Tag Archive | Cyberpunk

Bad Fall – Part 80

Bad FallAfter a near accident and a fruitless trip to another location, Shay, Clark and Marka head back to Frank’s house. Marka is certain that he must be there. 

“Okay, but we aren’t simply going to walk in. We need a plan. Here’s what we’re going to do.”

They took a few minutes to discuss their plan of attack, then got back in the car. Clark got out fifty yards or so from the house. Shay followed when they got a little closer. The two men flanked the house as Marka drove up to the door. She cut off the engine and took a deep breath.

Giving the men a couple more minutes, she forced herself to sit still. Her eyes took in details, though her mind was slow to sift through and sort them out. The police lock was off the door. The drapes were shut, though she remembered they’d left them open the last time they were there. She could see footprints in the snow, but they were rapidly being covered by a heavy layer of damp snow. There were at least three sets, but that was all she could tell from her vantage point. Taking another deep breath, she let it out slowly and opened her car door.

Her shoes sank into the thick, wet snow, leeching through the nylon webbing. She promised herself she would buy boots at the soonest opportunity as she squelched through the freezing moisture to the porch. Trusting the men to be in position, she tried the door. It drifted open as she pushed on it. Fumbling for the light switch, she turned on the lights.

* * *

Frank knew it wasn’t Clark who’d called him, but he let Marka believe that it was. He suspected a trap. He was afraid she’d insist on coming along. If it was true that he’d been manipulated, he could be made to harm her. He couldn’t trust himself to protect her.

A dark blue sedan pulled up in front of the building. Frank let himself out, nodding to the woman at the front desk as he left. A glance at his watch told him it was just after 9:00. The bitter cold wind bit through his jeans, snaking down the neck of his heavy jacket. The warmth of the car’s exhaust reeled him in invitingly.

Phil sat behind the wheel, gazing at the road. An attractive blonde sat behind him. Phil didn’t respond as Frank greeted him. He put the car in gear, pulling out even before Frank had his door closed and belt on.

“Did Shay need to see me?” Frank asked the woman.

“Of course. Why else would I be here?”

Why indeed? Shay rarely traveled without Sergeant Elizabeth Tynan, his personal assistant. But this time, he’d come without her. Why was she here?

“Good to see you, Liz. It’s been too long, sweetheart.”

Her lips twitched upward. The greeting was as much as he would get. Liz was chilly, driven. She used sex like a weapon. Frank found that out during a brief, erotic affair. It left him bruised and breathless, but satisfied.

They headed up the road and out of town toward his house.

“What brings you to Ohio, Liz? I thought you hated the cold.”

“Unfinished business, Frank. Something I should have taken care of long ago.”

“Don’t you hate when life gets messy?” He lit a cigarette and lowered the window a couple inches.

“You quit.” Her voice held an accusation.

“Started up again. Stress.” He shrugged, flicking ashes into the night.

Liz coughed lightly. Frank opened the window more and turned up the heat. He smoked casually, trying to keep his expression bland and his hands steady. He knew he’d walked willingly into a trap. With a little luck, he’d figure out what they wanted from him before he was caught in it.

Seeing Liz had set off an alarm in his head. Confusing visions flashed past his eyes. Her face, surrounded by bright lights. . . . Her tall, voluptuous body standing over him with something shiny in her left hand. . . .

“Really, Frank? Another one? You’re a chain smoker now?”

One cigarette finished, he’d automatically reached for another. Her sharp words brought him back.

“Sorry.” He closed the window and lowered the heat as the car turned up his long driveway.

His little house looked ominous in the silvery moonlight. The surrounding trees cast an elaborate latticework of shadows across its face. The blue halogen headlights in the falling snow, gave it an eerie, ghostlike aspect.

Frank shuddered, unable to conceal it from the woman behind him. A cool, bony hand rested on his shoulder. As she leaned forward, her breath tickled his ear.

