Zero Blacktip's Blurty
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Below are the 17 most recent journal entries recorded in Zero Blacktip's Blurty:

    Friday, March 12th, 2010
    7:11 am
    Verduga Green: Story Eight
        Verduga sat in her dark room, staring at a computer. She had a lot of work to do, and while she knew that it wouldn't do itself, there was a certain sprig of knowledge lurking in the back of her mind that was just waiting for the perfect moment to grow. She took a deep breath, staring at her keyboard, then she slowly moved her eyes up to the screen, resting her fingers on their home row.
        “Verduga Green!” Came the overly loud voice, echoing through the room. Her cat Blank went running away at the sound, dashing to safer parts of her apartment as a creature materialized in the middle of the room. Verduga rolled her eyes, completely unsurprised by the deities appearance. She didn't even bother with any attempt to keep writing, just closing her laptop and staring at the entity, hoping it wouldn't take too long to finish appearing, so she could get back to work.
        The deity was white, not of skin but of fur, a layer of polar bear pure fuzz rolling over the top of her skin. She was a beauty beyond the likes of which Verduga had ever seen, with the exception of Aphrodite, but this was a different kind of beauty from the classical Greek lines that infused the goddess of love. This woman was down to earth, her bestial features and fuzzy tail notwithstanding, and her green traveling clothes and walking stick only accentuated her natural grace. She leaned on the hiking stick in the middle of the room, tapping a sandal against her leg as she stared at the frustrated Verduga.
        “Oh, I'm sorry. Did I interrupt something?” The deity asked, her voice lowering to a level appropriate for the indoors. “It's so hard transferring between the ethereal plane and this dimension, even for us major Kami.”
        Major Kami? Verduga thought in surprise, trying to figure out who the woman was. “Um, yes, but its nothing that can't be put on hold.”
        “Eeep. I hadn't realized that I would be interrupting you.” The woman said as she walked over to Verduga's couch and sat way too close to the mortal woman. Verduga wasn't sure if she was fearless enough to tell a Major Kami that her personal space was being violated, so instead she wracked her brain, trying to figure out who the woman might be. She hated to admit it, but her knowledge of Japanese theology wans't particularly strong. In fact, the only link she had was-
        Verduga cringed at the thought.
        “Here I am, coming to apologize, and I've disrupted your whole day, just like my vassal Tarot.” Said Inari. “It's no wonder my vassals are such handfuls, I'm a terrible example.”
        Inari laughed at herself, but Verduga was still too stunned by the fact that Inari herself was sitting on the couch with her to say anything. Tarot may have been an annoying little kitsune that was always asking for favors, but this was a major Kami, with a half dozen different dominions under her belt, and a corps of the world's most powerful tricksters under her command. Verduga wracked her brain, trying to think of the protocol for a situation like this, since she really, really didn't want to upset this deity.
        “You know, you're going to pass out if you don't take a breath.” Inari admonished. “I tried to pick a form you would be somewhat familiar with precisely to avoid this reaction you know. If you freak out, it invalidates some of my hard work.”
        “Sorry m-ma'am.” Verduga said, her nervousness leaking into her voice. “I just never expected to have someone like you sitting in my living room.”
        “Why not?” Inari raised her eyebrows in surprise. “I mean, if those uppity Greek bitches can visit when you take care of their vassals, why can't I?”
        “No one said you couldn't.” Admitted Verduga. “I just never expected it...”
        “Well, maybe you should have.” Inari said with a nod. “After all, I've watched you take such good care of Tarot, poor strung out little fox, that I thought you deserved a reward.”
        Alarms went off in Verduga's brain as she considered all the mean things she had said or thought about Tarot, and wondered whether Inari had enough power to see them too.
        “Actually, yes, I can.” Inari said with a laugh, answering the unspoken question. “but don't worry about it. I have no reason to get angry when the thoughts are true. Tarot can be quite the handful, and I don't expect any human to be a saint. Although I am pleasantly surprised when they are.
        Which is why, as I said, I came here to thank you.”
        “I'm not a saint.” Verduga protested quickly, earning a laugh from Inari.
        “Oh, I never thought you were dear. But you are substantially more polite than most humans.” Inari patted her on the head, and Verduga fought back a cringe. She wanted to bat the hand away, but was worried about seeming impolite when the Kami had come specifically to complement her on politeness. “And so, I have decided to leave you with something nice, to show you how thankful I am for helping me remember why I like people so much in the first place.
        “A gift?” Verduga asked, looking at the woman's green shirt and hiking shorts as she wondered where a gift might be hidden in that ensemble..
        “Yep!” Inari reached out, levitating the walking stick from across the room into her hand in such a casual display of power that Verduga was certain the Kami hadn't even meant for it to be impressive, no more than when a human used a remote control to turn on the television. “Here you go!”
        “A walking stick?” Verduga looked at the piece of wood Inari had just pressed into her hands.
        “I know, I know,” Inari held her hands out, placating feelings that weren't injured in the slightest. “It seems like such a lame gift from the kami of blacksmiths. Why not something marvelous like Masamune, or one of Musashi's swords, right?”
        “Well, I wasn't-” Verduga began.
        “-going to say anything.” Inari interrupted with the wrong ending, continuing before Verduga could finish. “Of course you weren't, not a courteous girl like you. But watch.”
        Inari gripped the staff, and Verduga watched as the  piece of wood changed shape, turning from a gnarled hiking staff into a well balanced Bokken, the Japanese wood practice Katana. Verduga opened her mouth in surprise, but Inari placed a finger against her lips to silence her, letting the staff shift next into a toothpick, and slipping it into Verduga's pocket.
        “Now don't lose that.” Inari said, with a twinkle in her eye. It's very valuable.
        “Did you just give me the monkey staff?” Verduga asked with a whisper, eliciting another burst of laughter from Inari.
        “Oh no! Son would have my head if I tried to give the Monkey staff to a mortal, no matter how courteous. This is just a normal traveler's staff, and it can't grow into anything more than about three and a half feet long.”
        Just a normal magic walking stick Thought Verduga, shaking her head. “Thank you very much, I'm honored.”
        “Of course you are.” Inari smiled. “But don't mention it. Just keep being nice to Tarot. Sometimes kindness really is rewarded after all!”
        With that, the Kami disappeared, leaving Verduga alone to ponder. And the first thing she did was search her pockets to find the toothpick, concentrating hard on the shape of the walking stick to return it back to form. Then she placed it carefully against the side of her couch, settled in, and got back to work.

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    Monday, March 8th, 2010
    7:39 am
    Among Thieves: Part 1: Chapter 7
    To say there was one problem with the minds of crime bosses would be inaccurate. Compared to the average eight to five, hour lunch break person's sunny park of a mind, a crime lord's thoughts were a dark, foreboding cavern, psychoses crawling like spiders in the corners, just out of sight until a torch was brought close to those particular edges. Tommy was no different, having earned his nickname through strangling people with a  piece of cord. Sue had watched him do it once, and had been disappointed to find that Tommy's legendary rope was just a thick guitar string with wooden handles. Sue had expected something much more ornate.
        Of course, no matter how varied the collection of psychoses from crime lord to crime lord, there was one characteristic they shared. It seemed that no matter where you were in the United States, you couldn't find a crime boss without an enormous ego. Whichever crime boss ancestor developed the first  ego large enough to cross the boundaries of other crime lords, it had forced anyone who intended to deal with him on equal footing to develop a large ego of their own. That legacy bled through to this day, with every crime boss in the country sharing the trait of an ego the size of their state.
        The problem with having an enormous ego was that you never expected your underlings to be more competent than they absolutely had to be to avoid your anger. Underlings from other crime syndicates might be highly competent, perhaps even competent enough to throw a wrench in your plans, but at least part of that was because of the incompetence of your own soldiers. Thus, when Nell and Sue entered Tommy's casino via back entrance, carefully avoiding Tommy's security on their way in, it was doubtful that he would be expecting it. There was a reason Tommy had put in all of those keypads, locks, cameras, and guards, but when you had a pair of expert thieves on your payroll those things were trivial at best. Nell and Sue had agreed on the way over that they were tired of being jerked around, so they worked their way past the security, arriving at Tommy's back door unnoticed.
        “So, think this will mess with Tommy's head enough?” Nell said with a smile, leaning against the door's  paneling.
        “No, I think it'll make his head explode.” Sue said with a grin, reaching for the knob.
        “Look, all I be saying is that you should not be underestimating those two. They be a very effective team.” Sue paused  when Tommy's voice issued out of the wood. He sounded tired, like he was explaining an obvious concept that his conversational partner refused to understand.
        “They're children. Naive, foolish, children, that happen to be useful Thomas. And I'm glad they're effective. It means that when I ask them to do things, they actually get done, unlike those servants of yours.” Alistaire's voice also floated through the door, and Nell and Sue leaned in closer. Crowley was still a mystery, and a good thief always knew the dangers before she ventured into a situation.
        “Even if they do be children compared to you and I, they managed to resist your hypnosis. At least be considering the idea that they be magic resistant. Or maybe even Magic immune.”
        “Perhaps, but I find it more likely that they're just too stupid to be effected  by mind altering magic. History has shown that they don't work as well if the target has a particularly low IQ. Besides, I have evidence that my other plans are reaching fruition.”
        “How many times will I have to be telling you?” Tommy sighed. “Those two girls don't be dumb. Although talking to you often be like talking to a brick wall.”
        “No need to cranially injure yourself Thomas. I will accept your hypothesis that they are magic resistant. For now. Whether or not they are intelligent remains to be seen. Do we have a plan for the next time we seen them?”
        “Indeed we do. And it be quite a good plan as well.”
        “Well then, we can wait.” Alistaire said, the moment before Sue dragged a surprised Nell down the hall. Nell bit back a protest, trying to remain silent as she stretched back towards the door to hear more.
        “Hey Nell, that plan sure went off without a hitch, didn't it?” Sue said, making sure it was loud enough for at least a mumble to be heard through the door. Nell gave Sue a look of pure fury.
        “What the hell are you doing? I wanted to hear more?” Nell whispered in anger as they walked back down the hallway.
        “I'm making sure they think we didn't hear what they just said.” Sue whispered, and realization dawned on Nell's face.
        “Yea, Sue. That was one of our more interesting adventures, for sure! Next time, I'll drive away and you can do the shooting and bombing.” Nell responded, trying her best to act casual as they strolled right up to the door and knocked loudly.
        “Lets see how well it pays, then we'll talk about me doing the dangerous stuff.” Sue said, a smile that was half real appearing on her face. “But I thought you wanted to go back to robbing banks.”
        “I do. So you'll be being the scary, intimidating one anyway, no matter what they're paying.” Nell responded, a grin on her face as the door opened to reveal Alistaire and Tommy, surprise marring their features.
        “Nell! Sue! How come security no be calling to tell me you be here?” Tommy said, his lips pressed tightly together as he gave the duo a joyless grin.
        “We're thieves Tommy. I wanted to surprise you, so we snuck past your security.” Sue responded, giving Tommy a playful punch in the shoulder. “You should really think about upgrading.”
        “But you two be armed robbers correct? Not cat burglars, or sneak thieves. You two don't even be pickpockets.” Tommy said, surprised that they had made it past his security undetected.
        “True, but it doesn't mean we're not sneaky. Just not as sneaky as we could be.” Nell responded,  looking through door into the office.
        “You two ladies would make excellent cat burglars then. You are as quiet as the winter snow. And twice as lovely.” Alistaire's smile stretched across his face, and Nell suppressed a shiver before continuing.
        “Well, that's nice of you to say, but are you going to invite us into your office? That way, we can get paid, and discuss our next job.”
        “Of course!” Tommy snapped in annoyance with himself, pushing the door all the way open as he motioned for them to step inside. “Where be my manners? Come right in.”
        “Thanks Tommy.” Sue said as she and Nell strolled into the office together, taking seats in front of the desk. Sue put her feet up as Tommy took a seat behind the desk, Alistaire standing over Tommy's left shoulder. Tommy directed a look at Sue, who sighed and took her feet off of the desk's wood, leaving a fine layer of dust behind.
        “Sue, do I need to be taking cleaning costs out of your part of the payment?” Tommy said, his glare softening  to show he was joking. “I be knowing better than to take it out of your partner's half, she might decide I be worth fighting. When will you be gracing our fighting rings again, Ms. Nightmare?”
        “Not anytime soon Tommy, unless my partner signs me up again without telling me.” Nell stretched her arms behind her head, arching her back. “And if she does, then she'll probably be my first opponent. Even if I have to drag her into the cage myself.” Tommy laughed as Sue gave Nell a glance of her own, wondering if Nell was actually joking. She had been acting pretty uptight lately. “However, I would like to get paid for the Triad job we just finished. Not that it wasn't almost payment in itself, but getting paid makes mixing business and pleasure even more entertaining.”
        “I agree, Ms. Townsend. I believe we owe these nice ladies a goodly sum, right Thomas.” Alistaire said, placing one hand on the back of Tommy's chair. “And like all good gentlemen, we should pay up.”
        “I do be agreeing with you Alistaire.” Tommy pulled open one of the desk's drawers, extracting a large manila envelope. Nell leaned forward, taking the envelope and tucking it into her jacket's pocket. “You have very good manners Ms. Nell, not to be counting the money.”
        “I've heard it's bad form.”
        “Indeed it is.” Alistaire smiled, and this one was almost real. “And since you did so well on the last job, and have such good manners, let's talk about your next job. That is, unless you need a break.”
        Nell and Sue looked at each other for a moment, using the special telepathy that develops between partners who've been working together for too long. Then Sue turned to Alistaire and smiled right back at him, a smile evil enough to make Alistaire recoil.
        “Sure, we'll take another job, as long as it's robbing a bank. That's what we're good at, right Nell?”
        “That's right Sue. As much fun as it is being your couriers, I'd rather stick to doing the job I'm practiced at. And that's escaping from banks we've just robbed.”
        “But this be much better paying, yes?”
        “But I don't care. After all, you know what Marian Wright Edelman says.”
        “Nell, I don't even know who that is, and you and I live and work together.”
        “She was a black lawyer. The first female one in Mississippi I believe.”
        “Why on earth do you know who that is?”
        “'Cause she has a really good quote about work I like to toss about.”
        “Well, what be it?” Tommy said, visibly annoyed by the banter between the partners. This could make things more difficult for him, since people who worked well together rarely fell to the old trick of divide and conquer.
        “Anyway, M.W. Said 'Never work just for money or for power. They won't save your soul or help you sleep at night.' And since I tend to need a lot of help sleeping at night, I prefer to do things I enjoy.”
        “How very avant garde of you. Is thievery particularly soul saving nowadays?”
        “It is for me, Mr. Crowley.” Nell shrugged, turning to look at Tommy. “Are there any thieving opportunities coming up soon?”
        Tommy steepled his fingers in front of him, a look of intense thought passing over his face. The room was silent, and the smiles faded from the duo's faces as the mood of the room darkened. Nell had never seen Tommy so serious. But Sue had. Once, during one of Nell's driving fits, Sue had gone to visit with Tommy. Tommy had invited her in while he was “interviewing” a man who was refusing to join his mafia. The man had specialized in conning the people who ran the nation's biggest con city, which was no mean trick. And Tommy had left all that talent spread across the floor of a small room with steel walls. But before he killed them man, a look crossed over his face. A look like the one he had now. A look that somehow compacted all the deliberations necessary to kill a man into one man's features. That particular look hadn't lasted this long though, so Sue began to wonder: Was this a deliberation face of yes or no, or a deliberation of how?
        “Yes, we have a bank job. One I wasn't going to run, since I had assumed you two had become couriers, and I didn't have anyone else skilled enough.”  Sue watched carefully as Tommy spoke, watching for any sign of Tommy's choice. “But now I be thinking that you two be just the gals for the job.”
        “Excellent!” Nell clapped her hands together and stood up. “When do we get the details?”
        “Well, as you be thieves again, I'll be setting up the details with Johnny. He'll be contacting you with the information, when he be having it.”
        “Works for us.” Nell smiled at Sue, but the smile disappeared when she noticed Sue studying the lines of Tommy's face. Nell addressed her partner. “We ready to roll?”
        “Yea, lets roll,” Sue shook her head, standing up, “unless you need us for anything else Tommy.”
        “No, you girls can be heading out and enjoying yourself. And you be spending some of that cash in my casino.”
        “We'll think about it.” Nell bantered back, walking with Sue to the door, “And we'll be waiting for Johnny's call.'
        “Yes we will.” Said Sue, still studying Tommy's face as they stepped out the door, walking down the hall past the startled security guards.
        “So, what do you thinks going on?” Asked Nell, looking at Sue as they wandered between the racks of slot machines, ignoring the old women feeding coins into slots.
        “I honestly don't know.”

                    *            *            *

        If there was one thing Nell liked about working as couriers directly for the boss, it was the fact that there was no waiting. But the past two days had been pure agony, even though waiting used to be her favorite part of the job. It gave her time to plan, and think, and attempt to guess which bank in the city they would be assigned to rob. Of course, that was before she had begun to wonder if she was going crazy. When you're unsure if all of your marbles are still in their bag, having to spend a lot of time alone is agony, since there's nothing to do but think. Sue had never spent a lot of time hanging out in motel rooms between jobs, and this was no exception. She only seemed to come home to sleep. And  everything on the television seemed puerile and pointless to Nell, which left her alone with her thoughts, and the Gideon bible.
        And the Gideon bible was really not something she felt like reading right now.
        Abraham Vance (or, perhaps, Van Helsing) hung heavily in Nell's mind, despite the fact that she hadn't seen him in two days. But more important was the fact that Sue had never seen him, that he was named after a character from a classic novel, and that he only showed up when she was in stressful situations. Nell didn't consider herself an expert, but that sounded an awful lot like a nervous breakdown to her. Then again, there was always the chance that she had taken a blow to the head somewhere and didn't remember it. Blows to the head were like that.
        Nell nearly jumped out of her skin when the phone rang. She had been preoccupied, lying on the floor underneath the coat rack and staring up at the shiny metal bar that held the hangers, having reached true depths of boredom several hours earlier. Normally she would go driving in these situations, but she couldn't while waiting for a job because she knew that there was no way in hell Sue would be around to answer the phone, and Johnny only called land lines. So, after her rapid and difficult trek across the room, resulting in a banged shin, and leaving the phone on the floor when she knocked it off the table diving across the bed. Like every conversation relating to the job it was short and to the point, with Johnny spelling out the specifics of where, when, and how. Nell listened intently, and after Johnny had hung up she had jumped around the room in joy for ten minutes before picking up her cell phone and calling Sue. Wherever Sue had been, it was loud, but Sue had understood her message and was on her way back. After all, they had some planning to do.
        Although Sue hadn't been as bored as Nell, or spent any time questioning her own sanity, she was bored in her own way. Nell's gave her a reason to get out of this shitty dive bar with its equally shitty band. It was only eleven, so Sue experienced all the joys of public transportation on the way home. But it was cheaper than a cab, and she could take care of herself, since she had two knives, a chain, and a gun concealed throughout the less revealing outfit she used while bar hopping. After all, clothes that make perfect sense when your friend is an expert escape driver and you're teasing teenagers from the safety of her car make far less sense when you're a barely competent fighter hanging out in big groups of men, while literally throwing yourself at them. Sue learned from experience that in those situations, you dress down. Especially when you're putting yourself into them voluntarily. She had been out for a night of good music and dancing, not shitty music and aggravated sexual assault. And since she'd already experienced shitty music, she was happy to have opted for the conservative dress with weapons.
        The bus dropped her off within walking distance of the motel, which meant that aggravated sexual assault was still a possibility, especially in this neighborhood. But she didn't bother to worry about that now. She had a mission to think about, even if it was just another crappy bank mission. Sue couldn't figure out why Nell was so against the idea of moving up in the criminal world. Shit runs downhill, but Nell was happy to stand in the manure, picking berries to feed the overlords up above.
        Sue's feet double timed it as she sped down the sidewalk, listening for the pack of teens she had noticed watching her. She didn't like what she heard, since it sounded like they were catching up to her. And since she lacked Nell's complex fight training. she decided to run for it.
        The tails of Sue's coat flapped as she sprinted for the hotel, racing for the brightly lit parking lot that surrounded it. Sue wasn't happy to hear their footsteps speed up too, the sound of four people running a thunderous gallop in her ears. Her breathing came ragged as the footsteps behind her got louder. Sue could smell them behind her, reeking of bad aftershave and evil thoughts. Sue's imagination began to run wild with fears of what they would do to her when they caught up running through her head. Then, there was a whooshing noise behind her, a noise accompanied by a gust of wind that felt like the five o'clock train passing behind her back. She stumbled, barely managing to regain her footing as she came to a stop. Her breath was ragged as she stood in the light of the parking lot,  then she leaned over, putting her head between her knees. She coughed, her body trying to reject the toxins she had ingested onto the pavement. As she tried to recover, the realization that there were no footsteps behind her entered her brain. Sue wasn't sure why, but this frightened her more than her visions of the horrible things her pursuers were planning for her. She stood in her personal puddle of light, every second feeling like an hour. Then, against her better judgment, she turned around to survey the darkness.
        Where she saw nothing.
        Nothing except for a streak of liquid decorating the ground at the edge of the parking lot lights. It was close enough to pick up a sheen, and while her better judgment may not have prevented her from turning around, it was strong enough to prevent her from going over to check what it was. Instead, she turned and walked to the motel room, slipping her key card into the lock and pushing the door open, her breath still heavy in her lungs.
        “Honey, I'm home.” Sue shouted, walking straight towards the bathroom. “I'm gonna go throw up.”
        “Take your time, we've got all night.” Nell said, not even bothering to look up from the laptop where she was researching schematics. Nell listened to Sue throwing up in the bathroom as she pulled the portable printer out of her bag. Nell loved the information age. There was nothing better for planning than the ability to find anything you ever wanted to know, as long as you knew where to look. And since she wanted to know was bank layouts and alarm system schematics, it was nice to have an easier way to find it than going to the library.
        After all, that would be suspicious. And suspicion could kill off a heist faster than anything else on the planet, except, perhaps, a nuclear blast. And now that Sue was here, the duo could take care of the other item that could kill their heist. That most legendary of mass murderers, human error. Nell stretched her hands over her head, cracking each knuckle as she listened to Sue's vomiting taper off. Eventually Sue finished purging herself of the tension from outrunning her possible fates. She washed her hands and face, staring in the mirror for a moment before stepping out of the bathroom.
        “What was that all about?” Nell asked, maneuvering through the tabs on her web browser. “Drink a little too much before I called you?”
        “No, had a bad experience outside.” Sue responded, trying to clamp down on the shakes going through her body.
        “Shaking and vomiting bad?” Nell looked up from her computer in surprise, “What the hell happened?”
        “I don't want to talk about it.” Sue walked over to where Nell sat, looking at the computer screen over her partner's shoulder. “What's the good word on the bank job? Any info on the vault?”
        “Oh, hell yea,” Nell clicked on a tab, “Did you know that four of this type of bank vault survived the blast at Hiroshima? Some of the at less than a hundred yards from the epicenter. They used them to help remap the city afterwards. That's pretty cool, huh?”
        “Cool? Yes. Relevant? No.”
        “Well, thanks to the usual services, I also know the seven best ways to break into the vault without using explosives, of which we would need copious amounts.”
        “Alright, so we have a just in case way to break into the vault. What are we stealing?” Sue asked, laying on the bed beside Nell and staring up at the ceiling. “Anything in particular?”
        “Actually, no. We're just robbing the bank because it's under Triad protection. It's our job to demonstrate that they can't cover their ass-” Nell paused for effect. “-ets. And our payment is whatever we get away with from the bank. Just the way I like it.”
        “When do we go for it?”
        “Tomorrow afternoon. So get some sleep. After all, if the Triad does decide to protect the bank, your skills are probably the only way we'll make it out.”
        “Aw, you know how to make a girl feel wanted.” Sue smiled, pushing Nell with the soles of her feet. “Now get off my bed so I can go to sleep. Big day tomorrow.”
        “True that,” Nell stood, putting her laptop away. “But it should be fun.”
        Nell and Sue shared an uneventful sleep that night, and awoke refreshed the next morning. Which was strange enough that Nell actually spared a moment of her paranoia to wonder about when she had last gotten a sleep that good. Then she shook it off as “silly” and got ready.
        The first time they had eaten at an IHOP before a robbery it had seemed strange, but they had been robbing their target at four in the morning, and IHOP had been the only place open with decent food. That job had gone perfectly, and since then every bank mission had started with a stop at the IHOP, or The Wafflehouse, or another local pancake place. And they always ate in silence, each of them running over her part of the job in their mind, the one place where everything that could possibly go wrong would. All Nell could think about was the rules, and that she still felt uneasy, despite the fact that rule number four was already taken care of. She sighed, pushing her plate to the away and laying her head on the table. This was the problem with getting involved in a war between two gangs. Rule number four never seemed to be enough.
        Sue was so busy thinking about her side of the job that she didn't even notice when Nell lay on the tabletop. Being intimidating was a complicated, body-language based form of lying. You had to convince yourself that you were scary, before you could convince anyone else. But after that, it was all in the details. The barest whisper of a gun, a demonstration of minor ruthlessness, and the average person would stay down and out, unwilling to interfere. But it wasn't normal people tha tSue was worried about, it was the heroes. Heroes refused to be intimidated, and the worst part was, they always looked like normal people. So Sue couldn't simply look not what people were doing. She had to guess what people were planning to do, and then she had to act before they did. If she did everything correctly, the heroes would be too frightened by the thought she could read their minds to do any anything until the duo left.
        Nell and Sue finished their private planning sessions, then they paid their bill in cash and walked to the Continental. Today they were dressed as twins, both in black jeans, black socks, black shoes, black shirts, and black jackets, all of them purchased from a nearby Wal-mart, also with cash. They had both pulled their hair back, securing it under pantyhose, before they both put on black jersey gloves. Nell drove them to their target and parked, careful to obey rules five and six. Then they grabbed their bags and pulled on their masks. It wasn't a written rule, but Nell and Sue had always preferred that the whole bank knew they were being robbed. Sue's mask was a stylized Death's head, laquered a dark purple, its teeth shining white and sharp in the skull-like grin. Nell's mask was not the portrayal of evil that Sue wanted, the face of a kabuki fox grinning beneath patterns of white and red. But her mask's eyes were just as dark as Sue's. And when they strode into the bank beside each other, everyone froze for a moment, frozen by a primal terror.
        “Hello everyone. My name is Reyna, and this is Thana.” Nell motioned to herself and Sue, no weapon in her hand as Sue knelt down and lifted a large, pump action shotgun out of her bag. “And we will be robbing you today.”
        Nell waited for a moment, letting the words sink in. Then, before the screaming and panicking could start, she continued.
        “I would like everyone to know that we are not here for your money.” Nell made sure to emphasize the word “your.” “Although it will be inconvenient, we only want the banks money, and they're insured. So, everyone who doesn't feel like being a hero, please get down on the floor. Except for-” Nell brought her hand up, letting it drift around the room. “You.”
        A small shriek escaped from the teller Nell pointed at, and everyone else hit the floor when something exited Nell's sleeve. The teller stood stock still, except for a quiver that fear had given her. Nell walked over to her, holding a sheet of paper and a carefully folded garbage sack.
        “Dear,” Nell said, leaning on the counter as she waved the items at the teller, “I would like exactly this much money from the vault. If you can't open it, find someone who can. But i must warn you! If you take too long, my friend will get impatient.” Nell nodded to Sue, who pumped her gun once, finally chambering a shell. That was the part Sue hated about every robbery, waiting for Nell to give her the signal to load her weapon. Until then, they were both vulnerable, and Sue hated that feeling. Of course, it was hard to feel vulnerable when the bank's rent-a-cop had hit the floor at Nell's command, but now if any of the civilians decided to play hero, she could blast them with her hand-loaded rock salt.
        Sue had tuned out most of what Nell was saying, having heard every variation of Nell's “please get me the money” speech during the years they'd worked together. It was nice to see the timid little teller Nell had picked return with the garbage bag stuffed full of money. The teller maneuvered the bag over the counter top, and Nell nodded cordially as she took it back. Sue missed what her partner said, since she was spending more time scanning the room than listening. Her senses were running on high, and she slowly scanned past the tinted windows, making sure everyone stayed down and no one played a hero, which was why she caught the suspicious movement outside the bank. Shit, Sue thought to herself, did we have the alarm times wrong? We haven't broken rule number eight in years!
        What she said was:
        “Reyna, we have company. One of these fuckers tripped the alarm!” Nell played her part perfectly, lunging over the counter to grab the teller by her shirt.
        “Alright, who did it!” Nell tried to be intimidating while she panicked inside. Having the police show up never turned out well, and the last thing Nell wanted was a shootout while robbing a rival gang's bank. As effective of a duo they were, Nell knew Tommy wouldn't be willing to get in a bidding war with the Triad to keep them out of jail. And in jail, the Triad had far more resources than Tommy's gang.
        “No one, I swear! I can't even get in the vault if the alarms been tripped! I was afraid someone had tripped it and you-” The teller broke into sobs, “And that you would shoot me if they did.” Nell let go of the teller in disgust, turning to face Sue.
        “She says no one tripped the alarm! What do you see?” Nell asked as she ran up beside Sue, pulling her TEC-9 out of the duffel bag. Nell didn't notice when her hand drifted to the underarm holster that held her backup weapon, her subconscious apparently not comforted by the TEC's fifty round clip of rubber bullets.
        “A big group of people approaching the bank slowly, which implies we've been made. Maybe a foot patrol saw us through the windows.”
        “How could they? The windows to this place have so much tint I have trouble seeing out of them.”
        “That's your eyepieces.” Sue said, and Nell blushed under her mask.
        “Well, the windows are still tinted a little bit.” Nell leaned close, trying to get a better look at the approaching forms, and regain some of her dignity. “I don't see any cars out there yet, so let me get rid of the paint bombs and we'll get out of here.”
        “Alright, make it fast. Even if they are on foot, I count at least a dozen out there, which means that we're outnumbered six to one, and-”
        “And you're not sure you can take more than five. I'll hurry.”Nell knelt beside the other duffel bag, transferring the money from the garbage bag into the empty duffel as fast as she could. As the money made its way from the black plastic into the black canvas, Nell tossed away two stacks of tens and a stack of twenties. She smiled as the stack of twenties found its way under the shirt and into the waistband of one of the prostrate teenagers, wishing she had a camera for when he left the bank and activated the timer on the dye pack. It probably wouldn't be comfortable going off that close to your skin, but that wasn't her problem. Nell finished transferring the cash, dropping the trash bag to the floor and standing up, the duffel slung over her shoulder.
        “Ready to roll.”
        “Good, because I don't think those are police officers out there.” Sue turned back from the window, lifting the gun duffel off the ground, “It actually looks like dogs, but I don't see any handlers, and they don't seem to be moving fast enough.” Nell glanced out the window, and she had to agree, it didn't look like any of the creatures were too close.
        “I agree. Ready to make a run for it?” Nell said as they headed for the back exit. She leaned against the door, preparing to push it open. This was standard operating procedure for possible escapes under fire, since Sue was better armed and a better shot. Plus, if Sue got injured, it was easier for Nell to drag her to the car and drive away.
        “Ready!” Sue shook herself to loosen up, making sure to keep a good grip on her shotgun and the gun duffel.
        “Alright then, on a one, two, three, go.” Nell pushed open the door and Sue dashed out. She made it approximately two steps into the daylight before one of the dogs lunged, catching her completely off guard. She could have sworn the dog was standing at the mouth of the alleyway, fifty feet away, but Sue didn't have time to react before the enormous creature crashed into her chest, driving the wind out of her body as she slid backwards, thankful for the protection her coat was provided against the pavement.
        “Nell, get it off of me!” Sue shouted, dropping her shotgun and wrapping her hands around the dog's throat, trying to keeps it's snapping jaws away from her face. The beast was ugly, its skin dark green and oozing pus where ever the black fur was missing. The dog's red eyes sat below glossy back horns positioned where its ears should have been, but what attracted Sue's focus was the teeth, each of them as long as her ring finger and shaped like steak knives, with tiny ridges along the sides that Sue probably never would have noticed if they hadn't been six inches from her face. And all she could think about at the moment was how good they would be for separating her skin from the muscle. She lost her grip as Nell's baton rounds hammered against the dog's ribs, sending it sliding across the floor of the bank and into one of the patrons lying on the floor. The man was dressed  in a fine white suit and matching cowboy hat, trying to hide a body showing its age. The dog cleared up the man's problems with tailored suits and advancing age when its long teeth and matching claws tore into him. The man's screams began to rise, starting out in a manly baritone and rising to a full wail, the type of tone that can only be achieved when a person has great skill or is in incredible pain. Nell didn't bother to use more ammo on the now distracted dog, instead she shouting over the crowd.
        “Everyone who wants to live, get to the back area. Renty!” Nell pointed at the overweight, underpaid, rent-a-cop that was laying on the floor, “Protect these people with that gun of yours, or so help me, if I survive this, I will kill you myself. We'll cover the front as well as we can.”
        “Why should we trust you?” Asked the teenager as he got off the floor, and Sue recognized Emmanuel from the bar, forcing her to choke back a laugh from the absurdity of the coincidence. She hoped he didn't recognize her voice, as they honestly had never expected to run into anyone they had met before, so they hadn't included voice maskers into their masks.
        “Because we're thieves, not murderers!” Nell shouted, exasperated. She couldn't help but smile as the rent-a-cop stood up and cuffed him in the back of the head.
        “Shut up kid, if they wanted us dead, we would be dead.” The rent-a-cop nodded to Nell as Sue pumped a round into the dog. The shot's impact tossed the dog away, but the rock salt failed to faze it, allowing it to land nimbly on its feet. However, Sue was the veteran of a half dozen gunfights, and as the creature lunged again, she pulled up her “Whip-it” shotgun and fired a load of buckshot. Her “Whip-it,” was more sophisticated than Clyde Barrow's had been, since it was a sawed off Saiga. The box of cartridges under the barrel made it more difficult to conceal, but having eight shots instead of three was worth it for Sue. She didn't need more than one at the moment though, as the dog's head evaporated beneath the hail of buckshot. The creatures body skidded across the floor, tail first, and Sue lost her balance in the combined onslaught of shotgun kick and dog impact, dropping to one knee as the other animals began to scratch, their claws leaving large, hideous gashes in the thick glass. Nell and Sue knew the panes wouldn't hold up for long, so Nell flicked the safety onto her TEC-9 and dropped it back into the gun duffel, pulling out her Shipka and wondering for a moment why Tommy used so many eastern block weapons.
        “Everyone to the back room! Go, go, go!” Shouted Renty, ushering the patrons towards the vault area with a nod to Nell and Sue, who turned towards the breaking glass and waited.
        “So, what's the plan then Nell?” Sue asked, unfastening the strap that had held the Saiga under her armpit, taking the clip out and pushing an extra shot into the chamber. She slammed the clip back in, giving her nine shots to work with instead of eight.
        “Well, you could stop using my real name. That would be nice. Then, I say we go with plan 'M.'”
        “Fine Reyna,” Sarcasm dripped from Sue's voice. “We have multiple frontal assaults, but no worry about attacks from the rear.”
        “Yea, like one of your dates. Except, wait, you said no incursions from the rear.”
        “Fuck you.” Sue grinned nastily at Nell, who matched her nasty grin until the shattering glass pulled their attention back to the matter at hand. “Fifty points to the one who kills the most!” Sue shouted as a pair of the dogs appeared in the broken window frame. Nell managed to fire before Sue did, her bullets ripping through the dogs legs, causing it to stumble as it ran. Nell frowned as the others dog's upper torso vanished, followed by its head as Sue pumped a pair of shots into her dog, so Nell clustered a trio of shots into the creatures head and it fell, twitching, to the ground.
        “Ten to go.” Nell said, a grin on her face as she turned to face the pane she thought looked the weakest.
        “Well, you better catch up. I've go two to your one.” Sue taunted, her hand flying into the air, her fingers in a V shape.
        “The first one doesn't count!” Nell shouted in response.
        “Like hell it doesn't!” Sue shouted back, and then there was no more taking. The dogs broke through new glass, or ran through glass broken by the dogs before them in a wave. And they were stopped by blasts from Sue's Saiga or Nell's Shipka.  Ten minutes later and Sue had won the fifty points. But Nell still insisted it was a tie as they both grabbed a duffel bag,  Nell dropping her Shipka back into the bag while Sue clipped her Saiga back under her arm and grabbed the duffel. They dashed out of the bank, not even bothering to tell the patrons in back that they were safe. They dashed down the road, shedding their masks when they were sure no one was videotaping them, since it was almost impossible to find a place free of people in this area of Las Vegas. They got to the car without incident and climbed in, slowly cruising out of the alleyway and down the calm streets, smiling as a pair of police cars sped towards the bank, not even pausing to stop the Continental.

