T INA AND MARIEL cautiously walked through the dark alley, bits of trash and other debris littering the pot-holed road, the wind swirling old newspapers through the air. An occasional dog barked as they made their way through the mostly residential backway, garages and trash barrels silently looming to each side. There were few lights illuminating their path as most homeowners and business owners either didn't bother or had enough experience with vandalism to know that the lights they did put up lasted a very short time in this neighborhood. Consequently, nothing of value was stored back here and anything that might be was locked up tight.
It was strange to imagine that a club like The Cage could exist in relative seclusion in this neighborhood but when an old abandoned two-story apartment building had been bought with cash a year ago by some unknown corporation, no one bothered to question it. Workers immediately gutted the place and redid the inside, reinforcing it with thick walls and enough other renovations that even at the height of the night when the music was the loudest inside, neighbors only heard a very faint beat outside. Security was tight so there were never any street fights or bar fights for that matter. As unsavory as some of the people going into the club were perceived by the residents on the street, there was never anything to complain about and they had learned that it was best not to make waves anyway.
Tina held up her hand and they stopped, her head cocking to the side as she listened, narrowing her eyes in the darkness. They had gone about two blocks without seeing anything resembling a back entrance to this place and the detective was beginning to suspect they had either missed it or were on the wrong side of George. But the faint thumping sound ahead and to their left insisted that they were very close. Seeing a dark garage ahead, Tina led them towards it, pressing their bodies against the rickety wooden surface. Peering her head around, she caught sight of a tiny lighted doorway on the other side of a row of parked cars. The two level building next to them had black painted windows and one could mistake it from the back for any other business that might be along the street. The investigator turned back around, leaning down to whisper into Mariel's ear.
"This is it. There's a doorway in front of those cars. I can't see anyone there right now, but we're going to have to get closer. Follow me."
The scientist nodded, her face serious and alert. Reaching out, she put her hand on the back of Tina's leather jacket to keep close in the darkness as the detective started forward and around the garage. They quietly moved along the wall facing the club until they were behind the first parked car in a row of five. Squatting down at the back bumper, Tina used her head to nod towards the next and they moved forward until they were at the car parked directly in front of the back entrance. The detective peered around and squinted, the entranceway was a dark narrow series of steps that led down, one dim light above it showing the only way in. From this vantage point, Tina could see that there was a man leaning back on a chair at the end of the steps next to the door, his booted foot up against one of the entryway walls. He was dressed all in black leather and wore a hat, much like one the police would wear but in black leather. Smoking, he was relaxed, a set of keys dangling from his beltloop. Tina turned back to Mariel and whispered again, her hand resting on the scientist's knee as she talked.
"I'm going up there and take him out. Once that's done, you come on up. Keep an eye out back here, ok?"
Mariel nodded, patting the detective on the arm before she watched Tina's tall form casually stand and saunter towards the door. The seated man immediately righted his chair and stood, surprised by the sudden appearance of someone walking between the cars. Seeing the leather and the fact that it was a woman, he relaxed a bit, moving forward to the top of the stairs as Tina came to meet him.
"Sorry sweetheart, this is boy's night."
Tina cocked her head, a smile coming to her face as she unzipped her jacket, affecting a nonchalance.
"Oh really? And there isn't any way I can persuade you to let me in?"
The guy laughed, his medium-sized bulky form shifting in the leather that encased him. Reaching out, he put his hand on the wall and leaned across the doorway, body language indicating that no one was getting past him. With a shake of his head, he spoke, his eyes looking up and down her with haughty disinterest.
"Honey, you've got nothing I want, believe me. Why don't you run along and find the rest of your little cunts. I hear all you fish like to swim together anyway."
Tina raised an eyebrow, immediately deciding she would have great pleasure taking this one out. It wasn't that she didn't like gay men, she did, really. Some of her best friends were gay men. But, you know, there was no excuse for crass remarks and attitude. With a sultry voice, she moved forward.
"Didn't your mother ever teach you it was rude to insult a woman?"
And with that, she skillfully drew the nightstick from her waist in one fluid motion and brought it up along side of the man's head, knocking his stupid little hat off and knocking him unconscious in one smooth move. Damn, that was easy. His body slumped in the steps, a mass of leather and bulk. Sighing, Tina returned the stick to her belt as Mariel made her way forward, joining the detective at her side and looking down at him. The scientist turned her head up to look at the detective and Tina shrugged.
"He had a dirty mouth."
Mariel looked back down at him and shrugged herself as they moved to pick him up by the boots, dragging his limp body along the dirty gravel parking area. Mariel reached down and took the keys from his belt, smiling up at Tina as she swung them from her fingers. With ease, Tina hauled his body up and threw him over the side of a dumpster, his body squishing in the garbage inside of it. Wiping her hands, she turned to Mariel who held out the man's hat and took it, rolling her eyes as she flung it in the dumpster and closed the lid. Well, that was the end of that.