“You alright, Frank?”

“Peachy.”

“Let’s go inside.”

“I don’t have the code.”

Her laugh was strangely ominous. “That never stopped you before.”

Phil put the car in park and turned it off. He sat until Liz spoke to him. It wasn’t a word Frank recognized, but the tingle at the base of his skull warned him that it had significance. Phil followed, docile and silent. Frank’s eyes met his and he could see pain and frustration behind the complacent expression. That, more than his own self-preservation, made him wary.

Skin pricking unpleasantly, hairs rising on his neck, he examined the lock. It was coded. A closer look showed that this lock wasn’t new, nor was it particularly clean. It had been handled with greasy or sticky fingers at some point in its long life. The substance left on the keys provided Frank with a clue. It looked like a simple, four number code. The number of permutations was limited.

© Dellani Oakes 

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It Takes a Thief – Part 55

It Takes a Thief coverTaylor’s makeover complete, Celeste presents her to the men.

Tim and Alex made similar comments. Taylor wasn’t sure what to think. She stood there looking lost and helpless until Jason stood, taking her beautifully manicured hand.

“What they’re trying to say is that you look stunningly beautiful.”

“Thank you.” She blushed, eyes dropping to the floor.

“Now, you lot. You need haircuts. Henri has graciously agreed to trim and snip as needed. Greg, you’re a mess. You first.” Jason pointed to the bathroom in the master suite. “Meanwhile, you two. Manicures. Line up. Celeste, which is first?”

“Which is worse?” She inspected their hands and led Alex to a table behind the couch in the sitting room. “You bite your nails? For shame! A man as good looking as you should have soft hands, lover’s hands. Your wife will be appreciating this.” She sat him down, shoving his hands into a liquid to soak.

Jason and Taylor sat on the couch, snuggling as they spoke to Tim. When his turn came, he went to the manicure table. Alex changed places with Greg. He came out looking much more stylish.

“He liked my hair,” he said with a smirk as he sat in front of Celeste. “He thought it was cool that it grows sideways on the back. He wants pictures to put in a magazine.”

“It is the front of you he should take, not the back,” Celeste commented “You should look into modeling. What do you do for a living, cherie?”

Greg glanced at Jason, raising an eyebrow.

“He and the others are in security, Celeste. Specifically mine.”

“No wonder you have callouses like a man who holds a weapon.”

He very judiciously chose not to say another word about it. Instead, he changed the subject, encouraging Celeste to talk about herself.
Finally, all the manicures and haircuts were accomplished and Celeste and Henri left with Tim, who headed home after dropping them off. Taylor had an appointment to go shopping with Celeste while the men went for their suit fitting the following day.

At dinner, the team discussed their new looks. After clean up, the men practiced fading into the background as Jason led Taylor into the gym. She thought he wanted to work out, but he shook his head. Taking out a small remote, he started music playing from an unseen sound system. He held out his arms to her. Taylor shook her head, declining. With a slight frown of annoyance, he insisted.

“I love to dance. My ladies dance with me. I never date a non-dancer for long. It’s a pattern I’ve established over the years. Beautiful as you are, the old me would have dumped you in a heartbeat simply for refusing a dance.”

“The old you?” She stepped into the circle of his arms.

“The one who wasn’t passionately in love with you,” he whispered.

His breath shook the hair by her ear making her squirm against him. The music continued and he led her in an easy dance to a beautiful, slow tune. The accompaniment was simple, played on piano and cello. Taylor leaned her head on Jason’s shoulder, eyes closed as the song drew to a close. Her breath was shaky as they stopped dancing. The music had moved her to tears.

“What was that?” She asked, wiping her eyes with her fingers.

Drunkard’s Prayer by Over the Rhine,” he replied.

“It’s so beautiful.”

His lips touched hers. “Glad you liked it. Would you like to hear it again?”

She nodded. He clicked the remote and the song began again. She listened carefully to the words as Jason sang softly to her.

