Make your own free website on Tripod.com

CHAPTER FIVE

Shoe-button eyes bright with a mixture of curiosity and apprehension,
the raccoon approached the puddle warily, attracted by the odd odor.
Closer . . . closer . . . nose wrinkling, the small animal lowered its
muzzle to the fluid and took a good, deep whiff.

With a small squeak of distress, it convulsed once or twice, then fell
face-down with a sad little splash, overcome by the fumes.

"By all the demons of hell," the heavy-set, grizzled old man groused,
tightening a screw upon the rusty old still, then hammering at it with
the wrench for good measure. "Why are you leaking? You should not be
leaking! I fixed you twice already, yes?" Abandoning his efforts, he
gazed down at the soggy mammal, shrugging philosophically. "At least
there will be marinated coon for dinner."

Whistling a tuneless rendition of "Sweet Marie Bon Temps" between his
teeth, Douvee Boudreaux stuffed the unfortunate raccoon into a burlap
bag and headed for what passed for his home these days. His nephew
Chance's escapades had been rather hard on his Cajun House Beautiful
scheme of interior design, to say the least. Total renovation from the
charred ground up had been the order of the day, but so far only a
sagging lean-to stood where once a house had been. After all, living
alone in the heart of the bayou as he did, he'd had to set priorities,
and the still had taken months to reconstruct.

He'd just reached the point in the tune which recounted precisely *what*
Sweet Marie did at the fais-do-do to earn her three months' probation,
when his musical stylings trailed off into an appreciative wolf-whistle
at the sight which met his rheumy eyes. "Well, hello there, cher. What
is a nice little girl like you doing out here with the gators and the
snakes and the dirty old men, eh?" His accent and inflection suggested
an unfortunate genetic experiment involving Jed Clampett and Pepe Le
Pew.

"Being lost, mostly." The young woman smiled shyly, and trailed the toe
of her boot in the dirt. "I'm *so* glad I found you. My boyfriend and
I were out hunting, well, he was anyway, and I was just along for the
togetherness, you know, Dr. Laura says it's very important to share your
man's interests -- and anyway, he said I was making too much noise, and
to stay put while he went to shoot something, and I got bored, and went
to follow him, and, um, here I am." She gazed up at him pathetically,
chewing her index finger with distress. "Could you help me find
him?" She then proceeded to flutter the shapely lashes of her enormous
brown eyes. If her hair had been a bit longer, she'd have been coyly
wrapping a blond ringlet of it around her other index finger for good
measure.

Douvee bared discolored teeth in a broad smile, scratching his grubby
overalls contemplatively. The girl was dumb as a stump, obviously, but
not at all hard on the eyes. "Don't you worry your pretty little head
about it, cher. Douvee will help you. Though if your sweetheart is
stupid enough to leave you out here alone, perhaps he does not deserve
you back, eh?" He pinched her rear end suggestively, too busy leering
at her bustline to notice the manner in which her demeanor took a brief
respite from flirting to indulge in an unguarded look of homicidal
indignation. Struggling not to be overcome by the proximity of Douvee's
pungent bodily funk as it shook its head clear of the moonshine fumes,
the raccoon poked its unsteady snout out of the burlap sack, caught a
glimpse of Vaughn's glare, and wisely ducked back out of sight. "Just
let me get my crossbow from the house, and we go. You are lucky to have
found me before you are gator bait, cher -- there is no one else out
here for miles."

"So you're all alone and unarmed out here? With all the wild animals
around?" She pronounced the words in an oddly loud tone of voice, as if
making an announcement to the world at large, but Douvee put it down to
nerves.

"Yes, just me, but do not worry -- nothing dangerous will come this
close to the house." He patted her head reassuringly, as if dismissing
something cute and fluffy.

"I beg to differ."

Douvee dropped his sack in astonishment at the sight of a black-clad Pik
Van Cleaf sauntering out of the bayou like a high-tech Angel of Death,
shotgun slung over his shoulder in place of a simple scythe. As the
raccoon scampered gratefully away, Vaughn joined her partner with a look
of absolute disgust. "Do you have *any* idea how much I hate playing
that helpless girl routine?"

