed by the size of the structure. It looked to have been some sort of factory at one time. There were dozens of vehicles parked to the left, cars, trucks, vans, even some motorcycles. To the right there was a maintenance area where several men were working on other vehicles. The stranger herded them towards the back of the large building. Eventually they reached a door and moving through it found them selves in a long corridor. This area looked more like a fancy office building. It was carpeted; there was a false ceiling with florescent light panels every few feet, even art work on the walls. They made there way through several similar corridors and eventually arrived at a large ornate wooden door. The stranger pressed a button on an intercom panel next to the door and Holly heard a faint buzzing from inside. A voice came over the intercom speaker.

"Who is it?" it said.

"It's Bull. I have company," said the stranger.

Holly's was trying to remain calm but she could feel her heart beating hard inside her chest. She glanced at Sasha and saw the apprehension on her face as well. There was a loud buzzing sound then the stranger opened the door.

"After you, girls," he said.

Holly and Sasha stepped through the door and entered what appeared to be a very nicely appointed apartment. Looking to the right they saw a man sitting at a small round table casually reading a paper. Holly immediately noticed that he resembled the man who had brought them. He was clean shaven but he had the same red hair, cut short in a military fashion. This one seemed to be maybe four or five years older. He wasn't as muscular and he was dressed in a more casual manner, blue jeans and a cotton kaki shirt. The only obvious indication of his affluence was a pair of fancy western style boots that looked to be made of some kind of reptilian hide.

Probably alligator, thought Holly. Just one of those boots must be worth more than everything Sasha and I own, even with the stuff we stole, and now he's probably going to have us killed just for taking the things we needed to stay alive.

She felt the anger welling up inside herself but she fought hard to control her emotions.

Wait and see what he says, she told herself. Maybe it's not what you think.

"Who you got there Bull?" asked the man at the table as he set down his paper. His accent and the timber of his voice were the same as the bearded man he called Bull.
Brothers, thought Holly. Maybe cousins.

"John Cain, allow me to introduce Holly Jones and Sasha Browne. They rob trucks."
"You don't say. Well, take a seat girls, breakfast should be ready in a minute," said Cain affably.

They saw now that the table had been set for three. Holly and Sasha each took a seat.

"Coffee?" offered Cain, picking up a thermal jug on the table.

"Please," said Holly, cautiously extending her cup.

Coffee was a rare luxury in her life. As she handled the cup she realized it was made of china. She had only read of such extravagances, the last time she had enjoyed coffee the cup had been made of paper. Cain filled the cup. The coffee smelled wonderful but her nerves were still on full alert.

"Sasha?" he said, extending the jug.

"Thanks," she said offering her cup.

"There's cream and sugar if you like," said Cain indicating the containers which were also on the table.

"No thank you," they both said in unison.

In truth Holly was curious to try both. Coffee was a rare treat but real cream and sugar were unheard of. Both substances were rationed and generally beyond the means of all but the privileged. This was the first time she had actually seen either. Interestingly enough Holly noted that Cain also drank his coffee black.

He only had the cream and sugar there incase we wanted it, she realized.

She wasn't sure what to make of that. They sat there quietly sipping their coffee and waiting for Cain to give them some indication as to why they were here. He sat there across the table giving them both a good looking over but not speaking. His gaze eventually settled on Holly's eyes as she knew it would; it always happened that way. She was surprised by his reaction though. Most people had a look of fear or distrust when they looked at her eyes, as if they thought they had some evil power. There was no fear or uncertainty in Cain's face. There was actually a fleeting look of recognition before he redirected his attention to Sasha. The tension was palpable. The one called Bull had seated himself in a chair across the room but their backs were to him and Holly hadn't forgotten the big revolver in his pocket. Part of her mind wanted to scream, to demand some explanation, but she fought to keep her expression neutral. Sasha was doing the same. It was a rule of survival on the street. Never let them see you sweat. She was beginning to sense now that this whole meeting was meant to be some kind of bizarre test.

The tension was relieved to some extent by the arrival of a Hispanic looking man wearing a white jacket and checked pants. He was pushing a small cart that was loaded down with food. He set about serving the meal. Holly and Sasha each received a plate loaded with scrambled eggs, sausage, and some kind of fried potatoes. Additionally there was a smaller plate with pancakes, and a basket of fresh biscuits which was set in the middle of the table. Once the food was served the Hispanic man set a water glass before each of them and filled it with an orange colored juice. The smells were overwhelming to Holly. It was more food than they would normally consume in a week and it represented almost unspeakable wealth. Meat was a rarity in their diet and neither girl had ever had a real egg in their lives.

"Dig in girls," said Cain, liberally spreading butter on a biscuit.

Sasha wasted little time accepting his invitation. Holly instead chose to sample everything cautiously deciding what she liked. The eggs and sausages were very much to her liking. The pancakes were a bit too sweet for her tastes. She decided she liked the juice the best. It was sweet but also tangy and it smelled good. The food was wonderful but she couldn't put the circumstances of this bizarre meeting out of her mind the way Sasha evidently had. The most powerful crime lord in the city hadn't summoned them to breakfast at gun point just so he could introduce them to some new culinary treats. She had planned to let Cain get to the point in his own time. It was the smart and prudent thing to do, but she simply couldn't hold her tongue any longer.

"Mr. Cain," she said, getting his attention.

"Yes Holly, is there something else I can get you?" he inquired politely.

"No Sir, the food is great. I'm sure it's the best meal I've ever had."

"But?" he asked.

"Well, if this is a last meal thing I guess I'd just as soon know now," she blurted out. Cain looked at her for a long moment before he spoke.

