Comments to Redhawk.
Constructive criticism gladly accepted.
Part VI: Tuesday
Rickie paced. Angry, frustrated and worried action that promised some relief from the thoughts roiling around in her mind but failed to deliver. She stopped at the window to stare out at the darkness for the umpteenth time, seeing only her reflection in the glass.
Jeanne had tried to talk her into staying at the Immortal's home, but Rickie would have none of it. If... No! When! When Xena dealt with whatever it was, she'd come back to the hotel to look for her. The redhead couldn't chance missing her by staying somewhere else.
That had been over an hour ago. The bedside clock read one fourteen, the red numbers glowing angrily in the dim lighting of a single lamp. And doing nothing was, quite simply, killing her.
Of course, what the hell can I do anyway? the redhead asked herself with a sneer. Don't know the city. Don't know the customs. Fuck, I don't even know the damned language! Rickie tossed herself into the chair by the window. After a few seconds, images of falling asleep on Xena in the very chair she occupied drove her back to her feet, moving once more. The minutes ticked slowly by, punctuated only by the path being worn into the carpeted floor.
And suddenly, the teenager stopped in the middle of the room. "I can't do this," she said to herself, her soft voice loud in the silent room. With a decisive nod to her inner thoughts, she quickly jotted down a note on the pad by the phone.
Rickie shrugged into her jacket and verified that the hotel keys were in her pocket. After digging in her pocket and checking her finances, she delved into Xena's pack and pulled out a few Deutschmarks. She then let herself out of the room.
Again the cells regenerated in the torn chest cavity, diligently following their own internal programming of rejuvenation regardless of the consequences. How many times this journey had been re-enacted over the last few hours was unknown. Again, the tissue rebuilt itself, piece by piece, bit by bit. And again, the muscle of the heart repaired itself to begin a slow beat.
The blood sluggishly began to flow. A sharp gasp of air filled lungs that were on fire. The toxins in the blood stream were further along than when they had started this long and torturous path, causing a burning sensation over and above the pins and needles of oxygen starved flesh.
But enough time hadn't passed. It took longer, the warrior slowly regaining consciousness to feel death looming over her once again. The poisons in her system attacked her heart, ripping at it with rigid nails of pain. And the familiar feelings of death resumed.
The Prediger watched the Chosen One in curiosity, head tilted to one side. It was interesting to see the Woman's body twitch as she came to consciousness and then fall limp as she passed out again.
And the blood that flowed from her nose and lips! So much of it! So rich in color! The figure couldn't help but test its texture between thumb and forefinger, smell its coppery aroma, taste of the life-force within.
Schueler Phillip chose well, the Prediger thought as another convulsion ripped through the bound Woman.
It had been difficult, abducting the Chosen One from that den of Iniquity. After she had fallen unconscious, someone had scrabbled drunkenly at the bathroom door. Fortunately, the Almighty God had smiled upon the figure, who had hustled the Woman into one of the stalls. It had been mere seconds, and the Prediger's heart had pounded furiously.
After the harlot had left, it had simply been a matter of logistics getting the Woman's body through the window and into the waiting auto outside. There had been a moment of trouble when the Chosen One had had a convulsion. Her well trained muscles and lanky form had been almost impossible to hold onto and the Woman had gone down, just behind the auto. But, apparently, no one had seen, so the Prediger had been able to complete the transfer and drive away.
Another shudder wracked the body before the figure. A beatific smile crossed the face. Oh, yes, Schueler Phillip made a fine choice indeed.
Crackle of long distance phone lines.
"We've lost her!"
The sound of a sigh. "I told Paul she was good. She must have spotted him."
"Yeah, she did, but that's not what I mean." A rustle of papers on the background. "We had to replace him. And today in the Black Forest, someone we don't know took our new man out. Would she have hired anybody to do it?"
"No, that doesn't sound like her. She'd do it herself. Are you sure that someone else was involved?"
"Not really, no. Just some unconfirmed reports from a small restaurant nearby. And he won't be talking for a while - he's in the hospital for a few days." Pause. "You're right, though. It had to be her. Pressure points were used."
"Well, there ya go. Who the hell else could it be?" Scornful. "You know, I've got better things to be doing this vacation than babysitting you people."
"No, Emil. We picked her up again at the hotel this evening. She's disappeared, abducted, kidnapped, gone, gone, gone! You with me on this one?"
Silence. "Where do you get 'abducted'?"
"From the Polizei that were crawling all over the dance club they were at."
Longer silence. Soft voice. "You're shitting me."
"No, sir, I'm not." Pause. "Apparently, she's become the possible target of the Prediger, a local serial killer here in M¸nchen."
"Where's Rickie?" Forceful, demanding.
"Her partner, idiot!"
"Oh! The kid! She's back at the hotel now."
Click. Buzz of a dial tone.
Somewhere in a Munich hotel room, a phone rang mournfully and long, alone and unanswered.
Rickie clambered out of the taxi, glad that she was able to get her point across despite the language barrier. As the white auto pulled away, she turned around and regarded the Soul Train nightclub.
It was the wee hours of the morning now and, for the most part, everyone who had wanted to enter the establishment were currently enjoying themselves inside. A vague bass beat could be felt on the quiet street. The redhead noticed a couple of people necking in a doorway further down the way and an elderly man was walking a poodle across the street.
"Now or never, Rickster," she muttered, her breath steaming the air as she shouldered her way through the front doors.
The magician was back on the stage, probably on his last show before the club closed. For the most part, the nightclub section of the establishment was sparsely populated with mostly older couples. The activity that interested the younger crowd was in the dance area.
Rickie stood just to one side of the entryway, deflated. Well, hell. Now what? She shook her head to herself. It had seemed a great idea at the time, coming here to look around. But now she was at a loss. Deciding to move before she lost her nerve, she walked across the nightclub and entered into the dance area.
In here it was hot and dark and loud, lights flashing from the dance floor, the smell of alcohol from drinks and breath mingling in the air with cigarette smoke. The place was packed, with little room to maneuver.
Murmuring unheard apologies as she went, the redhead threaded her way through the crowd and towards the bathrooms. As was expected, the women's room had been taped off and a hand printed sign had been posted on the men's room in German, English, and French. 'Women's toilet closed. Please use men's. Other toilets in front by stage.'
Rickie moved to one side as a couple of men shuffled through, hand in hand. As the door closed on them, she quickly glanced around and saw no one looking. She ducked into the women's room, evading the tape and closing the door with a gentle snick.
