Return to poughkeepsie, p.10
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       Return to Poughkeepsie, p.10

           Debra Anastasia
 

  Just then one of the bodyguards knocked and in the same motion opened her door. He was so stoic. She knew now when he’d hit on her at the audition he’d been acting a part. She almost felt bad that she’d scraped all the skin off his shin.

  He rubbed his nose with his hand before issuing Mary Ellen’s latest decree: “Miss January, I’m gonna have to frisk you. I’m sorry.”

  She stepped up to him and spread her arms and legs. He patted her down very clinically and found the knife on her thigh. His hands stilled.

  They made eye contact, and Eve said nothing. She wasn’t going to apologize for being lightly armed. He nodded and waved her past him.

  She met the other women in the lobby. Turned out they all had matching dresses—like billionaire bridesmaids. Mary Ellen arrived in a white dress tailored to show not one inch more of her skin than her conservative suits did. Eve glanced at her own cleavage, which was barely contained, and the slit on her right leg was almost to her hipbone. Mary Ellen nodded appreciatively.

  “And this, ladies, is why no one ever turns down an invitation to meet with me. You look stunning.” She flounced ahead, holding her hand out like a princess for her bodyguard.

  They all followed her out, and each girl had an SUV with a driver. Their caravan left the mansion like a parade. By the time they’d reached the city, Eve had to acknowledge that Mary Ellen was insane but possibly a genius. She’d been to many tense meetings when she worked for Beckett. A parade of gorgeous women in low-cut dresses ready to please the participants would do a lot to turn the tide in your favor.

  One at a time, the ladies left the cars and paraded into a fancy building with a doorman. No backroom meetings for Mary Ellen. When it was Eve’s turn, she exited and made sure to put a little vamp in her step. She spotted four snipers within shooting distance. There were surely more hidden from view.

  She took her driver’s offered arm and walked through the revolving doors. He walked her into a huge event space and brought her to stand behind the center table. Each of Mary Ellen’s girls stood like pillars: equidistant apart in a perfect circle, and the drivers stepped behind them.

  The men seated at the tables in the room were either pointedly gawking or pointedly ignoring the show in front of them. Mary Ellen smiled like Mother Superior before addressing the men.

  “Gentlemen, I asked you here this evening as a courtesy, and because I’d appreciate your input so very much. I’d like to let you know my plans. I’m interested in learning about what’s happening in Poughkeepsie. And of course you can make your own decisions, but in a related matter, I’d be very pleased if you stopped doing business with Sevan Harmon immediately. Consider this a heads up, because if I have my way, he’ll soon be out of business altogether.”

  Eve worked not to show her surprise. Mary Ellen had just broken every rule of a meeting like this. You never stated your ultimate purpose. Some of the men rolled their eyes. Others stared at her slack-jawed. Still others looked bored.

  Mary Ellen smiled widely.

  “Mary.” Eve traced the voice to a man she was pretty sure was a mob boss from New Jersey. “Are you having some sort of spasm? What the hell are you talking about?”

  “No, sir. And please, my name is Mary Ellen, address me as such. I’m just interested in your thoughts on what’s happening in Poughkeepsie these days.” She smiled again.

  Eve had to remember not to act too interested. She was arm candy at best.

  A charmingly handsome man spoke. “Sweetheart, we appreciate the heads up.” He put air quotes around the words. “But none of us is looking for business advice from you.” The other men laughed and agreed.

  Mary Ellen put a finger to her lips and smiled around it. “Dan is it? Dan, you have dealings with Mr. Harmon, do you not?” She had to speak loudly to be heard.

  “Discussing specifics in this company is ill advised,” Dan shot back. “Did you not find Daddy’s How to Run the Business handbook?” That comment earned him a healthy round of laughter. “Mary Ellen, I know Rodolfo has had one hell of a stroke, but does he have any idea what you’re up to? It’s hard to take you seriously when I still remember you as the only one without a date to the Prom. Where the hell is Primo?”

  Mary Ellen lifted one hand and motioned to the circle. Each of the ladies took the cue and stepped forward. Eve was closest to Dan, so she stepped up and leaned down, giving him a 3D view of her cleavage.

