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Chapter One:
Swimming With The Sharks

Chapter Two:
Keep Your Enemies Closer

Chapter Three:
ShowTime

Chapter Four:
A Girl's Best Friend

Chapter Five:
In The Rough

Chapter Six:
Shadow Play

Chapter Seven:
Southern Hospitality

Chapter Eight:
Clear as Crystal

Chapter Nine:
The Home Stretch

Chapter Ten:
The Final Hurdle

Chapter Eleven:
The Last Dance

Chapter Seven: Southern Hospitality

The Fat Kat Pool Hall had seen better nights. The joint wasn't the most elegant place in Miami—far from it, in fact. The Fat Kat called itself a "pool hall" by virtue of the two threadbare billiard tables that crowded the center of the room—right in front of the stained and cracked bartop.

Justine's methods of investigation did nothing to improve the décor. She tossed another battered hoodlum over the pitted and stained bartop. The thug landed with a grunt, as bottles of cheap rotgut shattered beneath his bulk.

"Duck!"

Justine whirled at her wing pilot's warning—and ducked just in time; a pool cue whistled past her head. Her partner, "Bold" Amanda Hart threw an uppercut that knocked a scruffy-faced creep back on to the pool table.

For more information see:
Justine "Battle-Axe" Perot

Gertie "Two Guns" Puckett leapt from a table and gave a whoop at the chaos surrounding her. "C'mon, you pansies!" she yelled. "I'll show you some fightin'!"

Amanda and Justine both shouted at the same time: "Gertie! No!"

Too late.

Gertie's .357 Magnum revolvers were already coming out of their holsters. The sidearms looked as big as cannons in Gertie's small hands.

The Medusas all knew how good Gertie's aim was—she couldn't hit the ocean if she was standing on the bottom...but not for lack of trying. Even worse, when Gertie started filling the air with lead, she was just as likely to blow a hole through one of her comrades.

The scruffy-faced creep seized the distraction and scooped up the eight-ball from the nearest pool table. He cranked back his arm and launched the ball at Amanda, but Justine was faster. She shoved her wing pilot out of the way.

"Guess we're even, boss," Amanda said with a smirk.

"Take this—" said Gertie, and stopped in midsentence as the errant billiard ball bounced off her forehead with a resounding CRACK!

She fell to the floor with a rising knot on her head.

Amanda looked down at Gertie; the unconscious Medusa's tongue lolled from her mouth.

"Wow," she said, "That's twice in a week that Gertie's been knocked cold. One more time and her head will start rattling."

Justine stepped forward, her fists clenched. Eight-ball looked scared.

"Looks like you scratched, creep," Justine said. "Should've called your shot." Her fist lashed out and sent Eight-ball sprawling.

At the end of the bar, Sheila and Athena double-teamed a thick-necked bruiser whose fists looked as large as Chicago phone books. Sheila screeched as she clung to the man's back, while Athena rained ineffectual blows into his bulging stomach.

The giant roared with laughter.

Mathilda "Hag" Hannigan stood behind the bar. She calmly poured liquor from bottles into a huge glass, mixing a nightmarish concoction. She pierced the noise with a whistle, and wagged her finger at the huge man. "Here you go sweetie. Wet your whistle."

"Don't mind if I do," he said, and reached for the glass. As the giant moved within reach, Hag broke a whiskey bottle over his head. He hit the floor with a crash; Hag took a healthy swig from the glass.

Nearby, Ching Hsi backed up against a wall while three toughs slowly crept toward her. "Hold still, girlie," the leader growled. "This'll only hurt for a second."

He drew a curved Bowie knife and stalked closer.

"You've got that right," Hsi said, her calm voice ice-cold.

The men hesitated. Something in her voice frightened them in a way they couldn't admit to be frightened by a woman. The thug on the left moved forward to grab at her, but Hsi caught his hand in her own and pulled. She gave his wrist a subtle twist, which produced a popping noise as it broke. She deftly moved aside and let him slam headfirst into the wall behind her. He crumpled to the floor at her feet.

Ching gestured at the next man to step forward; a thin smile played across her delicate features.

The second tough thrust a pool cue at her head. Hsi spun on one foot and brought the other around in a powerful kick. The pool cue fell from his grasp, split into two pieces.

