Feature Writer: Connie K
Feature Title: A Bargain With The Devil
Story Codes: mc, fd, ff, mf, bd, cb
About the Author: Connie and I met on TUMBLR, https://theconniek.tumblr.com – but you can read her stories (there’s about 20 more great reads) on https://mcstories.com/Authors/connie-k.html
Synopsis: With nowhere else to turn, vigilante crime fighter Josie Cade must seek the help of an evil sorceress to solve the one case that has haunted her. Unfortunately, she is serving a life sentence locked away in a basement cell at Century Plains Penitentiary.
Author’s note: This is my third Josie Cade story, a trilogy of sorts for a character who has stirred me to write as no other. Starting with the two-part “It’s All In The Mynd,” then a trip to the Omegaverse and River City in “Bubble Gum Dreams and Pink Minds” and concluding here with this three-chapter story. One may notice the strains of “Silence of the Lambs” in this one, as well as other influences from the many brilliantly penned stories on the EMCSA. I would recommend reading “It’s All In The Mynd” first, however, to fully appreciate the finale. Also, I would like to thank Flibinite and J. Darksong for their advice, inspiration and support throughout this endeavor. Although Josie may return some day, I felt it was important to bring her full circle, to give her (and the reader) a sense of closure. And, more than that, closure for myself.
Capt. Deke Smithers gripped the wheel tightly.
“You don’t have to go through with this, Josie. There are other ways. Something is going to turn up. You just need to keep digging.”
“No,” she said sharply. “It’s been five years, almost six. I’ve run out of clues. It’s this or nothing.”
Smithers could see she was nervous, which he had only seen once before—the day she came into his office three years earlier to confess to him that she was the mysterious masked vigilante. The one who had cut a deep swath of vengeance through the heart of Century’s criminal underworld.
Now, she was just Josie, his friend, staring out the window of his car, dressed in her all-black lycra costume and mask.
He had to drive her. Her identity needed to be protected, and only someone with the authority of a police captain could get her access to where they were going.
“This isn’t some punk looking for a pardon. This is Zandilla. You know what she has the ability to do. But there is a lot about her we don’t know. This a dangerous step.”
Josie Cade sighed hard. She had read the files. She knew Zandilla and Smithers had met before, many years ago when he was a detective. Zandilla had gotten away then, but she had somehow been careless and was finally caught. Still, Josie had reached the point of desperation. This was her last chance to find the men responsible for that moment in time that changed her life.
They pulled into the parking lot in front of Century Plains Penitentiary. The maximum-security home of men and women Josie had helped put there.
“Last chance,” Smithers said.
Josie paused, for just a moment, then pulled the door handle.
* * *
Warden Devon Quick led them into his office trying to contain his annoyance. This was more than irregular. It was downright a mistake. But he had known Smithers a long time. The men had traded enough favors over the years to make this one—this very unusual and, in Quick’s mind, foolhardy favor—something he could not refuse his old friend.
“I trust you’re both aware of what we have here. It cost the taxpayers a pretty penny to rig up her cell. She hasn’t had any direct contact with anyone since she came here six month ago, with the exception of my former assistant.”
Quick leaned into his desk in front of Josie and Smithers. “They’re still trying to put the pieces of his mind back together at the state facility in Bruma. It only took five minutes for her to melt that poor bastards brain.”
Josie gripped the chair arms tightly, but kept her eyes and face emotionless.
“I’ll give you twenty minutes with her. That’s it. We’re not going to take any chances with someone like her.” Quick leaned even closer. “To be frank, I don’t think she is even of this world.”
Zandilla, The Sorceress.
Crimes of the mind are difficult to quantify. However, the law had managed to pin two-hundred-and-nine separate counts of theft, mental battery, extortion and various other criminal misdeeds on her that they were able to bring her to trial. It took the jury three full days to run through the verdicts. Zandilla wasn’t even allowed in the courtroom, having to listen to the proceedings from a jail cell—with a bag over her head and her hands tied.
No one ever discovered how she had been left at the front door of police headquarters, bound and unconscious. Gift-wrapped for arrest.
Warden Quick led Josie down the long basement hallway of the prison, flanked by four guards, toward as remote a cell as one could imagine. At the end of the hall were two more guards, oddly enough wearing sunglasses in the dim light and each holding two sets of what looked like large, ear-covering headphones.
Josie watched as the four guards put on the headsets and dark glasses.
“They’re specially designed to keep out any of her thought waves,” Quick told her.
“Can you hear me okay?” Quick asked the guards, speaking into a handheld mic.
They nodded their heads. Quick motioned to one of the guards and he began the lengthy process of unlocking the huge, metal door in front of them. Josie took a step forward it as it opened, but Quick held her back.
“Let my people go in first. Then you.”
The four guards entered another empty hallway and Josie felt a hand on her shoulder.
“One last thing …”
The guards had taken up positions at the end of the second hallway, fully armed. Josie turned to Quick.
“Whatever happens in there,” he said, “don’t make any sudden or aggressive moves.”
“I thought you said she can’t get out?”
“She can’t. But you’re going in there unprotected. If it looks like she’s gotten … inside your head, my men have orders to shoot you.”
“You sure you want to go through with this?”
She didn’t hesitate as she entered the interior hallway, which dead-ended, and walked cautiously. The four guards stood well apart from each other before a glassed-in room to the left.
As she approached, Josie could hear a faint whisper in her ear, “Don’t be shy, little girl. I can’t come out to play.”
* * *
Josie reached the glass-walled cell. It was brightly lit and about 20-feet square with a bed, a doorless, closet-sized bathroom, a small table with one chair and a bookshelf packed full. And a quadruple-locked, four-inch-thick plexiglass door.
Standing at the extreme back of the cell, facing away, was a very tall woman. She was wearing tan prison coveralls and her hair was matted and unbrushed with streaks of gray running through the dirty blonde. Her head moved slightly as if she had eyes in the back of it. Josie could almost feel those eyes upon her.
Then she slowly turned around … and in the blink of an eye she was transformed. Josie couldn’t contain a gasp.
It was her arch-nemesis, Mistress Mynd!
Josie spun her head toward one of the guards, who shook his head vigorously. The woman smiled devilishly as Josie turned back—she had changed again in an instant. Josie’s breath caught. It was Josie’s late mother, Julia. She was there!
“Hello, honey. And how is my dear Herbert?”
Josie could feel the anger building. She steeled herself and stepped closer to the glass wall of the cell.
“He’s fine. But you know that. Now, are we done playing games or should I just walk on out of here?”
The smile widened with satisfaction and the woman approached the glass, transforming again. This time, it was her—Zandilla.
She was wearing a whispy, light blue veil on her shoulders over a white robe, which did nothing to hide the body underneath—round and buxom and swarthy. Her thick hair was yellow, almost neon, against her skin with voluptuous red lips and coal-black eyes, the lids tinted silver. To Josie, she looked like the deranged madame of a brothel for carnival freaks.
“You must forgive me my little amusements, Josephine. You’re only the second visitor I’ve had since my arrival. The assistant warden came to check on me soon after I got here, but unfortunately he had to resign his position abruptly. Pity, we were getting along so well too.”
And she laughed, broadly and deeply, forcing Josie back a reactive step.
“Now my only company has been Bradley and Tom and Juan …” Her eyes grazed over the four guards, stopping at the last. “… and Dusty. Oh, how I would love to spend some quality time in his mind!”
The guard, Dusty, fidgeted slightly, but remained in place.
“You know,” she continued, “it wouldn’t take any effort at all to make you walk right over there and open this door for me. Although you won’t get three steps before these fine young men riddled you with bullets.”
“Why don’t you then?” Josie spat out.
“What would be the point? A momentary amusement? No. I like people. And I am thrilled to make your acquaintance, Josephine. A woman with a mind and a body like yours doesn’t cross my path very often. In fact, from what I already know, I don’t believe I’ve ever felt a mind quite like yours before.”
Zandilla stepped closer to the glass and, as if magnetized, Josie stepped closer too.
“Now, let’s have that talk. I must admit I am intrigued by your request.”
Josie fought down the urge to ask how she already knew. She knew how she knew.
“Desperation is not a characteristic that becomes you. But it’s understandable, of course. For someone who strives for order, a black-and-white world, personal untidiness must be very hard to deal with. Compulsively meticulous. But there is that one loose end. It’s tragic, really.”
