Chapter 7

Organizational Skills

Nicholas

"Don't ever aim a gun at me again." Zandie told me in a cruel tone.

"Don't ever give me a reason to." I replied in a flat, monotone voice.

Reading her eyes, my message was clear. Zandie may be an expert shot with a sniper rifle, but she was nothing compared to me nor did she have the experience, face to face, in the same ring. She should also understand how much my neck was on the line; I had to be suspicious of everyone. Tullis had a growing reward on my head. That was something hard to outrun. My meeting with the estate buyer proved that. Tullis and the syndicate had 'friends' everywhere. The massive bounty on me made a lot of people willing to help when they normally wouldn't. Anyone whom knew of the reward would be looking for me.

With the slave guild, which Zandie and Holland both seemed to be tight with, revenge, justice for Becky Felcrest would be enough of a reason. If Holland knew I'd punched her clock, did the slave guild know also?

Lydia went over to comfort Zandie. This was another puzzle, those two had become very close recently. And it was more than just clothes that had brought them together. Lydia was more upset than Zandie it appeared, on the outside. Zandie was still plenty shaken, she just hid it well. Lydia held her hand while they both moved out to another room. That left Holland and I staring at each other.

"She's my concubine." Holland stated. "I would marry her, if she were willing." He held his eyes on me, piercing eyes of ice. "Don't ever threaten her again. You may be mister bad ass, so am I when I have to be."

That was a real threat from Holland. His point was clear. He was keeping me hid, and helping me. He'd also had Zandie make the identities both Lydia and I were using. He probably wouldn't include Lydia if we came to odds, but if he passed my identity information on to the wrong people, I'd be forced to use only a few identities and staying out of sight would be much harder. He had pictures of what I looked like in most of my disguises. This meant, if I had to take either one of them out, I'd have to take them out together.

Our eyes were still locked. "Just make sure it never comes down to that." I said coldly.

In a snap, Holland turned and left the room. He joined Zandie and Lydia out in the main living room. No one looked at me when I entered the room. Not even Lydia. Zandie was crying, Holland was holding her now. Lydia looked down and to the side as she knelt by Zandie on the opposite side Holland was on. She was using her peripheral vision to see me, but she never looked up. It seemed I'd burnt a bridge.

I started walking again. I left the room and started towards the stairs that would take me to the garages on the end of the block. It was time for me to leave. Maybe this was for the best. I'd leave Lydia with Holland and Zandie, she'd be safe here. She wouldn't have to return to the farm she hated. She had new identities, she could start a new life; a life she wanted.

The stairs finished placing themselves, I was just about to head to them and leave.

"What are you doing?" Lydia's voice asked.

Without looking back I answered. "Leaving. You can keep the cash." I started for the stairs about two meters away.

My left foot stepped onto the first stair; it started to lift with the others. I had to let go of the railing cable and take my foot off the step. I looked back to where Lydia's voice had come from, there was only one direction.

"No, you're not just leaving like that. Not like last time." Holland, he was by the control I'd used to lower the stairs.

Zandie was taller than either Holland or Lydia. I could see part of her head behind them. She stepped forward.

"Really Nicholas? You'd just up and take off like that, leaving Lydia behind?" She said to me.

"Yeah, he would. That's what he did with me before, dropped me off with Sophia and Randle, then just took off." Lydia waved a hand off in the air and watched from where her hand was, like she were watching a bird fly away.

"It's for the best." I replied then looked at Holland. "Lower the stairs, I need to get going. Places to go, people to kill."

"You're really an idiot at times, you know that?" Holland stated. He put a hand on Zandie's arm then turned back down the hallway. "Come on, lets get back to… home." He told Lydia and Zandie. They both went with him.

Once they were out of sight, I walked back over to the button that lowered the stairs. I was on my own again, just like I'd always been. Just like I liked it. Sure, it had been nice having help, having Lydia around, but it was better that I was on my own.

I reached out at the button, with a sigh, I pressed it.

Nothing happened. I pressed it again, nothing. I looked at the button, I was pissed. Holland had apparently disabled it somehow. The hallway was dim, I couldn't see anything around the button, like a keyed switch or anything. Holland wouldn't have done anything that simple. I felt around where the button was, then moved my search out further from it, looking for anything that might activate the button so I could lower the stairs. This was Holland Fuzzy we were talking about, no, he wouldn't have made it that simple. I wasn't getting out by these stairs.

The hallway was my only option, so I used it and went back into the room I'd originally left the three of them at. They were sitting on a sofa facing where I'd have to enter, Holland was in the middle of the two girls, Lydia on his left, Zandie on his right.

My voice was hard and demanding when I spoke. "Let me out Holland."

He was already staring at me, they all were. "No." He answered crisply.

"I haven't got time to play games with you Holland, activate the stair control, I want to leave now!" I replied.

He smirked at me, a cocky smirk. "What ya going to do? Aim a gun at me? Threaten my life if I don't follow your orders?"

Our eyes were locked. I balled up the fingers on my hand with a thumb out and motioned back the way I'd come in.

Holland chortled wryly. "Oh, so you can leave in a huff again, pissed off, and I won't see you again for another 15 years, until you need me again?"

"12 years." I replied.

Holland shook his head. "15 years, 15 years ago you got pissed at me and stormed off. It was right after Tullis' father retired, that's been 15 years ago now." He corrected me.

"So what, I want to leave." I iterated.

"To fucking bad." Lydia chimed in with.

I ignored her.

"Sit down, have some smoke." Holland offered then retrieved a tray from beside the sofa, set it on the table in front of him between the two sofas across from each other then motioned to the other sofa, indicating I should sit. "We'll even smoke it the way you like instead of using the vape." He reached back and brought out a bong. "We need to talk, like grownups."

I could tell I wasn't going to get anywhere unless I cooperated. I move around the sofa to the front and sat down across from Holland, Zandie and Lydia. Once I was seated, Lydia got up from the sofa she was on and came over by me, sitting close beside me, very close; she was apparently trying to emphasize her loyalty to me or something.

I moved away from her a bit. Zandie looked away from me shaking her head and scoffed then quickly returned her eyes to me. "Don't treat her like that, you shit. She needs you, you need her, you both need each other." Zandie stated.

"Yeah." Holland took his turned, Lydia moved in close again, this time I stayed put. "You don't always have to be mister island all by himself. Shit, my shop got blown up because of you. I think you owe me a little of your time for that."

Zandie loaded the bong and handed it to me. Holland went on.

"Yeah, you got dealt a shit hand, you're not the only one you know. My parents didn't want me around either, I didn't fit into their perfect vision of their travel industry world; I was all about science, computers and shit. That's why I was at that boarding school, remember? Oh sure, they loved the software I made for them, but they pay me to stay away."

I'd finished my turn on the bong and held it out towards Zandie, Holland had more to say, I could tell. Zandie shook her head and pointed at Lydia. Without looking at her, I handed the bong to her. She reloaded it and Holland went on.

"We've always helped each other. Back at school, we were inseparable. Even after school, years later, you watched my back, I watched yours. Then you take off after a fight… over a girl." Depression overtook Holland's face now.

Lydia hadn't started her turn yet, she was watching between Holland and I. "Zandie, the fight was over her, wasn't it?"

Holland started nodding slowly, I sighed. The fight had been over Zandie. She'd been more that just a girl we both fucked together, she'd never been that. We both grew to love her. She loved me more, but knew we could never be together. Holland had said so, "Stay away from her why? So you can drift in and out of her life? So if your boss finds out about her, she can die in front of you? Bullshit. You're the one who should stay away from her, not me." Our argument became very heated, almost coming to blows. It ended with me leaving and not speaking to either one of them for over a decade. I remembered his final words to me as I stormed off. "She deserves better than you Nicholas. She deserves someone who can be there for her every day. Someone who isn't constantly looking over their shoulder. You don't deserve her!"

Zandie stood up and held a hand out towards Lydia. "Come on Lydia, let's leave the boys to hash this out on their own."

Lydia looked at Zandie, then at me. She slid one arm behind me and wrapped the other around my front and hugged me. Then she removed her arms, stood, and followed Zandie to another part of their house.

Lydia

"Nicholas is sure keeping you at arms length." Zandie commented once we were alone together having left Holland and Nells to talk.

I merely nodded my response as I flopped down in a chair. I didn't need a reminder of the distance Nells was keeping between us. At least he was letting me help at times, that should make me happy, but it didn't.

"Vape?" Zandie asked.

I looked up at her. "Yeah, sure. You wouldn't have any glitter would you?"

Her eyes flared a little, then she looked off someplace. "Um, maybe, possibly." She looked back to me. "Holland and I, we like vaping buds, you know. Tastes better and gets you the same high as glitter. May take a couple hits more, but same-same, you know."

"Sure, fine." I answered. I was rather distracted, I think Zandie saw this.

A lot had happened to me recently. Leaving the farm, running with Nells, Zandie. Her liking my designs for underwear, contracts, then there were the other things she brought me into. The meeting… the things weren't bad, just a lot to swallow at one time. Then there was Nells again. My mind was in several different places at once; mainly Nells, his distance from me, and things I couldn't tell him.

"Here, first one's yours." She said after she'd set the vape machine down in front of me. I took a hit.

After I inhaled, I held the hit as long as I could then exhaled hard. Fuck I needed that, I felt a little relaxed. I took another and held it. This was feeling good. I did one more before passing the tube to Zandie. She chuckled at me and said something about my needing a few hits and that it would help me relax. Yeah, it was hitting me now, I was relaxing. Once she finished, I took another.

"That's toast." I told her.

Zandie removed the glass from the vape and reloaded it, then handed me the tube again. I kept hitting the vape until the smoke she'd put in it was toast again. I told her it was her turn but she'd need to reload before she took her turn.

"I gathered that." She said then reloaded the vape.

She took her turn, hitting the vape several times. I was pleasantly numb. I looked over at Zandie, I giggled, she looked pleasantly numb too. She loaded the vape again, this time we rotated our turns one after the other. By the time we were done, we both had a case of the giggles.

We sat in our chairs enjoying the high for a bit. Time passed slowly, finally, Zandie started the conversation; one I really didn't care for, but I cooperated.

"Has there been any romantic incidences between you and Nicholas at all?" She asked.

I derailed her train of thought, for a moment. "Why do you call him Nicholas? Sophia and Randle always called him Nells, so do I. But you and Holland…" I was stoned, and I didn't think I needed to figure out how to finish the sentence, what was I going to say again? I forgot.

With a soft sigh and a chuckle Zandie leaned forward attending to the vape again, putting more smoke in its chamber.

"Don't smoke weed when you're stoned." I started shaking a finger as I spoke. "You don't get any higher, just lower on weed." I laughed when I was finished.

Zandie laughed with me and took a hit then passed it to me.

"That's kind of old comedy for someone your age." She commented after she released her hit.

After I released mine, I rolled my head in her direction on the back of the chair. "What can I say, I watch a lot of old shows on the net." I looked straight ahead. "Well, I used to anyways. Hasn't been a lot of time for that recently, and I couldn't exactly use Randle and Sophia's account."

Silence fell between us for a bit. We both sat and enjoyed our stoned state and relaxed. It felt good. I didn't intend to say what I was thinking, it just happened. "Nells never lets me get this high, shit, he's reluctant to even let me have any, bastard."

"So, anyways, what's the deal between you two? You ever tried getting frisky with Nicholas?" Zandie asked again.

Her question reminded me of mine. "Yeah, once. Why do you call him Nick? Back on the farm, we called him Nells."

Zandie laughed a little then sighed. "Nicholas, not Nick. Unless you want to piss him off, he hates being called Nick." She looked off shaking her head as she went on. "I don't know why, he just doesn't. He wouldn't let people call me Zee either. When they did, he'd correct them saying 'her names Zandie not Zee' and Holland's the same way. Of course, there's not really a shortened version of Holland, everyone always calls him… Holland. Sometimes people used to just call him Fuzzy, then he'd say either put a mister in front of that or call me Holland. Then they'd just call him Holland."

She sat there, looking off and smiling to herself. Probably remembering something the three of them had done or something. Eventually she looked back at me.

"As far as Nicholas and Nells; his cousin knows him by his birth name, she'd of known him before Mister Gagucci adopted him. When he did that, he changed his name from Nells, to Nicholas. Guess he didn't want to constantly be reminded of where Nicholas had come from. Mister Gagucci hated Nicholas' father. Hated him with a passion." Zandie told me.

I was reflecting on what she'd said when she said, "Now it's your turn, tell me about you and mister Nicholas."

With a shrug I told her, "Not much to tell, I tried to get his favor once, he rejected me. He said he was to old for me and that he didn't want to get involved with an under aged girl. That's it."

Zandie busted out laughing. "Bullshit!" She ejected, then laughed a bit more. "That's just bullshit. Him and Holland were both doinking my ass when I was 13, and they were 18. Sure, there's five years between us, and there's… …well, more than that between you and him, but fuck, what does age matter anyways. Rhonda was 27, what's another 10, 12, something years younger." She said then scoffed.

I shrugged. I had no answer for that.

"Boys, they're like putty, you just need to shape them right, really get their attention. Hook 'em good once. Then you've got 'em." Zandie stated then looked me right in the eyes. "Spill girl, what'd you try. Zandie will tell you where you fucked up and how to correct it."

My stoned feeling seemed to leave me instantly. I really didn't want to talk about what I'd tried with Nells with her, with anyone actually. I was nervous, more nervous than I'd ever been in my life. My shitter clenched so tight, I thought it might seal itself closed forever. Zandie seemed to sense this, she reloaded the vape and handed me the tube, then waited. She'd press until I told her; there was no way I was getting out of telling her what happened.

I didn't hold my hit long and exhaled through my nose while I looked forward. I knew she'd start prodding me as soon as she let her hit out, so I started talking, I told her everything.

"Hmm, the direct approach." I didn't know how to read the expression on her face. "That will work at a school dance or at a meat party, but not with someone of Nicholas' seasoning. In a private setting like you were in, you should've been more, sultry, alluring. Catch him off guard, get him with a sneak attack and use some seductive techniques. Plan ahead a little."

I wasn't quite sure what Zandie meant by 'sneak attack' and 'plan ahead'. I'd thought I'd used seductive techniques. Clearly I failed and was wrong. Then she laughed, apparently to herself at some thought.

"Oh." She said with a sigh. "You are right about one thing girl, that boy does have a big ol' crank on him. Stretch a girl right out." Zandie laughed again. "Me, I've been around the park a time or two. Ain't never had another boy who's crank was as big as Nicholas' though, big, but not huge like him."

