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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 Eight: Clear as Crystal

The drive across town had been sullen and quiet. The Medusas knew better than to break the kind of silence they were getting out of Justine "Battle-axe" Perot; the Medusa leader stewed in the passenger's seat of the Packard as the Miami streets drifted past.

For more information see:
The Medusas; Justine "Battle-Axe" Perot

When she thought of the deep south, Justine pictured plantations and rural landscapes, or perhaps the charming southern cityscape of her childhood home in New Orleans.

Miami lacked that southern charm. New buildings had sprung up between old ones, and made the place feel off-kilter—devoid of history or character.

They pulled around a corner and rolled past the Century Hotel, a two-story stucco facade building with curved corners and art-deco lines. The sun was setting now, and the front of the building was illuminated in a brilliant orange-pink. As they passed the alley, Justine noted a dark-colored sedan parked along the side of the building.

"Looks like someone else beat us here," noted Athena "Harpy" Jackson with a hint of criticism. Justine shot Athena a scornful look while the other Medusas fidgeted uneasily.

They continued another quarter-block.

"This is far enough," Justine ordered. The car slid quietly up to the curb and came to a stop. Five Medusas piled out onto the sidewalk: Justine, plus her wing pilot, "Bold Amanda" Hart; Athena and her wing pilot, Sheila "Owl" Carter; and the gang's rookie, Katie "Shrimp" Callahan. Mathilda "Hag" Hannigan—a former bootlegger, and their getaway driver—waited in the car. The rest of the gang was on their way back to their zeppelin Gorgon to stand by in case of trouble.

As they passed the alley, Justine glanced at Athena.

"Cover the back."

Athena and Sheila peeled off from the line and stalked down the alley while the rest of them moved toward the building with purposeful strides.

Two men sat at a small table playing chess on the sidewalk outside the front door. They watched with interest as the women walked right past them and through the open door into the hotel lobby.

The lobby was warm, and a pair of ceiling fans lazily stirred the thick, humid air. A young man in a loose fitting shirt stood behind the counter holding a blood-spotted handkerchief under his nose.

The kid's face had been busted up by a pro. Justine recalled her tangle with the Blonde Man—he had the skills to work someone over like that. Good, she thought. She needed to blow off some steam...and golden boy would make as good a punching bag as anyone.

Justine stopped in front of the desk. She shrugged back her jacket to reveal the butt of her pistol.

"Which room?" Justine demanded.

The man's eyes locked on the pistol and he froze like a deer in headlights.

Justine huffed with exasperation, reached across the counter and grabbed the man by his collar. She knocked the bloody handkerchief from his trembling fingers.

"I said 'which room'?" she said, her voice a dangerous, throaty purr. "Speak up...or what I do to you will make the beating you just took look like a Sunday waltz."

"Two-oh-one," he stammered.

Justine drew her pistol and aimed it at the kid's head. "Beat it," she ordered.

The kid darted past her into the street, leaving a crimson trail out the door.

The pirates drew their weapons and crept up the stairs. At the landing, Justine peered around the corner, and ducked back. One man stood in the hallway, guarding the first door on the left. Justine motioned Katie "Shrimp" Callahan forward.

Katie was a rail-thin redhead, nearly six feet tall, and the newest member of the gang. She had a down-to-Earth charm and an easy way about her that put people off their guard. Katie was still green, but she was cool under pressure. The nineteen year-old had heisted a brand new J2 Fury from the Chicago manufacturing plant where she worked, and used it as her "initiation fee" into the Medusas.

For more information see:
J2 Fury

Justine made a feminine curve in the air with her hand, and jerked her thumb toward the guard around the corner. Katie got the idea.

She slipped, catlike, around the corner and strolled down the center of the hall...right past the man standing in the corridor. The guard was startled by her sudden, noiseless appearance, and his hand shot under his coat, reaching for the too-obvious piece he kept in an overpriced shoulder rig.

Katie ignored the gunman and sauntered on by. A leer tugged at the corners of his mouth and he relaxed. His head followed her graceful form like it was on a swivel.

Justine covered the fifteen feet from the corner to the door in no time at all. She brought the butt of her pistol down on the back of the man's head and he collapsed like a house of cards. The women caught him before he hit the floor and dragged him to one side.