“Somehow I don’t feel your sympathy, even if what you said were true.”
“Oh it is, my dear. It most certainly is. Even you know it is. Otherwise … I wouldn’t know it to be true.”
Josie tried to keep her thoughts as closed as she could. Focus. She had come this far and didn’t want this encounter to be reduced to self-examination and mind games. She needed answers.
“Since you know why I’m here, you also know there isn’t anything I can offer you in exchange for your help. You won’t be released. You won’t receive any consideration beyond what you’re getting right now. It’s a life sentence, Zandilla.”
“Whatever gave you the idea I would have even the slightest interest in helping you then, my dear? I know the answer, but I want to hear you say it.”
Josie set her jaw. “You’re the only person who can.”
Zandilla smiled again—the satisfied grin of someone who just said, “Checkmate.” She moved a few steps along the wall, pulling Josie with her. “Yes. Yes, I am.”
“Fifteen minutes,” came Quick’s voice over the loudspeaker. Josie looked at it sternly, then back to Zandilla, who was eyeing Josie even more carefully than before.
“Actually, Josephine,” she said, “there is something you can do for me. Two things, in fact. And both well within your power to provide. If you are willing.”
Josie had expected something like this. But what the sorceress had in mind she had no idea. Yet, this was her only chance.
“Shall we take this conversation to a more secluded and relaxed setting, my dear? Oh, never fear. Our bodies won’t be going anywhere.”
There was another laugh, but it crackled with conspiracy. Josie closed her eyes … and nodded.
* * *
When she opened her eyes, Josie found herself standing outside … at the end of a long reflecting pool, ringed by a beautiful assortment of flowers and plants. At the far end, some 30 feet away, was a large bed surrounded by the trappings of a posh hotel suite cut into the foliage.
They were three, distinct images from her memory. The Botanical Gardens of Dominion Park, the reflecting pool at the center of the cemetery where her mother was buried and the lavish room at the Cambridge Hotel where Josie and Jerry had spend a glorious weekend only three weeks before.
And standing before it all was Zandilla, completely naked.
“Come closer, Josephine. Or would you prefer Josie? Or Jo?”
Josie stiffened. “We don’t have time for this, Zandilla.”
“Yes, we do. Time stands still here, Josie. My patience, however, is not boundless.”
Josie strode around the pool and headed toward Zandilla.
“Alright, what are your terms?”
“Terms,” Zandilla huffed. “I prefer to think of them as opportunities. For both of us. One is rather pleasant, the other is rather unpleasant. But you will need to do both if you want what I can give you.”
As Josie reached the other end of the pool, Zandilla moved back and gracefully flowed onto the bed. Her features had softened. Gone was the silver eye shadow, the painted lips, the bright hair. Her body was more defined with gentle, inviting curves and her hair was now sunflower blonde. Her face radiated warmth. Josie was unavoidably stirred by the vision.
“Come here, Josie. I want you to have a taste of what I am offering.” Josie hesitated. “Don’t be shy, Josie. This is the pleasant part.”
“If all you wanted to do was fuck me, you could have just said so. You already know what my answer would be,” Josie said bitterly.
Zandilla spread her arms on the bed. “It’s not that simple or that crude, little girl. You’re here because you know what I am capable of. What you don’t know is that I am capable of anything.”
Josie considered, then relented. She sat on the edge of the bed uncomfortably, forcing Zandilla forward, her body close to Josie.
“Just one kiss, my dear.”
Despite her instincts, or maybe because Zandilla’s appearance had now morphed into someone compellingly attractive, Josie leaned into her … and they kissed.
She closed her eyes as their lips met, feeling the gradual embrace around her shoulders and back. The lips were soft, warm, and Josie found herself pressing harder into them. She caught a familiar scent in her nose, and it made her swoon. She reached with her own arms and found them naked, the cool breeze on her body unclothed.
Her mouth opened and felt a tongue running along the inside of her lips and teeth. And a taste, so familiar yet so distant, that it forced her eyes open. Josie moaned a gasp at the sight she beheld, the face she knew and loved and treasured.
The startling realization froze her but for a moment, before she kissed harder and deeper, breathing in her skin, tasting her lips, feeling her smooth, young body alive in her arms.
Audrey slowly broke the kiss and looked at Josie with a mix of longing and love.
“Josie?” she said. “You will do something for me now. Won’t you?”
“Audrey …” Josie could feel her eyes filling. “This … this isn’t real.”
“Who is to say what is real or not, baby,” she replied. “I’m here now. I can be here a thousand days from now. We can hold this moment and never let go. Ever. But you have to agree to do what you are being asked to do.”
A sudden, sickening reality hit Josie.
Josie stood up, wiping the wetness from her face, blinking out the stilled tears. And as her eyes cleared, there sitting before her was Zandilla, dressed in her white robe.
“No! Damn you!”
Josie backed away, expecting to see Zandilla smiling with glee. But she wasn’t. She was calm, even sympathetic.
“My … you are a remarkable one,” Zandilla said. “I don’t offer what I’ve offered you lightly. But it is for me, as well as for yourself, Josie. The next kiss will be from my lips. Not hers. And you will take it. And everything else that is mine. And I will take what I want from you.”
“Don’t say it, Josie. Don’t say it. You know what I can give you. But nothing comes without a price. You want me to help you find the men responsible for your suffering. I can do that for you. But I will have you. And then, you will do something else for me.”
Zandilla rose from the bed and stood close to Josie, her eyes narrowing.
“If you do all that I ask, then I will help you find your lover’s killers. And I will give you this moment with her again. For as long as you want. An eternity, if you so desire. But I will get what I want in the end.”
* * *
Josie sighed deeply.She couldn’t separate her thoughts from her emotions. It was overwhelming, what she was experiencing, what she was offered. She knew that she had crossed over into a territory that was beyond her scope of rationalizing.
No matter how many ways she had tried to anticipate what might have occurred in this meeting with this diabolical and dangerous sorceress, the unreal reality she was existing in snuffed out her clarity as to what she was willing to do before she came to the prison. She had held Audrey in her arms. And she was now willing to sell her soul to the devil to do it again.
“What do you want?”
Zandilla’s crooked smile almost made Josie regret the question. Almost.
“I want you to perform a task for me, little one. In a strange way, I want you to do for me, what you have asked me to do for you. I want you to find the person responsible for putting me here. My betrayer. My former lover. The witch who lives free outside, while I’m trapped in this glass menagerie. Do this, and I will give you what you want in return.
“I want you to kill Amaria DeStehl.”
Josie was stunned. She knew the name. Everyone in law enforcement did. She was called a Mind Witch, and had left dead bodies and shattered souls in her wake from one end of the country to the other for years. Josie had even heard rumors that Omega Girl herself had tried to track her down, without success.
If Zandilla was the criminal equivalent to Darth Vader, then Amaria DeStehl was the Emperor.
Josie instinctively shook her head. She would never do it, even if she were able enough. No matter what the reward. She wasn’t a killer.
“I won’t do that, Zandilla. And you know I wouldn’t be able to do it, even if I said yes. Even if I could. Sometimes, the price of getting something priceless in return isn’t worth the cost.”
“Very well,” Zandilla said evenly. “I wanted you to hear you say it and mean it. But you will find her. And catch her. And see to it that she is locked away. But I warn you, she will not be easily found. She will not be easily caught. And if she chooses to die rather than being caged, then you must abide by those wishes. It may not be your wish to do so, but you will abide by them.
“Do we have a deal?”
* * *
Smithers was leaning on the hood of his car as Josie approached. His eyes squinted through his glasses, trying to get a read on the face before him—tired, damp-eyed and unfocused.
They drove in silence on the thirty minute trip back, only twice interrupted by Smithers saying, “I knew this was a bad idea” and “I never should have let you do it.”
Josie just stared out the window. Unable to block the memory of what had just happened.
Zandilla had returned to the bed and spread out on it.
“So, little one? That’s the second thing I want you to do for me. I can feel in your mind that you already know what the first one is.”
Catching Amaria DeStehl was an impossible task, Josie knew, but she was a crimefighter and DeStehl was one of the most dangerous criminals in the country.
Right now, however, Josie was willing to give the sorceress what she wanted, what she needed, at that moment—her body.
