"Holy crap!" Peter, normally unflappable, was visibly surprised.
"Aye tis about what I was thinking." T.J. drolly replied.
Sitting behind her desk at the pub, T.J. idly played with the miniature sword letter opener that sat on the desk in front of her. She had related the entire story to the agent, who was obviously amazed at the antagonism of the Reynoso Brothers towards her.
"Looks like were going to have to move in a bit sooner than I had anticipated." His handsome face was grim.
T.J. remained silent for the moment, pensive about her options at this point.
"But I still stand by my initial assessment. You need to appear to go along with this deal that he has offered you. In the meantime, Ill put an agent on you and on Ms. Wells."
"No." Her voice was low, but strong.
"Ms. Jameson I will not have you or your friend needlessly endangered." He was insistent, his eyes held a no-nonsense look.
"Good ta know, but unnecessary. Ive arranged for security for both of us." Her gaze became cool, ice blue eyes boring down on the man who sat opposite her at the desk.
"Taylor. We are talking about the protection of the Bureau."
"And I am talking about protection that will not make the Reynosos suspicious. The minute one of his thugs makes a federal agent on my tail, Cami and I are as good as dead." She caught the flicker of agreement on his face, so she continued. "So. We do this my way."
It was the agents turn to be pensive. But finally he formulated his response. "I will give you that point. But, I will set it up so that at my signal a strike force of agents will respond to any threat on you or Ms. Wells. Agreed?"
It was obvious that this was not a negotiation, but strictly information. "Agreed." Besides, the thought of having federal agents handy in a crisis was a comforting notion.
She shifted her weight in the chair and felt the reassuring bulge of the Sig that was sitting in her shoulder holster. Jake had thoughtfully provided her with a new weapon; since she had never gotten hers back from her evening with Miguel Reynoso.
Agent Knight stood to leave the room. "Well, boss. Back to work for me." He was a step from the door when he turned. "Oh. Before I forget. Crime scene boys just finished their report on Ms. Wells Jeep. Seems that your hunch was right - someone tampered with the axle. It was cut cleanly, more than three-quarters of the way through. Much too neat to have happened in the crash." With a final nod, he left the office.
Christ! I knew it. Hitting that pothole must have put too much pressure on it and it cracked the rest of the way. Fucking bastards! With a lithe, but violent sweep of her arm, T.J. sent the sword letter opener flying across the room, where it stuck into the wall with a satisfying thump.
True to her word, Cami had modeled the Victorias Secret purchase for T.J. later that night. Of course the gorgeous green satin and lace lingerie hadnt lasted on the blonde for very long. It was currently in a pile on the floor, next to T.J.s black leather jacket. A rather startling contrast between the two garments, and yet somehow befitting their owners; T.J. glanced across the room at them and started to quietly hum Stevie Nicks into Camis soft, pink ear. Stay with me stay. I need you to love me - I need you today. Give to me your leather take from me my lace.
Cami smiled to herself, and turned around in the arms of the naked Irish woman behind her, so that they were face to face. "Hmm. I love that song. You a Stevie Nicks fan?"
"Oh please. Who doesnt like Stevie Nicks?" T.J. smiled. "Sorry. I dinna know ya were awake."
Cami stifled a yawn and stretched, a move that to T.J.s eyes looked for all the world like Cami was a cat. "Yeah. Barely." Cami glanced at the clock on the bedside table - it was just after midnight. T.J. had brought them both dinners from the pub and they had shared a candlelit meal on the balcony before Cami had shown off the lingerie. After that Cami smiled to herself in remembrance of the sensual lovemaking that had followed.
"So Ive been meaning to ask you " Cami drawled.
"Hmm?" T.J. purred in reply.
"About the tattoo on your shoulder blade?" Cami crawled over the top of the taller woman and began to examine the design in question on T.J.s back.
"Yeah? What about it?" T.J. was reveling in the feel of Camis naked flesh rubbing against hers.
"This design is really interesting." She ran her soft fingers over the intricate patterns of the tattoo on T.J.s right shoulder. It was a circle about the size of a silver dollar. Around the outside edge was a beautiful Celtic-knot pattern. The inside of the circle was bisected by a sweeping curve, almost a sideways "S". The entire design was a dark blue color, with shades of green woven into the knot-work on the outer edge. It was truly stunning. "What kind of knots are these?"
T.J. had just been enjoying the fingers rubbing on her back and missed the question. "Sorry?" She shivered as Cami touched a particularly sensitive area.
"I mean, I know enough about Celtic knots to know that they each mean something what does this design mean?"
"Oh. That. Tis the Daonnan pattern. It comes from the Book of Kells it means continually or always."
"Cool! What about the "S" shaped-line through the circle?"
T.J. shrugged a bit. "I dunno. Its kinda like my Celtic version of the yin-yang design just a symbol that has kinda always been with me I designed it myself."
Cami smiled at T.J.s shivering and continued to softly stroke T.J.s back. "Beautiful." She paused. "And the tattoo is gorgeous too " She met T.J.s glance and winked. T.J. grinned in response to the word play.
The two lovers quietly enjoyed the feel of each other, reveling in the tingling sensations that they felt whenever they touched. It was a moment stolen out of time not counted in minutes or seconds, but in lifetimes and depth of love.
Cami finally broke the silence by asking softly - "You know what?"
T.J. smiled at her. "Ya are absolutely gorgeous."
The compliment was rewarded with Cami flushing in pleasure, which T.J. could just barely make out in the dim light coming from the small lamp on the nearby table.
The petite woman grinned back. "No, silly. I was going to say that Im having unnatural cravings for you and for more of that ice cream you brought."
It was T.J.s turn to blush. But she covered it by leaning in and kissing Cami soundly. "Aye? Well then I guess Ill just have ta satisfy those cravings." She gracefully swung out of bed and reached for her abandoned t-shirt. "Ill go get the ice cream."
Cami rolled over in bed and unashamedly watched the now half-naked woman leave the room. With a self-satisfied grin, she too got out of bed and began to light several candles, finally turning off the lamp and bathing the room in the warm, flickering light of the flames.
She heard a thump behind her and thinking it was T.J. returning with the ice cream she started to turn. "Back so soon mmph!"
A black-gloved hand slammed against her mouth and she briefly struggled against the strong arm that had locked around her neck, until she felt the cold steel of a gun barrel against her temple. "Callate! No noise!" The gruff, heavily accented voice told her.
Her pulse raced out of control and she had to will herself to breathe. The large man was holding her from behind and gesturing for her to turn and face the bedroom door.
For a moment she thought to simply resist him and fight, but her brain rationalized that the man was more than twice her size. Besides, T.J. is downstairs somewhere and Jakes guard is outside. Shell get help. Oh god . T.J., please help!
Realizing her real salvation rested in warning T.J., Cami reluctantly allowed the man to nudge her towards the door. But she deliberately made her footsteps sound heavy, hoping that T.J. would hear them downstairs.
The arm that held her was hairy and smelled strongly of body odor. The sheer fetid smell of the man nearly caused Cami to gag. Briefly she worried about the fact that she was naked, but then realized that modesty was a secondary issue when she was dealing with life and death.
Downstairs, T.J. absently hummed to herself as she dished up the ice cream. After pouring an unhealthy amount of chocolate sauce onto Camis portion, she turned to leave the kitchen and the hair on the back of her neck stood straight up. Somethings wrong. She heard a soft thump from upstairs and quietly put the bowls on the counter. Someones in the house! She silently passed into the living room and peered out the window into the darkness, but didnt see Jakes man who was usually posted somewhere in the shadows outside. Fuck!
Her gun was upstairs, tucked in her leather jacket, so she was unarmed and half-naked. Fuck! Fuck! Her first instinct was to take things slowly, to take whoever it was by surprise. But she realized that Cami was in danger and time might be of the essence. The cool, clear battle-trained mind kicked into high gear.
The stairs were not a perfect choice, but short of climbing up to the balcony outside, she didnt have many options. In her mind, she ran over the floor plan of Camis upstairs rooms, and a thought occurred to her. Not ideal, but it will have ta do.
She silently and cautiously made her way to the top of the stairs, ever careful to avoid the steps that creaked. With a quick motion, she slipped from the top of the stairs into the first guest bedroom, which was next to Camis room.
Back in the room, the intruder was visibly getting nervous. After he did nothing but move her to face the door, Cami rationalized that he was obviously waiting for T.J. to make an appearance. That being said, she could not imagine what was taking the tall woman so long. Unless she heard the noise and went for help? A rather far-fetched notion, but Cami was ever hopeful.
She felt the dark man shift anxiously behind her, easing the tension in his arm that was holding her, just enough, she thought, for her to reach a well-placed elbow into his ribcage. Cami took a deep breath in anticipation of the blow, but before she began her motion, a streak of white flashed out from her peripheral vision. Shit! T.J.!
The barkeep had climbed out the window of the guest bedroom and swung herself onto Camis balcony, enabling her to take the intruder from behind. T.J. executed a spectacular take down tackle, knocking the gun out of the mans hand with one arm, and leveling him with her other arm and the full force of the strength in her legs. Cami went flying across the floor and collided rather heavily with the wall, but for the moment, she was out of harms way.
The man rolled with the woman who had appeared as fast as a streak of lightning, and flipped neatly back onto his feet. The white fury however also landed quickly back on her feet. Both of them ignored the gun for the present, as it had clattered across the room towards the dresser, and could not be seen in the dimness of the room.
