The limo sped away from the seedy apartment building, taking Lacey away to the safety of the mansion. Puma hoped they would not be followed. She should never have brought Lacey into this rat hole area. Lacey. Shit, the girl could be her Achilles.
In two days, Shawanda Johnson would turn thirty-one-years-old. She had been back in La La Land for eight months. The world of tennis was behind her. The world she now lived in was a violent battle for justice. Looking both directions, she hurried across the street, then entered the lobby of the Salacious Lady. The doorman looked at her.
“No cover for you ma’am,” he said. Visibly shaken at who had just entered, he moved back, crouching against the wall behind him.
With a sly wink, she spoke to him, “Run boy.” He jumped to his feet and fled through the front doors.
The bouncer sat playing solitaire, heard the door open and glanced up, then returned his attention to the cards. A split second later a cold shiver ran down his spine, as his eyes darted to the door again. Jumping to his feet, he rushed her, but ran straight into her gloved fist slamming into his face. The man toppled to the floor.
Another man jumped up, looked at the woman and balled his fist. Thinking better of it, he bypassed her and walked to door, exiting into the night. The customers, the dancers, waitresses, and man behind the bar all stopped in their tracks as she strode into the room. The manager, an over the hill dancer, trembled and moved toward her.
“Welcome to the…”
“Cut the shit,” Puma said. “Where’s Griggs?”
The woman shuddered, nodded, and removed a keycard from her inside coat pocket before handing it to the Puma with trembling hands.
“Lower Level 10,” she said. “Elevator is at the end of the hall beyond that door. The key opens it, and the elevator needs it to work.” Her voice quivered. Puma eyed up the woman, then the patrons and other employees.
“Everyone, leave. Thank you miss. Now go away and find something different to do.”
Black Puma entered the darkened hall, while all her senses screamed danger abounds. A man stepped into the space between her and the elevator, pointed a gun at her, but Puma drew her gun and fired first, dropping him to the floor, dead.
Holstering the gun, she secured it and sauntered toward the elevator. A slight scratching on the back of her neck warned her of another danger. Spinning around a man threw a round-house kick at her. She caught his leg. With three quick kicks, she bashed his balls, reducing him to a curled-up blubbering mess on the floor. He tried to get up, but the pain flared at every movement.
“Please,” he said, “don’t cut them off.” He heard the ding of the elevator, glanced up in time to see the doors slide shut.
“She’s coming down,” he said into the mic on his radio.
The black limo sped toward its destination, and at last the gates slid open and the car made its way along the winding road. Collins looked at the girl in the rearview mirror. Her tangled blonde hair hung over her green eyes and she gnawed her thumbnail incessantly. The worry on her face touched his heart.
“Don’t worry, Miss Lacey, Shawanda can take care of herself, and the Black Puma can most assuredly take care of herself. She will be okay,” He wanted to reassure Lacey Barton.
“That’s the hope, isn’t it? Mine and yours, our hope for her. The truth is there’s always someone faster, tougher, meaner, or just luckier than you, or her. We don’t know she will be alright.” Lacey pulled her feet up on the seat. Hunching she turned and stared out the window at the woods, looking like a gargoyle protecting some gothic building.
“As clichéd and unscientific as it is, I believe good always wins … in the end.”
“We all die in the end, Collins, every friggin, last one of us.”
The door opened, and Raeann Blackthorn walked into the private rooms of Jason Griggs. He and Sheila were eating a late dinner, Sheila looked the woman up and down in her pale blue outfit.
“Shit,” Shelia said, “What are you supposed to be, The Blue Puma?”
Raeann ignored her and walked up to Griggs. “Sir,” she said.
“What, what’s going on?” he asked.
“The Black Puma has penetrated your defense perimeter. She is on her way to this lower level right now to kill you.”
“You’re supposed to kill her? Aren’t you?”
“Yes, and I will. But if I don’t, she will certainly kill you,” she told him. “It would be wise for you to stay in here. I’ll come and let you know when it is safe.”
“And,” Shelia asked, “what if you don’t succeed?”
“I suspect that Puma will kill you both. She may have mercy on you, though, you after all, are a woman.”
“He won’t,” Sheila said, indicating Griggs with her table knife.
“Not my problem,” Raeann said.