"My heart bleeds for you," Pik commiserated dryly, hefting his shotgun
into a more comfortable position. Well, more comfortable for him,
anyway. Far *less* comfortable for Douvee. "Where is Chance Boudreaux
these days, hmm? The rumor in town was that he's staying with you, but
that appears to be incorrect. More's the pity. Thought we'd catch up
on old times."

Douvee's face remained unreadable behind the scraggly beard and granny
glasses. "So. You are not dead."

Pik exhaled heavily. "Well done. I can see where your nephew gets his
brains. Now, where is he?"

The old man shrugged. "I do not know. He stay with me awhile after he
and Natasha divorce, then one day, no more Chance. No goodbye, no
note. That has always been the way with Chance. Douvee knows nothing."

Pik could read lies clearly as boldface print, as Vaughn had discovered
to her great discomfiture, and he knew immediately that the old man was
telling the unvarnished truth. His eyebrows traveled up to conference
with his hairline concerning this unexpected revelation. "Son of a
bitch! Boudreaux married Binder's daughter?" He was speechless for a
moment, contemplating the cataclysmic reproductive possibilities. Was
it possible to breed a human being strictly made of muscle, with no
brain?

"That he did, for a month, maybe. Chance always seem to like the whiny
ones. They make him feel taller. And I suppose you want to know where
*she* is, eh? Well, Douvee will not tell you that." The old man took a
casual swig from the flask of moonshine in his overalls pocket,
seemingly unconcerned about his imminent death. The fact that he was
half-tanked most of the time probably contributed a great deal to his
aura of Cajun Zen.

"Actually, I've already heard where to find her. I wondered why she was
still in New Orleans. She seemed a low priority on my reunion
schedule. Not anymore." One corner of Pik's mouth snaked upwards as he
rearranged the appointments on his mental DayTimer of Death. "Thank
you, Douvee, you've been most helpful. So much so, in fact, that I'm
going to do you a favor. As Vaughn here already told you, I'm in the
mood for a bit of hunting." Raising his shotgun, he gestured
meaningfully towards the bayou. "You have thirty minutes before I kill
you. Use it well."

Needing no further encouragement, Douvee lumbered away. Pausing just at
the edge of the clearing, he called out one last bit of defiance. "I
taught Chance most everything he knows. He beat you. So can Douvee."

Watching the old man disappear into the dark and tangled expanse of
trees, Pik's eyes looked no more forgiving than the swampland. "That
remains to be seen."

Vaughn ambled up behind him, affectionately sliding her arms around his
waist. "You're taking a risk, you know. You're still jet-lagged. And
that crazy old coot could have weapons stored out there. Traps. God
knows what all."

Without turning his eyes away from where Douvee had slipped from sight,
Pik reached down and caressed the back of her hand, entwining her
fingers with his. "I'm sure he does."

"Ah." She gave this due consideration. "You know, if you're doing this
to impress me, it's not necessary."

He did turn to look down at her then, the severe lines of his expression
breaking into a mischievous smile. "I believe I've already impressed
you with my prowess in other areas." As she rolled her eyes and pulled
away, he refused to relinquish his grip upon her hand. "Why the sudden
concern? Since when are you the voice of caution?"

Flushing defensively, she refused to meet his penetrating gaze. "I
don't want my ass shot off just because you've finally decided it's time
to play Joe Testosterone, that's all." Admitting that she'd
begun to worry about him in more than a strictly professional sense was
*not* on the agenda. He was already more than arrogant enough.

"I see." He abruptly released her hand. "Don't worry. You're welcome
to stay behind here, regardless of our bargain -- your 'helpless female
routine' has already accomplished its purpose. However, *I* am a
hunter. It is high time I hunted once again."