He feinted forward with a left cross, only to be smacked by a roundhouse kick from one very powerful leg. "Puta!" The force of T.J.s kick stunned the man. Streams of Spanish curses now flowed freely from him.
"Come on, Pancho! Whats wrong? One woman too much for ya?" T.J. sneered.
In response, the man pulled out a knife. T.J. began to circle him, to try and move him so that she was between the intruder and Cami. Her ploy worked, as she circled around to her right, he followed suit, apparently not caring that she was positioning herself to defend her friend.
Cami, in the meantime was reeling from her run-in with the wall. The impact had knocked the wind out of her, and she had thumped her head, which was still recovering from the Jeep accident. Dazed and dizzy, she lay still, fighting the nausea that threatened to wash over her.
The intruder lashed out at T.J. with the knife. As she lithely ducked out of the way of the wild swipe, T.J. swept her leg forward and caught the dark man in the side of the knee. He cried out in pain, and staggered, but maintained his footing.
He was sweating profusely. Finally he must have decided that one woman was no match for his size and strength. With a growl, he switched the knife into an overhand position and rushed at T.J.
T.J. was balanced on the balls of her feet, and reacted instantly. Catching both of the mans forearms in her powerful hands, she rolled backwards with his momentum onto her back and proceeded to flip him up and over her so he landed on his back behind her. With a quick flip, T.J. was straddling his neck, using the knife that was still in his grip to hold at his throat.
"Who sent ya, asshole?" Her voice was a low growl, and she hardly showed any outward signs of the exertion of the fight.
The intruder on the other hand was out of breath, his dark eyes bulging at the pressure of her knee in his chest. "I dinna like to repeat myself, ya bastard!"
The man still refused to say anything, his breath laborsome with T.J.s weight on him. "Ill tell ya what, lets play 20 questions. If I like your answers, ya get ta keep all of yer body parts. If I dinna like them well ." T.J. shrugged and grabbed his hand at the juncture of his thumb and bent it over backwards, causing him to cry out in pain.
"Lets start with an easy one, shall we? Are ya here after me?"
The man clenched his jaw in pain, but decided to answer. "No." Came his gruff reply.
" Tis what I figured. So ya came for my friend then?" Her eyes were glittering dangerously now.
"Si." He croaked out.
"Are ya supposed ta be takin her somewhere? Or was there another plan?" Her growl was even lower.
The man hesitated, clearly not wanting to tell too much, but also weighing whom he feared more, T.J. or the Reynosos. When he delayed, T.J. bent farther back on his hand, causing a popping sound to come from his wrist. He cried out again, and decided that the evil that was threatening him at the moment was likely much more dangerous than going back to the Reynosos empty handed. "Si. Si. Taking her to a safe place."
T.J. cocked an eyebrow. "Safe? Thats a helluva word ta use." But her brain had already pieced it together. Cami was to be leverage against T.J. agreeing to Reynosos deal. And just to make sure he had T.J.s full and complete attention, he was going to kidnap Cami and take her somewhere out of T.J.s reach. "Bloody hell!"
T.J. heard a soft foot fall and looked up briefly to see Cami approaching them, steadily holding the pistol aimed at the intruder. Cami didnt say a word, but her pale countenance told T.J. enough. The blonde was fighting the dizziness that made the room spin. But despite having trouble standing, she knew that the gun would be useful to T.J., so her survival instincts kicked in and caused her to move.
T.J. leaned a bit closer to the intruder and lowered her voice, making sure she had his complete attention. He struggled momentarily, but T.J. simply eased the knife blade into his neck just enough to draw a bit of blood, and the pain was enough to stop the mans movements. "Now ya listen ta me, ya worthless piece of sheep dung. Tell Miguel that I already agreed ta his bargain, so back the hell off! And the next time he sends one of his men out to interfere with my friend, Ill send the man back in several small boxes. Comprende?"
The man understood - T.J. could see it in his eyes. She also knew her message would likely never reach Reynoso, as the man underneath her would never have the balls to return to his boss and tell him that he was beaten by a woman. Bloody arrogant, machismo men! But the threat to the intruder was enough. He would spread the word amongst Reynosos men, and hopefully cause some chaos in the ranks. Rumors worked well in such organizations.
"Cami, call Jake. Tell him ta get his guard in here ta take out this trash." T.J. feared looking again at Camis shock-filled face, so she spoke without a glance at her companion.
T.J. reached her hand up to Cami and somehow the blonde knew without asking that T.J. was asking for the gun. She placed the cold steel of the weapon into T.J.s out-stretched hand, and silently, Cami crossed the room and made the call to Jake.
Once she had the gun, T.J. cautiously stood and motioned for the man to do the same. "On yer feet, fuck-wad. Hands where I can see em, and then put em on yer head." He reluctantly complied and allowed T.J. to march him out of the room and downstairs.
It seemed like an eternity, but it was really only a few minutes before Jakes guard came bursting through the front door and relieved T.J. of her charge. T.J. would later find out that the guard had gotten into his car down the block and had fallen asleep. She didnt even want to know what Jake would do to the guy for sleeping on the job, but she was sure that it was mild compared to what she wanted to do to him.
No more than ten minutes could have passed before T.J. was headed back up the stairs. The fact that Cami hadnt followed her downstairs after making the phone call, spoke volumes to T.J. Now yave done it. Ya scared her. Not that ya can blame her. She had a man holding a gun ta her head and why? Because of me.
Her heart felt like a lead weight in her chest as she rounded the doorframe of Camis room. T.J. found Cami, wrapped in a terry cloth robe, seated on the bed with her arms wrapped tightly around herself. Her face still wore that pale, dazed appearance, and T.J.s stomach twisted in a knot. Shit! Shes probably in shock
The dark-haired woman lingered in the door way, unsure of how to proceed; her heart told her to comfort her friend, but her treacherous brain interfered - convincing her that Cami was just as afraid of her as she had been of the assailant.
It was Cami who broke the silence; eyes glittering with unshed tears as she looked up to her companion. "So. Who are you? G.I. Jane?" Her attempt at humor fell flat and her jaw clenched as she saw T.J. flinch in reaction.
The tall womans face was half shrouded in shadows, but it was apparent that T.J. wasnt ready to respond, so Cami tried to clarify what she had said. "I mean you you came riding in like a knight on a white charger and I where did . where did you learn to fight like that?"
Although her tone held no malice, her every word cut through T.J., bringing her back to her days in Belfast. T.J.s voice was hard and angry when she answered, testament to years of having people reject her for what she was, what she had been. "I learned it from the I.R.A. Well, a faction of the I.R.A. anyway, but " She shrugged and shook her head. "Ta most of ya Westerners, we are all just a rose by any other name " Her voice trailed off, the pain now clearly evident.
Her distress startled Cami, but the blonde was processing the answer so she didnt respond right away. Camis silence edged T.J.s hurt posture into a full-blown anger. Just as I figured shes gonna go runnin in the opposite direction.
T.J.s lip curled into a snarl and her voice took on a silky purr, but not the sexy, seductive sound that would send Cami into convulsive shivers this was a dangerous, jungle-cat growl. "Mercenary, gun-runner, explosives expert, and Commander of the Free Eire Patriots at your service." She gave Cami a mock salute, and advanced slightly into the room. The light from the candles was no longer romantic, but instead made T.J. seem more menacing, almost sinister.
The blonde swallowed hard and searched her brain for a response. "You " Cami trailed off, trying to wrap her brain around the information that T.J. was practically hurling at her. "Um mercenary?" The minute she said it, she knew it sounded stupid, but Cami was clearly confused, and the blow to her head was making it difficult to think. "What are you saying why "
T.J. was just a few feet from her now - her mouth a hard sneer and her eyes were cold steel. Cami searched the face in front of her for the passionate, wonderful woman that she had fallen for, but the face that looked back at her almost seemed to be a stranger. Almost. But shes got to be in there Her thoughts trailed off. Cami wanted so desperately to say something, anything that would appease T.J., but she just couldnt think clearly. "Please, calm down . I just need to " Cami eased her arm back to hold on to the poster of the bed, trying to abate the fact that the room was still spinning a bit.
T.J. was oblivious to the distress that Cami was in she saw the room through the red haze of violent anger, a vision of her past that she just couldnt shake. "Do ya prefer killer? Terrorist? Murderer? Take your pick. For Ive been called all of these and worse!"
T.J. saw Cami start to fall and halted her approach to stare down at the blonde. T.J.s brain was focused solely on her defensive posture, so she refused to believe the love she still saw shining in Camis eyes. Must be fear. " Tis why Im here! I was thrown out of Ireland. But that is where I learned ta fight, ta survive."
Cami took a deep breath and cautiously stood, an act that cost her in terms of strength, and she forced back the bile that was rising in the back of her throat. She faced T.J. and was silent for a long time, but finally she reached a tentative hand up and caressed T.J.s cheek. The mercenary froze, her jaw clenching in reflex. But at her touch, Cami had seen and felt all she needed to know. T.J. is in there. I just have to get through to her. But how? Dammit, if I could just think!
When the blonde remained silent, T.J. couldnt help herself from shouting. "What?! Are ya happy? Now ya know!"