“You’re cold as ice,” Sheila replied.
“Yes, I am, and it’s kept me alive. Mr. Griggs, you may want to turn your music up loud, so you don’t have to hear what goes on out there.” Raeann walked back to the door. “One of you secure this when I leave.”
“We’ll watch on the monitors,” Griggs told her, paused, then asked, “did you use me as bait?”
“Now why would I do that?”
“Because … it just … did you?”
“Yes, I did,” Raeann Blackthorn turned to him. “Do we have a problem?” she asked, resting her hand on one of her side arms.
“Just kill the bitch,” he said. She left, and Griggs locked the door behind her, then turned back to Sheila. “I want a blowjob.”
“No,” she said. Standing, she walked away toward the bedroom. “I have a headache, I’m going to lay down, and I hope to God, Puma kills you.”
Puma pushed the button to the lowest level, then moved to a side wall and stood with her shoulder pressed against the front wall. Removing a canister with her left hand, she pulled the pin and held the lever tight as the elevator descended rapidly down the shaft. Counting each ding that sounded as it passed the first nine levels, she prepared herself as the last ding sounded. As the doors slid open, gunfire erupted, and a hail of bullets ripped into the back wall. The barrage deafened her, ringing, and reverberating in her ears.
Thick, acrid smoke filled the air and finally, the salvo stopped. Shawanda let the lever loose and tossed the canister into the room. A blinding flash and loud explosion followed, and smoke streamed from the canister. Puma moved quickly from the elevator into the outer chamber, identifying two gunmen in the smoke. She ran to the first, who fumbled trying to insert a new clip in the Tommy gun. She wasted no time and sent him crashing over the library table with a blow to his face.
The second gunman struggled to see, pushed the clip home, and Puma closed the gap grabbing his arm as he tried to raise the weapon. Bashing her elbow into the man’s temple, he stood his ground, momentarily dazed. From the corner of her eye, she saw the first man standing on the other side of the table.
Pulling the gun from the second man, she aimed and squeezed the trigger. Goon number one’s body jerked, twitched, and flew back as the bullets ripped through him. The second man’s lips moved but no sound emitted from his mouth. He reached up and touched the blood on his face, looking dumbly at his bloody hand. Falling to the ground, he attempted to stand as Puma fired a short burst into the man.
“I didn’t think these boys could do the job,” the icy-cold voice sent a shiver down Puma’s spine as she turned to face the woman. “So, you’re the Puma. Quite the mean little kitty cat, aren’t you?”
“And you’re the one they call Ice,” she said. “Not your thing to actually fight. I hear you more the poisoner than the fighter.”
“I can kick your sorry black ass, bitch,” Rae said.
“Why isn’t she home?” Lacey asked for about the tenth time.
“It’s only been thirty minutes,” Collins answered her. Patting the couch beside him, he invited her to sit. Turning, she bounded to the sofa and jumped beside the man, sitting close and playing with a strand of her hair.
“She needs to let us know she is okay,” she started to rise. Richard Collins put his hand on her wrist.
“Be still child. Don’t worry, she’ll be fine. If anything were wrong, Steven would call us.”
“How did all this start? Did Griggs really have her parents murdered?”
“I don’t think he had anyone else kill them. I believe he did it himself. Until recently, quite recently, he did much of his own dirty work.” He exhaled, breathed in deep and leaned back on the couch. “About six months ago, Ms. Jones advanced to the finals of the American Open. I have traveled with her since she went on the tour. We were there, and she advanced to the final round of the event.”
“I was there. I saw the win,” Lacey interrupted.
“Yes, I know,” he said, patting her arm, then continued. “Shawanda’s father never let anyone drive him but me. It was somewhat of a superstition really. He and Mrs. Jones were going to their cabin in the mountains for the weekend. His venture to have a private police force to destroy the organization would begin in mere days.
“Jackson and Mrs. Jones wanted a few days alone. No, press, no staff, no unwanted individuals taking them away from each other. So, he drove, and just the two of them were in the car. They rushed to get to their retreat before the finals. Driving there in the pre-dawn hours, Griggs had set a trap.” He paused, sighed at the memory, and continued as Lacey prompted him.