"Alright, let's get down to it then. You two have incurred my displeasure... but I'm not in the habit executing unfortunate children," he said, dabbing his mouth with his napkin.

"Because of the trucks we robbed?" asked Holly. "We weren't trying to cut in. We only took what we needed to get through the winter."

"I know what you were doing. It was pretty obvious from what you targeted, caned foods, clothing."

"But you're mad at us anyway?" asked Sasha.

"I'm sympathetic to your situation girls. Normally I wouldn't have cared about the trucks. It was actually a pretty clever operation you had going there. Unfortunately the time and place of your last hit was extremely unfortuitous; for me at least."
"I don't understand," admitted Holly.

"Well, as it happened I had a little operation of my own scheduled for that same time and place. Naturally when your little caper went down I was forced to abort my own. And mine was very, very important to me." There was a noticeable edge in his voice now.

"I'm sorry, we didn't know," said Holly. She knew it sounded lame the minute it was out of her mouth.

"You would have known.. if you had bothered to ask my permission before you started robbing trucks all over my territory." He was glaring at both of them now.

"We didn't know how to contact you," Holly explained.

She knew she sounded like a child who had been caught with her hand in the cookie jar. Each response seemed lamer than the last. She was starting to wish he'd just go ahead and shoot her.

"Bull, bring me their files," said Cain.

The bearded man left the room and returned a moment later carrying two thick Manila folders which he handed to Cain. Cain opened one and turned a few pages.

"Holly, it says here that your I.Q. is 129. You know that's right on the border line for being a genius?"

"I didn't know that. Are those our government files?" she asked.

"Copies of them, and yes that's definitely what it says. You have a genius I.Q."

"Yes Sir," she said contritely.
She was awed that he had their files. She had never seen her own. Only adult citizens could request permission to review their government file. You had to fill out about a hundred forms and then there was no guaranty that the request would be granted. It had only been a week since they had come to his attention. If he had copies of their files this soon he was more powerful than she had ever imagined.

"So you have a genius I.Q. but you couldn't figure out a way to contact me?" asked Cain.

"No Sir."

"You certainly didn't have any problem figuring out how to rob trucks all over my territory. Did you even try to contact me?"

"No Sir."

"Well I guess it's pretty hard to ask my permission when you aren't even trying isn't it. I guess you figured it would be easier to ask for my forgiveness."

"Yes Sir." It was all she could think to say at this point. He had already said he wasn't going to kill them. She reasoned that if they remained penitent they might just get off with an ass chewing. Unfortunately Sasha had other ideas. She pushed her chair back and stood up.

"Look, we fucked up OK. We get that. We're new at this, we don't know from crime lords and territories. We were just trying to stay alive. You want to kick our asses for that, then get on with it. It's nothing new to us. Then you can go back to living in your fancy house and eating your fancy food," she said.

Bull had gotten out of his chair and come half way across the room, obviously fearing that things were about to get physical. Cain remained seated through the diatribe.

"It's OK Bull," he said. "Sasha, sit down...please," he added.

Sasha locked eyes with him for a moment then took her seat. Cain opened Sasha's file.

"It says here you have anger management problems Sasha. Oh and look, you don't play well with others. Imagine that."

Sasha and Cain were glaring at each other again. Holly decided to intervene before there was another dangerous outburst.

"Mr. Cain, the whole thing was my idea. If you have to punish someone then punish me," she said contritely.

"No fucking way Scary. We were in this together," said Sasha.

Scary was a nick name from the orphanage. Holly hated it. She only suffered Sasha's use of it because she had known her for so long and because, unlike most people, she said it with an air of sarcasm.

"Both of you shut up and listen," said Cain, reasserting control of the conversation.

"I can't afford to have a couple of lose cannons like the two of you running around unsupervised, pulling jobs all over my territory. My initial inclination was to have Bull here drop you off in another city where you could be someone else's problem."

Both girls looked at each other. Neither was in a hurry to move to another city where they didn't know the who's who and what's what. They had managed to get into enough trouble here at home.

"However," Cain added. "The circumstances are such that you have a unique opportunity to get back into my good graces."

"What do we have to do?" asked Holly, with resignation. She dreaded the answer, but anything would be better than banishment.

"Something you're good at. I want you to hijack a truck and bring it to me."

"When?" asked Holly.

"Tomorrow night."


"Bull will give you the details."

"What's the cargo?" asked Sasha.

"You don't need to know, just take the truck and bring it where Bull tells you. You guys pull this off and we'll have a talk about your future here in the city."

"And if we fail?" asked Holly.

"If you fail and you're still alive...well, better have your bags packed just in case. Do we understand one another?"

"Yes Sir," said Holly.

"Bull, give them the rundown."

Cain pushed his chair away from the table and stood.

"Girls, it was-------interesting meeting you," he said, as he turned to leave the room.

"Thank you for the breakfast," said Holly.

"Bring me that truck, maybe I'll invite you to dinner," he said, as he walked out leaving them alone with Bull.

The Hispanic man returned and began clearing the dishes. Once he finished Bull spread a map out on the table. They saw that a route had been traced out with a red marker.

"This is the route we expect the truck to take," he said.

"What time frame are we talking about?" asked Holly.

"It'll start at approximately 23:00 hours and reach its destination twenty minutes later," said Bull.

Holly examined the route. She noted that it started in an area dominated by city government buildings. The destination area, as best she could remember, was mostly warehouses. The route indicated avoided the major traffic arteries in favor of side streets.

"Where do we hit it?" asked Sasha.

"You tell me, it's your job girls," said Bull.