There was a quiet moment as she surveyed the room. The window had been closed, so there wasn't any breeze to cool the room. Moving to her right, she began searching the room. It wasn't that Rickie thought the Polizei hadn't already done this. It was something she just had to do.
After thoroughly checking both stalls, she was at the radiator beneath the window. Green eyes studied the glass for a long moment. With a shrug, she climbed atop the radiator and opened the window, peering out into the alleyway behind the building.
Is this where she went? Do the cops even know? She poked her head out to get a better angle on the entire alley. A few trash cans, crates, boxes piled high. A lot cleaner than American alleys, the thought passed through her mind. So far, all of Germany had been a lot cleaner than America.
Rickie closed the window and stepped back down, resuming her search.
About twenty minutes after entering the bathroom, she cracked the door to check the immediate area. No one appeared to be looking and she slipped out and dived into the crowd nearby.
Nothing. Not that she'd really expected to find something, but it would have been... comforting, at least, to find something of her lover in the last known place she'd been. She scanned the crowd as she moved, hoping to find a familiar face and knowing she wouldn't.
With some frustration, Rickie left the dance area and returned to the front of the Soul Train. The magician was just winding up his show, a dove being revealed from behind a scarf. The scarf quickly crossed over the dove again and the man was now holding a rubber chicken. A titter of laughter from the audience.
The teenager went to the bar and settled down on a stool. Using what Jeanne had taught her, she ordered herself a drink. She paid for it and drank deeply before taking stock.
It was doubtful she would be able to locate any possible witnesses. There were far too many people involved. Despite it being a weekday evening, the place was packed to the rafters with tourists for the Oktoberfest weekend. Rickie took another savage swallow of her drink and glanced around. Feelings of helplessness and frustration caused her eyes to tear and she angrily wiped them away. What am I gonna do? came the plaintive whisper from within.
A man was seated at the bar, the stool between them covered with a dark raincoat. He was wearing a grey suit with a black shirt, his dark hair a little wavy. For some reason, his profile seemed familiar as he sipped at his coffee cup.
"Um... Excuse me?" Rickie said, leaning towards him. Blue grey eyes smiled at her and she felt warmed. "Do you speak English?"
The man set his cup down. "Why, yes, I do," he responded, a Gaelic lilt to his voice. "Did I give myself away?"
"What?" Slightly confused. "Oh, no," the teenager said. "I was just wondering why you look so familiar. Do I know you from someplace?" A dark eyebrow raised and the man's lips quirked in a smile even as Rickie winced at the over used pick up line. She rolled expressive eyes. "That didn't come out the way I wanted it to."
The man chuckled. "It's okay, really. I very much doubt a pretty young woman like you would be trying to pick up the likes of me in this kind of establishment." He offered his hand in introduction. "I'm Jonothan O'Donhugh."
"Rickie Gardner." She shook his hand, feeling somehow comforted by the warm, solid grip. "But really... You do look familiar to me. Have you been here at the Soul Train for long?"
The man shrugged. "A bit. About three or four hours, I think." He turned away to survey the room. Turning back, he said, "I'd heard so much about this place back home, I thought I'd check it out." Head tilted to one side, he grinned. "And you?"
Rickie ignored the question, emerald gaze intensifying. "So, you were here when all the Polizei were?"
"Why, yes, of course. Ugly business, that. Don't you think?" the man frowned. "The rumors I've overheard said that someone was killed here." O'Donhugh's brow furrowed as he studied the young woman before him. "Wait a minute. Weren't the Polizei speaking with you? And some other woman?"
"Yes," the redhead grated. "And she wasn't killed. She was kidnapped." Rickie closed her eyes and took a deep, steadying breath. No need to take it out on this man. He hasn't a clue. She opened her eyes again, focusing on a sympathetic face.
"You must be very worried," he said, reaching out to take her hand. Holding it loosely, he continued, "I'm sorry for your pain. I was only relating the rumors here tonight."
Chagrined, Rickie dropped her gaze. "I'm sorry, too. I shouldn't have snapped at you." She looked away, eyes blindly scanning the room. The physical contact and sympathy from a complete stranger was beginning to erode her self control and the tears began to well up anew. She felt her hand being squeezed and she turned back to the man beside her.
"No, there's nothing for you to apologize for. You're under quite a bit of strain." O'Donhugh released her hand, turning in his stool to fully face the redhead. "Did the Polizei have any ideas?"
"No. Nothing they'd tell me, anyway." She wiped at her eyes and grabbed her drink. With a large swallow to distract herself from her emotions, she muttered, "Cops are the same the world over, it seems."
The dark head nodded in agreement. "It would seem so." There was a pause. "Pardon me if I'm being too forward....?"
Rickie looked sideways at him, her elbows perched on the bartop. "No, go ahead."
"Well, I have to wonder why you're here. I'm sure the Polizei are doing everything they can." He smiled at her soft snort. "What they're capable of, anyway. Why aren't you at home?"
The teenager was silent for quite awhile as she sorted through her thoughts. Why am I here? "Because I can't stand the thought of staying in that damned hotel room one second longer than I have to without her. Because everywhere I look, I see her. Every sound I hear is her voice. Every smell, her scent." She heaved a sigh, bringing herself out of her poetic reverie. "Besides, I've never known the cops to find their ass, let alone something important. I was hoping that maybe I'd find something, or see something..." Rickie dropped her head into her hands and groaned. "Shit, I don't know why I'm here."
"It sounds as if you love her very much," O'Donhugh's soft voice broke in.
Equally soft was the response. "Yeah. I do. She's my world. She completes me."
There was a long silence. The woman was off in her own world of love and sorrow, the man wrestling with his thoughts. Finally, O'Donhugh said, "Do you believe in soul mates?'
Rickie brought herself back to the here and now. "Soul mates?" she asked, puzzled. "I dunno. Never gave it much thought. I'm not into that new age mumbo jumbo shit."
The man reached over and gently squeezed the redhead's shoulder. "I have the gift of prophecy, you know. Something passed down through the generations in my clan. I think she'll make it through."
"I hope so," was the haggard response.
A cellular phone rang. The dark man excused himself and turned away, fishing the noisy instrument out of a pocket. "Hello? I can't talk just now. Let me call you back. Okay." And then it disappeared back into his jacket.
Rickie collected herself. "I really should be going. Maybe I will go back to the hotel." She finished her bier and set the empty glass on the bartop. "At least there the Polizei will be able to get ahold of me."
Standing up as she slid off the stool, O'Donhugh took her hand in his once more. With a warm and encouraging smile, he said, "Keep the faith. Everything will work out well."