“They turned the curve and pulled into their private road. Once Jackson got out of the car to open the gate, Griggs’s man, or more likely, Griggs himself opened fire with a Thompson submachine gun. Very much old school,” Collins stopped talking and twisted his head. Putting his hand to his forehead, he fought his emotions.
“Shawanda got the word just before the last set. She still played, and still won. She retired that day, after telling the world her father had just died in a car accident. That’s what Drake Urban told her. He waited until she was home to tell her the truth.
“Shawanda grew … angry, she decided then and there to take her father’s plans and made them her own. A few weeks after that, Black Puma made her first appearance in Shabby Heights. The rest, as they say, is history.” He stood, walked to a bookcase, and pulled a bottle of scotch from a secret compartment, pouring a generous amount into a glass. Lifting the glass, he drank it down, turned and smiled at Lacey.
“Care for a drink?”
“No,” she answered, “you’re worried.”
“Shawanda Jones can take care of herself. The Black Puma will be victorious. But, yes, I’m concerned. She’s … my little girl.” He fought the urge to cry.
“I told you we were going to fuck,” Griggs followed her. Grabbing her wrist, he spun her around to face him. Sheila backed away from him to the wall, pressed herself firmly against it. She scowled at him, putting her right hand behind her back.
“No, we aren’t,” she insisted. “I’m not scared of you anymore, and I’m not letting you touch me again.”
Jason Griggs reached down, unbuckled his belt, and pulled it through the loops. His expression grew dark as he furrowed his brow.
“Now, why would you say stupid shit like that?”
“Do we want to blast away with our guns first? Or should we just get to kicking each other’s asses?” Rae asked.
“Why waste bullets? In the end, it will come down to what we do with our hands and feet,” Puma replied.
“Right,” Raeann said. Charging she snapped a kick to Puma’s face. Shawanda fell back, stumbling several steps. It stung and her head clouded. A boot hit her left breast and her heart felt the blow. One of Ice’s fists struck Puma’s ribs. She thought it would break and she fell, crashing to the floor.
Puma tried to get up as another flurry of kicks bashed her ribs. She toppled face down on the carpet. A boot thumped her back, and the air rushed from her lungs.
“Shit,” Steven Denton said as the monitor erupted, registering blows, and impacts as hard as gunshots. “Computer, what’s happening?”
“The suit has taken hard blows,” the computer said, it’s emotionless voice unable to understand the gravity of the situation. “Puma’s body has received significant damage.”
Puma rolled across the floor in an effort to escape the persistent attack before bounding to her feet. Rae rushed her, hitting and landing blows to Puma’s face. Rae spun kicking her in the stomach, then twirled again landing a foot on Puma’s hip. Staggering back, Shawanda tried to cover up for protection. The woman kicked again, striking her left breast. Her heart skipped beats.
“Unacceptable behavior. She must fight back,” the computer said.
“Yeah, I’m sure she’s trying,” Denton said.
“For her own sake, may I suggest you make her try with more effort.”
“I’m sure if she could, she would,” he told the computer.
“She can. She is Puma. May I suggest you remind her of that.”
“May I suggest you stop suggesting. She may be landing as many blows as the other person. We can’t see what’s happening,” he said, unfazed that he was arguing with a computer.
“She is losing. There is no fight from her. May I suggest… Actually, never mind.”
Denton glared at the machine. “Patch me through to her.”
Grabbing the com, he yelled into it. “Puma … fight back!”
Blow after blow drove Puma from one indefensible position to another. A foot stuck her belly, her back, the side of her face. The blows stung even through the suit as if .50 caliber bullets were hitting her. Struggling to inhale, Shawanda couldn’t think. She couldn’t stand and fight and threw punches into air, uselessly missing her target. Kicking she hit air, while her opponent hit home with blow after blow. Spinning to kick, Puma missed, and the force of her effort carried her around, exposing her back to another volley of kicks and punches.
Ice grabbed her arm, spun around, and lifted Shawanda over her head. She crashed Puma down into the big library table. It shattered, and Puma plummeted to the floor in the rubble. Ice sauntered to her and stood over her. Straddling Puma’s broken body, she smirked down at her.
Raeann took the mask off, her twisted, sadistic smile and cold blue eyes looked down at Puma. Pondering how she would kill the woman.