Tina smiled and spoke, leading the way back towards the entrance. One down and who knew how many more to go. Luckily, Tina was just hitting her stride.
* * *
Cirra sat back at her usual booth, her arm around the back of the leather curved seats they were occupying. It was all coming together beautifully. Cirra smiled as she looked out over towards the balcony of her club, the dancing below just starting to pick up. She just got a call from one of her boys at the Mortar and Pestle that her prey was spotted there less than an hour ago. And now she had a nice little young visitor to entertain her while she waited.
Rolling her head to the side, she let the hand perched on the back of the booth reach forward and grab Caitlyn's hair, yanking her head back. Still gagged and now hands bound as well, the young girl tried to speak out, squirming in the seat. Cirra's voice was harsh as she brought her face close to the girl's.
"Oh, save it! You're not going anywhere and no one's going to rescue you. You're on my turf now, little girl."
Caitlyn looked back at the crazy woman, her brown eyes menacingly psychotic and blond hair impossibly dyed near-white. She couldn't believe she let herself get caught so easily. And by this woman? It was all rot. If she ever got loose, she was going to knock this weirdo upside the head and then she was going to...
The girl's thoughts were interrupted by a rough yank of her head to the side, almost knocking her over on the booth bench. Cirra reached back over and hooked her arm around the girl's neck and brought her close, her hand removing the gag as she held Caitlyn securely.
"Now, you're going to tell me exactly what you were doing sneaking around my place, you little bitch."
Caitlyn struggled a bit but to no avail before she let her grey eyes lock up into Cirra's right next to her. With a defiant voice, she spoke.
"You can go to hell, whoever you are. You won't get away with this."
Cirra laughed one of those high-pitched schizophrenic laughs that indicate that the person making the sound has a limited grasp on reality. It was at that point Caitlyn was ever so grateful that Tina and Mariel were somewhere near here. The way this woman was behaving, she wouldn't be surprised if she left here in a body bag. And, the young girl realized, if this was who was responsible for her aunt's disappearance, things were not looking good. Cirra suddenly stopped laughing and her face contorted into one of rage. Hello, crazy person.
"I own you, you stupid little fucking bitch! You either talk or die!"
And with that, Cirra reached down and brought Caitlyn's bound hands up to the table holding them in a vise grip as her other arm squeezed the girl's neck. Reaching on the table, she took hold of a thin black lighter, its sleek design fitting in the palm of her hand. Flicking it open, the blow-torch of flame appeared as Cirra brought it closer to Caitlyn's hand. With a sickeningly sweet voice, the blond woman spoke.
"I'm going to carve my name on your skin with fire. Won't that be pretty?"
Caitlyn at that point decided that she was dealing with a non-rational person and thought it best to cooperate, more or less. She had no intention of telling this woman about the detective and her partner outside. That would only put them in danger. The longer she stalled the blond, the better chances they had. Making her young voice appear scared, Caitlyn spoke.
"I..I was looking for someone. She came here a couple of months ago and disappeared."
The flame in Cirra's hand continued to burn its blue-orange glow, inches away from the young girl's skin. With a cock of her head, Cirra squeezed tighter against Caitlyn's neck, turning her head to look at the girl as she spoke.
"Oh really? Hmm...what did she look like?"
Caitlyn swallowed at the pressure, her grey eyes beginning to water. The people that passed by Cirra's booth appeared not to notice or care that she was being held against her will and practically tortured. This was insane! Clearing her throat, she attempted to speak, her anger rising as she recalled her beloved aunt.
"She..she was tall as you and as old..she had longer brown wavy hair and glasses..she..she was my aunt and the only family I had left!"
Cirra let the flame extinguish before she put her hand to her own chin, affecting a look of bored thought.
"Well, to be honest, there have been so many, I lose track of them all. Hmm..oh wait a minute. Wasn't she a writer or something?"
Caitlyn's eyes went wide. Her aunt Lissa was one of Chicago's up and coming young writers. This wasn't real. This wasn't happening. Yelling out desperately, Caitlyn tried to squirm free.
"Where is she?! Dammit, tell me!"
Cirra just laughed, her head tipped back as she arm clenched Caitlyn's neck tighter and her other hand clamped down on the girl's bound wrists. Still chuckling, Cirra moved closer, leaning her head against Caitlyn's and speaking softly in her ear.
"Your auntie is safe and sound in Buenos Aires. Of course, she's probably on her back as we speak, serving a nice pleasant young drug lord. Or she's dead. Who knows with these things?"
