Authors: J.L. Masters
Raines of Fire: The Alexa Raines Chronicles – Copyright 2013 by J.L. Masters
“My dear, wake up.”
The voice sounded so far away. Her body felt so far away. There was no point in waking up. The sharp sound of a slap pierced the air. Even the pain from that was distant.
Cold water—someone was pouring what felt like gallons of cold water on her face. She took a gasping breath. She was awake again, fully present. She wished to God she wasn’t.
She’d been told it was just a bit of kink, that it would be fun, a “good kind of pain”. She hadn’t expected to be tied to a wall, spread-eagle, naked, while he whipped her with a leather lash.
She hadn’t expected to be left there for a day and a night, while rats scurried up and down her body, stopping to chew on her flesh.
She hadn’t realized that she could scream so much, so loudly. She didn’t know that there were places where nobody could hear her, so close to where she lived.
She saw him, standing in front of her, holding a handful of squirming leaches. “We’re going to play a game,” he said, quietly. “Did you know the human body has a number of orifices? Entrances into our body? We have the nostrils, ears, mouth, the anus and the genital area. Well, you name an orifice, and I will introduce my friends here into it. If you don’t name a body part, I am afraid I will have to use them all!”
She thought she was too exhausted to be terrified. She was wrong.
Her damn cell phone always went off at the wrong time. Like now while she was riding her neon-green Kawasaki motorbike full-tilt up the Pacific Coast Highway, in hot pursuit of the last two members of the bikers’ gang that she’d been hunting down for the past three weeks. She grinned to herself thinking, not a
good time to be distracted by the buzzing of a vibrating phone in the thigh pocket of her motorcycling gear.
At the next
empty stretch of road, Alexa Raines glanced at her watch. The Pebble told her that the caller was an unknown number, which meant it was a new client. “Good Grief!” she muttered, but she adjusted the earphone and the microphone of her Bluetooth headset and told her Pebble to accept the call. Her targets slid into oncoming traffic in an insane bid to lose her, but she only opened the throttle all the way. The motorbike, which had been purring contentedly, roared to life.
I have my reputation to think of, darlings
“Hi,” came the voice of a man. “I’m Edgar—“
She didn’t hear his last name. It got lost in the roar of the two semis blowing by on either side of her, both honking wildly.
“Yeah?” she said. Names weren’t important. In her line of work, names were liabilities—if you didn’t know, you couldn’t tell.
“Um, is this a good time?”
The targets went back over the median to the right side of the road, but she’d gained on them, and was closing fast. Their Harleys might be bad-ass, but nothing outran
her souped-up Kawasaki.
“Well, like I said—I’m Edgar Faust, and I’ve got a bit of a problem.”
“So do I. Talk fast.”
bikers made a sudden turn onto a side street. She was going too fast to make the turn, and as she shot past they high-fived each other. Clearly, they had never before been hunted by the likes of Alexa Raines.
“T-talk fast. Okay. Well. Someone’s killing members of my, um, parish.” She’d almost laid out in pulling the U-turn, but the bike remained on its wheels, and she rocketed back the way she’d come, going against traffic. She made the turn to a cacophony of horns, squealing tires, hissing brakes, crunching metal, and an operatic choir of choice four-letter words. Her legal counsel and personal assistant, Michael Rollins, would not be happy about this, but she couldn’t detect anybody’s life force draining away, so that probably meant
no one was seriously injured.
“So go to the police
!” Yelled Alexa over the squealing of tires and blaring horns of the cars of pissed off people she had just left behind.
biker targets hadn’t moved that far ahead of her, less than a quarter-mile, and Alexa could see why—there was one thing Los Angeles could be counted on for, and that was traffic jams. At the end of the off-ramp was a virtual parking lot of cars. Her targets were trapped—on the one side, a tiny patch of space surrounded by cars jammed on all sides, and on the other, a half-pipe of concrete, one of those mysterious canals that were all over Los Angeles but never seemed to have any water in them. She could feel their surprise when they saw her green Ninja, and their fear—“this shit’s for real” fear—sent a pleasantly cooling chill down her spine.
Alexa said, “Ed, can you hold on a sec? I’ve got to make another call.”
She tapped the screen of her watch, switching Ed to call-waiting and calling Lila and Julie. “Hey girls, I’ve got two rats about to be cornered. Do you read my
Lila’s voice, in her ear,
said in a giggle, “Reverse cowgirl?”
Alexa smiled. It would be like Lila, to crack a bad joke about a sex position now. She switched back to Ed as the men pulled up to the side of the off-ramp. Alexa groaned.
Why do the mother lovers always run
, she wondered.
Switching her phone back to the Edgar she hears
“Well, I have gone to the police, but I live in Indiana, and people like us—“.
gunned and kicked their bikes towards her then darted away, not looking to see where their bikes had gone. They hadn’t aimed them, giving her plenty of time to dodge the clumsy things and vault off of her bike, pushing it into a heavy bush and hoping for the best. She was the faster runner, but they still had a two-hundred yard head start on her. They jumped into the canal—they’d split up now, hoping to lose her.
Backup’s a bitch, boys
, Alexa thought, hurling herself down the canal. She went after the one whose energy signature was stronger. It was, in this case, the little one—though “little” for him still meant six feet, three hundred pounds, and ten days since he last showered.