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    Thursday, March 4th, 2010
    11:27 pm
    Verduga Green: Story Seven
        They met in a coffee shop, where Verduga ordered her coffee black. He ordered a cheese danish and a drink with a name so long that Verduga didn't feel like she could be bothered to remember it. She had only agreed to meet him because Tarot said that they would get along great, which sounded suspiciously like a blind date to Verduga. Although considering the man sitting across from her, any sort of dating whatsoever was far from her mind.
        It wasn't that he didn't have an attractive body. In fact, she found it somewhat disturbing how attractive he was. The odd thing was that he wasn't even her type, with his lithe, elven body and smooth features. She had never liked guys with big eyes, much preferring her men to have the shifty look that only came eyes that had seen a little too much of the world. She wondered if it was narcissistic to like men with the same eyes as you, then she shook it off, looking into her cup of black liquid.
        “So, you're an apocalypse fairy.” Verduga asked, her voice containing no hint of curiousity. “What's that like?”
        “Exhausting,” The apocalypse fairy, whose name was Sid, said. “Seriously, its a pain in the ass.”
        “Really?” Now Verduga was curious. “But how can that be? Do apocalypses happen often?”
        “All the time!” Sid said, his voice excited. “You have no idea how common apocalypses really are. I mean, all it means is a great cataclysm or doom, and humans have been causing those for years. I spend a lot of time in the rainforest these days, when species go extinct.”
        “Oh, so these aren't human apocalypses.” Verduga looked back into her coffee, losing interest. Then she thought about that, and wondered what hanging out with all these strange creatures was doing to her, when the fact he didn't preside over human apocalypses very often became a disappointing thought.
        “Not really. But I get a good one every two or three years. Genocides are world shifting events you know.” He leaned back, taking a bite from his danish and a sip from his multisyllabic coffee. “And so were Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the holocaust, and Stalin's purges-”
        Sid trailed off, and as Verduga thought about what he had said.
        “Man, we've been busy.” She quipped. “Humans cause all sorts of problems, don't we.”
        “I don't mind so much,” Sid replied with a shrug, “it keeps me busy, and it's important to have a job you like.”
        Verduga tried not to think about that too much. She had met some weird creatures in the past few months, but even gods were very rarely lackadaisical about death on this scale. Most minor deities loved live as much as humans did, moreso when they were the type of being that stayed plugged in and connected with the world at large. The deities that were red in tooth and claw rarely cared about death on a small scale, particularly when it went to serve a larger purpose. But they didn't like purposeless mass slaughter, which seemed to be Sid's specialty.
        “But you know,” Sid continued, “you guys have really picked it up in the last hundred years or so. Two World Wars? What was that about? I don't get overtime you know. And what was with that holocaust thing during the last one? Even I got nauseous.”
        He finished the danish as Verduga took another sip from her coffee cup. She couldn't take her eyes away from his teeth for some reason. He was courteous enough to keep his mouth shut, but there was something hypnotic about the way he chewed.
        She shook her head, and decided right then and there that she had been living alone with her cats for too long. When the apocalypse fairy started to look like good dating prospects, she felt there couldn't have been a larger neon sign shouting “desperate” in front of her eyes.
        The trick, she told herself, examining Sid as she took another sip, is to make sure that sign doesn't get posted over my head. I really don't want nay of the strange creatures that have started showing up in my life to think of me as a prospect.
        Mmmmm, except maybe Freyr. She thought. Then she shook the thought off, wondering what had come over her as she banished thoughts of magic dancing swords from her head. However, she wasn't finding Sid the apocalypse fairy to be interesting, beyond his complete and utter lack of tact. And she realized that, considering the fact Tarot had introduced them, there was nothing surprising about that. She wondered for a moment why she even kept Tarot in her life, considering the kitsune brought her nothing but grief, and the she realized that it wasn't even really her choice. The kitsune simply would not go away.
        When I get home,Verduga vowed, ignoring Sid's current rant, I am going to have a long talk with that fox.
        Verduga considered.
        And if she forgot to feed my cat again, she vowed, I'm going to get myself a a foxtail jacket.
        “So how about it?” Sid asked, causing Verduga's attention to snap back into focus.
        “Sorry?” Verduga apologized. “How about what?”
        “How about we blow this joint, go take in a movie.” Sid jerked his thumb towards the door. “I hear Videodrome is showing at the cheap theatre downtown. You interested.”
        Verduga was, but the idea of watching a movie like Videodrome with the apocalypse fairy sat at a level that was beyond unappealing. She made a show of thinking about it, then she jerked her head up, pretending that her cell phone had gone off on vibrate. She took it out, checking the display with a frown, then she looked at him.
        “I'll have to take a rain check.” She apologized insincerely, hoping he wouldn't pick up on it. “You know how it is these days, working hard just to live hand to mouth.”
        “Ah yes, I forgot.” Sid looked at her, and Verduga recoiled at the raw appraisal in that look. He was clearly, obviously judging her. “You mortals have to work for a living.”
        He stood up abruptly, extending his hand and catching her off guard. “Well, since you'll be busy, I better go. You never know, the next apocalypse might be your ooooooooown!”
        He stretched out the last word, walking backwards towards the door as he made the word waver between high and low pitches. Then he turned and left through the door to the coffee shop, leaving Verduga dazed in the aftermath of the rejection he hadn't had time to inflict on him.

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    Monday, March 1st, 2010
    7:44 am
    Nell and Sue: Part 1: Chapter 6
    “So let me get this straight,” Sue stood, looking up at the sun, “You're not only buying into Van Helsing's stories, stories told by a man I haven't even actually met yet, but you're considering his offer?”
        “Yea.” Nell held a hand over her eyes, “But it wasn't really an offer so much as a statement. He said that we're gonna be a part of something big.”
        “Well, let's hope it's destructive. And failing that, let's hope it pays well.”
        “I'll agree with that one, and lets hope it doesn't involve anything that would make us martyrs.” Nell stated from her place on top of the explosives truck. She had needed a place to rest until the scheduled time for the operation, and the top of the truck had called out to her as a wonderful place for a rest. Getting up on top had been more difficult than she expected, but once there, the sun and flat surface turned out to be quite comfortable.
        And warmer than she had expected. She shouldn't have been surprised, with the Nevada sun high in the sky and the truck being painted black. But Nell would be damned if she climbed down, especially after she had ripped her pants getting up here in the first place. Sue had laughed her ass off at that, before staking her own place out on the hood of the escape car
        “How much longer do we have until we're supposed to start the mission?” Sue asked, slipping a pair of sunglasses on, then crossing her arms behind her head. She would convince her partner that courier missions were the way to go yet. Nell had already admitted that it was nice being paid in advance, even if it was only half. It no doubt helped that half was a lot, but that just helped her case for moving away from bank robbery.
        “It can't be that long. I'm enjoying myself too much for it not to be work time soon.” Nell checked her watch. “Eh, we still have a few minutes before we need to transform and roll out.”
        Sue grinned, arching her back with a languid motion. A few more minutes meant a few more minutes to work her magic on Nell. And hopefully this magic would work better than signing her up for the fighting pits without telling her.
        ”So, still think we should continue just being thieves? I mean, this whole courier thing is working out well, I'd say. And, we seem to be suited for it. And-”
        “Yes, I still think we should stick to thieving, even if this does pay extremely well.” Sue thought she could hear Nell rolling her eyes, “And while our skill set makes us well suited to this business of driving around and doing other people's dirty work for them, the difference between this and robbery is that even if we accomplish this job perfectly, we are murderesses or accomplices to murder. I'm not up on the law in this case. You know, since I'm a thief, not a killer.
        “I'm a killer.”
        “Yes, and I'm the driver. What's your point?”
        “That was my point. I kill people.”
        “Well, actually, you defend me and look intimidating. I don't think I've ever seen you kill anyone. I've seen you wound eight people, all of them police, and exactly one of them grievously. But never kill anyone. So you're a defender, even if that does sound like far too noble of a word for what you do.”
        “Have I ever mentioned how annoying it is to argue with you,” Sue responded, sliding up the windshield of her car. It annoyed her more that Nell didn't seem to be listening, but was just smiling at the sky and shading her eyes. “God dammit Nell, you're not even taking me seriously are you?”
        “Nope, not at all. After this job, I'm going back to robbery, and since you can't do these courier jobs without me, you're gonna come with. It's not like you really have a choice, unless you want to become an enforcer and work your way up.” Nell stared at her watch, savoring the last few minutes, “Which, if Van Helsing is right, would involve a lot of sunblock to get anywhere.” Nell placed her palms behind her head, then she preformed a backwards roll thatleft her standing right at the roofs edge.
        “You arrogant, patronizing, bitch! If you don't want to be a courier so much, why did you agree to do this job after the last one?” Sue fumed.
        “Because I really, really, really, really,” Nell though for a moment, balancing on the edge of the roof. “Really, really hate the Triads. They did torture me, for no goddamn reason. And this mission lets me drive a truck full of explosives into one of their operations. Which sounds like a hell of a lot of fun.” Nell laughed, jumping backwards off her truck. She held her arms up like a gymnast, twirling once before striding towards the drivers seat. Sue made a less graceful dismount, but still managed to get into her drivers seat first. Nell continued talking as she got into her vehicle. “You are gonna get me out of there safely right?”
        “Well, I am your defender. Just think of me as your personal guardian angel.” Sue revved her engine, looking at Nell when her face appeared in the passenger side of the truck.
        “Considering the situation, isn't that a bad metaphor?”
        “I think it's a simile, I did say 'as.'”
        “Whatever. The question stands.”
        “No, I've always though of myself as a godsend, especially when it comes to saving your ass.” Sue grinned at her mischievously, and Nell couldn't help but grin back as she started up the truck.
        “And you're so modest too.” Nell muttered to herself, cranking the radio as she pulled forward. Sue fell in behind her as they traveled down the winding path, exiting the parking garage. Nell cruised the explosives truck onto the main road, paying close attention to the other drivers. One could never drive too carefully when the back of your vehicle was packed with high explosives.
        However stressful it may have been for a normal person to cruise around town with a cargo area full of semtex, and probably a broken  taillight. For Nell, it was the most relaxing thing she had done in several days. Despite the fact that both she and Sue were equipped to do the other's jobs, it wasn't as if they had flipped a coin to pick who was driver and who was shooter. Nell was the driver because the idea of cruising around a town alone until her tank ran dry was her idea of a perfect Saturday night, as long as the car had a large gas tank, and a larger engine. And the night only got better if traffic was heavy, because then racing was more dangerous, and driving a car two hundred miles an hour on congested streets with a psycho kid trying to beat you to a certain intersection was the most fun a girl could have on wheels.
        But there would be problems is she got arrested while driving a truck full of explosives. Which meant that instead of speeding down the street, she had to obey the traffic laws, and that included stopping at red lights. Which was a pain, since they took forever.
        “Tick, tock, tick, tock. C'mon, how long do these things last?” Nell shook the steering wheel, annoyed at the timed mechanical lighting contraption in front of her. Finally, after an eternity of waiting, the light changed. She floored the gas, putting a few dozen cars between her and Sue, who shook her head as she accelerated at a more normal rate. Nell made it through one light, but hit another one right as it turned red. She almost didn't stop, but there was a police car sitting at the intersection, forcing Nell to obey the traffic laws. So there she was, cursing the red light in her head, when her door opened and Abraham Vance climbed in beside her.
        “The hell? How did you get in here? How did you even know I was gonna be at that intersection?” Nell stared at Abraham in shock.
        “Language dear. And as for how I found you, well, the Lord provides for his children. You should move.” Abraham pointed forward, but Nell couldn't bring herself to stop staring at the man who had climbed off the street and into her car in plain sight of a police cruiser. She was startled out of her stupor by the honking of cars behind her, and she pushed the accelerator to the floor, overcompensating for a moment before coming to her senses.
        “”Alright, why are you in my car?” Nell thought about it for a moment. “You know what? This isn't even my car. Why are you in the car I'm planning on driving through a Triad base, doing as much damage as possible, then jumping out, climbing into the car driven by Sue, and escaping into the night. Maybe with an awesome shoot out. I don't know.” Nell kept her eyes on the road as she drove, occasionally glancing over at Abraham, more confused than angry. “Am I going insane? Seriously, am I going batshit insane?”
        “Probably, you did choose to live your life as a professional thief. And you refuse attempts by your partner to elevate your stature in life.”
        “Wait, what? How can you even know that? The force?”
        “The Lord provides. However, the reason the Lord provided me with the location of your car.”
        “Not mine, it's actually the property of one Mr. Crowley.”
        “The reason I was able to find your car,” Abraham continued, “Is that the Lord does not want you to do this mission. It will cause nothing but problems for you and your partner.”
        “Don't say it like that.” Nell shook her head, relaxing as she hit a long stretch she recognized as free of stoplights.”
        “Say what like what?”
        “Partner.” Nell spit the word out, “The way you say it makes me sound like we're married.”
        “Aren't you? You spend a lot of time together. Alone. In a small room. Or the close confines of a car.” Abraham grinned at her.
        “We are not married!”
        “Fine, have it your way.” Nell glared at him, taking her eyes off the road.
        “Fuck. You. Asshole. Don't you have godly missions to do or something?” Nell looked back at the road, realizing Sue was nowhere in her rearview mirror as she arrived at another stoplight.
        “Actually, I do. So, remember my advice and abandon this mission. It's just gonna cause problems.” Abraham reached for the door handle, stepping out into traffic. “Troubles you don't need.”
        “I always have troubles I don't need. Bye.” Nell reached over and slammed the door. “Psycho.”
        Nell drummed her fingers along the rim of the large steering wheel, taking off at the light without looking back. She dropped her speed a bit, waiting for Sue to fall in behind her again so they could properly convoy to the Triad hideout. It took almost ten minutes for Sue to catch her, when she did Nell watched her partner shake her head slowly. Nell winced, and she managed to keep her speed sedate for the rest of the drive. They cruised past the warehouse, and Nell took note of the best attack points. They were already carefully detailed in the profile Alistaire had given them with the cars, but Nell wanted to check them out herself, just in case Alistaire had forgotten to tell her something. But the park mentioned in their briefing packets was exactly where it was supposed to be, and Nell pulled into its lot, pushing her door open as Sue pulled in and parked beside her. Nell climbed out, resting her arms on the rim of Sue's window before nodding towards the warehouse. Nell had decided to dress up for this mission, so she had on a nice red shirt and jacket, and her gas mask was spray painted to match. Her pants were a strange half-skirt, half-pant monstrosity that came to the top of the boots she had on instead of her cheap sneakers. Her jacket's deep pockets were perfect for holding all sorts of different firearms and firearm paraphernalia, and Nell reached a finger up over the bridge of her glasses, pulling them down to look Sue in the eyes.
        “So what do you think? Got a brilliant plan for getting in and blowing everything up?”
        “Not really. It's your job to plan all the crazy driving capers. I normally just shoot stuff, remember?” Sue grinned, pushing Nell away from the door as she got out. “If it wasn't for the fact that Mr. Richard and Ms. Rachel were both really shady, I probably wouldn't have let you talk me into driving.”
        “Speaking of Mr. Richard Renfield, whats the deal with you and him?” Nell grinned, excited by the idea that Sue had been suckered by a plant.
        “I don't want to talk about it, don't we have a job to do?” Sue said, putting a blank expression on her face. Nell sighed and gave her a “you're no fun” look, before leaning back against the truck and crossing her arms.
        “Well, I figure that I can get a nice running start, break through gate one, cruise my way into the big main warehouse, and trigger the bomb. Meanwhilst, you park in that old lot across the way from the main warehouse door, and when the Triads come running in terror out of the warehouse, you drive in, pull up, cover me while I get into the passenger seat, and drive away as fast as you can. Then we hit the main road, cruise away sedately, the bomb goes off, we get a fireworks show, the satisfaction of a job well done, and more cash when we go to visit Tommy. Then, I'm gonna ask for a nice bank job, so I don't have to work hard planning complicated driving and demolition jobs.”
        “That's complicated?”
        “More complicated than a bank job at this point.”
        “That is true, I guess. We've gotten pretty good at them.”
        “Anyway, it sounds good to me, but do you actually think that it's gonna go off that smoothly?”
        “No. I expect you to do an excellent job of improvising when the shit hits the fan, then coming in and saving my bacon at the very last moment. That way, I will feel extra vindicated when I complain about us taking non-bank jobs.”
        “Wow, you really do have this all thought through, don't you?” Sue smiled, getting back in the car and buckling her seatbelt. “But you are gonna save that complaining till after the job right? I'm not the driving goddess you are. I might actually need to concentrate while getting away.”
        “Sure, I can hold it in till we're away. I'll probably be too busy missing as I try to shoot people off our tail.” Nell quipped as she walked around her truck and climbed in. Nell revved the engine twice, then she pulled out of the park's lot and got back on the main road, accelerating until she was barely above the speed limit and driving past the warehouse again, watching her mirrors for Sue to turn into the fast food parking lot across from the Triad's warehouse. As soon as Sue was in position Nell flipped her truck around, enjoying herself as she cranked the wheel, leaving skid marks on the road as she ended up in the turn lane. She pressed the accelerator to the floor, watching the needle crawl past the numbers on the speedometer as she sped down the center of the street. Nell watched for her opening, slipping between lanes of traffic, ignoring the honks of other cars as she turned through the oncoming lanes and shattered the wooden gate in front of the warehouse. Nell fought the wheel, bringing her truck back onto four wheels in time for her grill guard to take the door off of a Triad car parked in front of the warehouse. Two guards dove out of the way as Nell crashed through the warehouse door, the truck shuddering as it tore through the metal shutter into the main area.
        Just like Crowley's briefing had said, the warehouse was part chop shop, part base of operations. Nell figured her grill guard was up to the challenge, and it wasn't like she needed to drive the truck back out. So she just plowed through as many of the broken down and dismantled cars as she could, planting the vehicle right in the center of the warehouse. The truck was battered and dented, silver and grey peeking through where the black paint had been scraped off, and Nell flipped open the compartment behind her head, pulling out the various guns hidden in there, before climbing on the seat and leaning inside. She heard bullets bouncing off the cab's bulletproof glass as she activated the bomb, dialing the timer for seven minutes. After she finished, Nell grabbed the guns and began stuffing them into her pockets, placing the biggest guns on the bottom keeping out to the two guns with the smallest clips. She slipped the gas mask over her face before tossing a smoke grenade on the floor of the cab, waiting for smoke to fill the cab. Then she kicked the door open and tossed another grenade out onto the floor. Smoke flooded the area, and Nell hit the floor, listening to the bullets fly over her head before she rolled out of the floor of the truck and into the smoke filled warehouse.
        Outside, Sue watched as Nell crossed several lanes of traffic and crashed into the warehouse, driving sloppier than Sue had seen in several years. But she made it in alright, so Sue tightened her grip on the wheel and waited for the door to open.
        And she waited.
        And she waited.
        Sue looked down at her dashboard clock and figured it had been too long. If the Triads were gonna run then they would have run by now, which meant that Nell was in over her head. She wasn't the shooter, and it was time to go in and rescue her ass.
        Sue slipped her sunglasses on, popping the trunk before she reached down and straightened her shorts, climbing out of the car slowly so they didn't get bunched up again. She sauntered to the rear of the car, not too worried about Nell yet as she rummaged through the trunk, pulling her weapon of choice to the top of the debris. She leaned against the car, watching the long stretches of road on either side of her until she figured there would be a break in front of her, then she pulled her disposable AT-4 rocket launcher, packaged complete with a single shot HEDP round. Sue took a knee beside the car, wincing as her Daisy Dukes bunched up again, then she fired through her anticipated gap in the cars, watching the impact of the high explosive round against the warehouse door. Sue grinned, watching the vehicles swerve to avoid falling wreckage as she dropped the rocket launcher and climbed back into her car. Sue seized her moment as people stopped their cars to gawk at the crater in the side of the warehouse through which a large cloud of smoke was pouring, larger than the explosion would have produced. Sue plunged into the cloud, skidding her car to a sideways stop and honking twice, pushing open the rear passenger door of her sedan. She began counting, failing to make it past two before Nell dove into her back seat, a pair of MAC-10s with extended clips blazing away in her hands and battle cries coming from behind her gas mask. Sue punched the pedal to the floor, slamming the door shut as she threw the car into drive, spinning into a turn and exiting the warehouse. Sue glanced at her mirror, watching nervously as a black coupe pulled out of the warehouse to follow her. Then the warehouse exploded, throwing the flaming wreckage of the coupe across the street into the lot She had left her rocket launcher in. Sue struggled to keep the car under control as the blast wave crashed down the road, but she managed to hold the wheel in place. The wave ended, and then she was safely motoring down the road at just below the speed limit, while Nell climbed into the passenger seat, grinning.
        “Cutting it a little close aren't we?” Nell asked, grinning at Sue's nervousness while escape driving.
        “You didn't exactly tell me how long you were setting the timer for.” Sue shot back, Turning onto the freeway and heading back towards their motel.
        “True, and once inside, I realized I could probably have let you drive the truck. But it was fun to actually get to shoot people, as long as they're Triads.”
        “So you don't mind moving up in the business, as long as we're against the Triads?”
        “Fuck no,” Nell smiled. “I want to go back to robbing banks.”
        “Fine small timer, we'll visit Tommy right now then and get a bank job.” Sue spun the car into an illegal U-turn, ignoring the cars honking behind her as she sped towards Tommy's casino.