Her expression dropped some. "I was in love with him, back when we ran together, Nicholas, Holland and I. He was my first choice, Holland was second place. But I knew I'd never have Nicholas." She looked to me again. "Holland may not be as big as Nicholas, but he can sure satisfy, and he loves me till the end of time. Size alone doesn't make up for what a boy that is really in love with you will do, to you and for you. It's nice to get your twat stretched, but sweetie, there're toys that can accomplish the same task, you just have to train your boy to use them right."

She started laughing again. I didn't think she was talking about Nells and I anymore, rather she was taking a walk through her own memories. I'd been kissed four times, sucked cock twice and had my twat licked once. As far as I was concerned, the sucking cock was the most exciting thing I'd experienced so far. Kissing was rather boring and the twat licking wasn't any better, worse maybe. I couldn't help but thinking I was missing something. Three of the guys I'd kissed, I was their first time. The other one had bad breath and wasn't any different than his predecessors had been.

"Yeah, well, I've been keeping myself busy." I commented then held up my left hand and wiggled my first two fingers.

Zandie laughed.

"And I don't see the big deal about kissing either. Spit swapping, big deal. Doesn't do anything for me." I stated.

Zandie stopped laughing and looked at me distantly as she played with her hair. "Ah, girl, kissing's great, it builds passion. But it has to start with passion too. You can't just go at it like a dog licking its ass."

I smirked, then giggled. "Thanks for the visual Zandie. That makes it so much better."

"Sorry." She said. "Probably not the best analogy. Have you actually sucked a guy off, had him cum in your mouth?"

That was a rather direct and blunt question. Zandie handed me the tube on the vape again. I'd never really had this kind of conversation before. When the girls at school talked about boys, sex and stuff, there was usually a lot of giggling, off handed humor, and no really useful information.

I took a hit and nodded.

"Did you like it? Was it fun at all for you?" Zandie asked.

I let my hit out and answered while she took a toke. "Yeah, sucking cock was fun, first guy came in a few seconds, and yeah, I liked the taste. I swallowed. The other guy I sucked off kept asking me to do it again later on, quite a few times actually."

"I bet." Zandie commented. "You must've done alright then."

I shrugged in response. So I could suck a cock, big fat hairy deal, not like it was hard, sucking a cock that is. The cocks were already hard from the start. Tell a guy you'll suck his cock and he's hard before he can dig his cock out.

"Alright, well, that's a start anyways. But kissing did nothing for you." She looked at me with a face of consideration. "At your age, like you, the boys are just experimenting, trying to gain experience. It gets better, it's very enjoyable."

I guffawed at her. Kissing didn't seem any harder that sucking cock, how could you fuck either of those things up?

"Technique, there's more to seduction than flashing your titties and going at it. Life isn't like a porno." Zandie told me then stood from her chair.

She walked behind my chair, I tried to follow her, she instructed me to keep looking forward and to relax. I looked forward but relaxing, wasn't that easy. I was waiting for whatever it was she was going to do. My shoulders were tense. Minutes ticked by, she hadn't done anything. I started to wonder if she was actually going to do anything. I took a deep breath and released it, I relaxed.

The vaping had me in a state that was easy to relax in. I put my head back as I closed my eyes, waiting. Zandie must have been waiting for this. A few moments after I'd relaxed and put my head back, I felt her close, her breath was on my neck. I stayed as I was, only I'd tensed up.

Her breath was warm against my neck, moist on my skin. She was breathing gently. It actually felt… nice. Then her lips were where her breath had been.

My eyes sprang open. I didn't know what to do, she nipped the skin on my neck then started kissing again. I groaned loudly, I felt my eyes roll back and my eyelids drop. She moved around, kissing my neck all over. This felt fantastic. My body shuddered. One of her hands moved to my boob, caressed it, she tugged then squeezed my nipple. I couldn't help it, my twat flared, it'd never done that before, then I felt like my twat flooded my crotch, soaking my thong.

My hand was on the crotch of my pants, I didn't remember moving it there. I was grabbing my own twat. "Shit, ahh." I moaned out. Her fingers were in my hair, for some reason, that felt wonderful. She pulled away, I didn't want her to, I was glad when she moved to the other side of my neck and started her moves again. Now, both her hands were on my boobs, she'd massage them then work my nipples through my shirt and bra. I felt like I could cum any second.

Zandie ran her tongue up the side of my neck, then she nipped at my earlobe. I was tense and relaxed at the same time, my skin burned, cool and hot. I'd never felt like this before. I grabbed my twat hard through my pants, pulling on it. I'd never been rough with myself before. Zandie bit me on the neck, not hard but more than just a nip. When I felt her move her face from my neck, I moved a hand to her face, pulling her towards me I turned my head and opened my mouth, trying to kiss her in a way I'd never tried to kiss anyone, it was like I was on autopilot.

"Whoa, Zandie don't swing that way. I tested the waters when I was around your age, I decided I liked cock not twat." She told me.

I tried pulling myself back into the room. It took a bit. Removing the grip I had on my twat and taking my hand away helped. Fuck, what the hell happened to me? I sort of felt like I did when I fingered my clit and palmed it, only hundreds of times more intense. My crotch was wet, through my thong and pants wet. I'd tried to kiss Zandie, I didn't know why, I wasn't into girls and now that I was calming down, I was ashamed of myself for trying.

"I, I… Zandie, I'm…" Stammering was all I could do at the moment.

She laughed gently. "Relax, it's okay. I know, I've been there. Your body took over, you experienced passion. You wanted to kiss. See what I mean? You do that with a boy, or a girl, you'll love it." Zandie smiled kindly. "That's what technique is all about. A grope-fest can be fun, but when you're really putting yourself into it, driving the passion, that's what really gets your juices flowing. And it's way more satisfying than a grope-fest."

'Juices flowing'. I wondered if she knew I'd wet myself. I looked down at my crotch, not only could I see the twat-spot I'd created, I could smell myself too. Then I felt my face flush and grow red.

"It's okay, nothing to be ashamed of." Zandie cleared her throat. "I'm sorry, it's my fault, I probably shouldn't have gone so far. I just wanted you to see that passion, what… oh fuck, I was trying to help you understand."

If Zandie had noticed my wetness and odor, she didn't give any sign. I smiled at her. "Thank you, no one else has bothered to take time to help me understand." She had helped me, I didn't want her to feel she'd done anything wrong or feel bad. "Excuse me, I need to use the bathroom." After I said that, I quickly got up from my seat and hurried back to where Nells and I had our rooms to use our bathroom, and dry myself then put on fresh underwear and pants.

When I returned, Zandie had joined Nells and Holland back in the room they had been in. Things seemed much more calm and friendly now. I thought I'd been twitchy and suspicious, I was nothing like Nells was. Of course, there also wasn't a price on my head.

"Hey, there she is, come on over and join us baby boobies." Holland called out to me.

Though I couldn't see, I could tell that Nells gave Holland a look. Zandie punched him in the shoulder as I moved over and sat down beside Nells. I was just barely seated when a sound came from the far end of the room, I thought it was a phone ringing.

Holland stood up. "Bout damn time. Took them long enough." He commented then walked to the source of the sound, which was a phone.

"Hello, Holland Fuzzy…" He said into the phone. "Oh no! Was anyone hurt? That's good, no, no, there wasn't anyone in the shop. What happened? Was there a gas leak or something?" He paced back and forth as he talked. "A bomb? Who on earth… I was at a business meeting. Yes, I can be there in a little bit. No, I have no idea why anyone would blow up my shop. There is a development company that's been trying to get me to sell, but I highly doubt they'd resort to blowing the place up. They are? Yeah, sure, sure. I'll be there as soon as I can." Holland hung up the phone.

He walked back to where the rest of us were sitting. "Apparently, my shop has been blown up. The fire's out and the IP just called. No one was injured they said and my insurance agent is there looking around. Took them fucking long enough to call." He commented, tossed the phone down on a table then sat down hard. "Shit, was time to move anyways. This fucking neighborhood's gone to shit years ago now. Nothing but strip clubs, dive cannabis lounges, bars, drug dealers and skank whores." Holland muttered in a disgusted voice.

"Been saying that for a while snookie, I've been agreeing with you. We should've been gone five years ago." Zandie agreed.

Nells looked over at me. "We need to go car shopping. Need our own ride." He looked at Holland. "I appreciate letting me use one of yours."

"No problem, any time. I'm just glad we're in each others good graces again." Holland replied.

"We should get a Studebaker." I put in.

Nells shook his head. "We should get something more middle of the road, not as classy, like a Mopar Traveler. Something low key."

I raised an eyebrow. "So tell me Nicholas, does Tullis and company know about your fondness for Mopar?" I questioned. "Studebaker has the Parkway Roadster. Not as fancy as the Parkway Emperor we're driving now, but still very nice, smooth riding and, it's a Studebaker, not a Mopar."

"She's got you there old boy." Holland commented.

"And you do look good in a Studebaker." Zandie added.

Nells looked at me sideways. "Nicholas? Since when did you start calling me that?" He asked.

With a shrug I responded. "I don't know, just now. Though you'd like it better if I called you Nicholas instead of Nells."

"I'm fine with you calling me Nells, Nicholas coming out of your mouth just sounds off." He replied.

"Ahem." Holland coughed getting our attention. "Actually, you two should start calling each other Maggie," I made a face when he said this, "or, whatever name you have on your identities that you want to use, same for you Nicholas, you both should get used to calling each other by the identities you're going to use the most."

Zandie nodded in agreement.

Nells pursed his lips as he considered what Holland had said, then he started nodding too. "Yeah, suppose you're right there." He looked at me. "You need to pick a name you want me to use from your new collection."

I looked off considering my options. I didn't know which one I wanted to use. "Can I get back to you on that?" I asked Nells.

With a chuckle he said, "Sure, but you can't go by Lydia at the car lot. I'll have to pick a name too."

"Oh, hey, don't go to Prime Studebaker, go to Feldman's Desoto, Studebaker and Datsun. They'll give you a much better deal than Prime. Talk to Mandy, tell her Fuzzy sent you. She'll treat you right, no bullshit." Holland informed us.

Nells laughed a bit. "So, do you do ads for Feldman's also?"

"Hmm, you know, maybe I should, maybe I should." Holland replied then they both laughed together. I thought there was some inside joke involved.

"Well alright then, 'spose I should get my keys so we can be going." Nells stated then got up and walked back to where our living area was.

"And I should get a drone up so we can see the situation out there before you guys leave." Holland said looking to Zandie.

The two of them got up and walked away. Though I couldn't hear what they said when they stopped at the back of the room because they were whispering, I could tell they were talking about me.

Holland: "So, you think she has a chance with Nicholas? She going to be able to bag him?"

Zandie: "Heh, yeah, let's just say that little girl is going to get her twat stretched but good!"

The two of them laughed while looking at me. I kept my head down and my eyes on the tablet I was looking at, was kind of rude the way they looked at me and laughed while they talked about me,

Holland: "And if I know Nicholas, she'll get her butt stretched good too!"

They both laughed again, this time rather hard. Holland even snorted a couple times he laughed so hard; Zandie slapped her knee. Before they'd stopped laughing, they both made their way out. Good, I don't know what was so funny about me, I just wished they'd of kept it to themselves and had their little laugh where I didn't have to see it.

Nells

We gathered at the far end of the block in the garages we'd entered the first time we arrived at Holland's place. There were a total of four doors out. Holland had a drone up looking around the area to see where the Imperial Police and district fire department personnel were.

"They're all down on the other end of the block, by my poor shop." He announced. "We're good as long as we leave from this end of the alley and turn right. We'll have to go a few blocks out and around, but we're clear."

Holland brought the drone back in through the roof and brought it in for a smooth landing. After he put the controller down, we all climbed in our respective vehicles. The loading bay doors in front of each of us started up, we drove out, Holland and Zandie in the lead. Once both vehicles were clear, the doors closed. We turned right and made a hasty exit. Holland would circle around and come in via the street that ran in front of his shop to give the appearance he was just arriving. Lydia and I would follow him until he turned, then we'd go straight, cross the bridge then make our way to the dealership.

As we drove towards the dealership, Lydia had the feed from Holland and Zandie that Holland had rigged up so we could see what happened, just in case something went jinx. He and Zandie were playing the distraught couple beautifully. The pork seemed to be buying it, as well as the fire stations bomb squad captain.

The IP would naturally have a lot of questions, Holland and Zandie would be lucky to get done with their interrogation by 5:00pm. Lydia kept working with her computer as we drove. We'd been traveling about half an hour and still had a bit to go; the dealership Holland suggested was naturally on the end of the steaming pile of city furthest away from where we'd left from.

"Doesn't that fat bastard do anything besides watch TV?" Lydia commented.

I looked over, she had one of the cameras she'd placed at Fat Prick's house up. He was parked, again, in front of the TV smoking herb and stuffing his fat face.

"Doesn't he have a job? What the fuck, is he on vacation or what?" She further commented.

"Yeah, at least he did before I fucked up his world and got him in jinx with the Greeks." I glanced over at her and shrugged. "Maybe his father kicked him out of the business."

"Can I kill him?" Lydia bluntly asked, catching me off guard.

The Studebaker swerved some as I looked over fast at her, I held my eyes too long on her and started to drive off the road. Was now the right time to talk to her? I'd been putting it off too long already, ever since she punched the guys clock that'd been sneaking up on me at Sheila's. Rhonda's. I'd been worrying about her getting the fever, apparently my worry was justified, she'd gotten it.

I paused, I was still hesitating. She'd saved my life. But if I didn't talk to her, she could be setting herself up to dangle. She had a reckless edge, sure she'd been curbing it, but if the blood fever got a hold of her, she wouldn't be able to control herself.

"Lydia…" I began, she took her eyes off the display and looked at me. "I have a concern."

"Okay, shoot." She replied, even though she wasn't supposed to, I'd asked no question of her.

"There's something that happens to people sometimes… when they've, well, after their first kill, animals, people, it just happens. It has many names, where I'm from, we call it 'blood fever'. People just get hungry for the kill, especially when they take a human life. The fever can manifest itself very fast. Now that you've had your first kill, I want to make sure that doesn't happen to you." I explained hoping what I said made sense.

What happened next, Lydia's response, was completely unexpected. She started laughing, hard. She was completely amused.

"I'm not joking Lydia. It happens, it sounds like it's happening to you!" My voice had become urgent.

Slowly she contained herself, eventually talking to me. "Oh, shit, I'm sorry Nells, I really am. I didn't mean to laugh at you like that."

Then she sighed and looked out the window for a few minutes. At first I thought she was thinking about what to say. Then after she was taking so long, I wasn't sure what was going on with her.