“….Sweet intoxication, When your words, Wash over me.”

“Did you pick that on purpose?” She asked with a sad smile.

“I did. You’re my sweet intoxication, Taylor. I’m addicted and I can’t get enough of you.”

The music changed to something a bit faster and Jason did a different step, slightly more sophisticated than the last. Each song that played had a unique feel and rhythm. He led her through many different dances. She followed well, doing far better than he anticipated. When he commented on how quickly she’d picked it up, she grinned.

“You misunderstood my reluctance. It’s not that I can’t dance but that I only used to dance when my dad was alive. When he died, we couldn’t afford lessons anymore. I didn’t dance again until college. I picked it up as a minor, but it never felt right—until now.”

“I love you,” he whispered. “And I really want to make love to you right now.”

She giggled, tossing her golden tipped hair over her shoulder. “And that’s different—how?”

“Marry me, Taylor. When all this muck is over.”

She didn’t know what to say. Yes and No warred within her. He was a thief, a felon—albeit with no convictions, but one nonetheless. She loved him, she wanted him in her life, but could she make that kind of commitment? He was waiting for an answer. If she said no, what would it do to him? Did she want to? If she said yes, it opened up a whole new world of possibilities.

“Yes,” she whispered.

He kissed her, whirling her in a tight spin. He lifted her, swinging her around happily. His kiss carried great promise as he held her several inches off the floor. His embrace was strong and sure and he held her a long time without wavering. Gradually, he lowered her to the ground. Tugging her hand, he led her toward the stairs.

© Dellani Oakes

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Under the Western Sky http://www.tirgearrpublishing.com/authors/Oakes_Dellani/under-the-western-sky.htm

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Fiddlestix – Conclusion

The time has come for truth and confrontation. Who will win?

“You can come out now, Don!” Scarlet’s voice sounded like artificial sweetener in Fiddlestix’ ears.

Varin came back in from the garage, surrounded by his bodyguards. Deacon was behind him with Stumpy and Loki, their hands behind their heads.

“Well, Scarlet,” Don Varin didn’t sound very happy to see his wife. “So the wheel comes full circle.”

“Save it for someone who gives a shit, Don. I came back for what’s mine. Jesus, can’t you even die properly? I thought I got all the clones.”

Don Varin smiled gently, taking another step toward her, his hands in the pockets of his suit coat. ” This isn’t a clone. The doctors figured out how to cure me.”

Scarlet’s mouth twisted into and ugly, contorted caricature of a smile. “Really? What a pity.”

“You can’t get out. You’d be dead before you left.”

“You underestimate me, Don. But then you always have, sweetheart.” She smiled her saccharin coated smile again.

“So it wasn’t Don’s decision to build substandard housing?” Fiddlestix could see the story coming clear now.

“Don wouldn’t have had the balls to do that.”

Scarlet was too busy gloating, she didn’t notice the slight movement of Fiddlestix’ body as she turned to aim her wrist mounted gun. Praying the damper was disabled, she held her breath and concentrated on her wrist mount. Her long, full sleeves concealed the weapon as it slid silently out of her forearm. All she had to do was concentrate on her target, the weapon did the rest.

Scarlet didn’t make a sound as she fell. A look of surprise on her face, a gasp as the slug hit her chest and it was over. Scarlet’s body slumped in a heap.

Don Varin’s mouth dropped open and he gaped at the growing red stain on his shirt just below his heart. Scarlet’s weapon had found its mark even as she died. Fiddlestix watched him die with a blank expression.

Deacon and Loki, using the distraction, disarmed the bodyguards nearest them.

“Get Tully back to the boat,” Fiddlestix ordered. She turned to the bodyguards. “Call off your dogs. We have no argument with you. Cooperate, and everybody lives.”

“Attention,” one spoke into his headset. “Stand down.” He didn’t bother to explain. His men didn’t need it.