She backpedaled hastily. "Are you kidding? No way am I missing out on
all the action. Besides, someone has to watch your butt." Puffing her
cheeks out in mock-frustration, she groaned loudly as he bent slightly
at the waist and pulled his coat over to one side, obligingly presenting
his rear end for her inspection. "Oh, for God's sake -- that was *not*
meant to be a dirty double entendre, you single-minded sicko. I should
never have said you had a cute ass. Pay you a compliment and you go
nuts with it. And would you quit it with the raised eyebrow, already?
You're gonna sprain a facial muscle or something."

"Of course." Hesitating for just the briefest instant, he slid his hand
into his coat pocket, withdrawing a slender box wrapped in shiny silver
paper, complete with a bow. "Before I forget. If you plan to hunt with
me -- you'll need this."

Offering an incredulous stare in return, she accepted the box and
prodded it suspiciously, as if it might start ticking or smoking at any
moment. Finally, with many a puzzled sidewards glance, she unwrapped
it. Slowly drawing the retractable hunting knife from its sheath of
tissue paper, she examined the diamond-hard edge of the streamlined
steel, watching it glint emerald-green in the scattered shafts of
sunlight filtered through the verdant bayou. It was a precise duplicate
of his own expensive, imported blade. Completely floored, she groped
fruitlessly for an appropriate response. "Thank you. It's . . . lovely."

He shrugged indifferently, and played it far too casual. "The knife you
own is a disgrace. Glorified penknife, really."

She pressed her lips together, struggling to suppress the snorts of
laughter. "You know, Pik . . . most men give jewelry."

Tracing the contours of her jaw with his index finger, he nodded in
acquiescence. "Yes, well . . . I'm not most men."

Cupping the back of his head with her hands, she drew him down to meet
her kiss. "Good point."

*************

Douvee moved through the bayou with surprising swiftness, for all his
bearish build. This was *his* world, and he planned to give Van Cleaf a
run for his money once again. Scraping aside a pile of decaying leaves,
he tugged a bow and arrow and a host of nasty-looking steel traps out of
a decrepit box, and set to work. It'd take a hell of a lot longer than
thirty minutes to kill off Douvee Boudreaux, he reflected, with no small
measure of pride.

Actually, it took thirty-seven.

*************

When Natasha Binder was a little girl, she often imagined herself as a
perfect fairy tale princess. She knew, with the unshakably smug
certainty of the very young and very privileged, that when she grew up,
she would be much prettier, more popular, and far more virtuous than
other merely 'ordinary' girls. Of course, someday a charming prince
would appear on cue out of nowhere, silhouetted against the sunset on a
gallant white stallion, destined to be her one true love. Not that she
even *liked* horses, really; that was simply the way a proper fairy tale
should read.

Somehow, her story hadn't gone that way.

She found it *very* unfair. It wasn't as if she hadn't lived up to her
part, after all. First and foremost, she was arrestingly beautiful.
She could see that anytime she looked in the mirror, which was something
she'd often do when feeling especially depressed -- so these days, that
mirror got a lot of mileage. She liked to let her reflection reassure
her of just how special she was. Not that she considered herself vain;
vanity was for lesser people. No, when she examined her lush lips, her
sparkling, sea-colored eyes, and her artful waves of russet hair, she
was merely acknowledging the simple fact of her own aesthetic
superiority.

She'd always been quite popular as well, less for her looks than for her
wallet. Although she could not claim to be a millionaire by any means,
she'd always had the nicest toys as a child, the nicest clothes and cars
as a teenager. Obviously, it had never been too hard for her to attract
an opportunistic crowd of admirers. Wealth breeds friends -- the
fair-weather kind, witless sycophants who thronged like satellites in a
concentric orbit, basking in the glow of her reflected sunlight.

And her moral character? Spotless and unquestionable. She always did
the right thing, with much self-righteous fanfare to ensure no selfless
act would pass unnoticed. That was the way it worked in fairy tales,
wasn't it? The princess would do the right thing and then be rewarded
by good fairies with a picture-perfect life and, of course, a
picture-perfect prince.

Boy, had that turned out wrong.