“Don’t be deceived, little one,” she said. “This is, was, my true appearance before I was … locked up. I’m not particularly motivated to keep up appearances alone in my cell. And as for your first impression of me, well, I do like to have my fun. That form was of a prostitute you yourself encountered when you were 16. You had forgotten. But I fished her out of your mind. I thought the silver eyelids were a distinctive touch.
“Now … come to me.”
Josie knew deep inside that she was venturing somewhere so unlike her—so wrong—that she should stop. But Zandilla’s face was open, honest. She was a woman in need. Josie crawled on top of Zandilla and offered herself.
Their bodies blended together as if familiar, yet so strange. Josie felt fingers run through her hair as she slammed her mouth against the open invitation of the sorceress. She was enveloped by the olive skin, almost melting into it, as they ground into each other. Their lips and tongues embracing in wild abandon.
Zandilla was touching Josie in ways she had never felt before, and the young crime fighter felt her body and mind reacting to the caresses, growing more and more hungry for the sins of the flesh offered before her.
Josie was aroused beyond her conscious mind to process. She could feel her essence flowing from between her legs willingly. This wonderfully horrible creature of a woman tapping into Josie’s lust.
Josie wanted her.
She was eased back onto the bed and spread her legs. Lost in the heat of lust. Zandilla became even more unbearably desirous—her eyes haunting, her lips so red and full, her hair rich and tantalizing. Her breasts pressed against Josie’s and their nipples danced a dance of want and passion that struck Josie dumb from her head to her toes.
Josie’s ever-ready thinking was dulled. No thoughts beyond satisfying the fire that burned in her loins. And also satisfying HER need. Zandilla’s need. Josie was reduced to the submissive rubble of a fuck toy.
Zandilla kissed her way down Josie’s belly and threw her leg over Josie’s head. Josie’s arms wrapped around the hips of the mind-controlling demoness and pulled her to her lips, lapping eagerly at her folds, her nectar. The sorceress took Josie into her mouth in kind. And bit and licked and pulled at Josie’s clit, making Josie lurch upward.
“Not yet, little one. This isn’t for you. This is for me.” Zandilla grunted, slamming her ass downward and forcing Josie’s nose between her wet, open cheeks. And she ate. Josie’s one, single, solitary thought was this: Cum.
The sorceress orgasmed in thick, sex-fueled streams. Josie gobbled and drank and swallowed … and sucked harder, only too aware in her cloud of passion that Zandilla had taken her clit into her mouth and pulled with her lips.
Josie’s eyes rolled back into her head. She had completely shut down from any feelings other than carnal abasement. She worshiped the pussy on her lips, the wet heat that flowed from it. Zandilla continued to pull, harder and harder, tighter and tighter, until Josie had the sensation of her clit being stretched. Longer and longer. And longer.
So long, that it began to fill Zandilla’s mouth.
Zandilla pulled off her and lunged into the pillows at the head of the bed. Josie looked down between her own legs and saw a large, bulbous monstrosity of a clit. Eight inches long and dripping of saliva and cum.
“Fuck me, Josie!”
Josie lurched forward, kneeling, and slid into the sorceress.
In and out furiously, Josie rode into Zandilla. Driven by the insanity of lust. The insanity of submission.
Josie was out of her mind.
She drove into her … on and on and on … the moans and grunts and cries of unbridled sex. Zandilla came once, twice and then again, while Josie was locked in the unceasing and unbearable pleasure of a near-orgasm.
“Cum now, Josie!”
And Josie did, matching Zandilla’s fresh orgasmic pulses in fluid, sticky jets. Josie’s shattering climax went on, perhaps moments, perhaps hours. Josie was lost on a tidal wave of ecstasy. She slammed her eyes shut from the overload.
Josie felt herself falling, as if from 10,000 feet, down and down … then landing so abruptly that her eyes popped open.
Josie was staring at Zandilla, whose eyes opened slowly. Her face the picture of utter satisfaction.
Josie caught herself swaying and reached out, her hand pressing against the glass wall of the cell. The guards snapped to readiness.
“Ten minutes,” Quick’s voice called.
Zandilla flashed a toothy, post-orgasmic smile.
“I think we have a deal.”
* * *
Smithers pulled his car in front of Josie’s apartment building. He looked at her like a parent would a child given tough love. Yet he knew she had to make the next move.Josie’s eyes were fixed forward, but Smithers could see she was looking deeply on the inside, not outside.
“I’m going back there tomorrow.”
As she started to get out, he grabbed her arm.
“Josie. I may be a police captain, but I’m also your friend. You’ve got to tell me what’s going on. What did you find out? I need to know. Whatever it is. You can’t do this alone.”
“I’ve always been alone.”
She got out of the car and slammed the door. Smithers didn’t move, remaining slightly hunched over as he watched her walk to her front door. Hoping beyond hope that she would turn.
He stayed motionless … until she closed the door behind her.
Jerry Herman was reading a fitness magazine on the couch when Josie came home. He could tell something was wrong. She avoided looking at him as she crossed the room.“Hey, Jo. You’re late. I thought we were gonna head on over and check out the new gym equipment. Remember?”
Josie Cade barely reacted, then turned to him slowly.
“Jerry,” she said softly, “I think it may be a good idea if we didn’t see each other for awhile.”
Jerry looked confused as he stood up. He was confused. “Awhile? How long is that? You’re still coming to the gym, right?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know how long this is going to take.”
“This? What this?” His hands went out to her. “Jo?”
Josie’s expression was blank, distant. “I just think you need to go. Okay?”
She could barely believe the words she was saying. Maybe she thought she was trying to spare Jerry the pain of loss if something happened to her. All she knew was that she needed to be on her own in this. Not daring herself to think about whether he would be there in the end.
Jerry was motionless for a long moment, then dropped the magazine on the coffee table and headed to the bedroom, muttering over his shoulder, “Fine.”
Josie hadn’t moved an inch five minutes later when Jerry returned, his gym bag stuffed full. He grabbed the magazine dramatically and placed it back in the rack, hoping his fastidious girlfriend would notice.
“I didn’t get everything. I can pick it up, you know, later.”
Josie’s eyes were focused on nothing. Jerry headed to the door.
He turned, and for an instant he didn’t see the tough, kickass girlfriend. He saw a lost little girl.
She shook her head and looked down. When her eyes returned to his she was distant again.
“Take care of yourself.”
Jerry grimaced. “Always do.”
He walked out quickly. The sudden numbness of loss only made her feel worse.
* * *
Capt. Deke Smithers couldn’t remember the last time he was this angry.Could have been last month when he found out his daughter owed $2,122 on her credit card. Could have been last week when his son put a nice new nick on the fender of his Chevy. Could have been yesterday when his wife told him that he better take a vacation soon … or she would.
But right now he was fuming.
Josie hadn’t said much more than hello since he picked her up. If he didn’t owe her a hundred times over for all she had done to bring safety to his city he would never have agreed to this. But she wanted to go back to Century Plains Penitentiary to see Zandilla again. He reluctantly agreed.
Now, he was having second thoughts, and Josie wasn’t helping ease his concerns. He yanked the wheel, pulled the car over to the side of the road and got out. He paced in front of it with his hands on his hips, his jacket flapping in the stiff breeze. Josie couldn’t see his eyes behind his sunglasses but she knew how they looked.
She had to tell him.
Slowly she got out of the car and walked up to him, fighting the impulse to look down.
“Zandilla agreed to help me,” she said. “I’m going to let her into my mind, take me back to the memory of that day at the bank. Every detail. Some clue I missed. Something I’ve forgotten. But mostly … she’s going to help me remember their faces. They weren’t wearing masks. But it was so long ago and I was so … so scared. I can’t remember exactly what they looked like anymore. And I need to. I need to remember.
“I need to find them.”
Smithers sighed heavily.
“I already know that, Josie. I let you meet with her because she has that ability. It’s what turned her into a criminal. And now a prisoner. What I need to know is what she is asking in return. From you.”
“I’ll tell you. When it’s all over.”
“If you even can!” he barked.
He spun away from her and paced some more. Then he stopped, looking up at the sky. Thinking of what to say.
“Josie, I’m going to tell you something I’ve never told anyone.” He looked at her with a hard seriousness that made Josie’s back stiffen. “You saw the case files on Zandilla. I tangled with her twenty years ago. I know what she is capable of. What you don’t know, what’s not in that file, is what happened to me.”
The pain on Smithers’ face widened Josie’s eyes.
“She raped my mind.”