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    Thursday, February 25th, 2010
    10:38 pm
    Verduga Green: Story Six
        Nothing good ever happened here.
        The intersection of Pelt and Lucy was the most cursed street in the town. It wasn't even named properly. The streets in this part of town were supposed to be numbered when they ran north to self, but for some reason Pely has escaped this rule, and resisted any attempt to change its name. At this time of year, every street was a bevy of pot holes, but Lucy and Pelt always had the most in town, whether it was summer, winter, or any season in between. And there was always a hole in the exact center of the street, which probably led to the fact that you could pick any other two points in the city, and the accident rate here would at least double it. Of course, Verduga knew why there was a hole in the center of the road, and she ignored the memorial flowers at the side of the road as she walked out to it. It was filled with detritus and car parts, collected from the half dozen accidents that had collected during the past three days. She sat on the ground, folding her legs and crossing them at the ankles as she placed the food she had brought in the hole, taking a swig of her own from the bottle of extremely dark rum, before she placed it in the hole beside the plate of rice, beans, and pulled pork. Then she waited.
        She didn't have to wait very long.
        “You know, it's dangerous to wait in the middle of the road at night, much less sit down.” The voice from behind her said, and the man it belonged to walked past her. He looked like Nick Cave before he had lost his hair, dressed in a white suit instead of black, the ragged end of his slacks terminating above bare feet that strode across the asphalt. He picked up the plate and the bottle of rum, turning to face Verduga as he sat across the pothole from her.
        “That depends on what you're waiting for.” Verduga said, pulling a fork out of her pocket and offering it to him. He took it with a nod and a smile, digging around the plate in order to properly mix the ingredients together. He took a bite, chewing slowly as Verduga continued. “If it's midnight on a seldom used road known primarily for its accident rate, I'm not that worried.”
        “And you shouldn't be.” The Man said after he swallowed. “Not when you can cook this well.”
        He took a swig from the bottle of rum.
        “Wow, thanks. That means a lot coming from someone like you.” Verduga grinned. “I bet you get sacrifices all the time.”
        “I do,” The Man admitted, “but most of them are old photos and chicken bones. So, for a special, limited time offer, I'm gonna pull a genie and let you have two wishes.”
        “Genies let people have three wishes.” Verduga pointed out.
        “In your dreams maybe.” The Man said, then he smiled a vindictive smile at the play on words he had just inflicted upon her. Verduga refused to be wounded.
        “Well, I'm not here to make wishes.” She said with a smile, earning herself a raised eyebrow from The Man.
        “Then why are you here?” The Man asked. “It's not very often that someone summons me for things that aren't wishes. So what is it? Sex with a demon? Looking for a chance to carry the Antichrist? The time is almost upon us after all, you must be one of those satanists that actually follows the portents.”
        “What- no?!” Verduga was surprised. “How often does that happen?”
        “More often than you would think, even on the girls that do want wishes.” The Man smirked, setting his empty plate aside. “If I was capable of losing count, then I'm sure I would have lost count of how many times that line has worked. You humans are so gullible.”
        “Wait, so you were lying?” Verduga was not surprised.
        The Man just pointed at himself, and Verduga continued being unsurprised by the fact he had lied to her.
        “There are always 'signs and portents',” The Man said as he sidled around the hole to sit beside her, “and they're always wrong. People seem to forget that only two creatures in the entire universe know when the end of any world is coming, and we're not telling anyone.”
        “So, what are you saying?” Verduga asked, eying him. She kept a careful watch on his hands in particular. She may have summoned him, but that didn't mean she wanted him to touch her.
        “I'm not, except that there will be no 'signs and portents.'” The Man told her. “If you ever have the most absolutely normal day of your life, you should start worrying.”
        “Heh,” Verduga chuckled. “It's good to know that the world is safe in my lifetime.”
        “Yes, I can see that.” The Man said, looking at her with a skin penetrating stare. Verduga wondered if the stare was worse than his hands would be. And if his fingers were worse, then she hoped he would never, ever touch her. “I just talked to my researchers, and you lead an interesting life Ms. Green.”
        “Yes,” Verduga sighed, “interesting is one word for it.”
        “So why did someone like you summon me anyway?” The Man asked, eying her. “Someone like you is owed a half dozen favors, if she's smart enough to collect them. Especially when she can cook like this.”
        “Aw, thanks!” Verduga grinned again. Then she immediately felt guilty for accepting so much praise from The Devil. “Actually, I summoned you because you can be summoned.”
        “What does that mean?” The Devil asked.
        “Well, as I'm sure you saw from my file-” Verduga considered. “Or my whatever you guys use in hell, I tend to have deities, myths, legends, and godlings popping into my life constantly. Its nice to have a supernatural creature that I can actually call up on my time.”
        “Wow, I'm not sure what to think about that.” The Devil said, putting his hands on the asphalt behind him and looking up at the heavens. “You're telling me I got summoned because I'm easy?”
        “Yep!” Verduga's voice was cheery. “Most summoning rituals require a lot more than a crossroads and a good plate of food.”
        “Hmph,” The Devil snorted, standing up and brushing his white suit off. “Don't you know my story? I don't like being controlled.”
        “You were an angel, of course you do.” Verduga smiled, looking up at him, the insolence clear on her face. “You just don't like being bossed around by a creature more powerful than you.”
        “Who are you, mortal, to pretend you know me?” His eyes changed as he spoke, growing dark as they took on a matte finish. There was movement behind him, shapes moving in murky darkness as The Prince Of Lies looked down upon her.
        “Verduga Green, constantly annoyed by supernatural creatures.” She offered him her hand. “All y'all have these weird psychological complexes, I think it's why you like hanging out with people so much. We must be the only creatures in the universe who regularly turn up more screwed up than you guys. I can only imagine what the creatures that don't visit Earth on a regular basis are like. Probably nice. And emotionally secure. You, on the other hand, get off being bossed around by lesser being, just so you can prove how much smarter than them you are. Losing the war still stings, doesn't it?”
        He glared at her, and Verduga wasn't sure how she kept the terror she felt from showing in her eyes. Then he stepped into the center of the road, his composure shattering.
        “No.” Was his petulant response. He followed up with. “Don't call me again, Ms. Green.”
        “Psh, I'll summon you if I want, and there's not a damn thing you can do about it.” Verduga gave him a smile. He glared at her.
        “I won't be so lenient next time.” He warned.
        “Then I'll bring more food.” She countered. And when a smirk snuck onto his face, she knew he was hers.
        “Well, try and make sure it isn't voodoo food.” He admonished her. “I mean giving a jewish man pork, really?”
        “Whatever, you're christian and all the cool kids know it. Plus, you showed anyway, so I'll bring it again if I want.”
        The Devil laughed at her insolence, then his feet faded to translucence. “What a bothersome child has found my number.”
        Verdugas smiled, waving at him as he faded away. Then she gathered up her plate, fork, and rum bottle, wandering away into the night.

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    Sunday, February 21st, 2010
    10:35 pm
    Among Thieves: Part 1: Chapter 5
    Chapter 5.

    Sue woke up early the next morning and ran through the mental checklist of where her clothes had gone the night before. A sock here, a sock there, her blouse, minus three buttons, her pants on the couch in the other room. Sue hadn't had a night like that in a long while, and whatever she might think about Richard later, he was an enthusiastic partner.  She stretched, feeling the bones in her back crackle as she worked the knots from her muscles. The night had been fun, but Sue always looked forward to the morning after. Sneaking out of a guys apartment was like robbing a bank in reverse, and it kept her skills sharp for when she needed to get past the police, or avoid a particularly moody Nell. She got dressed as quietly as she could, careful not to wake Renfield. His lack of physical presence in the room where she was getting dressed was no reason to be sloppy after all. Sue slipped out the door, walking three blocks before she hailed a cab. Ten minutes later she was back at the motel, refreshed and ready to face Nell. Sue used her keycard to get into the suite, trying to be quiet, just in case Nell was still asleep.
        To Sue's surprise, Nell sat at the small table in the room, scribbling furiously on a notepad. Sue recognized the arched back and slumped shoulders, along with the fact that Nell's pencil was moving too quickly for her to actually be writing anything. Sue knew from experience that  the notepad was just a blur of scribbles, illegible and pointless to anyone but Nell.
        “Shit,” Said Sue, stepping over and placing her hands on top of Nell's, stopping her scribbles. “You had that nightmare about the Triads again, didn't you?”
        “God damned Triads!” Nell shouted, breaking free of Sue's grip and throwing the pencil across the room. “Damn creepy preachers. And damn freakish saviors.  I am tired of the supernatural effecting my life when I don't even believe in it!” Nell tossed her torso backwards, catching her toes against the tiny table at the last possible second to prevent herself from tipping over backwards. “And I'm so glad you were gone last night while I was having a nice conversation with Reverend Father Minister Abraham 'I'm from a storybook' Van Helsing.  Did you have a good time? Was the guy a good fuck?”
        “Considering you locked me out of the room two nights ago, it never occurred to me that you might have wanted me here last night.” Sue responded calmly, “What's this about a minister?”
        “Oh! Yes! Apparently, the crazy old guy who attacked Tommy's people was a preacher by the name of Van Helsing. He thinks Tommy's a vampire, and spent last night trying to convince me that I should help him kill them. For fun and profit no doubt.”
        The motel rooms phone rang suddenly, interrupting Sue's response as the duo jumped together in surprise. The room went silent between rings, and when the second ring began Sue lunged out of her seat to grab the handset, jamming it against her ear.
        “This is Sue.” Sue went silent, illegible murmurings coming from the handset. “Okay, I understand. Yea we'll be there.”
        Sue placed the handset back down onto its cradle, turning to Nell as she did. Nell looked back at her blankly, fine beads of sweat still sitting on her brow, remnants of the nightmare that Sue had failed to notice before. They stared at each other for a moment before Nell finally popped the question.
        “Who was that?”
        “That was Tommy. And vampire slayer or not, he was apparently so happy with how we handled our last job that he wants us to do another one.” Sue watched the play of emotions across Nell's face as it went from thoughtful to angry. “And if you're up for it, then I think we should take his offer. It pays so much better than robbing banks.” They play continued, taking Nell's face to confused, and, in the end, to resigned. Nell sighed and stood up, the she started to stretch.
        “You know what? Fuck divine intervention! I told the damned preacher that we were gonna keep doing what we were  doing. Lets go get paid.”
        Nell and Sue left the hotel room together, Sue making sure her partner went first. Nell hopped into the Lincoln, and began to rev the engine. Sue was used to this part of Nell's recovery stage. Normally Nell just cruised around in her car yelling at the other drivers and giving them “helpful advice” on how to drive better. Fortunately, since they actually had someplace to be, Nell kept the insanity to a minimum, only yelling at a pair of teenage boys who were trying to pass her. And Sue had to agree that they needed advice from someone, since Nell easily boxed them in, before hanging back to mock them at a red light. They made it to Tommy's casino without incident, and Sue hit the bouncers and cage attendants with a saccharine sweet smile as they left their weapons at the door before being led to an elevator. One walk later and they were standing outside Tommy's stateroom. The bouncers knocked twice, before leading the pair inside.
        Upon entering Tommy's stateroom, Nell and Sue were staggered by a sensory assault. The smell hit them before they passed through the door, a collage of scents that reminded Nell of a butterfly garden she had visited at the zoo when she was young, pleasant and heady and exotic. Sue was less amused, since the smell wafting down reminded her of the meat packing plant she had lived beside during her formative years, a smell she was happier to have forgotten. But the duo didn't get a chance to compare mental notes, since they were almost blinded upon stepping through the door.  Tommy's room was a cacophony of colors, all of them loud and most of them coming from light panels, causing the room to glow.
        And the room was centered around a waterfall.
        Neither Nell nor Sue had ever seen an indoor waterfall before, and the stream that it fell into had every manner of lush greenery, which Nell was sure contributed to the smell of the room. Both of the duo wondered about the logistics of putting a waterfall not only inside a building, but on a floor higher than ground level. And, after these thoughts floated through their collective unconscious, they both wondered what kind of mess it would make if it was destroyed.
        “Hello girls, do you be liking my room?” Nell and Sue jumped in surprise as Tommy stepped out of the greenery beside them. Sue scowled at him, causing a large and sinister smile to spread across Tommy's face.
        “Is that why you planted all of these big bushes beside the doorway?” Nell asked. It occurred to her that the ostentatiousness of the room might be meant to leave newcomers dazed and vulnerable to attack. A theory which was confirmed when another man stepped out the bushes. The man was tall, and he had a hawkish, aristocratic nose that was perfect for looking down at the peasants. And his skin was pale enough that Nell had no problem believing that he might be a vampire. His long dark hair was pulled into a ponytail that hung down to the center of his back, emphasizing his widows peak. The cleanliness of his three piece suit, despite an apparent romp through the bushes, made Nell wonder what kind of trimming had been done on those shrubs, since she had crawled through a lot of bushes in her life, and never once had she come out looking that nice.
        “Holy shit!” Sue started laughing when she saw the newcomer, “What are you, a wizard?”
        Nell and Sue were surprised to see the newcomer give Tommy a look, and Tommy's patronizing smile in response. Then the man's face composed itself in the kind of charm that only comes from the United Kingdom, and a soothing voice issued from his mouth.
        “So Thomas, are these the two thieves you told me about? Nellenna and Susanna?” The man grinned, extending his hand. “Mr. Alistaire Crowley, looking for your service.”
        “Well, how can we help, Mi-ister Crowley.” Sue shook his hand, stretched the syllable in her best impression of Ozzy, “What's going on in your head?” Nell rolled her eyes as she shook Crowley's hand after Sue. The man may look like he spent his youth counting silver spoons, and his manhood counting silver pieces, but his grip was strong and firm. And it left a clinging, oily sensation on her skin, but Nell resisted the urge to wipe her hand on her pants. Alistaire smiled at Sue for a moment, before opening his mouth. Tommy cut him off, interjecting before Alistaire spoke.
        “Alistaire be requesting your help, since he heard that you be the two who... fixed the little problem we be having earlier.” Alistaire glared at Tommy before speaking.
        “Yes, you two are quite the effective little duo. Moved my package from point a to point b in splendid time. But I heard you had a little Triad trouble.”
        “Actually, the Triad trouble was over before we showed up.” Sue volunteered, feeling a very strange vibe about the whole situation. The feeling wasn't defused when Crowley turned away from glaring at Tommy to smile at her. Then he turned back to Tommy, the smile still etched upon his features.
        “Oh, and they're honest thieves too. Where DO you find these gems Thomas?” Nell and Sue exchanged a look, neither of them happy about being tested. It was one of the only real annoyances that being a professional thief presented. They didn't mind the constant risk of arrest, jail time, betrayal, or  outright murder for no better reason than because they worked for the wrong gang in town. However, they did mind the fact that every new contact, crime lord, or gang lieutenant seemed to have their own especially juvenile way to test whether their employees were loyal to them. Sue was convinced that it was a guy thing, and when presented with the fact that plenty of women had pulled the same shit on them too, Sue countered with the reasoning that they had never grown out of being tomboy's. Which Nell found amusing, especially coming from Sue.
        “In the same place I be finding everything worth using Alistaire.” Tommy said with a grin. “A reliable supplier. Oh, and I do be believing that you now be owing me a thousand dollars.”
        “Yes, I believe I do.” Alistaire pulled a large fold of hundred dollar bills from his  breast pocket and counted out ten, slapping the stack against his palm before handing it to Tommy. “And I believe I have learned a lesson about betting against any employees you have that much confidence in. Of course, now you may simply use that admission against me next time I challenge you to a wager, so I suppose I will bet anyway.” Alistaire admitted with a sigh.
        “Well, I be looking forward to it then.” Tommy pocketed the money. “But in the meantime, it be difficult to talk in the waterfall room. Does anyone be objecting to us moving someplace quieter?”
        Neither Nell or Sue objected, so Tommy led them through the undergrowth to the hidden doorway behind the waterfall, an expedition which caused more questions to flit through the heads of Nell and Sue. The undergrowth was bent and twisted, and beyond the facade of foliage beside the path the ground was completely devoid of branches and roots. Plants didn't grow that neatly or cleanly on their own, or even with the help of expert gardeners. This was a phenomenal bit of horticulture, and so Sue did the logical thing when presented with a mystery.
        “How did you get the plants to grow this way? It's amazing.”
        “I be knowing a pair of wood nymphs who were happy to be doing it in exchange for a favor.” Tommy responded instantly.
        “Of course not. I be a crime lord remember, I hired gardeners from San Francisco to do it. They certainly be doing a good job though, don't they?”
        “Yea they did.” Nell looked away, the idea that Tommy might have gotten wood nymphs to do his gardening causing all the rest of the weirdness that had occurred over the past few days to fully sink in. Nell hadn't always been a skeptic, but a lifetime of minor disappointments had turned her into one. If Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny were all lies, then how could she believe that elves, fairies, or mythical creatures of any kind existed. She had become a thief because her books, her movies, even her video games had lost everything that made them interesting when the idea that they weren't, and never could be real surfaced in her head and would not leave.
        But now that all of the stories form her books might be real? Nell's world was unraveling. And the reaction that was waiting when she and Sue stepped through the doorway behind the waterfall didn't help.
        “What in hell's name are you doing here?” Sue shouted at Richard, who was leaning against the wall of the metal control room behind the waterfall. Nell spoke in a normal voice, although it was tinged with curiosity as she looked over the long haired boy wearing a well tailored business suit.
        “So, how do you know Sue?” Nell asked, grinning as a guess formed in her head.
        “Awww, Sue, you're not the sharing type?” Richard smiled to show perfect teeth, and he sauntered over to Nell with an exaggerated swagger. “I was Sue's hook up last night. And let me tell you, your partner is a devil in bed. It's a good thing I have lots of stamina, or I wouldn't be able to walk today. I also drink a lot of protein, although not as much as she does.” A laugh escaped Nell's mouth as Sue's face turned bright red.
        “You son of a bitch!” Sue shouted, and Nell grabbed her in a shoulder hold, holding Sue off balance, her arms under Sue's armpits as a series of chuckles continued to escape her.
        “Sue, I had no idea you preferred your men so girly!” Nell said, still laughing.
        “Hey!” Renfield reached for Nell, who kept the enraged Sue between herself and Richard, her hold and his reflexes managing to keep him out of the range of Sue's kicks.
        “Children, that be enough!” Tommy shouted, the command causing all three of them to stop moving. “Renfield, I be glad you enjoyed your assignment, but can we please be moving on to more pressing matters?”
        “Yes sir.” Richard said, straightening his suit and moving to stand by the door on the far side of the antechamber as the question 'assignment?' floated through Nell and Sue's collective thought processes.
        “Anyway, now that we be  in someplace quieter, Alistaire, feel free to be elaborating.” Tommy leaned against a wall as Alistaire stepped to the center of the room and cleared his throat.
        “So, we all know the Triads are becoming a bit of a problem.” Alistaire began, only to have Sue cut him off.
        “This must be the famous British gift for understatement.” Sue said, causing Nell to roll her eyes. Alistaire favored her with a bemused glance before continuing his speech.
        “As I was saying. The Triads are a bit of a problem, so Thomas and I have decided to do something about it. And in order to accomplish this we need trusted operatives. Like you two.” Alistaire grinned as he finished, sending a creepy chill up the spines of both Sue and Nell. He took a step closer to the duo as he continued.”So, how would you two like to get some payback on the Triads. I realize they haven't done anything to you persona-”
        “We'll do it.” Nell said, the eagerness of a thousand dreams of revenge creeping into her voice.
        “-lly, but you will be well compensated.” Alistaire paused, the fact that Nell had already accepted sinking in. “You accept?”
        “Hells yes. What's the plan?” Nell stepped in close, all traces of fear at being near Alistaire Crowley evaporating at the prospect of hurting Triads.
        “Well, the plan is that we're going to drive a very large truck full of explosives through one of their walls. Of course, to do this we'll need a good driver and someone to defend her, which is where you two come in.”
        “I see,” Sue said, butting in, “So all we have to do is crash a truck full of explosives through a wall, then defend ourselves on the way out?”
        “How are we going to get away?” Nell asked, thoughts of self preservation managing to push their was to the front of her brain.
        “That be why Rachel and Richard are here. They be going with you, driving and defending your getaway car.” Tommy levered himself off the wall, walking over to stand beside Alistaire. “They both be quite competent couriers themselves, although they seem to be lackin' the flair and skill that you two be exhibiting regularly.”
        “No!” Nell and Sue shouted together. They looked at each other, shocked by the simultaneous outbursts, then they turned to face the confused faces of Tommy, Rachel and Richard.
        “Why not?” asked Richard, edges of hurt and genuine surprise creeping into his voice.
        “Well, I can't speak for Sue, but I've seen this movie. Every time an important crime boss sends two of his best people along on a mission, they either end up betraying the main characters, or they get killed. So in the interest of preservation, we'll do it ourselves thanks.”
        “Well, in addition to the fact that I've seen every movie Nell has, most of them with her, if .Richard's 'assigment' was what I think it was, I am so incredibly upset with him that I could not work with him at the moment without killing him myself.”
        “And besides, Sue can drive the getaway car.”
        “But it be in my thoughts that you were the driver and she was the shooter?” Tommy asked, confusion appearing on his face.
        “Well, I am.” Nell responded, “I'm a better driver than her, so I'll drive your explosives truck. She's a better shooter than me, so normally she would defend me. However, we are capable of doing each other's jobs, albeit with a little less flash, style, and effectiveness than the other.” Nell smiled, nodding to Richard and Rachel, “So, sorry guys, but since I'll be defending myself, and she'll be driving getaway,” Nell motioned to Sue, “That means we can do the mission by ourselves. Without your help.”
        Tommy looked at Alistaire, who had an amused expression on his face. Tommy's face shifted from confident to pleading for a moment, sending a message to Alistaire, who sighed and stepped towards Nell and Sue.
        “Have either of you seen a delightful movie named 'Star Wars?'” Alistaire queried the duo as his smile returned. Nell and Sue looked at each other for a moment, then looked back at Alistaire with an “are you kidding?' look on both of their faces. Sue's confidence returned first, and she smiled wanly at Alistaire.
        “Yea, you might say that we've seen it a few times. It's a few years old now right, got these crazy lightsabers and starships?”
        “That's the one! Oh, you have seen it, how absolutely wonderful.” Alistaire clapped once in delight before rubbing his hands together. “Do you remember a wonderful character named Obi-wan? He reminds me of Merlin in Mallory's book. An old wise wizard shepherding a young lad?”
        “Yes, we remember. We've seen the movie. In fact, I've seen all the sequels as well.” Nell said with a smile, trying to figure out where he was going with this.
        “There are sequels?” Alistaire's eyes widened in surprise,.”I must spend more time in your theatres, as dreary and plebian as they are. But, on to my point.” Alistaire spread his hands, palms out towards Nell and Sue, and he muttered something under his breath.
        “Is that Latin?” asked Nell, picking up bits and pieces of the words Alistaire was muttering.
        “Ah, you are an educated one. There's a bit of Greek and Arabic in there as well.” Alistaire muttered a few more phrases, and both Nell and Sue wondered if it was a trick of the light when his hands glowed for a moment. “Obi-wan does this trick using his 'force,' which apparently has a strong influence on the weak minded. I learned this trick watching him.” Alistaire cleared his throat, clapping his hands together loudly.
        “You will allow Richard and Rachel to accompany you, and they will drive you away from the scene of the mission after you are finished.” Alistaire smiled as expressions of confusion appeared on both Nell and Sue's faces. Then a blue burst of light exploded from his hands, colliding with Nell and Sue. It washed over them like a wave, continuing on until it splattered into coruscating droplets when it hit the wall. Nell and Sue blinked, then the fog cleared. Sue's brain took a moment to filter the information before her daydreams of fairy tales vanished, leaving her brain feeling better, the last traces of her hangover obliterated.
        “Wow, I don't know what you did , but it totally cleared up my headache. Thanks man.” Sue cracked her neck, rolling her head around her shoulders.
        “Well, I'm glad to be hearing that. Catch.” Tommy tossed her a pair of keys, a large keychain in the shape of a truck attached to them.
        “I take it these are the keys to the sabotage truck.” Sue asked, flipping them over in her hand.
        “Clever girl. Be getting it right on the first try.” Tommy winked at her as he tossed another pair of keys at Richard and Rachel.
        Richard stepped forward, prepared to pull them out of their glittering arc, but Nell sidestepped and grabbed the keys from the air. Nell rolled the plastic car tag between her fingers, then she shook a finger at Tommy.
        “I told you Tommy, we'll do this job by ourselves. No need to get the lackeys involved.” Nell spun the keys around her index finger by their silver loop, then she looked at Alistaire. “So what are the details of this plan of yours?”
        “You'll find the specifics at the guards station.” Alistaire responded, clasping his hands behind his back while ignoring Tommy's questioning looks.
        “Excellent, I think we can find our own way out.” There was a definite anger to Nell's steps as she walked out of the room, and Sue followed, knowing better than to question Nell when she was like this. But there would be a discussion of this turn of events, as soon as they were out of earshot of Tommy and Alistaire..