"We need to talk Lydia." I said, hoping to get her involved in a serious conversation.

She was still smiling when she looked over at me. "Oh shit Nells, that wasn't my first kill, wasn't even my second or my third. Fifth, that's more like it. I don't have the fever, and I'm not going to get it either. Shit, fuck, I'm fine. Sure, I like doing the deed, makes me all wet and gooey. Shit, you've got to experience the same thing, maybe not the wet and gooey part, but the male equivalent."

The Studebaker swerved again.

"Fifth? What the fuck are you talking about? Who else have you killed?" I pressed hard.

Lydia waved a hand, she looked mildly amused. "Well, the first time, I was about nine, I think. There was this boy, he was a bully, he used to make faces at me, beat me up and steal any money I had on me and take my lunch tickets. One day, I was walking down the sidewalk not far from home, and he just so happened to be knelt down on the curb. He was fucking with some ants or something. The street was fairly busy and a delivery truck just happened to be going by when I walked behind him. He looked back, saw me and called me a name and laughed. I'd had enough of his shit, so, I used my foot and gave him a shove as he was standing up. I knew he was going to whoop on me again. He fell in front of the truck. I screamed as he was run over, totally traumatized the psychologist they sent me to said."

She smiled confidently. "Then there was this girl at school when I was 12. She picked on me, made fun of me and generally made my life a living hell. She would say I dressed like a street person or someone who's parents lived on a work plantation. She took a picture of me in the locker room before gym class when I had my shirt off and made a meme out of it. Very insulting and embarrassing."

"I can imagine." I commented.

"It was." Lydia affirmed. "She developed early, called me baby boobs. After that, one day she pulled my skirt and panties down in the middle of a hallway. As embarrassing as that was, and as if that wasn't enough, she yelled out as she pointed at my twat, 'she doesn't shave her cootchie' which caused me even more embarrassment. After that, everyone harassed me. I couldn't walk down the hall without getting called fur-burger or hair biscuit, stuff like that. She had an accident in the big gym at school one day. There were these bleachers that came out of the wall, when they weren't in use, they were a flat wall; they went up two or three stories, kids climbed them but we weren't supposed to. Apparently she'd climbed them and fell to her death once she'd reached the top."

Lydia put her hands together between her knees, pressed her shoulders together and gave me a smirking smile. She was proud of herself.

"But, her parents didn't believe the original police report and pressured for a deeper investigation. I'd apparently slipped up. Someone had seen me follow her into the pep squad balcony. That's where I grabbed her and tossed her over the edge from. Right on her head." She actually looked somber now, not because of the girl's death, rather because she'd made a mistake.

Lydia sighed. "The police were closing in on me. I was going to be arrested when I came to school, but that was the day my family was murdered, the day my house blew up. The day you abducted me before I got to school. Everyone assumed I died with my parents and siblings. My sister at college had her throat slit, my brother, shot in the head while driving to work. All of my siblings died. Except me. And you stopped me from being arrested."

I was in a trance. "That's why you said I rescued you." I stated thinking back to what she'd said about me. I'd thought it was odd that she'd say I rescued her for not killing her. Now I knew why. "Okay, that's two."

"Thank you for that by the way, I just wish my family didn't have to die." She told me. I nodded waiting for her to go on.

"Then came life on the farm. Maloney McQuisten. Cunt. Why is it some girls feel the need to make you miserable just because they see themselves as better than you?" She asked.

I didn't have an answer for that honestly, I said the first thing that came into my brain. "Human nature I guess. Maybe because they actually feel inadequate?"

"Inadequate, that sure fit Maloney. She was on the cheerleading squad. She was second under the captain, all the cheerleaders were bitches actually. Just she had a hard-on for me for some reason. She photo-shopped pictures of my head and face onto nude pictures, not flattering ones either, then posted them all over the internet."

That was a pretty shit thing to do, but I didn't think it was worthy of punching the girls clock.

She continued. "She also started a rumor that I was selling BJ's, blow jobs…"

"I know what a BJ is." I interjected.

"Of course you do, anyways, she was spreading the rumor that I was selling them for five pence. Five pence!" Lydia took a moment to scoff at the thought. "And if that wasn't bad enough, she started telling people she'd seen me making out with Leslie Baker. Like I'd make out with that sleaze. No way in fucking hell, even if I was into chicks, would I make out with her!"

She made a face then acted like she was shivering at the thought of making out with this girl, I wasn't sure if it was because she was ugly, or easy.

"Maloney was a bit manic-depressive or some shit like that. I remembered my fuckup the last time, and took steps to make sure I wasn't caught again, well, this time. I did my homework on her. Snuck into her house and into her room, had a look around. She had a collection of suicide notes in a drawer, she seemed to write one every few days or so." Lydia cackled at this point, I was driving a bit slow to allow time for her to finish. I might have to circle the block soon.

"With my computer hacking skills, I 'edited' some of her grades shortly before report card time." She looked over at me, flipped her hands out then went on. "See, if you're grades aren't good enough, you can't do extra-curricular activities, like being on cheer squad."

"I see." I commented, not really needing the explanation. I guess she thought it was necessary since I was an old fossil.

"Well, when report cards came out, she was removed from cheer squad and as I expected she would, she wrote yet another suicide note for her collection. I simply let myself into her room while she was asleep, planted a few items, put her latest note on display, then slipped a noose around her neck, lifted her up while I held the rope and tied it off. Then I put a stool on its side not far from her dangling feet as she choked out, made sure it was high enough that she would've been able to stand on it and step off, and leave her footprints on it, then left. She was written off as a suicide. Smart huh?" She asked looking for approval of some kind.

"Hmm, not bad. What did you plant in her room?" I posed.

"Oh, sex stuff, vibrators, handcuffs, kinky shit, bondage magazines. Some blow. I never handled any of it with bare hands, made sure I wiped everything down, several times, inside and out." She made a face as she looked over at me. "Do people always shit themselves when they die? And piss like a race horse?"

I shrugged. "Yes, the muscles in the body relax, letting whatever's held inside, out."

She gave a short loud laugh. "Then this girl was seriously in need of using the toilet, the way she filled her pajamas, and the stink! Damn near lost my lunch. Wasn't as bad as when you iced… never mind. Her bladder must have been at maximum capacity, fuck, did she ever piss!" Lydia laughed again.

I only nodded.

"Number four, Chad Wilcox. That fuck. He tried to rape me, I kicked him in the nuts then kicked his face in and made my escape. He was swimming at a lake not far from the farm. He'd been smoking with some other guys. He was pretty high when he went in the lake. The others didn't go swimming. I knew he wasn't a great swimmer. I went in the lake down from them and snuck up to the dock he'd jumped off of and hid under it. He never saw me when he started climbing up the end of the dock, I grabbed his sack and a leg then jerked him down. I wrapped my legs around his neck and held him under water, using a large rock I'd grabbed on the way to the dock for weight, till he stopped blowing bubbles. After that, I took him to a weed bed with a lot of Lilly pads and wrapped him up in them like I'd seen drowning victims in pictures. His death was ruled an accidental drowning." Her face was calm when she finished. "And you know about number five." She added. She actually looked glib about the entire thing.

She had grown since her fist kill. She was planning her kills and taking time, thinking things through. But she still had a reckless edge to her. If she had the fever, she'd have been caught by now. The police bought what she'd done. But they were from a small county sheriff's office. They weren't I.I.D. agents that were the best at solving crimes. And if no foul play was suspected, the professionals wouldn't have been called in. Suicide, drowning, clean, simple. Even though she was an amateur with no training, she'd gotten away with her crimes. This meant she had potential and wouldn't get blood fever.

Unlike me though, she enjoyed killing. I never 'liked' killing. When I was younger, I had no feelings about a hit. She quite possibly loved the kill, lived for it. Was she a psychopath or a sociopath though? She showed emotions, they seemed real not rehearsed, at the right times, but her reasons for killing were, weak at best. Of course either disorder would justify the deed. In the end, did it really matter which one she was? She probably already felt the need to kill. I'd have to train her carefully.

We were on our way out of the dealership lot, Lydia was driving our new Studebaker Parkway Roadster T-100, it was the cross country touring Parkway Roadster model, while I drove the rental. We would be returning the rental then meeting up with Holland and Zandie someplace. They still weren't done being grilled by the IP.

From what Holland told me when he called, the police were suspecting the bombing might be because of his connection with Fuzzy Travel. Apparently the rash of bombings that had targeted airline officials had expanded to travel agencies. Holland's family had hired Pinkerton Security to keep them safe. They didn't travel on their own anymore, or in their own vehicles. The police had recommended Holland take the same precautions.

"What the hell is wrong with these people?" Holland asked rhetorically over the phone. "I mean what the fuck, first airline executives, now my own family. Fuck! What'd we ever do to anyone?"

"I don't know Holland. It's a sick world out there. It's these 'save the planet' freaks probably. Who knows. I just wish the I.I.D. would get off their glorified asses and catch these fucks before they start blowing up planes." I answered.

"Got that right." Holland said.

We said our goodbyes then I put my phone away. Lydia was already at the car rental place when I pulled in, she was waiting patiently; I returned the rental Studebaker. When I got back to our new Studebaker, I walked up to the driver's side. Lydia rolled the window down.

"I want to drive." She told me, that was clear since she didn't get out or move over when I came up to the truck.

"Obviously, and so do I. You got to drive it here, now I'd like to try it out." She gave me her sad face.

Being small, Lydia easily hoisted herself over the center column between the two comfortable bucket seats in the front of the Studebaker. I climbed in nearly putting my back out she had the seat so far forward.

"Shit girl!" I proclaimed. "Move the seat back next time!" I grumbled.

Lydia laughed. "Hey, just get your legs shortened." She played back at me.

Once I had the seat in place, I pressed the start button and the SUV purred to life. Then I latched the seatbelt to stop the complaining the vehicle was doing, adjusted the mirrors then we were finally underway. Since we had time, Holland had told me they needed to go to the precinct station and file formal affidavits, I had Lydia look up RV sales lots via the GPS system in the SUV. The first lot we went to wasn't quite what we wanted. The place was more geared towards selling family campers. Most were tow behinds, fifth wheels and ball hitch styles. The motorized campers weren't something I'd see us spending a long time in.

Before we left that place, I had Lydia look the places up on the internet so we could see actual pictures of the lot and what they sold. The first few we passed by. They were a lot like the one we were at.

"Hey, this one looks promising." Lydia announced then turned the laptop so I could see the images better. "Ozland motor coaches. I've heard their ads."

I'd heard them also. 'Unlike the rest, we only sell the best' was their moniker. On their webpage, they boasted about their selection of Silver Line, Prescott, Prevost and Coastal models. These were top of the line brands. I gave Lydia the nod.

"Punch their address into the GPS Randi, let's check them out." I told her using the name she'd selected.

She looked at me with a toothy smile. "Sure thing, Gordon." She replied using the name I'd chosen for myself.

She was Randi Butterfield, and I was Gordon Grove. When we arrived at the lot, the salesman asked what we were looking for. I explained to him Randi and I wanted something we could live in, that we'd be spending a lot of time in the camper traveling around the country. As expected, she had plenty of luxuries she wanted in the camper and interjected her thoughts frequently.

The entire time he toured us thru campers, He kept glancing at Randi. I was trying to figure out if he was questioning our relationship, if she was my daughter, or if he was simply checking her out from interest in her. He looked to be in his early to mid 30's; Randi looked good the way she was dressed. He didn't look like someone who'd be into dark princesses like I was. By the time we'd finished looking at the selection of campers, I figured he was wondering how we fit together. We didn't exactly act like father and daughter and she called me Gordon.

Holland had texted me while we were in the second to last camper we'd be touring. Several hours had passed while we were checking out campers. He'd given me the name of a restaurant to meet them at. Apparently Zandie was famished. As hungry as she claimed to be, I knew all too well, she'd only eat about a third of what would be on her plate. Randi on the other hand would woof down everything in front of her before the rest of us were halfway done.

That was one advantage of a teenage metabolism. She was also rather hyper, always moving. Still, I didn't know where such a small person packed the food.

"Thank you for your time, you've given us a lot to consider." I said to the salesman.

He handed me one of his cards. "Happy to help." He glanced at Lydia, Randi again. "Be sure to come back when you and… your, daughter?" He posed, guess he was tired of guessing and wanted to know.

"Friend." I said sharply.

"Friend," he followed, "are ready to buy. The brochures have all the options and floor plans. If we don't have what you want on the lot, we can usually get it in three days to a week." He finished his sales speech with.

We started walking back to where we parked the Studebaker. The salesman was watching us as we left. I wondered if he'd be calling someone asking about a reward.

"I really liked the second Prevost we were in N… Gordon." Randi commented looking at one of the brochures as we walked.

When I didn't respond, Randi looked at me, I was lost in though. Once we were in our vehicle, the salesman went back into the building. I was expecting him to look back through the glass door at us, but he didn't. I waited a bit then opened my door.

"Stay put." I told Randi then got out of the Studebaker.

As I got up to the door in, I checked through the glass. The salesman wasn't in sight. I slipped in and past the reception desk, avoiding talking to the girl behind it. I made my way to the row of offices the sales people had, I didn't find our guy in any of them. I found him back in the break room at the end of the row of offices.

"Mister Grove, can I help you?" He asked when he saw me poke my head into the room.

I hadn't fully planned on what to say when I found him. I had given some consideration, but didn't really like what I'd come up with. Asking where their bathroom was wouldn't have fit, that's something you would ask at the front desk.

"Say, I was wondering if you give a discount for cash?" That sounded lame, but it's what I asked, the best I could think of on short notice.

The boy chortled, looked at the other salesman he was talking with then brought his attention back to me. "Ah, sure, yeah sure. I'm sure we can work something out." He stated.

I thanked him again and made a hasty exit. If he'd been linked into the syndicate in anyway and was considering I might be the reward he was looking for, he'd of been on the phone right away. Since he was conversing in the break room, I felt at ease now. He probably was wondering what the relationship between Randi and I was.

'I'm a syndicate assassin, and my friend here is a blood thirsty sociopath. We're looking for a camper we can tour the country in while I plan to take out my former boss and train the girl here how not to get caught when she snuffs random people.'

'Wonderful! We have a model that would be perfect for you; lots of storage space for plastic, duct tape and bodies you want to relocate before you dump them.'

Yeah, that would've been a really interesting conversation. I'm sure he'd have been very helpful.

Once we were back on the road, on our way to meet up with Holland and Zandie, Randi asked, "Are you going to buy a camper from there?"

Keeping my eyes on the road I shook my head. "Not likely. Too close to Tullis." I answered.