The redhead smiled weakly at this stranger, a man who seemed so... connected to what was going on. She squeezed his hand. "Thank you." And then she turned away.
O'Donhugh didn't sit back down, preferring to stand by the bar and study her as she left the nightclub.
Rickie shuddered as she stepped into the chill fall air. A glance at her watch - Xena gave this to me - told her it was nearly three in the morning. She stood in front of the nightclub doors and surveyed the quiet street. Behind her, a bevy of drunk patrons pushed open the doors, laughing and speaking loudly as they flowed around and past her on their way to the parking lot.
The rental would still be there, the keys nestled in Xena's jacket pocket. Rickie had tossed the jacket onto the bed when she had gotten back to the hotel. For a second, the teenager chided herself for forgetting them. Not like you can drive the damned thing anyway, Rickster. A shiver caused by the cold breeze coursed through her. Well, you would have had someplace a little warmer to sit out here, that's for sure.
She had paid close attention to the route her taxi had taken to get here and she knew she could find her way back. Perhaps the long walk was called for. At least she'd be pretty exhausted upon her return. Might actually get some sleep tonight, she scoffed to herself.
As the door opened again with another crowd of people heading home, she moved with them down the steps. First, check the alley and then go back. She doubted anything was in the alley, but she had to do it, regardless. Rickie ignored the feelings of helplessness that welled up.
With a quick glance at the building, figuring out where the bathroom was located in reference to the front door, she moved to the right and rounded the corner. Another cold and empty street met her gaze as she walked along the wall. Halfway down the block, she found what she was looking for.
A dark opening met her gaze. From where she was standing, she could see the lit street on the other side. Aside from the previously noted trash cans and piled boxes, nothing moved in the frigid night. Rickie took a deep breath and stepped into the alley, all her street senses on alert.
Slowly, she made her way through, finally locating the bathroom windows. She studied the area around it as best she could in the dim lighting. Shoulda brought a lighter or something. A few wooden and plastic bier crates were stacked up in a neat pyramid. Well, wasn't that just a lucky break for whoever has her? she thought drolly.
Not finding anything, she shook her head to herself and stepped backwards. The redhead heard the sound of crunching beneath her foot. Looking down with a frown, she spied broken bits of plastic. She knelt down and picked up a fairly good sized chunk that was about three inches wide, holding it up to catch the light from the streetlight at the end of the alley. Translucent yellow plastic dully shined back at her.
Parking light? Tail light? From where she squatted, she looked up and down the alleyway. She couldn't really tell in the murky darkness if there was any other debris here. But, having noticed the cleanliness of the Germans, she wouldn't put it past them to sweep their alleyways. And if they do.... this was from tonight? Maybe yesterday. She shook her head. No way to tell in the dark.
Rickie rose and slipped the shard into her jacket pocket. Rather than return the way she had come, she decided to continue on and cover the entire alley before heading back. Nearing the next street, her heart leapt into her throat as a figure stepped out from behind a pile of trash, saying something in German. She gasped loudly and jumped backwards, even as her mind registered that it was a teenaged girl that was standing before her.
"Jeez! You scared the shit outta me!" she exclaimed breathlessly, rolling her eyes.
The other youth's eyes lit up. "Amerikaner?" At the redhead's emphatic nod, a grin lit the stranger's face. "You have cigarette? Spare change?"
Streetkid. She's a streetkid, Rickie's mind babbled. She stared at the other girl. Ash blonde hair cut short and shaggy, ragged jeans and a long sleeve sweatshirt that was clearly not warm enough for the weather. No different from home.
"Cigarette?" the girl asked again, eyebrows raised in question. "Spare change?"
"Oh!" The redhead delved into her pocket and pulled out a few marks. She handed them over, a slight smile on her face at the surprised look across from her.
"Danke!" And the money disappeared into the ragged pants. "Vielen dank!"
"You're welcome." Rickie chewed her lower lip and glanced back down the alley. A speculative look crossed her face. "I'm Dreamer," she said, holding a hand to her chest. "What's your name?"
"Petra. You in M¸nchen long?"
"You speak English well. Way better than I speak German!" The redhead smiled. "Only here for a few days on vacation."
"It is... umm... required in German schools, English."
Rickie turned sideways and indicated the alley where they stood. "You been here long?"
The other teenager shrugged. "Some. Left while Polizei here."
"Don't blame ya," was the muttered response. "Is there a restaurant someplace?' At the puzzled look, Rickie said, "Umm... Someplace to eat near here? Schnitzel, coffee, that kinda stuff?"
The streetkid's eyes narrowed. "Ja. Cafe over there open," she gestured with a chin down the block.
"You hungry?" At the outright suspicious look, she raised her hands in a peacekeeping gesture. "No strings, we eat, we talk, you leave. Okay?"
Rickie chewed her lower lip. "Uh... Just talk for a little. Nothing else. Understand?"
There was a slow nod of comprehension. "Ja." Petra studied the American for long moments. Finally, she nodded her head. "Okay. We eat."
Rickie's face broke into a wreath of smiles. "Cool! Let's go!"
Darkness. Burning. A reddish hue growing. Hell? Tartarus?
Xena slumped quietly, slowly regaining consciousness, fuzzily beginning to access herself. After some time, she recognized the reddish hue as that of light shining on closed eyelids. She opened them, closing them to slits with a hiss as keen shards of pain stabbed into her head.
The throbbing in her head matched her heartbeat, steady and healthy. It also corresponded with the aching of tortured muscles and lungs. And even as she became more aware of her surroundings, the aches and pains began to diminish. The Immortal's body finally healing itself to full capacity with the strange toxins out of her system.
The warrior drifted a bit in exhaustion as she healed, trying to remember what had happened, where she was. Jeanne. Dancing. A lot of bard talk. A... horse...? A frown crossed her lovely features. The bathroom... The attack! Pale blue eyes flew open, ignoring the shooting pain from the single lightbulb in the ceiling. Rickie!
Glancing quickly around, she examined her prison. She appeared to be in a small five foot square concrete room. Overhead was a wooden ceiling, apparently the floorboards of the level above. Most likely she was in a basement. Below was a drain centered in the middle of the tiny cell, the brownish stained floor barely sloping towards it. No window, but a solid looking door was in front of her.
Xena wore metal around ankles and wrists, sturdy locks holding each to a chain that snaked to the wall on either side. She was sitting in a chair rather than hanging, though her arms were stretched out and away from her. She was completely naked.
