“I’m going in,” Beka said tersely.
I flinched. “Wait.”
“One way or the other this ends now.”
I clenched a hand on her shoulder. She gave me a hard glare that made clear that either I was with her or against her—no middle ground, and there’d be no stopping her.
“Two minutes. The operation is dependent on surprise. Wait two minutes,” I pleaded, hoping to at least slow her down. “Your people gave you a directive.”
Beka scowled and gritted her teeth, then shrugged acceptance. “Two minutes by my clock, Jodat,” she said, tapping her forehead.
I surveyed the area. Lots of activity, with players and punks going to and fro—even in broad daylight Delancey Street had a forbidding quality. The turf was a gone to rot enclave harboring pimps, wannabe runners of the night, and assorted criminals.
The authorities largely ignored the flagrant lawlessness because the outlaw element policed itself. Societal order was kept by ruthless mob bosses with strict expectations of behavior and decorum. No breeches were tolerated—the lines were meticulously defined.
For many decades the illegalities had been restricted to a four-block territory along the waterfront, but in recent years that had all changed when a particular racketeer made an over-reaching play for legitimacy.
Antonio Rocco was a renegade kingpin—a powerful man with a network of family connections in high places on both sides of the law. It had taken patience to maneuver and consolidate his position, and now he considered himself almost invincible.
Rocco had ambitions to establish a political dynasty for his heirs. He was a known bootlegger and had shady real estate dealings, but presented himself as a speculator and wheeler-dealer. He had panache and charisma, and the media accommodated him—he’d been featured on the cover of Big City Weekly. There was never any inkling of what truly bankrolled his life.
The lucrative enterprise that provided an endless stream of cash to fund his legit livelihood was a dirty business—the dirtiest of businesses. A woman had pieced together all the bits of evidence to expose him; she was a problem that Rocco had failed to terminate.
That woman was beside me, keeping the thug’s riverfront bar under surveillance. Loitering across the way from The Rusty Bucket, we were waiting for the take-down scenario to begin. We were early—way too early, but the redhead was an extreme maverick, willing to go it alone if necessary. I was bound to keep pace in her footsteps; I’d follow her anywhere.
It’d been exactly one week since I’d met Beka Steele. We’d stayed on the lam—seven days and nights on the run from one safe-house to another. In all those close quarters we’d come to know each other. Well, we knew what could be easily observed. She kept many details in the shadows, always carefully deflecting queries if they cut too close to the bone.
She maintained her contacts, filled in the blanks for me, and continued the investigation that’d become an obsession. She was a covert agent for the Criminal Intelligent Division of the Pandora Patrollers. Or at least that’s what she’d told me. I had serious doubts about the veracity of it.
She didn’t seem to care much about me beyond the superficial. Her wiring was only concerned with getting the job done—finishing what she’d started was all that mattered. Everything else became subservient to the bottom-line.
Determination coursed through her veins, seeping into every decision and action. She had a Type A personality; that is Type A jacked up on a high octane mix of amphetamines and steroids. Call her AAA. She ate like a bird and moved like a dancer—a dancer with iron springs as muscles and finely tuned sensors for nerve endings. Her gut-instincts were always accurate and ratcheted up to the highest degree.
She was tough in the best sense of the term; the kind of wild toughness I respected and admired. And she held my heart in her hands as though it was a wounded butterfly, though I’m not sure she comprehended the nature of her influence over me.
Putting the screws to Antonio Rocco was her sole focus.
“Time’s up.” With that announcement, Beka Steele casually strolled out into the street and headed toward the bar as though she was going for a walk in the park.
I searched up and down Delancey Street. A half-block away there was activity indicating plainclothes soldiers were in place and prepared for the insertion. Breathing a sigh of relief I fell in beside her.
Beka walked into The Rusty Bucket like she owned the place. I was afraid for her—she had a total disregard for the imminent danger. I stayed close and readied myself. She zeroed in on Antonio Rocco sitting at a corner table and tossed him a friendly wave.
“Well, well.” Rocco smiled a huge smile; it lit up his moon-face. He was a big, solid man—wide shoulders and thick waist, but little of it was fat. He had a reputation for throwing a lot of weight in the gym and was rumored to be good with his dukes.