She nodded. "So where then?"

"Someplace… someplace in another state, far enough away Tullis won't have people going around with my picture asking people if they've seen me." I told her.

She nodded again then was silent until we met up with Holland and Zandie, so was I. My mind was on a million different things at the moment.

The restaurant was, busy would've been an understatement, packed, that's what it was. Holland and Zandie had a table already by the time we arrived. Good thing too. As soon as we walked up to the maitre d' he informed us there was a 30 minute wait, or longer, for a table.

When I told him we were meeting people there, he asked their name. I had to think, would Holland have used his real name? If he hadn't, I had no idea what name to use, he'd always been Holland Fuzzy. I cleared my mind, Holland wasn't me, or anyone like me; he wasn't in a business that required him to be covert, even though Tullis had just tried to kill him.

"Holland Fuzzy." I informed the maitre d'.

I was about to include Zandie's name, just incase they'd used hers. "Yes, mister Fuzzy, I'll have someone take you to his table right away." He said then snapped his fingers at a girl nearby.

The girl hustled up to him, he leaned in and gave her instructions, then she took us to Holland's table. Both Holland and Zandie smiled when they saw us, he stood.

"Hey, was thinking you got lost, so, what'd you end up getting?" He asked politely.

I pulled Randi's chair out for her and seated her then sat down myself. Holland got the girl's attention that had brought us to his table and requested drinks and the appetizer they had ordered. She left and I filled him and Zandie in on the details of our automobile purchase and camper tours. Not surprisingly, Holland recommended buying from out of state, way out of state because of Tullis.

"Yeah, that's about what… Gordon said when I asked if we were getting one from there." Randi commented. She was still getting used to calling me Gordon.

The appetizers arrived and we talked casually. The restaurant was loud, but it still wasn't a place you wanted to discuss business matters openly. After we'd finished our main courses, Zandie had asked for a box to take home what she hadn't finished, as expected, Holland told me he wanted to introduce me to someone before we went home.

"You're going back there? After what happened?" Randi asked, worry in her voice.

Holland had his hands propped up with his elbows on the table, he'd primarily had been talking to me. He looked over at Randi, his mouth was open some and he smiled in an amused but annoyed manner.

"No, we aren't going back there." He answered, indicating all of us with a finger. "I have another place, not quite set up like home had been, but Zandie and I were planning on getting out of the area, so I'd been working on a place."

Holland returned his attention to me, expecting Randi to hush and let him talk with me. "I think he'll have some information that might be useful to you."

I nodded as I considered Holland's offer.

"He's got the inside scoop." Holland added, moving his hand back and tapping the backside of his neck with an index finger as he talked.

This was his way of telling me the boy was either a slave, or a member of the slave guild. I was guessing the latter. I wasn't particularly fond of the idea of meeting with a slave guild member, considering I'd put two slaves in the ground. It could be a trap, Holland wouldn't knowingly set me up. Another thought crossed my mind regarding this scenario, if the guild wanted me, I was already a walking dead-man. They wouldn't set a trap for me, they'd just punch my clock.

"Alright." I answered.

Then I looked over at Randi. I was going to tell her to go with Zandie while I met with Holland's 'friend' but he cut in before I could.

"She can come too." He stated.

I looked back at Holland, I was going to object. I read his face, Zandie's also. I didn't want the stress of an argument from either of them. If Holland wanted Randi to come with that meant two things. Zandie and he had already talked about this and, I'd be ganged up by all three of them if I tried to cut Randi out.

With a sigh I said, "Fine."

The waiter showed up with a carryout box for Zandie. She quickly put her remaining food inside, and the bit Randi hadn't eaten. I was right about Zandie, but had missed the mark with Randi. She had eaten most of her food, but had actually left some on her plate. I figured she had a lot on her mind too. Stress and worry kill the appetite.

Holland and I squabbled about whom was going to pickup the check. We both insisted each of us would. When the waiter returned, Randi handed him her credit card. Before Holland or I could object, the waiter was off to run it. Zandie laughed at us, Randi was smirking.

Holland and I both dropped a shilling on the table for a tip. Zandie grabbed the leftovers then we were out the door.

We drove out of the business district, through an area of smaller niche shops that gave way to nice housing. Well-to-do peoples house's, someplace a slave guild member might live. But we didn't stop at any of the houses. We crossed into more middleclass housing. Still, nice houses, just not as high end. Something a middle manager type of member might have if they kept a low key, or someone new in the guild, working their way up over time. We drove through those houses, through the rows of rental apartments and houses into another area. This was a street of shops.

These stores were nothing like the niche shops we first passed thru. 'Bob's Discount Goods' one sign said. Then there was Imperial Pawn, a chain pawnshop store, Arlene's, a factory jewelry store. No diamonds, a shitload of rhinestones though. We passed an 'The Red Frog' store, another national chain. 'Close but not exact' was a phrase you heard quite often at The Red Frog if you mentioned something looked like that of a name brand designer. "Well, it's close, but not exact." Sales staff would tell you. Exact meant lawsuits. They'd change the design just enough to avoid court.

"My distributor says I should invest with them." Zandie commented as she looked out the window.

"Invest in what?" Randi asked.

Zandie scoffed. "Oh, 'The Red Frog'."

"Why? What's a Red Frog?" Randi questioned back.

"They're a trendy clothing store, cheap shit. They tend to sell gothic and punk, steampunk, clothing. Much of the stuff is for the fashion gothic, 'look at me I'm rebelling' girls, cheap whores and those that just can't afford name brand designer outfits and aren't smart enough to see how The Red Frog is ripping them off." Zandie scoffed again.

"And by 'invest' what she really means it give them permission to use her designs as long as they edit them, just enough, in exchange for a percentage of the profits." Holland added.

Zandie looked from the window to Randi, we were past the store now. "They use cheap fabric, mass produced at high speed, by workers in sweatshops. Like Canada and Brittan have; why the tariff on importation from those countries is so high. Or they go to third world countries, do the same thing only with a lower tariff. Bastards."

This time Randi scoffed. "Well your highness, not everyone can afford your royal prices for designer clothes." She retorted. "I know, on the farm, I sure the fuck couldn't. Two and a half crowns for a blouse and skirt? I couldn't afford that even if I were selling blowjobs."

Zandie laughed. "You'd be surprised what a guy will pay for a blowjob. No, what pisses me off is the garbage they sell. I know not everyone can afford name brand designer, but what The Red Frog does, criminal is what it should be. They rip off designs and their clothes wear out or fall apart fast. There are other options, like 'Design Z Apparel'. Exact same designs as my Zassy line, just with cheaper fabric and automated factory cutting and sewing. Cheaper fabric, not the crap the frog puts out, and the thread and stitching is good."

Zandie's voice showed how heated this issue made her.

"You own Design Z Apparel too?" Rand asked.

"Yes. Anything with the Design Z label is my creation. We also carry other middle of the road brands there. I just have a much higher quality standard than The Red Frog. Their warranty on their clothing is 'five steps or five decimeters, whichever comes first'. Zandie stated, Randi laughed.

"Turn around, go back!" Zandie ordered Holland.

"What? Why?" He responded.

"I want to show her what I'm talking about." She pressed.

Holland didn't move his eyes from the road, look in the mirror or anything. "Yeah, yeah, sure, right away, I'll make a U'ie right here in the middle of the street just so you can show Randi what shit clothes The Red Frog sells. Get right on that sweetie."

Of course we continued down the street. About a block later, we turned onto another road, went half a block, then turned onto the alleyway. Shortly after that, we turned in a small driveway that went through a chain linked gate. Holland honked, a moment later someone came from behind the planked part of the fence, looked to see who it was then opened the gate. After we drove through, the person closed the gate, which wobbled a lot when it was used.

"High security area." I said offhandedly.

Holland scoffed. "Yeah, he's street, but he's a guild street." He told me.

We parked in front of what looked like an old weathered extra-wide single stall garage not far from the gate. Holland got out, the rest of us followed. He led us to the side door of the garage then knocked. Someone inside asked what time it was.

"It's Holland Fuzzy and friends time. Open the fucking door." Holland called back through the door which opened for us.

As he walked through the door Holland reached off to the side and flipped a light switch on. "Shit, turn the light on when you let decent people in here." He commented.

"Who're these guys?" The rather gruff looking boy ask as we walked in after Holland.

He looked back at the boy quickly and with a cross expression. "None of your fucking business, that's who they are. Open up, let us in."

The boy nodded, turned back towards where the chair he'd been sitting in was, walked over to a numbered key box, entered a code then turned back. Holland led us over to what looked like a door on a closet. In a way it was, only inside the closet was a small elevator we all had to squeeze into. There were no controls, Holland closed the door by hand. Once it was closed, the elevator started down.

This 'secret room' wasn't as far down as Holland's house, maybe a meter to a meter and a half, no more than that. The elevator stopped, Holland opened the door. The room outside was small and dim, it had that in common with Holland's hallway to home, small and dim. There was a door on the opposite end of the small room from the elevator on a sidewall. We followed Holland to it and went through.

The room we entered matched the décor of the garage we'd entered through. Dingy, dusty and not well kept. A boy sat behind a desk directly across from where we entered. His suit was cheap, his hair in need of washing, just like his suit and the rest of him. His hair was thinning and gray was starting to show. His eyes were hard and he tried to carry himself like some sort of hotshot.

He smiled when he saw Holland. "Holland Fuzzy, so good to see you." He greeted Holland as he walked towards the desk. "So sorry to hear about what Boomer did to your shop. I'm sure the guild will see to it that Tullis gets the message to leave you alone."

The boy held his hand out towards Holland, he didn't accept the handshake. "Jeffery." Was all Holland said.

The rest of us had stopped while Holland walked up to the desk from Zandie's directing us to do so. Jeffery looked past Holland now and at us.

"Zandie Xayarath. Always a pleasure to see you dear girl." Jeffery said to her when his eyes fell on her.

Zandie said nothing, I can't say she acknowledged his greeting in anyway. I reflected her sentiment, so did Randi when I glanced over at her. Just like the girls, I didn't care for him either. I'd have to say Holland Fuzzy had no liking of the boy either by the cold way he had spoken and refused to shake hands with him.

"This is your 'source' Holland?" I made my statement as I walked toward the desk, I was tired of this fuck already and desired to complete whatever business Holland thought I had with him and leave.

Holland looked over at me, the smile on his face wasn't exactly a pleasant one, apologetic was a better description. "Yes." He answered bluntly without emotion then looked at the boy again. "Jeffery, this is Gordon." He held an arm across his chest with a hand, palm up, towards me. "Gordon, this is Jeffery Id." He moved his hand towards Jeffery, completing his introduction.

Jeffery emitted an extremely nervous laugh.

"Id, isn't that the surname given to Imperial slaves that aren't assigned to a duty and that no one will buy?" I stated, sort of as a question.

His smile was as nervous as his laugh. "Yes, well, we can't all be guardsman or managers of research projects now can we. Some of us become useful in other ways. And I go by Jeffery Dire, can't exactly go by Id on the street, you know." He chuckled when he finished with a sharp glance at Holland.

"And you're a member of the slave guild?" I questioned, making my disbelief of this clear in my voice.

His eyes darted between Holland and myself. "Yes, I am. I'm their eyes and ears on the street. Their information gatherer, you might say. I'm a very valuable part of their organization."

One side of my face moved into a course wry smirk. "I'm sure you are. Let's see your mark then." I requested.

His nervousness became explosive now, piss your pants nervous. "Ah, yes, I have one, but you can't see it." Was his response.

"Why not? If you're a member of the guild, you need to prove it." I replied.

His breathing became fast. As he spoke next, he turned his torso and lifted his hair with a hand exposing his neck. "See, you can't see it, it's invisible." He faced me again. "It's there, believe me." He showed how nervous he was again. "One can't exactly have a visible mark, in my line of work… in service to the guild."

At this point, Holland pulled something from his pocket. "Jeffery, it just so happens Holland has with him, a small black light flashlight." He informed us.

"Fuck!" Jeffery said under his breath. "I'm sure you do, imagine that." He was glaring at Holland while he grinned like an idiot.

"Do that thing again, lift your hair, turn, let's prove to my boy here you really are a slave guild member." Holland looked very cocky now. He'd really taken a dig at Jeffery with having the flashlight apparently.

"Fine, fine. Anything for you Holland." He said then did as Holland asked.

When he was turned around enough, Holland clicked on the light, you really couldn't tell it was on until he aimed it right at the back of this toad's neck and moved it in close. The light revealed a black outline of a fleur de lis. I gave Holland a nod and he took the light away from the boy's neck, turned it off then returned it to his pocket.

"Alright then," Jeffery began, "now that you know I am whom I say I am…" He held his hands out and motioned to the two chairs in front of the desk, his way of asking us to take a seat.

Holland moved back, past the chair behind him then motioned for Randi to come to him. She did. "This is for you too." He told her then pointed to the chair.

She went to the front of the desk with me and looked at me. Then she turned, looked at the chair and made a face. Clean they were not. We both sat down together.

"Start talking." I told the boy. I didn't trust him, everyone could see that, especially Jeffery.

"You're in my place now, a little respect is in order." He stated as he sat down behind his desk.

I said nothing in response. Randi stared at him with an apathetic, unimpressed face.

He looked Randi over, looked her face over real good. This was starting to piss me off. I waited another half minute, maybe it was only a quarter of a minute as he stared at her, then I cleared my throat.

"I knew he didn't kill you; I knew he didn't chuck your body into a vat of acid, leaving nothing but a fragment of bone behind that couldn't even be used for DNA testing. You look a lot like your father Lydia, especially in the eyes and mouth." Jeffery stated.

"My name is Randi." She stated deadpan.

He smiled, a creepy smile. Maybe because I didn't like him it just seemed creepy. Same difference really.

"Yes, yes, of course it is." Jeffery put his elbows on the desk with his arms up and clasped his hands together, still looking at Randi. "You're not Lydia Vaughner, no, no. My mistake. No, you just look… exactly… like… her."

"You must not be as important to the guild as you make yourself out to be, look at where you live." Randi retorted crassly.

As the expression in his eyes changed, it was evident he wasn't expecting such a response to what he'd said from her.

Jeffery chuckled nonchalantly. "Dear girl, whatever gave you the idea I live here? I don't live here, this is my office, my place of business. I run a small fencing operation for the guild so I can gather information for them. Live here, really, don't be silly." He replied to her statement.

She turned her head and looked at a single bed in a corner of the room; then she slowly looked back at Jeffery. "Oh really? What's the bed for then? Rental twat?"

She was giving it to him hard, it was all I could do to keep from laughing.

