St. Louis, Missouri
The gold Camero coasted to a stop. Rose and Elena stepped out of the car, bringing out their gun cases with them. They each opened their case and took the guns out. "Stick to the plan, Rose," Elena said. "Keep everything nice and simple."
Rose slid the Colt Python behind her back into her pants' waistband. "I know, Elena. Just don't hurt Maria."
"You'll get her back." Elena inserted a clip into her MAC-11. She verified the safety was on. "Ready?"
Elena crouched down, her machine pistol still out. Rose grabbed the laptop and CDs from the Camero and walked towards the warehouse. When she stepped on to the grounds, she called out, "Sexton! Where are you?"
The warehouse's main door rolled up. Sexton stepped out of the building, dragging Maria with him. He held a pistol up, pointed at the teen. "Good, prompt. Where's the Ruskie?"
"It's just between you and me, Sexton. I got what you want, the laptop and all the disks. Let Maria go."
Sexton shoved the pistol into Maria's neck. "Where is the Russian?"
"You never said anything about her being here."
"I'll kill the girl right now, Velasco. Stop playing games."
"Alright, alright. I'll give her a call and get her over here. What do you want done with the CDs?"
"Put them down, then step away. Same with the laptop."
Rose complied, placing the loose stack of CDs on top of the portable computer. She backed away from the pile, her hands at her sides. "There."
"Good. Tell me where your partner is."
"I can call her if you want. I left your phone in the car."
"Don't give me that bull, Velasco. You're up to something."
"Just give me my daughter back, Ray," Rose said. "I get her, then we're out of your life."
"And what about the Russian?"
"I can handle her, Ray." Rose took two steps towards Sexton and Maria.
Ray pointed his gun at Rose. "Stay there!" he ordered. "Any closer and--"
A pop echoed off the warehouse walls. Sexton clutched his leg where a red stain grew, letting go of Maria. "Maria, get down!" Rose called. She reached behind her back for the Python. "Maria, down, now!"
Thompson walked out of the warehouse, his M-16 held out and level. He held down the trigger. A three round burst - POP-POP-POP - rung out, hitting the pavement in front of and to the side of Rose. The woman dove to her right, swinging the heavy pistol out from behind her. As she fell, she sighted in on Thompson.
The Python boomed with an explosion of flame from the barrel. Rose hit the ground. She pulled the trigger again. Her ears rang from the Colt's report. In the warehouse, Thompson ducked behind a stack of boxes. Maria, broken out of her shock by the shots from the huge revolver, dropped down to the ground. Sexton dropped to one knee and brought up his pistol.
Several rapid shots, sounding like one long gunshot, rang out. Elena strode into the lot, spent cartridges clanging on the paved surface behind her. None of the burst of fire hit, but Sexton kept his head down. "Maria, run!" the Russian woman called.
The girl got up to her feet, a task made harder with her hands restrained behind her back. Maria dashed towards her mother. Sexton raised his head and his gun. Rose rolled sideways, switching her target from Thompson to Sexton. The Colt boomed again, assaulting Rose's already ringing ears. Sexton dropped to the ground.
Thompson emerged from the boxes. A long staccato burst came from his M-16. Elena turned her attention and her MAC-11 to the agent and returned his shots with a short burst of her own. Maria stumbled, fell to her knees, then got back up. Rose pushed herself up on her feet. "Shoot the girl!" Sexton called.
Rose raised the heavy revolver up and lined up her aim using the Python's iron sight. Thompson wheeled his M-16 towards Maria. Bracing herself with both hands on the Colt, Rose squeezed the trigger. The Python bucked in her hands. Thompson raised his rifle, then fell backwards.
Sexton tried to get to his feet, failing on the first attempt. Rose switched her aim back to the agent. Maria ran to hide behind her mother, her breath ragged through the gag in her mouth. Elena kept her MAC-11 trained on Sexton, waiting to see what he did.
A car crashed through the chain link gate. Rose spun around and aimed the Colt Python at its engine. The Grand Am screeched to a stop. "Don't shoot!" Allison called. "Don't shoot!"