Justine and Amanda flanked the room's entrance, weapons ready. Justine stepped in front of the door and ticked off her fingers silently.

Three...two...one...

Justine kicked the door. It collapsed inward in a spray of splintered wood. She leapt into the dimly lit room and covered the area with her pistol. Amanda rushed in, her massive shotgun—"liberated" from Grünstrasse's thugs—sweeping the room.

The blinds were partially drawn. The smoky orange rays of the setting sun streamed through the cracks and neatly bisected the cheap flop. Three men stood in the room, stunned looks on their faces. A fourth man was was seated in a strait-backed wooden chair: Sebastian Jacobs.

Justine had expected to see the Blonde Man—not the other clowns in the room. She recognized the fellow standing directly in front of her quarry, though. She'd dismissed him as unimportant the last time she'd seen his face, at Darlene Devoir's party in Manhattan, the night the Medusas had stolen the Hope Diamond.

"You..." she drawled questioningly.

He was a brown-haired man with a dark complexion and a long sinister-looking beak of a nose. He had a snake-like, oily quality to him. Justine replayed the scene in her mind. She'd seen this Dark Man talking to Sebastian Jacobs just before Devoir and Jacobs disappeared upstairs at the party. The questions were obvious:

What's his connection to Jacobs, to Devoir, and to the Diamond? Why is he here?

Justine intended to get some answers.

Katie came in behind them, dragging the unconscious guard, and then pushed the door shut as far as its broken frame would allow.

The Dark Man stared at Justine intently, though not with particular malice.

"Justine Perot. Or is it Jessie Pearl, or maybe Juanita Perez? You have so many names. Any of them real?"

There was a hint of accent in his voice. It wasn't New York. It was trouble, and not just a little. The pieces floated through Justine's mind, still refusing to come together. This one made the puzzle harder by a good margin. She motioned him away from the seated Jacobs with a twitch of her pistol.

He obliged and stepped back a pace.

Jacobs had been slapped around a bit, but seemed all right. He looked up at her, his face a mask of confusion. Probably isn't sure if he should be thanking me or begging for his life, Justine thought.

The Dark Man moved his hand toward his coat pocket. Guns swung around to cover him. "Easy, ladies," he said calmly. He produced a pack of General Lee's from his coat. He pulled a cigarette from the pack and offered one to Justine. She hesitated, then chuckled enigmatically as she accepted.

"The last man I shared a smoke with took a ten thousand foot high dive."

He struck a match and held it for her. "Every vice carries a risk," he replied.

He inhaled, then released a trickle of smoke between his thin lips and went first.

"You could do better for yourself, you know."

"I do okay."

"Sure you do. You could do better though."

Justine blew smoke through the sunbeams. "What do you want?"

"What do any of us want? Happiness? A little place to call our own?" He shrugged.

"You know what I want." Justine smiled playfully, but her voice was flat and cold. She kept her eyes riveted to him. "I want the diamond."

"That's a shame. I don't see it ending up that way."

Justine raised a questioning eyebrow. "What do you know that I don't?"

He laughed. "That would take far too long to describe."

Justine stopped smiling and leveled the pistol at his chest. The cigarette dangled from her mouth, smoke curling upwards. "You know, the other guy—the one who punched me in the mouth—was a creep...but I still like him better than you."

His face remained utterly calm. "Goodbye, Justine."

She cocked the hammer of the automatic. "Goodbye, you son of a—"

The cigarette exploded in her face.

Justine roared with pain and surprise. She was blinded completely by the flash and acrid smoke filled her nose. She heard Amanda's shotgun boom once. An answering shot came from the Dark Man's direction. Justine threw herself to the floor and fired wildly. Another shot rang out from the other side, then Justine heard glass shatter.

Damn it. He'd gone out the window.

It only took a few seconds for her vision to clear. They were precious seconds.

The screeching of tires said the car in the alley was making a break for it. There was no point in going after the Dark Man. The two shots had hit their intended marks, but all three Medusas were unharmed. The agent they'd knocked out was dead. Sebastian Jacobs had a red stain blossoming on the chest of his shirt.

Justine used her stiletto to cut the bindings holding the lawyer's arms behind his back. He gasped and coughed as she took him by the arm. Amanda took the other side and they moved him over to the bed.