Camis response was genuine, from the heart. Her hand cupped T.J.s cheek. "Yes. Actually I am happy. You make me happy, T.J. Please . what are you talking about? Just calm down this isnt you "
T.J. grabbed her wrist and pulled it away from her face. "Dont." The tone was dangerous. "Dont make me into something Im not."
Cami was puzzled and her wrist was hurting from where T.J. had a death grip on it, but she refused to give into the fear that T.J. was trying to make her feel. "I Im not making you into anything. Just telling you that the person I see is you. The person I love the person that "
T.J. cut her off by dragging her to the mirror on the nearby vanity. "Then you are not looking hard enough!" She turned Cami and made her stare at the reflection of the two of them in the mirror a blonde vision of hope and light, next to the dark avenging fury. T.J.s face was nearly murderous. "This is who I am. Not some rose-colored vision that ya have. So just stop it! Stop with the Pollyanna, optimistic crap, cause ya have no bleedin idea who I really am."
"T.J. this is ridiculous! Of course I know you I just Im still a bit shaken. A man just pointed a gun to my head! And Im kinda dizzy I " Cami unashamedly began to cry.
The tears had an effect on T.J., but she ignored the fierce desire she had to wrap her arms around Cami and comfort her. Instead, she allowed Camis words to strike home like a bulls-eye. A gun to her head of course
T.J. began to tremble. "And whos bloody, fuckin fault is that?!? Mine! I brought the bastards inta your life. Its all my fault!" She took a few steps back from Cami, certain now that her first idea had been the correct one to stay as far away from Cami as possible in order to keep her out of danger. "But thats something Ill soon remedy." She turned on her heel and began to drag on her blue jeans and gather up her belongings.
Cami followed a step after her. "What? What do you mean? T.J. please I "
When she got no response from the infuriated woman, she reached out to touch T.J.s back. "Its not your fault, T.J. Its Reynoso everything will be we will with the F.B.I. " But as soon as Camis hand made contact with the tense back before her, T.J. jerked her shoulder away as though she were scalded.
"No. We will not be doing anything " She growled.
"But I dont understand, T.J. please! Calm down and talk to me!" Cami was still crying, but quiet, solitary tears of fear and frustration. She couldnt think straight and almost wanted to shake her head to clear the cobwebs. She felt as though her brains were scrambled. What is she saying? I I wish I could
T.J. refused to answer, but instead pulled on her leather jacket as she continued towards the door. Shoving her right hand into her jacket pocket to retrieve her keys, she encountered a small box, which caused her to stop in her tracks.
She knew she shouldnt turn around- that the memory of a devastated Cami would be too much to bear in the coming weeks. But she had to was compelled to face the woman who had taken her heart and soul.
So T.J. slowly turned, memorizing the way the candlelight flickered off of Camis skin, making her hair nearly glow with angelic presence. Theres your problem, old girl what is a devil like ya doin with an angel like that? Besides tearing ya both apart, that is
"Cami I " She swallowed hard, not sure what to say. When the tear-filled green eyes met hers, T.J.s knees buckled. Reaching into her pocket, she pulled out the small box and set it gently on the dresser next to her. "Im sorry. I " But words seemed horribly inadequate. So T.J. just turned and on unsteady legs, she quickly left the room leaving behind the house and woman who had finally made her feel like she was home.
In her wake, Cami sank to the floor and cried - tears rolling in hot streams down her cheeks. But it wasnt from the shock and fear of being held at gunpoint. No, the tears were for the other half of her soul, who had just walked out of her life.
"Cam, honey. Are you home?"
Vicki closed the door behind her and made her way into the living room. She saw no sign of her friend, so she headed for the stairs. Both Jo and Vicki had a key to Camis house, so they could feed the cat and water the plants when the photographer was out of town on a shoot. Vicki had a gut feeling that something was up with her friend, and her phone messages had gone unanswered for two days. So, Vicki figured shed drop by and surprise her- although Cami tended to hate surprises.
"Cam? Thought you might want to go car shopping!" She hollered up the stairs, before she started climbing up. While she hadnt noticed T.J.s car in the driveway, Vicki still didnt want to be interrupting anything. She smiled to herself, pleased that her petite friend seemed to be really smitten with Ms. Tall, Dark and Irish.
When she still didnt get a response, Vicki thought for a minute that maybe Cami was out somewhere with T.J. It was early evening and the shadows that crept through the house told Vicki that her friend was probably not home. She briefly thought she should just leave and call later, but something told her to check Camis bedroom.
Knocking lightly on the door, Vicki opened the door a crack and peeked into the room. Cami was lying in bed, facing away from the door. Shes asleep, probably shouldnt disturb her. But just as Vicki turned to leave the room again, she heard a soft groan. Spinning quickly back around, she headed to the bed.
"Honey? Are you okay?" She sat on the edge of the bed and touched Camis shoulder.
When the blonde finally turned to look at her friend, the first thing Vicki noticed was that her face was red and her eyes were a bit glassy. "Shit! Cami! Whats the matter?"
Cami tried to wipe her eyes. "Nothing. Nothing, Vicki. Go away .please."
"Fuck that! Nice try, chief. I call you for two days with no response, and when I come over here, I find you crying in bed, and you tell me its nothing!?" Vicki smoothed back the lock of hair that had fallen over Camis forehead and was dismayed to find that her friend was a bit feverish. "I know I look young for my age, but I wasnt born yesterday."
Cami looked up into Vickis concerned face. "Im not Im not crying Im just sick."
Vicki narrowed her eyes. She knew her friend much better than that. "Uh huh and Im dating Mel Gibson try selling me another one, kiddo."
Cami heaved a big sigh. "Vic, my head is splitting, and Im really not in the mood for this right now."
"Still the concussion? Dammit." Vicki rose and went towards the master bathroom. She filled a glass with water and began rooting around in the medicine cabinet for something that would tame Camis headache. "Did the doc give you anything for the pain?"
"Its over here on the table." Came the feeble response.
Vicki brought the glass of water and reached for the bottle of pills. "Have you taken any of these lately?"
"Why in the hell not? Geez, Cami. Do Jo and I need to move a nurse in here?" Vicki was joking with her friend, but she was also obviously concerned about Camis health.
"You have to take that stuff with food, and I havent eaten anything lately."
"You havent eaten anything?? When was the last time you ate?"
Camis last full meal had been nearly two days before when she shared that last romantic dinner with T.J., but she was damned if shed tell Vicki that piece of information. "I..Im not quite sure. My head was pounding, so I just crawled into bed. Havent felt like eating " Which was essentially the truth. But she neglected to mention that hibernating for two days was also due to her broken-heart.
With a large sigh, Vicki stalked from the room. Cami heard her rummaging in the hall closet, and her tall friend returned minutes later with a cool, wet washcloth. "Here, put this on your forehead, and Ill go make you some dinner." Cami wanted to argue, but from the look on Vickis face, she knew better.
"Ok. Thanks, Vic." She gratefully accepted the washcloth and put it on her burning head.
"And after you have food and medicine in your system, you are going to tell me what the hell is going on with you." Vicki swept from the room, in a cloud of her perfume.
Although talking about her situation was the last thing she wanted to do, Cami was pathetically grateful that she had such concerned friends.
"T.J.? Are you in here?"
Tommy poked his head around the corner of T.J.s slightly ajar office door. His boss was seated behind her desk, staring off into space. To Tommy, it didnt look like she was thinking; it actually looked like she was lost.
He cleared his throat to get her attention and she flinched. "Sorry, boss. I uh are you okay?"
His boyish face showed true concern for T.J. "Aye. Sokay, Tommy. What can I do for ya?"
"Mr.Silva is here with those two guys again. You said that I should keep an eye on things, so "
He could see now that he had her total and complete attention. Her eyes went cold and bright. "Thanks, Tommy. Ya did good. Ill be out in a minute." With that she pushed away from her desk and stood.
"Ok. Peters got the bar, so Ill be able to keep an eye on them." He hesitated before asking, "Are you sure youre all right?"
The look she gave him was unemotional. "Fine. Go on. Ill be out."
The lanky manager turned and left the room, leaving T.J. to head to the cabinet on the far wall. She donned her shoulder holster and leather jacket, and reaching into the back of her waistband, she activated the wireless microphone that she was already wearing. The recording device, which actually had a microphone in her belt buckle, would digitally tape for two hours.
Two days before, she had gone to Agent Knight and insisted that she wear a wire when meeting with the Reynosos. Although Knight had already wired the booth where the Reynosos usually sat, T.J. wasnt taking any chances that he would miss something should Miguel request a private conversation with her. She was confident that she could get some good information out of them, and with the taped conversations, hopefully help Knight bring them down sooner. The sooner the better.
"Ill kill her!"
"No. Im not kidding, Cami! God dammit!" Vickis voice raised in fury. "To leave you alone and injured like that! Christ!"
"Vic, please you dont understand." Actually, I dont really understand, but that is not the point here.
"What is there to understand? Youve been feverish, sick and alone for two days and Taylor walked out on you!"
Cami sighed, unwilling to discuss the implications of T.J.s departure any further. "Listen, Im a big girl. I can take care of myself, all right?"
Vicki snorted in response. "Yeah. Thats why I just found you here in bed, starving to death and in pain."
"Ill be fine, just leave it alone please."
Vicki hesitated. Hearing the pain in Camis voice was killing her, but she knew her friend was right - there wasnt much she could do for her, other than take care of her and listen should she want to talk.