The knife-wielding leader dropped into a crouch, circling cautiously. He moved with practiced ease, and had the scarred knuckles and snake-like grace of a professional knife-fighter. With a deft movement, Ching retrieved the two pieces of pool cue from the floor.

"I don't have all day," Ching said.

Bowie Knife roared and lunged forward. His knife slashed at Ching's throat.

Ching ducked, twirled and delivered a series of rapid fire blows to the man's head and neck with the pool cue halves. The impacts of wood against skull sounded like a machine-gun burst.

He collapsed, unconscious.

Justine grinned as Ching turned to face another thug—who wisely threw down the broken beer bottle he'd carried and bolted for the door.

Justine surveyed the div—every chair and table was broken, and unconscious toughs were sprawled everywhere. Shattered bottles, busted glasses and splintered wood were strewn around the bar.

Only one man remained standing.

Justine stalked forward like a cat. Her prey—a cheap, shabby little man in an overpriced suit—backed slowly away from her.

"Well, Mickey," Justine said, "I told you we could do this the easy way, or the hard way." The Medusas gathered behind her.

"Toneless Mickey" Horne felt the wall against his back, and started sweating profusely.

"Uh, hey, how was, how was—" he stammered. "How was I supposed to know you was the real Medusas? I mean, I never heard of the Medusas pullin' anything in Dixie."

For more information see:
Confederation of Dixie

Justine stood face to face with the terrified gangster and placed her palms against the wall on either side of his head.

"If you make me ask you again," she whispered, "I'll really lose my temper." She looked pointedly at the wreckage of the bar and added, "You really want that to happen?"

He swallowed hard. "I just had the boys give you a little test, that's all. I knew that the real Medusas could take all these guys no problem. No problem at all."

"Really?" Justine purred, turning up the edges of her mouth slightly as he attempted to stroke her ego. The effect wasn't lost on him. He grabbed at the opening to get himself out from under her ire.

"Oh yeah! I mean, everybody knows how tough the Medusas is. The Medusas...well, they're the toughest dames—"

Justine cut him off with a low blow with her knee. He suddenly looked like he'd swallowed a lemon.

"Pilots," she corrected. "Call me a 'dame' again and I'll turn you over to the rest of the gang."

He gasped and continued with a groan. "Yeah," he choked out the words, "that's what I meant. Toughest pilots. Nobody wants to be on your wrong side. Sure not me, that's a fact—"

Justine straightened the man's collar and took him by the arm. He shuffled alongside her, over to a stool. Hag brushed shattered glass off the bar with a rag and placed a pair of drinks in front of them.

"Okay, Mickey," Justine said. "Let's go back to where we came in to this little party." She drained her shot in one gulp, and flashed a smile. "I was asking you who in Miami could move a really hot, really big rock. And you were telling me everything I wanted to know."

A cool, salt-tinged breeze blew in off the ocean as Justine and Amanda waited on a large wooden deck. The deck, perched on the rear of a mansion, overlooked the vast expanse of emerald ocean and the snow-white sand of Miami Beach. Below them, the waves crashed on the sand with a muted roar. They rolled up the slope, then crept slowly back down again to slide under the next wave's crest.

The ornate patio door swung open, and two well-dressed men stepped onto the deck. One held a shotgun at the ready, though not trained on them. The other wore a pistol—an old Great War-era Mauser—beneath his coat, and seemed more relaxed.

"Fraulein Perot," he said with a thick Teutonic accent. "Herr Grünstrasse will see you now."

They were escorted through the foyer again, and into an opulent living room. The center of the room was dominated by a large tank of water teeming with a rainbow of tropical fish. In front of the tank was a plump balding man in a white suit, perched on a step-stool. He peered down into the tank and sprinkled small flakes onto the surface of the water.

The pair of gunmen departed soundlessly, but Justine could tell they were just outside the door. Justine and Amanda waited.

"Mr. Grünstrasse—" Justine began, but he silenced her with an upraised hand without looking up from the water.

After a few moments, he stepped down from the stool. He reached into his pocket and took out a handkerchief, and mopped sweat from his round forehead. "The heat here...it is dreadful, yes?" he offered without looking at them.

His voice was smooth and measured. Justine recognized the German in his voice, and the fact that he spoke slowly and carefully in order to minimize his accent.