He sucked in a ragged breath.

Amanda pushed the wrecked blinds aside and looked out the window. "The cops will be here any minute."

Justine leaned over Sebastian's face. "Sebastian. Where's the diamond?"

He grimaced in pain, and started to black out. Justine slapped him.

"Answer me! Where is the diamond!"

Jacobs opened his eyes blearily. "Vas?" He gurgled in German.

Justine's eyes narrowed dangerously. She grabbed him by the collar and shook him to consciousness.

He smiled weakly. "Fraulein Battleaxe," his German accent was unmistakable now. He kept pausing for labored breaths. "You have been a very...interesting addition to the...scenario. A rather...persistent fly...in the liniment."

Amanda kept a nervous watch from the window. Justine pressed Jacobs.

The questions were direct. Jacobs answered willingly. He had nothing left to lose.

Amanda, Athena, and Sheila waited on the sidewalk under a streetlamp.

"What's she doing in there?" Sheila peered through the glass storefront of the telegraph office in south Miami.

"First mystery phone calls, now this," Athena didn't hide her disdain. "We're spinning our wheels while the law closes in."

"Justine is onto something," Amanda creased her brow. "I just don't know what it is yet."

Justine stepped confidently out of the shop and onto the sidewalk. She strolled right past them without breaking stride. "Come on, Medusas."

"I'm not going anywhere until I know what's going on." Athena stood defiantly unmoving.

Justine stopped and turned slowly, hands on her hips.

Sheila stood next to Athena. "Justine, we really want to know what's happening."

Justine raised one eyebrow and pursed her lips in thought. Oh, no you don't Not now. Not ever again.

Justine stared right into Athena's eyes, drilling down deep to send the message home. "What's happening is us making the biggest score of our careers. What's happening is me figuring this whole triple-sideways mess out. What's happening is you are all shutting your mouths and following me—or staying here on the sidewalk and kicking yourself every time you read about The Medusas in the paper." Justine turned and started walking away as she said without looking back: "It's your choice."

Amanda looked at the two other Medusas. Sheila was smirking. Athena looked like she'd swallowed something particularly bitter.

Amanda extended her arm. "After you?"

Athena called after Justine. "Where are you going?"

Justine called back without slowing.

"To pick up some girls and guns. Coming?"

Athena took a deep breath, then exhaled with resignation. She took off after Justine at a jog. The others followed.

Amanda followed Justine up the driveway of the beachfront house, shotgun in hand. A large spot lamp illuminated the front of the house. A cloud of insects circled it like adoring lovers, drawn to the light and singed by the bulb. Down here by the water the day's heat had faded away in the cool wind from the Atlantic.

"Are you sure this is a good idea? You didn't go out of your way to ingratiate yourself to him, you know?"

Another half-dozen armed Medusas followed the pair toward the house.

As they approached the door, a cadre of burly Teutonic men emerged and lined the walkway in front of them. The two waves of primed criminals came up just short of one another. Their collective desire to do violence to one another pooled in-between them.

Seconds passed. Finally, Grünstrasse sauntered out of the door, dressed in his night robe. He looked through the line of minions at Justine. A bruise on his left cheek stood out. He glared at the Medusas.

"To what do I owe the...'pleasure' of your company, Fraulein?"

"Sebastian is dead," Justine said matter-of-factly.

"I know."

"You don't really know."

Grünstrasse bristled. "It is what I expected to happen. Your confirmation is no surprise."

Justine smiled. "You're a swell boss, you know that?"

"A reasonable man understands the risks of one's endeavors."

A dry chuckle escaped Justine's lips. "I guess I'm not a reasonable man." She tossed her hair back. "I don't throw the lives of my people away as soon as they prove inconvenient." She glanced for a moment at Athena. "Not even if they're very inconvenient."

"Fraulein, I—."

"You better clear your schedule for tomorrow." Justine interrupted.

Grünstrasse glowered with dissatisfaction.

"Have you come back here to apply for a job as my secretary?"

Justine shook her head.

"No, Mr. Grünstrasse. I've come back here to make you a lot of money. And to unweave a particularly tangled web." She smiled wickedly, "Don't be late."

 


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