The phone interrupted their discussion and Vicki strolled out onto Camis balcony to allow the photographer some privacy. From Camis end of the conversation, Vicki could tell it was business.
A few minutes later, Cami called her back into the room. The blonde was on her feet and dragging an overnight bag out of the closet. "What are you doing? You should be in bed, woman!" Vicki demanded.
"Packing. That was the Padres front office, theyre offering me a job."
"Wait. What? The baseball team is offering you a job?"
"Taking pictures, Vicki." Cami had dropped the bag on the bed and was slowly beginning to pack some clothes. Her head was still swimming, but she was determined to complete her task.
"I figured that, you goofball. I didnt think they were short on left-handed pitching, so they decided to call you." Vicki gently took the pair of socks out of Camis hand and eased her friend back towards the bed. "Now. Sit down and tell me whats going on."
Cami obeyed, albeit reluctantly. "Tony announced his retirement a week ago, so the Padres are hiring me to go on their road trips and document his last games in the cities where they will be playing."
"Yeah? I watched the news conference when he announced, it was really sad. But I dont understand. They have team photographers for that sort of thing."
"Yeah, well " Cami shrugged. "Seems Tony wants me to put together a photo scrap book of the end of his last season. Some of the shots will be headed for the Hall of Fame. Others will be used for a souvenir program or publicity shots, and the rest are for him. He asked for me to be the photographer on this one."
"Holy shit!" Vicki was clearly stunned. "Youre kidding me! So youre going on the road trip? Thats so awesome!" Vicki knew exactly what the famous right fielder meant to Camryn - she hero-worshipped the man. And to be given the chance to capture his last playing days in person a dream come true.
"What about your head? You are still sick, my friend." Vicki sat down next to Cami and took the smaller womans hand.
Cami turned and faced Vicki. "Do you honestly think Im going to let a concussion keep me from doing this?" Vicki smirked in response.
"Besides " Cami looked away, unwilling to face the pity in her friends face at the moment. "I think a trip out of town is just what I need right now, you know?" I cant be here right now especially when all I want to do is call her.
Vicki knew exactly what she meant, and she agreed. Her friend needed some time away from things that reminded her painfully of T.J. "Yeah. But are you going to be all right - physically I mean? I just dont want a phone call from the Padres telling me that you collapsed."
Cami looked back at her and smiled. "Ill be ok, Vicki. I swear." When Vicki raised an eyebrow, Cami patted her hand. "I promise that if my head gets worse, Ill see a doctor, or come home."
"Or both?" Vicki inquired.
"Yes. Or both." Cami chuckled. The prospect of the new job had her nearly giddy, and she chose to ignore the ache in her head for the time being.
"So where are you headed first?" Vickis eyes were shining with glee.
"The team has already left, so Im going to meet them in Milwaukee. I fly out tomorrow."
"Yipes! Milwaukee?? Too bad it isnt somewhere I dunno more exotic?!" Vicki laughed.
"Well, if I play my cards right and behave myself, I get to follow him for the remainder of the season." Vickis eyes widened in shock. "Which means several road trips - including Philadelphia, Atlanta, St. Louis, even Florida I think, but Id have to check the schedule."
"Holy crap! Honey, thats so incredible!" Vicki hugged her small friend. "Do you need some help getting ready? Of course, Jo and I will take turns feeding Diva while you are gone but you need to pack - what can I do?"
Cami was silent for minute. "You can promise me something."
"Promise me you wont go and yell at T.J."
Vicki looked stunned. "Me? Yell at someone? Puhlease "
"Vicki ." Camis voice took on a warning tone.
"Ok. Ok. I promise. No yelling." But I never said I wouldnt talk to the woman, Vicki thought mischievously.
"Good. Now there is something else you can do."
"Help me get some laundry done - I cant go on a road trip with dirty underwear!"
"So glad you and I can do business, Senora Jameson." Miguel Reynoso purred.
Taylor could feel the slime oozing off of the man from the other side of the table. "Of course, Mr. Reynoso. How could I refuse?" She meant the double meaning in her response, but managed to keep the malice out of her voice. Just barely.
Frank sat next to T.J., taking in the subtle exchange between his ex-wife and current business partner, and not liking what he saw. "So. Taylor, baby. How about some drinks?"
Maintaining eye contact with Miguel, she answered. "Sure, Francis. Just go up ta the bar and ask Peter ta make ya something - on the house."
"Si, Frank. You and Carlos go get us something to drink. Ive some things Id like to talk to Senora Jameson about."
Frank was not at all pleased, but had the good sense to keep his mouth shut and follow Carlos to the bar.
"So, Taylor " Miguel purred when they were alone, his gaze taking on a seductive look. "Perhaps you and I can find some time for pleasure as well as business."
Direct, isnt he? The bastard. "Aye? What did ya have in mind, then?" Her eyes smoldered across the table and she had the grace to hide her self-loathing. Two can play at this game, ya soddin asshole.
He smiled at her apparent acquiescence. "Im taking a little cruise on my yacht. Nothing big, just down to Ensenada and back. But I thought you might like to join me, get away from work for awhile."
What is your plan, ya prick? Take me out ta the sea, fuck me and then dump my body? She knew she had to play this one carefully. "Hmm sounds inviting, but I tend ta get sea-sick." She tried to sound convincing. "Perhaps we can just spend a weekend in Palm Springs? I hear they have some nice resorts there."
His eyes narrowed for a moment, unsure how to proceed. "A resort?" He grinned at her, a frankly sexual smile. "What kind of weekend did you have in mind, Senora?"
"Just a chance ta relax, Mr. Reynoso." What an arrogant bastard thinks he can threaten me and beat me up one minute, and then seduce me the next. T.J. fought back the nausea. She saw Frank and Carlos returning. Saved by Frank now theres a switch. "But we can discuss those details some other time. Lets get down ta business, shall we?"
The four "business partners" discussed the terms of T.J.s involvement with the Reynoso "corporation," and by the time they were finished, Taylor was sure that Agent Knight would have a lot of useful information. Hopefully its enough
"Well, gentlemen " Taylor rose from the table. "I have some work ta do, so if youll excuse me, Ill call it an evenin." Miguel stood as she left and kissed her hand in parting. It was all she could do not to pull it away as if she were poisoned, but she knew her first order of business would be to thoroughly wash her hand as soon as she could.
Shortly after she went into her office, the three men left the pub. The meeting had been short, but to the point. They were to use the pub as one of their many ways to launder money. By buying expensive "business" dinners and throwing "corporate" events, they could funnel some of their money.
Still other means were to have her begin purchasing and stocking "Primo Ensenada", a rather cheap - and disgusting, T.J. thought - beer that was produced by one of the Reynosos subsidiaries. It was a simple game, and one that T.J. actually knew very well from her days with the F.E.P. In fact, she had startled Miguel by her extensive knowledge of money laundering.
She smiled in remembrance of his stunned expression. More than just a pretty face, arent I? Ya fuckwad! In retrospect, she probably should have played dumb, as she learned long ago it was best for your enemies to underestimate you. But Miguel Reynoso was such a machismo son-of-a-bitch, that she couldnt help herself.
Cant help myself Sitting behind her desk, she began to think of Cami. Her heart beat faster in her chest and her stomach tied in a knot. She knew she needed to put the blonde out of her mind, but she also feared for her safety.
Not only had she left the blonde injured, she also knew that despite the fact she was no longer seeing her, Reynoso would still not hesitate to use Cami as leverage against T.J. No amount of persuasion would convince the drug dealer that T.J. was through with her. But, she was glad for the fact that Jake had now put two men on guard. Not that they had been very successful before, but
Her conscience still bothered though, about leaving Cami the way she did. She briefly thought of calling her to make sure she was all right, but that was out of the question. Much too painful. She opted for a phone call to Jake instead, who assured her that he would get a report from the guard that was currently on duty and get back to his cousin with some information. He had started to ask T.J. why she wasnt with Cami herself, but he thought better of it.
She was still sitting behind her desk staring off into space when Peter came into the office after closing down the bar.
"Ok. Wheres the tape? What have we got?" He looked nearly gleeful.
Without a word, T.J. handed him the recorder pack and propped her feet up on her desk. It would be a long night of debriefing and going over the tape, but that really didnt bother her. In fact, she welcomed the distraction. What else did she have to do? Go home to an empty, lonely apartment and stare at the ceiling while she pretended to sleep?
Jo arrived early the next morning to take Cami to the airport. The blonde was loaded down with camera equipment, but she only had one suitcase of clothes to worry about. Vicki had tried to get her to pack more, but Cami rationalized that she would be spending most of her time at baseball games; so fancy clothes would be unnecessary. She had finally appeased Vicki by explaining that she could just buy anything that she might need.
Cami had picked up the phone twenty times to call T.J. before she left. But she couldnt do it her pride refused to allow her heart to break down. She rationalized that it was not her move to make. T.J had been the one to walk out; it was therefore up to her to make the first contact. Not a particularly sound theory, Cami admitted, but one her pride needed at the moment.
Tucked away in her duffel bag was the small box that T.J. had deliberately left behind that night. So far, Cami had not had the courage to open it up. She feared what was inside would be painful, and at the moment, more pain was not something Cami wanted to deal with. She almost left it behind at her house, but at the last minute, she put in away in the inside pocket of her bag. Maybe Ill have the strength to open it later.
