* * * *
Tired. Exhausted. Played out.
Natasha “Natty” Svetlankova Birdwell hadn’t a fucking clue how much longer she’d have been able to tread water, keep her head above the filth of the sewer her life had become. But, now it was resolved. She had Harris.
Harris was Natty’s ticket out. Out of Rocky’s Rocket Room. Out of
Out of a life of humiliation and degradation, shaking her ass and humping a
pole, to entertain and titillate a bunch of slack-jawed simpletons. Humping a
different sort of pole in the club’s sleazy back-room “lounges,” to supplement
her ever inadequate income. Natty had expensive tastes, rapacious indulgences. Bakersfield
Harris. Ticket to ride. Oh, yeah.
Guy was a congressman? No wonder the country had been brought to its knees. Natty couldn’t begin to comprehend the dude’s thought process. She’d simply remain forever grateful for the politico’s lack of cerebral candlepower. His drug induced brain-fade had prompted the fool to allow her to use her cell phone cam to record some of their more daring physical experiments. Money in the bank.
Then, as if the incriminating photos weren’t enough, Harris had gone on a drunken ramble, describing a ruthless power grabbing scheme involving, lobbying, illegal funding, pork barrel legislation, and some of the state’s most prominent, and respected figures. Natty proved an avid listener, amused and gratified to know that everyone, everyone, had dirty laundry. Some of it downright filthy.
She lit a cigarette, paced. Stopped near her door, hefted the two light suitcases she had packed an hour ago. Hour before that, she’d finished a phone conversation with Harris. The second of the day. Harris had finally seen the light. Was willing to meet her demands. First payment to be delivered that afternoon. Well, Natty was ready. Soon as she had the money, she’d split. Disappear, until it was time for the next payment.
Not that she was paranoid, but she wasn’t a fool either. Out of sight, out of harm’s way. One reason she’d arranged for the payoff to take place in this anonymous little shithole of a motel room. She’d checked in, using one of the half dozen fake IDs Monte had provided, hiding behind huge Jackie O shades and a cheap blond wig.
The knock was hard, startled her. Annoyed, she jerked the door open, said, “Hey, asshole, you don’t have to beat it down. What took you so long, you stop to print it?”
The heel of the guy’s hand caught her in the sternum, propelling her backward, through the small room, into a lowboy dresser. She slammed into the dresser, kept her feet by placing her hands behind her on its grimy surface.
She didn’t know who this dude was, but she recognized the look in his eyes as he shut the door behind him, grinned, said, “Hey, babe. Name’s Con. They tell me you’ve been a bad girl. Threatening to make problems for your betters. Sent me over to set you straight.”
Her betters? Fuck this cretin. Maybe he had “betters,” but Natty? If there was anybody breathing was better than her, well, they hadn’t crossed her path yet.
She watched him, big slouchy guy, make his way across the carpet. Eyes glowering with anticipation, he licked his lips, reached out for her. Con? Didn’t matter. Coulda been Rick, her uncle, forcing himself on her when she’d been eleven. Coulda been Micky, her ex, on the night of their honeymoon, when batshit crazy drunk, he’d busted her jaw, her nose, and caved in three of her ribs. Coulda been Larry, or Denny, or . . . Didn’t matter. Same old shit.
But, by this time there was one difference. The fear was long gone, replaced with a rapacious desire for payback, fueled by an abuse nurtured streak of mean. She figured it would serve her well, cuz this swine had more on his mind than smacking her around, getting his rocks off, in whatever way would appeal to a bottom feeding freak like him. The fact that he was wearing latex gloves, and had told her his name, made it obvious: her lesson was meant to be a final one.
Lots of fuckin luck, Con.
Her hand closed around the handle of the straight razor secure in the tight weave of her French braid, flipped it open just as Con’s hand’s found her throat. Her eyes locked on his as she slashed the back of his hand, watched the lust-gleam fade, replaced by shock as he pulled his hand back, stared at the flood of gore pouring from severed veins.
Big geek didn’t like the sight of his own blood. Tough shit, cuz Natty planned to spill a lot more of it. She slashed at his throat. He managed to get his shoulder up; her hand glanced off, went high, the razor missed his throat, opened his cheek from ear to chin. She saw his teeth, gleaming through the gapping slit, for a split second before they were obscured by welling blood.
Her own blood was hammering so hard in her ears, that she didn’t hear Con’s moan when she kicked him in the balls. As he sank to his knees Natty stepped behind him, grabbed his greasy hair, yanked his head back, slashed his throat from ear to ear.
Sitting on the bed, fighting to catch her breath, she watched Con’s final moments among the quick. Knowing full well their positions might easily have been reversed. If . . . .
If . . . she’d been a little less decisive, a bit slower to act. Not a problem. She was fast. Goddamn right. Getting faster every fucking day.
Natty had two regrets as she stood under the steaming shower, washing the last of Con’s blood from her body. One: the outfit she’d been wearing was ruined. Two: like it or not, she was gonna have to call Monte.
Not something she felt good about, but Harris hadn’t left her a choice. Motherfucker had crossed her. Tried to have her killed, rather than pay an extortion fee that to him probably constituted chump change. What a ruthless prick. Stupid too, reneging on a deal with Natty. Chances were he’d be stupid enough to try again, but smart enough to send someone a lot more capable than Con.
Now, instead of being her salvation, Harris had presented a whole set of new problems. Well, Monte would have solutions for her problems. No doubt about it. Thing was, after the smoke cleared, she’d be forced to deal with Monte. Wouldn’t be easy. Monte was no Con.