“Seems my suit maker is better than your suit maker,” Rae said. “Amplified force sweetie.” Puma caught her breath, and her brain started working.
“Amplified force,” she wheezed out, “means less protection.” Puma’s eyes flashed open. Her right knee came to her chest, “Bitch.” Shawanda snapped her foot hard, landing the ball of her foot in Ice’s crotch.
The woman staggered back feeling as if she had been ripped apart. Her eyes widened. Puma jumped up and again kicked the woman between her legs, then her stomach. She twisted around, and the foot stuck Rae in the face. Crashing to the ground, Ice rolled over and pushed up on her hands and knees.
Puma kicked her in the side again then lifted the woman from the floor. Each kick drove the air from her lungs. Raeann would try to stand. Puma would let loose and unleased a new volley. Finally, Raeann collapsed on the floor. With swift determination, Puma zip locked Raeann Blackthorn’s hands behind her back.
“Not so confident now, are we, Ice?” she gasped, then headed toward the inner office. Moving through the space, she made a beeline for the door of the private rooms of Jason Griggs.
“Connect to Denton,” she told the suit. “I’m okay. Finally figured out her suit was enhanced to increase the blows. Going for Griggs now.” She said, pulling open the door to his private rooms. The TV in the living area showed a dancer moving to blaring music in a video. The TV provided the only light in the room, flashing with the strobe light on the set. Puma allowed her eyes to adjust as Steven Denton babbled in her ear. She had no time for the man. “Disconnect,” she said.
The light shone through the crack of a door at the back of the living room. Puma approached that next room with caution noticing the foul smell of gun powder permeating from the room as she cautiously pushed the door.
Stepping into the room, she lunged in with guns drawn, and stopped in her tracks. Jason Griggs lay in a thick pool of sticky blood, crying. A gaping wound bubbled with blood from between his legs.
“She shot me and cut them off!” he said. His pants were around his ankles as one of his blood-stained hands held what remained of his genitals. “She cut them off!” Looking wildly at Puma, he pointed to his destroyed crotch. “Cut them off! Fuckin’ bitch!” he wailed. Puma ignored him.
Looking carefully around the room, Shawanda saw no one else. Carefully opening the door to the rear bedroom, she found it empty. There was no one here. Leaving Griggs in his own blood, still wailing bloody murder, Puma moved to the kitchen. On the white countertop, there was no mistaking what lay there. A bloody mess of Jason Griggs scrotum and balls, leaking their blood all over the white marble granite. She gave them a cursory glance, then picked up the note card beside them.
“Ms. Puma. I thought you might want these.” Shawanda smiled briefly, narrowed her eyes, and wondered who had done it. Clearly a woman’s handwriting on the note. Jason Griggs had apparently messed with the wrong woman this time. Puma nodded in respect to the unseen woman, then busied herself with making her way through the rest of the underground lair as Grigg’s yells faded a little in the background. There had to be another way out. No one had come down the hallway to the main elevator. She would have seen them, even though the swirling smoke. Opening the door to a small laundry room at the rear of the lair, Shawanda found the second elevator. She stood looking at the plain wooden box, leaning in and looking up at the empty shaft. “Nice one,” she said in the empty space.
“Connect to Denton. I need police and ambulances. Jason Griggs is wounded, but not by my hand. Several dead. We have the hitter here called Ice, aka, Raeann Blackthorn. She is disabled. Disconnect.”
Griggs squirmed in pain, when from behind, his bloodied hands were yanked behind his back and quickly zip tied. The zips burnt his wrists. He screamed out, kicking, then stopped when all that did was send more pain shooting into his ruined genitals. Puma stepped over his body, then sauntered around the room, humming a song.
“You bitch!” Griggs screamed. “I’ll get you yet. And I’ll get that whore that cut me!”
“Will you?” Puma asked, rummaging through the drawers at his desk, then pulled something from one of them. Puma strolled up to him, knelt and held the bolt cutters up for him to see.
His eyes widened. “You wouldn’t!” he yelled, suddenly fearful for what remained of his crotch.
“I could,” she told, him but instead rolled him face down, ignoring his scream of pain. His relief that his dick was apparently going to survive was short lived as he felt the cold metal of the cutters surround his left pinky finger.
“This is for the lieutenant killed in the blast,” she told him coldly, then snipped the finger as he bucked under her, screaming.