Jo left her at the gate with a quick hug and kiss, as she had to dash off to rehearsals. The wait for departure hadnt been long, but Cami used the time to catch up on what Sports Illustrated and Baseball Weekly were saying about Tonys retirement.
She managed, for a while at least to not think about T.J. That is until the airplane made its ascent out over Point Loma and made the large loop over the Pacific to turn and head back towards the east. As the plane flew back over San Diego, Cami couldnt help but look towards the North and wonder where T.J. was and what she was doing.
T.J. stared resolutely at the ceiling of her bedroom. She had spent another mostly sleepless night, tossing about fitfully. Agent Knight told her that he almost had enough information to move on Reynoso a thought that should have made her enormously happy. And somewhere inside, she was ecstatic. But right now, she was so damned miserable without Camryn that even the thought of bringing down that bastard Miguel was not getting through to her.
Ya made the right decision, old girl. One ya knew would come sooner or later better now then when ya were really attached
She tried to be logical, but logic didnt do a damned thing to ease the pain of her heart.
"Where in bloody hell is she?"
"T.J., calm down." Jake tried unsuccessfully to sound patient.
"No! Whats going on, Jake?" The barkeep demanded, nearly coming through the phone line at her cousin.
"T.J she hasnt come home yet. I told you that my guy lost her down on Laurel Street. She was with that redheaded friend of hers, so he went back to Camis place to wait. She never came back."
"Jake. That was three days ago!! You mean ta tell me she hasnt come home in three days??!!" Dammit! If Reynoso has her, I swear to god Ill kill him!
"Exactly what I mean. I was thinking that maybe she is staying with one of those friends of hers, except "
"Except that both the tall blonde and the little redhead have been by the house in the past three days. They let themselves in with a key, bring in the mail, stay for about a half hour or so, and then take off again."
T.J. was silent for minute, digesting the information. If Vicki and Jo are coming by like that, they are probably taking care of the cat and the house for her. So shes either with them or out of town somewhere. "Well, thats something anyway. Means that Reynoso probably doesnt have her, otherwise her friends wouldnt know ta take care of the house."
"Thats what I figgered." Jakes voice held exhaustion as well as exasperation.
"We need ta find her before Miguel does, Jake. I dont care how." Despite her determination not to, T.J. had even gone so far as to call Camis cell phone a few times, but the calls went straight to her voice mail.
"Tell me something I dont know, cuz. Im sure shes fine."
T.J. didnt respond, lost in the image of those hurt, tear-filled green eyes that she had left behind days ago.
"Listen, I was thinking?"
"Maybe you could contact those friends of hers and just ask them where she is?" He sounded hopeful.
T.J. had no idea how to get a hold of Jo, but she had Vickis mobile number from working the charity function with her. She knew that after the other night however, she was likely not on either Jo or Vickis list of favorite people at the moment. "Maybe. But until then, have both of them followed. See if ya can turn her up that way."
"Already doin that."
"Oh." T.J. heaved a big sigh.
"Im sure shes fine. Well find her."
"Yeah. I know." Although to Jakes ears, she didnt sound convinced.
"And, Jamie? If you ever want to talk, Im around, okay?" His voice was softer now; full of the compassion he was feeling for his obviously heart-broken cousin.
"Yeah, okay, Jake. Ill keep that in mind." She severed the connection and toyed with the phone, chewing on her lip. After a moments hesitation, T.J. decided to wait and see if Jakes men could find Cami before the barkeep had to venture into the lions den of a conversation with either Cami or Vicki.
Youre not bein cowardly, just prudent. The dark-haired woman toyed with the pen in front of her. Yeah ya just keep tellin yourself that, old girl.
"What do you mean you dont know where she is??!!"
"She she just vanished boss. I dont know where!"
Miguel Reynoso fairly growled on the other end of the line. "Why dont you know, pendejo?"
The flunkie on the phone, swallowed hard in fear. "She has not been home in days. We have been watching."
"Is she with Jameson?" Reynoso demanded.
"No, she hasnt been there either. She just disappeared!" He tried in vain to keep the panic out of his voice.
"Well. Then Id guess youd better pull a magic trick out of your ass and make Ms. Wells reappear, comprende?"
"Si, jefe, Si!" Came the nervous reply.
"Otherwise, you are bound to find that you disappear " The threat in his voice and choice of words was unmistakable. He slammed the receiver down and roundly cursed the stupidity of his men. But if Wells isnt home or with Jameson where in the hell has she gone?
"Carlos!" He bellowed into the other room.
His big, lumbering brother strolled into the room, munching on a drumstick. "Si?"
"Tell the men to get the car. We need to pay a visit to Senora Jameson."
"Where are you, honey?"
"Still in Milwaukee. We wrap up this series tonight and then take a red-eye to Philly."
Jo could hear the exhaustion in Camis voice coming through the other end of the phone. "You sound beat."
"Yeah. But Im strangely exhilarated all at the same time, you know? This is such a dream for me!"
"I know, hon, I know."
"Do you know what they gave Tony for a gift last night?"
"What do you mean?"
"Each of the cities are planning a farewell ceremony for Tony and giving him something to commemorate his last series in each town."
"Oh. I see." But Cami could tell from Jos tone that the redhead really didnt see. Jo was not tremendously interested in baseball, and would only go to games if Cami begged her.
"Anyway, here in Milwaukee they gave him a leather Harley Davidson jacket! It is really cool. So, of course, now all of the guys are teasing him because he doesnt even own a Harley! In fact, the team is talking about getting him a bike to go with the jacket at the end of the season."
The excitement was clear in Camis voice and Jo heaved a small inward sigh of relief. The road trip had been a good idea - just what Cami needed to not constantly think about Taylor. "Sounds like you are having fun!"
Cami started to say that it was the time of her life, but before the words came out, she stopped. Thats not true. Being with T.J. was the time of my life this is "This is the pinnacle for a baseball fan like me, you know that."
"Especially one with such a huge hero-worship crush on the man whose picture you were hired to take?" Jo teased.
Cami laughed. "Yeah. Something like that. Listen, Ive got to go. The team bus is going to leave in a minute."
"Ok. Take care of yourself, woman. Promise?"
Cami smiled on the other end of the phone. "I promise, Jo. Give Vicki my love. Ill call from Philadelphia."
After she hung up the phone, Cami paced restlessly across the floor of her hotel room, before pausing at the large glass window. She stared unseeing out at the traffic below her, and tried in vain not to think about those blue eyes that were still haunting her. Give yourself time, Cam its only been a few days.
The phone buzzed and interrupted her reverie. "Ms. Wells? The bus is here."
"Thanks." She hung up and grabbed her camera case. Her suitcase was already in the lobby, but she refused to let someone else handle her camera equipment. With a heavy sigh, she headed for the door, and another brush with baseball history.
Cami wearily leaned her head against the tinted glass of the bus window. The team was chattering away around her, and she had already taken several candid shots of the players: laughing, telling stories, and swapping tips and techniques.
She reflected that she should be the happiest person alive right now she was living her dream. But as she watched Philadelphia rush by through the glass, she could only think of T.J. How is she? What is she doing? Did Agent Knight bring down Reynoso yet?
Her most persistent thought was for T.J.s safety. The blonde knew that Taylors reasons for walking out had everything to do with the fact that Cami had gotten physically injured. When Cami was being completely rational with herself, she knew that Taylor blamed herself for what happened that night for Reynosos man breaking in like that. And, Cami also knew that the dark-haired woman had left in order, she thought, to protect Cami from further harm. But that is ridiculous! I am already involved! And with T.J. and Jakes men around to protect me
Her thoughts were broken off by the happy melody of her cell phone. For the duration of the trip, Cami had the ringer set to play "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," which caused the team to burst out in peals of laughter every time she got a call. Glancing at the caller ID, her heart skipped a beat. It was T.J.!
Should I answer? I What if it is an emergency or something? With that logic, her heart and pride could both be satisfied. No harm in taking the call it might be important.
"Cami? Are ya uh are ya all right?"
Cami figured that T.J. was talking about the emotional wreck she had left the blonde in four days ago. "Yeah. Im ok." Not quite the truth, but
The blonde could hear a relieved rush of breath coming from the other end of the phone. "Aye. Well tis good then. I was just uh worried about ya."
"No need, Im fine."
Taylor could hear the rush of sound in the background, and the chattering of men. "Where are ya? Sounds like a party."
Cami hesitated. She was unsure how to proceed with the conversation. Why did she really call? Checking up on me because of the Reynosos or something else? Deep down in her heart, Cami hoped it was a little of both concern for her safety and the fact that T.J. was missing her as much as the blonde was aching for the barkeep.
"Im Im out of town on a job assignment."
"Oh?" T.J.s tone indicated her disappointment that Cami was not more forthcoming with information about where she was.
"Is something going on, Taylor? I mean you made things pretty clear to me the other night. I was just well I was wondering why you called?" Cami took a deep breath and mentally patted herself on the back for being so brave.
T.J. swallowed hard. Why indeed? She chose her answer carefully. "I was just concerned about ya. With the Reynosos still around ya could still be in danger. So "
"So you waited four days to find out if he had me sliced and diced?" Camis irritation was evident. Maybe she didnt really miss me at all just feeling guilty.
