She regarded the spread in front of her with some satisfactionmore than a dozen piles of cash, stacked neatly in rows according to the shares allotted each member of the gang. Of course, some piles were taller than others. But hey, rank hath its privilege.
Next to the loot, a cigarette released a thin trail of smoke upward through the beam of light from her desk lamp. She scooped it up out of the ceramic flamingo-shaped ashtray and inhaled deeply. Relaxation had been a scarce commodity lately, and she relished the calm moment. She reached for a coffee-stained manila folder on her desk
There was a knock at the cabin door.
Justine's shoulders tensed. Count-out of shares was always risky for a pirate. No matter how long they'd flown together, the Medusas were solely interested in cash...and weren't particularly finicky about how they acquired it.
Justine drew her pistol. She cocked the hammer and eased the gun back into its holster.
"Come in," Justine said quietly.
The door opened slowly, revealing Athena "Harpy" Jackson. The statuesque woman stood in the doorway for a few seconds. The shadows hid her dark features.
Justine smirked. "You gonna stand there all night?"
Athena stepped inside and closed the door. Her face was somber, but as she spotted the piles of bills on the desk, her eyes sparkled. "Well, well, well...looks like we did alright on this one." She looked up and caught Justine's eye. "Don't forget this was my idea."
"Don't get your britches in a pinch," Justine tapped a tall pile of crisp Hollywood notes. "This is mine."
Athena's eyes narrowed.
"And this is yours." She moved her finger to the stack next to her own, equal in size. Athena smiled avariciously. "I figured you deserved a bonus for setting up the scam in the first place...even if it didn't go like we planned."
Athena reached for her money, but Justine gave her a smack on the wrist. "Eh-eh-eh. You'll get yours when we divvy out shares in the mess hall like usual." Justine held out a pack of General Lee's with her left hand; her right hand still hovered near her pistol.
Athena took a smoke and lit it.
"You didn't come down here just to get a peek at your share," Justine said.
The smoke hung between them, slowly drifting. The hum of the engines thrummed through the deck.
"I started this gang, Justine."
"So you've told me. And told me, and told me"
"Just shut up and listen." Athena paced to the other side of the cramped space and faced the wall. "I'm no dummyI've probably read more books than all the pirates on this bag combined, except maybe Amanda, since she got to go to college." She stopped for a nervous drag on her cigarette. "I started this gang, but..." she turned to face Justine. "But...I never could have found my way through the mess that we just plowed through."
Justine stuck her finger in her ear and shook it vigorously. "I think my hearing must be getting bad."
Athena grinned and exhaled. "Because I started this outfit, I want what's best for the gang. Right now that's you. But..." She paused and tapped her cigarette ash in the flamingo. "If you start to slip, or do anything that's gonna get the Medusa's pinched, I'll be right there. And if you screw up, I'll take the reins again...whether you like it or not."
Justine grinned slightly, and nodded. "I'll take good care of the Medusas."
Athena stepped over to the door and opened it.
"Make sure that you do. This isn't the last tough spot we'll be in."
She turned on her heel...then stopped. She looked back over her shoulder and added: "Oh, and you can relax your gun-hand. If I'd wanted to shoot you, you'd be dead by now."
Athena stepped out and closed the door.
Justine sighed and decocked the gun.
She knew in her gut that Athena was rightthat the future was still holding her cards close to the vest, and this line of work was getting more deadly all the time. The Medusas would have to stay sharp, and be ready for anything.
Justine took a last drag on her cigarette and snuffed it out. She thought about Loyle, about the party in New York, about his easy laugh. He was a handsome devil, she smiled wickedly. The creep was easy on the eyes, that was a fact. She was glad she'd picked up something to remember him by.
She picked up a dart from the cup on her desk and cocked back her arm to toss it at the target on the back of the door. With a grin, she flung it across the gulf and buried the tip in Major Crawford's china publicity photo she'd cut out of a Manhattan news rag.
"See you around, pretty boy," she chuckled.
She picked the manila folder up from the desk and opened it. Inside was a picture of the German arms dealer, Grünstrasse, and a photo of the Hope Diamond. Snitches and stool pigeons had placed the fat man in Havana; others claimed he was on his way to Alaska.
"Back to work," she murmured. "Time to see a man about a diamond..."