* * *
Officer Pete Coolbraugh had just finished calling in his update to the dispatcher when he felt dizzy. He and his partner had reached the house in question, a possible break-in. Marv had knocked and entered the house alone, while Pete had checked the perimeter. It was 2 a.m. and all was quiet.He tried to get up to join his partner when he felt … weird. Like he was drunk. He tried to get out of the car again but lolled back, his head against the seat, fighting the onset of a case of the spins. Then he felt the touch of a woman’s cool hand on his forehead, down his cheek.
He had a memory. The wild drinking binge with his buddies the day he joined the police force. That crazy night at Dewey’s bar. Then flopping into his bed wasted. And the deep sleep that followed. Twelve hours.
Coolbraugh passed out.
Det. Deke Smithers had heard the call on his way home after another long day and pulled up behind the black-and-white, its “cherry top” flashing. He got out and, after a quick scan around the yard, approached the car. He leaned down to look at the young officer in the passenger’s seat. He checked for a pulse. The officer was dead to the world—even a firm shake didn’t budge him. Smithers drew his weapon and headed toward the house.
The house was dark, the door unlocked, but the moonlight illuminated it enough to be able to look around as he walked in. It was dead quiet, soundless. Then he heard a moan.
He entered what appeared to be a den decorated in fishing trophies and prints on the walls. He flicked the wall switch. On the couch a second officer was sitting wide-eyed. His body was shuddering, then he relaxed. His eyes slowly closed before popping wide open again and he moaned. He shuddered.
Smithers stood above him, his hand reaching out. The officer relaxed again, his eyes lidding. Then the sudden jolt of his eyes widening again, the moan and the spastic movements.
Officer Marvin Dunsen didn’t see Smithers there. He was a million miles away.
Smithers put his hand on the young officer’s shoulder when he heard a voice.
“Don’t worry,” the female voice said. “He’s doing fine. In fact, he’s having the best moment of his life.”
Smithers spun around quickly. Before him stood a beautiful woman—tall, perhaps six-foot-two, with luscious blonde hair, golden skin and full lips. Lips curled into a playful grin.
Smithers straightened, he kept his weapon at his hip.
“What’s the matter with him? What do you think you’re doing?”
The woman almost flowed across the room, her eyes never leaving Smithers.
“He’s reliving the best orgasm of his life. On a loop. Over and over. See how happy he is?”
Smithers impulsively turned toward Dunsen but quickly looked back at the woman. He fingered the trigger on his weapon. “Put down the goodies.”
In her hand was a bag filled with jewelry and other valuables found in the house. She looked at it and back to Smithers, amused.
“We finally get to meet face to face, Det. Smithers. Congratulations on the new arrival by the way.”
“The baby? And a boy too. So nice for you. One of each. Your wife is going to be springing that little tidbit on you tomorrow night at Luigi’s, but I just couldn’t contain myself. And you thought she was just gaining a little weight. Really, you men do need to be more observant.”
“How the hell would you know that?”
“Oh, I wanted to know who it was who has been dogging me for the past eight months. The intrepid detective. So I paid a visit to your lovely home while you were both asleep. Oh, the dreams she dreams! You really should spend more time at home and not at work. Your cute, young wife is getting a little … annoyed.”
Smithers raised his weapon. “Drop the bundle, hands behind your head.”
The woman smiled. “Coming from you that would be a pleasure. A pity you’re not into kink. But that’s not exactly what I had in mind.”
Smithers suddenly found himself lying down. He was on the bed in his old grad student dorm room. The face of the cute sophomore above him. The one who had shyly invited him to the sorority party that night.
She took his flaccid penis in her hand and frowned. She started stroking him slowly, squeezing tightly, until he began to grow. She took him into her mouth. Smithers groaned and fell back on the pillow—the hands so familiar, yet so new. He was fully engorged when she climbed on top of him, looking down.
“Oh, Derrick, I want you to be the first.”
Smithers groaned again, barely able to mumble out, “Deke. Call me Deke.”
She brushed him against her wetness and sat down slowly, sinking as his body rose up. He was caught in this moment in time when all he wanted, all he ever wanted, was this beautiful girl. Right there.
She rode him, his hands grabbing her thighs as she bounced, her breasts heaving and falling, the look on her face one of pure joy. They were linked in this moment, the moment that would outlast all the others, and their bodies and minds held the other so tightly that they might burst from the pleasure.
They came together.
He was suddenly aware that his hands were gripped so tightly on her thighs that he felt the pain shoot up his arms and worried he might be hurting her. He looked up.
Straddling him was the woman, an evil leer on her face. Smithers pulled at her waist and threw her to the floor.
He jumped up.
He was in the dark. In the den. The young officer on the couch beside him groaning, awakening slowly.
And the woman … gone.
* * *
Warden Quick was only slightly more aggravated to see Josie and Smithers in his office again. But things had gone smoothly the day before and all it took was to see Smithers’ firm nod against his protest to relent.The same four guards surrounded Josie’s body—they were already on high alert in front of the prisoner’s glass cell. Josie’s mind, however, was somewhere else.
Zandilla was sipping iced tea in an outdoor restaurant on a perfectly beautiful spring day. It was a day Josie remembered well. The day she told her mother that she was in love.
Josie looked down and smiled seeing herself in the same patterned sundress she had worn that day. She was bursting with energy, never once concerned that her mother would be appalled at the notion that her only daughter was in love with another girl. She hadn’t been.
Josie looked up at Zandilla almost sheepishly.
“Well,” she said, “you certainly can pick ’em.”
Zandilla smiled back. “I wanted you to feel comfortable, Josie. What we are going to do—what you are going to do—will not be pleasant.”
She took another sip, and Josie couldn’t resist the temptation of popping one of the strawberries in the bowl in front of her into her mouth. It tasted delicious.
“By now, you know that I can read people’s minds, their thoughts and emotions. I can steal their memories and take them back there. Like that hotel suite.” She smiled devilishly. “Wonderful bed, by the way.”
Josie almost shrugged in embarrassment.
“I can manipulate what they see, to a degree,” Zandilla continued, casually waving her hand across the patio as proof, “but I can’t change what has been nor can I alter their perceptions of those memories. I can’t take us both to the moon to make love in a crater full of pillows. But Amaria can. She can make you die of suffocation up there—beg for it—and leave your body here just as dead.”
Josie nodded. The memory of being a mindless fuck toy for Zandilla again quickly smothered by the danger she knew awaited her.
“Amaria and I used to be very close. Eventually, she tried to control me but my mind was too strong. So we became allies, then lovers. I thought I could change her, steer her away from the blackness that covered her heart. By then I had tired of manipulating others for my own gain. Perhaps if I hadn’t done all the things I had done I could have convinced her to change her ways. But I was wrong. And in the end she turned on me.
“Amaria has a strong mind. But there is something else, something she never allowed even me to see. Without it, she and I are of a kind. But with it, she can wield terrible power. There is no one to stop her now.”
“So why did you do what you did to the assistant warden? If you can’t—”
“He was a pig. He’s cheated on his wife 17 times in the seven years they’ve been together. He’s selfish, often cruel. He only married her for her money. So I culled every terrible event in his life and slammed them together at once … then twirled my finger around in his brain just enough. He’ll recover, eventually. Maybe he will be a changed man. Maybe not. I’d like to think that his experience with me will make him view the world differently.”
“Capt. Smithers? I can read that you two are very close.” Zandilla sighed. “I was young then. And I could have done a lot worse. It’s a shame he never took my advice.”
She was powerful. No thought was safe. How was she ever going to be able to take on Amaria DeStehl?
Zandilla leaned closer to Josie. “I’m not telling you this for sympathy or understanding, Josephine. I deserve to be in a glass cage. I’ve done many terrible things and probably would have done many, many more. But Amaria is a cancer. An unchained evil that needs to be stopped. And, if that’s done, if you agree and are able to stop her, I will be at ease.”
Josie tried to take it all in. How much was truth and how much was lies? This was a heavy price. Yet she had always trusted her instincts. And her instinct now was to trust Zandilla … with her life.
“I don’t think I can stop her, Zandilla. I’m a regular girl. Maybe a little smarter, a little stronger, a little less fearful than most. But I’m not—”
“A superheroine? Oh, my dear, but you are! Being able to fly or bend steel or turn a pop-gun into a cannon doesn’t make one a superheroine. Besides …”
Zandilla reached across the table and placed her hand on Josie’s forehead, closing her eyes. “I will be there with you.”