"No! Ya just disappeared and I was afraid that Reynoso had taken ya or " T.J. cut herself off, aware of what she had revealed.
"Taylor. Are Jakes men still following me?"
"Aye. Of course. Like I said, even though I we arent " The dark haired woman cleared her throat, trying unsuccessfully to swallow the lump. "Ya might still be a target for him."
Cami took a moment and digested the conversation. "So. Jakes men lost me. Had no idea where I went and you panicked. Thus the phone call is that what you are saying?" Not a damned thing about us just her guilt over my safety. Cami fought back the tears, willing herself not to be disappointed.
"Aye." T.J. ached to say more, to pour her heart out. But she knew that all of the reasons she had left Cami were still valid, so why put either of them through more pain.
The phone line was silent for a few seconds. Neither woman knew where to go.
Finally, T.J. could no longer stand it. "Did ya I left a box at your house the other night "
"Yeah. I saw it. You put it on the dresser."
"Did ya "
"Open it?" Cami finished for her. "No. I didnt know what it was for, so I didnt open it."
T.J.s shoulders slumped. "Oh. Well. It was uh is a late birthday present for ya. But if ya didnt open it, dont worry. If ya dont want it, just um Ill get it back from ya some other time."
The disappointment in her tone was clear to Cami. A birthday present? One she left for me despite the fact that she was leaving herself "Oh. Well thanks. I didnt know it was a present. Ill of course you didnt need to do that, but thanks." Cami almost caught herself smiling, but the pain in her heart was still too much.
"Aye. Twas no trouble."
A few more seconds of silence stretched out between them. "Well, Taylor. Im almost back to the hotel, so Ive got to go. If I see Reynoso or his men, Ill let you know."
"Cami?" The barkeeps voice was deeper than usual and filled with unshed tears.
"Please take care of yourself. Be safe."
"I will. Bye, Taylor." Came Camis husky reply before she severed the connection and dropped the phone carelessly into her lap.
She managed to keep the tears from falling until she was safely alone in her hotel room. No sense in letting the team see her fall apart not very professional of her, she thought.
But the minute she shut the hotel room door behind her, she broke down and sobbed.
She was so confused. Taylor seemed to be only calling out of guilt over Camis safety. And yet why mention the present? Cami crossed the room and set down her camera equipment, before reaching for the duffle bag where she had stored the little box in question.
The box was royal blue velvet, a beautiful rich color that, of course, reminded Cami of T.J.s eyes. It was obviously from a jewelry shop, and from the classiness of the box, a very expensive jewelry shop at that.
Cami sat down on the edge of the bed, and with trembling fingers she lifted the lid to see what was inside. Lying on the bed of blue velvet was an exquisite pendant necklace. Made out of sterling silver, the pendant was an exact copy of the tattoo that Cami had admired on T.J.s shoulder. Carefully detailed Celtic knot work ringed the outer edge, and in the center where the stylized yin-yang symbol was, the jeweler had used a dark blue Lapis Lazuli and a dark green Emerald to create the two halves of the design. It was absolutely stunning.
Camis heart pounded and the tears flowed freely. It was obvious that T.J. had the necklace designed and made especially for her; the craftsmanship in duplicating the tattoo was unmistakable. For the first time, Cami noticed that the blue stone that made up one half of the design was the color of T.J.s eyes. And the emerald green for my eyes. Oh god She acutely felt the loss of what might have been between them. Two halves of one whole. Oh, T.J
Turning the pendant over, she saw that Taylor had the necklace engraved. In beautiful script writing around the outer edge of the pendant was written:
For C: My Anam Cara. Yesterday, Today, and for Eternity. Yours, T.
Cami didnt even try now to hold back the tears. She simply curled up on the bed and sobbed her grief into the pillow, with the incredible necklace clutched tightly in her hand.
"The first shipment of beer arrives tomorrow."
"Aye. I got that message. Is that why ya came all the way down here? I didnt figure to see you before the shipment." Taylor commented silkily, smiling across the desk at Miguel Reynoso. They were both seated in T.J.s private office, and Miguel had dismissed his usual entourage of bodyguards.
He smiled in return, a leering grin that had T.J. holding back a shiver of revulsion. "No, Senora Jameson. I was wondering if you thought more about my offer of taking a little how should I say vacation together?"
Ah bugger. Id hoped he would have let that go. I can cooperate on the business end so Knight can bring this asshole down, but I draw the line at giving my body too.
When she hesitated in responding, Reynoso continued.
"It is my understanding that you are now available, si?"
Taylor knew exactly what the little worm meant, but she feigned ignorance. "Available? What are ya talking about?"
He leaned forward, putting his elbows on the desk. He was close enough now that she could smell the truckload of cloying aftershave that rolled off of him in waves. "I was made to understand that the little blonde you were dallying with is now out of the picture, verdad?"
Rotten fucking bastard. "Little blonde?" She knit her brows together in puzzlement. "Oh! You mean Ms. Wells. Aye, I cut her loose awhile ago." She reached a hand out and ran a finger down Reynosos well-manicured hand. "But then again, I think I already told ya that."
"Si, Si. I havent seen her around in awhile, but I was just making sure that you hadnt changed your mind."
Sonofabitch! He doesnt know where she went, so hes trying ta find out what I know. Like Id tell ya if I had her hidden away somewhere, ya ruttin asshole! "No. I havent changed my mind. She was just some fun but she is well out of the picture." Goddammit I hate myself sometimes. But Im glad he has no idea where Cami is that means shes safe for the time being.
"Bueno. Then perhaps next weekend? That gives me a few days to clear my schedule and make arrangements."
By next weekend your ass better be rotting in jail. "Sure. Next weekend would be wonderful." She continued to purr, playing the convincing come on.
"Well then. Be sure to have the money ready for the shipment tomorrow night, and Ill make us reservations. Farewell, senora." With a slobbery kiss on her hand, he left the office in a cloud of aftershave.
T.J. had never been so close to puking on a mans hand before. But she calmly got up from her desk and washed her hands before proceeding to the bar to talk to Knight.
The Agent already knew about the shipment arriving, and had made plans for Reynoso and his men to be taken down. The delivery was to take place behind the pub, so the least amount of civilians would be around. The contingency plans were in place and Knight had assured Taylor that after tomorrow night, her troubles would be over.
Maybe it was Taylors long experience with the seamier side of life, or maybe it was just her womens intuition, but as she wearily climbed into her car for the lonely drive home, so couldnt help but feel like her troubles were far from over.
The stage was set. Agent Knight had his men in place; there were six agents to cover the outside and three more inside the pub in case things got out of hand. A sharpshooter on a nearby roof also covered the back delivery door.
Knight himself would be handling the delivery along with, of course, T.J. who would take care of the money end. Leaving nothing to chance, Knight had two backup plans in place, which he could revert to by using a specific password over the com-link that all of the agents were discreetly wearing.
In her office, Taylor was once again wearily preparing for battle. Checking and rechecking her gun, and sliding home the thin stiletto knife she wore in her boot. Although she had done this type of thing a hundred times before in her past, tonight was different. Tonight she was on the right side of the law. And if I succeed tonight if we carry this off and put the bastard away maybe, just maybe Cami and I have a chance.
She knew that with Reynoso out of the way, the threat to Camis safety would be over, which was one of the main reasons why T.J. had broken things off with the beautiful blonde. But there is still that matter of your past, old girl. She reminded herself. Well, well jump off that bridge when we get there, eh? Lets get this job done first.
A look of fierce determination on her face, she straightened the cuffs on her leather jacket before heading out into the bar. Behind the counter was a good-looking woman whom Taylor had never seen before. She cocked a questioning eyebrow at Tommy who had chosen that moment to round the corner from the kitchen.
"Oh, T.J. Glad you are here." Tommy smiled at his boss, noting that her normally radiant beauty had a more wild, exotic look tonight a sight which caused him to catch his breath for a moment. "You look wow, boss!"
T.J. snorted. "Aye, thanks Tommy. Ya have the soul of a poet, ya know that?"
Tommy laughed at her jest and brought the barkeep over to the new woman who was currently pulling a Guinness with deft skill.
"Boss, this here is Cee. She will be working some of the shifts behind the bar, cause Peter gave me a two week notice that hed be quitting."
"Yeah, I know. He uh hes moving, so this is a bit out of the way for him." She turned to the woman that Tommy was introducing and sized her up. Of medium height and build, Cee had short brown hair, and penetrating brown eyes. With one glance, T.J. could tell that Cee was a woman who could certainly handle herself in any situation. Always good ta know ya got someone behind the bar who can take care of things when the goin gets tough. "Nice ta have ya, Cee. I hope ya like it here."
Cee shook T.J.s hand with a firm grip, and a wide smile. "Thanks. Great place you have here."
T.J. smiled in response. "Thank ya. So how about I get ya ta pour us both a double shot of Jameys while I wait for that damned shipment ta arrive."
"Coming right up." Cee moved off to fix the drinks.
"You know I can take care of the shipment, boss. If you have something to do I mean." Tommy was still a bit puzzled as to why Taylor was taking the delivery herself, a job usually relegated to whoever happened to be working at the time.
"Sokay, Tommy. This is the first time we are dealing with this distributor, so I thought Id meet up with him in person. Sort of check things out myself." Sounds reasonable, and it is something close ta the truth.