She experimented with the chains, causing them to musically tinkle as she pulled each one, testing. She frowned. Doesn't look like that'll be an easy way. Further consideration of the chair she was seated on resulted in less than fantastic reviews. Simple, wooden, useless without the hands necessary to wield it. Still. Might be good for a jumping off point, she mused, eyes studying the door.
A narrowed gaze shot up to the ceiling as the sound of someone moving across the floorboards above filled the tiny room. Seconds ticked by and Xena could almost track her kidnapper, hearing the slight squeak of rusty hinges, the groaning of old stair treads receiving body weight, the light sound of steps on concrete. And then the locks on the door were being opened, and there were many of them.
The door slowly swung open and the Prediger stepped into the room, dressed in black, flowing robes. A gold crucifix hung from the figure's throat and an old and stained Bible was held in one hand.
The dark brow furrowed and Xena's eyes narrowed further in recognition. With all the scorn of the warlord, she demanded, "Just what the blazes do you think you're doing?"
Jeanne Pucelle smiled, her brown eyes lit with euphoria. "God has Chosen you, Xena. It is time for you to repent your sins and be blessed in His sight." She looked up to the ceiling and closed her eyes. "Praise God!"
The Kommissar let the phone ring for a solid two minutes before hanging it up. He rubbed at bloodshot eyes, massaging the bridge of his nose against the headache that was threatening to overcome him. No rest for the wicked, he mused, seeing early morning sunlight grace the windows of the Polizeiwache.
It had been a long night. After the women he had been questioning had left, he returned to the scene of the abduction. He hovered ineffectually about outside, wanting to interfere and get in the middle of it all but realizing that he was not best trained in the area of evidence gathering. Blood samples had been scraped off the floor. The floor had been thoroughly vacuumed and every little fiber, hair and dust mote was being analyzed. Fingerprints had been lifted from all over the place and Johannes had to snort at the idea that any of them would be of any use.
An officer, his green jacket off and tie loosened, set a cup of coffee before the blond man. "Erick brought in some nice pastries," he stated, chin jutted towards a small crowd of officers picking over the offerings.
"Danke, Wilhelm, but not right now." He watched as the man nodded and moved away. Johannes looked at the clock on the wall. Eight o'clock. He picked up the phone and dialed the Hotel an der Nockherstrasse for the fifth time that morning. He asked to be connected to the room again and listened to the monotonous ringing. Where is she?
Rickie scrabbled with the key in the lock, hearing the phone ring within. Finally getting it open, she left the key hanging as she dashed for the phone and scooped up the receiver. "Hello?!" she asked breathlessly.
"Ms. Gardner?" a man asked.
Tears came unbidden to her eyes as she realized that it wasn't her lover on the other end of the line. She sank wearily into a nearby chair. "Yes?"
"This is Kommissar Karl Johannes. We spoke last night...?"
Rickie sighed. "Yes, Kommissar, I remember. Why are you calling me?" Her heart pounded. "Has there been some news?"
"No, ma'am. No news."
The redhead ran glum fingers through her hair. "Then why?"
Johannes cleared his throat. "I was wondering if it would be possible for you to come to the Polizeiwache to fill out a statement form. Nothing special, just some paperwork for our files."
"The Polizei what?"
"Ah... the... how do you say it..? The station. The police station."
Rickie heaved a very loud sigh, clearly audible over the phone. "Can it wait until later?"
"Well, the sooner it is done, the better, Ms. Gardner."
"Yeah, yeah, I'm sure. Look, Kommissar, I've not been sleeping well and I could really use a little shut eye. How about I call you when I get up? You can give me directions or what have you?"
On the other end of the line Johannes considered the bald faced lie. "Certainly, Ms. Gardner. That would be fine. I'll be sure to set it up for sometime this afternoon." There was a pause. "Perhaps I can speak with Ms. Pucelle, as well. She could drive you over."
"Yeah," the teenager agreed, exhaustion tingeing her voice. "Sounds good to me. Will that be all?"
"Of course. I look forward to speaking with you."
Rickie hung the phone up without the usual closing of conversations. "I'll just bet you do, buddy," she growled.
A quick glance around the room proved that it hadn't been disturbed from the time she was last there. The note on the desk was as she had left it, as well. Rickie stood and retrieved her keys from the door, closing and locking it firmly behind her.
The early morning hours with Petra hadn't really given her any more information than she had already had, though the vague rumors about a serial killer in Munich didn't ease her mind. But, streetkids were streetkids the world over, and Rickie was sure that the girl's connections might find something. Petra had already said she would put the word out on the streets, see if anyone had been in that alleyway to see anything.
It was a long shot, but it was all Rickie had.
After that, she walked back to the hotel. It had taken nearly two hours to traverse the way, the sun peeking from between the buildings as she approached Nockherstrasse. Dragging herself around the room, the teenager closed the curtains. Within minutes, it was dark in the room. She slowly stripped out of her clothing and collapsed on the bed, hugging her lover's pillow to herself as she cried herself to sleep.
"If you've done anything to Rickie...." the bound woman growled with a snarl.
"I haven't, I assure you, harlot," Jeanne responded as she stepped into the tiny room. "Though, I wonder if maybe she might be the Chosen One for Schueler Paul." Dark eyes lost their focus. "Tell me, Xena.... Did she seduce you as I did? Or is that wide-eyed innocence she portrays the real thing?" The eyes returned to their captive. "Are you responsible for her fall from grace as well?"
A picture of Callisto flashed across Xena's memory. Girl's gone 'round the bend. She schooled her features away from anger, instead keeping a neutral look. "Is this how you killed the three other Immortals, Jeanne?"
"Answer my question, bitch!" the other woman screamed, her face a mask of fury. There was the solid sound of flesh on flesh as she backhanded the dark woman.
Xena tasted blood in her mouth and willed herself to relax. "I seduced her. What you saw was the real thing and I am responsible for her fall from grace."
Jeanne's eyes narrowed in suspicion at the warrior's admission of guilt. "Why are you so quick to accept culpability? To take responsibility?" Slowly, she circled the seated woman, stepping carefully over the chains on the floor that held her feet. Pausing behind her, she reached out a shaky hand, running her fingers through a length of ebony hair. "You would save her from the Punisher," she continued, her voice barely above a whisper.
The dark woman's mind was awhirl. Something had seriously upset Jeanne's sanity - the pleasant evening at the nightclub only serving to amplify the crazed woman now behind her. From the stains on the floor and the Bible she carried, it hadn't been too recent a break with reality. Others have been here. Others have probably died here. What happened to you, Jeanne?