"Rose, oh, God, I'm glad I found you. Amber's been shot and she's not doing well." Allison gulped down a couple of breaths. "She insisted we help you first, but she needs a doctor or someone real bad."
Rose lowered her revolver. "Calm down, Allie. Elena, over here!"
Elena ran over to the car. "Sexton's trying to escape."
"We have something more important." Rose pointed to Amber's pale form in the Grand Am. "Amber's been shot. Check her out. Allie, go do your magic on Maria's handcuffs." Rose started walking towards the warehouse.
"I wanted to take her to a hospital, but she wouldn't let me," Allison said as she walked over to Maria. She unlocked the teen's wrists.
Elena opened the passenger door. She pulled Amber's hand away from the wound. "Amber, can you hear me?"
"Hi, Elena," the green-haired woman said. Her eyes fluttered open. "Is Rose okay?"
"She is" Elena gave Amber a soothing smile. "Let me look at your shoulder. Does it hurt?"
Amber nodded. "Not as bad now, though."
"It might hurt a bit again." Elena lifted Amber's shoulder away from the seat. The wounded woman whimpered. "The bullet's still in her. Probably bounced off her shoulder somewhere."
"Will she be okay?" Maria asked, the cloth gag tossed on the ground.
Elena removed the blood soaked makeshift bandage. "How did this happen?"
"She got some notion in her head to be a hero," Allison said. "Amber created a distraction, then charged one of the agents so he wouldn't shoot me." She closed her eyes. "Dumb! She didn't have to do that."
"Not now, Allison," Elena said. "Amber, are you still with me?"
"Yeah," Amber said, her voice a whisper.
"You've lost a lot of blood, but the bleeding's stopped. We need to get you someplace warm so we can clean out the wound. But you have to hang on. Can you do that for me?"
"I . . . I think so, Elena."
Elena patted Amber's good shoulder. "Good girl. We just need Rose to come back and we'll leave." The Russian woman shut the car door and stepped away. "She needs a doctor."
"I should have taken her to a hospital," Allison repeated.
"Now's not the time, Allison. Maria, are you okay? Did they do anything to you?"
Maria shook her head. "They hit me a few times, but nothing else."
Rose returned. "No sign of Sexton. The other one's dead." She pulled her daughter into a hug. "I'm so sorry, Maria. I never wanted you involved like this."
Maria hugged her mother back. "Mom!" The girl started crying, tears running down her cheeks.
"Rose, we have to get going," Elena said. "Amber's in bad shape."
"My place. I'll get Tyler to get someone to help Amber over."
"Is it safe?"
"Sexton's alone and on the run," Rose explained. "He's not going to try anything right now, especially with one of his men out of the game." She led Maria to the Camero. "Elena, take Amber in that car. Allison, you're with me. I want the full story."
St. Louis, Missouri
3175 Cinnamon Teal Way
In Maria's poster-covered room, Dr. Ellison finished the last stitch in Amber's shoulder. "Rose, she really should be in a hospital," he reiterated.
"She will be, but not right now." Rose looked down at her wounded employee. "There's too much happening right now, and this is the safest place for her."
"She should be under constant monitoring. The wound could be infected, and the bullet is still inside. I'm immobilized the shoulder, but there's still more that needs to be done."
"Dr. Ellison, I have the utmost faith in you," Rose began.
"And you'll get Amber to a hospital once everything has settled down, right?"
Rose blushed. "I'm that transparent, aren't I?"
The doctor nodded. "I still have to fill out the report because of the gunshot wound."
"That's why I asked Detective Lepinski to be here."
"Rose?" Amber croaked. "I'm thirsty."
"She can have liquids," Dr. Ellison said. "The painkillers I gave her will make her feel dehydrated. If she's up to it, she can have something light to eat in a couple of hours."
Rose turned to Amber as she lay in Maria's bed. "I'll send up a glass of water, Amber."
Amber smiled. "Thanks."
Rose led the doctor out of the bedroom. "Is there anything else I should do for Amber?"
"Keep her comfortable. Check on her every hour. She's still coming out of shock. And try not to upset her."
"Thanks. And I do apologize for interrupting you." Rose brought the doctor downstairs and into the living room where four worried people stood around. "Amber's going to live."