Holly and Sasha both studied the route closely. Holly noted that the trucks projected course took it through an area that she knew to be mostly condemned buildings scheduled for eventual demolition.

"I think this area would be best," Holly said pointing out the spot she had picked on the map. It was right in the center of the projected course. "What do you think Sasha?"

"It's mostly abandoned in there, no power. It'll be good and dark at least," she said.

"Yeah, and there's lots of alleys to hide a blocking car in. We just need to pick a good spot," added Holly.

"Here," said Sasha, stabbing the map with her index finger. "Right after the road makes that little dog leg. They'll have to slow down there. Should make it easier."

"Yeah, that's good. We really should have a blocking car behind them too so they can't back out," said Holly.

"And a couple of lookouts so we know when it's coming," said Sasha.

"Do you know how many guys will be in the truck?" asked Holly.

"The driver, possibly one more," said Bull.

"Armed?" Holly asked.

"That's always a possibility, isn't it?" said Bull. "Better plan accordingly."

"We're going to need about five extra guys for this," said Holly.

"Use a hundred if you want. It's not our problem," said Bull.

"You can't tell me that with all this you don't have the resources to loan us five guys," said Holly.

"It doesn't matter for a great god damn what resources we have," said Bull. "If we wanted to use our resources we wouldn't need you two would we? I didn't hear you asking for our help when you hit all those other trucks."

"Look, when we hit those trucks everyone was in it for a piece of the take. That's not an option on this job. We'd have to give them cash up front," Holly pleaded.

"Not our problem girls," Bull said coldly.

"Jesus, do you want this fucking truck or not?" asked Holly.

"Yes, we want the fucking truck very badly; so if you enjoy living here you better get that big brain in gear and figure out a way to get it. All the help you're getting from us you're getting right now. Got it?" Holly clenched her jaw and took a moment to regain control of her temper.

"OK, fine, I'll figure something out," she said, finally.

"So let's say we get the truck. What then?" asked Sasha.

"Once you get the truck you bring it to us here," said Bull, indicating a location on the map.

"That's the wreaking yard isn't it," asked Holly.

"Yeah," said Bull. "Don't worry, it's a friendly place."

"What do you want us to do about the driver?"
"Better have someone hold the driver and anyone else in the truck for about twenty minutes after you leave, then cut them lose. No wet works." Both girls gave him a blank look.

"No killing," he clarified. "No maiming either, if you can help it."

"What if we can't help it?" asked Sasha.

"That would be very bad," said Bull. It was clear he meant it would be bad for them.

"It'll be OK Sasha, we'll do it just like the others. We'll be on them so fast they won't have a chance to resist," said Holly.

"I hope you're right Holly. I really hope you're right," said Sasha.

"It's not a bad plan girls, and you've got the better part of two days to work out the details. A couple of desperados like you two should be able to pull this off just fine," said Bull.

"Yeah, it's a piece of cake," said Holly, sarcastically.

With that Bull had ushered them back to the black van and dropped them off at their apartment. The rest of that day had been spent making frantic preparations.

Yep, I'm a genius alright, thought Holly, as she huddled in the doorway of the abandoned building. A light rain was starting to fall, the wind was picking up and it seemed to be getting colder with each passing minute. She pulled her gloves out of her coat pocket, slipped them on, and then tucked her pony tail up under the ski mask so it would be out of the way when the action started.

Holly knew her plan was far from perfect, but given the constraints of time and finance that had been forced upon them it was the best she could come up with.
Once they had returned from Cain's headquarters she and Sasha had scraped together all of the emergency cash they had on hand. It came to forty five dollars worth of government script. They knew they could hire two reasonably competent accomplices for twenty apiece and set about looking for suitable candidates. She had hoped to secure the services of some of the older boys but they were all off working as laborers on some government project. Ultimately Pattie and Chiquito had been awarded the contract, largely by virtue of the fact that they were around at the time and were willing to take the job for the sum offered.

Holly had used them both before and she knew she could count on them up to a point. In their previous hijackings Chiquito had often played the roll of the injured child, the victim of a bicycle or skate board accident lying in the road, his arm seemingly broken. Holly never cared for Chiquito and Sasha liked him even less. He was a creepy little kid and, if he lived long enough, he was probably going to be a very dangerous man some day. Even now she didn't think it wise to turn her back on him, but for the time being, he was at least savvy enough to kowtow to the older kids and readily accepted any work they threw his way.

Pattie was a different story, Holly genuinely liked her. A smart yet taciturn girl, she never complained and she always followed her instructions to the letter. She had a sort of quiet confidence that Holly and Sasha both respected.

Unfortunately they were both too young and small in stature to be of any use in a physical confrontation. Holly had decided at the outset that they would only be used as lookouts, and then later to guard the driver once he was subdued. That meant that she and Sasha would have to do the subduing. It wouldn't be a problem as long as they had the element of surprise and their timing was perfect, and the truck driver reacted the way she expected him too. At least that's what she kept telling herself.

Holly checked her watch again; one minute into the window but no sign of the truck.
It might not show at all. The truck might have broken down or had a flat, they may have decided on a different route, hell, they might have canceled the run altogether. Nothing we can do now but wait and see. She kept her eyes on Chiquito's position and watched for the signal.

Pattie sat in the dirt in the clump of Oleander bushes where Holly had posted her, her eyes glued to the desolate street to her front. The temperature seemed to have dropped ten degrees in the last hour and now a light drizzle was adding insult to injury.

She pulled the hood of her sweat shirt up over her head and blew on her hands to keep them warm. She watched the street but her mind was on the bowl of hot soup she was going to have at the diner once the job was over. Holly had given her ten dollars up front with a promise of another ten when the job was done. It was more cash than she had had at any one time in her life. If she was careful it would keep her fed for two weeks. Her current hardship would be well worth it.