Behind her, the woman in black continued her whisper. "You would protect the young harlot from God's wrath. You would lie to save her." Fingers wrapped firmly in long hair and pulled Xena's head sharply backward. Angry brown eyes bore into pale blue and her voice rose to a conversational pitch. "But you wouldn't save me!"
"If I had known, I would have saved you, Jeanne," the warrior responded through clenched teeth. She stared relentlessly into the accusing eyes above her, willing her to see the truth in her statement.
Jeanne studied the pale eyes, falling into them as she had the first time in some tavern in northern France. That Jeanne, the teenager who was curious about life and sex and love briefly flashed through. And then, the centuries old barriers were slammed back into place.
Xena's head was pushed forward and her captor finished her circuit to stand before her once again. "You're a liar, harlot. Only the Punisher can aid you in absolving your sins. And then you will go to God with a clear conscience. Your blood will flow with the blood of Christ and you will beg His forgiveness for your wickedness."
A knife appeared in her other hand and she moved forward, a fanatical gleam in her eyes.
"Hello?!" Frantic, expectant.
"Oh. It's you." A muffled sigh as enthusiasm faded into depression.
"Yeah. Are you okay? Have you heard anything?"
"No. Nothing. Whoever has her has got her pretty good." Pause. "Did Kommissar Johannes talk to you?"
"Yes. I'm to pick you up and get you to the Polizeiwache this afternoon. Something about statements."
"Yeah. What time is....? Oh. Noon?"
"You sound exhausted. Did you get any sleep?"
"Some. Maybe three or four hours."
"Well, why don't you hop into the shower and I'll drop by in half an hour."
Yawning. "Okay. Whatever."
"I'll take you to lunch first. Let the Polizei cool their heels for a bit."
"Alright. See you soon."
The Prediger hung up the phone, wiping away the bloody fingerprint left behind on the receiver with a smile.
Johannes separated the women and left them each in a small interview room to fill out their statement forms. He sat at his desk nearby, going over the toxicology report on the metal cylinder found at the Soul Train.
Apparently, the attacker had tampered with the Atropine tube, if the findings were any indication. The report on the blood sample itself hadn't come in yet. Several chemicals had been in the tube, mixed in a lethal cocktail that was sure to literally explode the victim's heart in her chest cavity. Various amphetamines, both street and legal, were in the concoction.
The blond Kommissar shook his head. Not the Prediger, then. Abduction site is standard, but he doesn't kill first. The victims are alive during torture.
"Hey, Karl." A young man slouched into the chair across from Johannes with a grin.
"Pietr! How's the computer whiz today?"
"Not bad, my friend." The man dropped a fat file onto the desktop. "More gifts from my unnamed sources."
"Ja?" Johannes slid the file towards himself and opened it up. A grisly murder scene met his eyes - a man left amid some sort of rubble, crucified to a fencepost. "Where was this?"
"Wrong question. You should be asking when was this?"
The Kommissar frowned in confusion. "Okay.... When?"
Pietr grinned. "Oh, it gets better!" He leaned forward and stretched out a hand, shuffling the papers on the desk. Pulling out another photo, he slapped it on top of the pile and sat back. "That's from nineteen forty-six."
Johannes looked the picture over - an Asian man, placed in a crucifixion pose, his feet and hands spiked to the ground and a wound in his side. He listed to the younger man as he began to sort through the file.
"Nineteen forty-six was the first grouping. Twelve deaths in the Philippines, mostly Asian men. All found on their holy grounds, all like him." He nodded at the photo. "There appears to be a pattern of every five to ten years, no discernible pattern in location. Always twelve victims, always body disposal at church ruins, cemeteries or the sacred places of other religions. While the method of death changes between groupings, all groups remain the same within their particular idiosyncrasies."
"Pietr, that's over fifty years," the Kommissar interrupted.
"I know, Karl." He watched the blond man as each photo or report was picked up, examined and set aside. "You've either got a killer that's getting very old or..."
Blue eyes looked up intently. "Or what?"
"Or maybe it's a father and son team. Older and younger brothers. Copycats."
There was a bubble of silence around the desk. The rest of the station continued its hubbub of early afternoon activity. The only noises the two men could hear were their own slow breathing and the rustle of the paperwork.
Serial killers don't change their pattern, Johannes thought to himself. Not killers as organized and precise as this one. His gaze fell across the room to the door that would lead to a young American woman filling out a statement.
"Pietr, I need you to look for something."
"You know of this latest abduction?" At the younger man's nod, he continued, "It doesn't match up to the Prediger's usual operations. I want you to go back over these past cases and tell me if there were any significant differences in one victim over another, okay?"
Pietr shrugged. "You've got it." He rose and stretched. "If I'm lucky I might be able to get it to you tonight."
"That would be great, Pietr. Danke." Johannes stood and shook his hand. He watched as the man left the floor. Slowly, he sank back into hi own chair and began rooting through the file again. Wonder if anybody noticed a seventy year old at the club last night.
Rickie and Jeanne left the station and stood on the sidewalk outside. The Immortal had her keys in one hand and was gesturing towards the parking lot across the way.
"Are you sure? It wouldn't be a problem. We can always let the Polizei know that you're at my place rather than the hotel."
"Maybe later this evening?" the teenager responded. "I just... I just want to be alone for a bit."
"You can find your way back to Nockherstrasse?"
"Oh, yeah," Rickie grinned in reassurance. "I paid close attention on the way over here."
Jeanne studied the younger woman, her face a mask of concern. After a few moments, she dug into her purse and pulled out a pad and pen. "Here," she said as she jotted something down. "This is my number. Go ahead and give me a call tonight when you want. We can go out to dinner."
"Okay, yeah." The redhead took the proffered paper. She glanced at it quickly and stuffed it into her pants pocket. "I'll do that."
"And if you hear anything...?" The Immortal glanced downwards with a slight blush. "I know Xena and I haven't been on the best of terms over the years, but I'm still worried."
Rickie reached out and drew the other woman into a hug. "If I hear anything, you'll be the first to know," she whispered to the startled woman, her voice husky with unshed tears. The teenager released her when she felt the body stiffen up. "Sorry," she mumbled. "I'm a touchy feely kinda person." It was her turn to redden.
"No, it's okay," Jeanne asserted gently. "I'm just not one, that's all." She lightly touched the younger woman's shoulder. "You going to be alright?" she asked again.
Rickie forced a smile and nodded. "Of course, I will. You go on and do whatever. I'll call you if I hear anything or when I'm ready for dinner. Okay?"
The woman brushed light brown hair back from her shoulder. "Okay. I'll hold you to that."
Jeanne examined her face for a long moment before nodding. "Alright. Later then."