Jeffery started shaking his head. "My, I would have thought farm girls had better manners, really." He took a moment to look at the bed Randi had called attention to. "Sometimes, when you're our age, Nick's and mine, you like to take a nap sometimes. You'll understand when you're older."

Without missing a beat she said, "Who's Nick?"

He smirked at her. "Oh, right…" he looked at me, "what did you say the name you were using was Nick?" He asked.

"Gordon, my name is Gordon." I replied.

"Yes, yes, Gordon, that's it. No, you're not Nick Gagucci, no, you're Gordon, got it." He was making an attempt at being funny; he was only succeeding at pissing me off more, and Randi as well.

"Get to it, I have better things to do than play cat and mouse with you, so does she." I snapped.

His face dropped, he looked like he'd lost his puppy. I didn't give a shit. He was wasting time, end of story. We hadn't come here to be social. He wasn't offering us refreshments, even if he had and they came in a factory sealed bottle, I wouldn't accept. Holland said he had 'information' for us. This was business.

"Why is it everyone is so rude to me, get to it, blah, blah, blah." He commented seeming to be thinking out loud. "Fine, as you already know, Sheila Harper was really Rhonda Tullis."

"Yeah, I know. Is there a reason you're going over old news?" I interjected, he ignored me and went on. I was actually glad he did.

"What you may not know, don't know, is that her father, Norval Tullis, despised Rhonda for being born a girl. He wanted his first born to be a son." Jeffery started telling us.

"Yeah, no shit, who doesn't know that." I cut in with, Jeffery countered.

"Shut the fuck up, Gordon. You told me to get on with it, and you're still not happy. Can you shut up and listen? If not, just fucking leave." He responded in an angry tone that was rather comical, at least to me.

With a sigh as I looked at him, unimpressed, I flipped my palms up as I raised my hands and shrugged.

Jeffery returned a smug, annoyed smile. "Good. As I was saying before I was rudely interrupted, Norval hated Rhonda for being his first born. He would send her to college, but she needed to earn some cash for that. Kick in her share. Course, he also thought she needed to be trained for how she would earn her college money, so he fucked her. Repeatedly. Raped is probably the correct word, whatever, he fucked the shit out of her night and day, telling her she needed to learn how to satisfy her customers. That's right boys and girls, Norval Tullis fucked his own daughter then rented her underage twat out for top crowns."

"And why do we need to know this?" Randi asked. I was wondering the same but just wanted to get through this, he ignored her and went on.

"He never actually stopped fucking her. When she was in college and his son was old enough to learn how to use his hard cock, he had Rhonda, well, 'teach' him what to do, he was 12, maybe 13, doesn't matter. Rhonda was not only forced to be a prostitute, she was also forced to service her father and brother, sometimes he'd force his wife to watch. Really nice. When he wanted someone to keep an eye on you, after an incident I don't think I have to mention, do I?" He asked.

"No." I said hard. I figured I knew what he would mention, Randi didn't need to hear about that.

"Well, naturally, he needed someone he thought he could trust, a family member. Who better than his whore daughter. She liked the money he provided her, and if she wanted that to keep flowing, well, she'd just have to get this mystery boy Nick Gagucci to fall in love with her. He figured she should know how to fuck good by now, time to put her to work on that romantic piece of shit, right?" He laughed at what he thought was a joke.

"Well, we all know how that turned out. Nick, really was the best thing that happened to her. Norval had always suspected Nick would try and run off at some point, retire, like his predecessor had done. Even though she hated the farm she had to keep running to so she could keep up her ruse as Sheila Harper, she did fall in love with this Nick guy. Guess the little prick treated her nice. Golly. Well, Norval Tullis, now, he picked up on her actually being in love. Hard to believe Norval would actually pick up on that, but he did. She secretly wished Nick would decide to run off and take her with him. She started making plans to spill the beans about who she really was. Norval found out about her little scheme. He had a small explosive planted in her brain, another behind her heart as a backup. Told her if she disappeared with Nick, pop goes the weasel." Jeffery knew I didn't know that part about Rhonda. He paused to be proud of himself.

I'd never checked the farm house for bugs, except the first time I was there. Old habit. If Tullis had figured out Rhonda was going to come clean and wanted to escape his clutches, he'd have bugged the house, after he made sure Rhonda wouldn't run. Bugging the house would mean he knew where I was going on the cruse, even without Rhonda telling him. That's why she said, 'not on the ship, please, not on the ship', he'd planted people on the cruise. This also explained other coincidences.

This information explained some things, but it wasn't necessary. Hearing it wasn't any help. "That it?" I asked.

Jeffery snorted then looked at Randi. "Have you told, Gordon, here about how he saved you from being arrested for that girl's death the day your family was killed?"

Her face showed how off guard he'd caught her. But she handled it well. "Yeah, he knows. So what? You have anything useful for us or just peacocking showing off how much you don't know?"

I agreed.

"Norval knows about your stash of goodies, knows you sold them off." Jeffery smiled smugly. "He knows about Staci, he's closing in on you. Won't be long and he'll find you. He knows you punched Julie Andersen's clock. He's gotten really close to catching your ass. He doesn't know about princess there, but he will soon enough. He knows you're hanging with Holland Fuzzy. He may have even had people at the restaurant you were at tonight. I know about Becky Felcrest, the guild doesn't, but I do. You should be nicer if you don't want me to tell them what I know." He tittered a little then reached to a drawer and took out a piece of paper, put it on the desk and pushed it at me.

"What's that?" I asked coldly.

"That, Gordon, is an address and phone number." He informed me.

I hadn't picked up the paper yet. "To where and for whom?"

He smiled again, I was really taking a dislike to his smile. "To where Rodric Tullis lives now, the number is his wife's. She's having a grand old time now that her husband's retired, just grand, I'm sure you can imagine."

I took the paper and pocketed it. "Anything else?" I wanted to leave, I could tell Randi did too.

He looked at Randi again. "Where did you hide her for three years?" He asked then looked at me. "With relatives perhaps? On a farm? Close friends maybe?"

"The only living relative I have he thinks I've never met." He had me thinking now.

"And that matters why?" His eyes had narrowed, he almost looked like he was threatening me. "Even if you didn't leave her with relatives, Norval will still ask them about you. What do you think is going to happen to them? Look what happened to the people at that RV park you had stayed at; owner had her throat slit, some what, 14 other people that stayed there shot to death?"

"Okay, you've made your point. We finished here?" I was ready to stand.

"Yeah, I guess so." Jeffery said.

Randi got out of her chair fast and headed to where Holland and Zandie were.

"I have one question though." Jeffery said.

I was just rising from the chair, I held my place. "What?"

He smirked and put his hands together. "When you sent Rhonda's head, why did you mail it to Norval's wife and not him?"

I stood up. "Because, since the package was sent to her and not him, they'd think it was a gift or something. If I'd have mailed it to Tullis, he'd have never opened it. He'd have his people check for a bomb and open it. Since his wife opened it, she'd know her daughter was dead. She'd be mad at her husband, she'd blame him."

Jeffery scoffed. "Shit, I thought you knew Norval, his wife doesn't mean shit to him. He fucks girls right in front of her."

"So why doesn't she get proof and leave him?" Randi asked, it was a naive question.

Jeffery guffawed loudly. "Because, she likes breathing. He'd have her clock punched so fast…"

I looked back at the three of them and motioned for them to leave. They started out the door. Then I looked back at Jeffery.

"Thanks." I told him. I tried to sound sincere.

Slowly I turned from facing him and stepped between the chairs, hiding that I was reaching my left hand into my suit coat. He barely had time to move his eyes when I snapped around, the 50 caliber automatic pistol in my hand, arm fully extended. Two shots thundered out, then a third. The first two bullets connected with his chest, right in the pump. The third, right at the bridge of his nose.

The gun smoke was heavy in the air when Randi came running back in, Holland close on her heels. I'd just straightened from picking up my shell casings. Randi came forward, looking at the chair that held what had once been Jeffery, now up against the wall behind him.

"Shit, you should've let me do that." She stated as she patted herself on the sides of her corset where the shiny metal of her throwing knives showed thru. "No noise and a lot less mess."

"Come on… Randi." Holland said as he reached to her arm and pulled her away.

He moved her in front of him, I was now on his heels. I wondered if the elevator would still work.

"I'll go up first." I told the others.

"Fuck if you will!" Randi argued back.

I was about to scold her good when she started talking again.

"Shit Gordon, you fire that thing up there to take out the guard, the whole neighborhood's going to hear. I'll do it with my blades." She reasoned.

I pulled a dark cylinder from my pocket. "I have a silencer." I informed her then put it on the barrel of the pistol.

"Fuck, then why didn't you use it?" She almost yelled back.

"Look, both of you." Holland cut in. "Why are you both plotting to kill the guard? Even as loud as that cannon Gordon used is, the floor is thick, chances are he heard nothing. We could just walk out of here without having to kill anyone."

"Yeah, right." Randi and I both said at the same time.

"This was a setup." She went on to say.

I nodded in agreement. "She's right, it was. You can tell the slave guild their leak's been plugged.

Holland had a lost look on his face, Zandie looked scared. "Leak? What do you mean leak? They didn't have any leak. Shit! You just whacked a guild member. What the fuck were you thinking anyways?"

"They may not have told you about a leak, but they had one, and I'd put money down that they were trying to find it. You just tell them, the leaks been plugged." I told him.

Randi chortled. "Yeah, plugged alright. Twice in the chest, once in the face. Gordon gave the leak the ol' H and H."

"Enough, I'm going to go up the elevator, I'll come down when it's clear." I told everyone. Randi was about to argue again, I gave her a look with a pointed finger and she hushed.

Then she took the shirt she wore open off. "Help me get this off." She said to Zandie. She helped Randi and a moment later, she was topless and holding the corset out to me. "Put this on, it's bullet proof."

I looked at Zandie who'd just slapped Holland's face because he was looking at Randi's chest. He started to say something but stopped. Zandie nodded.

"It is bullet proof. The ones I make myself are, not the ones in stores." She confirmed

"That would explain why she barely showed up on the spectroscope." I commented as I looked at the corset.

I was feeling confused. How the fuck was I supposed to wear this thing? Even if you put two of them together I doubted they'd reach all the way around me. Randi came to my aid.

"Just put it sideways like this across your chest." She told me while she was trying to tuck it into place.

"Here." Zandie said and handed some black ropelike cord to Randi.

"You always carry black cord on you?" I asked as Randi secured the corset over my chest, it felt rather light for being bullet proof.

"Not always, sometimes I have handcuffs instead." She replied then chortled.

Randi was finished. I looked down at the corset across my chest. "And this light thing is bullet proof?" I questioned with a voice of disbelief.

"Yup." Randi answered with a grin.

"Yes, silk, which will stop a bullet from passing through, over a Kevlar, graphite imbued form. The entire thing is 100 percent silk, the cloth parts anyways." Zandie explained.

"Silk stops bullets. Are you shitting me?" I responded.

Zandie chortled. "I wouldn't shit you dear heart, you're my favorite turd."

I made a face at her and said 'ha ha' then went to the elevator and opened the door, slowly. The thing was small, there wasn't any corner to hide behind, no cover at all. The elevator coming up would give the guard plenty of time to get ready for me. I hoped this corset would really stop a bullet.

"See yah in a few." I said to my friends then closed the door.

The elevator started up. There was barely any light. I looked around at what there was in the elevator, which was a whole lot of nothing. Except for a large steel eyehook in the ceiling. I only had moments before the elevator would stop. Removing my belt in a hurry I slipped it through the ring of the eyehook and tied it. Then I used the belt to pull myself up to the ceiling, putting my feet out to the sides to keep myself in place while I held the pistol out with one hand and held the belt with the other. I hoped this would give me enough of an element of surprise to get the first shot out.

The one thing I'd forgotten about was that I had to pull the door both open and closed. I was cussing at myself when the elevator stopped about forgetting that. Fortunately I was right about the setup, odd thing to say, but it did cause things to work in my favor.

While I was trying to figure out how I was going to open the door while hanging from the ceiling, the guard opened it for me. Of course he also started firing an un-silenced pistol into the elevator car. He was yelling and firing wildly. When he realized he was shooting at nothing and started to raise his eyes, I fired one shot.

I lowered myself from the ceiling, carefully exiting the car. The light was off again, the only light in the room came from the elevator, the small light built into the back wall. I carefully checked the room, there wasn't anyone else inside. That only left the guard by the gate outside, unless of course there were other guards outside.

The setup here was bad. There weren't any security cameras, peepholes or even any windows. There was no way to see outside. Jeffery may have been a source of information for the guild, but he sure wasn't a valuable asset to them like he'd claimed.

As quietly as I could, I slowly eased the door open just a smidge. Nothing but fence. Opened it a little more, I could see our vehicle and one end of the gate, the vehicle actually blocked my view, I couldn't see the guard, he had to be on the other side of the gate, unless for some reason he was on the roof above me. I slipped out and looked up quickly. No one there.

Slinking along the garage to the SUV, I checked the rest of the lot I could see. No one. When I was at our vehicle, I looked towards the gate from under it. I could see the guard, he looked to be sitting down with his legs out. Some guard. I cautiously moved to the end of the vehicle, poked my head around for a quick peek then back.

It took a second for what I saw to register in my brain. I moved fully to the rear of the SUV. The guard was slumped down against the fence, not sitting. He was already dead, blood had run down his chest from the large gash across his neck.

"Hey!" I almost shot Randi as she came from the other side of the SUV.

She was still topless, and now covered in blood. What really shocked me, Cogburn quickly rose to full attention, and it wasn't just because she was topless. Topless and covered in blood for some reason made me want to take her to the ground and… well, take her.

I was about to ask how she got up and out, when she filled in the details.

"While you were going up, I did a little searching. Found a hidden door, that led to some hidden stairs, that went to a shed behind the garage. There was one other guard. I'd introduce you to him, but… he's taking a dirt nap right now." She giggled, unlike Jeffery, I did find her humor amusing, but I held it in.

Looking over at the guard by the gate I motioned with a thumb.

"Tits are so distracting to boys. Even covered in his friends blood, he still was checking my babies out. While his eyes were on my tits, my knife was on his throat." She made a slashing movement with her hand when she finished then held her arm above her head, a victory move I guess.

We went back to the garage. "Go get the others, I'll get the gate." I told her.

She headed off to get Holland and Zandie. The gate was on rollers that had seen better days. I pushed it to the side as far as it would go. Weeds and grass had grown over part of the track the gate was supposed to roll on. Nice setup, really nice.

"You have any plastic in your rig?" I asked Holland when he and Zandie came out of the garage with Randi.

