Authors: S. J. Lewis
by S J Lewis
ISBN 13: 978-1-934349-69-4
ISBN 10: 1-934349-69-0
A Pink Flamingo Ebook Publication
Copyright © 2007 S J Lewis
All rights reserved
The loud knocking at his apartment door woke him up. He levered himself up off the couch. His back had kinks in it. He wondered how he’d been able to sleep so soundly on such an uncomfortable piece of furniture.
“Coming,” he yawned. What time was it? There was no clock here in the small living room. He looked towards the window. There was dim light filtering through the drapes, so it was either early morning or early evening…or just a very overcast day.
The knocking resumed. “I said coming, dammit,” he yelled. Whatever time or kind of day it was, he wanted coffee. He didn’t much care for urban living. It made you drink too much coffee. It would have to wait.
He peered through the peephole before even thinking about answering the door. One more strike against living in the city. He wished he was back out in the country, but his employers had called him here…so, here he was.
He recognized the smiling face. The broken nose was unmistakable, but it took him a moment to remember the name that went with it. Haines? Ah, no…Hines. Joe Hines. He unlocked the three locks on the door and opened it. Hines breezed in without waiting for an invitation. He was a wiry little guy who seemed to bounce along rather than walk.
“Hey, how ya doin’, Ron?” It was annoying that he had such a cheerful grin.
“You came here just to see how I am?” He stood closer, towering over the smaller man. Hines seemed unimpressed, but his grin went lopsided. He shook his head once.
“You even been outside once this week?” he asked. “You can’t just stay cooped up in here all the time.”
“There ain’t nothin’ out there I wanna see,” Ron grumbled. “You think I like bein’ cooped up, just waitin’ for instructions?”
“Y’see, that’s the problem, big guy,” Hines’ grin evened out. “Seems like you ain’t liked anything at all for a while. People have noticed.”
“I know that. Already had a talk with some guy from management.”
“Yeah, but it didn’t seem to do much good,” Hines observed. “Say, you got coffee here?” He looked around, spotted the small kitchen and bounded through the doorway into it. “I’ll make some, if you got it. You wanna cup?” he called back over his shoulder.
“Yeah, okay, fine,” Ron mumbled as he made his way to the bathroom. He shut the door behind him and looked at his reflection in the mirror for a long moment as he tried to finish waking up. The face that looked back at him seemed unfamiliar at first. The dark brown eyes were bloodshot and bleary; the dark brown skin seemed to have a gray undertone. He needed a haircut. He badly needed a shave. He’d been letting himself go.
Hines always took his coffee black. He was disappointed to find out there was no cream, no half-and-half, not even milk in the refrigerator. He took it philosophically and added extra sugar to his own mug instead. They sat down in the living room. He let Hines take the couch and settled into the less-uncomfortable armchair. He waited for him to start the conversation, but Hines seemed interested only in his coffee.
“So…why are you here?”
“Me?” Hines looked up, feigning surprise. “Maybe I just stopped by to see how you were doing. Hey, I see you shaved.”
“Maybe you did,” Ron nodded. “But I doubt it. So, give me the bad news.”
“Why does it have to be bad news? It could be anything, my friend.”
Ron sighed and took a gulp of his coffee. It was too hot. He swallowed it anyway.
“Just tell me, would you?”
Hines eyed him narrowly. “You lookin’ to quit, man?”
“I don’t know.” Ron put his coffee down. “Everything’s seemed flat lately. Maybe I need a break.”
“You had a break,” Hines replied. “You had a nice long break. When you came back, you said you were ready…but you weren’t, were ya?”
“I thought I was ready,” Ron shrugged.
“What happened to you?” Hines asked, leaning forward. He seemed genuinely interested. “Word is, it was that little blonde last year. She must have been something.”
She was,” Ron nodded, looking away. “A real challenge. Never had to work so hard to catch and break a woman, before or since.” Now that he’d started talking, it was impossible to stop. “She was smart, and tough, and she knew her way around in the woods. You know,” he looked at Hines, “After her, all of the women who came out there were no challenge at all.” He could still picture her, dancing naked in the rain, unaware that he was watching her from cover, almost close enough to reach out and touch her. Sometimes, he remembered how her slender body felt under his hands as they broke her, used her, trained her…and finally set her free again. She hadn’t wanted to go. “I kept thinking it would get better, but after a while those other women all seemed alike. I’m burned out, man.”
Hines nodded and took another sip of coffee. “What I thought. Your crew said she’d just about walked you all into the ground before you caught her. What was the name you gave her? Elf-Girl?” His expression was a question.
“That was it. Elf-Girl. It was her ears, man. She had her hair cut real short then. Her ears were kinda pointed and tipped back. They just reminded me of some pictures I’d seen once of elves.”
“Wish I could’ve seen her,” Hines grinned. “You know, she came back. Even asked for you again.”
“I’d heard that.”
“Yeah, but rules are rules.” Hines shrugged. “She wound up going to Gordburg. She actually called herself Elf-Girl there. Took a girlfriend with her and ditched her pretty quick. Made quite a stir there, I heard, before some guy ran her down.”
“Lucky guy. She’s got a wild independent streak, but she’s a natural sub. Sweet as you could wish for once we got her trained.”
“Yeah, I guess.” Hines put his cup down and leaned back on the couch. “But that’s…what’s the word? Irrelevant. I’m here to talk about you.”
“What about me?”
“You’re one of the best, man.You’re almost a legend in the organization. You’ve got the best repeat customer record of anybody. It would be a shame for you to go out on a sour note, wouldn’t it?”
“What the hell are you getting at, Hines?”
“Lemme tell ya. They were thinkin’ that maybe you’d just gone a little stale running those wilderness jobs. The idea was, if they move you to a fresh setting, maybe you’d get back some inspiration. Didn’t seem to work out that way, though, did it?”