At first, everything seemed to have been falling into place, albeit with
a lot more violence and danger than Nat had ever envisioned in her
sheltered life. One sultry summer day, she had come to New Orleans
looking for her father. Her real father, not the well-to-do stepfather who had
provided for her affluent lifestyle for years. Instead of the heartwarming family
reunion she had anticipated, she soon discovered that Douglas Binder, a
down-on-his-luck, homeless veteran, had been murdered in some sort of
twisted bloodsport. In the course of stumbling onto this, she'd also
stumbled onto Chance Boudreaux, the man she thought would be her
charming prince. While Nat would have no doubt preferred a taller
prince without such an unintelligible accent, and, if not a kingdom and
a white stallion, at least a steady job and a driver's license, she had
no problem with the way Chance had single-handedly saved her from her
father's killers and sent them all up to the Not-So-Happy Hunting Grounds
in the sky. She was, in other words, learning to settle for a little less.

So after the whole violent episode had ended, she thought it should be
time to ride into the sunset for the 'happily ever after' part. Nat had
moved to New Orleans, married her charming Cajun prince and, in keeping
with her outstanding character, went to work at the Mission homeless
shelter.

And that was where she found herself now, day after day, dealing with
the dregs of society. True, she'd received a commendation from the
city, and was a darling of the local media, but that was small
consolation. Nat had truly grown to hate coming to work and trying to
counsel filthy, foul-smelling bums on how to better their lives. Deep
down, she suspected that most of them were just lazy or stupid anyway,
and the men only came to leer at her.

And Prince Chance? Nat was still mortified every time she thought about
him. That chronically underemployed bastard had actually *cheated* on
her. How could any man cheat on her? Was he insane, or just blind? It
hadn't even been a month into their marriage when she found out about
the other women.

Women . . . plural. Very, very plural.

Looking back and considering the numbers, Nat was still amazed at how
he'd found the time.

*No more dwelling on that,* she sighed as she prepared to leave the
grubby little cubbyhole that served as her office at the shelter. It
was still a little early for her to leave, but she felt justified. It
wouldn't be safe for her to be in a neighborhood like this after dark.
Hell, it wasn't safe for her in broad daylight. As she shrugged on her
jacket and reached up to adjust her ponytail, she thought, for the
thousandth time, that she should simply leave for good, and go crawling
back home. So it would mean admitting she was wrong to her smug
stepfather. So what? Would it kill her?

And then there came a knock at her office door.

"I'm sorry, but I have to leave now," Nat snapped, not sounding sorry in
the slightest, as she jerked open the door. She would have added a sop
of civility about coming back tomorrow, had she not been so utterly
taken aback by the appearance of her visitor. Neither filthy nor
foul-smelling, the blond woman waiting in the hall certainly didn't
appear to be down on her luck. Her hair, although unusually short, was
clearly freshly washed. Her black shirt and slacks, while lacking the
ostentatious designer labels of Nat's own apparel, hugged every curve of
her athletic body with a sleek assurance. In fact, her overall
appearance was more than sufficient to cause Nat a twinge or two of
insecurity about her own aesthetic superiority.

As if she hadn't been in a bad enough mood already . . . .

"Oh, could you just give me a minute, please?" the woman asked, almost
pleadingly. "Are you Natasha Binder?"

"Yes." The brittle, frigid monosyllable could have chilled drinks.

"Oh, that's wonderful!" the blonde enthused, offering a wide-eyed smile
that made her look rather empty-headed. "I'm *so* sorry to bother you,
but I really, *really* need to find Chance Boudreaux."

Nat scowled, her smooth and lovely face betraying the beginnings of a
network of bitter lines, every one the handiwork of an unfaithful
Cajun. "What? Are you another one of his tramps?"

The woman's blank look became unquestionably genuine. "Huh?"

"I don't have anything to do with that worthless bastard. And don't you
*ever* dare to bother me again!" Nat shoved roughly past her and
started to huff away in a state of high indignation, not even bothering
to lock her office door.

