| Chapter Ten |

The decision to follow Rylie was one made in haste. I didn't take the time to dicide what I ws going to do if I found her, what I would say if she discovered me, or why I was goig to follow her in the first place. It was a decision born of instinct.

Her police file was thin, only a few snapshots of her and a rap sheet with mostly blank lines. There was an address in the warehouse district where she was said to have been seen, and I took a chance, deciding that it was my best lead other then just calling her myself.

It was easy to see the physical switch from the metropolitan downtown to the warehouse district of Aspen. The town was right up against the ocean, and one of the largest port cities on the Pacific coast best known for its shipping through harsh winters and relentless spring storms. The warehouse district was relatively undeveloped, more of an industrial complex then anything. For that reason it was badly patrolled and had been all but abandoned by law enforcement until recently, when the newest mayor of Aspen, Thomas Grey, vowed to fight hard against the crime problem growing there.

Aspen gangs were among the most brutal, rivaled only by inner city gangs of America's Los Angeles and New York City. They were numerous and wild, and with the port so large and uninhibited, it was easy for a small time street gang to become arms dealers and drug smugglers overnight. This was the case with the gang that Michael Pedersen had started from the ground up. Murder, grand theft auto, arson, and looting were the commonplace lower level crimes. Men like Bouchet, who ran the city with their multilevel mafia-like organizations held the city of Aspen captive like it was their playground, or battleground, depending on how you looked at it.

The warehouse district was dangerous, some grown men wouldn't be cause alone at night along its sidewalks. Home to some of the city's most popular and dangerous nightlife, news reports of teenage drug overdoses and violent gang-related drive-bys riddled the headlines almost weekly. The district and its crime was the thorn in Aspen's side.
v
And here I was, sitting in my car two blocks down from the address in Rylie's rap sheet. A woman alone in the warehouse district was usually a sign of trouble, at least for her. But I wasn't just a woman. I left my keys behind the back wheel of my car and walked down the deserted sidewalks towards the address. I didn't expect to find Rylie or anything incriminating, but it was a constant curiosity that drew me to my only lead. It took me a while to convince myself that I wasn't actually spying on Rylie, that instead I was covering myself, making sure I wasn't being fooled.

The warehouse was seedy, and I could see the windows of the low building had been painted black to keep out all light. I ducked into an alleyway, immediately assaulted by the smell of garbage and refuse. I could hear my boots making splashes in the filth puddles under my feet and I grimaced at the sound of muck squishing beneath my feet. I had bet there would be a side entrance to the building, some door left open for members of the eights to slide in through unnoticed.

My bet paid off when I came to a door propped, open slightly, the darkness of the alleyway hindering my view of what was behind the door. My only option was to enter blind or turn home, and my need to know wasn't going to allow the latter. I felt in for my knife and flashlight and then pulled open the door slowly, expecting the hinges to creak and groan. If anyone was on the other side of this door, even in the dark they would know I had entered. The door seemed to squeak when I moved it slowly, so I jerked it open instinctively creeping inside. Holding my hands out in front of me, a buffer zone between my body and something sharp or harmfull. My fingertips connected with a wall after a few steps, and I followed along the legnth of the wall to the right, deeper into the dark.

I ran into a box before I'd taken two steps, the toe of my boot colliding with the soft cardboart with a muffled thud. I froze, my nerves on end, every muscle in my body taught. I could feel the neoprene of my mask against the sweat on my forehead and took a moment to focus on calming myself, breathing in through my nose and out silently through my mouth. There had been no audible repsonse to my noise making, so I took another step, feeling with my boot for the box and where it ended.

But my foot landed upon something metal, and it clanked as I step, rolling underneath my boot. It felt like a pen, or a thin canister, or a bullet shell. That thought gave me other thoughts and I wondered if I was getting myself in too deep.

And then I heard the turning of a doornob and a similar squeak of rusty door hinges. I searched in the darkness with wide eyes, looking for any movement or change in the darkness. I heard heavy footsteps, maybe two yards in front of me, and I took a step backwards towards the door I came in by, pressing myself up against the hard wood of the door, unable to see a way to escape or a place to hide.

"Hey, Sam, is that you?" I heard a familiar voice to call to someone I couldn't see. There was no answer, but I heard her still moving around in the darkness,the gentle whoosh of her clothes, the dull thuds of her footsteps, even her breathing.

Someone flipped on a light, and I froze, the sudden light after my pupils had dialated so far painful.

I heard Rylie curse and though for sure she had seen me. But I was unable to move, not sure where she was in relation to my hiding place up against the wall. After a moment I could hear her moving again, this time shuffling and stacking heavy containers that clinked and jangled.