The petite brunet's culinary fantasies were soon interrupted by a low rumble, and after a moment she saw the beams of the headlights coming from one of the side streets. She watched, her heart pounding, as the heavy vehicle rounded the corner and headed straight towards her. It was a big heavy van, like the kind delivery services used. It looked black in the low lighting but she reasoned that it could be dark blue or brown. There were no obvious logos or markings to identify its owner.

As it approached she pointed her light towards the fire escape landing from where Chiquito was now hopefully watching. She pushed the button and held it down for five seconds to be sure he would see it. Several seconds passed while Pattie held her breath, then she got a short flash back to acknowledge that her signal had been received. Pattie watched the van slowly round the corner in front of her hiding place and head towards Chiquito.

Chiquito stood on the fire escape, his back pressed up against the building, in order to gain some limited shelter from the cold drizzle that had started to fall. He was idly imagining what Sasha looked like naked.

He knew that Sasha didn't like him much. She didn't seem to like anyone except Holly. It seemed like she was always angry; still, she had a nice body and Chiquito thought she would look good naked. He had been having such thoughts a lot lately. Some times he had tried to imagine Holly naked but in his mind he just kept seeing her scary eyes.

He remembered when he was much younger he had lived with his grandmother. She was half Indian and she had told him many stories about witches and black magic. In her stories the witches always had strange eyes, eyes like a cat or eyes that glowed or turned all black. He had decided that Holly must be a witch. He had never seen anyone else with eyes like hers.

Holly was always bossy with him and sometimes he argued with her, but never too much. If he made her too mad she might put a curse on him. She was lucky though; every time he had robbed a truck with her everything had gone perfectly, and now she had given him ten dollars to help rob this truck tonight and promised him another ten when it was done.

If someone is a witch it is better to be their friend than their enemy, he reasoned.

It was drizzling harder now. The rain was starting to run down into his eyes. He used his sleeve to blot the water and clear his vision. He had just completed this operation when he saw the light coming from Pattie's position in the bushes.

Shit, the signal. He put his hand to his jacket pocket to retrieve his own light only to find that it wasn't there.

"Damn, what did I do with it?" he asked himself. I put it down when I zipped up my jacket.

He began looking at the area around his feet but his vision was not very good, especially at night. Suddenly he felt his right foot kick something and heard the light rolling towards the edge of the platform.

"Mierda!" He felt his heart in his throat. He dove in the direction of the sound and hoped for a miracle. He was both surprised and elated when his prayers were answered. His right hand came down directly on top of the light. He fumbled with it for a moment to find the switch then pointed it in the direction of Pattie and gave her a quick flash. He immediately rolled over to face Holly's position and again pressed the button, this time holding it for several seconds. Finally he saw her blink her light in response. He looked back towards Pattie just in time to see the big truck rounding the corner coming towards him.

Holly checked her watch again. Damn, five minutes into the window and still nothing. She was cold and wet and she wanted to get the show on the road.

Come on damn it, show up.

As if in response to her mental command she suddenly saw the light shining from Chiquito's position on the fire escape. She signaled back.

Here we go, she thought.

Her heart was racing now; her palms felt clammy and her mouth was dry. She gave Sasha a short blink from her light and heard the car motor start.

She kept her eye on the end of the street, and could soon see the beams of the trucks head lights as it approached the corner; then the truck it self came into view. She pulled the ski mask down over her face.

It's all timing now. Too soon and he has a chance to back out and get away. Too late and he plows right into Sasha.

The big truck rounded the corner and came towards Holly. Everything was looking perfect, exactly as she had planed it, and then it happened. The car engine sputtered and died.

Shit! Get it started Sasha, get it started or we are royally fucked!

She heard the car engine struggling, and then it coughed and roared back to life. It wasn't a moment to soon. Holly gave Sasha the signal. The car jumped out of the alley and screeched to a halt directly in the path of the truck. As anticipated the truck driver, taken by surprise, stood on the break. It was the last thing that actually happened the way it was supposed to. The wheels locked up and the heavy truck began to skid on the wet pavement.

From Holly's perspective everything seemed to shift into slow motion. She saw the driver's side door on the car open and Sasha bailed out rolling to the opposite side of the street to get clear of the approaching truck.

It was a prudent move as it was now evident that the truck wasn't going to be able to stop in time. As it skidded past her position Holly could see the shock and horror on the drivers face as he struggled to control the big vehicle. She drew the ice pick from her sleeve and started running along side the truck so she would be in position to move on the driver as soon it came to rest, but the truck continued its skid. She watched in awed fascination as it hit the blocking car. There was a deep boom, then the sound of rending metal and breaking glass, and still it didn't stop. It pushed the car sideways for a good seven or eight yards before both vehicles finally came to rest.

Holly ran up to the drivers side door of the truck noting that it had the kind of doors that slid backwards towards the cargo compartment. She had expected to have to break the glass with the ice pick to get to the driver but the collision had caused the door to partially pop open. She slid the door back the rest of the way, her ice pick at the ready, but she immediately saw that it wouldn't be necessary.

The driver hadn't been wearing his seatbelt. When he hit the blocking car his head had slammed into the windshield, cracking the glass and opening a two inch gash in his forehead just below the hairline. He was clearly dazed by the impact and copious amounts of blood were pouring out of the wound and into his eyes obscuring his vision. Holly had just started to assess the driver's condition when the passenger side door flew open and Sasha jumped into the truck, her switchblade in her right hand.

"Jesus, did you do that?" she asked seeing the driver's condition.