* * *
Josie packed hurriedly, stopping only to look at the still-made right side of her bed as she tucked in the corners of the left. She ate a full meal, not knowing when she would eat again. It was going to be a long drive.The middle of nowhere was literally in the middle of nowhere in the high desert. But she knew where she was going. She turned off onto an unmarked dusty trail of a road. The ruts were so deep and dried that it was evident that nothing had disturbed them since the winter rains.
The long, winding dirt road led Josie to the top of a hill, surrounded by brush and gnarled trees and molehills. The carrion for the birds of prey which circled above frying in the sun.
It was hell on earth. One of the few places, Josie thought, that not a single soul would ever find.
The trail had turned to rocks, so Josie stopped the car and walked up the rest of the way. Just beyond the apex of the hill was a deep recess, as if it had been carved out of the hill many years before. At its center was a large cement block, like a gray monolith, perhaps fifteen feet high and ten feet square.
Josie couldn’t tell how long it may have been there as she walked around it. The walls were smooth, but the edges were chipped from age and desert winds and rain. On the far side was a door. Unmarked. There was no handle, no lock, no way to get in. Josie walked around the block again, noting that the only footprints noticeable around it were her own.
She pushed on the door, tried to pry it open with her fingers, then took out the Swiss army knife from her belt and dug it into the crack. At that very moment, the door opened, sliding into the wall.
She took the small flashlight from her belt—a gift from her friend, Techna, the superheroine gadgeteer—and shined it inside. Although no bigger than a cigarette lighter, it gave off a powerful beam of light. Josie expected to find an elevator, but instead saw a winding staircase.
Before entering, she undid her belt and dropped it to the ground. She emptied all the compartments sewn inside her costume pants. Everything. The knife, rope, pepper spray, the flashlight … and even Jerry’s Techno-enhanced laser.
As she descended the stairs she only had a moment’s thought as to why she would disarm herself. But that thought gradually passed with each step down she took.
At the bottom of the stairs was a large, empty room. It was dimly lit, but Josie couldn’t see the source except for the soft glow above her from the doorway 20 feet overhead. No doors. No dust. Nothing.
* * *
Josie spun around, but there was nothing. She couldn’t be sure if the voice was real or in her head.“Well, well,” the voice said, “Josie Cade. Of all the people in all the world who could have found me. I must admit, I wasn’t expecting you.”
Josie called out, “So you know me then?”
“The masked vigilante? Yes. The one who beats up shoplifters and breaks up bar brawls? Patting yourself on the back when you managed to subdue some penny-ante drug pusher? You must think you are something special.”
“Special enough to find your ass,” Josie spat out as her eyes cased the empty room. “With your reputation, I would have thought you’d be expecting me. You don’t know shit.”
“Ahhhh.” There was the slightest hint of a laugh. “You couldn’t be more wrong, Cade.
“I know everything.”
Josie felt a vice-like grip around her head. She tumbled to the floor, rolling back and forth to loosen it. She managed to get herself upright, sitting back on her heels. Kneeling.
The pain was gone.
“What an intriguing mind you have, Cade. So brave … and so afraid. So determined, yet unsure. So strong. And so very weak.”
The figure that stood before her was young, no more than 18, and she wore a simple black slip, unadorned. Her features were sharp, angular, with short black hair and dark eyes. She was beautiful, yet fearsome—there was no warmth in her. She was pure ice.
Amaria DeStehl looked Josie over like a wolf stalking a rabbit as she circled slowly.
“Now that you are here, what do you propose to do?”
“If can you read my mind, you should already know.”
“I don’t need to read your mind. I’d much prefer you try to read mine.”
Josie only twisted slightly as Amaria walked around and around her.
“That’s not very hard. You know what I can read? I can read a woman hidden away in this bunker. Apart from the world. Hiding. You can’t even enjoy the spoils of what you’ve stolen. All the people who have ever gotten in your way are gone, and so are all the people you could have shared your life with. No companionship. Nothing. By the way, do you get cable here?”
Amaria laughed, but Josie could tell it was false.
“Do go on.”
Josie forced herself up to face the witch. “It’s like the story of the man who wished he could have anything. Once his wish was granted, he realized it was all worthless. If you can have everything, then nothing has any value. A diamond is as precious as a rock. A victory the same as a defeat. And love, Amaria, becomes the same as hate.”
Amaria stopped in front of Josie, her eyes chilling. “It wouldn’t take more than a wave of my hand to turn your mind to dust, Cade.”
Josie stepped even closer.
“I know that. But you won’t. You could kill me. Right now. Like all the others. You don’t know me. You could destroy me and not give me another thought.” Josie locked her eyes on Amaria. “Another thought. That’s the one thing you don’t have, Amaria. Outside this tomb every cop, every judge, every ‘Super’ is waiting for you. You can’t walk outside among the living. Not anymore.
“You’ve lived off the thoughts of others. And now you have no one to listen to but yourself. My thoughts are the only other ones you’ve touched in a long time. I don’t think you want to lose that.”
The Mind Witch spun on her heels and walked back a few paces, then turned slowly.
“Very good. Very, very good. You did well. You used the only weapon at your disposal. You tried to appeal to my humanity. Unfortunately, for you, I left humanity far behind long ago. You tried to make me feel how you would feel.”
She smiled wryly.
“Now, shall you put handcuffs on me and lead me away?”
Suddenly, Josie felt her wrists and ankles bound tightly.
“Have me locked up, the key thrown away?”
In a blink, Josie found herself in a feudal dungeon. Primitive. Her hands now cuffed above her head as she hung from a beam or hook, legs dangling. The cuffs bit into her wrists sharply.
Amaria approached her.
“Strip me of all that I have?”
Josie was instantly stripped bare.
Amaria looked deeply at Josie’s face, at her mind.
“Oh, Josie,” she said. “Thank you for saving my life! Twice!”
It was the face of Kate Trainor.
Josie struggled a smile. “If you change into my mother I might even applaud,” she said, straining slightly to look up at her bound hands. “If I could.”
Amaria nodded with a hint of respect. She reached down and cupped Josie between her legs, forcing a finger roughly between her labia. Josie gritted her teeth as the witch’s teeth gleamed.
“I would have been disappointed if you didn’t come mentally prepared. But there are other memories. A lifetime’s worth. I could pick out the very best. Have them run over and over again in your mind. Every tear, every pain, every sorrow. Replaying them on end. Keep you here for the rest of your life. Until you … just … die.”
Josie was focused. She couldn’t allow herself a moment’s weakness. This was a war of minds against an adversary who held Josie’s in her hand. Held Josie’s sex in her hand. But she could not yield.
“You could do that,” Josie said firmly. “But I lived them. I experienced them. I felt that pain once. I’ve made mistakes. I have regrets. I’ve had losses. But I lived through them, Amaria. There’s nothing you can use against me that I haven’t already faced. This room, this dungeon, even that false face you’re wearing now. It’s all an illusion. You don’t want me to see the old hag you’ve truly become.
“Your power isn’t yours. It comes from the minds of the people you’ve hurt. Well, this is one mind you can’t shatter. I’ve been trying to shatter it myself my whole life.”
The cruel finger inside her turned soft. The breasts that now pressed against her were warm. The face she saw … beckoning. Josie tried to shut her eyes and found they could not close. She was touched gently, carefully, at her hip, her neck, her thigh. Josie couldn’t prevent the sigh that passed over her lips as she began to swim in a multitude of sensations. Every one striking a chord of desire.
Of all the pleasures she had ever felt, none compared to the ones she began to experience. Every inch of her body was stimulated. She felt her mind, her consciousness, melting from the sensual touches—there and there and there.
A freight train of an orgasm was steaming toward her, its smokestack churning out thick black clouds of lust in her mind. Closer and closer. The sensations multiplying, her need unbearable.
But just as it was about to reach its peak and send Josie headlong into bliss … it receded. It had moved far in the distance, miles away down the track, so far that it looked like the snuffed out tip of an extinguished matchstick.
Then it roared forward again, chugging and surging. Josie could feel her wetness dripping down her legs, the fire once again spreading from between them down to her toes and up to her aching nipples. But, again, it receded. Josie let out a panicked moan. Again and again. Five times. Twenty times. Each time charging faster toward her then yanked away just as quickly.
Josie was being denied.