The redhead stayed where she was, watching the Immortal cross the street and get into her auto. As it pulled out of the lot, the driver shook an accusing finger at her in warning. Rickie laughed and waved, mouthing the word 'promise'.
After the vehicle was out of sight, the teenager relaxed her upbeat stance. Shoulders slumped and the smile faded. Emerald eyes alternated between stormy and sad.
She was sure it was nothing personal against Jeanne, but there was a major trust issue between them. She's an Immortal. Xena's an Immortal. They kill each other. Not too complicated in the scheme of things. While she really didn't think this was some elaborate Immortal plot, there was no reason to give the other woman the upper hand in her dealings with the dark warrior.
Which was why Rickie had failed to mention her meeting with Petra the night before to either the Polizei or Jeanne. Might just be my ace up the sleeve, she mused as she turned the other direction and walked away from the Polizeiwache.
By now, streetkids would be up and roaming around. She was supposed to meet with her new friend back at the cafe. Maybe there'd be news and maybe not. But it sure as hell beats staring at the four walls of a hotel room.
A block away, Jonothan O'Donhugh trailed along behind her.
The dark woman drowsed in her chair, the continual need for healing a constant drain on her energies. Dried blood caked her body and freshly stained the floor beneath her. But no wounds were evident - all new bruises appeared yellowed with age, all cuts and abrasions previously marring bronzed skin nothing but faint pink lines.
With the onset of the Quickening, she jolted herself awake, listening for her enemy. The faint sound of an auto door closing. Keys rattling in a lock. Soft footsteps creaking along the floorboards. And then silence for several minutes.
Xena's thoughts turned to her lover. Are you okay? Worried sick, I'll bet. Hang on, I'll get out of this somehow. Her ruminations were interrupted by the sound of leather slapping flesh from above.
The Prediger knelt, nude, at the altar. Incense burned in the brazier, a lock of blood soaked ebony hair mingling its scent with that of myrrh. Again and again the flail struck the skin of her back, striping it crimson.
Penance was necessary. The Chosen's harlot had touched her, held her, whispered in a voice that had been low and sensual. The feelings of arousal that had risen disgusted and terrified the figure. Enlightenment will not be mine if I fall from grace! God save me! Save this sinner that I am. Take away this temptation.... this test.
Jeanne looked up at the crucifix on the wall. A test. This is a test of my faith! She laughed out loud, a sound more in keeping with a pleasant evening over dinner with friends than a dank, religious shrine. "I am faithful, Lord! You'll see! You gave me eternal life that I might spread Your gospel and that I shall do. To my dying day!"
The figure continued the flogging, ignoring the sting and tickle of blood dripping down her back. As she continued her Penance for her impure thoughts, she rocked gently back and forth, muttering her prayers.
"One more," Petra said earnestly to her new Amerikaner friend.
Rickie rolled her eyes and nodded. "One more it is..." She followed the other girl's lead as they wandered down a small side street.
It was late afternoon and the search for someone who had been anywhere near the Soul Train last night had resulted in nothing. They had spoken to countless street denizens as well as those that frequented the darker paths of life on the edge. No one had seen anything.
Despite the fact that it was to be expected, Rickie still had to fight off the depression that threatened her. She knew that the longer it took for Xena to return to her, the less likely it was to happen. And the rumors of this Prediger that had killed four people so far didn't help matters any. Maybe there's another Immortal in town? The thought that her lover had fallen victim in the Game caused her chest to ache and a lump to form in her throat. No! That's not what happened! She'll be okay. Besides, her mind insisted, if anything like that had happened, I know I'd feel it! "I know it!" she whispered fiercely.
"Was?" Petra asked.
The teenager shook her head. "Nothing. Just talking to myself."
A taxi pulled up before the Hotel an der Nockherstrasse. A man with dark hair and eyes hopped out. Leaning over, he shoved money at the driver. "Thanks!"
The driver counted the money, raised his eyebrows in surprise and, with a fervent "Danke!" pulled away.
The man turned and regarded the hotel, a mixture of satisfaction and worry on his face. He shouldered his NFL sports bag and strode into the lobby with a purpose. At the front desk, he set the bag down and rang the bell. He glanced around the small, empty lobby until an older man came out from the back.
"Uh...." Not prepared for the language barrier, Emil Holt stuttered a bit. "I'm... uh... looking for...." He rolled his eyes. "Rickie Gardner?" he finally asked. "Xena Amphipolous?"
At the mention of the names, the old man's face grew long and he shook his head. He quickly rattled off something in German that the police officer couldn't even begin to comprehend.
Holt shook his head in confusion, shoulders and hands raised in a shrug. "I don't understand," he enunciated loudly and carefully, falling into the standard trap that confused language disparity with hearing loss.
"Bah!" the older man spat in disgust. He held up his hand, palm out, as he edged towards the door behind him.
"What?" Eyes narrowed. "Stay here?" Holt pointed at himself and then the floor, a questioning look on his face.
The man nodded emphatically and grinned. "Eine moment." And then he disappeared.
The American leaned against the counter and blew out a breath. Idly, his dark eyes swept over the lobby once more. Couldn't go on vacation in Spain, could you, Xe? Or Mexico, Guatemala, Columibia... No. You had to go and get yourself in trouble somewhere that doesn't speak Spanish!
"Can I help you?"
Holt turned around to see that the old man had returned. With him was a younger man in his mid twenties. It was he who had spoken.
"Yes! I'm here to see Rickie Gardner or Xena Amphipolous!"
The man nodded and translated the police officer's request to the elder. There was an immediate and long response and Holt stared eagerly at them.
"I am sorry, but they are not here."
"That's it? Just 'they are not here'?" Holt took a deep breath and ground his teeth, counting to ten. "I heard that Ms. Amphipolous has disappeared. She and Ms. Gardner are friends of mine from Oregon. I was on the first plane here when I couldn't get hold of Rickie by phone." He waited for the translation, aware that the older man was being highly protective of the women. Xe, how do you inspire such loyalty, anyway? If I find out and distill it, we could make some good money. "Look, have you heard anything? Have they found Xena, yet? Have you even seen Rickie?"
There was a long silence as Helmut Bueroşe sized up this strange Amerikaner. He seemed to be on the up and up.... But, the way things were going in this day and age, it was getting harder and harder to tell who were the decent people and who the bad. Deciding to go with his gut, the hotel owner spoke again, his nephew translating.
"No, they haven't found Ms. Amphipolous. The Polizei have been here to look at their room and to ask me questions and that's all." Helmut paused for a moment, thinking. "I saw Frulein Rickie around noon. She looked very bad, very tired. I don't think she got much sleep."