"No, he hit the windshield when he crashed," said Holly testily.

"What...what happened?" asked the driver groggily.

"We need to do something about that," said Sasha, indicating the drivers wound. "Remember what Bull said."

"I know, I know. We need something to stop the blood with."

"Here," said Sasha, producing a bandana from her pocket. Holly took the proffered bandana and pressed it against the wound.

"Who..what happened?" asked the driver again, still badly dazed.

"Can you move your arms?" asked Holly. The driver nodded.

"Hold this against your forehead with both hands. You have a bad cut," she said. The driver did as instructed.

"Do you remember your name?" asked Holly.

"Jim...Officer James Wilcox," said the driver.

Holly and Sasha looked at each other with alarm. He wasn't wearing a uniform. He was dressed like a delivery driver, dark blue work pants, light blue cotton shirt, and dark blue wind breaker.

"Jim, are you a policeman?" asked Holly gently.

"Officer James Wilcox, records section, fifth precinct," he said as if he were reporting to a superior. Holly looked at Sasha.

"Better check him," said Holly.

Sasha unzipped the drivers wind breaker and groped around with her right hand until she felt something hard and metallic. She gave Holly a look as she withdrew the automatic pistol. It was the type issued to the police.

"Anything else?" asked Holly.

"Yep, extra clip for the gun, cuffs, hand radio and his wallet," said Sasha as she extracted each item.

"Who are you,..........what?" said the Officer. He seemed to be in and out of consciousness.

"Jim, do you think you can walk?" asked Holly.

"I think so, why, where?" He was getting a little more coherent.

"I need you to go with my friend here," said Holly. They both helped him out of the van. He was shaky but he could stand up.

"Let me see your wound," said Holly as she brought his hands down. It was starting to clot. Most of the bleeding had stopped.

"You better cuff him," she said, looking at Sasha. Sasha pulled his right hand behind his back and fastened the cuff, then did the left one. He started to lose his balance but Sasha steadied him.

"Hey, what are you doing?" he asked, sounding alarmed now.

"Jim, look at me," Holly commanded. He complied but seemed to be having trouble focusing his eyes.

"Jim we're taking your truck. I'm sorry you got hurt, we didn't mean for that to happen, but we're taking the truck," she said firmly.

"Taking it where, why?" he asked, still confused.

"That's a long story but we have to take it. I want you stay with my friend. She'll make you comfortable. As long as you do what we say you'll be OK, I promise we'll get you some help. Do you understand?" The policeman nodded.

"Hey, what happened? Are you guys OK?"

Holly wheeled around to see Chiquito and Pattie standing in the street next to the truck. It was Chiquito who had spoken.

"I told you two to wait for me; and put your ski masks on," said Holly. They both complied with her order and pulled the masks on.

"We saw the crash and thought we better check it out. You didn't say you were going to make it crash," said Chiquito excitedly.

"It wasn't supposed to crash, it just did, OK? Now come over here," said Holly, indicating the far side of the truck.

"Look the driver's a cop, so no names, understand?"

"Dios mio, a cop! What are you going to do, kill him?" asked Chiquito.

"No, we are not going to kill him Chiquito! Right now I need you to go back to the fire escape and watch out for any one coming this way. If you see anything signal me."

"Signal you how?"

"Flash you light, yell, what ever. Just get my attention. The last thing we need right now is some patrol car surprising us."

"OK," he said. Chiquito turned and started jogging back down the street.

"Pattie I need you to go up here to the other end of the street and do the same thing. You see any one at all coming make sure I know."

"You got it," she said. She turned and trotted down to the opposite corner from Chiquito. Holly walked back over to where Sasha stood with the injured policeman.

"How are you doing Jim?" asked Holly.

"Dizzy, I need to sit down." Holly turned to Sasha.

"Let me have his stuff, I'll take care of him. You check out the truck; make sure it'll start," said Holly. Sasha handed over the pistol and other equipment.

"We better hurry, we're getting behind schedule," she said.

"I know," said Holly. Sasha headed back to the truck. Holly took the Officer by the arm to steady him.

"Come on Jim, lets find you a comfortable place to sit down," she said, as she led him into the alley. Holly spotted some old crates and led the injured man to them. He was still wobbly on his feet but they got there OK. She seated him. The drizzle had stopped now and they were out of the wind.

"Are you going to kill me?" he asked.

"No! Why do people keep asking me that? Do I look like I go around killing people?"

"I can't tell what you look like with that mask on."

"Yeah, that's kind' a the point of wearing the mask."

"Hell, it's so dark in here I can barely see you at all," he said. She was always surprised when people said that. She could see him clearly.

"Even better," she said.

"There's nothing in the truck you kids can use. It's just files and papers."

"We just need the truck OK," said Holly. "I'm sorry, we really didn't mean for you to get hurt." He shrugged.

"So what now?" he asked.

"Assuming we can get the truck started we'll leave," she said. "I'll have someone stay here with you. After twenty minutes or so they'll use your hand radio here to call you some help. They'll stay near by until they're sure your friends find you. Fair enough?"

"I don't guess I have much choice, do I?"

"Life's like that sometimes," she said.

"What about my gun?" he asked. "You know if you get caught with it's a one way trip to the labor camps."

Holly pulled the pistol from the back of her pants. She ejected the magazine and worked the slid to make sure it was empty.

"Here's your pistol," she said. She opened his jacket and shoved it back into the holster. She walked about twenty feet further into the ally and set the magazines down on another old crate.

"Your magazines are over here," she said.

"My wallet?" he asked. "I don't care about the money, but please leave me my badge and ID." She showed him the wallet and stuck it in his inside jacket pocket.