“I hear you’ve been looking for me, Rocco,” Beka remarked, loud enough to silence the noontime crowd. She stepped purposefully toward him. A pair of his torpedoes eased in closer, but he motioned them away. One of the hired guns sidled over to settle near me.
“It’s all fine,” Antonio said dismissively. “The little lady and I are just going to chat. Come, sit down. Let’s do business.”
Beka stopped in front of his table. “Why don’t you stand up, scumbag.”
“What foulness coming from such a pretty mouth.”
Beka Steele flashed a stunning smile that was entirely disarming. With that alluring expression unchanged, she unleashed an attack.
It came with a sudden fury—she leapt at him with a vicious kick that caught him full force under the chin and tilted him backwards. Before he could catch his balance she struck again; a driving open palm in almost the exact spot the first blow had landed. The savagery of it sucked all the oxygen out of the room.
Blood spurted from his mouth as he hit the floor, spread-eagled and gasping. She paused over him for less than a heartbeat, and then uncoiled and stomped on Antonio Rocco’s man-region. Not once, not twice, but three times she came down on his crotch with crushing efficiency. These were near lethal blows—the third one silenced the scream that’d started with the first, had gained screeching decibels at the second, and then finally, mercifully he blacked out.
It’d all happened so fast, no one in the room had moved—not even me. Now bodyguards were withdrawing weapons and rushing toward us. I jerked out of stillness and reached for her about the same moment that a squad of military types entered, rapidly deploying to corral or line up all the patrons. Five shots were fired—five criminals collapsed.
A high ranking Pandora Patroller entered as peace was being fully restored by his unit. He was a rail-thin, ramrod Pandorian. “What have we here?” he asked, with a smarmy glint in his bulgy reptilian eyes.
I froze. I’d encountered him before, and suddenly wanted nothing more than to do a disappearing act. There were a lot of guns aimed in my direction.
“Constable Cade,” Beka said, moving toward him. “There’s your man.”
“What happened to the plan?” Cade growled, staring at her.
“I’d say I surprised him,” Beka replied, tossing back her hair. Antonio Rocco was curled up in the fetal position as he regained consciousness, holding himself with all the dignity of a clutch and grab artist.
Cade tilted his crane-like neck to eyeball me. “Jodat, isn’t it?”
I grinned. “Jodat. Jedediah Jodat.”
“Yeah, I remember.” Cade said snidely. “Where’d you vanish to the last time I tossed you in the hoosegow?”
Beka spoke up before I had a chance to say anything. “He’s with me.”
“That figures. No matter.” Cade circled the fallen gangster, looking as though he was going to spit on him. “Get on your knees, Mr. Hotshot Celebrity. I don’t give a rip how high up your bloodline flows. You could break bread with all the fraking Lords of Pandora for all the help it’ll do you now. A human trafficker and slave trader is rotting, fetid garbage.”
When Antonio Rocco refused to respond, Constable Cade commanded two officers to get him into execution posture. Then without any fanfare or ceremony, Cade angled an SW Laser and fired two shots into the back of Rocco’s skull.
“Clear the building,” Cade barked, holstering his pistol. “We’re burning the joint down, then cleaning up the rest of Delancey Street.”
There was a flurry of movement as law enforcement personnel systematically carried out the instructions. Any and all protests were summarily squashed by the promise of a bullet.
I edged close to the redhead. “Beka,” I said, grabbing hold of her hand.
She spun around to face me. She saw the fullness of emotion in my eyes, which sent a shiver of recognition across her brow. “You poor, pathetic wretch,” she said, accompanied by a throaty laugh. “Before they torch this place, I have to take a whiz. After that we can go to a quiet spot and talk.”
I started to say something important, but couldn’t get the feelings from my brain to my mouth. Her eyes narrowed as her lips pursed, but no words were uttered. A look hung between us—the kind that lickety-split became intensely uncomfortable.
She broke it off by turning away to walk down the hall to the ladies room. I watched her as a lump climbed up my throat. I started after her, but then abruptly jumped and was gone, riding the lightning.
My heart ached. I knew that I’d likely never see Beka Steele again. The only consolation was that Antonio Rocco had gotten what was coming to him.