Cirra chuckled again as she raised up Caitlyn's gag before the young girl had a chance to cry out in anger and horror at learning the truth. Cirra released the girl who slumped over in the booth, sobs racking her young thin body. Regarding her as if she were looking at a specimen under a microscope, Cirra's dark brows came together in a look of mild surprise. Funny how people get so worked up about their family members. Why, that kind of pain was almost enough to drive someone crazy, wasn't it?
* * *
Once Tina unlocked the back door and they quickly went inside, they found themselves at the end of a long dark empty hallway, a set of doors separating the rest of the club from this area. There was an office door of some sort to the side of them and it appeared that the restrooms were in the hallway just after the doors in front of them. The detective checked the doorknob of the office and it opened, a small empty room with a chair and lightbulb was all it contained. Nodding to Mariel, Tina spoke quietly.
"Let's see if we can find one of those cooperative folks. We need to find out as much as we can before someone gets suspicious."
Mariel nodded as they moved forward, cautiously opening the doors and slipping through them. They were in a dimly lit red hallway, the entranceway to the club itself appeared to be around the right corner, the music louder in this area. Off to their side, there were two doors marked "Butch" and "Femme" and Tina pointed with her thumb, jerking it towards the "Femme" room. Mariel followed behind the detective as they entered the restroom, two stalls and a set of urinals occupied the dimly lit room. It was empty for now and smelled horrible. Just as they entered, they heard a round of voices coming down the hall towards them. Tina reached out and grabbed the scientist's wrist cuff and pulled her into one of the stalls, their bodies pressed together in the small space. Facing each other, Tina held up her hand and put a finger to her lips. Mariel smiled and nodded back. The voices came closer outside the hallway.
"And so, he was like, 'Girlfriend, your ass is just too fine.' and I was like, 'Roger, you just want a piece of it.' Naturally, he did."
The bathroom filled with the voices of men laughing as they crowded into the space. There were three of them, the detective could tell from the sound. Hearing the sound of two of them beginning to relieve themselves of the tequila sunrises they had been drinking all night, Tina and Mariel cocked their heads and listened.
"So, you let him stick in you or what?"
One man laughed, the sound of water running in the sink accompanied the activity at the urinals.
"Damn right I did. You know how hung he is!"
They all laughed again as they finished up, zipping zippers and washing hands and most assuredly primping in front of the mirror. Hearing them all move closer to the stall they occupied, Tina raised an eyebrow in question and put her hands on Mariel's shoulders, pushing her silently to her knees, using her head to signal the young doctor. Mariel looked up at the detective and nodded, her lips curving in a sly smile as she sank to her knees, her hands holding on to the investigator's belt. With a smile of her own, Tina let one of her hands drift over and gently smooth through the scientist's hair, her fingers gliding through silky blondness as they waited quietly. A deeper male voice spoke next to the stall Tina and Mariel occupied.
"Heh..looks like someone's in there getting a mouthful, huh?"
The other guys laughed as they made their way to the door, getting ready to go back out to the club. The one who had just spoken called out to them.
"Hey, I'll catch up with you. I need to take care of a little business. Todd just scored me some crank."
The other guys laughed, pushing their way through the bathroom door and out into the club. The man left in the restroom went over and locked the bathroom door, shuffling back over to the sink, calling out to whoever was in the stall.
"You guys go right ahead with what you're doing. I wouldn't mind listening to a little head while I'm in here."
He ran the water in the sink and from what Tina could tell, was preparing to deal with the drugs he referred to. Signaling to Mariel, Tina quietly unlatched the stall door and stepped outside, the scientist rising to her feet just as silently and holding back. The man was leaning over the counter near the sink, inhaling white powder in snortfuls. When he finished filling both sides of his nose, he closed his eyes and stood upright, drawing the drug further into his body with a rush of sensation.
When he opened his eyes, he looked into the mirror and saw Tina's tall form standing behind him before her arm snaked out as quick as a flash of lightening and brought the nightstick to his mouth, filling it with the black wood. Using her booted foot, she kicked out his knees behind him and he sank to the floor with a thud, wincing as his knees hit the hard cement surface. The detective's leathered arm reached around his neck and she squeezed, the pressure making him clamp down on the nightstick in his mouth. Leaning down, she smiled menacingly.
"I can cut off the flow of blood to your brain if I squeeze hard enough. You'd be dead in 30 seconds. Or you can talk."
He struggled just a bit, trying to comprehend what was going on and the fact that it was beginning to get hard to breathe. Mariel walked around in front of him and crouched down, her eyes finding his.
"Listen, it'll be easier if you just tell us a few things, ok?"
The man's eyes were wide with both fear and the drug as he shakily nodded his head. Tina kept her grip tight around his neck just so he knew she was there but loosened it enough so he could breathe as she pulled the nightstick from in front of his face. Putting her mouth near the back of his head and ear, she spoke in a clipped tone of voice.