“Thanks,” Fiddlestix’ smile wasn’t as friendly, but it was full of appreciation. “We need to get our friend some medical attention.”

“He’ll be okay,” the bodyguard said. “I hit him with a tranquilizer slug. He’ll wake up with a hell of a buzz. Mr. Varin didn’t want nobody hurt but her,” he pointed at Scarlet.

Loki picked up Tully, slinging him casually over one broad shoulder. They walked quickly back to the boat.

“I’m confused,” Stumpy said grumpily. “Who really was the bad guy?”

“Both of them,” Fiddlestix replied absently. “Don was pulling shit over on her and the same time, Scarlet was working him.”

“So,” Stumpy continued. “What happened in there?”

“Justice,” Deacon said quietly.

Fiddlestix didn’t want to talk. Instead, she went on deck, glad to feel the wind and salt spray in her face. Deacon came over, standing beside her with his arm around her waist.

“I thought I’d lost you,” she whispered. “When I saw Tully go down, I panicked. Did Varin fall for our setup at all?”

“At first, yes, but then he took my prints off the arm of the chair, ran them through a very sophisticated search and blew my cover to hell.”

“Why didn’t he kill you?”

“He only wanted Scarlet.”

“I feel terrible that I got you into this mess.”

“But if you hadn’t, think what Varin would have done to the Harlichs. You did the best thing, Hannah.”

He put his arms around her, holding her close. For the first time in her life, Hannah Braun looked at the horizon and didn’t see an end, but a beginning. She cuddled next to Deacon and smiled.

The End

Fiddlestix Part 32

It’s getting near the finish and things are about to get crazy! Can Fiddlestix protect her friends or is it all going to explode in her face?

“What kind of hardware do they have over there, Buzzard?” Fiddlestix went into command mode immediately.

Buzzard did a scan of the compound, whistling low and long. He pointed to a line of heavy artillery that lined the roof.

“Gear up,” Fiddlestix prepared to storm the compound. She donned a bullet proof vest as Scarlet entered the cabin.

“What are you planning?” It wasn’t so much a question as a
demand to know.

“Deacon’s safety is my responsibility.”

“If you go running in there with guns blazing, you’ll blow the whole deal.”

Fiddlestix checked her weapon and chambered a round. “I’m willing to risk it to keep Deacon safe.”

She and the others gathered around the monitor. It was a quiet standoff that could go down hard any second.

“Don, I’m sensing something’s changed around here. Mind filling me in?”

“Changed? Not at all.”

“Shall we get going? I’m anxious to see the property so we can get the ball rolling.”

Deacon started to rise, but the nearest bodyguard clamped a hand down on his shoulder, pushing him gently but firmly back into the chair.

“Not until you tell me what you really want, General Scott.”

Deacon frowned. “I beg your pardon? Did you call me Scott? Don, what the hell goes on?”

“Enough pretense! You’re not Preston Keith! Your name is Deacon Scott and you’re no more a business man than I am a hired gun.”

Loki tried to fire, only to find his cyber ware didn’t work. There must be a cyber-damper in effect. The bodyguard nearest Tully drew and fired at him before the skinny man had a chance to react. Tully fell, clutching his chest.

“NO!” Fiddlestix screamed as all hell broke loose. “We’re going in! Take out that damper!”

Buzzard and Blacksmith flanked her with Deacon’s men directly behind them. Scarlet brought up the rear, gun ready.

Heedless of resistance, Fiddlestix ran recklessly to the backdoor of Varin’s house. It was open, saving her the trouble of breaking it. Holding up her fist, she made the men halt outside. No one was in the room except Tully’s limp form.

“Where did they go?”

“To the garage,” someone told her from the boat. “Be careful. It could be a trap.”

“Ya think?” She wished she could talk to Deacon and the others.

“Get Tully out of here,” Fiddlestix told the medic.