"Oh, okay. Well, youre the boss. Im going to go see how the new waitress is doing." Disappearing into the kitchen, T.J. could tell by the set of Tommys shoulders that while he accepted her answer, he really didnt agree with it.
"Here you go, Ms. Jameson. A double shot, neat." Cee placed the amber colored liquid in front of Taylor and a second shot for herself next to it on the bar.
"Please call me T.J., ok?"
"Gotcha." Cee hoisted her glass to toast her new boss.
"Slánte." T.J. automatically toasted.
"Slán na gath." Came the immediate Gaelic response from Cee before she downed her own drink.
T.J. set down her empty glass and smirked at the new bartender. "I can see that ya will fit right in here."
Agent Knight came into the pub and motioned to T.J., so she politely excused herself from Cee and went across the bar to meet him.
"All set?" His tone was businesslike, yet filled with an underlying note of anticipation.
"The agents are in place. Do you want to go over it again?"
"No. Ive got it. When the shit goes down, Im ta haul my ass out of the way."
"Exactly." From the look on her face, Knight could tell that Taylor was not happy with that part of the plan. "Listen, Taylor. Please dont try to be a hero here. You are already doing more than enough. The last thing I want is for anyone to get hurt in all of this, ok?"
Taylor nodded and clenched her jaw against the comments that threatened to bubble to the surface. They were interrupted by a message on Knights com-link that the delivery truck was pulling up the street. "All right. Lets roll."
Taylor took a long deep breath, patted the reassuring weight of her gun and firmly placed all thoughts of Cami out of her mind before she headed into the pubs kitchen area.
Knight had been concerned about the number of employees in the kitchen if things got messy, so it was Taylors job to keep the Reynosos outside, away from too many civilians. She smiled at the cook and the various wait staff that were bustling about. It was a Monday night, but the pub was crowded with dinner patrons.
Agent Knight followed Taylor into the storage area behind the kitchen, and waited while she went outside to greet the Reynosos. The plan was fairly simple, the money would be paid, Agent Knight would begin helping to off-load the cheap beer, Taylor would head into the pub, and the dragnet would pull in around the Reynosos before they knew what hit them.
As Taylor stepped out into the dark summer night, the delivery trucks headlights temporarily blinded her. Her senses picked up several men nearby, but she couldnt see them, so she closed her eyes momentarily to adjust to the darkness.
The medium sized refrigerated truck pulled up next to the loading door and stopped abruptly with the squeal of obviously well worn brakes. Two men stepped out, one from each side and began to approach Taylor.
Ok, old girl. Youre on. Time ta work your magic. She slipped into what she jokingly considered her "Jamie routine" and walked up to greet the men.
"Buenos noches, senora. Donde esta Senora Jameson?"
"Right in front of ya - ya pin head." She growled. "Who the fuck are you two?"
Her instincts began to prickle. Where are Miguel and Carlos? Miguel had assured Taylor that the two brothers would help with the first delivery, so that everything went according to their plan. It was the sole reason that Knight had set up the sting for tonight. Taylor was wearing her omnipresent wire, and after the exchange was made, the Feds would move in.
The second man spoke up in a heavily accented voice. "Good evening, Ms. Jameson. We are to deliver some beer to you, no?"
Taylor looked from one to the other and decided the second man, the shorter of the two, must be the brain of the team, so she directed the rest of her conversation to him.
"Aye. Ya are supposed ta bring me some of that piss water ya call beer. But I was told ta pay only Senor Reynoso, not some dock workin flunkie."
The short mans dark eyes narrowed, his face looking a bit more sinister than normal due to the dim light in the pubs alleyway. "I assure you, Senor Reynoso trusts me to make the delivery."
"No way mate, no deal." She folded her leather-covered arms across her chest and subtly eased her right hand under the jacket so that her Sig was just a fingertip away from her reach. "I deal only with Miguel Reynoso. Now ya get his ass on the phone and get him down here, or ya walk away with all those cases of that crap ya are passing off as beer." Her voice was steely and the man had no doubt she was not bluffing.
He chattered something in Spanish to his partner, who promptly turned and headed back towards the cab of the truck. "Senora Jameson, we meant no offense. But you of all people must understand that such deliveries are beneath such a powerful and busy man as Senor Reynoso."
The man was stalling and Taylor knew it. She could smell a set up from hundred yards out. "Fine. Then you of all people should know that this is also a waste of my time. I deal with Miguel and no one else, comprende mate?"
Taylor hoped against all hope that Knight listening to the conversation. The Feds could not move in yet, as their main prize was not here. Either Miguel spotted a set up, or he really never intended to be here but which is it? She rifled through the possibilities in her brain.
"Oh si, senora. I understand. Pedro has gone to get Senor Reynoso on the phone. Perhaps if you two talk, things will be clearer, no?" The short man never moved an inch, his gaze locked on Taylor, waiting for her next move.
Just then, Pedro returned and handed Taylor a cell phone. As she reached for the phone, the shorter man grabbed for her arm.
Shit! She backhanded the man with one clean swipe and landed a front kick on the tall brute in front of her. She knew she could handle these two men, but as she reached for her Sig, all hell broke loose.
Seeing that the sting was rapidly turning sour without the Reynosos present, the Feds had been content to stay back allow the transfer to take place and follow the truck when it left. That is until the two men had jumped Taylor. Now that a civilian was under attack, they immediately switched to contingency plan Delta. A warning password went out over the com and in an instant, the three battling figures behind the truck were swamped with FBI agents.
But Pedro and his short partner were loath to go down without a fight. Reaching for weapons, the shorter man ducked for cover and began firing on the federal agents who were closing in on them, shouting for them to drop their weapons.
T.J. continued to exchange blows with Pedro, ignoring Agent Knights orders for her to get down. A bullet nicked her jacket, one fired from the gun of the "good guys", before Taylor realized that she was making things much for difficult for the agents by being in the line of fire. She executed a rolling sweep kick to Pedros knees and found cover behind a nearby dumpster.
In seconds everything was over. It had seemed like a month to Taylor. When the gunfire stopped, she came out from behind the dumpster to survey the damage. One agent had gotten clipped in the arm, but T.J. knew he would be fine. Pedro was passed out from the agony of his broken kneecap that T.J. had shattered with her kick. But the short man the short man was clearly dead. He had continued to fire on the agents and in the ensuing fire, he had taken a shot right through the throat.
Fuck! Taylor stood motionless for only a moment before her street instincts kicked into high gear. "Agent Knight." She growled.
The agent in question turned to see her standing behind him, the lights from the pub producing a halo effect behind her head and he was instantly reminded of a dark, avenging angel. "Taylor! Are you okay? Are you hit?"
"Ya owe me a leather jacket." She growled. "But more than that, Im in deep shit here and ya know it."
The agent sighed and looked grim. "I know. Ill take care of you, Taylor. Well put you under witness protection."
Taylor picked up the cell phone that Pedro had been trying to hand her it was broken from the fall to the pavement. She had no way of knowing whether Pedro actually called Reynoso or if the two men had been bluffing all along. Taylor looked down at the one remaining Reynoso man, who lay unconscious on the ground. And its not like I can get any information out of him right now! She snapped at Knight. "In my office. Now."
Agent Knight directed some clean up orders to the other men, before following Taylor towards the door of the pub. The gunfire had brought employees running from the kitchen, the first to reach Taylor being Tommy. "Boss! What the fuck? Are you all right? I heard shots and "
Taylor grasped Tommy by the arm. "No time ta explain here, mate. I need ya ta calm the staff, get them back ta work and then meet me in my office. Can ya do that?"
Tommy nodded, his face pale in the glow of the outside lights. He had many questions, but he prudently held his tongue and turned to follow T.J.s request. He moved the staff back indoors, shielding them from the scene in the back alley.
Knight firmly shut the door to Taylors office before the barkeep began. "What the fuck were ya doin?" She demanded.
Agent Knights face was study in controlled fury. "Saving you, Ms. Jameson. Got a problem with that?"
"I dinna need ya, god dammit! I dinna give ya the damned signal!" The two had prearranged a hand signal for Taylor to give if she wanted the agents to move in early.
"No. But I thought those idiots grabbing you was signal enough!" Knight was clearly pissed now, trying in vain to remain professional. "It is not the habit of the Bureau to allow civilians to be killed while we watch and wait for a signal!"
"I was not about ta be killed. I coulda handled those fuckin bastards just fine." Her voice was a mixture of steel and fire.
"That was not your call to make, Jameson! I ordered them to move, and I would have done the same if it was one of my agents out there, much less a civilian!" Knight paced the length of her office, while Taylor stood motionless by her cabinet in the corner.
"No? It was my ass out there, and therefore it was my call!" She wanted to rant some more, to hit something out of frustration. They had thrown the net too soon and now they might never catch their prey. "But regardless, now we have a bloody huge problem, Agent Knight!"
"I know." He sighed in frustration. It would be a matter of hours, perhaps minutes, before Reynoso figured out that his men had been ambushed. T.J.s life hung in the balance. Once Reynoso heard that she had been working with the Feds, her life was worth nothing. "Ill make a call. Have you put in witness protection."
She grabbed for his arm. "Give up my home, my business, my name? No fuckin way, mate." She stared hard into his unflinching eyes. "I will take care of myself."
He knew without question she could do just that, and having witnessed her in action moments early, she had proven it. But he still had a job to do. "So. What is your plan?"