She could hear laughing, but Amaria wasn’t even touching her now, although the stimulation to her ears and neck and belly and thighs grew even more sensual, more maddeningly erotic. Amaria had stepped back and through glassy lust-filled eyes Josie could see the witch fondling herself with sinister amusement.
Again and again and again. Closer, faster, harder—the climax so near she could almost taste it on her lips, wet with drool. Then pulled away so suddenly that Josie’s body shook as it tried to chase after it again.
Josie’s mind began to shut down. Her body twitched, by now anticipating the near-miss of the orgasm before it had even died down.
“Say it.” Amaria said coldly. “Say it.”
Josie answered before her mouth even opened.
Amaria purred again.
Josie’s body stiffened at the sudden loss of the barrage of sensations that had pummeled her body and her mind. There was nothing. She hadn’t cum. Josie shook herself fully awake. Amaria stepped close.
“You go straight to hell!”
Josie felt the sting of the slap across her face and it startled her. Another and another and another.
“I don’t need to shatter your mind,” Amaria hissed. “I only need to tear it a little. Bit by bit.
“But there is that one memory. Yes, one in particular. The one upon which all others rest,” the witch said, an evil smile on her lips.
“The day you killed Audrey.”
Josie Cade’s mind was exhausted.
Her arms and legs were stretched wide apart as she hung in the air. She was pulled open, naked, but there were no bindings. She merely dangled helplessly on display before the Mind Witch.
Amaria DeStehl had transformed into another figure, the same woman now about 30, although she was dressed in tight, black, seamless latex from her neck to her ankles. Josie floated above her just high enough that as Josie looked down she could not see her feet. But she could hear the sound of Amaria’s heels as they clicked on the stone floor of the dungeon she had created in Josie’s mind.
The witch had been trying to break Josie by taking her somewhere she had never been before—deep into her subconscious … where her nightmares lived.
Josie knew she wasn’t on fire, wasn’t drowning, wasn’t being attacked by wild dogs. There were no such things as monsters. But the lines blurred as Josie suffered through those realities. The nightmares of her childhood were real. Here. In front of her. She could feel the fright, the agony. Still, she fought them, fought against what she knew was an illusion. A physical impossibility.
All the while Amaria was rolling her nipples, pressing on her clit just hard enough to elicit a sexual response during the endless terrors of Josie’s imagination in an effort to link the two together in a perverse duet. Suffering augmented by horniness. Yet Josie held back, no matter how hard it was not to give in and succumb to the aching pleasures Amaria offered with her fingers. To cum despite the pain. Josie was determined not to be the source of satisfaction for this witch.
Finally, Amaria stepped back unable to prevent showing her frustration. Then she smiled wickedly.
“You were right, you know,” Amaria said, gently running her hand along Josie’s neckline. “I’m not going to kill you. I do want you here to entertain me.
“It would be a waste to throw away the opportunity of exploring such an intriguing mind. Especially since I haven’t been able to pluck from it how you were able to find me here. It’s as if you don’t even know yourself.”
She stepped in front of Josie and dug her nails into Josie’s stomach and scratched deeply. Josie winced in pain but remained tight-lipped.
“You didn’t dream it. Perhaps you had a vision? Something buried even deeper in your subconscious? In any event, I will take my time to find it, scattering pieces of your soul around the room as I go. But I will find the answer.”
“So,” Josie croaked out weakly, “you don’t really know everything. Do you?”
She could see the anger in the Mind Witch’s eyes … and Josie fell, as if a lever had been pulled dropping the floor beneath her feet.
Josie’s consciousness tumbled—down down down—and stopped abruptly at a memory. A setting that was painfully familiar.
The inside of Community Bank of Century.
Josie looked at Amaria, whose eyes almost flickered with anticipation. Josie stood next to the Mind Witch and looked at the images around her so sharply drawn that it made her heart pound.
“Last payment!” Audrey said with a broad smile. “Then finally that old heap outside will be all mine. I never thought this day would come.”
Nineteen-year-old Josie smiled. “I was kinda hoping you’d get rid of that thing. It’s like a deathtrap.”
They laughed, Audrey running her hand down Josie’s arm as they headed toward the teller.
Suddenly, four men rushed into the bank, carrying semi-automatic weapons.
“Everyone get down!” one of the men yelled. “This is a robbery! Everyone down! Down on the floor. No screwing around!”
Josie could see it all, the horrible memory played out before her. It was if it were a play and she had a front-row seat. She quickly realized her opportunity and began to fixate on everything before her. And her anger grew.
Her eyes locked on each of the four men—their images burning into her. The long-haired one, the bearded one, the redheaded one, the heavyset one. She studied each face carefully, memorizing them through the raging hatred that made her heart race and hands shake.
Ages, body types, ethnicity, eyes, teeth, ears, hair, weight, height, speech patterns, body language.
Faces she knew she would never forget again. Amaria eyed Josie carefully.
Josie then watched in fascination as her younger self and Audrey looked at each other wide-eyed and slowly slide to the floor.
The other four bank patrons did the same, as did the one security guard. The tellers and the bank manager moved out from behind the counter, a second hold-up man pointing a gun toward the floor in their direction.
Two of the men headed for the safe, while two stood guard in the lobby. No one dared breathe. Not a single head looked up from the floor.
“Nobody move an inch! Just lay there and it will all be over in a few minutes.”
Young Josie’s left hand reached out and squeezed Audrey’s arm, feeling it flex. She looked sideways from the floor and stared at the frightened young woman she clung to.
Josie’s eyes weren’t scared. They were on fire. Audrey bit her lip as she noticed Josie’s other hand reaching into the purse flung above her head. Audrey tried to shake her head NO, her eyes pleading. But Josie only looked more determined. She dug into the purse, gently sliding out the cell.
Audrey’s eyes were wide with fear. She knew she couldn’t do or say anything that would draw attention to them. She couldn’t stop Josie.
Josie’s hands fumbled over the buttons. Her fingers deftly hit the 9, then the 1, then the 1. But she had forgotten one thing. As the call connected, the volume was still on high. And the phone’s ring echoed across the room.
The phone was kicked away—“You stupid bitch!”
Josie was enraged, leaping up and grabbing at the robber, grabbing for his gun. He pushed her down roughly. He pointed the weapon at Josie’s head.
Watching her memory play out before her, Josie’s hands reached out in a vain attempt to stop the inevitable.
Then Audrey sprang. She lunged, trying to tackle the man around his legs … but missed. As she stood up, the second hold-up man turned … and the loud BANG BANG BANG! startled Josie. She tried to get up again too, but the man above her shoved her down easily.
“Don’t fucking move!”
The other two men hurried into the lobby—“What the fuck? You shot somebody?” “Let’s get out of here!” “We got it! Let’s go!”
The four men dashed out of the bank as young Josie crawled toward Audrey—face down, in a growing puddle of blood.
“No! No, no no! Audrey? Audrey? It’s me! It’s Josie! I’m here. We’ll …”
She stopped as she turned Audrey over. Her chest was a deep, deep red.
“Hang on! We’ll get a doctor!” Josie pulled Audrey to her, cradling her in her arms and she knelt. She waved away somebody. “No! I need … doctor …”
Then she looked into Audrey’s eyes. Deep blue and bright. But the light was dimming.
“Oh Audrey … please … I’m so sorry. I’m so …”
“Oh, baby …
“… I couldn’t let them hurt you.”
Josie looked at herself—the young woman she was gently rocking her love, her only love, dying in her arms again.
“Don’t worry, Josie,” Audrey said. “I’ll be …”
She lifted her hand and placed it over Josie’s heart. “… right here.”
Josie heard clapping above her as she collapsed to the floor. Everything around her was frozen in time. The anguished face of 19-year-old Josie matching her own. The Mind Witch walked in front of Josie and looked down at her sobbing uncontrollably. Josie looked up.
“That … that’s not how it happened!”
“But it is,” Amaria cackled. “It is what is true. Wonderful. It was wonderful to see. That moment has been locked away in your mind these past five years. Your weakness. Your fatal flaw. Your own guilt locked it away so tightly and deeply that you allowed yourself to believe an untruth. Not realizing that creating the fantasy of what happened would never give you the peace you craved. How does it feel, Cade?”
Josie was too stunned to move. It was true!
“I will keep you. Now that I have you the way I want you. You won’t be giving me any more trouble. And I could use a slave around here. A mind to use. And certainly … a body to use. Welcome home, Josie.”