He walked slowly toward them, appraising them with wolfish eyes. He dabbed sweat from his upper lip. "I understand you are here regarding a large purchase."

Justine took a deep breath. "You know who I am...so you know what I have."

Grünstrasse stared at her with an avaricious glint in his eye. "If the newspapers are to be believed, you are here to sell me a most valuable piece indeed. But I do not believe all that I read."

Justine produced the necklace from her jacket pocket, dangling the enormous diamond on its jeweled chain.

Grünstrasse appraised the sparking object in Justine's hand. "Impressive," he said casually. "It is the second fake I have seen today."

Justine met his gaze and kept quiet.

"From your reaction," he continued, "I surmise you already know the necklace is a fake. Because you do not strike me as stupid, I will also surmise that you did not intend to sell me this forgery. So, the question remains: what do you want?" Justine shrugged. "I'm looking for a man."

Grünstrasse arched an eyebrow. "This is of no concern to me, dear lady. I do not think you will have trouble...obtaining a man." His eyes moved up and down her body with equal parts greed and disdain.

"I always seem to attract the wrong sort of man." She ran her fingers back through her hair provocatively.

"And this one you seek, he is the 'right' kind of man for you?"

"Absolutely. He's got what I want. I'm betting he's the man who showed you the other necklace." She turned up the corner of her mouth coyly. "If I can find him, I'll make it worth your while."

Grünstrasse let out a rich laugh that shook the room. "Oh, Fraulein Perot, I do appreciate a woman of good humor." He walked over to where several stuffed chairs surrounded a low table, and bade them to sit with a wave of his hand. They settled into the chairs, but neither Justine nor Amanda was relaxed.

"My dear, what is 'worth my while,' as you so charmingly put it, is far beyond even your grasp." He opened a small wooden box on the table and withdrew a cigar. He clipped it as he continued. "My motivations are far beyond your limited schemes and desires."

He lit the cigar and exhaled pungent smoke. "Your petty schemes—your endless flamboyant shenanigans—may fill your pirate hands with a trifling amount of money. But money is only a means to achieving true power."

He settled back into his chair, a thin smile on his sweaty lips.

Justine regarded him for a few moments in silence, then reached forward and lifted a cigar from the open box. She drew her knife and skillfully removed the tip. The Cuban tobacco smelled delicious under her nose. She placed the cigar gingerly between her lips and cocked her head expectantly at Grünstrasse.

He wrinkled his brow for a second, then struggled out of his chair and stepped around the low table. He leaned over as best he could and put the flame to the tip of her cigar. His silver lighter was engraved with an ornate calligraphic "G." She held the shaft steady, keeping it in the flame while she got it started. The tip glowed orange and she puffed contentedly.

Grünstrasse flicked the cover of his lighter closed with a metallic click, and froze. He stiffened as he felt the knife's point press against his belly. He raised an eyebrow and glanced down at the thin stiletto.

Justine fluttered her eyelashes. "What was that you were saying about true power?"

"Your antics are amusing for the moment, Fraulein...but only for the moment."

"You're accent's slipping, pal," Justine growled. "Getting nervous?"

Grünstrasse's face was impassive.

She took a long puff on her cigar. Grünstrasse was a cool customer, all right, and it gave him the upper hand. He wouldn't give up anything based solely on a threat. He didn't believe she would harm him.

Justine motioned to Amanda with a shake of her head. Amanda moved quickly and silently to flank the door.

Grünstrasse blanched as he saw Justine's face change. Her seductive facade dropped away like a paper mask, and all that remained was rage. She grabbed him by the collar and yanked him to his knees. As she moved behind him, he struggled and cried out.

The door burst open, but Amanda was ready. She'd learned more than piloting when she was in the Atlantic Coalition Militia. As the barrel of the shotgun poked through the door, she yanked it from the guard's grasp and spun it around. By the time the two men were fully in the room, they were covered.

For more information see:
The Atlantic Coalition

Justine turned Grünstrasse around and shoved him down in the chair. With nimble fingers, she loosened his tie and bound his hands behind the chair. Amanda kept the guards on ice.

Justine glared down at Grünstrasse and cracked her knuckles.

"Mister, I've just run out of subtle."

Fifteen minutes later they walked out of the house. They had a pistol, a shotgun, and the address of the hotel where they'd find Sebastian Jacobs.

 


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