"Keep her quiet," Dr. Ellison said. "No upsetting her, okay? Detective, I think I need to speak with you."
"Of course, Doctor." Lepinski followed Dr. Ellison into the kitchen.
"Maria, can you go give Amber a glass of water?" Hearing the low voices in the kitchen, Rose continued, "Get it from the bathroom. And find out if Amber needs anything." Maria ran upstairs.
"Are you sure Amber's okay?" Allison asked quietly.
Rose pulled off her wig. "We need to finish this job as soon as possible. Amber needs surgery." Seeing the blood drain from Allison's face, Rose added, "The doctor was impressed with your first aid. You did a good job, Allie."
Elena sat down on the couch. "We have no idea where Sexton would go," she said. "He could be out of the country by now."
"Not with that leg, he can't. Lepinski has his description, so hospitals are out. He's also down one man, with two others not feeling one hundred per cent. He needs to regroup."
"So do we."
Maria returned downstairs. "Amber's asking for one of her plushies," she reported. "She wants her Mokona, whichever one that is."
"I can go get it," Allison offered.
"It's too dangerous," Rose said.
"Please, Rose," Allison pleaded. "It's the least I can do for her."
Rose thought for a moment. "Go. Don't take too long."
"Can I go, too, Mom?" Maria asked.
"I could use the help," Allison said.
"Sure. Don't let me worry."
Maria and Allison left. The two men in the kitchen kept talking. Rose slumped into the couch beside Elena. "I'm getting too old for this."
"Tell me about it." Elena kicked off her shoes. She wriggled her toes. "That feels better. I wonder if Carl is any good at massages."
Rose glanced towards the kitchen. "Now's not the time, Elena. I think he's upset with me."
"I don't see why, after leaving a body, two people with gunshot wounds, and a traffic collision somewhere downtown to clean up."
"Were you always this sarcastic?"
Elena stretched, pointing her toes. "Did you know I almost danced at the Bolshoi? My teachers were impressed with how well I could extend myself in leaps."
"What happened?" Rose asked, her skepticism evident in her voice.
"I grew these." Elena pointed at her breasts.
Rose shook her head. "I think I'm missing the point."
"Imagine how bitter I was when I was told I would never be prima ballerina. Teenaged angst meets extreme disappointment. Instant sarcasm."
"Yeah. I should look in on Amber."
"No." Elena put a hand on Rose's arm. "You should go eat and then get a shower. I'll look in on our girl-wonder." She got up. "And no arguments. You went through a lot today, too."
"Yes, Dr. Gshalaevna." Rose allowed herself to giggle. "I'll see if I can get anything delivered for all of us."
Elena walked up to the second floor of the Velasco home. She knocked on the door to Maria's bedroom. "Amber, are you awake?"
"Yeah," came the answer.
Elena stepped inside. Amber lay wrapped inside the blankets Rose had provided. "Feeling any better?" the Russian woman asked.
"I don't hurt anymore," Amber answered. She giggled. "I feel kind of nice, really. And bored. I should have asked for a few manga, too."
"I'll find you something around here." Elena sat on the edge of the bed. "I heard about what you did. That was . . .." She shook her head.
"Stupid. I heard Allie."
"Brave. It was brave. Allison was upset with herself, not you."
"Positive." Elena patted the wounded woman's leg. "You thought on your feet and gave you and Allison a chance to escape."
Amber hmm'ed. "Elena, this might sound weird."
"How weird? I mean, you're not what anyone would call an average person."
"Weirder than normal." Amber leaned in closer. In a loud whisper, she said, "I think Allie's in love with me."
Elena covered her mouth to stifle her laughter. "She is, is she?"
Amber nodded. "First, she made out with me, and then she's all worried. Allie's in love with me. But don't tell anyone, especially her. She wants to keep it secret." She held a finger to her mouth. "Shh."
"Not a word from me, I promise," Elena said solemnly. "Rose is ordering dinner for all of us while Allison gets your stuffie."
"Plushie," Amber corrected.
"Your plushie. Take it easy, though. I'll find you something to read. Maybe Maria has something here you'd like." Elena looked around the bedroom. "I'll go find something."