“What are you?”
he screamed at her. Above Alexa, zipping along the narrow, six-inch wide rim of concrete on her own motorcycle, was Lila. As the target watched, Lila pointed her motorcycle down the pipe, careened recklessly down the side, and fishtailed neatly to a stop.
it’s complicated—“, Alexa started to retort.
Lila was toying with
her biker prey, now. When he went in one direction, she would block him. When he went in another, she was there, too. Then he turned around and Alexa could see him weigh his options—try to outrun her, fight her, or surrender peacefully?
Why do the morons never surrender
, Alexa groaned, as he pulled out his knife and ran at her, a crazed look in his eye.
Alexa slid to the side at the last second, and he stabbed nothing but air, his momentum bringing him down to his knees. He did have some martial arts training—he rolled through his fall—but that didn’t mean anything to Alexa. To Alexa, humans in general, even the most graceful ballet dancers, were slow, heavy, and clumsy creatures. She turned around to face him, and as he got to his feet, she planted a foot on his ass, and pushed him to his knees again.
“Edgar, so you want me to get on a plane, go to Indiana, and help you—“
scrambled to his feet, the target pulled out a gun from his boot and tried to aim it at her, but Alexa slammed her knee into his chest. He flailed backwards, and she caught his arm and twisted it. “Bad boy,” she murmured, feeling the sinews in his shoulders give suddenly. His hand reflexively twitched open, and the gun fell to the concrete with a solid clatter.
She didn’t hear Edgar’s answer over the screams, but people who were able to find her number usually did their homework—they knew her rates, they knew what she did. She backhanded
the biker, knocking out three bloody teeth, and then picked up the dropped gun. She handed it to Lila and finally took off her helmet. It felt good to have the air on her skin again.
“—so it’d be really great if you could come as soon as possible.”
“Ten thousand dollar non-refundable retainer,” she said, shaking out her long black hair. It cascaded to her waist, so dark as to be almost blue. In the daylight, her eyes were blue, but they frequently looked green or grey, depending on the light. She was small for someone who did the kind of work she did, five-feet six inches, and the red-and-white leather gear she wore was cut to flatter her already slim figure.
Alexa was already thinking of calling Michael and Eve to let them know about the new client. Lila had emptied out the clip and ejected the live round. “You could’ve saved me some fun,” Lila said. Lila was taller, blonde, and classically beautiful, with large, innocent blue eyes. It was a deceptive beauty, though—Lila was one of the best fighters with a bladed weapon in the world. Even Alexa would have ended up dead several times, had their sparring weapons been real.
“The client wants them alive, not dead,” Alexa reminded her.
“Just having a little fun, boss. I wouldn’t have killed them.” In the distance, Julie waved. She was carrying the limp body of the second target on the back of her motorcycle. “I can show restraint, you know,” Lila said with a grin as they watched Julie approach.
Alexa sighed and then gave Lila a look of amused disbelief.
Lila’s lips quirked in a disappointed pout, but Julie had reached them by now and there was no point in bickering. As she got off her bike, they realized that her black leather gear was covered in a thin layer of drying blood. “Julie?” Alexa said. “Are you all right?” With any other person, she wouldn’t have had to ask, but the poisons master was adept at concealing or hiding many things with her concoctions.
Julie, in response, went over to the limp target and turned his head. “It’s not my blood,” she said, showing them the man’s face. Half of it looked as though it’d been shredded by a cheese grater.
“Shit, Julie, what did you shoot him with?” Lila asked.
Julie shook her head. “I didn’t shoot him with anything,” she said. “He tripped over his own goddamn feet.” Julie was blonde, too, but it was a dirty blonde, and she didn’t have any of Lila’s ingénue qualities. She was a practical person, which was why Alexa liked to have her by her side when chasing down targets, but her cool, offhand way of describing what her poisons
could do meant that even Alexa wouldn’t let her buy their celebratory beer. Now, Alexa and Lila both gave her a look:
“I did give him a minor paralytic,” she conceded. “But only because otherwise I couldn’t get him on the bike.”
Alexa gave the man at her feet one last kick—a “stay down” kind of kick, not one that would actually
damage the guy and tied a zip-tie around his wrists and ankles. The biker made a sputtering protest, but Alexa silenced him by planting her boot on his crotch. He was immediately still, quiet. Alexa pulled out her phone and dialed. “Eve,” she said.
Eve’s face—bespectacled, chestnut pixie-cut hair—popped up on the screen. “Boss?”
“Call up the client, give him the location. We’re done.”
She was blindfolded, but the air smelled metallic with a tang of dried blood. She’d suspected something was up when he blindfolded her, saying that it was part of the surprise. She knew she was screwed, now. She screamed and tried to turn around, only to run into another body. “My dear,” the new voice said. “Don’t be frightened.”
Someone removed the blindfold. She couldn’t see any faces in the dark, but she could discern three men. “We’re not going to hurt you
. Well, not forever,” said the purring, smooth voice.
Her knees gave out, and she sank to the floor, weeping. “Please,” she begged. “Please, just let me go. I won’t tell, I swear—“
Another voice—harsher, grating—laughed. “She wants us to let her go,” he said.
“All right,” said the new voice. “We’ll let you go. But first we get to
hurt you. Then we leave you next to the Interstate stark naked, okay? And you have to beg the first driver who stops for you for sex.”
It was as good as saying that she would never leave the room alive. She let out a wail of despair.
“Take off your clothes, dearest,” said the smooth voice. “If you cooperate, we might kill you faster.”