Josie opened her mouth to scream. Then felt herself plunging, falling deeply to sleep.
* * *
Amaria DeStehl sipped her champagne as her slave served dinner.She was heady with satisfaction as she looked around the splendor of the room, filled with the priceless antiques, art and furnishings she had “acquired” over a lifetime of thievery.
The slave was naked, except for the thick collar around her neck and the 20 feet of chain that coiled at her feet connected at the other end to a metal ring under the dining table. The slave didn’t even recall cooking the dinner. But she had done it precisely and perfectly according to the instructions she had been told to read and memorize in the kitchen.
The slave then knelt beside her Queen, her back stiff and her mind soft and empty. There were no commands in the dark void of her thoughts to follow but being always at the ready in the service of her owner.
Amaria ran her fingers lightly over the deep slashes on her slave’s belly as she placed the napkin on her lap.
“You’ve done very well, slave. It looks delicious. And after dinner I will take you to bed, if you complete all your tasks for the evening. I’m looking forward to putting a few more scars on that firm flesh of yours. And delving into your mind a bit. Especially your impressively strong sexual drives. I’m surprised you didn’t become a whore instead of a crimefighter.”
Amaria laughed loudly, taking great pleasure in knowing that the slave at her feet was totally unaware of the insult. She forced a finger into her slave’s cunt and nodded approvingly. Her slave was dry.
An hour later, the slave was following her Queen into her lavish bedroom, the thick chain replaced by a thin leather strap. Not that it was needed. The tether between their minds pulled the slave along in blank obedience.
Amaria stopped in the center of the room, placing her hand under the chin of her new slave, taking in her beauty and the glassy emptiness in her green eyes.
“I will enjoy this, slave. I’m going to find out how you found me, but not before I ravage your body. And then you will beg to tell me. There are so many interesting ways of causing pain and pleasure at the same time.”
The hand fell away and Amaria stepped awkwardly, a hand to her forehead. She sighed heavily.
“Unfortunately, maintaining control of a mind even as weak as yours for this long a time can be tiring.” She took a few steps toward a door on the other side of the room, then turned. “Don’t go anywhere.”
Amaria entered the anteroom on the far side of the bed. The slave had an impulse, and she moved her head to follow her Queen with her eyes. She slowly stepped forward, around the bed, and stood in the doorway.
The room gave off a soft red glow. In the center of the room was a small table and on top of it something round was hidden under a black, silk coverlet. Amaria pulled the sheet off, revealing a glowing orb about the size of a bowling ball. Very carefully, Amaria placed her hands on each side of it, closing her eyes.
The orb began to swirl and Amaria’s head lifted slightly, feeling the pulses of light taking form and submerging her fingers in it.
The slave backed away slowly, quietly, and returned to her spot in the bedroom, resuming her posture of obedience and mindlessness.
* * *
Josie Cade woke up.She felt her lips touching a smooth, sweaty shoulder on the body beside her before turning and finding hard lips waiting. Josie couldn’t recall the past hour she spent being fucked by this woman, the animalistic sex as her body was used. But she felt the sting on her bruised lips and mouth and the rawness between her legs.Yet she was awake now … and looked into the eyes of Amaria DeStehl.
Josie was detached from the grip on her mind at last. She didn’t realize it, but she had been prepared for this moment. Mistress Mynd had toyed with her thoughts. Miranda Foggina’s pink mist had blanked her out from herself. Zandilla had tapped into her memories. And Amaria DeStehl had made her face her nightmares.
The Josie who had overcome all of that knew what she needed to do. She was focused.
Josie flowed off the bed, as if in slow motion, then turned to see the Mind Witch with her arms wrapped around empty air. Her lips twisting, her tongue seeking. Moaning into an invisible lover.
Josie hurried into the anteroom, yanking the black shroud off the orb.
Amaria moaned again on the bed. Her slave’s movements had changed. They were more forceful, more accurately reading where and how to send spasms of pleasure through her body. But the pinches to her nipples were rough. The bite to her neck made her wince. And the thumb that found its way between her drenched lips was unyielding as it drove deeply into her.
“Slave … Cade. Stop!” Amaria was grunting but her slave only pushed deeper, holding her body down with her other arm and pushing her back into the pillow with her head. Amaria tried to struggle free.
Then a familiar voice: “Hello, my love. Miss me?”
Amaria strained through tearing eyes to see the one person she never expected to see—Zandilla.
In the anteroom, Josie looked at the orb carefully. She could hear Amaria gasp loudly from the bedroom.
Josie had lost the two people in her life she loved the most and found strength in her endurance. She had used her anger to take vengeance against wrongdoers and found the strength to finally purge it. To only do what was right, what was just. She had been made helpless and controlled … and found strength in her ability to persevere, to fight—not just against villains, not just for their victims and not even against her own sense of guilt.
She fought for Josie Cade. She needed to fight for her now. Josie took a deep breath, then pressed her hands upon the orb …
In the bedroom, The Sorceress and the Mind Witch glared at each other. Amaria pushed Zandilla away, freeing herself enough to roll off the bed, then spun around from her knees.
“I should have know,” Amaria hissed.
“Yes, you should have, sister. You don’t know everything.”
“I’m more powerful than you, Zandilla. There is nothing you can do.”
Zandilla stood, towering over the witch. “I wanted to be like you. I grew up wanting to be like you, I loved you that much. I was willing to be corrupted. I could have used my gifts differently, but they were perverted. My mind wasn’t strong enough. But I’ve found someone whose mind is stronger than both of ours.”
Amaria lunged at Zandilla, but just as their bodies were about to collide Zandilla’s image turned into a puff of smoke, dissipating into the air. The witch stumbled, then stood dumbfounded.
Josie returned to the bedroom—the swirling orb bright in her hands. She lifted it over her head.
“No. No, don’t!”
In one mighty motion Josie smashed it on the wooden floor, watching it explode into a million pieces.
Amaria staggered back—her visage of truth stood before Josie. Aged, wrinkled, ugly.
Josie could sense the fear on Amaria’s gray face as she approached. The Mind Witch closed her eyes and concentrated, trying to push Josie away with her thoughts. Yet Josie’s face grew even more calm, mentally batting away the hateful thoughts like so many of the fists she had dodged before.
“Sorry,” Josie said as she stood before the old witch. “That won’t work on me anymore.”
“Are you going to kill me then?” the Mind Witch asked in a hoarse voice, defiance in her eyes. “Because you’ll have to kill me if you think—”
With all her strength, Josie swung.
* * *
It took Josie a lot longer to deliver Amaria DeStehl to the nearest police station than she’d wanted. She had to do some fast talking to explain to the officers there what the situation was—why she had an old woman tied up over her shoulder. Amaria was still out cold. Fortunately, one officer had recently transferred from Century and knew well of the masked vigilante.
On the drive back home, Josie’s thoughts weren’t on Amaria or Zandilla or the mysterious orb. They were on the four men she was hunting.
She had copies of every mug shot on file at Century’s police headquarters over the last twenty years, but she needed to spread her net wider. She needed facial recognition software and all the mugs available within a 200-mile radius. To start.
Josie was so close to the end she could almost taste it, but this was going to take time. She needed a short cut.
“Josie! My God!”
Josie smiled into the phone at the happy voice on the other end. If anyone knew computers it was Megan Tanner aka Techna. She already had an impressive database of all the criminals between River City and Century. The other “Supers” had accessed it many times. But these weren’t supervillains. These were young men, common crooks. Either too brash or too stupid to have not worn masks that day.
“What about the bank’s security cameras? I can get a lot of different images from them. I can do all that for you. It would narrow your search quite a bit.”
Josie sighed. “They had the videos for the initial investigation, but they were lost or stolen or misplaced. No one has seen them in five years.”
“You know,” Megan said hopefully, “I could always bop down to Century and we can do this together. I have some free time on my hands.”
Josie stammered. “Well, let’s start with this and maybe …”
Megan laughed, and it made Josie smile. “I’m just teasing. But you know, Josie, one of these days you’re gonna take me up on my offer.”
* * *
Megan had worked fast. Within hours, Josie was letting her computer do the work, running at lightning speed through file after file, face after face, name after name. Josie’s memory of that day was so fresh that she was able to construct composites of their facial features and physical details into the software Megan had sent her and from the thousands of faces and names at her fingertips she was able to whittle it down to hundreds, then dozens.