“This is for the first of my cubbies killed,” she said, moving to the next finger.
“No! No!” he screamed, as agony and understanding filled his brain.
Enumerating his victims, one at a time, Puma snipped off fingers and thumbs and when she ran out of those appendages, tore off his shoes and started on his toes. Griggs screamed and hollered in pain as Puma took her vengeance on him.
At last, she rolled him on his back, and his wild eyes beheld her as she stood above him, brandishing the bloody bolt cutter.
“No!” he panted, blood running from him in rivers. “Please, God. No!” he screamed as she dropped the bolt cutters, retrieving the bloody knife from the floor beside him.
“Yes,” she said, not finished with him. He was expecting the attack further down his body, but she took him by surprise as she thrust her fingers into his mouth. Clutching his nasty tongue in her gloved hand, she pulled it hard. His eyes widened in horror, understanding as she raised her other hand, holding the long, sharp knife.
“This,” she said, turning the glinting blade in her hand, “this is for my mother and father,” Puma said as he still screamed, a choked, desperate plea, despite her having hold of his tongue. “And you don’t even know who they were. But I do. I loved them. They were my life. My family, and you took them.”
The knife descended, glinting in the light in front of his eyes. And as the blade found his tongue, slicing it cleanly, Griggs was in far too much agony as his mouth filled with blood to even contemplate who the hell her parents had been.
Through his choking, he leaned forward, letting the blood pour from his mouth, his screams finally silenced.
“I’m not going to kill you,” she told him, still leaning down to him. “Let’s see you live like this, knowing you’re never going to send anyone else to their death.” She stood, then tossed the knife off to the side, and stepped away from him. She stopped as he raised his horrified eyes to her, blood coating most of his torso. “Let’s see you do shit about anything, motherfucker.”
Her eyes fluttered open to reveal a drab green room around her. The bed was uncomfortable. Lifting her arm, she tried to put it to her head. It only moved so far, then stopped. She was in handcuffs. She turned and looked around the room, landing on the tall woman leaning against the wall. Her black leather suit stretched tight over her muscular physique.
“I’m cold,” Rae said, “guess I’m dying.”
“No, it’s the medication.”
“Great. I’ll spend the rest of my life in prison,” Blackburn said. “Shit, they cuffed both hands to the bed.”
“Feet too. They aren’t taking chances with you,” Black Puma strolled over to the woman, bent down beside her ear and whispered. “Can you change?”
Looking at Puma, Rae was unsure what she meant. Puma stood and walked to the foot of the bed, facing the woman.
“Sides,” Puma replied. “You said you would spend the rest of your life in Prison. So, I have a question, and the answer might help you not spend the rest of your life behind bars. So again, can you change sides?”
“I’m cold as Ice, but not stupid. If changing sides, saves me, hell yeah, I can change.”
The moon peeked between the clouds as a lone figure stepped quietly through the deserted cemetery, coming to stand at the two graves. The granite headstone had both names engraved, the woman stood silently as if guarding its two sleeping occupants below. Shawanda stood at her parent’s grave, then slowly kneeled between them, placing a hand on each grave.
“It’s done, Pops,” she whispered, her voice seeming loud in the quiet night.
“Momma, I got him.”
Bowing her head, Shawanda let the tears roll down her cheeks then drip on the ground between her parents. She glanced to her father’s side of the grave. “Job’s not finished though. I’ll continue what you started. You have my word on that,” she promised him through her tears. “But this was a good start. A really good start, taking him out of the Heights.”
She patted her parents grave, still kneeling between them. “But it was hard, Pops. So, hard. I’m so worn out, I feel like I could sleep for a week.”
“You could have called yourself,” Lacey repeated as she pulled the sheet down on the bed for them. Returning to the bathroom to where Shawanda was taking a well-earned bath, Lacey continued. “But instead you have Steven call and tell us. Do you …” She stopped mid-sentence.
Shawanda snored lightly, her head leaning back a little with her body submerged in the warm tub. The motor driving the jacuzzi jets purred. Her eyes moved a little under the lids as she dreamed.
Lacey put her thumb in her mouth and gnawed on the nail, looking at her lover. She was no longer angry. “That’s so sweet,” she said.
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