*Damn! She thinks I screwed her ex,* Vaughn realized angrily.
Recalling Pik's description of Boudreaux, she felt doubly insulted. She
would have loved to simply grab Natasha Binder and drag the snotty witch
out back, kicking and screaming all the way, but that would have caused
far too much commotion. Thinking quickly, she cranked up the
histrionics and cried out in a desperate tone lifted straight from
daytime soap operas. "Please! I need help for the baby!"

Nat froze in her tracks, turned around, and retraced her steps very
slowly and deliberately. "Did you say . . . *baby*?"

A teary-eyed Vaughn nodded vigorously, doing her level best to look and
sound unthreateningly pathetic. "I don't know what to do! First, he
never called me back. He said he would. He promised! Then I found out
I'm pregnant, and he was married -- I didn't know, I swear I didn't! I
. . . . Oh God, what am I going to do?" She started sobbing in great
hiccupping gasps, clutching at the doorframe for support. "Please,
can't you help me? Please?"

"You poor thing." Patting her gently on the back instead of wringing
her neck, Nat reluctantly comforted the crying woman. It was the right
thing to do, after all. Besides, she took some spiteful satisfaction in
the fact that Chance had screwed up someone else's life even worse than
her own. "What's your name, hon?"

"Vaughn," she sniveled, soaking the sleeve of Nat's crimson Gucci blazer
with a generous flow of mucus.

Wrinkling her own nose with distaste, Nat rummaged in her handbag to
pass her a tissue. "Your first name?"

An expression of annoyance momentarily narrowed Vaughn's vacuous Bambi
eyes into something far less innocent, but she answered tearfully
enough. "Tiffany."

"That's such a *pretty* name," Nat gushed, employing the same
saccharine-sweet tone that clueless grown-ups reserve for very small
children and mildly retarded adults. "Why don't you just come into my
office and sit down, and we'll talk all about it."

"Okay. I can't thank you enough. Is Chance still in town?" she
ventured, carefully prodding for answers.

"No, he's not." The plush velvet overlay of pseudo-sympathy which
swathed her words frayed thin as onionskin at the mention of the man.
Firmly and intentionally, Nat changed the subject, enjoying being the
one in control for a change. "How did you meet Chance, anyway?"

"I . . . um . . . ." Painfully aware that she could not maintain the
bluff, Vaughn made an abrupt decision. The plan had been for Vaughn to
con the needed information from the unsuspecting Nat before allowing Pik
to use the girl for target practice, just in case she still loved Chance
enough to opt for suicidal silence under more direct interrogation.
However, given her reaction to her ex-husband's name, the prospect of
her electing to protect him seemed remote at best. Time for Plan B.
"Well, it's actually sort of funny. You see, I was -- Oh! I forgot!"
Still swabbing at her eyes, she went rigid with alarm.

"What?" Nat sighed. Judging by the IQ of this one, she probably forgot
quite a bit.

"I left my car running." Vaughn bit her lip with cute consternation.
"I should go turn it off, shouldn't I?"

"You left your car running in this neighborhood?" Nat pronounced the
question in much the same tone as she might say, "You catered hamburgers
for a Hindu wedding?"

Vaughn nodded sheepishly, twisting the soggy tissue between nervous
fingertips. "Mmm-hmm. In the alley behind the shelter. I couldn't
find a parking space."

*How dumb can you get?* Nat mused, her mouth falling open in frank
astonishment. *She'd have been a match made in heaven for Chance.*
Ushering Vaughn back into the office with ill-concealed impatience, she
unlocked a door behind her battered wooden desk. "Come on, this opens
directly out into the alley. We need to take care of that fast, or
you'll be pregnant *and* riding the bus."