“I can’t stand the city, man. I never could. They should have known that.”
“Yeah, well, they were getting’ kinda desperate. They made a bad call. It happens.” Hines shrugged. “Now they’re thinkin’ maybe you just need another challenge.”
“What kind of challenge?”
“Ah! I saw a little interest there.” Hines grinned. “You willin’ to take a look? Now?”
“All right.” Ron shrugged. Anything had to be better than just sitting here in this apartment. It wasn’t his place, and it didn’t feel like his. The company owned it and used it as necessary. Someone had lived here before him, somebody would live here after him. They could at least change the furniture once in a while…and also spring for something more than basic cable.
“All right!” Hines bounced up off of the couch. “Get’cher coat. We’re goin’ for a ride, and it’s cold outside.”
There were a lot of things he didn’t like about cities. The way pure white snow could be turned into dirty gray slush by the traffic was just one of them. The crowding got to him too. It took them so long to get to where they were going that he was certain they could have walked there faster. Still, it was cold and damp enough outside for him to be grateful that they were in a nice, warm comfortable car. It was a big sedan with a very smooth ride. They sat in the back seat, all but invisible behind deeply tinted windows that still allowed a good view of the world outside. Their driver was a young blonde woman, separated from them by a lightly tinted Plexiglas barrier. He wondered if it was soundproof. They finally pulled over and parked in what had to be the only open space on that part of the street. He wondered how they’d managed that. When the driver switched off the engine, he knew they’d arrived…but arrived where? It was somewhere near the city center, all tall buildings with ground-floor shops and overrun with pedestrians.
“Now what?” he grunted.
“Just be patient,” Hines advised him. He looked at his watch. “She ought to be along any time in the next five to twenty minutes.”
Ron wanted to ask more, but Hines was scrutinizing the sidewalk intently. How he was going to be able to pick one woman out of the crowds on the sidewalk was a mystery, but Hines was a city guy. Maybe it was easy for him.To Ron, there were so many people they looked very much alike, bundled up and hunched over against the cold. They sat for a long while in silence. Ron supposed he might as well be bored here instead of in his apartment. He began trying to pick out individuals in the crowd and trace their movements.
“Hey, hey…” Hines jabbed him in the ribs with an elbow. “Here she comes!”
“Where…” he began. He got no further.
She was impossible not to spot. She was moving along with the long, confident stride of a tall woman, a small briefcase swinging in one hand. She was smiling, but not at anybody in particular. Maybe she just smiled a lot. She had an attractive face, oval-shaped with high cheekbones and large dark eyes. It was framed by a mane of loosely-curling dark brown hair. When the sun occasionally poked through the scattered clouds and struck her hair, it picked out reddish highlights. She seemed to have a light tan, even though it was wintertime. Her breath made little clouds in the cold, damp air.
“Elizabeth Anne Kreuger,” Hines told him. “Forty years old, electrical engineer.”
“Forty?” Ron shook his head. “You must have the wrong woman. She looks more like twenty-eight.” As she drew nearer, he revised his estimate. “Thirty,” he said.
“You get enough good genes and you always look younger than you are,” Hines shrugged. “She must’ve hit the jackpot. Started runway modeling at twelve. It paid her way through a very expensive college.”
Ron stared at her, trying to memorize every detail. She wore a long brown coat, opened. Underneath, an expensive-looking business suit in a lighter brown over a pale yellow blouse buttoned up to her neck. The skirt was full and pleated. It came to just above her knees. She wore long, chunky-heeled boots, dark brown or black. They came up to just below her knees. Since she was also wearing dark gloves, the only skin he could see besides her face were those small bits of exposed knee. He was surprised at the impact of so little bare flesh.
“Damn, she’s tall!” he observed as she approached. “Six feet?”
“Her file says five feet, ten and three-quarter inches,” Hines chuckled. “I don’t know who got so specific when they put the file together.”
He could almost feel the animal vitality radiating from her as she passed their parked car. As she went beyond his vision, rather than turn his head he observed the men in her wake. Many heads turned as she went by. One man, who happened to be walking along behind her, was paying no attention to where his own feet were going, so intent was he on just watching her walk.
“So?” Hines nudged him. “Interested?”
“I ain’t dead, and only a dead man wouldn’t be interested in
,” Ron replied. He craned his neck to try to get a last look at her in the driver’s side view mirror. It was at the wrong angle.
“Good,” Hines nodded. “She’s your new project.”
“Right,” Ron regarded Hines narrowly. “Why me?”
“Hey, she’s a tall girl, and you’re a tall guy. I just don’t think she’d be all that excited by shorter men trying to dominate her.”
“I think there’s more to it than you’ve told me.”
“There is,” Hines sighed. “As of today, we have a nine-day window to gather her in. If we can’t pick her up by then, the contract is over and she goes home.”
“This is a city,” Ron looked out through the window. “The company should have plenty of capture teams here.”
“Oh, they do,” Hines nodded. “Problem is, most women who sign the contract want to be taken so bad that they make it easy for us. Not her. She doesn’t keep to any set routine or schedule. Makes it kinda difficult to set anything up ahead of time. Also, you may have noticed how she stands out, even in a crowd. Damn’ small chance of a quick grab and getaway. There’d be too many witnesses, and we don’t need trouble with the law.”
“Okay,” Ron nodded. “I can see that. But I don’t know anything about operating in a city. I’ve been strictly outdoors.” Out in the woods, she’d be easier prey, but just from what he’d seen of her so far he felt sure she’d put up a fight…just like Elf-Girl had. She was big enough for him to wonder if he could win that fight. “You said when the time runs out she goes home. Where’s she from?”