"Yeah, there's a roll of painters plastic in the back, why?" My eyes moved to bloody Randi, Holland's followed on their own. "Oh… yeah…"

He came over and unlocked the doors with the remote and helped me get the plastic out. We wrapped Randi up good. More than we had to probably, I just didn't want to risk any blood being left in Holland's ride. Randi ended up having to breathe through a hole we left for her mouth and nose. Even her hair was blood soaked.

"How in the hell did you get so much blood in your hair?" I questioned her as we put her in the rear seat next to Zandie, who was rather amused by what we did with Randi.

Once we were on the road, she filled us in.

"Well, I tossed a rock past him so he'd look the other way, the guy patrolling the lot, not the guard." She started to explain. "He turned and I was like all stabbity-stabbity at his back, shit flew. Plus I did spin him around a little when I gutted him then slashed his throat." She snickered a moment. "Bowels in or bowels out, bowels out I think." She said in a voice that sounded like she was trying to do an impression of Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecture.

"Zandie, could you put some duct tape over her mouth and nose please?" I asked her humorously.

"Hey!" Randi exclaimed. "You want to shut me up, just stick your cock in this hole." She replied then laughed at herself.

"Will one of my socks work?" I shot back.

"Hey, hey. You, mummy chick, shut it, serious boy talk up front." Holland remarked.

Randi was covered in painters plastic from her feet to her head. She'd really covered herself in blood. She stuck her tongue out at Holland and blew a raspberry at him.

"Gordon, did I do good?" She asked after that.

I looked between Holland and Zandie for a second. "Aside from the blood, yeah, you did okay I guess. However, I did tell you to wait for me."

"Well, yeah, but how was I supposed to tell you about the stairs? Text you? That would have worked out really well. 'Please hold on for a minute mister killer, I have a text I need to answer'. Plus, the guard at the gate, he was aiming right at the door with a rifle. Half naked girl got his attention, and saved your bacon." She replied.

I was about to say something else to her when Holland took over.

"Speaking of more important stuff." Again he actually took his eyes off of the road to look at me. "You knew right away didn't you. How'd you know?" He asked then looked back at the road.

I sighed and looked down. "Yeah, I did." I still had Randi's corset across my chest. This brought another detail to mind. "Randi, your knives are in your oversized bra thing…"

"Corset." Zandie interjected, correcting me. "And it's brassiere, not bra, I hate it when people call it a bra."

"Only four of my knives are in my corset. Left boot, right boot." Randi informed me before I could ask again after Zandie made her thoughts on the proper terminology for a brassiere known.

"Of course, I should've known." I replied, then Holland cleared his throat rather harshly. I glanced over at him. "Right, sorry."

"The slave guild council is going to want a detailed explanation, a very detailed explanation. Jeffery may not have been… well, he may have been at the bottom rung of their ladder, but he was still a guild member." Holland stated.

"I know. Boomer, when he was talking about your shop, he'd used Marv's nickname, Boomer. Only four people in Tullis' organization use or even know about his nickname. Jeffery knew it and used it. That meant he had to be tight with Tullis and know that Marv blew up your shop." I explained.

"Okay, what else?"

"He'd been researching me, specifically my family tree. There was no reason for him to be doing that, unless someone, Tullis, had asked him too. He had no idea I would be meeting with him, yet he knew about Sophia and Randle." I told Holland.

"Makes sense." He replied.

"Then just before I left. He mentioned that I'd shipped Rhonda's head to her mother." I said.

"Which was totally awesome, by the way!" Randi interjected.

"Shush." Zandie said to her.

"There was no way he could've known about her head being shipped to his wife, unless he'd either been there when it was delivered or seen the box it came in. Tullis would never tell any of his crew about the head being sent to his wife instead of him." I sighed again. "He just simply knew too much stuff, to many details. More stuff than you get through whispers on the street."

We were both quiet for a minute or so. "Yeah, I suppose you're right. And if he was tight with Tullis, he was passing guild information on to him."

"The hardware the guards had, the guild didn't give him hardware like that. It was what Tullis gives to his gangs on the street." I added.

Holland nodded, he knew I was right, we just needed to get the slave guild council to believe it. There was another problem. Sophia and Randle. I didn't know if Jeffery had passed the information he'd uncovered about my relatives on to Tullis yet or not. Even if he hadn't, Tullis was going to find out about them; he was also right that it wouldn't matter to Tullis whether I'd ever met them.

"Hello Sophia." I said when she answered her phone.

"Nells! Is Lydia alright? You're bringing her back, aren't you." The last part wasn't a question, or a request. It was her order.

"Yes, she's great actually." I informed her.

"And when will you be here with her?" Now that was a question, expecting her order to be followed.

"Never." There was a long silence as I waited for her to accept I was never bringing Lydia back to the farm. "Remember that package I gave you to keep and hide, the emergency package?"

"Yes, I still have it if that's… Something's happened hasn't it?" She'd put two and two together.

"I'm afraid so. You and Randle need to evaporate." I told her.

Sophia sighed into the receiver. "I was afraid this would happen one day, I knew it would."

So did I, like her, I hoped it never would, but we both expected it to happen. "Get the package, use what's inside. There're instructions and everything you need. Have Randle help you. There's a currier coming with a special speedy delivery for you. There's a phone inside. When it arrives, keep it handy. A friend of mine will be calling you with instructions. You need to get away from the farm. There will also be two new identities, the pictures aren't perfect, but they'll work."

Her voice was scared. "How… how long do we have to pack, a day, two?" She asked.

"The package should be there in less than an hour. The phone will ring, answer it and do exactly what my friend tells you. He's going to tell you where to meet him and what to do. I'd get packing now if I were you." I told her.

The line was quiet. "Sophia?" I said, I didn't know if we lost connection or she was simply being quiet.

"Nells?" Randle's voice said.

"Yeah." I answered.

"Sophia's packing, I'm getting the emergency package, I've already looked thru it and read your instructions." He told me, then he said, "Goodbye and thanks for the warning." Then he hung up.

This was actually a shock to me. Randle, he'd already opened the package, he wasn't pissed, he actually meant it when he said thanks. Sometimes, people surprise you.

"So, what's next?" Randi asked once I was off the phone.

"For you, stay here with Holland and Zandie incase they need you." Her face wilted. "For me, I need to go see a crazy chemist." I told her.

Holland looked away from the display of the computer he was at. He'd been cussing about wishing he had his computers back home. When we arrived at the place they were working on he'd said, 'Welcome to Shangri-Holland, it isn't much but it'll do.' All in all, it was fine.

"Crazy chemist? You're going to see Wanda, aren't you?" He asked.

I nodded. "I need things from her for Fat Prick."

"You know, I can probably get the things you want, I am well connected." Holland offered.

I shook my head. "I need them yesterday and I need her special touch."

Now Holland shook his head. "You know there's a reason we call her the crazy chemist, right?"

I laughed. "Yeah, because she's a crazy chemist, heavy on the crazy, and heavy on the chemist."

"How long has it been since you've seen her?" He asked.

"Oh, I don't know." I paused to think, then shrugged. "30 years, around that maybe. I'd seen her around after we parted ways, for a couple years anyways. Why?"

He snorted. "Well, crazy grows, it grows fast. Are you sure she won't lose it on you for not showing up for so long? You remember she did have a thing for you, and she's crazy."

"I worked things out with you, didn't I? I'm sure I'll be able to work things out with her. I'm gifted you know." I retorted.

"Yeah, gifted, we're not talking about your cock you know; unless you're planning on using that to make amends with her." Holland looked off to the side and rubbed his chin for a second. "You know, that may actually work."

I laughed at what Holland said. I also observed Randi get up and walk out of the room. She didn't care for our last bit of conversation, even if we were just joking. There was a reason I never hooked up with Wanda, she's crazy.

"Tell me, what is it you want from Wanda?" Holland asked again.

"Nerve agents, surgical equipment, knockout gas, stuff like that." I answered.

He rubbed his chin again. "Yeah, that's definitely the crazy chemist's area. You sure you don't want me to ask around?"

I shook my head. "No, I want to keep this as low key as I can. You start asking for that kind of stuff, it might raise suspicions. After I deal with Fat Prick, know Sophia and Randle are safe, Randi and I need to be gone. Jeffery wasn't kidding, Tullis is closing in on me."

"Yeah, I'm sure he is." Holland sounded and looked glum.

We said goodbye and Holland wished me luck. I grabbed my keys, small bag, and started towards the elevator up to leave Shangri-Holland. I passed by Randi on the way out. She looked at me sideways, got up and walked in front of my path.

"Please?" She asked, making use of her sad puppy dog look.

Looking at her I thought for a second.

"I'll stay in the Studebaker. Just incase you need me, you know." She said in defense of herself.

What can I say, I did like having her around and it was clear she'd rather be with me than hanging around with Zandie and Holland. There was also the fact that if I wanted to train her and advance her education, I needed to spend time with her.

"Sure, grab your stuff and let's hit the road." To say her face erupted with joy, would be an understatement. She was literally a starburst of glee.

Randi wanted to drive, so I let her. As long as she followed the GPS, we'd get there. Holland looked Wanda up on the internet, she had moved since her and I last saw each other. Probably more than once. She'd stay someplace for a year or two then pull up stakes and move someplace different and new. She always stayed in the state of New Brittan though. She was about an hour and a half away.

Since Randi was driving, I used the time to look at stuff on the internet, porno. No, would've been better than what I was reading and looking at. Police reports, crime scene photos that were made public. I was checking into one specific crime. One specific victim of that crime.

"Randi…" I said, getting her attention.

"Yeah? Do we really have to keep calling each other Randi and Gordon, even when we're alone like this?" She asked.

"Yes, it'll help keep us from making a mistake, especially if were in a stress situation." I answered her.

With a nod she replied, "I get it, it's like what some actors do so they don't mess up on camera during filming. They always stay in character, use their character's name, shit like that."

After a moment of though I told her, "That's a pretty good analogy." I waited about 10 seconds to get back to what I wanted to talk to her about.

"When you first found me, at the RV park, remember what happened after we left in such a rush?" I queried.

"Yeah, Tullis' boys came in, killed them after they questioned them about you." She answered.

"Yeah, right. You said I knew Blue Bird." I stated.

"Well, yeah, from the look on your face, I figured you did. So?" She answered.

"You didn't say or ask if I knew any of the others that were killed. Only Blue Bird." I pointed out.

"What are you trying to say Gordon? So I asked if you knew her but not anyone else, why does that matter?" She came back with.

"I think you asked if I knew Blue Bird, because you knew I knew her." I told her in a direct tone.

She glanced over at me a couple times then held her eyes on the road. "How could I have known her?" She argued. "I went to your camper, you weren't there so I waited then went to sleep. After you found that tracker, we bugged out of there before I could've had a chance to meet her."

What she'd said was right, to a point. I had woken her in the camper, she came on to me, I'd pushed her away then she took a shower. I discovered the bug while she was in the shower, then we headed out in a hurry. If she had come to the camper while I was at the party around the fire pit, I wouldn't have been there, and I went home with Blue Bird. If she'd gotten tired then went to bed, all would be as she said and she never would've met Blue Bird. However, there was a major flaw in her story.

When she first came to the camper, if she'd hitchhiked, found the camper empty then slept the night, then she would've had to have arrived the night before. I'd left between 8:30 and 9:00 at night. I believed her about arriving and finding the camper empty. Taking into consideration the distance she'd have to travel, the transportation she used to get to my location, the timeframe fit for her to arrive later at night. I didn't know her exact time of departure, but she'd of had to slip away from the farm, I'd assume while Sophia and Randle were asleep. I was guessing, but I figured she'd of arrived around 10:00pm, maybe closer to 11.

The flaw in her story was that she'd simply waited and when I didn't return, she went to bed. I thought about what happened at the farm Rhonda was at. I worked Randi into the camper scenario based on what she'd done from that event. She wouldn't have waited at the camper. She'd have gone out to find me, sneaked around. When she found me, she wouldn't just walk up and say 'Hi uncle Nells, surprise, I ran away from the farm to be with you' with a group of people around.

This is how the scenario played out in my brain. She arrived at the camper finding it empty. She decides to find me, the light and noise from the beach where the fire pit was made that the obvious place to look first. She snuck around the outside of the area, her dark attire would've made not being seen easy. When the party ended, she followed Blue Bird and I to her place. Again, easy to do. We were the last ones to leave.

Jealousy, it would have burned in Randi after seeing Blue Bird and I together. I wouldn't have known that then, but I did now, now that I knew Randi better. She would've had time to kill Blue Bird and get back to the camper before I returned. I didn't run back, I walked casually, chatting with people as I made my way back. The RV park was a friendly place, people would see me as I walked past as they sat out in their small yards having their morning coffee and start a conversation. She would've had ample time; of course she wouldn't know I was stopping and talking with people.

Blue Bird was also naive and trusting, a bit of a flower child. Like most other people, she'd never suspect a young girl like Randi would try and kill her. She'd have been easy to distract and trusting enough to play right into Randi's trap.

I looked at the police reports again. Everyone else had been shot with a silenced weapon, they suspected pistols, except for Blue Bird. She'd had her throat slit. Then there was the location of the bodies. Only Blue Bird's had been hidden. Her body was discovered in the trunk of her own car.

Tullis' people wouldn't have come in guns blazing. They would go around the park, asking people about me and use some non threatening story that would cause people concern for me and want to help them find me. They would've had no intention of killing anybody. That would've come from Tullis himself after the crew boss checked in with him. Then the crew would have gone around to each camper and snuffed people as quietly and with as little of commotion as possible so others wouldn't become suspicious and grab their own guns to defend themselves. Then they'd move out as fast as possible. They wouldn't take the time to hide a body.

Then there was Randi's clothes that had been on the floor. After she'd showered she put on different clothes than what had been on the floor. When I thought back on when I'd found her in the bed in the camper, her clothes didn't look simply dropped on the floor, they were positioned, like they had been put down and folded so certain parts wouldn't touch the carpet, parts that had blood on them. I never saw her wear those clothes again. At our first stop for fuel, while I was pumping alcohol into the tank, she'd stuffed a bag into the trash bin by the pumps. I never thought anything of it then, but now I figured that's where she'd disposed of her blood stained clothes.

I pulled up the police photo of Blue Bird's body in the trunk of her car, then turned the laptop so Randi could see it. She glanced at it once then kept her eyes on the road. She was pretty good at hiding what she was feeling, but not good enough. I could pick up that she was feeling cornered and caught. She'd had little experience in covering herself when she was confronted with her deeds.