  “My father is just fine and well on the way to recovery already. My brother is involved with other business this evening. But did I mention that I brought gifts? Boys, these ladies are highly trained in the art of pleasuring a man. They’ve spent years perfecting their sexual skills.” Mary Ellen clapped twice.

  Eve looked to Tonya and watched as she slid into her mark’s lap. Eve did the same.

  Dan made a pleased sound. “Sexual skills? Did you get a degree? A BA in hand jobs?”

  Eve smiled. “I’ll be happy to let you discover my specialty.” She licked her lips and straightened his tie.

  Mary Ellen clapped again, and Eve matched Tonya’s graceful escape. She disentangled herself from Dan’s searching hands and stood in front of her driver again.

  “Now, before we get on with the fun part of your evening, I’ll need your cooperation. I’m going to be doing some organizing in Poughkeepsie—just a small parcel of land in the big scheme of things. And quite the power vacuum these days. Does anyone object?”

  Eve closed her eyes briefly. Finally she might learn something.

  Dan spoke up again. “That’s Taylor’s. I wouldn’t fuck with it.”

  “Yes. Beckett Taylor. He’s fairly infamous, am I correct?” Mary Ellen leaned forward on her elbows.

  The men kept shifting in their seats, sliding glances toward the girls.

  Another man cleared his throat before speaking. “Taylor’s dead.”

  Eve’s heart beat faster.

  “Really?” Mary Ellen purred, her eyes wide. “What else can you gentlemen tell me?”

  “Heard he had a brothel out in Arkansas. That shit legal there? He always had a way with pussy,” a different slimebag mused.

  “No, sir,” offered another. “Taylor’s gone straight. Has a huge weed farm in California. Medicinal, my ass.”

  No one knew anything, of that Eve was now sure. Beckett had reached epic, folkloric proportions.

  Mary Ellen’s eyes sparkled. “It seems he’s no longer concerned with Poughkeepsie then. I’ll make sure to cross all my Ts and dot the Is. Anyone else have thoughts to share?” She addressed them like she was at a PTA meeting, looking from one man to another.

  No one added anything. This woman was out of bounds and out of order on so many levels. Eve would be surprised if she lived through the next hour. And why was she asking these questions? Surely her father, Rodolfo, would have this information. And if he was ill his people would have this information. They must be shutting Mary Ellen out.

  “Very well. Drinks?” Mary Ellen held her hands out, palms up, and the doors to the room were flooded with waiters. Tuxedoed bartenders wheeled in three bars. Music began, and the lights went down. It was like a freaking wedding. “We worked. Now, shall we play? Please, pick your favorite poison, gentlemen.” She pushed herself out of her chair and gestured to the bars, the food arriving on trays, the ladies, and finally to a drug bar.

  Mary Ellen stepped away from the table and snapped. It was then Eve realized what the couches were intended for. Dotted around the room, they were soon covered by a long circle of silk to create semi-private quarters.

  The man sitting in front of Micki smiled. “Don’t mind if I do.” He signaled over the waiter and Micki at the same time. “You. Blow me.” He winked and pointed under the table. As Micki swallowed her pride and tried to make crawling under the fancy tablecloth look sexy, the man pointed to various foods on the tray and demanded a scotch.

  As he stuffed a small crepe in his mouth, his eyes headed skyward. “Oh, yeah. Damn, Mary Ellen, you weren’t
kidding. Jesus.” He slid further down in his seat and did his very best to drink and eat while being serviced.

  Eve watched as each of the men signaled the woman behind him. Some began dancing with their lady, others demanded a striptease, and still others took their woman into a silk room.

  Dan stood and headed for Eve. He was tan enough that she bet his skin was still warm from a tropical location. His eyes were a collage of clears: green, blue, gray. They looked like magic.

  “Your name?” He put on the charm and smiled.

  “January.”

  He took her hand from her side and kissed it. “Are you always this chilly, January?” He stepped around her and tugged her toward the silken circle.

  “Yes,” she said as they entered a room. She waited as he reclined on the couch.

  “For a girl with a martial arts belt in men’s orgasms, you sure have a lot of clothes on.” He lifted an eyebrow.