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    Thursday, February 18th, 2010
    11:46 pm
    Verduga Green: Story Five
        “So, what would you like to eat?”
        Verduga sighed, directing a glare towards that man sitting across from her at the black metal table. “Marty, I only came out here because you said it was important. I really didn't come out here so you could try to bribe me into sleeping with you by buying me a meal.”
        “Would that work?” Marty asked with a smug grin, earning an even more focused glare from Verduga.
        “I think we both know the answer to that.” She said, ice coating her voice. “Was there actually a reason you called me out-”
        “Of course, of course!” Marty assured her, putting his hands up in defense. “But there's no reason I can't be civil. And there's certainly no reason why you can't be well fed. It's my treat.”
        Verduga tried to ignore Marty's sleazy wink, but the action still provoked an involuntary shudder. Still, she didn't see any reason to turn down a chance for a free meal. “Fine. Get me a Portobello mushroom sandwich and an Arnold Palmer.” She told him. Marty grinned, baring his teeth in a fashion Verduga found more animalistic than many of the more feral deities she knew. Then he waved over one of the waiters and placed her order, pausing only to ask Verduga what she wanted as a side. Verduga chose chips, jalapeno flavored.
        “I always knew you were a girl who liked things spicy.” Marty said after the waiter left, and Verduga realized that her own impulses against wasting food had just trapped her with him for at least twenty five minutes. She let out another disappointed sigh as he spoke. “In fact, I bet I know some tricks that you would really appreciate, if you just gave me a chance to show them to-”
        “Seriously Marty,” Verduga said, rolling her eyes, “don't make me regret coming here to meet you.”
        “Fine fine fine.” Marty let out his own small sigh, before continuing. “I called because thee are rumors going around, and they sound right up your alley.”
        “Rumors?” Verduga guarded herself against letting curiosity override her skepticism. “What kind of rumors? It's not aliens again, is it?”
        “Nope. Something better.” Marty smiled. Verduga was getting sick of seeing him smile and grin already, and remembered why she had told him not to call her unless it was very important.
        “What is it?” Verduga prompted when Marty tried build tension with a pause.
        “Atlantis is rising.”
        “Atlantis.” Verduga's skepticism had not issues returning at that statement.
        “But not only is Atlantis rising.” Marty leaned in to confide with her. Verduga continued to sit back in her chair, arms crossed. “But it's populated by deep ones. And Dagon himself.”
        “So it's rising in the North Atlantic then?” Verduga asked. “Because I thought Dagon was last sighted in Massachusetts.”
        “Wait, what?” Marty looked confused.
        “A friend of mine told me that Dagon was last seen eating some chowder in Massachusetts.” Verduga winced when she called Tarot a friend. “I always thought Atlantis would be somewhere in the Meditteranean.”
        “Maybe he caught a plane.” Marty stated, and Verduga noted that the thought of Dagon eating some chowder might unsettle him. But she didn't see why it would, clam chowder was delicious after all.
        “I doubt it.” Verduga shook her head. “It's easily to hide your identity at a restaurant, but on an airplane?”
        “Well, fine.” Marty changed the subject. “But whether or not the rumors about Dagon are true, I trust my sources on Atlan- what is that?”
        Verduga looked down at the table, to the small spot where Marty was pointing. A tiny yellow spider was crawling across the surface of the table, and Verduga smiled.
        “I thought this place was clean!” There was indigence in Marty's voice.
        “It's probably cleaner because there are spiders here.” Verduga told him, not at all happy to hear his indigence. “And anyway, look at the abdomen. It's a Happy Face Spider!”
        Marty's fist slammed down, and Verduga stared at him in horror. Her face didn't change as Marty took a disgusted look at his own hand, then wiped it off with a napkin.
        “But-” Verduga couldn't even think of what to say.
        “There.” Marty said. “Now their restaurant is a little bit cleaner. Maybe I can get a discount.”
        “It's bad luck to kill a spider!” Verduga shouted, drawing stares from the few other people sitting at nearby tables. Her cheeks grew red, and she lowered her voice. “It's bad luck to kill a spider!”
        “I never thought of you as superstitious.” Marty told her, drawing an incredulous look from Verduga, who couldn't tell if he was serious. “It's just a bug. Hell, you probably eat two or three spiders a week.”
        “This may come as a surprise, but creatures that walk into large moist caves filled with acid and teeth don't live long.” Verduga let sarcasm into her voice. “It's really unlikely there are nay spiders left that crawl into people's mouths, if they ever did.”
        “Whatever.” Marty dismissed her words. “Anyway, before we were interrupted, I was saying-”
        He paused, swatting at something small and yellow on his arm. Verduga noticed there were other little yellow dots crawling on him, and she tilted her head in curiousity. Tiny smiley faces crawled up Marty's body, gathering in numbers. Marty began to panic, and Verduga became curious, opening her arms as she leaned forward onto the artsy iron table, watching the yellow engulf his body. Martin began to scream as the half centimeter spiders turned him into a yellow cloud, and he rolled on the ground, screaming. Everything in the restaurant was looking at him now, but the screaming soon choked off into a wet, burbling sound. The body twitched under the pile of spiders for a few more minutes, until the spiders cleared away, revealing a shrunken, dehydrated body, with tiny bigs of silk clinging to it. Verduga looked around, noticing that the entire restaurant was staring at Marty's body, including the cooks and waiters. Verduga realized she wasn't going to get her food in any sort of timely fashion, and since Marty wasn't around to pay for it, she stood up with a sigh, dusting herself off as she got ready to leave.
        But before she went, she crouched next to Marty's body, shaking her head.
        “I told you killing spiders was bad luck.” Verduga berated the corpse. Then she straightened up, and walked out the door. After all, she had rumors about Atlantis to look into.

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    Monday, February 15th, 2010
    8:12 am
    Among Thieves: Interlude: The Triads
    Six years earlier

    Nell was ecstatic.
        Nell was ecstatic in a way that she hadn't been since her first paycheck. The joy flowing through her at this very moment was the same she had felt taking her hard earned cash to the store and spending it all on a game called Driver, which she had played long into the night, sleeping through school the next day. This joy, however, was tempered by the wisdom of age and experience that can only come from years of making your own money.
        So this time, she was only going to spend half of it on booze and video games.
        It wasn't as if this was her first successful mission as a professional thief. She and Sue had already pulled off two successful jobs for old Speckled Anthony. However, the first two jobs had gone off without a hitch, and Nell had never felt justified celebrating when everything went right.
        Speckled Anthony's handbook really did make you into a perfect thief. Barring coincidences and bad luck, which is what they had run into today – well, yesterday, but when you haven't slept in thirty-odd hours, you stop caring about the dates on the calendar. The fact was, despite their best efforts, a random patrolman had wandered by during the robbery and sicced the blues on the site. Rules five  through seven  had been particularly useful yesterday, but Nell had gotten her wish. A thirty minute car chase through the city, a chance to outmaneuvar three patrol cars, and a police helicopter. Nell thought the helicopter had been excessive, but the mayor was cracking down on crime, so maybe that explained it. The duo had managed to get away successfully, their take perfectly intact, and the ink bomb sitting safely all over the windshield of a patrol car.
        The take had been good too, and now Nell had a pocketful of cash. Sue was off somewhere hunting for guys, leaving her with nothing better to do than cruise around in the new (new being a figurative term, since Chevy Bel Airs hadn't been new for a while) car Speckled Anthony had procured after their escape from the police. He had been nervous about something, but since she and Sue had made out like the proverbial bandits on the job, Nell couldn't bring herself to care. She had plenty of drag to cruise, cash in her pocket, guys to race, loud music, a nice car, and plenty of drive-thrus to eat from. Like the song went, it was Saturday night and she ain't got nob-


        Nell didn't remember getting out of her car, but judging by the fact that she was now standing in the middle of the road, staring at a Bel Air that appeared to have lost a boxing match with the SUV sitting beside it. Anger surged over Nell, aimed towards Chinese man climbing out of the car, both for wrecking a well preserved classic, and for ruining her good mood. And for the concussion that she may or may not have, it was hard to think with a headache this bad.
        “You god-damned, red light running, cell phone talking, intersection lane changing, turn without signaling, incredibly bad driver! I'm gonna reach down your throat and pull your intestines out. Then I'm going to salt them, stuff them with your eyes and stomach, and feed them to a Scottish person! Every single one of these witnesses-” The witnesses Nell was referring to were wincing away from the raging onslaught coming from the scary woman in front of them “Saw you run that fucking red light and hit me in the siiiiiiiiiiiiiiiide.”
        Nell felt a tiny prick on her wrist, then she slouched forward into the Chinese man's arms, consciousness escaping her. The Chinese man cried for an ambulance, which arrived in record time, and he had climbed in with her, telling the witnesses that he would make a statement to the police after he made sure that the woman was alright at the hospital. As a result, the few remaining witnesses were confused when an ambulance and two police cars arrived ten minutes later, claiming to be the closest response group in the area.

                *                *                *

    Nell awoke no-idea hours later, her headache somehow worse than it had been at the accident site. This, combined with the fact that she was tied to a chair, was not making her mood any better.
        What the fuck is going on here? Nell thought.
        “What the fuck is going on here?” Nell shouted, realizing her vision was blurry. She blinked it away, her eyes clearing up to reveal the Chinese Man from the accident standing close enough to make her jump in the confines of her chair.
        “Miss Townsend, are you aware of Mr. Anthony's discrepancies?”
        “What, his nickname?” Every criminal in town knew the story of Speckled Anthony's nickname. Speckled Anthony's name didn't come from an unfortunate skin condition or any sort of bad dye job. Speckled Anthony's name came from the extra thick glasses he told everyone he used to wear as a child, and his fellow children's inability to say “spectacles.” No one had been happier than Anthony when plastic had come into use for lenses, and he had been an early adopter of silicone contacts. But he kept the nickname.
        “No, the discrepancies between his business payoffs and his business practices. You see, Mr. Anthony believes he is untouchable, and we plan to show him how wrong he is. Unfortunately for you, Ms. Townsend, we've chosen you to be the other half of our example. You must understand, it is nothing personal.” Nell couldn't get over the Chinese Man's Oxford accent, since his words were having trouble penetrating her scrambled brain.
        At least, until the Chinese Man nodded to the fellow standing beside him, a young man wearing a black satin shirt and sunglasses. When Satin received the nod from his boss, he took his pliers and ripped off the nail on Nell's big toe. There was a fraction of a second before the pain penetrated the fog surrounding Nell's brain, but when it did she screamed like the banshees from her grandmother's stories. A man standing behind her used the scream to shove a ball gag in her mouth, muffling her while Satin continued, next pulling the nail off of her other big toe. Then he stood up, dropping the bloody toenail to the floor beside its counterpart. The Chinese Man leaned in close.
        “As I said, it's nothing personal. But examples must be made. If you would like me to give you a tranquilizer, then just say something.” The Chinese Man smiled as Nell's muffled shouts slipped from behind the gag in her mouth. “Well, if you don't want one, I guess we can just continue. Angus?” The Man standing behind Nell grabbed her shirt by the collar and pulled, ripping the buttons off of her blouse as he tore the fabric from her shoulders, leaving her in bare skin and brassiere. Chinese Man put his hand out, and Satin placed a brad pusher into it. “I must say, almost any tool the human race has can be turned into a weapon. Shall I demonstrate on my beautiful assistant?” Satin nodded, reaching his pliers down into the pit of coals beside Nell's chair and pulling out a glowing brad. “What we have here is a simple brad and brad pusher, but when properly heated and applied...” Satin dropped the brad into the pusher and Chinese Man held the tip of the device above her bra. Then, in one smooth movement, he pulled the underwear down and pressed the device against her skin, sending the brad deep into the flesh of her left breast, directly above her nipple.
        More muffled screams filled the air, and they continued as the Chinese man drove more brads into her torso. Nell began crying, tears streaming down her face despite her efforts to stop them. This was not what she had thought torture would be like. Nell had always imagined standing bravely up to her torturer and giving name, rank, and serial number. But these torturers didn't want anything from her. She was just a piece of meat that would serve a lesson when others found it mutilated. A message that the dragon, tiger, or whatever the Triads thought of themselves as killed not because it was hungry, but because it enjoyed the sight of blood.
        “Why do you think I use brads Ms. Townsend?” The Chinese man asked, ignoring the anguish and pleading in Nell's eyes as she moaned around the gag. “I've found that nails are simply too long, and the hammer is too crude of an implement for proper torture. I never miss with a brad pusher, and I can push as hard as I want and not worry about puncturing your heart of lungs. Which of course means,” He nodded to Satin, who knelt down and ripped the toenail off the smallest toe on Nell's left foot. Nell was too tired to scream anymore, but another moan eked from behind the gag. “We get to play for a much longer time.”
        The Chinese man put the brad pusher down and nodded to Angus behind Nell. Angus's hands left Nell's shoulders, and the Chinese Man took his place behind her, leaning down to whisper in her ear.
        “But you're not the only person I want to play with. After all, the only thing you did was exist in the wrong moment of time. It was Mr. Anthony who betrayed me, taking my protection money, then sending you to rob my banks anyway.” The Chinese man grabbed her by the forehead and tilted her face toward the ceiling. Through the brief lull in the pain, Nell's eyes focused on something suspended from the ceiling. It was a chair, similar to the one she was in, holding its own battered figure. The man was dressed in Bermuda shorts and a Hawaiian shirt, strange attire for January in New Jersey. But his natural looking tan implied warmer climes, and his bleached blond hair was artfully styled, where it wasn't soaked in blood.
        Anthony's nose had been broken, along with his forearms and shins. Nell could see over a dozen black puckers where hot brads had been driven into his skin, and three of the toes on his left foot were missing, starting with the smallest. From his mouth a red ball gag protruded, and he began to slowly lower, probably because of Angus. Anthony tilted as he was lowered, inverting his head and feet, slowing until his face was inches away from hers.
        “Mr. Anthony is guilty of telling you lies, but I know you're not the type of woman to hold a grudge. Indeed, you would undoubtedly want him to be happy during his last moments on earth.” Nell heard the Chinese Man's fingers snap behind her, and Satin jumped up, removing her ball gag. Nell had originally intended to scream and rant when the gag was removed, but she found her body too physically drained to allow anything but moans to escape her lips. Waves of pain rolled through her chest and feet, and these waves held her attention so completely that she missed the moment when the Chinese Man removed his hand from her head. But she did notice when the Chinese Man moved her chair, putting Anthony's face less than an inch away from hers. She also didn't miss when Satin used a pair of  pruners to clip Anthony's tongue from his mouth, nor when the Chinese Man pushed their heads together into a kissing position. Nell shut her mouth, feeling the blood from Anthony's severed tongue run down her chin and chest, while she took in breathes through her nose.
        “Now that simply won't do. Anthony is your friend, you should treat him nicer.” The Chinese man nodded again, so Satin knelt down and clipped Nell's left smallest toe off.
        Nell had another scream in her.
        When Nell's scream escaped, the Chinese man pushed their open mouths together, her scream meeting the steady, gurgling scream that had been issuing from Anthony's mouth. They joined in a bloody French kiss, and Satin strapped them together tight enough that they were unable to close their mouths. The hot blood spilled into Nell's mouth, causing her to gag, and while a tiny part of her felt the pricks of pain that heralded more fiery brads entering her flesh, most of her mind was occupied with the black seeping in at the corner of her eyes. Nell started to cry again, wondering why she had wasted her life. If by some miracle she got out of this, she would make some changes, make sure she-
        A flash of light flickered before her eyes, and Nell tried to go towards it in the fraction of a second before Anthony fell to the floor, dragging her head with him. The blood began to flow downhill, choking Anthony, which was not something Nell could bring herself to care about at the moment. Nell took a few moments to catch her breath, gasping for air as the black retreated. The feel of heat surrounded her, the temperature of the room having risen several degrees. Then there was a sizzling sound followed by a wet plop, and the smell of burnt flesh and hair entered her nostrils. Then there was a voice, deep and resonating, that echoed through the blindness left by the flash of light.
        “Now is not your time,” The Voice came from everywhere at once, filling her head,”You will be needed later, Nellenna Townsend.” Then something hot sliced though her bindings, and her eyes cleared to reveal It. Whatever It was. It brushed away her bindings and helped her stand up. She could not bear to look at It as It knelt before her, and she felt a brief burst of pain as it pressed her severed toe back onto the stump it had been removed from. Her foot burned for a moment, the pain moving up her nervous system before dissipating into her flesh. Then It helped her stand up, and Nell looked down at her foot, noticing that her toe was once again a part of her, only a dark purple scar marking where it had been removed. It carried the shocked and bewildered woman outside, before It gathered her in its arms and stepped into the air. For a moment, Nell could see the entire city unfold below her, then it was obscured by the bright light It was casting. Nell, despite hovering above the city, felt safe and secure, and she drifted off to sleep in It's arms.
        Sue hated sneaking out of motel room in the mornings. The guy she had slept with the night before had known some tricks, and he seemed to be a nice guy, which just made it that much harder to sneak out on him. However, in all of her sneaking and scheming to escape, Sue never expected to see her partner sleeping on the step, clothes torn and body mutilated. Sue took one look back into the room where her tryst was sleeping peacefully, then she dragged Nell down to the rented Jaguar and bundled her in. It took Sue fifteen minutes to remember where the street doctor operated from, and she didn't stop panicking until Nell was inside.
        “Nell, I have no idea what happened, but please, please don't die.” Tears burned in Sue's eyes, and she had to wipe them away in order to see where she was going. Nell was pale beside her, the light through the window causing the veins to show through her chalky skin. Sue had no idea what the tiny black dots in her partners skin were, but she knew that Nell needed a doctor. The street medic charged an exorbitant fee, since they lacked a letter of recommendation from a reliable broker, but he managed to fix Nell up enough that she would survive, at least for the rest of the week.
        Nell survived that week, then the next, and by the third she was healthy enough for them to begin auditioning brokers again. Sue had stayed beside her the whole time, paying for the medicine out of her own pocket, since Nell was delirious, and Sue didn't know her account number or password. Sue gathered the story in bits and pieces as she searched for a new broker, and when Nell was better the majority of her share went to the Triads as an “apology.” Then, as soon as they had work again, Nell began to buy books, scouring their pages for lessons on how to fight. Nell taught herself never to relax, and she didn't give up her thieving. If anything, it afforded good opportunities to practice what she had learned, and a chance to retire early. And no one asked about scars in this business, which was good, since Nell didn't feel like explaining them to anyone. Living through that hell once was enough.
        She didn't realize it would be a continual visitor of her dreams.

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    Friday, February 12th, 2010
    8:18 am
    Verduga Green: Story Four
        Verduga popped the top on the can, dishing food out into Blank's bowl. She knew he would get upset if she ate before he did, and had no desire to spent the next few days dealing with an angry kitty. After she was done feeding the lord of the manor, she made herself a sandwich of out the few items of food left in her fridge. It didn't take long, due to the severe lack of supplies she seemed to be experiencing, and soon she was finished spreading the mustard, placing the jar back in the fridge, and turning back to the counter.
        A woman sit beside her sandwich, long stockinged legs stretching down in front of her cabinets, high heels turning her feet into arrows pointing at the floor tiles. She wore a beige business suit with a skirt that Verduga felt was just a little too short for any respectable business, not to mention the fact it had no place resting on her countertop. The fact that she had the top of her blouse unbuttoned to match the inappropriateness of her skirt didn't reassure Verduga, but when the woman tossed her head, the Hellenic features taking on a harsh contrast from her overhead lights. As Verduga recognized her face, she realized that calling her features “Hellenic” would have clearly been considered an insult, and she walked over, grabbing her sandwich off the counter as she looked at the woman.
        “Hello Aphrodite.” Verduga said. Then she took a bite from her sandwich, chewing it slowly as the woman continued to sit there and look glamorous.  She seemed content to show off, some Verduga ate a little more before continuing. “What are you doing in my kitchen?”
        “Oh! Verduga!” Aphrodite pretended to notice her, and Verduga rolled her eyes. She hoped Aphrodite didn't really think that an accident had caused a love goddess to manifest on her countertop. “How nice to see you!”
        “Aphrodite, what do you want?” Verduga asked, annoyance clear in her voice. “ I have errands to run today, and no time to get sidetracked by a Greek goddess.”
        “Well, if you want, it could be less of a sidetrack and more of a liason.” Aphrodite said with a wink.
        “I'm afraid I don't have time.” Verduga responded.
        “Well then,” Aphrodite hopped off the counter, “I'll make this as quick as I can. I heard you brought my son some food.”
        “Yea, I do that sometimes. A kitsune talked me into it though.” Verduga responded, annoyed by how tall the Greek goddess was.
        “Kitsune are like that.” Aphrodite said, as Verduga finished her sandwich. “But I wanted to thank you in person. My son isn't recognized for his work as often as he should be these days. There is something refreshing about mortals who remember that gods like us have needs too.”
        “Okay.” Verduga rinsed off her plate and put it in the dishwasher. “So why are you here.”
        “I would like to offer you a boon.” Aphrodite told her. “So, how does a nice pool boy sound?”
        “What the hell is with you guys?!” Verduga said, already exasperated by the goddess. “You and the free love, Cupid and his obsession. I tell you what. Give me a three day weekend where I don't get bothered by aliens, demons, deities, monsters, or anything else, natural or supernatural, and I'll be happy.”
        “Done!” Aphrodite snapped her fingers. Verduga just looked at the goddess for a moment, thinking she should have specified dates, when the goddess kept talking. “And it wouldn't have been love, by the way.”
        “What?” Verduga asked, still trying to take in the fact she might be getting a few days of freedom from the general weirdness that filled her life.
        “The pool boy. It wouldn't have been love.” Aphrodite responded. “Just sex. Just for fun. So is my son still chasing after that mortal woman?”
        “Um, yes.” Verduga told her, wondering if it would be impolite to change the subject back to the pool boy. Aphrodite hadn't really given her a chance to respond, but pissing off the goddess of love, even an older one, couldn't lead to anything good. Like the Trojan War. Or did that happen because someone pleased her, she wondered. “He's still watching her. And he'll probably end up with a restraining order on Valentine's Day.”
        Aphrodite growled, and Verduga turned to face her. Her pretty face was screwed up into a look of annoyance. “Do you have something against Valentine's Day? Aren't you a love goddess? Your son seems to think passion is important.”
        “Passion IS important.” Aphrodite snapped. “But love is kind of like an isosceles triangle, and passion is definitely the shortest side. And I tell my son to be more careful with those arrows of his. Every time he pricks his finger, bad things happen to him. Plus, it's hardly passionate to only show you love someone one time a year, especially if its the same day as several million other people. In my professional opinion, everyone should pick their own day. Show some fucking creativity... and maybe it will lead to some creativity in your-”
        “That's enough.” Verduga held up her hand to cut the goddess off, and Aphrodite's eyes twinkled. “Anyway, what do you mean a triangle? What are the long sides? You said isosceles, right?'
        “Why the hell would a love goddess be talking about isosceles triangles?”
        “I'm a Greek love goddess. And despite my fabulous appearance,” Aphrodite tossed her hair, letting it fall in a glittering shower around her shoulders, “I'm a rather old one. Old enough to remember the 'invention' of things like geometry, at least in their current forms. Plus, they make good metaphors. The other two sides, the long sides, are intimacy and commitment.”
        “Intimacy and commitment?” Verduga said as she poured herself a glass of water and learned against the sink.
        “Indeed.” Aphrodite continued, well aware of the questions rhetorical nature. “Those are the big sides, the long sides. What's intimate about buying roses and chocolate, just like everyone else. Even if she likes it, do you humans really find those cliches romantic these days? Back in my day, if you loved someone, you took them a thousand miles across the ocean, to be alone and intimate. Or sailed a thousand miles to 'rescue them'. THAT, was commitment. And those both lead to far more passions than having a bunch of people in a board room tell you that, once a year, you must be more passionate than all the others. In fact-”
        Aphrodite cut herself off when she noticed Verduga's grin.
        “What?” She asked, anger tinging her voice.
        “Nothing really,” Verduga responded, “I just seem to have struck a nerve.”
        The goddess of love looked at her. Then she had enough grace to look embarrassed. “Yes, you did. But it seems to me that some of that was a lesson you needed to learn. Did you?”
        “Did I what?” Verduga asked, cleaning her cup and putting it away. Aphrodite smoothed her skirt.
        “Verduga, you clearly have the ability to inspire, and give, commitment.” Aphrodite told her. “Occasionally, I've even seen you be passion about things, to really believe in them. But here you are, living with your cat, and it is not because of anything except the fact that you fear being intimate. If you could get over that, who knows what might be accomplished?”
        Aphrodite winked.
        “So, I was wondering if you had learned your lesson.” Aphrodite said. “But kids these days, who knows what they've learned. And you all know everything anyway so whats the point.”
        She smiled wanly at Verduga, before giving her a wink. Verduga was still trying to digest the influx of information.
        “But I won't forget about your three day weekend.” Aphrodite kissed Verduga on the nose. “And it'll be a surprise! Have a good time until then. I have stuff to do!”
        And with that, Aphrodite winked out of the kitchen, leaving behind a polished countertop, and a bewildered Verduga.

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    Monday, February 8th, 2010
    12:00 am
    Among Thieves: Chapter 4
    Chapter 4.