The man Josie had attacked and one of the men who looted the safe were already behind bars, serving 20-year sentences for the same crime—armed robbery. The third man was dead. Two years. Driving drunk, he’d lost control and flipped his truck over an embankment and died instantly.
But the shooter was still free.
Curtis Wheeler had done time, 18 months for petty theft before he was released on parole two months ago. It was his first offense. His parole officer had the info on him—it took Megan all of five minutes to remotely hack into his computer—where he worked, where he lived. He was in Century.
Josie waited in her car, knowing exactly when he would come out of his shabby apartment. She had to force herself to breathe slowly and deeply, trying to choke back her anger. This was the moment she had been waiting for. She got out just as he opened the door.
“Curtis Wheeler?” she said as he reached the curb. “Oct. 15, 2011. Remember that date? You’ve been identified by one of the witnesses in the bank.”
She could see that he did. His face fell in shock. Then eyed Josie carefully.
“What … what do you think you’re gonna do about it?”
His voice was defiant, perhaps because she was a woman, perhaps because that’s what a tough guy was supposed to say. But there was no life in the threat behind it.
There are prisons and then there are prisons. A criminal could serve 30 years and come out just as bad as before. But this was a young man who had to live with what he had done. Josie could recall in her mind his image the moment after his weapon went off, his nervous finger squeezing the trigger without thinking. The horror on his face.
The man who stood before her had lived with that horror every day for almost six years.
“I could break your neck.”
And he saw that she could, that she would. Josie had wished for this moment. She was face to face with Audrey’s murderer. The old Josie, the one who first put on a mask, might have.
But not this one.
“Come on,” she said. “I have to take you in.”
Smithers had just slammed the door on the black-and-white when Josie approached. She didn’t need to look inside the vehicle to know that Curtis Wheeler was … relieved.
“You gonna be okay?” Smithers asked.
“Yeah,” Josie said, nodding. “It’s strange. I played that moment out in my head a thousand times. What I’d do to him. But it never ended this way.”
“Maybe,” he said, “because you didn’t have to think about doing the right thing.”
* * *
Warden Quick didn’t even pause when he saw Josie standing outside the locked entrance to the prison. Smithers hadn’t even come with her. Quick just led her to the basement.The four guards had taken up their positions as Josie approached the glass wall of Zandilla’s cell.
“You used me.”
“In a way. And only as far as I could,” Zandilla said directly. “The rest of it you did all on your own, Josie.”
“She’s your sister.”
“Then why did you say—”
“I didn’t want anything else in that sharp mind of yours that wasn’t absolutely necessary, Josie.”
“I didn’t killer her. I wouldn’t have.”
“I know that, child. I never expected you to. But you needed to know it was a possibility. Otherwise, you might not have found the strength to oppose her. I didn’t think you’d kill the men you’ve been searching for all these years, either. You’re not a killer.”
Josie took a deep breath and Zandilla could see pleading in her eyes.
“I don’t know … which memory of that day is true.”
“Yes you do, Josie,” Zandilla said quietly. “Guilt. There isn’t any stronger human emotion. Except for love.
“You cannot blame yourself for what happened. You did what you thought was right. So did Audrey. You cannot be responsible for the actions of others. No one should. No one has learned that lesson better than I.”
“You’ve held up your end of the bargain, Josie. And I shall fulfill mine. When you’re ready.”
Josie stared at Zandilla, then closed her eyes.
* * *
The first thing Josie saw brought a smile to her face.
That bed. That squeaky, rickety bed they had shared in their apartment when they were in school.
The second thing she saw … was Audrey, as she always was for Josie. Bright, beautiful and radiating a love so strong Josie could almost feel waves of it washing over her.
Josie rushed on top of her, Audrey’s beaming smile embracing her before her arms did. And as their lips joined, Josie felt a release—of pain, of unfulfilled longing, of pent-up guilt. All she felt was the love she had so long denied anyone, especially herself.
Josie’s eyes were dry. Tears were not enough to express how she felt. The joy of holding Audrey in her arms again. Like two virgins remembering then and knowing now that this first time was also the last.
Still, there was a newness to it all. As if the nearly six years of emptiness had been filled, quickly and completely, and she spread it all out, sharing it with the body beneath her.
Time did stand still. They made love with everything that lovemaking could possibly offer—the pleasure of giving more than receiving, the playful giggles, the lusty moans, the intimate care from a kiss or touch or shared sigh.
Josie was made whole.
Their lips parted, and Josie took a long time to gaze at the face that looked back at her lovingly. The face of the one person who had loved her, this way—as the young girl she was so long ago.
“Audrey? It’s time for me to go.”
Audrey squeezed Josie’s arm. “You don’t have to, Josie. We can stay here. A day? A week? A year? As long as you want. Time stands still here.”
Josie kissed her cheek.
“I know. But … I have things to look forward to now. I didn’t have that. I was always looking back. We have this moment. And I will treasure it with all the others. I love you, so much.”
She gave Audrey a deep, lasting smile.
“I’ll always be …” And she pressed her hand to Audrey’s heart. “… right here.”
Josie blinked, and stared through the glass cell. The four guards rushed forward, looking around frantically. Josie was inside. And Zandilla was gone.
* * *
“Magic tricks,” Smithers scoffed out as he pushed back from the dining room table. “I would sure like to know how she pulled it off.”
Jerry was clearing the table, his eyes on Josie. She poured another glass of wine and shook her head.
“No,” she said. “It wasn’t magic. Zandilla could have gotten out of there any time she wanted.”
Jerry stopped, the dinner plates in his hand. Smithers’ glass of beer was held mid-motion before his lips. Both sets of eyes were fixed on Josie.
“There’s a reason for everything, boys,” she said, trying to smile.
“What makes you say that?” Smithers asked.
Jerry took a step toward her. “Yeah. Why didn’t she just walk out of there anytime if she could?”
A smile came to her slowly.
“Because,” she said, “she was waiting for me.”
“Well, if she could get out, then Amaria will just as easily,” said Smithers.
“No,” Josie replied quickly. “I have a feeling Zandilla’s going to keep an eye on her for us. I don’t think we’ll have to worry about Amaria DeStehl anymore.”
Josie gave Smithers a soft kiss to his cheek as he prepared to leave, full and buzzy and happy to see Josie back to being her old self. He looked at her a long moment as he stood in the doorway pulling on his coat. Her old self, he thought. Her new self. The way she was meant to be.
“I’ll see you at work.”
He kissed her back, quickly, almost embarrassed by his own gesture. He gave her a wink and a wave to Jerry as he walked out, feeling more at peace than he had in a long time. And, he was looking forward to getting home to Bonnie.
Josie turned around as she closed to the door. Jerry looked at her with uncertain expectation.
She walked up to him, admiring his solid, muscular arms, and ran her hands up and down them.
“I’m sorry I pushed you away,” she said, looking up. “I felt like this was something I needed to do alone.”
Jerry softly kissed her forehead.
“You don’t have to say anything, Jo. Men like me? We don’t ask for much.”
She pulled him in for a tight hug, surprising him. He wrapped his arms around her gratefully. They held each other a long time. Josie hoped it was his voice in her head. The words he would never say to her aloud. She looked up at him. And he finally, for the first time, could read her face.
Jerry swept Josie up in his arms and carried her lovingly into the bedroom.
As he laid Josie on the bed, he noticed something on her dresser top.
“What’s that glass ball?”
Josie smiled. “A souvenir.”
* * *
Josie Cade effortlessly slid down the fire escape ladder and leaned.
It was a quiet night in Century. Not a siren to be heard. Her eyes scanned the apartment building across the street.
She concentrated, hearing the sounds, the voices. At one window, a child’s silent laugh at the television show he was watching. Another window, and she could hear the pleasure in the thoughts of the old man picking his banjo to the tune that had stirred him out of bed.
Another window … a mild domestic squabble she couldn’t even begin to make sense of—the voices and the thoughts in conflict even within themselves. Another window, and she could hear the internal monologues of two teenagers listening to music, each too nervous to vocally plant the seeds of a soon-budding romance.
Josie could hear it all. In her mind.
There was a smash! The shattering of glass down the street. A soundless cry for help in the mind of a homeless man being attacked and abused by a pair of thugs. Thugs looking for kicks and nothing more.
Her eyes steeled. The super heroine known as Focus sprang into action.