"Im gone. Ill go underground. Ive done it before. But I dinna want ta have my pub destroyed, my employees hurt. Understand?"
He continued to steadily meet her steely blue gaze. "I understand, Taylor. You have my word. You go, be safe. Ill contact you when I have Reynoso under lock and key."
She nodded at the agent in front of her, trusting him to do just as he promised. "Aye. Ya do that. And do it fast, or Ill have nothin ta come back for."
Without another word, Agent Knight left the office, brushing by an alarmed Tommy who was heading through the door. "T.J.?"
With a deep breath, T.J. quickly told Tommy about Agent Knight and of the sting gone sour. He listened, wide-eyed, but without comment. "So ya see, mate. Ive gotta go."
"I see, boss. Dont worry; Ill take care of the place. You can count on me." His face was serious and earnest.
"I know I can, Tommy." She took him by the shoulders. "Listen, this is the first place they will come ta look for me. But the Feds will stay and protect the place I willna put any of you in danger, but I also need it to seem like it is business as usual around here or Miguel will run and Knight will never find him. It should only be for a day or two."
What she really wanted to do was to shut down the pub, to keep everyone safe. But she also knew that Reynoso would bolt if she shut down he would have proof that she was working with the Feds. If everything seemed normal at the pub, Reynoso might question whether she had called the FBI, or if it was just that they had finally caught up with him on their own.
Tommy looked at the floor, feeling more helpless than he had in years. He finally croaked out, "What can I do?"
"I have ta go home. Get some of my papers and things before the Reynosos go and trash the place. So what I need ya ta do is close up here. The Feds will stay and protect ya; Im not worried about that. And then I need ya ta just run the place like usual. If anyone asks for me, ya havent seen me, but ya know I am on vacation tell them I went home ta visit my family." Not bloody likely Im about as welcome in Ireland as the potato famine, but Reynoso likely doesnt know that and the story sounds good.
Tommy swallowed hard, but took T.J. by both hands. "Consider it done. Those bastards wont touch this place, I swear, T.J. They have to come through me first."
"Tommy, please dont be a hero. This is just a building; there is nothing here worth losing your life over."
"Ok, Taylor, I promise. But please you be careful, okay?"
With a quick nod and a squeeze of his arm, Taylor left her office and drove quickly to her condo.
She ripped into her parking space, and stepped out of her BMW, senses on full alert. The parking lot was well lit, but she sensed someone waiting in the shadows near her front door. Acting casual, she continued up towards her door, only changing direction at the last possible moment, and tackling the dark figure near the door.
The person was smaller than she expected, and she heard a familiar, decidedly female voice shout, "Ooof! Oh, shit! T.J.! Its me!"
She rolled over and pulled the smaller womans face towards the light. "Cami?? What the fuck are ya doin here!?"
Cami had asked herself that very question about a hundred times. She had left the team in Philly having shot the necessary pictures of Tonys ceremony the night before. They would be returning home the next day for a short home stand, so Cami took the opportunity to come and talk to the dark haired woman who had stolen her heart, crushed it, but had also made it soar. "I I came to see you." Well duh, Cami. She nearly smacked herself in the forehead. "I we need to talk, T.J."
She wanted to go see T.J. at the pub, but when she had called from the freeway on her cell phone, a woman named Cee had informed her that T.J. had already left. Cami had figured her friend would be heading home, so she had gone to T.J.s condo for the first time.
But when she arrived in the complex that she knew T.J. lived in, it occurred to Cami that she didnt know exactly what unit number her friend occupied. So, she had left her car to peer at the mailboxes and discovered that T.J. was in #1G. She was actually on her way back to her car after getting no answer at T.J.s door, when she saw the BMW pull in, waited by the door, and then was unceremoniously tackled for her trouble.
T.J.s brain kicked into over-drive. She desperately wanted to see Cami, but not now not while Reynoso was hunting the barkeep. "Darlin, I know we should talk. I have lots of things I want to tell ya. But can ya do somethin for me right now?"
Camis eyes narrowed. "Besides help you up off the ground? Cause if you tell me to go away and youll call me later, Im going to kick your ass."
If the situation hadnt been so serious, T.J. would have burst out laughing at Camis ferocity. "No, darlin. I dinna want ya ta go away. But will ya just trust me and go along for right now? We cant stay here."
Cami recognized the anxiety in T.J.s voice and knew that her friend was not playing around. "Oh shit! Its Reynoso, isnt it?"
"Yeah. So please, just follow me right now and I promise Ill take us somewhere where we can talk, okay?"
Camis voice was hoarse, but she croaked an assent and followed the tall woman into the darkened condo. She noted that T.J. didnt turn on the overhead lights, but instead bustled about the place in the dark, only using a small Mag-light that she had procured from her pocket. Cami briefly wondered at the lack of light, but then it occurred to her that if Reynoso was after T.J., he likely had men watching the place.
T.J. moved silently up beside her. "Follow me, Cami, please." T.J. whispered in that velvet voice that always sent shivers up Camis spine. "I have a few more things ta get from the office and then well go."
Standing in the dimness of T.J.s office, Cami was again impressed with T.J.s lithe movements. Even in the dark, the tall woman moved just like a jungle cat. With efficient motions, she gathered the things she needed into a large black duffle bag and silently she turned to face Cami. "Ok. Lets go." She quietly said, very close to Camis ear.
But as the two women started out the door, they were startled by the sound of squealing tires and shattering glass. As Cami turned, behind T.J. she saw a fiery object flying through the window.
"Get down!" T.J. shouted as she covered the blondes body with her own. Instantly the room turned into an inferno and Cami felt the air rush out of her as T.J.s weight came down on top of her for the second time that night.
After a split second of catching their breath, T.J. whispered. "Ya ok?"
"Fine. Just winded. Lets get out of here!" But T.J. had cocked her head and laid a finger gently against Camis lips, pleading with her eyes for Cami to be quiet. The blonde obeyed and strained against the noise of the crackling fire behind them to listen for what T.J. was obviously hearing.
In a moment, the dark woman got up off of the floor, but remaining in a crouch, she reached a hand down to Cami and indicated with a hand signal that the blonde should also stay low. The two women silently crept towards the stairs and Cami caught sight of a dark figure moving through the living room beneath them. With a swift flash of silver, T.J. aimed her Sig and brought down the man with a shot to the leg. Grabbing Camis hand, T.J. proceeded across the landing towards her bedroom.
In this room, T.J. shut the door behind them with a quiet snick. Escaping down the stairs was out of the question, and the office was currently on fire, which left them only two options to shoot it out on the stairs, or climb out the bedroom window. By far, the window was T.J.s safest option, especially with Cami in tow. So she quietly slid open the glass and punched out the screen. Outside was a tall tree with a branch close enough for T.J. to reach. She knew she would have no trouble climbing down, but she feared for the smaller Camryn.
However, before she could formulate a plan, Cami was climbing through the window and grabbing a hold of the branch. From Camis deft movements, T.J. could tell she was dealing with a woman who had climbed trees in her youth, so she followed the blonde into the tree.
She landed softly next to Cami in a pile of dirt beneath the tree. Taking the blondes hand, T.J. eased along the wall of the condo and spotted two more of Reynosos men near her car in the parking lot. "Fuck!"
"Theyre watching your car." Cami quietly observed. They heard the distant wail of the fire engines responding to the 911 call likely placed by a neighbor. T.J. knew her car was out of the question and she inwardly cursed.
Cami realized it too. "My car is parked over on the other side. I didnt know where exactly you lived, so Im out by the entrance. Can we get there from here?"
T.J. was thoroughly amazed at how well Cami was rolling with the crisis situation, and she reached down and soundly kissed the photographer on the lips. "Brilliant. Follow me!"
They cut through some underbrush and around several buildings, listening carefully to the fire trucks as they finally arrived. Their quick response assured T.J. that her neighbors homes would likely be okay. In the far parking lot, they reached a small red Mazda Miata. Cami unlocked the door, and watched amusedly as T.J. tried rather painfully to tuck her 6-foot frame into the little sports car.
Cami started the car, but deliberately left the headlights off until they were out of the lot. Neither of the women dared to speak until they were safely out of the complex and a good mile or more down the road without seeing any headlights trailing them.
"So where are we headed?" Cami inquired, her voice full of adrenaline.
T.J. had been reviewing that in her head. They most assuredly couldnt go to Camis house, and likely Vick and Jo were also out of the question. "I dinna know. Do ya have a favorite, out of the way hotel?"
Cami pondered the question for a moment before her face broke into a bright smile. "Yeah. I know one." At T.J.s questioning eyebrow, Cami continued to smirk. "Just trust me." She quipped in a husky voice.
T.J. laughed. "Okay. But first ya have ta tell me where ya got this tin can ya call a car." She patted the leather-covered dashboard in front of her. Despite their obvious predicament, T.J. was pathetically glad to see the small blonde woman, and was trying to lighten up the mood.
"Oh. This is Jos car. She loaned it to me for a couple of days."
"Well, that makes sense." T.J. shook her head.
"What does?" Cami was clearly confused.
"A pixie-sized car must belong to a pixie." The sound of their laughter echoed into the summer night as Cami steered the car south on Interstate 5 towards the Coronado Bay Bridge. No matter the trouble they were in, they were together, and somehow for both of them that made everything all right.
Taiko's Scrolls of the Xenaverse