    To Nell's surprise, Sue wasn't kidding. Within minutes of the duo's return to the hotel, Sue was on the street, hailing a cab. Nell asked her if she wanted her cut from the briefcase, but Sue said that she had some of the cash from the bank job, and they could settle the cut later. Then she had gotten in the cab, whispered something to the driver while flashing a Franklin, and together they cruised off. Leaving Nell to her own devices for the second night in a row.
        Not that Nell minded. She had better things to do than worry about Sue, who was able to take care of herself. Instead, she whispered a prayer of thanks that Sue had left her pistols in the car before grabbing the briefcase and heading into the motel room.
        Nell was a shower minimalist, and a bar of soap and a sharp razor were all she needed to feel clean. So she counted it a happy bonus that the shower pressure was high, and that the motel's water heater was strong enough that she only had to make minor adjustments to the heat and never maxed it out. Nell left the shower feeling refreshed, and more importantly, clean. She wrapped a towel around herself to keep dripping to a minimum before leaving the bathroom to put on the clothes she had assembled previously.
        But upon stepping from the bathroom, she was shocked to find the Priest from the alleyway sitting on Sue's bed, watching one of the religion channels they got over the motel's cable.
        “Wha- who-how- but- but- what the hell are you doing in my room!?” Nell managed to stammer out
        “The devil's domain is no matter to be taken lightly daughter, you should be careful when you use it.” The Priest replied, switching to the other religion channel they got over the motel's cable.
        What the- no, excuse me, how the hell did you get in my room?” Nell was amazed at the gall of this man. She was also faced with two choices. Either stand there in her towel, gaping like an idiot, or walk over to her bed and put on her clothes.
        Nell chose option two.
        “Well, father, if you wouldn't mind looking away for a moment...” Nell finished by gesturing at the clothes laid out on the bed, then to her own disrobed state, and the Priest immediately understood.
        “Of course my child.” He turned to look away, putting his hands on his knees as he faced the window opposite the bathroom, studying the curtains.
        “So, as long as you're invading my room and my privacy, what's your name?” Nell asked, fastening her bra and slipping her panties on beneath the towel. Then she dropped it to the floor and put on the rest of her clothes. His answer came somewhere between black pants with leather belt and black tank top.
        “My name is Abraham Vance. I'm a vampire hunter.” The Priest said with an unhappy sigh
        “Really? I figured it would have been more like Harker. Or Van Helsing. Or maybe Belmont? Something like that. I loved Dracula stuff as a kid.”
        “Well, actually, my ancestors surnames were changed to Vance at Ellis Island. Before that it was Van Helsing.”
        “No Shit?!”
        “No Shit.”
                *                *                *
        When the Cabbie dropped her off in front of the dingiest, dirtiest, rattiest dive she had ever seen, Sue considered her hundred dollars well spent.
        It was a common misconception among males that any girl who actively went out looking for sex was either a nymphomaniac, or a slut. Sue was out looking for sex because she didn't want to wake up in the same room as Nell tomorrow, and she didn't want to pay for her own motel room.  Sue started towards the bar, pausing a dozen strides from the doorway as she felt the music wash over her. Rock music has a distinct feel, and if that distinct feel washes over you when you're standing several yards the door, then you know it's being played loud enough. One cover charge, quick (almost quick enough to be insulting, Sue was sure she didn't look that old) check of identification, and wink at the bouncer, then Sue was inside, soaking the music in through her pores.
        Sue dove into the mosh pit, bouncing off the other concert goers with abandon as the several hundred frustrations she had developed over the past two days were pushed out of her body and injected into everyone else inhabiting the pit.
        Which was okay, since that's what everyone in the pit was doing.
        It took three songs before the pit began to die down due to exhaustion. Which was disappointing, since Sue was still ready to go. The band, paying attention to the crowd, shifted to a ballad several steps downtempo from the speeds they had been playing, and Sue once again felt that her hundred dollars was justified. These guys were good, and if She would be living here for a while, she would make sure to check out another show or two. It would help to find out their name, but they would undoubtedly shout it at some point in the night. She sat down at an abandoned table and waited, listening to the band as she slowly counted off the seconds in her head, stretching out in her most feline manner. Ten seconds later, she had free drinks arriving.
        A gentleman wearing an Angus Young school uniform sent her a Fosters.
        Some kid with a multitude of tattoos sent her an Exorcist.
        A guy with thick black glasses and a bad haircut sent her a Martini.
        One woman, in a pink skirt and jacket, (with matching hair,) sent her a Pink Lady.
        The token guy who looked far too normal for this concert sent her a Tequila Sunrise
        And the maniac who had almost clotheslined her in the pit sent her the parts to a Car Bomb. With Bass as the beer, which was just wrong.
        Sue was momentarily stunned by the versatility of the bartenders here, then she looked her suitors over, dismissing Martini for being too Emo and Pink Lady for being too pink. And female. She wasn't planning to get that drunk. Sue was terrified at the thought of dive bombing a shot of Jameson into a pint of Bass, but she got lucky when the guy who sent it to her was kicked out of the bar for slamming someone's face into the stage.
        That left Fosters, Exorcist and Sunrise to choose from, which would require a closer look at the competitors. Fosters, aside from his marvelous taste in bands and outfits, was prettier than Angus Young, but not by much. And he was tall, very tall. In fact, Sue was some what impressed by how tall he was. She estimated about six foot four when he stood up from his table and the group of friends he was with to saunter over to the bar, winking at her as he went. She gave him a nervous grin back and surreptitiously pushed the Fosters to the side. It was the group of friends who did it, because the group of friends meant that there was no guarantee that she would end up with just him at the end of the night. And that was her real goal. Anything else was extra.
        So, down to Exorcist and Sunrise. Both of them were sitting alone, which made her feel better, and both of them were in the pit earlier, which made her life harder. Exorcist was young though, and the more Sue looked at him, the more she wondered how he had gotten in. She and Exorcist locked eyes for a moment, and a crooked smile spread across his face. Sue shook her head, grinning, then she waved him over.
        Exorcist swaggered across the room, and Sue could see the gears turning in his head. From the stupid grin on his face, he was imagining the bragging rights he would have after managing to coax her into bed with his charms.
        Man, was he gonna be disappointed. Sue thought.
        “Hey there, you wanted to see me?” Exorcist said, in what he probably thought was his most seductive voice. He sat down across from her, which meant his face was less than two feet away, before sliding a pack of cigarettes out of his sleeve. “You're a smoker right?”
        “No, I don't smoke.” Sue responded, confused by the question. What had led him to think she was a smo-
        “Really?” Exorcist said in surprise, putting the cigarettes away. Then he leaned in, the idiotic grin returning to his face, “Cause you're really fuckin' hot.”
        A laugh clawed its way out of Sue's mouth before she could stop it.
        “Clever, did you think that one up all by yourself?” Sue asked, leaning back in her chair.
        “Well, my mother helped some.” Exorcist responded, and Sue immediately decided that she liked this kid. So, instead of turning him in to the bouncer, she was just going to mess with him a little.
        “Mom's are like that.” Sue said with a grin, running her finger around the rim of the Exorcist slowly. “Did she give you a name too?”
        “In fact, she did.” Exorcist responded, leaning back. “The name's Emmanuel Forester.”
        “Well Emmanuel.” Sue looked into his eyes, “Does she know you're in here? Isn't it past your bed time?” A feeling of satisfaction spread through Sue's body as Emmanuel stiffened up.
        “I have no idea what you're talking about. My age is perfectly clear on my license.” Emmanuel fished the card out of his pocket and managed to dispel any lingering doubts Sue had to his age. Nobody went for their I.D. first if they had nothing to hide. Sue took it out of his hand and looked it over for a moment.
        “That's nice work. Donald?”
        “What? Who's Donald?”
        “Donald, short guy,” Sue held up a hand to indicate that Donald stood about six inches taller than them sitting. “Has these creepy grey eyes, red hair, about a gazillion freckles, and makes excellent fake I.D.s that just happen to work best at places run by the mob he works for.”
        “Shit.” Emmanuel's head dropped, and he rested his head on his arms for a moment before looking up at her. “What are you, some kind of cop?”
        “Wrong side of the law. I work with Donald, so go enjoy the rest of the concert kid. Oh, and don't drink too much. It's bad for your liver.” Sue waved Emmanuel away, and he scampered off into the reformed pit as she carefully lifted up the Tequila Sunrise and took a drink from it, signaling to it's buyer that she was interested.
        Sunrise had on a flannel shirt and blue jean, and if it wasn't for the fact that they appeared to be his work clothes, Sue would have said he looked too grunge to be at this concert. The red lights of the stage gave his blond hair a fascinating glow as he moved towards the chair Emmanuel had vacated. His brown eyes spoke volumes, displaying an encyclopedia of hardships, but all Sue cared about was whether he had his own apartment. Of course, there was no reason to make it easy for him.
        “Hey there stranger,” Sue said as Sunrise sat down, “What's your name? And while we're at it, what's your sign?”
        “Richard Renfield, and I'm a Cancer.” Renfield offered her his hand. Sue accepted the handshake, smiling at the surprise on his face when her grip turned out to be stronger than he expected.
        “Richard Renfield huh?” Sue looked him over, trying to estimate if he was worth putting effort towards. Renfield's hair was just long enough to brush his shoulders and frame his face, but not long enough to make him look feminine. In fact, his whole body straddled the line between feminine and masculine. His face was soft, emotional, and framed in a tough looking jawline, like someone had started carving Venus, then decided they wanted Ares instead. That is, if statues can grow two days worth of stubble. He didn't look that much older than Emmanuel, and  if it weren't for those eyes she would have ignored him.
        But those eyes-
        The only other person Sue had ever seen with eyes like that was Nell, and Sue had witnessed that transformation. This had given her perspective on just how much pain it took to cultivate eyes like that, without having to experience any of it herself. And anyone who went through that much pain matured quickly, so maybe he was worth spending a little time with.
        “Well Richard, my name's Sue.”
                *                *                *   
        “So, what you're telling me is, you don't have any magic powers?”
        “I told you, God tells me who my targets are. He whispers in my ear, gives me the full dossier of relevant information, and then I go out and destroy the demons, devils, night terrors, or whatever the boss says.”
        “Uh huh, and when schizophrenia becomes a magic power I'll be sure to let you know. Until then, no magic powers.”
        In movies, whenever someone got shocking information or an unexpected visitor showed up at your apartment and didn't kill you, you were supposed to take fine Cognac from the mini-bar and celebrate by sharing a drink with him. Unfortunately for Nell, the locals had been unwilling to spring for a place ritzy enough to have a mini-bar. And even if they had, Nell would have ended up footing the bill for whatever she took anyway. However, one of the facts about cheap motels was that there were never a lack of liquor stores nearby. So, the duo took a short trip to one of these fine establishments to pick up some refreshments, and while Nell wasn't exactly poor at the moment, there was no way she was springing for Cognac. Jameson was the most expensive she was getting, and that was mostly because Nell planned on finishing whatever was left over afterwards.
        “So, if you don't have any magic powers besides budding insanity, what was it about Abraham Van Helsing that let him go up against Dracula?” Nell continued, taking a drink from her glass of whiskey.
        “My ancestor had nothing going for him but an encyclopedic knowledge of human anatomy and folklore.” Abraham took a drink from his own glass, pausing for a moment as the fiery liquid worked its way down his throat. “That was one of the first things I researched after I was recruited.”
        “The hell? Recruited?”
        “Yea, turns out the Vatican watches seminaries from every Christian denomination for people with a combination of athletic ability, genetics, and the right level of faith. I happen to fit all the criteria, so they whisked me out of the Episcopal Divinity School and away to Rome for special training. And, as an extra bonus, it turns out the Van Helsing bloodline is a descendant of a little known, but spiritually gifted, group of people.” Abraham grinned, polishing off his glass of whiskey at the same time Nell did. He waved her hand away from the bottle, pouring the next round himsel as he continued. “Apparently, we Van Helsings are descendants of the shepherds present at the birth of Jesus. You know, the guys that the angel brought 'good tidings of great joy' to? It's where I get my 'spiritual schizophrenia' from. Except that instead of joyful visions, I get to hear how much many heinous sins a vampire's done in the three centuries he's been alive, and where to find him so I can make sure that his list doesn't get any longer.”
        “Sounds like fun.” Nell took another drink, with Abraham following her lead. “Does it pay well?”
        “Well, you know how well civil service pays?”
        “Yea, not well.”
        “I get paid worse, but soup kitchens around the world are instructed to let me in on sight, and we get as much as we want. Of course, if I deprive others by eating more than my share, the voices stop and my job gets harder until I make amends.”
        “I bet there's a really neat term in the medical community for conscience driven schizophrenia.”
        “You are truly a skeptic Ms. Nell. It is somewhat impressive to see someone demonstrate so little faith when she has seen a man turn to ash right before her eyes.”
        “Maybe you have some sort of heat ray.”
        “You are more willing to believe in a HEAT RAY than the power of God?” Again, Nell could actually hear the capital G when Abraham said God. So she polished off her whiskey and poured herself another, finishing off the bottle and officially bringing her count up to two, compared to the three and a half Abraham had polished off. He was working on the fourth now as he continued.
        “I read a lot of science fiction as a child.”
        “In church no doubt.”
        “Yea, my parents weren't happy when they caught me, so I didn't get caught the second time.”
        “So, you were a delinquent as a youth-”
        “-And now you are a thief.”
        “A professional thief!”
        “Did you ever hear the passage in the bible that says 'Thou shalt not steal?'”
        “Yea, but since it's in the old testament I figured it was one of those obsolete rules the Hebrews made up so they could all get along while they were wandering in the desert. Like Leviticus.” Abraham gave Nell a look, one of the special looks Nell knew by heart, and always warmed her heart when it appeared on the face of someone she just met. It was the look that you gave someone when  they managed to surprise and horrify you simultaneously.
        “I cannot believe you just said that.”
        “Good, that means I said the right thing.”
        “Look, I believe I have finally drank enough and told enough little secrets about myself to get to the point.” Abraham leaned back in his chair, putting his feet up on the tiny hotel table and staring at the ceiling. “I have been told to recruit you and Ms. Susanna Parr for a temporary assignment.”
        “You probably should have brought this up before you told me what it pays.”
        “The church believes that we can appeal to your better nature.”
        “Better nature? I'm a professional thief!”
        “What if I told you that the package you delivered today into the hands of known enemies of the Church, is an angel.”
        “Really?” Nell's eyes lit up as she sat forward in her chair, posture changing when she became interested in the conversation. “What the hell was he doing there? Shouldn't he have been singing in the celestial choir somewhere? Somewhere not here.” Nell made a motion with her hands, “And by here, I mean, this whole plane of existence-”
        “I got what you mean.”
        “Okay then, I'll repeat my question. Why was he here?”
        “I can't just tell you that.” Abraham leaned in close, winking at Nell. “First, you need context.” Nell slumped in her chair, an exasperated sigh escaping her lips.
        “This is going to mean more talking, isn't it?”
        “It always does when a man of faith deals with skeptics.”
        “Fine,” Nell picked up the bottle of whiskey and took a long draw from it. Then she leaned back and laced her fingers through her hair. “Fire away, give me appropriate context.”
        “Alright, I'm not going to give you the Blade spiel. You know vampires are real, whether or not you want to admit it, since you saw me kill a pair earlier today.  This means that it is theoretically possible for all sorts of other things to exist in this world. Werewolves, unicorns, fairies, witches, whatever. Once the barrier has been breached, the possibilities are endless. So I'm just gonna take a sledgehammer to your barrier right now. About eighty percent of the fairy tale creatures you heard about as a child are real.”
        “No kidding?”
        “Don't interrupt. Now, these creatures don't care about humanity one whit. For some of them, this means that they feed off of us. For others, it means that they're too apathetic to care. With earth currently standing as a free zone, the only creatures defending it are those who have more power than those of us stuck here. We call them godlings.”
        “So, if these godlings do all the work, what the fuck are you doing killing vampires in a Vegas back alleyway?”
        “What did I tell you about interrupting?” Abraham bit out sharply, slamming his hands on the table.
        “Um... Don't?” Nell responded, abashed.
        “Good, try and remember that. Now where was I? Anyway, even with the godlings policing themselves, there are still problems. When godlings do take a direct interest in humanity, you end up with one of two things. When a particularly powerful godling does it, one that no one, not even the other godlings, hell, not even big groups of the other godlings, can stop, they become an incarnation. The Olympian gods back in the Hellenistic period, the Egyptian gods, some of the Shinto deities. Although,” Abraham paused for a moment, “Shintoism is weird, they have some way of creating their own incarnations. And they're not the only ones either. Anyway, Incarnations eventually become so reliant on humanity that when belief in them fades, they do to, no matter how much power they had gained through their symbiotic relationship with humanity. When belief fades, poof,” Abraham made and exploding motion with his fingers ”Away they go, back to the godling planes, too weak to come back to earth.
        And the other thing you end up with is the union between human and godling. Whether it was Lillith in The Beginnng, Zeus and his children, or Enkidu, father of shapeshifters, the union between mortal and godling creates monsters. All the monsters and creatures on this plane owe their existence to sex-addicted godlings. Any questions?”
        Nell raised her hand.
        “Yes?” Abraham asked with a grin.
        “So what about GOD with a capital G. Is he the first godling or something?”
        “God is the father, the almighty, and the judge of all things. He exists beyond monsters and demons, angels and incarnations. He is the Alpha and the Omega, and the guide for my hand. May he lead me into the darkest of hells, and may he escort my soul from it intact.”
        “That's pretty, did your mother teach you that?” The sarcasm crept back into Nell's voice, and she smiled at him, her eyes sparkling as she watched for a reaction.
        “The order taught me that, after I asked the exact same question you did. Except I got several lashes first for blasphemy. The Vatican really doesn't mess around when it comes to blasphemy.”
        “Huh,” Nell slid the bottle of whiskey across the table, Abraham caught it easily and took a swig, “So, if all these fairy tale creatures exist, can they all be taken care of using the methods in the storybooks. Cold iron, silver, garlic, thorny bushes around the windows, et cetera?”
        “You're surprisingly well versed in your fairy tales.”
        “I went through a bit of a goth phase as a teenager.”
        “Who your age didn't-”
        “Don't interrupt. As for your question, most of the fairy tale methods do work. Granted, a fairy won't die each time you say 'I don't believe in fairies,' although Heaven knows it would be nice if those  monsters were extinct.” Abraham took another drink from the bottle, “But the men who compiled all that folklore and poetry did an excellent job in terms of the accuracy in their collections. Where there are monsters, there are ways to kill those monsters.”
        “So which ones are true?”
        “A hunter's tools are those which the hunter feels will work the best against the monsters they fight. Some tools are complex, requiring an armory and a thousand unique skills to create. And some are like mine, requiring only a bit of money and a lot of faith. But for people like you and your partner, the tools will be provided for you, and they will be only what you need.”
        “Wait, people like me and my partner?”
        “Yes. Someone has chosen you, and they chose you a long time ago. I saw it while we were talking.”
        “Fuck that. I'm gonna wait for my partner to get back. Then, we're gonna get another bank job from Tommy, whether he's a vampire or not, because I don't care, and we're gonna make enough cash off of that to let me take a vacation for a year. See, since I'm a bank robber, a job which entails the constant breaking one of those famous ten commandments, I doubt that GOD has a plan for me.”
        Abraham just shrugged and stood up, walking for the door. He opened it to reveal the neon darkness and glowing shadows of Vegas at night.
        “The wonderful thing about destiny is that God, his angels, and all other godlings don't use it much. The horrible thing about destiny is that it cannot be escaped once set in motion. As for your breaking of the commandments, well,” Abraham stepped out into the darkness, shadows falling on his face as his black jacket absorbed the night's luminance, “God works in mysterious ways. And angels care not for the laws of man.” Abraham smiled, his teeth glowing in the light cast from the room. “I will see you again Nellenna Townsend.”
        With that, Abraham strolled into the night, shutting the door behind him and leaving Nell bewildered at the unexpected use of her full name.

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    Friday, February 5th, 2010
    12:12 am
    Verduga Green: Story Three
    The man lay in the dirt, completely ignoring what the dirt was doing to his white jogging suit. The scope was pressed to his eye as he watched, staring down into the house through the open window. The hill's position was perfect, the sheer foliage hiding his form, even dressed in a once stark white, and at this height, the glare would be hidden. He tracked her through the house, flicking night vision on and off as she passed through parts of her house without windows, watching her. The scope wasn't attached to anything, it was just that he had been doing this for years, and found he preferred the ease of the one handed scope over two handed binoculars during his viewing pleasure. It was nice to have one hand free, just in case he needed it.

    Something landed on his legs, and he jumped in surprise, rolling over to see what was behind him. And he found a smartass, the girl with bright green hair staring down at him, the two piercings in her left ear reflecting the harsh white light of the streetlights in the distance.

    “I brought you lunch.” Verduga told him. “Or is it dinner? Hell, for all I know its breakfast. When was the last time you ate?”

    “I don't know.” The Man in White responded. “Maybe a week? It's not strictly necessary for me to eat at all.”

    “I know.” Verduga responded with a shrug. “But if you don't, you get cranky. And lets be honest, you're a bit of a pill anyway.”

    “And considering you found me, Tarot was worried about me.” The Man in White said with a sigh. “Damn her. Well, get down. I don't want your jewelry giving away my position. It's too shiny.”

    “The man wearing completely white is telling me I'm not camouflaged?” Verduga was incredulous. “I'm wearing green!”

    “Yea, but those shades of green were never found in nature.” The Man in White countered. “And anyway, I didn't criticize your clothing. Just the shiny bits in your ears. Now get down.”

    “Fine fine fine.” Verduga rolled her eyes as he lay down beside him. “I told you that you got cranky, Cue. Eat your lunch so you feel better.”

    Cupid glared at her, but he grabbed the brown paper bag and opened it up, then he looked at her in shock. “Strawberries? Where did you find strawberries this time of year?”

    “At the suuuuuuuupermarket.” Verduga answered, a heavy dose of sarcasm in her voice. “Maybe you've heard of it. It's a magical place with lots of food, at all times of year. Those strawberries probably aren't that great, being out of season, but they were on sale.

    “And celery, and are there lettuce and tomatoes on this sandwich?” Cupid took the wrapped food out of the bag in shock. “You are a miracle worker, Verduga. How about I hit a nice guy with an arrow for you? Anyone you like.”

    “Er, no thanks.” Verduga said, picking up Cupid's scope as he began to eat. “So which house is hers? Tarot told me this is where you went to watch the girl you're always talking about.”

    “Last house on the left.” Cupid told her. Then he let out a squeal as he discovered the dark chocolate, hidden beneath the rest of the food. He ate that first, as Verduga put her eye to the scope, finding the last house and looking in through the windows. She noticed the girl, watching her as Cupid ate. When he was done, the contented sigh a clear signal, she returned the scope to him. He nodded his tanks, trading her the paper bag.

    “She's cute.” Verduga said, as Cupid wiped his hands on his white clothes and laid back down.

    “She's more than cute, she's perfect.” He said, putting his eye back to the scope, watching his target again. “She is perfection incarnate, from her breasts to her buttocks, her shapely gams accentuating a perfect neck, and everything in between. And her face tops it all like a beautiful lid, holding all the rest in, lest it fly apart, simply to pique the universe by letting such perfection become chaos.”

    “You know, for a god of love, that was the least poetic statement I've ever heard. And I've read fanfiction.” Verduga said, and Cupid smirked.

    “I leave poetry to the muses. Those were just facts.” Cupid told her.

    “Sure.” Verduga rolled over onto her back, placing her fingers behind her head as she looked up at the stars peeking through the trees. “But still, speaking of unromantic, and I say this as a girl, the whole stalking thing isn't cool. It a little pathetic, and it just reeks of obsession.”

    “Eh, love makes everyone pathetic, even deities.” Cupid countered. “Look at Zeus, the slut. And as for obsession, well, All love is obsession. Mine is just a bit more dedicated than most. Which is appropriate, since love's my domain. Well, mine and mom's.”

    “Yea, I'm not touching that. Which probably makes me the only one.”Verduga said, waiting for him to laugh. She frowned when he didn't, so she engaged him in conversation again. “And not all love is obsession. In fact, I don't think love is obsession at all.”

    “If you really believe that,” Cupid said with a measured tone, his head tracking his love through her house, “then I feel sorry for your boyfriends. And girlfriends. I feel sorry for your lovers in general.”

    “Hey, there's no need for personal attacks!” Verduga said, exposing her hypocrisy.

    “The truth isn't really an attack.” Cupid said. “Haven't you ever found yourself thinking about your significant other at odd times a day? What about when you drop everything, just because they make a phone call, or send you a text? When you abandon your friends to be with them, even when they're telling you to go out. When you stand by their bedside when they're sick, risking your own health to make them feel better? Is there another term for that than obsession?”

    “Um... passion?” Verduga offered, uncomfortable in the knowledge that the word didn't quite fit, epseically when he phrased things that way. She had done all of those things before, and it hadn't seemed obsessive at the time.

    “Passion comes from the Latin word Pati, to suffer or submit. Obsession comes from the Latin Obsessio,to siege or blockade. Submission follows a siege, and honestly, I'm quite happy knowing that obsession leads to passion.” Cupid answered.

    Verduga thought about that for a moment.

    “I'm not sure that's the healthiest approach to being in-”

    “It doesn't matter what you think, mortal!” Cupid snapped, and Verduga wrinkled her nose, turning her head to face him.

    “Hey! I made you some nice food!” Verduga said with indignance.

    “Oh yea! Sorry.” Cupid apologized, and Verduga nodded. “Still, obsession and passion are two parts of the same coin. You can't have one without the other.”

    “Whatever you say, Cue.” Verduga said, standing up. “have fun with your stalking. I hear the girls love it.”

    “They do, trust me. They just won't admit it. Why do you think vampires are so popular these days?” Cupid said, and she scowled at the smugness in his voice.

    Veduga walked back to her car, un happy with herself for actually considering what Cupid had said. He was a deity of love after all, so maybe he was right. And maybe that was her problem, why she ran through relationships faster than most people went through toilet paper. She had always thought too much, been to logical. It might prevent her from ever being obsessive enough to truly love someone, to have that strong passion that could look past everything. She would always see their faults too, would always be aware that, even if she loved them, they would never be perfect. And maybe that made them uncomfortable, maybe instead of acknowledging their faults, she should just ignore them, live on the idea of ignorance is bliss by never wanting to find out where they had been before, and not being honest about her path. Maybe that dissolved the passion, by turning them into humans, instead of idealized creatures.

    It seemed so shallow to her, but if that was her problem, her need for equality as imperfect beings, it would explain why people kept leaving her...

    Verduga let out a sigh, opening her car and getting in. She didn't want to end up sitting on a hillside, watching the person she loved though. She wasn't sure what to do, so she drove of, pushing down the accelerator and turning up the music. And when that wasn't enough, she rolled down the windows, despite the cold, and let the air wash over her, finally ridding herself of concerns for the short time it would take her to get back home.

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    Monday, February 1st, 2010
    12:00 am
    Among Thieves: Chapter 3
    Chapter 3.

    Nell woke up around ten thirty the next day, and took a moment for herself to lay in bed. Last night's sleep had been marvelously dreamless thanks to her drunk and exhausted state. Nell gave thanks to her bodies natural alcohol tolerance, which meant that her perfect morning wasn't ruined by a hangover of any kind. Nell didn't remember much about last night after she had stepped up to the bar, but there was a poking in the back of her head, trying to remind her about something she should to do. Nell rolled out of bed, stretching as she tried to remember exactly what that was. Nothing important was springing to mind, except for the question of whether she had eaten anything yesterday. She took a shower and brushed her teeth, checking herself out in the mirror as she continued to ponder. By the time she stepped out of the bathroom, Nell figured t it couldn't be that important. After all, if it was, then she would have remembered it by now. Nell got dressed slowly, picking and choosing more carefully than her meager selection of clothes warranted. She felt like cutting loose a bit, even if that wasn't really an option when you owned as few clothes as she did. Nell began with the most comfortable set of bra and panties she owned, following it up with a nice pair of black jeans. She slipped a dark blue t-shirt on top, tucking it into her pants before gathering her holster from where she had dropped it last light. Whatever it was that she had forgotten to do continued to bother her as she buckled the complex belt on over her jeans, spinning her Glock 17 once, then slipping it into the holster. The belt was not exactly inconspicuous, hanging low at her side, the it kept the black pistol seated at mid-thigh, and in easy reach for quick draw. Plus, the belt itself was stylish enough to make it look like she was a fashion victim, or maybe a slave, only the buckle could be seen. To cap it off, Nell threw on her long black coat, thankful for the cold weather, which the coat hanging far enough past her knees to easily conceal the pistol, without impeding her reach too much. She checked herself in the mirror, twirling the car keys around her finger before dropping them into her jacket pocket. Then she pulled open the door, ready to greet the new day.

    She was greeted back by one of Sue's pistols.

    Oh, that's what I forgot. Thought Nell as she slowly backed into the room, arms raised.

    “Okay, I can understand the spectacle at the casino. Hell, I can even fucking understand knocking me unconscious and dragging me back to the hotel.” Sue kicked the door shut behind her, keeping her gun trained on her partner. “But was it necessary to leave me in the car without keys, a phone, or even a change of clothes?”

    “Um, how many drinks did I have last night?”

    “I dunno,” Sue's gun dropped slightly as she thought for a moment, “Like five or six I think, I was drinking too.” Nell took the opportunity to twist the gun out of Sue's hand, dropping the clip on the floor as she ejected the chambered round. Nell was worried to see that the safety was off, meaning that if Sue had wanted too, Nell would have been a corpse on the ugly motel carpet right now. But she didn't have time to think about the now, so she dropped the gun to the floor and gave Sue her best intimidating glare.

    “Look, your bag is right over there, and I'm not gonna stop you from taking a shower or changing clothes. But if we're gonna draw down on each other, can we do it now and get it over with?” Nell brushed the edge of her coat back, resting a hand on the butt of her gun as she watched Sue contemplate the idea. “Look, I'm sorry for whatever I did last night. I'm sure I thought it was a good idea at the time. After you clean up, we can talk about whatever bought it on.”

    “Aw fuck, I can't do the job alone anyway,” Sue shrugged, letting her muscles relax. She was more than a little upset that Nell had disarmed her so easily. “I'm gonna go take a shower, then we can talk about the job Tommy offered us last night.

    “Cool, I'll just check out the television till you're done.”

    “Fine, I shouldn't be too long.” Sue walked over to the bathroom, snatching up her duffel bag on the way. A few seconds after the door shut, Nell heard the sound of rushing water, so she sat down on the bed and switched on the television, intending to use her free cable to the fullest.

    Meanwhile, in the shower, Sue was coming to grips with the idea that Nell was not quite as easily manipulated as she had hoped. Sue had always assumed that Nell's intelligence and fighting ability were at least in some part posturing, but there was a core of iron below that soft, paranoid exterior. She would have to be more careful, especially after how easily Nell had taken her down last night. The shower felt good, especially since Sue had never been the type of girl that enjoyed sleeping in a car overnight. All she had to do was think of some way to sugarcoat the job before Tommy called and gave them the details. Sue spun the variables in her head as she finished scrubbing off and getting dressed, then she just decided to lay it out in front of Nell. After all, Nell was a reasonable woman at heart, she would probably be cool with it.

    It took Sue another five minutes to get dressed, during which Nell became fed up with cartoons and the weather. When Sue exited the bathroom, freshly clothed and slipping her holsters back on, Nell moved to the small hotel table and sat down, motioning to the chair across from her.

    “Alright, so what did I miss last night while I was drinking?”

    Sue flipped the chair around and sat, her arms resting on the chair's back rest. She set her cell phone down in the center of the table as she stared at Nell, searching for the right words to describe what had happened last night.

    “Alright, well, so you were drinking at the bar and generally scaring everyone away after the fight, when Tommy came over to explain the job. All we have to do is pick up a package and deliver it somewhere. Then we get a lot of cash.” Sue knew Nell liked simple, so she kept as many details out as possible.