"It's all there. We didn't come here to rob you."

"Thank you," he said.

"I have to check on the truck. I'll send someone back to check on you in a couple of minutes."

He nodded that he understood. Holly walked back to the truck. When she got there she found that Sasha had the hood up and was peering into the engine compartment with a flashlight. Sasha had a natural gift for anything mechanical.

"What's wrong?" asked Holly.

"Nothing yet, I just wanted to make sure there wasn't any fuel or oil leaking before I started it."

"So how is it?"

"Everything looks OK."

"Good lets fire it up and get the hell out of here." They both climbed into the truck. Sasha turned the key. The lights came on but that was all.

"Shit!" said Holly, slamming her fist down on the dash.

"No, wait. Sometimes they have a cut out switch. It shuts off the fuel pump when there's a collision. We might just need to reset it," said Sasha.

"Great, where is it?" asked Holly.

"I don't know. Check the glove box, see if there's a manual." Holly opened the glove box.

"Hey, check it out," said Holly. She pulled a first aid kit from the glove box.

"We can use this."

"The manual?" prompted Sasha.

"OK, I'm looking."

"Look faster."

"Hey, would this switch say fuel pump reset on it?"

"Probably." Holly reached her hand into the glove box.

"Try it now."

Sasha turned the key again and the engine roared to life. She put it in reverse and gave it some gas. It dragged the other car for a foot or two but then they separated with a loud metallic pang.

"Now we're cooking with steam," said Sasha.

"Great, wait here while I get Pattie and Chiquito squared away."

Holly jumped out of the truck. She signaled the lookouts to return to her. Soon they both trotted up.

"Ok, you guys did real good, but we aren't done yet. Come with me."
She led them into the alley and took them to where Jim still sat on the crate. He was looking woozy again.

"Jim, you OK?" asked Holly.

"I just want to sleep," he said.

"Don't! I think you have a concussion," said Holly. "These are some friends of mine. They're going to keep you company for a while. Do you understand?" Jim nodded. She turned to Pattie.

"This is a first aid kit," she said, handing her the kit she had found in the glove box.
"There should be some antiseptics and bandages and stuff in there. Fix up his head as best you can, OK?"

"Sure," said Pattie.

"I think he has a concussion so don't let him fall asleep," added Holly.

"I won't," said Pattie. Holly took the hand radio from her pocket and faced Chiquito.

"This is a police radio. I want you to wait twenty minutes, then turn this on and tell who ever you get on here that Officer James Wilcox is injured and needs help. Tell them where you are. As soon as you guys see the police or and ambulance coming up the street get out of here."

"I don't have a watch?" said Chiquito.

"Me either," said Pattie.

"Jim, do you have a watch?" asked Holly.

"Yeah," said Jim.

"I'm sorry, we need to borrow it." She reached behind him and removed the watch from his wrist.

"You'll get it back when we're done," she promised. Holly handed the watch to Chiquito.

"Twenty minutes, got it?" she said. Chiquito nodded.
"Here's the rest of your money," she said as she handed them each another ten dollar note.
"Thanks for using us," said Pattie.

"Knew I could count on you guys, but I'm going to check on Jim here later and If I find out either of you hurt him or took anything from him, including that watch, I'll find you and it won't be pretty. Is that understood?" They both nodded.

"Ok guys, I'm out' a here. Be careful and good luck."

"You too," said Pattie. Holly walked out of the alley and climbed into the truck.

"Is every thing cool," asked Sasha.

"They're all set, let's roll." Sasha backed the big truck down the street to the intersection then turned and headed for their rendezvous with Cain.

The big van rumbled down the desolate road towards the wreaking yard which was located three miles outside of the city. It was actually a large metal recycling facility. Old cars and other scrap metals were crushed into blocks and then smelted down into large ingots for eventual reprocessing. It had been a very quiet ride so far. Holly could sense the tension.

"Do you want to talk about it?" she finally asked.

"What? That they didn't bother to tell us a cop would be driving the truck or that you almost had to wash me out of the car with a hose."

"Well, I was talking about the car, but the other one is good too."
"Yeah, what the fuck happened there anyway brain girl? I thought you had it all worked out."

"Incomplete data," said Holly.

"What does that mean?"

"It means I didn't know this truck was going to be so freaking heavy for one thing. The wet road didn't help either."

"Being heavy should have made it stop faster. I've almost got the pedal to the floor now and we're barely going forty."

"It doesn't work that way. When something's heavy it's hard to get it moving, but once it is moving it's hard to get it to stop."

"How could that be? It doesn't make sense."

"It's because of inertia," explained Holly.

"Oh, now you're just making stuff up."

"I am not!" she insisted. "Look, do you see the tree up ahead?" It was about one hundred yards up the road on the right.


"Try to stop before we reach it."

"No problem," said Sasha. She began to apply the break. The truck slowed but not nearly as fast as she expected. As the tree approached she applied the break harder but she realized it was hopeless. They were still doing twenty when the tree shot past.

"See?" said Holly smugly.

"Fine, there's such a thing as inertia," admitted Sasha.

"Just remember that when we get to the wreaking yard. It would be pretty embarrassing if we crashed right through the front gate."

"Yeah," said Sasha. "What do you suppose they've got this thing loaded down with anyway?"

"That cop said it was just files and papers."

"Do you believe that?"

"I don't know. He seemed to believe it. Remember when he said he worked in the records section?"

"Did you see those locks on the cargo compartment?" asked Sasha. In addition to the rear door there was also an access from the cab. Both doors were secured with a large heavy duty pad lock.

"Yes," said Holly.