"Who runs this place and where can I find him?"
Swallowing at the dryness in his mouth and the racing of his heart, the man cleared his throat, his eyes preferring to focus on the woman in front of him rather than the very big and menacing one behind him. With a halting voice, he answered.
"I don't know her name but she's upstairs."
Tina narrowed her eyes and her arm squeezed tighter, growling out her words to him.
"What's her name?"
The man's eyes were panicky as the air cut off from his lungs. Reaching out, he put his hands on the floor to steady himself as he coughed, his eyes looking pleadingly at Mariel.
"I don't know it, I swear to God. I've only come here a few times...I swear!"
Mariel looked at him and then let her eyes find Tina's. With a little cock of her head, she silently asked the detective to let up a bit on the guy. Clenching her teeth together, Tina reluctantly let the man take a breath of air. It would be so easy to just...the investigator's thoughts were interrupted by a gentle hand on her arm, Mariel's soft green eyes settling her down. Turning her attention back to the man, the scientist spoke quietly to him.
"Does she run an operation here that sells kids?"
The man's eyes were wide. That was one of the biggest vows of secrecy everyone associated with this club took. No one was allowed to enter unless they were sponsored by someone and whatever rumors they heard about what went on in or around the Cage was never to be repeated. He didn't know if it were true, but he had heard from his friend, Todd, that the blond woman who sat upstairs would kill anyone who spoke to outsiders. He thought it was an exaggeration until one of Todd's friend was found hacked to pieces under a Chicago expressway. With a shaking voice, his eyes darted from the young woman in front of him to the woman he could barely see in the mirror behind him.
"She'd kill me if I said anything. I don't know nothing about selling kids."
Tina's knee drove into his back, making him cough and pitch forward a bit. Yanking his head back, the detective let her voice lower to its most dangerous register.
"And I'll kill you if you don't tell me. You've got a choice here."
Mariel looked at both of them, knowing this was necessary to find out what was going on. Reaching out, she let her hand touch against the man's arm. Speaking softly, she let her eyes flick up to Tina before coming to rest back on his.
"She means it. Tell us what you know and you can leave out the back now and never come back."
The man swallowed, weighing his options in his head. He had no loyalty to that crazy bitch upstairs, seeing her handiwork across the backs of some of the men he had bedded. He wasn't really into the leather scene that much, but his ex-boyfriend brought him here and the coke was easy to score. Fuck if he was going to come back here. With a nod, he spoke haltingly.
"Look, all I know is that some of the guys sometimes bring kids in here for a price and she takes care of the rest. I stay clear of that stuff, I just come here for the drugs and the guys."
Mariel nodded, her eyes looking up to find Tina's. The detective was coiled, her body easily holding this man without effort. It was amazing how powerful Tina Amphipoli was. The scientist knew she was strong, but seeing her in action tonight and yesterday with those kids by her car really made that clear. She waited until the investigator made her decision about this guy. Leaning down, Tina spoke in his ear, her voice an edgy promise.
"Be smart and get out of here. You say anything to anyone on your way out, I'll make sure it's your last words on this earth, got it?"
The man looked at Mariel and let his head turn to catch Tina's eyes. They were the most intense blue he had ever seen and he could tell that behind them lay a thin wall of restraint that kept her from simply killing him outright. He wasn't stupid. He nodded his head and the detective brought him to his feet, twisting his arm around behind his back. The scientist walked over and unlocked the bathroom door, peeking her head out and making sure the coast was clear. With a hand signal, she waved Tina and the guy out, the detective shoving him back down the hallway and out the back door, locking it again behind him. What they didn't see was the fact that the man pissed his leather pants as he ran as fast and as far away from the Cage as he could.
Turning to Mariel, the detective put her nightstick back on her waist before running a hand through her dark hair. Her heart was still pounding at the adrenalin pumping through her body. She had always felt a rush when it came to the more physical aspects of her job. She had broken more bones than she could remember and had unfortunately nearly killed two or three uncooperative scumbags in the cases she had worked over the years. If she were honest, she'd have to admit fighting thrilled her and spoke to a part of her buried deep inside that was hard to control in the heat of things.
Mariel gently reached out, her arm circling around the tall detective's waist, her hand moving under the big leather jacket covering her partner's muscled form. With soothing strokes, the scientist let her hand move against Tina's t-shirted back, finding the tension underneath as she pressed and stroked. Leaning up, she spoke quietly to the detective.
"You're beautiful when you're angry, Tina."
Tina's startled eyes looked down at the scientist as Mariel squeezed lightly against the detective's muscular side. Raising a dark golden eyebrow, Mariel smiled up at Tina and patted against the warmth under her hand as she spoke.
"Now let's go kick this chick's ass and hightail it outta here."