"The truck is ready to go," I heard another female voice and realized this must have been the Sam that Rylie called to earlier. The odds were steadily growing worse. "Let's load this shit up."

I opened my eyes, taking in my surroundings quickly. Rylie and the other woman were nowhere in sight. It seemed as if I was alone in a corridor, sandwhiched between a wall and a tall stack of boxes. I was safe, for the moment, and I listened to their conversation, trying to peice together what I could.

"I'm not going to wait for everyone else to show up," Rylie was saying to the woman she called Sam. "It's Daniel, and probably a few of his boys. They aren't going to do anything to us, and we don't need an army for a handoff."

"Yeah," Sam agreed. She huffed, and I assumed she had lifted a box from off the ground. "Lets load up and go then."

They worked in silence for a few moments more, and then an idea came to me. If there were loading up a truck and preparing to make some sort of transaction, I needed to find my way onto that truck. Seeing Rylie in action would give me leverage over her, and also lead me to someone else who could be responsible for ruining the streets of my city. It had been weeks since I'd made a hit on any of the places Bouchet's list had given me. After the trial his security was alert, the publicity that the trial had given him turning out to be bad for business.

I stole away, leaving them to their work, deciding to scale the building and climb to the roof. The truck must have been nearby, and if I could find a way to get inside I'd have a front row seat. The building was huge, probably covering six or seven hundred square feet, and I carefully walked the perimiter, looking for a pickup truck or some vehicle parked closeby.

Behind the warehouse was a loading dock, and parked there was a delivery style truck, marked up as a catering business. It was easy enough to jump from the roof of the snow covered building to the roof of the vehicle, and I crouched there, waiting for Rylie and Sam to arrive. It wasn't long before the engine whirred to life, two doors slamming shut at the same time. I gripped the cold wet metal with my fingers, realizing that a sharp turn or a sudden stop could throw me from the vehicle easily.

The streets of the warehouse district were void of cars this time of night, and it seemed as if Rylie was driving cautiously, slowing for bumps and potholes. The cargo we were carrying must have been delicate.

Three blocks away we reached our destination, coming to an unlit alley, the truck deftly manuvering into it. At the end was a garage, and I watched as Sam got out of the passenger side of the delivery truck and went to open the garage. It rolled up, open wide like the mouth of a cave, and slowly Rylie rolled the truck inside. I had to flatten myself against the roof just o clear the low garage door, but I made it, and watched and waited as Rylie and Sam sat silently in the vehicle.

I realized that moving around would be counter productive, mostly because Rylie and her partner would hear me, but also because if someone was watching they might spot me. For what felt like a long time we waited, and then I heard the distant rumble of a truck engine and saw blue headlights blaring down the alleyway. Rylie and Sam got out of the delivery truck and I flattened myself on its hood. I'd taken a gamble that the transaction would happen outside and that I would be in a position where I could hear what was said between the two groups and that gamble was about to pay off.

The person who stepped out of the incoming vehicle was little more then a teenaged boy. At the very oldest he could have passed for 22, but that was pushing it. The small mustache and goatee helped his case, but one he opened his mouth it was shot.

"Nice to see you again, girls," he crooned' his voice cracking halfway through his greeting. He look annoyed and then shook it off and motioned towards the truck. Two larger men got out, slamming the doors of the lifted SUV and walking up behind the boy who I figured was the Dan that Rylie and Sam had mentioned earlier. They seemed more at home in the environment and I wondered how their leader had even gotten to the place he was in the entourage.

"I can't say the same to you, Daniel," Rylie replied with an insult, smooth as ever. "I assume you want to verify the goods?"

The boy shrugged and motioned to the man on his left to hand him a duffel bag. The man hesitated before obeying. "Don't you think we should check to make sure it's good?" he asked and the boy looked annoyed once more.

"Fine, go back there and check," he ordered, snatching the duffel bag from the man and then flicking his wrist as if to shop him away.

I almost didn't believe what I was watching. It was like a scene in a movie, the way the pretentious privileged kid was about to get fooled by the more experienced drug lord. I shifted my weight and rested my head on the cold metal of the delivery trucks roof, hoping that I was neither too far back nor forward. The last thing I needed at this point was to be noticed. I felt the back doors of the truck open and heard Sam grunt to pick up a box and drop it at the mans feet. He opened it and sniffed, and then shouted up to his gang leader.

"Yeah it's good, let's get out of here."

I waited as the deal was made, Rylie stashing the duffel bag in the truck and two more men helping to transfer the boxes from one vehicle to another.