    “Huh, is that all? I was expecting something more complicated.” Sue let out a sigh of relief when Nell didn't freak out. Everything was going well. Now all she had to do was answer the phone, and they were gold.

    “That's it. We're waiting for the call to tell us where to go right now, actually.” Sue looked at the cell phone, hoping divine providence would step in and make it ring right then. But the Gods must have been looking the other way, since the phone didn't even twitch. “Um, is there anything good on television?”

    “No” Nell said, disgust in her voice. Then she stood up and stretched. She marveled at all the little aches and pains creeping through her body. The problem with fighting was that even when you won, you were still sore in the morning. And she no longer had the soothing benefit of her shower, or the rush of adrenaline from Sue's psychotic moment to distract her. “Anyway, if you're gonna watch that crap, keep it down. I'm gonna take a nap.”

    “A nap, didn't you just wake up?”

    “All the excitement made me tired again. Anyway, you know what they say about sleep.”

    “Who's they?”

    “'There is a time for many words, and there is also a time for sleep.'” Nell quoted, and Sue resigned herself to never knowing who “they” were, “I don't want anything to mess up this job, so I'm gonna get all of my sleeping out of the way now.”

    “Suit yourself.” Sue jumped on her bed as Nell climbed into hers, laying down on top of the comforter and folding her arms behind her head. Sue flipped channels as Nell shut her eyes.

    It was two hours of terrible daytime television before Sue's cell phone rang, forcing her to dash over and get it, since she had forgotten it on the table across the room. Nell snapped awake as Sue's hand touched the foot board of her bed, her hand moving to the butt of her gun. Then she looked around the room, confused for a moment, before sliding fully into consciousness, her ears picking up the middle of Sue's conversation.

    “-right, I've got directions to the warehouse for pick up, and to the safe house that's our drop off point. Uh huh,” Sue nodded her head, forgetting she was on the phone, “Yea, she's here with me. Nope, no sign of a hangover that I can see. Alright, I'll tell her.” She laughed, looking out the window as Nell sat on the edge of the bed. “Yea, I'll tell her that too. Bye Tommy.” Sue flipped the phone shut as she turned to face Nell.

    “Tommy says you can stop by and make him money in the rings any time. Oh, and that he'll be loving you long time if you make him enough.”

    “Gee, thanks for relaying the message Sue. It's not like Tommy didn't creep me out already or anything.”

    “Pshaw,” Sue made a dismissive motion with her hand, “Tommy's just a big teddy bear.”

    “Yes, in the fact that even if you know how to handle him correctly, you still might end up with your back torn up and dying of blood loss.”

    “Harsh Nell.” Sue gave her a look, which Nell ignored “Anyway, I've got the directions programmed into my phone, you ready to do this?”

    “Ready as I'll ever be. Autobots! Transform and roll out!” Nell said, slipping her goggles on.

    “Wouldn't we be Decepticons?” Sue asked with a smile, and Nell laughed. They both made sure to grab one of the room keys as they left, the door closing with a quiet click behind them. They hopped in to the Continental together, jumping over the doors instead of opening them. Nell felt a little sorry about leaving Sue out here all night with the top down, but since everything had turned out alright, she saw no point in worrying about it.

    It took three minutes for the duo to enter the city proper, and less than two more minutes before Nell remembered why she hated driving through cities. Stop and go traffic had always made Nell crazy, but sitting next to Sue, who had no problem with wearing a pair of guns out in the open on top of her skimpy clothes, placed city driving solidly in one of the lower levels of hell for her, one of the levels Nell was probably destined to end up in anyway for her years of thieving. It took twenty minutes of cell phone directions to get to the warehouse, during which they were challenged to races by two older men in classic Chevy's, and several younger men in tuners. Nell ignored them, while Sue followed a rigorous pattern of either flashing them or flipping them off, and eventually they made it to of the warehouse. Nell took them around back and parked, while Sue pulled out her pistols and walked over to the door Tommy had told them to use.

    This wasn't the first time she and Nell had watched a simple scenario turn into a spectacular fuck up, so they had developed a procedure. Nell shut off the car and dashed to the other side of the door, pulling her gun so she could cover Sue's back when her partner stepped in front of the door. Sue pointed her pistols at the hinges of the door, shooting each hinge twice before kicking out as hard as she could. The door collapsed inward, and Sue quickly ducked back, crouching beside the entryway.

    There was a tense moment while the pair waited for gunfire to rip through the doorway. A dozen heartbeats later Sue peeked back around the corner to survey the room.

    “Clear, let's move in.” Sue said, and Nell swung around the corner, covering high and right, leaving Sue to cover low and left. Black spots flashed in front of their eyes as they stepped into the darkness. Then they paused, surprised to see a man sitting in the middle of the room.

    The man's skin was so pale that the sun reflected off it, making the bruises that marred its pale perfection stand out like ugly craters. He was tied to an sturdy looking chair that happened to be bolted to the floor. There was wire wrapped around the duct tape that bound his arms and legs to the chair, silver on silver, and the man's head sat tilted back. The pair walked to the center of the room, where Nell took the man's pulse as Sue scanned the rest of the warehouse. She was careful not to look at the open doorway, or the sunbeam behind her, allowing her eyes to adjust to the darkness that surrounded them.

    “He's alive, just unconscious.” Nell said, closing her eyes.

    “Good, since I think he's our package.” Sue said as shapes began to resolve themselves from the gloom. Nell also turned to face the darkness, covering the left since Sue already had the right before opening her eyes, now that they were adjusted.

    “Well then, mission complete, lets just hope we can get him out of this monstrosity of a-” Nell trailed off as she got her first good look at the warehouse.

    Nell and Sue were no stranger to carnage. Of their past three dozen robberies, ten had come down to shoot outs with the police, and in those ten shoot outs, Sue had missed the vest and hit an arm or leg on fifteen police officers. Which, considering that she had fired over a hundred rounds, wasn't so bad. Still, Nell and Sue had never done enough damage that the locals couldn't smooth it out for a bigger cut of the take. In fact, the only massacre they had ever witnessed occurred while they were visiting a bank, and during their visit, someone else had decided the bank was worth robbing.

    The robbery had begun well for the thugs, and the two duo had passed time on the floor by critiquing their performance and guessing if it was anyone they knew beneath the masks and bodysuits. Unfortunately for the Thugs, a police cruiser happened by at just the right moment to hear one of them fire his shotgun into the ceiling as a warning shot. And from there, the situation went downhill.

    The hostage situation lasted for over two hours, during which it had steadily gotten worse. Nell had given the Thugs a fifty-fifty chance of getting out of the situation up until the moment one of them fired his gun. Both Nell and Sue recognized the impact of armor piercing bullets when they saw them, and the duo tried to melt into the floor, knowing that there was no way the Thugs were getting out alive. Whether the bullets were Teflon coated, high-powered, and expensive, or just military surplus bought because it was cheap, there was no way the Thugs could get into a shootout without breaking rule nine. And since they weren't taking prisoners, the police wouldn't feel obligated to either.

    It still took an hour before the first police officer died during the standoff. Two and a half hours later, the SWAT team had stormed the building.

    None of the Thugs survived, and none of the hostages had left with clean clothes.

    But the bloody mess that SWAT's high caliber bullets had made of a half dozen incompetent thieves was nothing compared to the carnage that greeted them in the warehouse's darkness. This carnage forced a whole new frame of reference.

    Nell's took a quick count, establishing that there were forty-five bodies, all in very different poses of death. The walls reminded Nell of an old Warner brothers cartoon, and she could actually tell where some of the combatants had been standing by the pattern of bullet holes left in the wall, which must have been in a shadow at this time of day, or Nell would have noticed the sun shining through them earlier. Sprays of blood decorated floor and overhead catwalks too, and as soon as the duo noticed the carnage the smell of decay washed over them. This was not the first day these bodies had spent in the warehouse.

    “So what do you think we have here?” Sue asked, taking a gulp of air through her mouth.

    “Well, some of these men look like Tommy's guys.” Nell said, stepping away from the sunbeam and taking a closer look, desperately trying not to throw up from the smell of rotting meat. “These other guys, they look like Triads. You know how I feel about Triads Sue.”

    “They're dead Nell. They can't do anything”

    “You don't know that Sue, what about ancient Chinese magic?” Sue couldn't see well enough in the dark, but Nell's voice was panicked. “Why did you get us involved in this?”

    “Look Nell, all of the Triads are dead. There will be no Chinese zombies. Now help me get this guy out of the chair so we can do our job and take him to Tommy's drop off point.” Sue walked over to the man in the chair and began to examine the duct tape. “Did you bring the bolt cutters? Or maybe a really good pair of scissors?”

    “They're in the car.” Nell said as she walked over to the center of the room, carefully avoiding the blood on the ground. Sue stepped outside, and Nell tried to look anywhere but at the dead triads. She stopped at the edge of the sunbeam, walked around it twice, then stood there staring until Sue returned with the bolt cutters. “Hey Sue?”

    “Yea Nell, what's up?”

    “Why does the blood stop at the sunbeam?” Nell waved Sue over as she continued to pace around the light. “Look, it's a perfect circle, like someone built a dam.”

    “Huh, he must be sitting on a raised area of the floor.” Sue shrugged as she stepped into the sunlight, carefully clipping the baling wire that held the man's duct tape bonds on.

    “Sue, you can see the drain,” Nell pointed to a grate sitting directly under the chair, “This is the lowest point in the floor. The whole thing is a physical impossibility. You think the Triads cleared it away for some reason, to mess with our minds?”

    “Shut up about the God-damned fucking Triads and help me with this guy. I can't carry him alone.”

    “You have to admit Sue, this whole ring of blood thing is really weird.”

    “Okay, it's weird,” Sue spat, sarcastically, “Now come and use your freak strength to help me with the target.” Sue moved behind the back of the chair and pantomimed lifting the man out.

    “Fine fine fine fine fine,” Nell chattered as she moved to lift the legs. “Lets just get out of here”

    The pair counted to three and lifted, carrying the man out of his chair and towards the door.

    “AND THE LAND IS FILLED WITH BLOOD! And the city is full of perversion; for they say 'The Lord has forsaken the land, and the Lord does not see!'” The man shouted as the duo removed him from the sunbeam. Nell dropped him in surprise and jumped back two feet.

    “Holy shit, he's awake!” Nell's hand scrabbled for her gun.

    “Chill, Nell!” Sue shouted, setting her half of their charge down gently and kneeling on his chest, “We'll just duct tape him up.” She brandished the duct tape and wrapped it securely around the man's wrists and elbows.

    “Sue, I really don't like this, check out the blood.” Nell motioned at the sunbeam with her Glock, the barrel shaking. “It's the Triads and their magic powers.”

    Sue looked up from her duct taping towards the circle of blood. Nell was right. Not about the magic, but about the fact that the blood was now flowing towards the drainage vent. Sluggishly, but it was flowing. “Huh, you must have jarred some clots loose when you dropped him.”

    “BUT AS FOR ME, MY EYE WILL HAVE NO PITY. Nor will I spare, but I will bring their conduct down upon their heads.” The man shouted again, his body jerking hard enough to knock Sue's grip loose.

    “God, shut up.” Sue taped his mouth shut, then his eyes as an afterthought. “Lets get this guy moving. It'll get you out of this warehouse faster.”

    “Yea, Let's get out of here Sue, this place is creeping me out.” Sue tossed Nell the tape, and after a few dozen passes around man's ankles, they were ready to lift him up again. In the time it took to get him out of the building he had two more shouting and twitching fits, which the women ignored. They tossed him unceremoniously into the vast trunk of the Continental, on top of fence posts, shovels, axes and other tools for burying bodies.

    “Are you okay to drive?” Sue asked, shutting the trunk and placing her hands on top as she looked at Nell. She knew how deep her friends psychoses about the Triads went, but they had more important things to do right now, such as getting the package to Tommy's drop off point in time. Sue would rather Nell drove, so she could keep her hands free in case the Triads really did attack, but if Nell wasn't stable enough for it-

    “Yea, I can drive,” Nell shook her head like she was clearing several dozen years of dust bunnies, “I'm good, I'm good, lets get out of here.” Nell caught the keys Sue tossed to her, and Sue nodded in approval before jumping into the shotgun seat. Nell took her time walking to the drivers seat, and she took a deep breath before she sat down and started up the car.

    It wasn't a short drive to the drop-off point, but Nell maintained a steady fifty miles over the speed limit the entire way. She wasn't oblivious to the fact that if they got pulled over and the cop wondered what the thunking noise was coming from the trunk they would have an unfortunate situation on their hands. But she was ignoring it in favor of getting away from the Triads as fast as possible, so they wouldn't think she had anything with the warehouse scene.

    With luck, and skill, and careful avoidance of the speed traps and checkpoints Nell memorized earlier in the week, they made it to the burnt-out squatter's paradise that Tommy was using as a safe house. Sue said that they had been ordered to, in Tommy's delicate words, “deliver all packages to the rear of the building,” so Nell pulled into the nearby alleyway. Sue thought that Nell's maneuvering of the Continental through the narrow corridor between these two building was an impressive bit of driving, but she refrained from saying so. She had no idea how Nell would take it, and no desire to add any charges to the already impressive tab she was racking up in the bar that was Nell's patience.

    “Those must be the guy's who will take the package off of our hands.”

    “I see them.” Nell responded, her eyes having fastened on the two men as soon as they entered the alley.

    Nell slowed to a stop in the drop off area near the door. Although wider here, the alley was shrouded in the shadow cast by the two buildings that created it, and the men kept to the shadows as they stepped towards the Lincoln.

    “Can we help you ladies with something? Mayhaps you're lost?” Man number one, dressed in a cream colored suit that went quite well with his pale skin smiled at the women, his face holding more than a hint of “move along.” Nell cast an appraising eye his way, the man's slight Italian accent tempting her to take a closer look, despite a personal vow not to get involved with anyone in the organization, even for a one night stand. He and man number two both possessed the effortless physique that you had to be born with, as opposed to the physiques she and Sue had, earned through years of unhealthy advertising, the public's unrealistic standards of beauty, occasional gym visits, fighting, and running. All of which could be ruined by one hamburger too many. Not so for men one and two, who probably never had to skip a meal and go to the gym to get their chiseled bodies. Man number two was dressed in a beige colored suit, since his skin was a different shade of pale from the other man's. The two men towered over where she sat in the car, four brown eyes that didn't match the smiles below them glaring into her. Nell's body began to feel tiny and afraid, and her mind rebelled against the feeling. These two were just mooks, the lowest of the low, the guys who brought her drinks while she talked to their boss. Low level mafioso had never bothered her this much before, except for the Triads, and then only after the incident. Oh god, what if these guys are planning the same thing, and some sort of sixth sense of mine was just now kicking in, Ihavetogetoutofher-

    Nell had a foot on the clutch and her hand on the gear shifter before Sue spoke up, breaking whatever spell she was under.

    “Relax guys, we're the messengers Tommy sent. You know, with the package.” Sue said up, sitting on the back of her seat so they couldn't look down at her. Even in her panic, Nell noted that the men's hands didn't move from their positions behind the mook's backs, meaning that these were either the least jumpy mafia guards she had ever seen, or they had their guns in lower back holsters. Nell just knew that shit like this was going to get them shot one day, and she was pretty sure Sue did it just to see if she could out draw a pair of professional gangsters.

    “You're the messengers huh?” Number two looked at number one. “Well then, Tommy must have told you the password.”

    “Yep, he said,” Sue pretended to think for a moment, “Help me get this god-damned package out of my trunk before it kicks its way out itself and I have to castrate you with a rusty spoon for letting it go.” She favored the men with her sweetest smile, “Which you know Tommy will let me do. Hell, he'll probably hold you down himself.” Sue hated being questioned by low level mooks. Honestly, Tommy would never use shit like a password. What other reason could there before for two girls in a Lincoln to cruise up and stop beside them. Did these two think they were funny? Maybe they just had a high opinion of themselves.

    “Damn girl. Tommy wasn't kidding about you.” They both started laughing.

    The fuckers were just playing with me, thought Sue as the man talked.

    “Alright, pop the trunk, we'll see if we can deal with what's inside.” Man one said, moving to the back of the car.

    Sue levered herself out of the convertible, and Nell tossed her the keys. She opened the trunk for the men with a flourish, stepping back to give them access to the man in back. Nell got out of the car after her, a flickering in the back of her mind telling her these men weren't normal. However, Nell was thankful to see that they approached the unconscious man in the duo's trunk with the same practiced ease as other mooks that she and Sue had encountered on the rare cases when the duo had been forced to dispose of their own packages, living and dead. The two men looked into the trunk, licking their lips as they took in the battered body.

    “Hail! Is everyone enjoying this fine afternoon the lord has blessed us with?”

    Nell jumped in surprise, trying to find the source of the booming voice that echoed down the alleyway. She couldn't see anything, but the feeling was still itching in her brain, so she grabbed Sue and dove behind a dumpster, bashing Sue's head on accident as she did. Sue sat there, dazed, as Nell peeked up over the edge of the dumpster.

    “Well, well, well, who could be conducting business here. Is this the work of the Lord my children?” The man's voice was dripping with authority as he stepped out of the long shadows of the alleyway. He was tall and slim, and the black clothes with a white collar hinted at a more than minor clerical investment. The question was-

    “What the fuck?” Apparently the mooks knew what the question was, and Number One didn't want anyone else to ask it first. The Priest grinned, walking towards the pair with his hands crossed behind his back.

    “What the fuck indeed, where did he come from?” Nell echoed, looking up from behind the dumpster.

    “Language, my daughter. What would God,” Nell was amazed that you could actually hear the capital G when the Priest said God, “think of you using language like that.” He smiled, “In fact, Miss...” the Priest paused, “Miss...” the priest paused again, then smiled even wider, showing a rack of well cared for teeth beneath his hazel eyes, brown hair, and deeply creased face, probably from smiling too much. “Well, Miss whoever-you-are, I would suggest you take cover.”

    “I don't know why you're doing this,” Number One leaned in close and took hold of the Priest's collar with one hand, getting right into the man's face. Nell imagined she could feel his grip on her shirt, feel his breath in her face, even from this far away. “But leave it alone. Or else me and my partner here are gonna have to take care of you and cover it all up.” Number One sighed, “And that would make Thomas quite unhappy.”

    “Ah, but Michael Brasi, I do know all about you,” Nell couldn't see from around Number One's (Michael, apparently).body, but she heard a soft, yet solid, thud.

    Michael stumbled back, twitching, his hands dropping to his side as he fell behind the car, eyes glazing over. Number Two moved faster than anyone Nell had ever seen, effortlessly lifting the package out of the trunk, throwing the man to the steel door he and his fellow mook had been guarding, where the body impacted hard enough to make the door ring. The door swung open, a pair of hands dragging the body inside as the priest took two graceful steps towards him.

    “Lukas Puzerio, I am no stranger to your sins either.” The priest pulled a machete from the trunk as he passed by, “And like my ancestors, I shall protect others from them.” One swing was all it took for the thin, frail-looking priest to remove the head from Lukas's shoulders.

    But instead of the fountain of blood Nell had expected from a grievous neck wound, Number Two (Lukas) disintegrated into a fine ash that hung in the alley's stagnant air. Lukas's ashes got everywhere, covering Nell's face in a fine white powder and seeping into her eyes and nostrils. However, despite the tears and coughing Lukas brought on, Nell had the sense of mind to dive back behind the dumpster when she heard the sound of guns being cocked, and she hit the dirt hard as a hail of bullets swept through the air above the dumpster, missing the girls and the car. Nell glanced above the dumpster as the Priest moved for the door. Then he was gone. One minute he was lunging towards the door, then there was the burst of gunfire, then the man was just gone. Beside Nell, Sue rubbed the bridge of her nose for a moment as she came back to her senses. Then she stood beside Nell, taking in the disaster scene that was the alleyway. Nell and Sue wanted another few minutes before Sue brushed the ash off of Nell's face, causing Nell to bat her hands away.

    “Stop it, you'll smear my goggles,” Nell said, taking the goggles off and wiping them on her shirt.

    “Did you see if they got the package inside?” Sue asked, ignoring her partner.

    “Um, yea,” Nell though about it for a second before continuing. “Some hands pulled him inside before they started firing in our general direction.”

    “Good,” Sue jumped up, sliding across the trunk that Nell didn't remember Lukas closing. She must have missed it amidst all the gunfire, stakes, and inexplicable ash. Sue was glad it had been closed, since it would be perforated now, at least according to the pattern of bullet holes in the wall. Then she walked towards the steel door and knocked loudly.

    “Hey assholes, I want my money.” Sue shouted, “We kept our end of the bargain. I'm going to Tommy if we don't get it, NOW!” The door opened up wide enough for a briefcase to be pushed out into the alleyway, before slamming shut again. Sue opened the case, counting the money before shouting at the door again. “Thanks for the money, fuckers!”

    Nell could tell Sue was a little stressed out, judging by her pattern of swearing.

    “Nell, let's get the fuck out of this god-forsaken alleyway.” Sue tossed the briefcase in the backseat as she climbed into the car.

    “I agree completely.” Nell responded as she climbed in, and began maneuvering the car out of the alleyway. She let the wind passing through the convertible as she sped up clean the ash off of her.

    “God dammit Nell.” Sue started awake in her seat, and Nell assumed she had dozed off for a moment, which was not a good thing if that bump on her head meant concussion. “What happened?”

    “I have no idea.”

    “Nell, today has been the very definition of a bad day.” Sue leaned back in her seat, rubbing her head. “Fuck this, you know what?”

    “You have a headache?” Nell gave her friend a sideways glance, personal issues temporarily forgotten.

    “Well, yes, but beside that?” Sue looked back at Nell for a moment, daring her to answer.

    “I dunno Sue, what?”

    “I need to get laid tonight.”
    Friday, January 29th, 2010
    12:00 am
    Verduga Green: Story Two
        Verduga ran around her house, hastily stuffing clothes and supplies into her suitcase.  The pressure was just getting to be too much, and she couldn't handle another day dealing with this shit. So she was getting out of town over the weekend, with the personal resolution to find something, anything, that would take her mind of the problems she was having. There were a few places she could go nearby that had sentimental value for her, and she was hoping that one of them would grant her a few moments of serenity. After all, getting away was one thing, but achieving peace of mind was completely different.
        Verduga was hoping she could achieve them both, instead of just wasting money on the first.
        “Here Lanky.” She called, trying to figure out where her cat had gone. Blank had a tendency to vanish right when she needed him most, which was not entirely unexpected, since he was a cat. But right now she had no desire to set out food and water for two days, and she was going to take him with her, whether he liked it or not. Her bags were packed, and she was ready to go, so she walked over to the mechanical can opener and triggered it. She had rigged it for this purpose, although she didn't use the ability often. After all, Blank was a very smart cat, and if she pretended to prepare his food any more than necessary he would figure the trick out.
        As it was however, he came scampering at the sound of food being prepared, and she was ready, scooping him up into her arms and heading out of her apartment, locking the door behind her. She scampered down the stairs, Blank still perplexed at why he was being carried instead of receiving food, and she managed to reach her car before he became restless and started squirming in her arms. She opened the drivers side door, setting Blank on the passenger seat and tossing her bags into the back, standing up straighter as their weight disappeared. Then she climbed behind the wheel and shut the door, the car rumbling to life as she turned the key with a heavy sigh.
        “Sorry Blank, but we have to get out of town for a while.” Verduga apologized to her cat, which was now sitting up in the passenger seat, admonishing her with a very stern look. “I packed some nice wet food, and when I figure out where we're stopping, I'll give it to you.”
        Blank continued to stare as Verduga backs out of her parking space and left the lot, merging with the flow of traffic. But after a minute or so, he seemed to realize it was futile and curled up on the passenger seat, enjoying the seat's warming feature Verduga had gotten just for him. She let out a sigh of relief as her cat rested. Even if he was her pet, being glared at by her kitty wasn't going to help her week any.
        Verduga cruised down the roads, still trying to decide where she wanted to go. It was a harder choice than she had expected, since she didn't really feel as if the mountains or the ocean would be soothing at the moment. She almost felt as if she would need some company, someone to hang out with. But she didn't have any friends worth mentioning around town, not at the moment. So she would have to find something that she and Blank could do by themsel-
        “Hey, Verduga, I need a favor.” Came Tarot's voice, and Verduga's head snapped to the side. She stared at the passenger seat, where Tarot sat with Blank on her lap, lightly stroking the cat. 
        “Watch the road.” Tarot said, her large triangular ears twitching as she watched the road in front of them. Verduga turned her attention back to driving and swore, jamming her foot on the brake just in time to prevent her car from ramming the back of the big red pickup truck in front of them. She slammed her palm against the steering wheel in frustration. Tarot watched Verduga fume, then she spoke again.
        “Seriously, it would be a big help.” Tarot said, and Verduga glared at her again, trying to keep her eyes on the road at the same time.
        “What do you want Tarot?” Verduga asked the minor deity sitting beside her, regretting the wish she had made for company. Tarot was not the company she had wanted, the former messenger of Inari being much more of a burden than any sort of companion. Her once white fur was now grey, and she sported black tips on her ears and tail, symbols of Inari's displeasure. Although she had always told Verduga that if Inari had been really angry at her, the Kami would have removed her tail. Verduga couldn't imagine what had to be done in order for that to happen, since Tarot was already the most annoying person Verduga knew, particularly since no matter how hard she tried to ignore the Kitsune, she never got the hint. She just kept coming back, over and over again.
        And it was even more aggravating since Verduga knew exactly what the deity wanted.
        “No, Tarot. Find someone else.” Verduga said.
        “But I haven't even asked yet.” Tarot responded with indignance.
        “You don't need to.” Verduga countered. “I know what you want, and the answer is no.”
        “Oh come on!” Tarot shouted. “I have the money, I'm just not allowed to make the transaction. The council decreed that we're not allowed to purchase the drugs, but are free to receive them as gifts. So if you buy them, and give them to me.”
        “That's a stupid plan.” Verduga said.
        “It's a brilliant plan!” Tarot's voice was far too loud for the confines of Verduga's car. “It doesn't break any rules, I get my drugs, and I'll even let you keep the change.”
        “I don't want your money Tarot.” Verduga let out an exasperated sigh. “Will buying these drugs get you out of my car?”
        “Sure.” The kitsune responded. “You get me what I need and I'll bugger right off.”
        Tarot let out a coy smile as she looked away.
        “Anyway,” she explained, “I only need them so I can share them with this other exiled messenger I found. You know, he has a cute friend, a tengu. And until you've seen what a tengu can do with his nose-”
        “Tarot,” Verduga interrupted. “what will you do if I don't buy your drugs?”
        “Well,” Tarot thought for a second. “Since I probably won't be spending time with my new friend, then I guess I'll just have to stop by your place. And lounge naked on your couch while eating your food.”
        “So let me get this straight.” Verduga said. “You're saying that if I don't buy you drugs, you'll abuse your remaining messenger powers to act like a terrible roommate?”
        “God dammit.” Verduga spat, imagining just how annoying it would be to come home to an empty fridge and know that Tarot had spent the weekend lounging on her furniture nude. All the Febreeze in the world wouldn't make that fresh and clean again. “Fine. Where the hell are is your damned dealer?”
        “Yay!” Tarot exclaimed, a smile appearing on her face. “You're the best!”
        “Whatever, give me the cash.” Verduga said, and Tarot dug into the pocket of the leather jacket she wore over her sports bra, taking out a wad of twenties. She directed Verduga to the shadier side of town, which didn't bother the human too much, since she had once lived a few blocks from here during a few years in which her life wasn't going quite as well as this. They cruised the streets for a while, with Verduga growing ever more impatient with the time this was taking out of her planned vacation, when Tarot pointed, signaling that they had found her dealer.
        Verduga looked at where she was pointing and let out a laugh at the sight.
        “I thought dealers were supposed to be low profile?” She asked, taking in the man. He stood on a street corner next to a black and yellow Skyline GT, printed with the single most garish design of leopard spots Verduga had ever seen. That is, except for the hideous design on the man's jumpsuit. The man even wore shooting glasses instead of sunglasses, for their yellow tint she assumed, and she was positive that there was no way the man could stand out more.
        “Well, demigods do things a little differently.” Tarot said, pointing. “Pull over by that streetlight, it'll tell him you want to deal.”
        “A demigod?” Verduga marveled, pulling over. “Which god screwed which parent to make him happen.”
        “Oh, he's rarer than that.” The kitsune explained as the dealer approached them. “It turns out a bunch of his grand and great-grandparents were demigods. Then they had kids with normal humans, so their blood got diluted. Until they had him. So he's like, one-sixteenth of eight or so different gods. All of them party gods too. Which is why he always has the best stuff.”
        “Huh.” Verduga mused, rolling down her window. “How fascinating.”
        “I know!” Tarot confirmed, as the dealer leaned in through the window, chewing his gum loudly, mouth open.
        “What can I do for you two ladies.” The man said, eying Tarot.
        “Oh nothing for me thanks!” Tarot said far louder than necessary. Verduga assumed she was trying to convince any unseen watchers nearby that only her misguided human friend was here to buy drugs. “But my good friend would like fifteen units of Kadrin. In tablet form. Silver style, with a twist.”
        “Oh,” The dealer rolled his eyes as he looked at Verduga. “Is that right, girl?”
        “My name isn't girl.” Verduga said with a glare. “But yes, that's right. Here's the money, and I want exact change.”
        Verduga handed him the wad of bills, and he laughed.
        “Of course. One second ladies.” He wandered over to his car, opening the trunk and searching around for a few seconds. When he returned, there was a few dollars in his hand, and a stack of shining bubble pads.”
        “Kadrin and change.” He said, pausing in his gum chewing to smile at her. “you two ladies have fun now.”
        “Oh, I'm sure we will.” Tarot said, batting her eyelids at him. Verduga gave her a look, then rolled up her window as the dealer stepped away, diving out o the bad part of town and rejoining the main roads.
        “Here.” She said, pressing the pills into Tarot's hands. “Happy now?”
        “Eeeeeeee!” Tarot squealed. “You're the best Verduga! Thanks  a bunch.”
        “Whatever, just-” Verduga began, only to have Tarot vanish as she was speaking.
        “Don't ask me to do this again. Why do I bother?” Verduga finished.
        Then she sighed, reaching over to stroke her kitty behind the ears. Her purred, and seemed to be unaware of Tarot's disappearance, just as happy on the heated cushion as in the Kitsune's lap. Verduga smiled at her happy cat, then continued her journey out of town, hoping against hope that nothing else would happen to delay her.