"Pretty tight security for old papers," said Sasha.

"Paper can be valuable. It depends what's on it."

"Maybe; hey maybe we stole the wrong truck."

"Don't even think that," warned Holly.

"So, what about the cop? Why do you think they didn't tell us?" asked Sasha.

"Maybe they didn't know."

"Yeah, right."

"I don't know," admitted Holly.

"Neither do I and I don't like it." Holly noticed a sign for the wreaking yard coming up on the right. One mile, it read.

"We're almost there," said Holly.

"Yeah," said Sasha.

"You know if this is a double cross, if they did decide to kill us, no one would care. I doubt if anyone would even notice we were gone."

"No one who mattered anyway," Sasha agreed.

"It only takes one of us to drive the truck in."

"OK, I'll stop and let you out."

"That's not what I had in mind Sasha."

"But you thought I'd just get out and let you go in there alone," said Sasha. "You really aught to know better than that by now."

"Alright, we go in together, but if they put us in one of those big car crushing machines, just remember you had your chance. I don't want to hear a lot of whining." They soon pulled up to the wreaking yard. It was surrounded by a high gray wall topped with barbed wire. There were signs everywhere warning of industrial hazards and threatening prosecution for trespassers.

The road led them up to a large steal gate. No one was in sight. Sasha gave them two long blasts of the trucks horn, and then they both watched as the gate slowly opened. They could see the interior of the compound was brightly illuminated by flood lights.

"Ready?" asked Sasha.

"Ready as I'll ever be," said Holly.

Sasha drove the truck through the gate and into the compound. A man in gray work coveralls appeared and directed them to the right where they could now see that two cars and a van with several long antennas sticking out of its roof were parked. One car was a fancy black sedan. The other car, also black, looked to be some kind of military utility vehicle.

There were three men in plain sight standing next to the cars. Even at a distance they could both tell that one of them was the man known as Bull. As they pulled up they could see that one of the other men was Cain. The third man, who appeared to be Asian, they had not seen before. Sasha parked the truck and they both climbed out. Bull approached them.

"Well I'll be a son of a bitch. You two actually pulled it off didn't you," he said, as he examined the truck.

"What happened here?" he asked, indicating the front end damage.

"We had a little trouble getting it to stop," said Holly.

"He rammed your blocking car?"

"Not on purpose," said Sasha, giving Holly a wry look.

"What about the driver?"

"Banged his head real good. He was OK when we left. Thanks for telling us a cop would be driving. Oh wait, you didn't," said Holly.

"I'm afraid that was my doing," said Cain as he walked up to them.

"Why, you thought it would be more fun for us if it was a surprise?" said Holly.

"Do you know what the difference is between a lucky amateur and a skilled professional?" he asked, ignoring the snide remark.

"No but I'm sure you're going to tell us," said Holly, flippantly.

Cain smiled at her then viciously backhanded her across the face. She was stunned by the ferocity of the blow which knocked her to the ground. Sasha started to go to her aid but Bull grabbed her by her left bicep and yanked her roughly back into place. A tense moment passed, then Cain stepped forward and offered Holly his hand. She cautiously took it and he yanked her back to her feet. Once she had regained her balance he seized her chin in his right hand and looked her in the eye. He spoke.

"You may be a genius sissy britches but you still have a lot to learn. Maybe someday, if you live long enough, you'll know more about this business than I do. Until then I suggest you show a lot more respect for your elders. That means when I give you advice you shut your mouth and listen. You may just learn something that will keep you alive. Do you understand me?"

His voice had changed; it was almost inhuman and sent a cold chill down her spine. It was how she imagined the devil would sound. She lowered her eyes.

"I'm sorry....Sir," she said contritely. He smiled at her again, released her chin and brushed some of the dirt from her coat.

"The difference," he said, resuming his lecture, "is that a skilled professional, when confronted with an unpleasant surprise, can adapt to the new circumstances on the fly and still get the job done." He looked hard at Holly and Sasha for moment before he spoke again.

"I made this hard for you on purpose girls. I could have given you money and troops and equipment and up to the minute intelligence, but that wouldn't have told me anything. I wanted to see if you could accomplish a difficult task with your own limited resources and your own wits."

"So it was a test?" asked Sasha.

"Yes," he said.

"Did we pass?" asked Holly, rubbing her right eye which was starting to swell.

"I don't know yet. We're still waiting to hear what happened with the driver." He turned towards the van with the antennas.

"Lenny, any word yet?" he shouted. A balding man stuck his head out of the van's window and spoke. He was wearing some kind of head set.

"That Hispanic kid they hired just called it in on the cops own radio. Their dispatching units and an ambulance," he said. "They should be there in like five minutes," he added.

"So far so good girls," said Cain. "Would you like to see what you went through all this for?" he asked.

"Sure," said Sasha with a shrug.

"Bull, get that thing opened." Bull gestured to two men wearing work coveralls and welders masks. They approached the truck pulling a portable welding unit on a cart. They lowered their masks, lit off the torch and went to work on the lock. Seconds later they opened the back door of the truck and Holly and Sasha peered in. It was stacked to the ceiling with boxes and crates. They all bore a stencil that read:


"That's five years of hard work on the part of the state prosecutor's office you're looking at," said Cain.

One of the men in coveralls now approached the truck with what appeared to be a fire extinguisher and began to spray down the interior of the cargo compartment. Soon Holly detected the unmistakable odor of petroleum and realized that the truck and all its contents were to be burned. It almost seemed a shame after all the trouble they had gone through to steal it.

"You girls leave anything valuable in the truck?" asked Cain. They both shook their heads in the negative.