Dan held out a hand when the transaction was complete. He was wearing leather driving gloves that matched his black leather jacket. I knew that Rylie detested him from the look on her face when their hands met.
"It was nice doing business with you, Danny Boy," she said, almost in a whisper. Before anyone could move she had the gun in her waste out and to his chest, cocked and loaded. He looked shocked to be in front of the barrel of his gun, his mouth hung open like a fish. "I don't want to see this coke on my corners or in my clients pockets. Is that clear, Mr. Fuentes?"

The boy nodded, and his companions jumped out of the car, having realized that something was wrong. The problem escalated further when Sam jumped out of the vehicle, a pistol in either hand, pointed directly at the two who had gotten out of the truck.

"Get back in the fucken car!" she shouted at them, but neither moved. They were unarmed but reluctant to leave their man without backup. Sam fired of a round in their direction, missing intentionally. "Do you think I'm fucken playing? Get back in the car!" They backed away slowly, realizing that she meant business.

Daniel was still stock still, his face flushed white, and Rylie was still pushing the barrel of her weapon into his chest. "boys like you are a dime a dozen," she shrugged, licking her lips. "I should just shoot you right now for having the balls to ask me for this much coke. Do you know what the Eights to do people who steal our corners?"

The boy shook his head no frantically, too afraid to speak. He was clearly in over his head.

Rylie pulled the gun away and then smacked the boy across the face with it, knocking him to the ground in one fluid movement. "We kill them," she answered her own question, watching as he spit out a chunk of blood and held his busted lip. "Now get the fuck out of here and don't come sneaking around this neighborhood."

Daniel scrambled to his feet, ordering his men to get in the car. The truck screeched out of the alleyway quickly, both Sam and Rylie still pointing their weapons in the general direction. I was confused why the other gang had showed up with not weapons of their own. If they were brazen enough to buy from Rylie and her entourage, why weren't they brazen enough to shoot her down, especially when the two women we're outnumbered.

Rylie and Sam slowly let their guard down and got into the truck quickly, pulling out of the alleyway garage and into the narrow alley. I considered jumping from the moving vehicle to the rooftop of the adjacent buildings, but decided against it, thinking that tagging along would provide more information for me to hold over my new clients head if that became necessary.

But before I could shift positions to the back of the truck again where at least I had a chance to hang on to the back handle of the vehicles doors, the truck lumbered onto the street and I was caught off guard by the revving of a truck engine.

I whipped my head towards the sound, and then braced for impact, the truck from the opposing gang headed straight for our vehicle. But there was nothing to grip, I realized frantically, and I grimaced as the collision was made, the front grill of the pickup truck barely taking any damage, completely decimating the delivery truck that I was holding on to for dear life. I heard a scream and a shout from the van of the truck as the vehicle was shoved sideways and I felt my body slip quickly from the roof.
I was thrown to the ground from the force of the impact, my head connecting with the pavement with a bright flash of pain. This wasn't supposed to be happening.

I heard the horrible sound of metal scraping against metal and looked up to see the delivery truck tottering over me on two wheels, on the verge of smashing me completely. Rylie was gripping the steering wheel with one hand and firing her weapon with the other, and Sam was already smashed against her door. She was going to feel the brunt of the impact.

In a split second I crawled back from the destruction path of the vehicle, watching through a haze and probably a concussion as it slammed into the snow covered street and slid several feet, decimating a street sign in the process.

The black truck quickly reversed from the scene and sped away, tires spinning in the ice before making traction and disappearing down the corner.

I peered over at the vehicle, not seeing any movement through blurred eyes. I knew that if any police showed up both Rylie and Sam would have to try and explain the situation. I pushed myself up off of the road and stumbled over to the vehicle, feeling a pounding in my head, more nauseous then I had been in a long while. I squinted through the spidered front windows, seeing an unmoving Rylie hanging from her seatbelt and Sam in a heap on the door of the vehicle.

I kicked out the glass with my heel, the only way I could see to get either of them out of the truck. The glass was already broken and I scraped it away from its frame, taking Sam's arm and pulling her out of the front window carefully. Her leg looked bent at a horrible angle but she wasn't bleeding and I felt a pulse. I left her in the snow and crawled inside the truck, unhooking Rylie from her belt, trying to keep her from falling when the buckle unhooked.

She moaned in pain as we collided, falling against the frame of the truck with an audible thud. "What the fuck happened?" she asked me in a guttural tone, and then her eyes rolled back in her head and she slumped into me. When I pulled her out and looked around Sam was laying with her eyes open looking up at the sky. Her face looked completely shocked.