"You arrived at the camper, I wasn't there. You found me at the beach party, followed me when I went home with Blue Bird and when I left in the morning, you killed her then ran back to the camper, took off your clothes, laying them so blood wouldn't get on the carpet and got into bed, pretending to be asleep when I got back." I recited to her.

She didn't look at me. Her eyes stayed on the road and her mouth stayed shut. I busted her, I knew it, and she knew it.

"You actually got lucky when Tullis' boys showed up and turned the place into bedlam. You ditched your bloody clothes when we stopped for fuel." I finished.

Randi remained silent, concentrating on her driving.

I was still looking at her, watching her. "You get the hunger, don't you? People like you don't get blood fever, they get a hunger, a need to kill."

Now she did look over at me. "People like me?!" She stated. Her eyes went back to the road. "Fuck you."

I almost told her I suspected she'd killed a lot more than five people, probably more than a dozen. But I didn't, that'd most likely only make matters worse.

"Look, I understand. I've known people like you before. I can help you deal with it, control it. I'll teach you what I can so you don't get caught when you feed that hunger. But you've got to stop lying to me, you've got to be straight with me or I can't help you." I explained to her.

Her bottom lip moved up and started to quiver; her eyes became heavy with tears, eventually a couple rolled down her cheek. Emotions that again seemed to fit the situation, sociopath. She inhaled hard and fast, then released her breath the same way, fast and hard. She regained her composure. I held my tongue, a minute passed, Randi said nothing, then another minute.

She sighed loudly. "Yeah, I did her, okay?" She was quiet for a moment. "It burns. It burns so bad it hurts, you don't know what it's like. I just have to, you know. If I let it go to long, it becomes really urgent. Then I don't take the time I should. That's how I almost got caught, when you saved me. I don't want to do it, I have to. I've tried to control it, bought a rabbit, or a rat or something and killed that, sustained me for a bit, but nothing like… …humans." Psychopath?

As we drove on to Wanda's, we talked more; I gave her advice and tried to weasel more information out of her; she wouldn't admit to anymore than the original five I knew about and Blue Bird, making her body count an even six. According to Randi. If it could be called an upside, we were making progress and she was confiding in me a bit more.

When we approached the driveway to Wanda's current place, I took over driving and had Randi hide in the back of the Studebaker. She wouldn't expect me to have a partner and I wanted to keep that knowledge from her until I knew I could trust her, if I ever really could. She was crazy, I didn't know how she'd react to seeing me again. Holland had wired me good with cameras and microphones, top of the line, so small, you'd never know I was wearing them. Which was good, if Wanda thought I was bugged, there'd be trouble and my only backup was a 15 year old psychopathic sociopath that was in love, infatuated, with me.

I was sure I had the right face on, I had my regular face, not my Tullis face. I should be good. I had no reason to look different for Wanda, she knew me with Holland, so my day to day not working face should be right. That was one problem with being so many different people, you could forget who people knew you as; for me that was amplified over the average syndicate person, I changed faces as well.

Things looked a bit different from where and how Wanda had lived anytime previously in the time I'd known her. The place was out in the sticks, not exactly a farm setting, but definitely country. The house was a ranch style rambler, most likely with a basement, brown with white trim. There was a detached two stall garage that matched the house. The driveway was concrete; off from the drive between the house and the garage was a small dirt drive that went up to a pole barn type building with a tall garage door in the center and one standard entry door beside that.

The yard was nicely kept and decorated with shrubbery and small flowerbeds. Trees obscured the house from the dirt road that ran along the property, but they didn't completely block the view. The house sat back from the road about 30 meters, maybe a little more. Not Wanda's usual style, maybe she'd taken to rural country living. There was something else that was different, a boy.

He had a leaf rake in his hand and stopped near the sidewalk to the house, turned and watched us as we pulled in. As we were stopping in the parking area opposite the garage, he started walking towards us. Instead of getting out, I rolled down the window, I wanted to ask if I had the right place since this didn't seem like anyplace she'd live. The information Holland had pulled up on her may have been wrong, highly unlikely, but possible.

"This is private property." He said at first while my window went down. "What'd you want?" He asked.

He was close to my age, late 40's maybe, dressed in blue jeans and a green tee shirt. The baseball cap on his head had a football team logo. He looked like he'd spent his life at manual labor, his skin was weathered and tan, suggesting he worked outside for his wages.

"Hello, I'm looking for Wanda Groshaun, does she live here?" I politely asked with a courteous smile.

His brow lowered slightly and the muscles in his jaw tightened. Not a good sign; she may have lived there but left under not so friendly terms.

The boy spoke with a gruff voice. "What'd you want with Wanda? You one of her old boyfriends? If you is, you can just haul your ass on out-a here. She's a clutched girl now, she's my concubine, got it."

Wanda, a clutched girl? Someone's concubine? This was a surprise; his questioning if I was an old boyfriend wasn't. She'd had many.

I smiled again. "An old friend, not a boyfriend. We knew each other thru our work." I explained.

My explanation seemed to have no effect on his mood. He remained ornery. "What'd you want to see Wanda for?"

"My business with Wanda is just that, my business with Wanda." His eyes narrowed as I said this. "I take it she's here. Could you tell me where she is? I'd like to see her." I requested.

"Her name's not Groshaun anymore, it's Elway, now what's your business with my concubine?" His voice said he was becoming rather annoyed.

She'd apparently taken on the family name; that meant she wasn't clutched through a timed contract, but rather in a permanent clutch which was almost like a marriage. Fine, since he wanted to be ornery and pissed, I'd cut the politeness. I rolled the window up, shut the SUV off, opened my door and got out, showing him my size and height. I had an intimidating air when I was up close and personal.

I moved up to him. "My business with Wanda is my business with Wanda, do you keep her a prisoner, or are you going to tell me where she is?"

He adjusted his pants and moved the pistol holstered on his right side forward, presumably for easier access. I held my eyes on his with a blank expression, letting him know I wasn't impressed or worried about him and his gun. I wasn't carrying one.

After a moment or two, he started nodding while he rolled his tongue around on the inside of his cheek with his mouth open slightly, carefully considering his next move.

"Alright, fine. I'll take you to her. She don't want to see you, you'll git yer ass back in that fancy rig of yours and haul your ass out-a here, hear?" He told me.

My face and stance remained the same, I was a good 15 centimeters taller. He looked at me for a few moments then turned and started down the sidewalk to the house. I followed at a steady metered pace. Buckshot Bob here wasn't any concern of mine. If he got uppity, I'd knock his cock in the dirt if I had to. I was trying to be polite, the asshole reception was wearing on me.

We walked into the house, through the foyer to some stairs. We went down the stairs and to the left to another door. Buckshot Bob knocked on the door.

"Wanda, sweetness? Someone here to see you." Now he sounded, henpecked, meek, subdued. She was a crazy bitch.

"Who is it?" A voice I recognized too well called through the door.

The boy looked at me, I could tell he was about to ask my name; I'd had enough of this bullshit. With a stern look I pushed him back a little, grabbed the doorknob, opened the door and walked in. Wanda snapped around as I walked in.

"Wanda's told you never…" She had started saying before she saw me. Buckshot Bob had walked in after me, his hand on the grip of the pistol.

"Heh, well, strange places and strange faces. Butter Wanda up and call Wanda a lobster." She was casually smiling as she looked at me and spoke.

"You want to see him or you want me to get rid of him?" Buckshot Bob asked Wanda.

She chuckled. "Sugar, Wanda would pay to see you try and get him out of here. Marsha and Wanda would be collecting on your life insurance policy before that ever happened." She jerked her head at him. I head the door close behind me.

With a glance back, confirming we were along, I walked up to where Wanda was behind a U of workbenches filled with chemistry gear. When I stopped, I gave the room a good looking over. Now this fit Wanda's style. Bottles, beakers, test tubes, everything a crazy chemist needed. She stopped working on what was in front of her and waited till I was done.

"Now this is you. The rest of the place, not one bit, but this room says Wanda." I stopped my inspection of the room and placed my eyes on her. "Never figured you'd ever get married or clutched. Especially to Buckshot Bob there; what's the story?"

Wanda cooed a sigh as she rocked her head. "Decided to settle down. Wanda got tired of waiting on your ass, took off, never came back. Wanda knew you'd never make time with Wanda. And Holland, he's had eyes for that dark freak you two used to run with for… as long as Wanda can remember. What was her name again?" She was playing now, she knew damn well what her name was.

"Zandie." I offered.

She sighed a laugh. "That's right, Zandie. Everything black with a touch of blue or red. Just enough for a little flair but never any more. She used to make her own clothes. Wanda wonders if she's still with Holland." She put a knuckled hand to her chin and looked off like she was thinking.

"Cut the shit Wanda. You fucking know Holland and Zandie are still together, and you know she's the owner of the Zassy line." I growled at her, this shit with her always got old fast.

She moved and gave me a look of limited surprise. "Oh, so the two of you have rekindled your romance? You and Holland double teaming her again?"

Without speaking and keeping my eyes locked with hers, I took a step and a half closer to her. Then I just stood looking her in the eyes. I'd give her a little time to play before I took over the conversation and pushed hard. She was just as dangerous as I was, only in different ways. The main difference, she was crazy and I wasn't.

Sighing again she looked away while shaking her head a little. "His name's Carl, not Buckshot Bob." She informed me.

"Carl. Bob's better than that. He should change it." I cracked.

Wanda looked me up and down. I returned the looking. She looked, bigger, in the chest. Her hair was the same frizzed reddish blonde, not strawberry blonde, a mix of red and blonde individual hairs. Not highlighted either, her hair just naturally grew that way. Her bush was blotchy, blonde spots and red spots, a Dalmatian look with red and blonde fur.

"You look… different." I said to her. I held my hands to my chest cupped, moving them up and down like I was holding boobs. "Bigger. Never thought you'd get implants."

She laughed. "Nicholas Gagucci, mister stud horse, notices the boobs right away. Probably turning you off a bit. Anything over a baby B, you lost interest, shit, it was the A's that got you looking if Wanda remembers right. And you always got rock hard over the girls with the dark souls. Flat chested, gothic looks, dark eyes with black accents. Shit, paste white skin. No clue what you see in girls like that. You like the vampire chicks too?"

I shook my head.

"Strange, Wanda thinks they would be right up your alley. Victorian, yeah, you like that Victorian style." Wanda looked off for a second, she'd be busting my balls again about my taste in girls soon enough. "What was that other niche that would catch your eye… punk? No, although you've chased punk tail too. Trains and gears…"

"Steampunk." I said.

"Yeah! Anything fucking weird, that's your bag." She concluded. She changed her stance and eyeballed me. "So what can Wanda do for Nicholas Gagucci?"

Moving close to her, really close, I handed her a small piece of paper. "I made a list."

She took it then turned from me, reaching for something on the bench behind her. "Think fast." She said and tossed a jar of something at me. She started talking as she read the list.

"That's why Wanda looks bigger, not implants, it's a lotion. Took Wanda from a full C cup to double D's. Had to over come a lot of side effects, rashes, allergic reactions, stuff like that. One test subject grew a third boob, not in the middle where it would actually be neat, but off of her existing boob. Wanda is in the final process for Imperial Food and Drug Division approval. Depending on the level of active ingredient, can take a baby B to a C, or an A to a D. Works best going one or two cup sizes up. More gets complicated. Wanda's working on something for boys, but, not going as well." She stopped talking and concentrated on the list now.

After a moment she looked off to one side before looking at me. "Fuck, you… yeah, Wanda's got shit that will work. You want the paralytic to keep them feeling or numb as fuck?" She asked. Before I could answer she said, "Feeling, yeah, numb would be… pointless."

She mumbled to herself for a bit then looked at me then back to the list, reciting what she read, partially.

"Scalpels, clamps, bone saw, silver nitrate, silk suture." Again she looked up at me. "This is going to hurt, whatever you've got planned."

I confirmed what she said with a nod.

"Tomorrow, Wanda can have everything you want tomorrow." She informed me.

"Morning?" I queried.

Wanda looked off to the side, thinking again for about a minute. "Yeah. Morning." She muttered then looked at me fully again. "Not early morning, mid, around 10? Will that work for you?"

"Yes, I'll be back around 10." I confirmed. I needed to reciprocate the favor. "Anything I can do for you?" I asked.

My intention was to even us favor for favor, like we'd done in the past. I wasn't sure what I could do for her now, but I had to offer.

"Yeah. There is something Nicholas Gagucci can do for Wanda." She stated, her face was blank now.

I waited a moment, she didn't say anything, so I asked. "What? What can I do in exchange?"

Money wouldn't be the favor, she was doing well for herself. She always had. In bygone days, the favors in return had varied. Information, certain items one couldn't purchase, pound of flesh from someone who'd wronged her, things I'd never be able to forget. I never had a clue as to what she'd want in exchange.

"Never find Wanda again." She said bluntly. "Stay away from Wanda, stay out of Wanda's life, you, Holland, anyone from Wanda's past. Wanda has her own life now, you can all go to hell." She spoke calmly.

In a way I understood. Her life here was… normal? Similar to what I thought I had with Rhonda, only Wanda's slice of paradise wasn't a lie and a trap. I'd never wronged her, though she might say I had because I'd never dated her, slept with her, anything relationship wise past… casual friends. She wanted complete separation from her past life. That, I understood well.

"Sure." I answered. "From me at least, I'll tell Holland, but I can only make a deal for myself." I told her.

She nodded. "You tell him, and his bitch too. Stay away from Wanda."

I nodded again then turned to leave.

"How come you never made a move on Wanda?" She asked.

I didn't look back, but I did stop walking long enough to answer. "You were a good friend, I didn't want to put you in any danger; because you were my friend." I hoped that made her feel good, that I cared about her. It was a complete lie though. I couldn't exactly tell her 'because you're bat shit crazy and you drive me nuts'. Not if I wanted her help.

Wanda didn't say anything else. I waited a few moments before I started walking to the door again to give her a chance to respond, but she didn't, so I left.

Once I was on the road again and away from Wanda's new home and family, Randi joined me in the front seat.

"So, how'd it go? She going to help you? Can you trust her?" She questioned in rapid fire.

How had it gone? She was going to help me, in exchange for never looking her up again. Fair trade I guess.

"Yes, she's going to help me. Not sure if I can trust her, a little bit I think, but not far." I took a deep breath and let it out. Something inside me hurt because of what Wanda wanted in return. I was a curse to everyone I knew. Holland lost his shop, Sophia and Randle had to run, all because of me. "Shitty, that's how it went, fucking shitty."

Back at Shangri-Holland, as he'd called it, Holland was going through the video I'd recorded at Wanda's home; Randi watched with him while I spun up a couple joints.