“I don’t think so,” Scarlet said, her gun leveled at the young corpsman as he rose with Tully on his shoulders.

The kid froze, eyes riveted on her weapon that was leveled at his forehead. He set Tully down slowly, raising his hands.

Fiddlestix – Part 31

Things are getting pretty tricky. The situation is escalating rapidly. It’s up to Deacon and Fiddlestix to contain it before someone gets killed.

Around 2:00 in the morning the perimeter alarm sounded. Search lights lit the compound, tacking back and forth slowly. There was a large armored vehicle at the gate.

“I’m not about to let that in,” Karl told them. “I want a team all over it like flies on shit.”

Dirk and his team tested the vehicle with everything they owned.

“Either the bugger’s not rigged or it’s so cleverly concealed we can’t see it,” Dirk told them after their search was complete.

“Leave it outside,” Karl told them. “It’s not an accident that it’s here.”

A feeling of disquietude was creeping up Fiddlestix’ spine making her shiver. “We’ve got to get it out of here!”

“What’s wrong?” Deacon was worried, he’d never seen her so afraid.

“It’s evil, Deacon! We have to get it out of here!”

“Should I tell Tully to blow it up?”

“NO! We have to take it away.”

They chained the Hummer to the rear of the car and towed it away from the compound. Loki took the car to the abandoned quarters of the Château Noir and ran like hell back to the Harlich compound. Hearing an ominous sound behind him, he turned and saw the woods alight with a sick blue glow.

Putting on a turn of speed, he ran as quickly as he could back to the Harlich compound. Thankful for two cyber legs, he leaped over the fence without waiting for them to open it. The light was visible above the trees.

Loki’s eyes were wide with horror. “What is that thing?”

“Sweet Jesus,” Tully gasped. “Where the bloody hell would he get one of them?”

“What?”

“It’s a sanitizer!” Tully whispered, horror stricken.

“A what?” Loki was scared and that made him angry.

“It’s a bloody bomb, in’t it? That kills every living thing in its radius and then dissipates. Course the building’s left, a’ight? But the people are gone in a flash.” He snapped his fingers under Loki’s nose.

“We’re awfully goddam lucky you played that hunch, Hannah,” Karl said quietly.

“What do you think Varin will do now that he thinks we’re dead?” Blacksmith put into words what they were all thinking.

“I think he’ll be giving Preston a call in the morning,” Deacon said calmly. “Telling him that the owner’s reconsidered and taken him up on his latest offer.”

The call from Donnan Varin came around 9:30. Deacon did his best acting job ever, sounding pleased that Don had given him such good news. Fiddlestix could see the tightness at the corners of his mouth.

“That was by far the most difficult conversation I’ve ever had in my life,” he admitted sadly.

“It’ll be okay, Deacon. We’ll win this,” Fiddlestix assured him.

Fiddlestix and Deacon went upstairs dressing quickly and met the others on the boat. An aura of disquietude fell over them as they headed up the coast to Donnan Varin’s house. Varin didn’t come to the dock this time, but had sent a small contingent to greet them.

Varin met them at the door, inviting them in with an insincere smile. “Preston! Good of you to come by! Please, come in.”

“So, Don, did your deal go through as planned?”

“Couldn’t be better,” Varin told him with a grin. “The fellow who owns the land turned very cooperative when I upped the ante.” His smile didn’t reach his eyes.

Scarlet Varin gazed at the computer screen, watching Don. “He knows something,” she said flatly.

“You think Deacon’s cover is blown?” Fiddlestix was starting to worry.

“I think it’s very possible.”

Fiddlestix – Part 30

Having set up a good persona, Deacon and the others decide to try to beat Donnan Varin at his own game. They set about conning the con artist.

“Your friends are welcome to have a seat,” Varin said with false good humor.