If Nat had chanced to look behind her, she would have been dumbfounded
by the gleeful malice which transfigured Vaughn's dejected countenance.
However, she was still far too preoccupied with scanning the alley for a
car which simply wasn't there. Stepping a few yards out into the
slanting shadows, only garbage cans, drifting dust motes, and oily
puddles met her gaze. As if to underscore the emptiness, a single
tattered sheet of newspaper wafted idly through the backdrafts, dancing
and twirling like a staggering drunk. Throwing up her arms with
exasperation, Nat prepared to give the girl a well-deserved
tongue-lashing. "Great! Now your car's stolen! How much of an idiot
are --"

Then, without warning, Nat bumped into something very hard and very
large and very black, like discovering a wall where one had never been
before. She looked up . . . and up . . . and up . . . .

"Oh, my God," she whispered, with feeling, as she stared into the
smiling face of Pik Van Cleaf.

He appeared to consider her statement for a moment. "No, not quite.
But I can introduce you to him." He winked, quite charmingly.

For an endless moment, Natasha Binder simply stared at him as if she'd
seen a ghost. For of course, that's what he'd have to be, wouldn't he?
Chance had emptied several rounds of ammunition into his chest at
point-blank range. She knew all the details by heart, given how often
the insufferable Cajun had bragged about the battle.

However, the spirit world is hardly known for toting automatic weaponry.

Never breaking eye contact, he snapped a single shell into his shotgun,
every movement stunningly graceful and terrifyingly efficient. And at
that moment, the solid clang of metal meeting metal was the single
*realest* sound she'd ever heard.

She backed away then, too frightened to turn and run outright, as if
somehow the gun would only shoot if she unlocked her gaze from his.
Faulty logic, of course -- he actually *preferred* for his victims to
look him in the eye -- but that's what fear does to the mind.

However, it actually seemed to be working. He just stood there,
smiling, watching without comment as she frantically retreated. A wild
hope careened crazily through her brain, surfing on tsunamis of
adrenaline. *I'm going to make it. He just wanted to scare me . . . .*

And then she heard a single, soft movement behind her. Tiffany! She'd
forgotten poor Tiffany. Spinning on her heel, Nat turned and shouted
simultaneously, hoping to take the looming Dutchman by surprise. "Run!
Get back, he's a killer --" The words died in her throat as she saw the
gun in Vaughn's hand, a miniature twin to Pik's own, her smile a twin to
Pik's as well.

"Sorry hon," Vaughn commiserated, the vulnerable kittenish act falling
away to highlight the lioness beneath. "You see, I'm a killer, too."
Smirking nastily, she glanced over at Pik. "She hasn't talked yet. She
knows where he is, though. I'm sure of it."

"Get back or I'll scream," Nat whispered, staring frantically from one
gun barrel to the other, neck swiveling like a clockwork toy.

"And the gallant men of this neighborhood will come running to your
rescue. I think not." Pik cocked his head in sympathy. "I think
rather they will wait until we leave to pick over your corpse for
valuables. This is a city of vultures, isn't it, Miss Binder? You
don't belong here, do you?"

She was crying now, huge, trembling tears that put Vaughn's modest
waterworks display to shame. "Please don't kill me, please --"

"Shh-shh." Pik hushed her pleas with the gentle pressure of one finger
brushed against her lips. "All that I require is some information. You
can do that for me, can't you? Hmm? Now, where is Chance Boudreaux?
Surely, loyalty to him is not worth the cost of your own life?"

"If I tell you, you'll shoot me!" Nat wailed, pressing hard enough into
the sooty brickwork to ruin her Gucci jacket quite beyond repair.
Gullible she was, but not an utter cretin. As soon as these two had
what they wanted, her life would be worth less than Doug Binder's had
been. God, if only she had never written that first letter to her
father. She had begun to hate the man for dragging her from her
comfortable suburban home into this gritty urban mess, to hate both him
and Chance Boudreaux . . . .

Looking thoughtful, Pik carefully extracted the shell from his shotgun
and replaced it in his pocket. "Tell me what I want to know, and I
won't shoot you. You have my word of honor as a hunter. In South
Africa, among the tribesmen who taught me my craft, such a word means
everything."