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    This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
    Monday, January 25th, 2010
    12:00 am
    Among Thieves: Chapter 2
    Chapter 2

    It took an hour and a half for Nell and Sue to get to Tommy's club, and another fifteen minutes to find parking. Nell refused to pay for a garage, since they had been guaranteed that no one would try to steal the car on the street, and it seemed that whatever syndicate owned the parking garages was not in league with Tommy's outfit.

    “Honestly,” Sue sighed as they rounded the block for the fifth time, “I will pay for it myself Nell. Can we just park somewhere withing a couple of blocks?”

    “Yea, as long as it's not a garage.”

    “For fuck's sake Nell, it'll be like ten bucks.”

    “It is the principle of the thing!” Nell growled out through gritted teeth, “Look, there's a spot.” Nell slid the Continental into place between two SUVs, and they both climbed out of the car over the hood, since space was too tight to open their doors. Sue slipped her jacket on, and it did a marvelous job of concealing her guns while she walked down the street. Nell had opted to leave her weapons in the trunk while she went to the club. Sue was the better shot anyway, and since she was packing Nell didn't see the point of risking arrest for concealed carry. They traveled in silence for a few minutes before reaching the club, where the duo took one glance at the line before trading a look that said “screw the velvet rope.” The duo walked straight up to the doorman, a very tall, very black man in a suit who gave them the once-over before muttering a single word.

    “Invitations?” His voice was so low it gave subwoofers nightmares.

    “Here.” Nell handed the bouncer their shiny papers. The bouncer gave these papers the same once-over he had given the two women, then he stepped aside, letting the duo in.

    The moment they stepped into the club, Nell felt like her senses were under assault. The interior was an orgy of light and noise, with both men and women staring up at the stages. Professionals and amateurs in the many variations of undress gyrated to the music in singles, pairs, threesomes, and larger groups on the stages, their hands roaming over each other's flesh. Nell was less than impressed as she wandered over to the gambling tables, where people with a different obsession bet big money on the roll of the dice, the spin of a wheel, or the luck of the draw. Nell felt a flash of annoyance when she noticed that Sue had already slipped off to party, as usual, and that she had done so with all of the chips, ruining any of Nell's chances to make a little extra on the side with her cut. She was contemplating using some of the cash in her pocket, but figured it probably wouldn't make the minimum when another tall man in a nice suit stepped up behind her and placed a hand on her shoulder.

    “Nell Townsend?” The man behind Nell's voice wasn't as deep as the doorman's, and it had more of a squeaky clean feel, which was probably why he was working inside instead of kicking people away at the door.

    “Yea, that's me, who wants to know?” Nell said, turning to look the man over.

    “Mister Thomas would like to invite you to the special guest area for an evening, and he requests that you wear this.” The man handed her a button with the number twenty one on the front, in a very stylish blood red. Nell liked the font too, so she pinned it on her jacket and shrugged.

    “Lead the way then.” The man nodded, and Nell fell in behind him as he led the way to a big steel door set flush against the wall. He pulled out a long silver key and slipped it into the lock, pulling the door open. He stepped backwards in the same motion, waving her past.

    “Aren't you coming with?” Nell asked, stepping towards the dark entryway.

    “No ma'am, only you were invited.” The Man said as Nell stepped into the doorway. She shrugged and began to walk, listening as the door closed softly behind her, the latch clicking shut. Nell wandered down the dark hallway for a few moments, and it felt like she was walking downhill. After a few moments there was light at the end of the tunnel, and Nell continued arrived in the brightly lit, and less garish, back room of the casino. The room had gambling tables set against three of the walls, and a Mongolian grill set against the fourth, complete with several choices of meat, sauces, noodles, and vegetables, some of which were quite foreign to Nell. And some of which were classified as arthropods. But the room's centerpiece was a six-sided arena, complete with a thirteen foot high chain link walls. An announcer stood at the middle of the arena, dressed in a tuxedo, and and as Nell stepped completely out of the darkened hallway, the music stopped.

    “And finally, our prodigal daughter, contestant number twenty-one. Nell “The Nightmare” Townsend!” The announcer pointed at Nell, and applause erupted from the crowd of glitterati standing around the cage. Nell stood in shock, staring at the ring as Sue sidled up beside her.

    “Do you like the nickname?” Sue said, holding a plate and a pair of chopsticks, “It was all I could think of on short notice.”

    “Sue,” Nell turned very slowly to face her friend and partner, noticing that the purse hanging from her shoulder was limp. “What's going on here?”

    “Underground fighting tournament,” Sue took a bite, continuing to talk through her full mouth, “very illegal, very high stakes. I know how much you love that martial arts shit, so I entered you... um...” Sue swallowed nervously, since Nell's eyes had gone flat and cold, her signature version of the thousand yard stare. The only other time Sue had seen Nell's eyes like this was the time they had been robbing a convenience store and some militia vagrant with a shotgun came in, told them he was robbing the joint, and killed the old man behind the counter with a shotgun blast to make a point. It had taken the duo three hours to bury the Vagrant's body parts in the places Nell wanted afterwards. “In. To the tournament I mean.”

    “Sue, did it ever occur to you that I. Have. Never. Actually. Fought. Anyone. Before.” Nell's voice was quiet as her hands came up and gripped Sue's jacket lapels, pulling her in close.

    “What are you talking about, I've seen you fight dozens of people.” Sue was a little nervous, but so far the only thing that Nell was doing was her grab and glare routine. Nothing to worry about yet, as long as Nell was still talking. But disturbing images of a human body in fifty segments flitted through her brain.

    “Drunk guys in bars do not count. I have never fought a sober, well trained person. And I freaking recognize that guy over there with the 'number one' pin! That man got kicked out of the Untouchable Fighting League for being too brutal. Oh, and since I'm the last one to enter, I get to fight him first.”

    “That, um, that is tough luck. But hey, at least you seem to know your tournaments. And you know what Sun Tzu said about knowing your opponent.” Sue couldn't actually remember what he had said at the moment, and she felt her jacket get tighter as Nell bunched the cloth between her fists, stretching the fabric around Sue's neck. “But, um, hey! How's this as extra incentive to beat him? I kind of wagered all of our chips on you making it to the finals.” Nell let go with a start, hands opening and closing as her eyes widened.

    “What do you mean all?”

    “Um, I mean your cut too? Hey, whoa!” Sue dashed backwards as Nell lunged, staying just out of reach, “Save that aggression for the ring.”

    “You're right.” Nell took a deep breath and straightened up, “I'm gonna need every edge I can get. But you and I are going to have words after this.”

    “Um, fair enough.”

    “Numbers one and twenty-one, please step into the ring! It's time to start the fight of your lives.” The announcer shouted, and cheers went up from the crowd. Nell shot Sue a glance with her scary, empty eyes, and Sue could almost feel the hacksaw on her bones. Then Nell walked over to the cage and stepped through the door. Sue decided to wander off and get a drink as the announcer rattled off the facts, figures, and odds of the fight, giving last minute betters a chance to put money down. Sue wasn't drinking because she was unsure of her bet. After all, it was only for the first round. Sue preferred it when Nell was motivated, and she figured that if Nell got hurt, she could always just not let the money ride. Hopefully, the combination of underhandedness and downright lies had gotten Nell pissed off enough to go crazy on her opponent. Over their years of working together, and going to bars, Sue had seen evidence that Nell's bizarre mix of blood held the berserker secrets of a half dozen cultures. After all, Sue had seen first hand that when Nell was pissed she had a tendency to break the limbs of everyone close to her. Hopefully Sue had managed to get her pissed off enough to win a few fights. The trick would be avoiding her afterwards.

    Sue heard the man approaching behind her, and she had her fingers on her weapons as soon as he stepped close enough to pull a knife. Or, in this case, she thought as she let her fingers slip off her pistols, a rope. “Hey Tommy, how're ya doing?”

    “I be doing quite well Susan. Did you hear the odds they be offering on your girl? Twelve to one odds are pretty hard to pass up for most of the rich fuckers that be populating this back room.” Thomas the rope's nice white suit was worth more than Nell and Sue's cut of the heist, and his black shoes shined so nicely among the grease spots on the floor that Sue considered checking her teeth in the reflection. She did use Tommy's mirrored sunglasses to clear some stray hair from her face as he talked, paying careful attention to Tommy's hands and the hidden garrotes in his cuffs. Sue wasn't aware of being on Tommy's bad side, but it always paid to be safe in illegal underground fighting arenas. “But me, I be thinking that this is Susan's partner, who apparently fights even better than she does. So I be putting my money on this girl. But then I be thinking.” Tommy slowly pointed his eyes towards the ring, where Nell stood in one corner, hands slowly closing and opening at her sides, glaring across the ring at the large man stomping around his half of the arena, snarling and yelling. Sue admired the amount of tattoos and muscle that covered the man's torso, and she suffered a moment of doubt, wondering if Nell could take this guy. Sue wasn't sure she would have been able to take this man with a shotgun. “I be thinking that this be a very big man Susan. This be a man who was kicked out of competition for being too brutal. This be a scary man.” Tommy turned towards her and smiled, the pale skin at the corner of his mouth wrinkling into well creased lines. “But that look in your friends eyes, it be even more terrifying than this man, so I be feeling like I made the right choice.”

    “Of course you did Tommy. This is Nell Townsend. Self taught master of the martial arts.” Sue brought her hands up into a kung-fu pose, “Just wait until she goes all Bruce Ali Chan on his ass. It ought to be a show.”

    Up in the ring, Nell was not thinking back on her favorite kung-fu movies, but was rather remembering all of the fights she had seen her opponent Manfredd “The Monster” Jakoria, participate in. Nell listened to the bones in her fingers pop as the announcer counted down the last thirty seconds of betting, then she stepped into the center of the ring, two steps away from her opponent.

    As soon as the announcer said go, Nell's fight moved into slow motion. She stepped back as Manfredd threw a big right hook, slipping her fingers around his thumb in the moment before he clenched his hand into a fist. Then, all it took was a twist of her wrist to dislocate the finger, followed by a pulling motion to snap the knuckle. The pain that flashed behind Manfredd's eyes warmed Nell's heart, and she didn't even hear the screams as he stumbled backwards, mouth open to the sky. She stepped with him, throwing punches at his exposed center and making sure they landed close to each other, creating a bright spot of pain just above his navel. His hand came down to guard his stomach, and with his head still back Nell had her opening. She tensed her calves, jumping forward to let gravity add power when she punched him in the throat. Then, as his hands went up to hold the damaged windpipe, Nell hit him in the armpits, her hands curled at the second knuckle, giving them a sharper profile. Nell felt them sink into his flesh, and her opponent's eyes rolled back until there was only white. Manfredd collapsed to his knees, so Nell brought her foot up, placing it in the center of his face. She paused for a moment, basking in the crowds stunned silence, then she pushed his face down, continuing through as if she were trying to step through the floor of the ring. Manfredd's skull didn't yield completely, so she stepped up and over, walking to the edge of the ring.

    The audience was stunned at the brutal decimation of their champion. The number one seed, the sure bet, had dropped in less than two minutes to a five ten, hundred and fifty pound woman in a black jacket and sports bra. The more pissed off members of the crowd noticed that there were bare feet poking out from the bottom of her black jeans. But since Tommy's security teams had stepped up to surround her and the ring, Nell didn't worry. She just stepped up to the bar and sat down beside a man in a nice suit that was tearing up a betting slip.

    “Bartender, a shot of your best tequila please.” Nell said, digging a twenty out of her pocket, “And keep 'em coming.”

    “On the house ma'am,” The bartender waved her bill away, and Nell shrugged as she put it back in her pocket, “fighters drink free.”

    “Well, if your tequila's worthwhile, then I'll have to fight more often.” The bartender walked away to prepare her drink, and Nell turned to look at the suited man, who was now looking at her. “From the way you're staring at me, there had better be something on my clothes. Otherwise, get lost.”

    The man opened his mouth, and Nell smiled, a toothy smile that sent flashbacks of the recent fight skittering through the man's brain. Rather than speak, he chose to quickly vacate his seat, and Sue sat down, watching him go. She remained quiet until Nell had downed her first shot of tequila, then a smile stretched across her face. “How ya feeling? Good enough for the next fight?”

    Nell held up a finger, and the bartender poured her another shot. She sucked it down, then rested her head against the bar. “I've been better. Any sign of Tommy?”

    “Why yes Nell, I be thankful for your ability to make me copious amounts of cash, both on and off the job. If you be up for it, I be having a job for the two of you, assuming you still be mobile after the tournament.”

    “If you've got a job for us, I'll be mobile. I'll even do my best to keep my right foot and at least one hand intact, so I can play getaway driver.” Nell raised her head, had her glass filled, and downed another shot of tequila, “So what is it, another bank not paying its protection money, or are we robbing a rivals territory?”

    “No, nothing like that, I just be-”

    “Good, I don't need any extra hassles that might end up with me in a pine box.”

    “Well, all I be needing is a pair of people to pick up something for me. You see, one of my underlings captured a man I believe will be very valuable for the organization. Unfortunately, All of my couriers be idiots.” At the word idiots, Tommy spat on the floor. He glared at the spittle for a moment, before rubbing it in with his foot. “And currently, the best of them be waiting for bail at the local lockup on what be extremely trumped up possession charges. All because they be idiotic enough to try and run from the cops.” Tommy smiled at her, and despite the rage still flowing in her veins, the smile made Nell nervous. Maybe it was just his gold canines, but there was something unsettling about it. “I be saying let them rot. I will get newer, prettier couriers for this job, while they be contemplating the lessons they be learning.”.

    “So we pick this guy up, bring him wherever you want him to go, then we get paid? What's the cut?” Sue asked. She was curious now, especially since the job was looking better than expected. Hell, it might be easy enough to qualify as a vacation.

    “No cut. Every penny goes to you two.” Definitely a vacation, thought Sue. Nell was going to thank her for getting them into courier jobs.

    “Wow, sounds like a great job,” Sue glanced over at Nell, noting the hint of sarcasm that had crept into the other woman's voice. It wasn't enough for Tommy to notice, but Sue had known Nell much longer. “If I can just have a chance to confer with my associate here.”

    “Go ahead, I be needing to mingle anyway.” Tommy got up as Nell swallowed another shot of tequila. “Lay off of that girl, I be betting on you this round. Don't disappoint me.” Then he wandered into the crowd, leaving Nell and Sue in the empty space that Nell's negative aura had cleared beside the bar.

    “Sounds like a sweet deal. We walk in, pick this guy up, bring him where-ever, and we take one hun dred per cent!” Sue grinned nervously at Nell, who was staring at her newest shot.

    “Sue, I am very pissed off at you right now, because I know, I KNOW, that this job is your fault.”

    “What the hell is wrong with this job?” Sue was confused now. The job was a cakewalk and Nell was complaining? What the fuck?

    “You know I hate working directly for the locals. Now, if anything goes-”

    “Fighters Twenty one and eleven. Please, step into the ring.” The announcer's voice boomed across the underground room, and Nell sighed. She downed her last shot of tequila before walking over to the cage.

    Nell sized up her opponent in a matter of seconds, then she broke into laughter. The haze of alcohol and anger had done a wonderful job of eliminating any traces of fear still lingering in her system, leaving only the warm glow of overconfidence. Her opponent stood at least two inches shorter than her, and he had all the makings of a “kung-fu master.” Her mind immediately jumped to her favorite martial arts epics, but Nell didn't think that this guy was gonna have any problem beating up a girl. The eyes behind those awful, and expensive, yellow sunglasses stared at her with determination, and Nell could swear that the little man was shaking in his leather outfit. Nell stood there, hands in pockets, as she brought her laughing under control, noting that several people were changing their bets, probably off of the crazy drunk woman. She spread her arms, turning in a full circle.

    “You may want to change those bets back ladies and gentleman, this is gonna be a short fight!” Nell frowned as a few of her words slurred, then she looked back at her opponent, noting that he now looked pissed at her. The referee just smiled. He never got tired of hearing the fighters brag before the fight.

    “You heard the lady.” He shouted from the ring. “Unfortunately, betting is now closed. Fighters, lets go!”

    Nell's opponent began the quick drop into a stance, but had to abort as Nell stepped forward, swinging her foot towards his groin area. The man brought both of his forearms down into a low block, bending his knees as he absorbed the hit.

    Nell wasn't worried about the block, since the kick was a feint anyway. Nell turned the kick into a step, boxing her opponents ears as hard as she could, hands cupped in order to drive more air down into the man's inner ears. Her opponent staggered backwards, falling on his side as a wave of nausea swept over him, his body adjusting to the effects of a ruptured eardrum.

    It took Nell's opponent a moment to regain his senses, just in time to see Nell's foot coming at his face. The man managed to get his hands up in time to block, completely obscuring his vision. He felt Nell's following three kicks as they crushed into his ribs, and the series of shouts coming from the psychotic woman coagulated in his thoughts.

    “Fetal position bitch, fee-tell-position!” Nell paused her kicks for a second as her opponent curled up into a ball. Then she stepped forward, bringing her heel back into the base of his skull. There was a quiet crunch as the man went limp. Just to make sure, Nell prodded him with her toe for a moment, then she shrugged and stumbled to the exit, ignoring the cheers of the crowd. She grabbed the announcer by the collar as he came back in to announce her victory.

    “I forfeit the rest of my matches, make sure you announce that.” Nell staggered from the ring and grabbed Sue, dragging her out of the club, to the astonished glances of everyone else in the room.

    Sue recovered from her shock moments after they cleared the dance floor. She shook Nell off, glaring at her partner.

    “What the fuck Nell?”

    “Shut up. I am leaving, and since I didn't feel like tracking you down when we do this job tomorrow, you're coming with me. All I want is a peaceful ride back to our crappy motel. Can you manage that?”

    “What about the money?” Sue asked, panic sweeping over her when Nell's eyes didn't even change to acknowledge the cash on the line.

    “We're apparently going to make plenty more soon, we can survive-”

    “Miss Sue, here's your receipt for you winnings. You can't let it ride again, as your fighter forfeit.” Sue's bookie chose that moment to step up behind her, and a twitch moved under Nell's eye.

    “Um, yes, well. We'll just take it in ca-” Sue never even saw Nell's elbow coming for her temple. Nell managed to catch Sue's unconscious body before it hit the dirty cement. She managed to wait patiently for the man to stuff a bag with her money, then she drug both Sue and duffel bag to the Continental and tossed them into the back seat, the endorphins in her system allowing her to ignore the weight. With Sue was unconscious in the back seat, the ride home felt like the most peaceful ride Nell had ever taken, since. She hadn't realized just how much Sue's constant attempts to convince her there was a better way of doing things had gotten to her. In fact, she enjoyed the quiet so much that she only brought the duffel bag in to the apartment with her, sleeping in the room alone.

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    This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
    Friday, January 22nd, 2010
    12:00 am
    Story One
    So I've decided that, on Fridays, I'm going to post first drafts of short stories. These are unpolished works, probably featuring a recurring character, with no storyline or anything to link them. The only requirement is that they be at least 1000 words, and I write a new one each week. So here we go, Story One. Enjoy.

    Story One

    No one was watching when they came, which was exactly what they wanted.

    They came silently, drifting through the air on carefully regulated bladders of helium, hydrogen, oxygen, and any other elements they could pull out of our air, in order to make themselves lighter or heavier, depending on their current needs. These were not creatures of legs and wings, but instead of flesh and space, beings who did not fit in with the natural order of our world. And nor should they, since they were born and bred on a different planet. Cold did not bother them, although they found out atmosphere distressingly thin, but it was easier to move here. They needed less air to move here, their bladders never had to be inflated to a state of discomfort, and even less atmosphere was better than the nothingness of space. All living creatures are inherently social, made as they are from collections of cells strung together by thousands of bonds, and these were no exception. A sense of warmth, a sense of comfort, it all stemmed from the sense of life our planet exuded, even into the cold, dark depths of space. And it drew creatures like these, creatures exhausted from their years of wandering, down onto our watery blue marble. Where they immediately began to establish that, even if all creatures design community by virtue of their nature, some creatures will always desire to be dominant.

    The midwest is full of small towns, communities that have existed since the Homestead Act, when they were only a collection of farms that congregated around a schoolhouse, post office, and a department store. Some of their citizens traveled to the bigger cities to work, some dreamed of leaving, and some found jobs running local pride occupations like newspapers and city councils. But even the ones who worked in big cities, and even the ones who wanted to leave, felt proud of their little communities. Which is why it seemed contradictory for creatures such as these, outsiders not only from the community, but from our world, would choose a place such as this to make their presence known. But they knew these people would understand, and accept their offer in the spirit it was intended.

    They landed in the dark of night, long after the respectable members of the town had gone to sleep, but only slightly after the more delinquent members were too drunk or stoned to notice. Their timing was convenient, giving them time to attach like limpets onto the available electrical disturbances. This turned out to be painful for some, as they attached to power lines and generators, car batteries and other sources of electricity capable of delivering an extreme amount of amps. The unlucky ones were protected by their hardy physique, after all, anything capable of surviving the higher gravity, enormous pressure, and constant electrical storms of the planet they came from, not to mention space, had no problem with a few amps.

    But the lucky ones attached themselves to cable lines, satellite dishes, and cell phone towers. Where they learned, their vast neural networks letting them absorb information at a pace far beyond even the most voracious of humans. They learned, and they congregated, and they shared. And before the night had passed, a plan had formed.

    The mayor arrived at his office the next morning to find it filled with the translucent creatures. She was upset at first, distressed in that way only surprise can cause, an unpleasant tingling ripping through her body at the thought of being the first human to make contact with extraterrestrial life.

    Then she realized what this could mean for her and her town, and she wasn't distressed any more. She just hoped they came in peace.

    “Greetings, Mayor Nutte. We come in peace.” Came a strange voice, and the Mayor realized it was coming from her desk. Or rather, she realized that the creature was vibrating her desk to speak.

    “You... you can read minds?” She asked, once again terrified that the aliens might have been aware of her earlier terror of them.

    “No. At least, not from these distances.” The Mayor's desk said. “But we have come to make you an offer. We have, in fact, come to make your entire planet an offer.”

    “What- kind of offer?” The Mayor asked, curious.

    “On that will change your entire world. And will make even a species such as yours, already superior to all the others on your planet, even stronger.”

    Then, the creature began to outline his plan.

    * * *

    Verduga Green was not happy about the way her day was turning out.

    She had ignored the whole alien thing initially. When the creatures had showed up six months ago, she had been excited about them just like everyone else. Real proof of alien life was something every science fiction nerd dreamed about, and Verduga was no exception. But just because she thought it was awesome that aliens were real, didn't mean she could let it distract her from life. She had life to worry about, how to feed her cat, how to find a better job, how to afford going back to school. Aliens were cool, but if they weren't going to change her life, she didn't have time to worry about them.

    The weird thing was, they were promising to change her life.

    No one had expected the aliens to no only be coming in peace, but to be offering world peace as well. They had made a press conference, complete with a video the best federal agencies swore was unaltered, where the mayor of some little middle of nowhere town had stood up with her entire family and explained, slowly and carefully, about how much better their life had become once they had let the creatures take control of their bodies. They were never tired now, they had said, they were more productive, they never felt the urge to give in to impulses like rage or depression.

    And even though they hadn't been able to say it on stage in front of their children, most of the world knew from the smile that had passed between Mayor Nutte and her husband that their sex life had improved as well.

    People had wanted in faster than the aliens said they could procreate. And as Verduga wandered past the brand new Spawning Center the city council had managed to erect, despite the fact it couldn't even make enough jobs for normal humans, she couldn't help but think that was the easy way out. Now, just like six months ago, she felt that her problems, as irritating as they may be, were hers to solve. Yes they were obstacles, but they were obstacles for her to solve and overcome, not some alien that burrowed its way into her spine.

    But still, her coworkers seemed so happy. And every morning when she went to work, she had to deal with it.

    “Hey Verduga, how are things on the retro side?” Her coworker asked, smiling. Verduga studied the mans face, trying to see any sign that his smile was forced, hoping his eyes would scream out for help. But he just looked effortlessly content, so she sighed and responded with the same answer she used every day.

    “Same as always, Alan.” Verduga responded, clipping her nametag on. “Hows life under our new alien overlords?”

    “Same as always, Verduga. Which is to say, wonderful.” Alan responded with a smile. “Although I imagine that your 'same as always' was not quite so happy.”

    “Eh,” Verduga shrugged, “don't worry about me. I'll deal with it.”

    “Hmmm, but you could always use some help.” He offered. “And it really is so nice. You never worry, you always feel good, life is much simpler-”

    “Do your problems go away?” Verduga asked, trying not to let the irritation slip through. She heard this speech a half dozen times a day, from her mother, her brother, her best friend, and her coworkers. They hadn't even changed really. These people were not mindless robots now, marching around under control of the creatures in their necks. She couldn't even tell they were different, beyond just being happier. And the voices in her head kept wondering if if she was just crazy for not wanting to be like that. “Or does the thing in your neck just release all sorts of wonderful chemicals that make you feel better?”

    “Well, actually, since so many people have accepted their offer, it's much easier to make contacts now.” Alan told her. “I actually have an exhibit for my art soon. Turns out I'm now distantly related to the guy who owns Cosmic Hope art gallery around the corner. I love that place, and now I'm getting to show there!”

    “Congratulations.” She intoned, scanning the store for customers, praying that one of the people wandering the store aimlessly would rescue her from this conversation. Thankfully, one of them did, and sure made sure to draw out her explanations of the various offers the store was running until Alan had to go and tend to the pressing matter of stocking some shelf in the back of the store. She managed to avoid him for the rest of the day, which was a small victory. But it didn't alleviate the worries that she was just hurting herself by not accepting one of the strange balloon creatures. After all, was being human really so important that it was worth having to struggle. To spend days in the pain and anguish that comes from being unsure if you're doing the right thing the wrong way, or even whether you'll ever succeed at what you want. She sat down at her laptop sadly, running a hand down Blank's back as he came to greet her. Her cats purrs were strangely comforting, reminding her she was human even as he got his fill and wandered off to casually remind her it was dinner time by mewling beside his bowl.