I looked up and down the street but didn't see any cars or people. My car was nearly five blocks away, and the warehouse district sidewalks were snow covered and dirty. I wasn't sure how long I could drag Rylie's limp form down the street but I couldn't leave her, and even though Sam was awake, I was sure she couldn't walk on her own.

I dragged Rylie's body over to Sam who was lying in the street still. She looked over at me and tried to sit up out of the freezing snow. I was sure she would go into shock, her lips were already turning blue. "Stay here, I'll be back," I told her in my deep voice, helping her sit up out of the snow.

With a delivery truck in the street and two accident victims in the snow I knew the first person who happened upon the scene would call the police. Sam needed medical attention, and Rylie probably did as well. I took off running down the street, feeling a stitch in my side as I jogged back to my car, hoping I could get to it back to the women before anyone else got to them. I realized that they were sitting ducks, and if Daniel and his cohorts decided to make a second pass he could probably run them over.

I ran faster.

Fishing the key out of the snow and unlocking the car, I got in and revved the engine, flipping a U turn and going back to the site of the accident. I could hear the distant wail of sirens and slammed on the gas, the pulsing in my head fading back into my consciousness.

When I rounded the final corner and got a fresh look at the decimated truck it made me grimace. The two were still sitting in the snow, Rylie still unconscious and Sam groaning, holding her leg. I pulled up beside them, leaving the car running.

"Get in the car, Sam, " I growled at the woman who looked up at me. She tried to reach for her gun but I kicked it out of her hand and away into the snow.

"Do you want to go to jail or the hospital?" I asked her sharply and she looked at me and then gritted her teeth and pushed herself up off the ground, the foot of her broken leg twisted sickly outward. She hopped to the car and opened the back door while I bent over Rylie, picking her up and dragging her limp body around the car. Getting her inside was a challenge, she wasn't heavy but it was awkward trying to bend her into a sitting position.

"Get the money," Sam told me, pointing to the snow covered duffel bag hanging out the front of the delivery truck. I nodded and dropped Rylie's legs, running to the bag and throwing it into the back seat before trying again to get Rylie in the car.

"Who the fuck are you?" Sam mumbled. I looked up, hearing the sirens getting closer. I had not choice but to shove Rylie's legs into the car and slam the door, jumping over the hood and into the drivers seat, throwing the car into drive and slamming on the gas. I pulled over to let the ambulance and police sirens pass, Sam cursing in the backseat, her head on the duffel bag of money.

"Doesn't fucken matter who I am," I told her when we were in the clear. "I'm a friend. Where can I take you?"

She looked at me, probably trying to remember my face without the mask. As a first instinct I started for the closest hospital, knowing that the woman in my backseat had a horribly injury, and Rylie was obviously unconscious, probably with a concussion.

But Sam protested, saying that it was a bad idea. She gave me directions to a seedy district of town and I followed them. I didn't tell her I had no intention of letting her take Rylie, and as soon as she had gotten out of the car and shut the door I rolled down the window and looked up at her.

"Tell anyone and I'll kill you," I told her in a deep voice, my hair obstructing her view of my face. She smirked and then made to walk around and help Rylie out but I took off leaving her wobbling on one leg.

It was harsh, but Rylie was the one I found interesting, and along with the sack of money and everything that I'd seen, she was the only one of the pair I needed.

Driving back downtown in silence with Rylie slumped against the window was odd. I thought about turning on music but I thought it might wake her up, and I wasn't sure what she'd do if she woke up beside me in the car. Carrying her up to the building and holding her up in the elevator was more odd. An old woman eyed us suspiciously but I made some comment about being drunk and she nodded to herself, getting off several floors below my own. I unlocked the door with one hand and the kicked it open, wanting to dump the girl on the floor. The money was still in the car and the last thing I wanted was to leave it there. If anyone has recognized my car that bag would put me smack dab in the middle of the crime, and I was nothing more then a bystander.

I laid Rylie on my bed and went to retrieve the duffel bag of money, setting it on the table next to the briefcase that had once belonged to Bouchet. At least this sum of cash I didn't need to feel guilty for. I head Rylie groan from the next room and quickly snatched off my mask, stripping out of the wet clothes I had been wearing and changing into a pair of khaki pants and a white button down shirt. I practiced my story for when she asked.

When I came into the room she was sitting up on the edge of the bed, holding her head and looking around, pain and bewilderment written all over her face.

"What are you doing here?" she asked me, and I smiled at her.

"This is my house, I think the question is what are you doing here," I corrected her, happy to have the upper hand in the situation.

"How did I get here? Where's Sam?" she asked, starting to come around. I shrugged my shoulders even though I knew good and well where Sam was.