  The curtain parted, and Eve’s driver cleared his throat. “Excuse me, sir. Miss January? Mary Ellen requests your presence.”

  Eve winked at Dan. “You stay right here. I’ll be back.”

  As she left the love nest, her driver spoke in her ear. “Mary Ellen likes female company when she uses the restroom.”

  Eve shrugged. This woman wants to organize Beckett’s territory but needs to hold hands in the little girl’s room? Fine.

  One of the other ladies joined Eve as they crossed the room. Mary Ellen smiled at them from the far side of the room as they approached. “Let me apologize, ladies. You’ll be able to get back to the party soon.”

  Eve glanced around. In a few short minutes, every woman she could see had been stripped. Micki was on top of the table in front of the man who’d had her along with his appetizer, and several others had gathered. She now writhed as the men threw food at her. The first man laughed when a cracker smeared with something landed on her skin and stuck. Cash was tossed on the table.

  They were betting on Micki.

  Eve closed her eyes briefly and inhaled. She had to let it roll off her back. She focused on Mary Ellen, who was chattering away about how well the party was going. Every door and window was a danger. If someone was moving against this woman, this would be the perfect place to take her down. Obviously this event had been prepared in advance. Her enemies would know she was here.

  The bodyguard led them down the hall to the ladies’ lounge.

  “We checked it, ma’am. You’re good.” He opened the door for them and let it shut.

  Eve didn’t like the set up at all. There was a sitting room with couches and plush carpets before another door that opened into the opulent marble bathroom. There was a huge, frosted-glass window that Eve was sure had their silhouettes dancing on the other side.

  Mary Ellen stepped into a stall, still yammering on about the party. Eve stood just outside while the other girl fluffed her hair in the huge mirror.

  A creepy feeling settled itself in Eve’s stomach. Something was off. She looked to the ceiling. It was some sort of mock texture, but looking past that camouflage, she could see drop tiles. And the one next to the heating vent was just a few centimeters askew. Trying to seem nonchalant as she swept the room, she thought she spotted at least one hidden camera. Whether it was piping feed to Mary Ellen’s people or someone else was the question.

  “How many of the snipers were yours?” Eve asked suddenly.

  “Excuse me?” A flush sounded as Mary Ellen opened the stall door.

  Mary Ellen pushed past her to get to the sinks. She turned a gold handle as Eve watched the tile above her head move infinitesimally.

  Eve made a quick choice. She didn’t know nearly enough about what was going on in Poughkeepsie to let Mary Ellen die yet. So whoever was coming from the ceiling was going down. Eve slipped a hand to her thigh and pulled out her knife. She walked to the mirror behind Mary Ellen and pretended to fix her hair. When she caught her eyes, Mary Ellen stiffened.

  Eve whispered, “Hide under the sink, understand?”

  Mary Ellen nodded. At least she wasn’t hysterical.

  Eve kept her body directly behind Mary Ellen’s as a gloved hand appeared through the now-open tile holding a handgun with a silencer. He likely had a mirror angled for aiming. In one movement she threw her knife, which stuck in her mark—the nerves in the wrist that controlled the hand, and pushed Mary Ellen’s head down like they were playing a vicious game of Duck, Duck, Goose.

  The woman scurried under the marble sink and covered her head. Eve turned and dove for the pistol. She flipped on her back as she landed and emptied it into the ceiling, sending bullets through the hole and all the surrounding tiles. She tossed the spent gun aside and motioned for Mary Ellen to stay put. The other woman had joined her below the sink. Eve heard gunfire outside the restroom as well.

  She emerged to help Eve drag a couch from the sitting room to give her a boost up into the hole the attackers had made. Eve still had to jump twice to get a handhold and pull her body up. She scrambled and waited a second for the dark hole’s shapes to make sense. The tunnel was larger than an air vent should be.

  There were three dead bodies and beyond them a long shaft to traverse. One of the men moaned. Eve pulled her knife from the dead man’s wrist and tucked it back in its holster. She turned and popped her head through the hole, motioning to Mary Ellen. The other woman gave her a boost, but Eve’s arm still screamed with the strain as she hauled Mary Ellen up. Then Eve popped the tile back in place.