Vaughn snorted skeptically. "You told me you were Dutch. Liar. Isn't
that just like a man?" she inquired of Nat, who nodded in agreement.
Given that Vaughn had gestured with her gun, Nat probably would have
nodded in cheerful acquiescence to virtually anything, including the
statement "The Village People represent the pinnacle of modern music!"

Pik appeared supremely unappreciative of the comments from the peanut
gallery. "I *am* Dutch, born in Amsterdam. My family moved to the
Transvaal region of South Africa when I was fourteen."

"You have a family?" Vaughn blinked in surprise. "Whoa. There's a
mental image that is just not happening for me."

Lips twitching in spite of himself, Pik tried and failed to appear
properly affronted. "Why? Did you think I was . . . spawned from the
mouth of hell, or some such exotic origin?"

"You said it, not me." Turning back to the cowering Nat, Vaughn lowered
her own gun. "Well, there you have it. Dutch-Boy the Honorable
Tribesman swears he won't shoot you, and you have my word I won't shoot
you either. Scout's honor."

"*You* were a Girl Scout?" Pik indulged in a few more invigorating
rounds of eyebrow calisthenics.

Vaughn shrugged elaborately. "Brownie for a few weeks. Got kicked out
over the cookie sale incident, but let's say no more of that, shall
we?"

"For now." Filing the cookie scandal away as future ammunition, Pik
smiled at Nat in a friendly fashion, or at least as friendly as a 6'4"
mercenary dressed entirely in black and toting a very large shotgun can
reasonably appear. He sensed an ideal moment to move in for the kill,
figuratively speaking. As if the prospect of imminent death was not
overwhelming enough, bearing witness to this psychotic version of
Hepburn/Tracy cinematic banter had left Nat totally disoriented. It
wouldn't take much to make her crack.

Almost too easy, really.

"So, Miss Binder," he continued, sounding eminently cultured,
reasonable, and civilized. "Your choice is a simple one. If you don't
tell us where Boudreaux is, we will shoot you, and find someone else who
feels a bit more talkative -- perhaps one of his friends at the
Mission. If you do tell us, we *won't* shoot you. Not a very difficult
decision, I should think."

"Yeah," Vaughn chimed in. "If he'd cheated on *me,* I'd be aching to
advertise his location."

Pik performed a deliberate double-take at that particular revelation.
"You don't mean to tell me that Boudreaux was unfaithful to you?"
Shaking his head, he stroked the fine wisps of hair escaping from Nat's
disheveled ponytail. "The man was obviously even more foolish than I
thought."

Still sniffling, Nat smiled weakly through her tears. All right, so the
man was a killer. At least he had *taste.* "Vegas. He moved to
Vegas. Works as a security guard at the Luxor, last I heard. Never
gave me an address."

"Thank you, Miss Binder. You've been most helpful." As he nodded
politely to her, Nat found herself nodding back, as if they were having
a pleasant conversation over coffee and biscotti. "Vaughn, why don't
you dispose of her? You know how much I love to watch you work. I find
it most . . . stimulating."

"With pleasure." A bit more viciously than necessary, perhaps due to
jealous thoughts of Pik's preceding caress, Vaughn grabbed a fistful of
Nat's hair before she could react, forcing her to drop to her knees in a
puddle of stagnant water.

"WHAT!? You said -- you swore --"

"I swore I wouldn't *shoot* you, hon," Vaughn clarified cheerfully,
pocketing her gun and bringing Pik's present into view. Yanking hard on
the ponytail, she exposed the pale curve of Nat's throat. "Never said a
damn thing about knives."

And if fear hadn't robbed Natasha Binder of the ability to form a
coherent thought, she probably would have mused bitterly that she had
never read a fairy tale in which the princess had her throat slashed and
was thrown facedown into a filthy, back-alley puddle to bleed to death,
the crimson mingling with the myriad reflected colors of a sunset
totally bereft of any silhouettes of princes or white stallions.

Obviously, Vaughn and Pik had grown up hearing different bedtime
stories.

To be continued.

Back to The V & V Connection