"A friend of mine brought you here," I lied smoothly. I'd decided it was better to keep my two identities separated, especially where Rylie was involved. If it came down to it would be better to pretend like Marauder didn't exist then let her have that knowledge now. "You looked pretty fucked up."

She nodded slowly and then held he head in her hands. "I feel pretty fucked up," she said, and I noticed a trail of blood runnin down the side of her neck. "I think I'm gonna barf."

I pointed to the bathroom door and she crawled across the bed, flinging the door closed behind her. I left her to be sick alone, hoping I'd have some clean clothes that someone as thin and short as her could fit into. I heard the toilet flush and walked out of the closet, holding a sweatshirt and jeans in one hand and a pair of chinos and a polo in the other. Both were things I wore constantly, and even though I never would have said it out loud, I was a little excited to see her in my clothes.

She looked at the polo and the chinos, and then at the sweater. "Look I don't know how I got here but I'm leaving. I don't need your charity." She walked passed me and into the living room quickly. I could tell she was embarrassed to have thrown up in front of me.

But then she stopped and whirled around, pointing an accusing finger at me. "That was you, wasn't it? You followed me to the garage, you were spying, weren't you?!"

I gave her look that painted me innocent. "Right, because all I do is follow you around all night? Don't flatter yourself." I turned away from her, throwing the clothes on the bed. So much for this being simple.

For a moment she stared at me, and I thought she would know I was lying. She looked at me, searching my face for what, I wasn't sure. And then she flicked her wrist as if to tell me there were more important things then my lies, and turned on her heel, opened the front door, and was gone.

I walked into the living room after her, and then chuckled to myself, knowing she would come back knocking on the door in a few moments. I locked it, deciding if she could flick her wrist then so could I.

After a while I heard her footsteps in the hall and a timid knock on my door. But I didn't answer, up to my elbows in dishwater. She knocked again and I shouted, "Coming" but didn't move, wanting to find out just how important her bag of money was to her.

A third knock, and then I opened the door for her.

"I thought you didn't need my charity," I said to her, and she eyed me.

"Did that friend of yours leave a bag with me?" she asked, leaning in the doorway, her wild hair falling from behind her ear into her face. I took a step back and pointed to the duffel bag. I had no intention of keeping the money. Although I would never admit it, I was glad she had a reason to come back.

Somewhere in the back of my mind I remembered her smell, a lingering musk that had intrigued me when we first met. I wondered if I would ever get a chance to smell her scent again. "Its on the table," I told her, my voice soft. She walked forward a step, inside the threshold of my doorway, and then she stumbled, grabbing her head in her hands, a breathless sigh escaping her lips. I rushed forward in an attempt to catch her, realizing that it was foolish of me to even let her be standing, and if I was smart I would have gone against Sam's advice and taken them both to a hospital. As far as I could remember from scattered medical tips and random knowledge, throwing up and passing out were definitely signs of head trauma.

I dragged her to the couch, hearing her short breaths in my ear. She was fading in and out of consciousness and I was worried.
"You need to see a doctor," I told her, looking down into her face. She was flushed, and I put a hand to her cheek, realizing she was freezing cold, even shivering. "You're fucken freezing."

I pulled back the covers of my bed, deciding to wrap her in them, and then I saw how soggy and wet the clothes she wore were. "I'm taking your clothes off," I told her, not sure how she felt about it but deciding it was a statement and not a question. She smiled slightly, the corners of her lips turning up before she frowned, shaking her head. I ignored her protests, reaching in for the button of her jeans and peeling the wet denim off of her.

I bit my lip as my eyes fell on her underwear, the mens wear briefs making my heart beat fast. "Shit..." I mumbled, frozen as I checked her out. She lifted her head to look up at me.

"What?"

"Shirt," I told her, prying my eyes away from her hips. She held up a lump arm and I tugged on her sleeves, ending up peeling the shirt over her head and dropping it on the floor beside the jeans. I pushed her back onto the bed and wrapped her in the blankets, watching as she closed her eyes and fell asleep, probably what I shouldn't have let her do.

I flicked off the lights and made to leave the room.

"Hey," she called me, and I paused in the doorway. "Whatever happened to warming me up with your body heat?"

"In your dreams," I said to her, smirking, and shut the door.

In the living room I sat between the duffel bag and the briefcase, looking between either uncomfortably. I hadn't planned on doubling my small fortune overnight, and I hadn't expected on a girl being in my bed. I meant to take a shower until I realized that I'd cut off my only way to the bathroom. It was going to be a long night on the couch, thoughts of Rylie Pedersen's boxer briefs in my mind.