  “What about Lena?” Mary Ellen didn’t look as horrified as she should have at the dead bodies.

  “You’re my priority. Do you know any of these guys?” Eve stole a flashlight from a still hand. After seeing each of the faces, the woman shook her head.

  “Let’s go.” Eve crawled over the men, one moaning a last time, stole their weapons, and handed a gun to Mary Ellen.

  After they’d crawled a short distance, they heard the gunfire.

  “Were you expecting this?” Eve turned her flashlight on Mary Ellen’s face.

  “I think in my line of work this is always an option.” She nodded for Eve to continue.

  They reached a place where two air vents connected. Eve felt the vibration of someone else crawling in the vent.

  She motioned for Mary Ellen to go up the ladder to the next level. Despite their high heels, they managed two stories before Eve tapped Mary Ellen and motioned her onto a new floor. They crawled through this much smaller tunnel until Eve found the first air grate. She pulled out her knife and used it as a screw driver. After a moment the vent dropped onto a desk below, somewhat muffled by the large amount of paper the messy person had left on their desk. The sounds of at least two men ascending the ladder echoed as Eve lowered Mary Ellen into the room.

  “Hide.” Eve whispered as she jumped down after her. There was no way to reattach the grate in the time she had, so Eve backed herself into a corner to wait.

  The men who entered the room were obviously not as prepared as the first crew. A huge man jumped from the vent hole onto the desk. He was dressed in complete black, almost like a SWAT team member, and the only thing that stopped Eve from killing him was the fact that he’d let her keep her knife earlier in the night. These were Mary Ellen’s men. Another man came in after him and startled at the sight of Eve.

  “Ma’am?” he called, looking around.

  “She’s in the closet.” Eve tried to listen for more attackers.

  Mary Ellen came out and hugged the closest bodyguard before slapping his arm. “Where were you? If she hadn’t been there I’d be dead right now. What do I pay you for?”

  The bodyguard started apologizing. “Everything was crazy after you left—”

  Eve hushed them. “We need to get her out of here.” She unclasped her shoes and gathered her dress so she could run. She slung an AR-16 over her shoulder and stuffed the pistol in her cleavage. “Let’s go. You two bring up the rear. You have cell phones?” The bodyguards nodded. “Text for more people. H
ave cars as close as possible in every direction. You guys have a helicopter?” Again they nodded.

  “Two, actually.” Mary Ellen smiled at Eve in the way she hated.

  They were three stories off the ground. The bodyguards began texting. The fall was doable, but the snipers would be waiting for that. “Get them in the air. You never answered me. How many snipers did you have?” Eve turned on Mary Ellen.

  “I believe we have six.”

  “Four of them will be dead. Too obvious. Find out if you still have anyone in position.”

  Mary Ellen extracted a phone from somewhere in her ensemble, and Eve tried to recall her brief view of the outside as she’d entered this sitting-duck party. There was a walkway between the two buildings on possibly the eighth floor…and that would be the first place she’d put someone to keep Mary Ellen contained if she was running the other side of this show. Even if they got to the roof, the helicopter would be vulnerable the whole time. She formed a half-assed plan and checked the hallway. The minute the door to the office opened, an audible alarm sounded. Shit.

  Eve motioned the bodyguards and Mary Ellen to the stairwell. Then she grabbed Mary Ellen’s arm and yanked her up five flights of stairs. The guards shot the security cameras as they went, and as Eve pulled Mary Ellen back into the main building, one of them kept going. She could hear glass breaking as the fire door closed. When Eve turned back to her, Mary Ellen was out of breath. “You’re bruising my arm,” she panted.

  “Shut up.” Eve picked an office and shot the lock. The door popped open and she dragged the desk close to the air grate in the ceiling. This one was much larger. She let it flap open before pulling herself into it. She felt no vibrations, but at best they had only seconds with all the noise they were making. She pulled Mary Ellen up as the remaining bodyguard hoisted her. They were able to walk, though hunched over, through these larger ducts. The bodyguard pulled himself up to join them, and Eve could hear helicopters in the distance.

 
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