“Thank you, they don’t sit, Mr. Varin. I don’t think the boys’ knees bend.” He chuckled, smiling in his most disarming way. “Say, let’s stop all this formal stuff. I’d be proud if you’d call me Pres. May I call you Don?”

“Certainly!” Varin’s smile was forced and he kept looking at the three bodyguards. “May I offer you some refreshment? I’ve got a fine selection.”

“Thanks, no, Don. I’m not a drinking man.” He smiled as
Don was served a drink and leaned back in his uncomfortable chair.

“Mr. Keith,” Varin began.

Deacon held up a well manicured hand, his gold and diamond pinky ring glittering richly in the light. “Now, Don, we agreed. Call me Pres.”

“Pres,” Varin corrected himself with a forced smile. “When your people contacted me, they said you have a business proposal for me?”

Deacon’s five star smile flashed across the room nearly blinding in its sincerity. “I do indeed, Don. As my assistant told you, I’m looking to expand into the Florida real estate market.”

Don leaned back, crossing his legs and grasping his left knee in his interlocked hands. “As a matter of fact, I have a piece of property in mind that would be ideal….”

“I’d sure like to see it,” Deacon grinned, preparing to stand.

“Oh, it’s not quite ready for settlement yet, Preston.” Varin nearly jumped from his seat. “We’re still negotiating with the current owner.”

“I see.” Deacon frowned. “Don, I thought we were clicking here. Maybe I need to be talking to the land owner one on one, not going through you.”

He stood, preparing to leave. Varin leapt to his feet, face registering his alarm.

“Now, Preston, let’s not be hasty! As a matter of fact, the owner is seriously considering my offer. I expect to hear from him tomorrow.”

Allowing himself to be placated, Deacon sat again on the edge of his uncomfortable chair.

“Well, Don, that’s got a nice ring to it. I reckon I can wait another day before I go elsewhere.”

Deacon signaled that it was time to go. Don accompanied him to the dock and saw him off.

“Well,” Deacon said once the shore was out of sight. “Y’all heard. So what do you think?” He kicked off his shoes and loosened his tie.

“You were very convincing,” Scarlet said.

“He’s such a greedy bastard,” Deacon said angrily. “How could you marry a man like that, Scarlet?”

Scarlet’s eyes lost their gleeful glitter. “Don wasn’t always so bad,” she told him. “He changed after awhile.”

“Money and power change a man,” Deacon said undoing his
jacket and slipping it off. He shook his head sadly. “Kind of have to pity a man living like that.”He lay down, putting his head in Fiddlestix’ lap.

“Don’t make the mistake of pitying Donnan Varin.” Scarlet said scathingly. “He’s made a fortune off other people’s misfortune and he’ll keep doing it.”

“What would you do with the company, Scarlet?” Fiddlestix was playing with Deacon’s hair.

Scarlet’s expression changed from anger to nostalgic. “I want to complete what Don started, making affordable housing for the poor. That was our noble purpose. It sounds foolish now, like naive children.”

“No,” Deacon answered sleepily. “It sounds like you had a dream in common. Kinda sad to see a dream die.” His voice got soft as he drifted to sleep.

Fiddlestix heard Scarlet sniffle and looked up at the other woman with concern. “You okay?”

Scarlet nodded, then shook her head adamantly. “I don’t know. Part of me hates his guts and the other part still loves him so much it hurts!”

“I understand, Scarlet. Except for Deacon, every man I’ve ever loved has made me feel that way.”

“I don’t want to kill Don, I just want him to be himself again.” She wept uncontrollably.

Fiddlestix rose carefully, putting Deacon’s head on a cushion. She went over and sat by Scarlet, hugging her tightly, she let her cry.

“Love sucks,” Scarlet sniffled.

Fiddlestix glanced over at Deacon’s profile, so handsome and peaceful. “Just when you love the wrong person. When it’s right, there’s nothing better.”

They sailed to the Harlich compound quickly. Deacon woke shortly before they docked. He and Fiddlestix went immediately to Karl’s office.