"Is she here now?" Holt asked.
Helmut shook his head. "No. She left not long after. Another woman picked her up and they drove away. I think they were going to see the Polizei."
Holt chewed his lower lip and drummed his fingers on the counter top. "You wouldn't happen to have a room available, would you?"
Without a need to hear the translation, the older man smiled brightly and nodded. He brushed past his nephew and set about checking the Amerikaner, Xena's friend, into a room.
Several blocks away, in the mouth of an alleyway, Rickie was speaking to another older man. Not that she was really doing all that much speaking. Petra was doing most of the talking and even she was having difficulty understanding him.
The man was known on the streets as Vern, a French native who apparently spoke deplorable German with a heavy accent. Petra had muttered crossly to herself several times during the course of their conversation and Rickie was now cognizant of several German swear words.
Rickie sighed and stared glumly at the passing pedestrians on the sidewalk. They were in the middle of what Petra called a Wolkstrasse - several blocks of shops and cafes where the street had been bricked and blocked off for foot traffic only. She sighed again and looked back at the two people bickering nearby.
"What's the problem?" she asked.
Petra waved her hand angrily at the smug looking man. "Sheissekopf wants too much Deutschmarks! Thinks you rich Amerikaner!"
The redhead looked down at herself and sighed again. Well, if I saw me on the street, I'd probably think the same, she thought as she considered the Nike shoes, Levi 501 jeans and brown leather jacket. Far cry from second hand clothing and holes in my shoes.
She turned her emerald gaze to the older man. He couldn't be much older than forty by his coloring, though the skin of his face was a mass of fissures from long exposure to the elements. He had longish hair and a full brown beard that he tugged at periodically as he leered at the young women who were visiting him. Dirty ol' fart, she mused, considering their finances.
If things went well, it wouldn't make any difference how much of their money was squandered in the search. Xena could always access her accounts to obtain more. But - and this was a big 'but' - if things went sour.... Rickie considered the fact that she might just end up being stuck here.
Vern spoke to Petra as the American shuffled through unwanted thoughts. No! Xena'll be fine! We'll get out of this and finish our trip and fifty years from now we'll laugh our asses off about it!
"He says he was there. He says he saw a car." Petra ran her hand through rough cut blonde hair. "He says that if you pay well enough, he'll tell you everything."
"What do you think?"
The other girl cast a quick glance at Vern, who was sitting back with a satisfied look on his ruddy face. "I think he might tell truth," she finally allowed. "He ist not a... um... liar. But, if he really saw anything....?" She shrugged eloquently.
Rickie rubbed at her eyes in weariness. It was beginning to get dark and she had been running all day long on little sleep and less food. She wanted nothing more than to collapse in Xena's arms and slip into a dreamless sleep.
Opening her eyes, she looked at Vern who was smiling toothily. "Forty marks, no more," she said directly to him in a no-nonsense voice.
The man's grin widened and his blue eyes sparkled at the challenge. There was no need for Petra to translate as the two battled back and forth in a bidding war. Finally, the dust settled and Rickie reached into her pocket, pulling out a wad of bills. She counted out seventeen Deutschmarks and placed them in the man's grimy hand.
He frowned as he counted and then growled something.
"He says you cheat him," Petra translated.
"Tell him half now, half when he spills his guts."
A look of puzzlement flashed across the other girl's eyes. "Spills his... guts...?"
"Talks. He gets the other half when he tells us what he saw."
Now it was Vern's turn to study the redhead before him. After a few moments, he came to a decision and began speaking.
"He was at alley by club last night.... Good food in garbage can.... Nice auto parked there.... Real late, window opens.... Something big pushed out.... Someone come out and pick up big thing, take to auto.... Thing dropped, then picked up and put in back... um... you say 'trunk'."
Vern held out his hand and the teenager pulled the money she was holding further back. "Oh, no. Give me a better description of the car, Vern. What color? What kind? Did you see the license number?"
The man's eyes twinkled and he chuckled to himself. He shook his finger at the redhead, saying something.
"He says you smart girl. And pretty." Vern said something else and the German girl growled words in response and smacked him on the arm.
"What'd he say?" Rickie asked, pretty sure she didn't want to know.
Petra blushed to the roots of her hair, lips pressed together tightly. "Nothing, Dreamer. Nothing worth telling."
Rickie nodded in understanding and turned back to the man. Dirty ol' fart doesn't even begin to come close, does it, asshole? "The auto, Vern.... What'd it look like?"
He leered at her for a few moments more before finally beginning to speak. "Too dark.... New model...this year maybe? Last? French national sticker on back.... No license number." Vern held out his hand expectantly.
A vision of a dark alley swam in Rickie's mind. The neat and orderly alley with a bathroom window above stacks of bier crates. She remembered stepping back, something crunching beneath her feet.
Parking light! her mind blurted. "Was there any damage to the car?!" She watched as Petra translated her question, saw the man's already craggy brow furrow in thought, felt a sense of elation as his memory responded back to him and he looked her in the eye with surprise.
"Ja..." and continued speaking.
"He says when person dropped heavy thing, it hit lights in back."
"Yes!" Rickie grabbed Vern's hand and shook it excitedly. "Thank you! Thank you!" She shoved another thirty Deutschmarks into his dirty hand and bounced to her feet.
Petra rose as well, dusting off her already dirty pants. "All ist gut?"
"Yes!" Rickie stepped away from the vagrant who's shocked face had suddenly turned crafty as he stuffed the money into his pocket and stood to waddle away. "I need to find a phone. I have to call Kommissar Johannes."
"Ja.... Ja. I understand, Ms. Gardner," the blond Polizei said, nodding emphatically at the phone, regardless of the fact that the other person couldn't see the gesture. "But, we need to see this person, to interview him."
There was a pause and Johannes pulled the receiver away from his ear before it got blistered. The computer researcher, Pietr, chose that moment to approach and settle down in one of his chairs. The Kommissar raised an eyebrow in silent suffering, grinning at the other man's answering smile. "I can appreciate that, ma'am. No, I can! But I would like to see this man. No, ma'am. Ja. Uh huh.... Technically, I can't use any information without speaking to the source." Long silence, deep sigh. "Well, I'll take it into consideration, Ms. Gardner. Ja. We'll keep our eyes open, certainly." Another pause. "And Ms. Gardner? Please don't put yourself in danger like this. We'll handle it from here. Alright? Thank you, ma'am."
Johannes gently replaced the phone in the cradle and glared at it for a few moments. "God save us from over zealous, amateur super sleuths."