    “I'll feed you soon Lanky.” Verduga said. “Just give me a chance to see whats going on in the world under alien control.”

    Verduga flipped through her RSS feeds quickly, knowing Blank would become cranky if she didn't feed him soon. She wasn't really paying attention to the articles, just flipping through their titles. Most of it was business at usual, and she almost gave up, accepting the deluge of new articles that would appear if she left the computer now that she had opened the Reader, when something caught her eye.

    “New commission formed to determine health benefits of implantation.” Verduga read, and a chill ran down her spine. She read further in the article, and began to realize that Congress was considering a bill that would require every citizen to have an alien implanted. For their own health and well being the article said. It would improve the lives of the entire country, according to the article.

    Verduga had no idea how to feel about the idea. At first. Then she decided that, no matter how much better her family and friends were feeling, she liked being human. Completely human that is. She didn't know what to call everyone else now.

    She fed Blank, still thinking about what the article had said. And after she finished feeding him, she made her decision. To wait and watch. To pay careful attention. To figure out whether or not people were being controlled, or if they really just felt this was in her best interest.

    And if they decided she had to give up being human just to be happy, she would figure out a way to fight it, as insane as that sounded.

    It wasn't that she didn't want to be happy. She just wanted it on her terms. And as much as it might suck to try, she felt it was worth it.

    “Eat up lanky,” Verduga said, smiling down at her cat as he ate. “Things might not be so comfortable soon.”

    Then she went back to her laptop, and continued her research.

    Creative Commons License
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    Monday, January 18th, 2010
    12:00 am
    Among Thieves: Part 1: Chapter 1
    Among Thieves
    Part 1

    You don't want to marry me, honey,
    Though just to hear you ask me is sweet;
    If you did you'd regret it tomorrow
    For I'm only a girl of the street.
    Time was when I'd gladly have listened,
    Before I was tainted with shame,
    But it wouldn't be fair to you, Honey;
    Men laugh when they mention my name.

    - The Street Girl, by Bonnie Parker

    Chapter 1

    For Nell and Sue, robbing banks was easy.

    Granted, like any art form, robbing banks had not started out easy. But in the early days Nell and Sue had been lucky enough to land upon a broker willing to start them off slow. It may not have been lucrative to rob banks in the bad part of town, but the cops were slow to respond, allowing amateur thieves to make mistakes. And their broker, the late Speckled Anthony, had seen something in Nell and Sue, something beyond just having the patience to do all the crappy, low level robberies that a thief needed to earn their skills. What he saw was a step beyond the teamwork and timing any great bank team needed. The prisons were full of bank robbers with excellent timing and good teamwork, even teams with three or four members. From the moment the duo had walked into his office looking for a summer job, Anthony's instincts had screamed that they were something special. So, in addition to bank jobs intended more for practice than income, he gave them his book of rules. And, to his surprise, they actually bothered to follow them.

    Rule number one: Only mess with the bank. Too many amateur thieves were like raccoons, reaching out to grab the shiniest things in the box, while ignoring the fact that their hand would get caught. They stole Rolex knock-offs (and occasionally, an actual Rolex), engagement rings, necklaces, and all sorts of shiny baubles, doing an excellent job of annoying their fellow patrons. Professional thieves were defined by the knowledge that they were in the bank to make a withdrawal, just like everyone else. They simply went about it differently. It was a very rare person willing to risk their life for a corporate entity, especially when the worst thing happening was a minor inconvenience, coupled with an excuse to get back late from their lunch. Sue, having been born with the fashion sense her partner lacked, had problems following this rule. On several occasions Nell had been forced to end a job early to prevent her partner from robbing their fellow patrons. After all, the tellers knew the dance. The bank is insured, give the money to the people with the guns and masks, and as long as they're professionals, nobody will get hurt.

    Rule number two: Only take things that your broker could fence. The broker/thief relationship was very important, since he was the guy who decided whether you were knocking off banks in Atlantic City, or Hoboken. The broker was your best friend in the crime business, and if you didn't respect them, then you became a bigger hassle than you were worth, and would soon find yourself knocking off convenience stores near police stations. Every broker specialized in different things. Some wanted you to steal cash. Some wanted diamonds. Some wanted precious metals. And, in rare cases, some wanted information. Nell and Sue worked with cash brokers, which meant the broker took twenty-percent of the take. They were fine with this, and they made sure not to do anything that would piss him off, so that he would keep giving them jobs that were worth losing twenty percent of. Their current broker operated out of the Nevada desert, where they had been sent when their old broker, Jimmy Three-fingers, decided that the duo had outgrown their home state of New Jersey. He had encouraged them to move on to bigger and better things, and written the duo a glowing reference before sending them west. Desert Johnny wasn't as good of a broker as Jimmy had been, but that was probably because there wasn't a good working relationship yet. A few more heists and they would get along great.

    Rule number three: Cover your entire body. There was nothing more important in the thief business than keeping your identity a secret. Loose hair, eye color, skin color, the basic fingerprint- any of these things could give you away. It was hard to disguise your height and weight, and usually more effort than it was worth, so you covered every other base. But it was important to make sure that you had freedom of movement to run, jump, climb, or fight. Skin tight clothing was a bad idea, since you had to make sure that it fit comfortably and had pockets. They weren't always fashionable, but they were always useful. And always remember to bring multiple duffel bags for the money. Paper was heavy in large quantities, so you had to be capable of splitting the weight. Overload yourself, and the police would just run you down.

    Rule number four: Pay off the locals. Every city in the nation that has banks worth robbing already has an established crime syndicate, or two, or three. Your broker should have the knowledge to get a meeting with the leader of the biggest one, or his favorite lieutenant, and then you could negotiate the percentage they would receive from your heists. Currently, Nell and Sue were paying thirty percent of each take to Thomas the rope, a Mafia head of some sort. The pair didn't bother to note which one, since they were all the same in how they treated non-family members. In return, the Locals provided you with weapons, cars, and the information on who to bribe if you did get caught. Also, the locals made a note of who you were, so that if your broker tried to screw you over by having you rob a protected bank, they knew which donkey to pin the bullets on. And if that happened, they were usually decent enough to set you up with a new one.

    Rule number five: Park your car around the corner. Even the best professional thieves had made the mistake of parking the getaway car right in front of the bank they planned on escaping from. Laziness may be the American way, but the half block you'll have to run is better than twenty-five years in women's prison. While quick change license plates were standard on professional getaway vehicles these days, they were completely unnecessary when the police, bank tellers, and other patrons never saw which car you got into. This simple precaution eliminated the need to escape with the police in high speed pursuit- most of the time. Nell always made sure to keep her escape driving in practice anyway, because of the occasional police officer that was on the track team in college, or took his soccer coaching seriously. Then you get the joy of a high speed chase through busy city streets, and the added expense of buying and outfitting a new car, and paying for ammo. While the Locals always appreciated you giving them more money, it didn't help the professional thief's hidden offshore bank account.

    Rule number six: Always have an escape route planned. While shooting your way out of the front door may be fun, professionals know that the service entrance will keep you alive and out of jail. It's very difficult to maintain any sort of low profile when you're leaving shell casings all over the place. Although Nell and Sue did have some very good memories of their last shoot out. After all, sometimes the best laid plans go awry and the cops are actually aware of the employee back entrance. A shootout just means that you once again have to put money into the bank accounts of the Locals instead of your own, so that they can make those shell casings disappear. Apparently, it costs a lot of money to break into an evidence locker. And since you don't have a day job, the more you mess up, the less money that ends up in your pocket.

    Rule number seven: Don't take hostages. If you wanted to work hard, then you wouldn't have become a thief in the first place. And there are few things in the business of professional thievery that are as much work as a hostage. You have to feed them, keep them in line, and make sure they don't alert the police. Plus, its difficult for a pair of women to keep someone intimidated, and without fear, hostages are just a police shootout waiting to happen. The truth was, professional thieves didn't make enough cash to go running off to Mexico after every heist. Plus, you had to deal with Stockholm syndrome, and theres nothing more annoying than having a girl fall for you, especially when you don't swing that way. And every hostage that had to be reintegrated into society was yet another donation to the Locals' bank account.

    Rule number eight: Make sure you get away before the silent alarms posted response time. A little research is a powerful thing, and a quick chat with your broker could get you the specs on every alarm system in the bank you were robbing. Then all it took was a pair of cheap sport watches to be in and out before the police arrived. And every moment you were out of the police's sight was a moment you were cruising away slowly and sedately. If the police didn't see you, then you didn't even have to worry about rule seven or nine. It kept things nice and quiet, and meant that you got to keep the majority of the money to yourself. Although it did make things kind of boring, but in this business, boring was good. Boring meant money in the bank.

    Rule number nine: Never, ever, kill the police. This was the single most important rule, and their first broker had drilled it into their heads for almost two days before he had even hinted to them about a job. Being a police officer was like any other job. Some people really got into it, but most were just working Joes trying to make a buck. And as long as you respected the workers, they respected you. The police were less likely to look for people who stole some money and ran than someone who killed their friends and coworkers. And the Locals' bribes were rarely enough to get vengeful cops off of you. Killing the police meant that you had to move on. To a new city, new broker, and new locals, all of whom thought of you as a troublemaker. Nell and Sue, during the years they were learning to be good thieves, had managed to break every other rule at some point, but never this one. The police were a thief's best friends, as long as you gave them a reason to stop searching. The police could get you off of the news quickly and quietly, since the Locals were bribing them anyway. And in town with rapes, murders, missing people, and all the other problems that big cities had, what was the point of chasing down every minor league bank robber who didn't make any more waves than necessary.

    Speeding after a big heist wasn't advised either, but once you hit the wasteland police didn't care. This had nothing to do with the Locals, but rather the fact that patrolling the wasteland wasn't worth the gas money. So Nell had no qualms with cruising at a nice, steady, one hundred and ten miles per hour through the Nevada desert. Nell had slipped off her shoes when she got into the car, her bare feet protruding from loose black jeans and sitting lightly on the floor of the car, crossed at the ankles. The dark blue Lincoln Continental was a classic boat of a car from the seventies (Nell was more of a Chevy fan, so she didn't know the exact year), and Nell loved the feel of eight cylinders firing as she burned through the desert, the wind and sand blowing against her goggles as it whipped her hair back. The car was a loaner from the locals, and while it burnt gas like there was a hole in the tank, it was recognized at every gas station in the county as a free fill up, so Nell could drive it as hard and fast as she wanted. The sun beat down on her chest and face, absorbed easily by the bronze skin that came from her menagerie of a family tree, along with her hair, deep brown and perpetually tangled. She'd given up on it a couple years ago and just pulled it back into dreadlocks that hung sharp and foreboding around her face, making her otherwise plain features go from moderate to menacing. Nell preferred to keep a low profile anyway, and since her double pierced ears and various, easily hidden tattoos were far from abnormal in this day and age, she got her wish most of the time. Especially when she was anywhere near Sue.

    While Nell was still clothed in the sports bra that had supported her average sized breasts, her light jacket, and driving gloves, Sue had removed as much of her thief's clothing as possible and was sitting up on the top of the passenger seat, her arms stretched above her head. And where Nell's family had so much racial mixing that she lacked definition, Sue was a mixture of western European blood that made her look just enough above average to get away with wearing whatever she wanted. Her current outfit was a better fit for Daisy Duke than a professional thief, from the bikini top barely covering her large breasts, to the cutoff jeans that made sure you knew how long her legs were. She had tossed her jumpsuit in the back, on top of the kabuki mask Nell wore for robberies, a souvenir of the only time Nell had broken rule number two. Sue slipped her sunglasses back on, tying back her long, dirty blond hair into a ponytail as they headed for Desert Johnny's headquarters. Then, in an act that ruined her look for some men while enhancing it for the others, she clipped on her twin shoulder holsters, the black Berettas hanging heavily above their spare clips. Sue slid back down into her seat heavily, pushing her sneakers against the car floor as she stretched like a cat, arching her back and thrusting her breasts towards the sun.

    “Don't those things chafe?” Nell asked, glancing sideways at Sue as she settled back into her seat.

    “A little bit, but its worth it to look like a total badass.” Sue responded with a smile. “And that's what we are Nell, total badasses.”

    “I hear that,” Nell grinned, showing her teeth, “we got in and out of that bank quick, clean, and with more than enough cash to make it all worthwhile.”

    “Speaking of which, with skills like ours, we could be living the good life. Hell, any decent operation would love to have us as bodyguards for a Capo or something. You would drive, and I would watch his back. It's a win-win situation, since I'd get to shoot people and you'd get to drive fast and erratically.” Sue gave Nell an appraising look, gauging her partner's reaction as she loaded spare clips.

    “You've been reading too many Mario Puzo books. We don't even know if Tommy's organization has Capos.” Nell stared at the road in front of her as she talked, goggles hiding her eyes.

    “Anyway, I like our job now. We're good at it, and we're actually making a fair amount of cash. Hell, two more jobs like this and we can retire.”

    “The hell we can. You just picked that number out of the air. You don't have any more idea of how much money we actually make than I do.” Sue sighed, since it seemed her partner still wasn't open to the idea, “And besides, we're currently one wrong move away from being on every mafioso's hit list. Thieves always end up on the mafioso hit list.”

    “Too many Mario Puzo books, and too many movies. We follow all the rules, and no one touches us. Why would they? We make them a lot more money by doing what we're good at.”

    “Do you really wanna be small time all of your life Nell?”

    “I like being small time, small time means never having to say: 'Oh, I'm sorry Mr. Enforcer, I hope the bullet you're putting in my head didn't cost you too much.' just because you bollixed up a job.” Nell turned to glare at Sue, “What's up with you anyway? Are you really that annoyed with our current profession?”

    “No, I just think that we have both the tools, and the talent, to be much bigger than we are. We could be household names, like Bonnie and Clyde, or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”

    “Hey, you're right, you know what they have in common?”



    “Whatever, you need to loosen up. We aren't living up to our full potential by being thieves. We could be so much more!"

    “If I wanted to be all that I could be, I would have joined the Army, or at the Marines. But hell, considering that robbing banks has paid off my college loans without all that time overseas, I think I made the right decision.”

    Sue just rolled her eyes as Nell went back to watching the road, dropping their speed to ninety as she slid around the turn onto Desert Johnny's side road. Sue wouldn't trade her partner for anyone else in the world, but Nell spent way too much time planning and thinking for Sue's taste.

    She just wished that Nell would be more impulsive. Then again, without Nell's planning, their last job would not have gone so well.

    The duo had walked into First Municipal Bank dressed head to toe in black clothing, masks down, and everyone in the bank panicked. Not that this was unexpected, since they planned on robbing the bank anyway, but Nell had immediately taken charge, undaunted as always by the screams of the female patrons.

    “Everyone who values their life, please get down on the floor. Tellers, don't touch any more silent alarms than you already have, and get started loading every chunk of change not in the vault into these two duffel bags. And as for the cash in the vault.” Nell pointed to a man laying outside an office door. “You, take the duffel bags from my friend here and fill them up with money. We will be checking it before we leave, so please guys, no funny business. Now break!” One of the bank tellers grabbed the bags, while the others scrambled for the cash. Sue remembered the look of fear on the man's face as he grabbed her duffel bags and ran for the vault. She was always amazed by Nell's supernatural ability to know exactly who had the keys, codes, cards, whatever to the vault, but she was even more impressed by the fact that Nell had everyone scrambling without even pulling her god-damned gun out. She didn't even think anyone had noticed that Nell's gun wasn't in her hand.

    While Nell remained unarmed, Sue pulled her guns after the man took her duffel bags. Then she had slowly checked the usual places for the on-site police officer to hide for an ambush. It was unlikely that any of the civilians would play hero, since they were all lying on the floor calmly, but the cop was still a problem. Unlike the other patrons, he was getting paid to be the hero in situations like this. However, this was Sue's job, and it was just a matter of waiting, making it a hundred times easier than Nell's duties.

    “God, this is a long-fucking-drive, when are we gonna reach Johnny's hide out?” Sue moaned, lacing fingers behind her head and leaning back. “Does he really think it's necessary to take his name so literally?”

    “ Did you just ask me 'Are we there yet?' Granted, it was a ridiculously complex way to say it, but did you just ask me 'Are we there yet?”

    “Um, yes?”

    “Sue, honestly, we've driven this path probably two dozen times since we got to Nevada, you know exactly how long it takes. Are you a twelve year old?”

    “No twelve year old has breasts like these.” Sue arched her back, “but y'know, thanks to the hormones they're putting in milk these days, they probably have better breasts than yours.”

    Nell sighed, not even bothering with a rebuttal. Nell had never gotten along with anyone as well as she did with Sue, and there was no way in hell she would have been as successful in this life of crime without her partner. Sue was one scary bitch when she wanted to be, and intimidation was something that Nell wasn't very good at. Hell, all she ever did was talk.

    Nell thought back to the bank robbery, which had been executed flawlessly thanks to Sue's presence. They had gone in and Nell had delivered her speech as usual, easily picking out the teller holding the keys by the patina of sweat on his brow and the way his pants hung. She sent him over to Sue as she set her bags down on the counter, watching the tellers scramble for the money.

    “Oh, and you have exactly seven minutes to get those bags filled.” Nell shouted as the man took Sue's bags and ran around the corner towards the vault. She slid her sleeve back just far enough to start the timer on her watch, before she realized that her gun was still sitting in it's holster on her hip, making it completely useless. She bit her tongue behind the grinning kabuki mask to prevent herself from swearing as she drew the gun from its holster. She glanced sidelong at Sue, whose motorcycle helmet was canted in her direction. Dammit, now I look like the poser thief who forgot to draw her gun. Nell thought to herself, the Colt Forty-Four long barrel sitting comfortably in her hand. This was not a woman's gun, and Nell had carefully chosen it to enhance the little intimidation she projected. Nell whistled tunelessly as the tellers filled her bags, a twitch running through her body when the sounds of a struggle broke out behind her. Nell felt like an idiot as a result, despite the fact that her flinch hadn't been large enough for anyone else in the bank to notice. She turned to see Sue being highly effective, as usual, ducking under the cop's clumsy baton swings and smashing the butt of her pistol into the man's temple. Nell spotted the man's pistol laying near the door, neatly out of reach from everyone else in the room. Honestly, how did someone get that good at clearing a room of threats. Practice makes perfect Nell supposed, as the four bags arrived in front of her within a minute of each other. Thirty seconds later, Nell and Sue were headed down the road to their car, listening to the sirens of police cars speeding past the mouth of the alley where the banks rear entrance had spit them out. Two dumped transponders and one short walk to where the Continental was parked, and they were off, the masks already tossed in the back seat under Sue's jacket, the duffel bags in the rear foot well. Nell drove sedately out of town, and now, forty-five minutes later, here they were at Desert Johnny's base of operations, ready to launder the money and receive their cut. Nell brought the car to a stop beside the building and stepped out, leaning over the rear door to grab her two duffel bags.

    “You coming Sue, or do you want me to leave the keys so you can listen to the radio?”

    “Shut up Nell, I'll be in there right behind you.” Sue stuck out her tongue as Nell rolled her eyes. Sue waited for her partner to go inside, then she pulled her cell phone out and dialed Thomas's number. For some reason Johnny's place always got great cell phone reception, and a moment later, a man's voice came from the speaker.

    “This had better be important.” Said the voice on the other end.

    “Tommy? This is Sue. Yea, I was wondering if you could call Johnny and get him to set us up a nice, high paying, retrieval job.”

    “Well, I just be happening to have something you'd be perfect for. I be calling Johnny right away and have him be setting you up with the details.”

    “Thanks, oh, and remember the other offer you made me? We'll I'm not equipped for it, but Nell would love to take you up on it.”

    “Then she be invited. Do she be having a nickname?”

    “Call her 'The Nightmare.'” Sue smiled.

    “That be sounding scary Sue,” Sue could almost hear Tommy grinning on the other end of the phone. “Is that all then?”

    “Yep, bye sweety.”

    “Goodbye my litt-” Sue hung up on him and slipped the cell phone back into her pocket. Then she grabbed her duffel bags and walked inside the shack.

    Desert Johnny's home was much more spacious than it appeared from the outside, and Nell was sitting with Johnny in this kitchen, her chair leaned back onto two legs, a cup of tea cradled between her hands. Desert Johnny was a short, white haired, leathery skinned mole of a man with a long white beard and mustache. His hair and beard were braided into a dozen different strands that stretched out from underneath his cowboy hat. A button down shirt, string tie (complete with tigers eye pendant,) and blue-jeans made him appear more than ready to hop on his horse and corral the cattle than fence large amounts of money. If there were any horses or cattle around, instead of the hundred miles of desert wasteland Johnny surrounded himself with. And when he spoke, the weathered voice that emerged from that beard grabbed your attention in the way that only the sound of experience could, like an old country singer's.

    “Nice guns Sue.” Too bad he never said anything without that lecherous grin of his.

    “Thanks, both pairs are fantastic, aren't they?” Sue responded with a smile, more than happy to joke around with Johnny. He was a nice guy, and even though mutual trust hadn't quite been established yet, Sue saw no reason they all couldn't be civilized to each other.

    “Hey, always happy to complement a pretty lady, you never know when it could result in favors.” Johnny wiggled his eyebrows as he smiled at her, “Now is that the rest of the money, or did you just decide that two giant funbags weren't enough?”

    “Okay, enough of the Groucho Marx impersonation. Yes, that's your money.” Nell slammed her chair back down onto four legs. “I love chatting with ya Johnny, but I would like to get all of this money processed so I can get back to our wonderful hotel room.”

    “Right, right. Business first as always Nell.” Johnny pointed at Nell and mouthed the word
    “jealous” to Sue behind,aware that Nell could see him, causing Sue to burst into laughter. Nell glared at them both, but Johnny just continued smiling as he gathered up the four bags and dumped them into the complicated machine that sitting in the a corner of his kitchen. The machine coughed as it whirred to life, and began clank while it sorted the money into stacks. Nell wasn't sure how a machine that wasn't hooked up to any computers sorted money so precisely, but whenever she asked how it worked Johnny just smiled. So Nell had stopped asking and just watched as the money neatly stacked itself below the machine. Sadly for the duo's bank account, the Washington stack was already overflowing, while the Franklin stack was dangerously low. It took about five minutes before the machine was done with all four bags, and while Franklin's stack had grown quite a bit during the last bag, it still wasn't large enough for Nell or Sue's taste. Once the bags were done, Johnny flipped another switch and seven plungers pressed down, neatly compressing the money. Johnny fed the overflow Washington's into the hopper, let the plungers compress it again before taking note of the level in each bin. Nell took a sip of her tea and looked at Sue, who just shrugged as Johnny disappeared into the back room.

    “So how do you really think that machine works?” Nell asked as Sue hopped up onto the counter and crossed her legs provocatively. “Stop that, I'm the only one here.”

    “It never hurts to stay in practice. Plus, I bet Johnny has some nifty cameras recording the show.” Sue looked around the room, waving like a Miss America candidate, “As for the money counter, who cares? Jimmy said we could trust this guy, so I say we trust him. Jimmy wouldn't lead us wrong, would he?

    “There's always a first time.” Nell responded as they heard Johnny's cell phone go off around the corner. “But Jimmy was a good judge of everything, so I guess we trust him.” Nell finished her tea as Sue grabbed a beer out of Johnny's fridge and chugged it, setting the empty bottle next to several others on the counter. A second later, Johnny came back around the corner, a large purse held in his hand.

    “There you go, the balance of the heist, minus my fee, the Locals' fee, and the beer. All in easily spendable-” Johnny paused dramatically as he opened the purse with a flourish, revealing several thousand dollars worth of casino chips stuffed into the bag. “Chips, redeemable at Thomas the Rope's casino.”

    “Chips?” Nell asked, confused. “Aren't you supposed to deposit it directly into our bank accounts? We weren't supposed to get chips for another two jobs.”

    “Thomas's order my dear. I just got a phone call inviting the pair of you to attend a party tonight. Here are your invitations,” Another dramatic pause, some sleight of hand, and a pair of while slips with gold filigree appeared in his hand. He handed them to Nell with a wink that she didn't understand, then he handed the purse to Sue.

    “God, this thing is heavy.” Sue complained, adjusting the strap on he shoulder so it didn't interfere with her holsters.

    “Aw, but you're so butch Sue. Plus, a purse looks good on you.” Johnny smiled at her again as she and Nell stood up and dusted themselves off in unison. Johnny was particularly impressed by the fact that it didn't seem to be on purpose, but more of a synchronized mannerism they'd picked up from each other. Then he began to wonder what else was synchronized about the two, and just how much time they actually spent with each other.

    These thoughts occupied him for several happy hours after the duo had left.

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    Friday, January 15th, 2010
    5:01 pm
    Only slightly less pretentious than other blogs.
    Hello, and welcome to this blog. As you can tell from my Latin title, this blog is going to be a very serious affair. In fact, I am starting this blog because in order to get a job writing web content, you need to have plenty of blogging examples. Because, I guess, a four year degree isn't enough to prove you know how to write. Which is strange to me, considering that traditionally, going from a formal style of writing to an informal style of writing is generaly considered easier than vice versa, but I don't make the rules. I would like to get paid for writing eventually though, so here I am.


    But the problem is, I have relatively little content to write about. It's one thing to provide content for people when you know what that content is. The problem is, I don't consider my life particularly interesting, and I am nowhere near narcissitic enough to write about it on a regular basis. This creates a conundrum. If I had content being provided to me by a puvlisher or company, I could blog about it fine. But I can't get a job like that without a blog. It's a conundrum-

    But then it occured to me. A brilliant, Eureka worthy idea.

    As I said earlier, I want to be a writer. Specifically, I would like to write novels, screenplays, and videogames. I think providing web content is the future, so I would like to work in that, but at the end of the day, rating a 100 on the "perfect job" scale, I would like to write stories. This is a hard nut to crack, especially since, once again, its difficult to get anyone in the industry to notice you. I understand they get hundreds of suggestions each month, but a query letter/ synopsis is not going to give you a good enough idea of the story I'm trying to write. Apologies to the busy people working in publishing, since I really respect what you do and want to work with you someday, but if I thought my story could be condensed into a single page, I would have written it that way. And if I had wanted to market my book, I would have gone into advertising. But I want to write. So I took 9 - 13 months and wrote a novel. Then I took another two months to edit it, because I believe an author has a responsibility to do at least a modicum of editing, and not send out a first draft. So here we are, 80 - 100K words later, and you're asking me to write a query. Do you want this piece of writing? I'm supposed to sell it to you.

    But selling you the writing is not what I'm trained to do. If I knew how to sell it, I wouldn't need you. And now I'm Marketing it to one person who refuses to tell me in any specific detail what they actually like. No wonder you don't know me, you don't give me a chance. I'm a trained writer and editor, I know how to emphasize strengths and weaknesses in a piece. The problem is, you're asking me to write something that will appeal to your subjective interests, free of any clues.

    No wonder finding an editor is such a crapshoot, unless you get to know them.

    But back to the main point. I have, in my posession, the first novel I ever wrote. It is not very good, I'm warning you now, which is why I'm no longer trying to market it, instead focusing on my much better second novel. But maybe some people will like it. So, here's the deal: every Monday I'll release a chapter of "Among Thieves." It's a novel about two women. They get into trouble. Some vampires are involved, a magician, mythological creatures, and a cult. These women are professional thieves. That's the basics. If you enjoy it, feel free to comment. If you hate it, hell, feel free to comment why. If it isn't constructive criticism, I will ignore and delete your comments, so no trolling please. I love constructive criticism, but remember, I warned you beforehand it was not a good novel.

    Oh, and on Fridays I'll do reviews of stuff. Everyone likes reviews right? It'll be totally random, books or cars or whatever I have an opinion on that week. That should be suitably pretentious to fill my blog quota.

    Alright, I'm done ranting. Chapter 1 drops Monday. There are 0 people reading this blog right now. So talk to myself later.