After another conference to discuss what had transpired at Varin’s they ate a quiet supper and went to bed early.

Fiddlestix – Part 29

Now that Bobby and the Noir are out of the picture, it remains to take out Donnan Varin. Is a military maneuver their best option? Or would some handy manipulation of Varin’s greed serve them better?

Amber Garwood, aka Scarlet Varin, sighed heavily, sitting down at the table with them. She laid her head on her arms, shoulders hunched as the tears fell.

“Please don’t tell Don you found me,” she begged. “He wants me dead.”

“I figured that out,” Fiddlestix told her. “What I don’t know is why.”

“I told about the buildings.” Scarlet Varin raised her head. “He says the decisions were made without his permission, but it’s not true. Before his death, he gave instructions about the housing developments. It was all in files that I took with me.

“He’d been pulling his illegal activities for years. I finally decided I had to tell someone. I took the files to the district attorney, only to find out he was in Don’s back pocket. I had to run.”

“So this whole thing about wanting to find you was just a blind?”

She nodded rapidly. “But it’s more than that. He’s been secretly supporting Château Noir for years. He was trying to get Bobby to take over the Harlich land for him.

“You see, this is prime property. If he could get his hands on this and build expensive houses in a safe environment for the ultra rich, he could make a fortune.”

“But it’s only safe because of Karl and the Harlichs,” Fiddlestix was appalled.

“Exactly, but he was figuring on the protection of the Noir. With them behind him, no one else would dare to mess with him.”

“I just can’t believe I fell for it!”

“Don can be a pretty convincing actor when he wants to be. He had me fooled for years, and I lived with the man!”

“So are we taking this Varin guy out?”

Deacon had been quiet for awhile, but Fiddlestix could see he was fuming.

“Is he really a threat anymore?” This from Karl. “He no longer has the Noir to back him. How dangerous is he?”

“Very,” Scarlet Varin said adamantly. “He’s a rich, determined man. He’ll just hire someone else and try again.”

“There must be a way to get to him!” Fiddlestix told them. “There has to be!”

“There is a way,” Scarlet Varin whispered. “But it’s going to take all the cunning we’ve got.”

Scarlet smiled disarmingly, the genuine delight making her face light up. Most of her makeup had been rubbed off since morning and her hair was no longer helmet hard. It made her look far more friendly and approachable.

“Deacon, how well can you act?”

Several days later, they headed to Varin’s island estate, approaching his compound from the ocean using the Ophelia.

Deacon was resplendent in a shiny, royal blue suit. His blond hair was neatly plaited, falling down his back in a long queue. Loki, Tully and Stumpy flanked Deacon were dressed as corporate bodyguards. The three of them looked uncomfortable in their black suits and narrow ties. Tully was understandably distressed at having to leave his arsenal behind. However, he couldn’t play his part if he clanked.

Varin met them at the dock. Smiling like a movie star, Deacon walked off his boat surrounded by his bodyguards. Hand extended, he approached like Don Varin was his best friend.

“Mr. Varin,” Deacon said loudly in his best Southern drawl. “Preston Keith, pleased to meet you.” He pointedly ignored the bodyguards.

“Mr. Keith, welcome to my humble abode,” Don Varin said with false modesty. “Won’t you all come in,” he invited with a gesture.

Loki took in details of the house transmitting them to the boat with his cyber eye. Fiddlestix and Deacon’s soldiers watched on a computer screen and listened to the conversation on their earpieces.

“Please sit down, Mr. Keith,” Varin gestured grandly to the most comfortable couch Deacon had ever seen.

Instead of sitting on the luxurious, dove gray leather, Deacon sat on an uncomfortable looking chrome chair because it had the best vantage point in the room. He couldn’t help thinking like a soldier even if he was pretending to be a corporate. Stumpy, Tully and Loki took up positions around him, each scanning the room as discretely as possible.