Pietr chuckled. "Got a live one, eh?"
"Oh, ja," the blond man nodded emphatically. "Apparently, she's been scouring the streets, speaking with derelicts all day."
"Pick up anything good?"
Johannes shrugged. "Don't know. Not really. If her contact's telling the truth, it's still not much to go on." He shook his head and shuffled in his seat. "Got anything for me?" he asked, changing the subject.
"As a matter of fact, ja, I do." The younger man tossed a slight file onto the Kommissar's desk. "Two times there have been changes with the deaths. The first was in nineteen sixty-three, New Orleans, United States. One woman was assumed killed upon abduction - too much blood at the scene for her not to have died. Four days later she was found in the same manner as the others of that particular group...but she had been decapitated, as well. The autopsy put her death at less than six hours from the time of discovery."
Poring over the reports, Johannes asked, "And the other?"
"Nineteen eighty-four, Cairo. Male victim this time, same circumstances - presumed dead at abduction, found a week later in the same manner as the others but with his head severed from his shoulders. Again, the time of death was discordant with the original evidence."
"Any reason why these were done differently than the others?
"No. About the only thing these two victims had in common were that they were visitors to those respective countries at the time of their deaths."
The Kommissar shook his head sadly. "Hopefully there's no connection to our Prediger...."
The ringing of a phone..
"Hi. Is your offer still open?"
"Yes, of course! Want me to pick you up at the hotel?"
"Uh...no. I'm over at the Wolkstrasse right now. You know that little video parlor?"
Pause. "Um...yes, I think so. I'll meet you there in fifteen minutes?"
"Sounds good. Thanks, Jeanne."
"No, thank you, Rickie. I'm glad to be of help."
Crackle of long distance phone lines.
"Where the bloody hell are you? I was waiting all day at the terminal." Anger, nearly panic.
"I'm still in Germany." Pause. "She's...gone missing."
Pause. Disbelief. "I didn't hear that right. You said she's gone...missing?"
"Into thin air." Pause. "The girl's convinced she's been kidnapped."
"You've spoken to her, then?"
"You think she was involved?"
"Maybe. I don't know. Hell, she can't make up her mind between waxing poetic on her undying love and denial of 'new age mumbo jumbo shit'. She seems genuine enough. Spent most of today wandering the streets trying to locate her." Pause. "Have you turned up anything new?"
"We're still digging." Worry. "Look, I can be there in under six hours..."
Firm. "No. You're more valuable to us there. If I need help I can call the others."
"Does this affect our plans?"
"First things first. How did the auction go? Any problems, or should I say 'good-bye' to my Christmas bonus?"
"No problems other than Manny showing up and throwing things a bit. I was worried when the bids got..."
Surprise. "Excuse me?"
"Oh, you didn't know?" Chuckle. "Looks like somebody's trying to impress you. Anyhow, I got what we were after. Fortunately, it was the last lot on the list, so attendance and interest were low." Serious. "It's the genuine thing, I swear to the world. Though how we're going to reconcile it with the Covington papersÖ"
"That's not a problem. It'll never see the light of day, at least not where anybody would notice."
Teasing. "Hmmm. I detect a plan there." Soft chuckle.
"Guilty as charged. Start filling out the appropriate paperwork." Annoyed. "And tell Manfred I want that six foot, seven inch tail of his to be on a plane heading back to Washington tonight."
"He doesn't like it that you're alone out there." Worry. "He'll like it even less when he finds out what's happened."
"I know." Sigh. "We need to know more about the girl. She's just too... convenient for my tastes. Particularly after all this."
"I'm on it now. You'll keep me informed, yes?"
"The second anything changes, you'll hear it." Voices in the background. "Gotta go."
The warrior hung limply from her chains, the chair long having been taken away. Her body was covered in blood, as was the floor beneath her, and her rich ebony hair clung to her head and shoulders in greasy, sweaty clumps.
She inhaled deeply and stood, straightening in a vain attempt at stretching out the kinks in her shoulders and back. Her forehead itched horribly where Jeanne had burned some sort of brand into it. Plastic surgery, here I come.
The torture sessions had been long and excruciating. There had been two, so far, both resulting in death. Whoever Jeanne had learned her technique from hadn't taught her to prolong the life for more play time. Could learn a trick or two from de Sade, she thought idly, wrinkling her forehead to stop the itch. It only itched more.
Of course, it hadn't helped that Xena wasn't being exactly... cooperative. She refused to beg or confess to any sins, real or imagined. Instead, she spent her time asking questions, putting the other woman's view into doubt. Basically, being the devil's advocate, she mused with a dry chuckle. She grimaced as her throat rasped. No food or water in over nearly a day, several deaths incurred, dried blood in the back of her throat. Be lucky if I can talk when this is over.
Xena was walking a mighty thin line as she questioned and taunted her torturer. She was never sure just how far she could push before the death blow would be given, how much could the crazed woman take before finally deciding it was enough and taking her head. So far, so good on that count. A lot of her power came from the fact that she was the first, the original reason for Jeanne's 'falling from grace.' A part of Jeanne remembered their time together, remembered the seduction, and quite possibly wanted it back.
She felt the Quickening as the other Immortal's vehicle approached. Her superior hearing picked up the sound of a car door closing. Followed by a second one. Two sets of footsteps approached and entered the house. Overhead she heard the people walking about and the faint sound of their voices.
"Let me show you around. You know, the nickel tour."
Rickie?! Xena's eyes widened at the implications. Rickie was here! Here!! With Jeanne!! The warrior pulled at her chains ineffectually, unable to budge them. I've got to get her outta here! She pulled again, muscles flexing under bloodied bronze skin.
"Um, could you excuse me just a moment?"
"Yeah, sure. This is quite a library you have here."
"Thanks. I'll be right back."
The sound of a door opening and closing, creak of stair treads, locks being undone. As the door opened, Xena stood relaxed in her cell, pale blue eyes sparkling darkly at her captor. "If you hurt her, you die."
"Shhh...." Jeanne said with a smile, putting her finger to her lips. "Don't want her to know you're here, do you? No telling what might happen if she became aware of that little fact."
The dark woman's heart chilled at the unmistakable warning.
The Prediger stepped into the room and circled Xena. "Now, you be a good little girl for now. And maybe I'll let you out of those chains for a little bit tonight, hmmm?" She drew a finger from shoulder to buttock as she passed, smiling. "I know you won't cause any trouble. Your little harlot up there might just get hurt."
And then the woman left, locking the door firmly behind her.
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