"Lets do it Bull." Bull pulled a gray cylindrical object from his coat pocket. It was about the same size and shape as a beer can.

"You want to do the honors?" he asked Cain.

"Why not," said Cain. Bull tossed the gray cylinder to him.

"What's that?" asked Sasha.

"Thermight grenade, burn right through a solid steel block," said Bull.

Cain pulled a pin on the top of the canister and tossed it into the back of the truck. He jogged back over to join the others at a safe distance. There was a blinding explosion and the entire truck erupted into flames.

"Won't the government have copies of that stuff?" asked Holly.

"As it happens the copies have mysteriously disappeared from the vault they were being stored in," said Cain.

"Of course the government doesn't know that yet," added Bull.

"Lenny, what's the latest?" Cain yelled towards the van with the antennas. Once again Lenny's balding head emerged from the window.

"They picked up the cop and they're taking him to Holy Cross. EMS says he has a mild concussion but he's conscious and alert, vitals are good. Sounds like he's going to need some stitches though.

"Congratulations girls, you just lost your amateur status," said Cain. "Bull, take care of them."

Bull reached inside his overcoat with his right hand. Holly and Sasha both tensed noticeably, fearing that the big revolver was about make an appearance.

"Relax girls," he said with a chuckle. "It's pay day."

His hand came out of the coat clutching a thick bundle of bills. Both girls relaxed though they were clearly chagrined by their obvious mistake. Bull tossed the bundle and Sasha caught it.

"That's five hundred," said bull. "Two fifty a piece." They were both stunned at the amount. Even subtracting the forty they had used to hire Chiquito and Pattie it was a small fortune.

"I'd use some of that to buy a better lock for your place," said Bull. Cain approached them and handed Holly a manila envelope.

"These are instructions on how to contact me. Memorize them then burn them. Both of you consider yourselves to be on retainer," he said.

"What does that mean exactly?" asked Holly.

"It means you get this same amount every month plus bonuses for any work you do for me. You can still pull your own jobs but you have to clear them through me first. If I have work for you to do, that takes priority over everything, understood?"

"Yes Sir," they said in unison.

"I guess you guys could use a ride home," said Cain.

"Yeah," said Holly looking towards the truck which was still burning like a torch.

"Wait here," he said.

Cain walked back towards the big black car. Holly saw him talking with the Asian man who had suddenly reappeared. Like Bull, the Asian man was well dressed, as if he was going out on the town; shined shoes, gray dress slacks, black sweater, tie, tweed jacket and a fedora hat. Cain, as seemed to be his style, was more casual. Western boots, kaki pants, green military pullover sweater and a leather flight jacket.

There was something about the Asian mans face that made it hard to fix his age. Holly thought he might be anywhere between late thirties and early fifties. Cain spoke to him for several minutes, and then the Asian man got behind the wheel of the car.

"Holly!" Cain called her and gestured for her to come over. She walked over to the big black sedan.

"I wanted to talk to you for a minute before you leave," said Cain, when she reached him.

He took out a pack of cigarettes and offered her one. She gladly accepted, having smoked all of her own earlier. Cain produced a fancy gold Zippo lighter with a military logo on it, lit her cigarette, then lit his own. He looked at her for a moment, then brought his right hand up to her chin and gently cocked her head a little to the right so he could see her injured eye better. It was nearly swollen shut. She was going to be badly bruised.

"I guess you must think I'm a real son of a bitch," he said. Holly shrugged.

"I'm in command here Holly. Most people figure I'm a very powerful man, and that's true, but the thing you always have to remember when your on top is that there's always somebody looking to knock you down and take your place. When you're in command, especially when you're in command of people like my associates here, you can never afford to tolerate disrespect. It makes you look weak, and when you look weak, that's when someone will try to take you out. That's why I hit you, and it's why I'll do it again if you give me cause to like you did tonight. Do you understand?"

"Yes Sir," she said.
"You have enormous potential Holly; with my protection and my patronage you could go a long way in this business."

"Sasha and I are a package deal," said Holly emphatically.

"Sasha's welcome. She's a good soldier, but more importantly she's someone you can trust with your life. In this business that's a very precious commodity."

"Yes it is," said Holly. "I wouldn't have made it this far without her."

"Nor she you."

"I'm not sure about that," said Holly.

"I am," said Cain. "But good soldiers I can hire by the dozen; people who have the potential to be great leaders someday, people like you, are harder to come by."

"I think you might be over estimating me. I made mistakes tonight," she admitted.

"Intelligence is all well and good Holly, but wisdom is something that only comes with age and experience. You did make mistakes tonight. Learn from them. Don't make them again. That's how you become a great leader someday."

"Yes Sir," she said.

"Well, it's late and you've had a busy night. I expect you'd like to get to bed now."

"I sure would," she admitted. "I feel like I could sleep for a week."

"Sasha," he yelled as he beckoned with his arm. Sasha came trotting over. Cain made another hand gesture and the Asian man pulled up in the big black car.

"Girls, this is Mr. Ito. He'll drive you back to your apartment."

Mr. Ito looked at them both and touched the brim of his hat in greeting. Holly could read nothing in his expression. Not even the usual surprise when he saw her eyes. Cain opened the door to the back seat and both girls climbed in.

"One more thing girls," said Cain as he held the door open. "Don't go flashing that money around. In fact the two of you better lay low for a couple of weeks. Understood?"

"Yes Sir," they both said.

"Good night girls, sleep tight, help your selves to anything in the car." said Cain as he closed the door.

Mr. Ito. Put the car into drive and pulled out. Cain watched it pass the truck, which was still ablaze, and disappear out the gate.