"Does she always speak of herself in the third person?" Randi asked.

Holland was stepping through a portion of the video frame by frame, zooming in and out at times. He was looking at something when Randi asked her question, thus the delay in his response.

"Hmm, yeah, as long as we've known her, she's always done that. Part of why we call her the crazy chemist." He answered.

Randi considered his answer. "So… what's the rest of the reason for calling her the crazy chemist?" She further queried.

Holland clicked on a couple menu items on the screen with his mouse, hit a few keys then looked back at me; I was lighting a joint and purposely didn't make eye contact. He looked back in the direction of the computer he was using, but not at it.

"She's been know to… turn on her friends, lash out and attack them. No actual reason, just the toys in her attic making noise." He reset the video and started it playing again. "Damn near killed someone who was nothing but nice to her." He ended.

As he watched the video, some parts over and over again, Holland muttered to himself. Not only was I trying to catch anything I could from what he was saying to himself, so was Randi. And like me, she knew asking would be pointless. I knew he'd found something of interest. You just had to wait Holland Fuzzy out; once he had all his ducky's in a row, he'd talk. Until then, you were best just to leave him alone. Interfering would only make the process take longer. If you interrupted, he'd go back to make sure he hadn't missed anything.

A good 45 minutes passed. Randi was glued to Holland's side. She even refused to go with Zandie when she told her she had something to work on involving clothes. She was watching everything Holland did; probably making a mental list of things to ask him once he was done. Sure, she had a love affair with clothing, but the technical stuff Holland was doing was where she lived.

"This… this is interesting." Holland commented clearly, he was talking to the rest of the people in the room now.

He had several frames he'd grabbed from the video up and was working on them; the printer started making noise. From what I could see, he was blowing up sections of the frame and printing them. Randi watched the first couple he did, then she whipped out her tablet and started tapping away. Holland hadn't asked her for any help, however, she knew he was onto something and would do her best to provide what she could. Initiative, a rare quality in kids her age.

"This mark, this logo. It belongs to the Imperial government." Holland said as he waited for the printer to finish the rest of the pages, he was holding the first one he'd printed and moving towards me.

"It's apparently linked to the I.S.R.D. chemistry branch. The other mark belongs to them also, but isn't linked to any branch. The Imperial Government website doesn't say squat about it and the Imperial Science and Research Division site only lists it as a generic division icon. It doesn't appear on anything at their site." Randi explained from what she'd pulled up on her tablet.

Holland had the other pictures he'd printed now, he held one up facing Randi. "You're talking about this one right?" He asked.

"Yeah." She set her tablet down and walked to where Holland was and took the picture from him. "That doesn't make sense." She commented eyeballing the picture.

"What doesn't make sense?" I asked not understanding what not making sense she was talking about.

"Another generic icon for the I.S.R.D." She stated.

"Another? What do you mean another, you just said that one is listed as the generic." I responded.

"That's what their website said." She moved over to me and looked at the picture in my hand then pointed directly at the logo in it. "That is the icon, or division logo for the I.S.R.D., why would they need another one? That one's on all their offices, their headquarters, press releases and letter heads. Each branch has their own icon, bioresearch, atomic and nuclear, substance investigation, every branch has a separate icon besides the general icon, like military branches, the Army has their icon, and each division in the Army has their own battalion logo. It doesn't make sense that they'd have another generic icon." Randi explained.

"Exactly." Holland said agreeing with Randi's analysis. "The other thing that's… concerning, is that Wanda is working on Imperial Government projects. The only people that do that, are members of the Imperial Government. They don't outsource their work on their projects."

"But, you said you designed software and networks for the government. You're not a member, are you?" I posed.

"No, that's different, see. They bought something I'd already created, I only tailored it to their needs. What Wanda is working with is government projects, creating things for them." He explained.

I got what he was driving at. Buying a product or service verses inventing one. What he'd said was correct. The Imperial Government has their own people to 'discover' things. This enables them to keep things secret easier. If they classify a private discovery, the person or company that made it forfeits all data and is removed from the project once their own people are up to speed on the project and can take over. The inventors get monetary compensation, but the Imperial government personnel continue the work.

"That would mean…" I began, pausing before I finished. I didn't like the implication.

"That Wanda's an Imperial agent with the I.S.R.D." Holland finished for me.

Randi cut in with her opinion. "So, that means you can't trust her. You'll have to find someone else to get your stuff for you."

"Maybe, that would depend on how long she's been working for them, what her connection is." I said, trying to be hopeful.

"Fuck Gordon. You know damn well, you don't just start working for the I.S.R.D." Holland gave a snort then shook his head a few times.

He was right. The I.S.R.D. didn't 'invite' people to join their ranks. "She'd of been contacted before she started college, contracted then educated through the Imperial Government. She's been a member since before we met her, basically her entire life. Her parents might have been government, probably were." I deduced.

Holland nodded. "Correct." He looked at the generic logo picture intently. "We need to find out more about who this generic logo actually belongs too." His eyes returned to me. "And about 'I Am Wanda'."

"You have a plan then." I resolved.

Holland smiled. "Of course, I have my ways."

"And I'm coming with, right?" Randi asked, not wanting to be left behind and out again.

I looked at her with reassurance. "Yes Randi, you're coming along for the ride."

As much as I would've like to be able to say I was including her so she could learn and leave it at that, I couldn't, I also wanted her close so I could make sure she didn't add another number to her growing count.

"Randi, I have some equipment you'll be using. You can help me load everything in my Desoto." Holland told her. Her face lit up and she positively beamed.

The Desoto Holland had happened to be an oversized van that he and Zandie had been using to haul their belongings from their old home to what was now their new home. Before we could use the van for 'other purposes' we had to help unload the current collection of stuff from the last trip Zandie had made to their old home.

It took about 20 minutes to remove the load, take it to where Holland and Zandie wanted it stowed, before the van was empty and the back seat could be returned to its place. After that Holland had more items that went into and secured to the inside of the van, making it a mobile work station. Finally he and Randi loaded the equipment they'd be using, connecting and positioning it for use.

Holland rode in the back with Randi, I drove and Zandie had the front passengers seat. We were on the quest to find either an unsecured wireless connection with good speed, or a place Holland could tap into internet connection without needing login and security information.

Randi was monitoring a wi-fi detector that provided information on security and speed while Holland poured through maps of utilities and where they ran.

The wi-fi hunt wasn't going so good. Any that were unsecured were of poor quality in both signal and speed. The ones that had the speed Holland wanted, were well secured and not by a password combination that was easily bypassed. He'd said ideally a hard connection at a main trunk line splice would be best. However, all the ones he'd found would've required climbing through a manhole into a communications vault under the streets. We needed something a little more discreet, and quick.

"Here! Here we go, yeah. This looks promising." Holland's voice was excited.

Considering who and what he was, I'd have figured he'd have known good places for his covert connection, all of them in the city actually.

"Zandie, put these coordinates in the Won Ton, ready?" He asked.

It took a moment for the GPS to power up and find itself, Holland was antsy to say the least. He squawked about what was taking so long. Zandie looked more amused by him than anything and would wave a hand dismissingly at him whenever he complained.

"Alright squirrel bait, give me the numbers." She said once the unit was ready.

"About damn time girl…" He chided.

"You want to bitch some more, or you want me to punch the location into this thing?" She tossed back at him.

He gave her the coordinates, she entered them, then I followed the directions the GPS gave. It was close to a 15 minute drive. We ended up in a back alleyway without any streetlights, the only light in the alley was from a door light about ten meters away from where Holland said the connection box was.

With torch in hand, Holland went out to inspect the box. I handed him a pair of gloves before he scampered off.

"Voltage isn't that high, I'm fine." He commented when I held them out to him.

"Finger prints." I stated bluntly. "Be a shame to go to all this trouble to avoid detection only to have you leave your calling card behind."

"Oh, yeah, I guess it would, wouldn't it." He replied with a loose smile as he took the gloves.

It wasn't even five minutes before he returned. "Yeah, this is great, I can work with this." He informed us when he returned to the van.

With Randi's help, he started pulling out cat-7 cable and other things he'd need. Randi already had gloves on. The two of them argued back and forth while they worked. Holland would use the excuse that he was the genius and for Randi to hush and do what he told her. Her 15 year old wit in reply was quick and sharp; she matched Holland dig for dig as they worked.

"Duct tape, I need some duct tape, I know I put some in here, where is it?" Holland asked at one point as he rummaged through one of the bags in the back of the van.

"I saw some…" Randi stated as she started digging into another bag. A moment later she said, "Here, found it" as she handed the roll of tape to him. "What do you need duct tape for anyways?" She questioned.

Without responding, Holland took the tape from her, found the end then pulled off a length of tape. He dropped the roll then with the tape strung between both his hands, he reached for her face trying to put the tape over her mouth.

"Silence is golden, but duct tape is silver." He commented as he tried to apply the tape to her face.

She easily dodged his effort and pushed his hands away, she was laughing as she did.

"Do I need to put you two in separate corners?" I scolded humorously. Then I wasn't so humorous. "Cut out the kid shit and get to work, both of you."

They both stopped moving, gave me a look, then Holland folded the tape he had up, tossed it in the back of the van and started pulling the cable out. Randi went to help him. Once they were outside of van, their bickering started up again.

It didn't take long for Holland to make the needed connection. He and Randi climbed into the back of the van from the side and started working. Randi asked questions and Holland answered them. They actually sounded professional now.

"Okay, two more seconds and we're live. Copy everything I look at, everything that comes through." He told her.

She nodded and went to work on the PC she was working with.

"What exactly are you looking for?" I questioned.

"We'll know it when he finds it." Randi answered from a distracted state as she concentrated on what she was doing.

"Holland…" I called trying to get his attention.

"What she said, when I find it, we'll know. Now leave me, us, alone. We're working." He chided at me.

Fine, I turned back and faced the front. Zandie smiled at me.

"Come on, you know how it is when he's into something. Lighten up." She said to me.

Lighten up, she wasn't walking around with a high price on her head for her life. I was and every interaction with someone was a potential risk. The thug with the estate buyer didn't recognize me. But he'd only have seen me in pictures Tullis provided. All it would take was someone to notice I was wearing a disguise. Simply removing the disguise wouldn't reveal me to Tullis as someone he recognized, however he had other means, fingerprints and interrogation techniques that would either identify me, or make me talk.

"Is this anything?" Randi asked turning her display towards him.

Holland looked over at what she had on her display again. He looked back to his as he worked on. "Ah, don't know for sure. Add it to the list, once we start copying files, we won't be able to change anything. And be careful, snoop only. I don't want to dangle."

Now I had a concern that I wasn't going to let slide past. "Alright, explain to me what the hell you're doing. I'm already in the stewpot, I want to know what else I'm guilty of."

It took a few moments of my intent staring at Holland before he took a quick glance at me.

"You're worse than she is." He told me, jerking his head slightly in Randi's direction. "I designed the platform their systems operate on. I was also top dog on the installation crew. I left myself a few backdoors, ways I could slip in unnoticed. I'm compiling a list of files I want to have, then I'm going to create a fake situation that will cause a system wide backup automatically and while it does that, I'm going to siphon off copies of the data."

Holland paused for a moment and looked at me with a slightly pissed face. "That make sense to you? Understand any of it?" He commented then went back to work.

"Who's data are you snooping through and are you sure they won't know?" I pushed back, I didn't care if he was pissed at me, I wanted to know.

"I've infiltrated the I.S.R.D.'s database. Violating every Imperial information security law in existence to the maximum. I'm copying information on departments and… There it is, exactly what I'm looking for." Holland's face was very excited.

"You found it?" Randi asked with similar excitement in her voice.

Holland looked over at her with a shit eating grin. "There was a farmer whom had a dog, and Bingo was his name!" They both laughed, I didn't see the humor.

He took a moment to look me in the eyes then went to work on his computer again. "I found the secret hidden files associated with the 'generic' Imperial Science and Research Division. They'll be copied and stored for us to peruse at a later time, off the net on a stand alone system just incase there's some kind of security alert attached to the files. Randi, get ready." He informed me then had Randi get ready.

"Ready mister H."

I expected Holland to tell Randi his name was Holland, not mister H, or if she was going to call him mister, it was mister Fuzzy, but he didn't. Even Zandie raised an eyebrow at this.

"Shit!" Randi exclaimed. "This drive is filling up fast. You have more?" She asked.

"Yeah," he pointed, "right there, between us. You can hot plug them." He informed her.

She grabbed a drive and stuffed it into a slot on the front of her computer.

"Mother fucker! I've never seen speeds this fast, what the frig are you connected to?" She stated.

"Tapped into the main line for this side of the state." He answered.

"This shit's compressed and tar balled, what the fuck are you doing H? Downloading their entire database?" Randi said in a voice of shock.

Holland only guffawed at her comment. Several minutes later Randi pulled the first drive from her computer and inserted another. Holland was glancing at things as they flowed by into the computer Randi was working with.

"Fucking A, this shit's intense. If what I think is true, fuck." He commented, he didn't extrapolate on what he meant or what he though and I didn't press.

I assumed the download was complete when Holland and Randi started moving and she opened the side door to the van.

"Last drive is about two thirds full, fuck, that was a lotta shit H." She said as she climbed out of the van, followed by Holland.

They removed the connection they'd made faster than they'd made it. Everything was buttoned up like we'd never been there in minutes. They didn't waste time on being neat as they returned the cable and other items to the back of the van. They didn't talk to each other either. When they got into the van again they were still quiet; the same applied to the drive back home, not a word from either of them.

Inside the building above ground at Shangri-Holland there was a bit of soft whispering between Randi and Holland, even Zandie was curious of this but neither of us could make out what they said to each other.

"What do you want us to do with the rest of this stuff?" I called out after Holland as he and Randi slinked away carrying the drives and a laptop.

Holland slowed and looked back in our direction, sort of, and motioned towards one wall. "Just… just put it over there for now." He distractedly commented then picked up his pace again after Randi.

There was a look of wonderment on my face when I looked over at Zandie; her expression was similar to mine.

She looked at me and shrugged. "Hackers." She said then looked to the back of the van, I followed her lead.

"Something I guess. At least they're getting along." I commented and shrugged as well.

We started taking the equipment out of the van and placing it against the wall Holland had indicated. It didn't take us long to unload. Zandie suggested we should remove the bench/desk amenities that Holland and Randi had attached to the inside of the van and the back seat.

"We'll be hauling more of our belongings tomorrow, he won't bitch about us not removing them then; I know Holland." Zandie stated.

Nodding in agreement I helped her unlatch the first desk part. I knew Holland well too. He would expect us to know what he wanted.