Night Life

People afraid walking the streets
Scums have their day
'Til they run into me
Manowar, Violence and Bloodshed

I'm back in the streets
The fight never ends
Manowar, Violence and Bloodshed

Belle Maverick, a.k.a. Bomber, was jarred awake by her phone at about 5 in the afternoon. She kept strange hours. Then again, she had a strange job… owner of a strip club down on near the edge of Hudson City's infamous "Strip". It kept her up late, particularly when some assholes had decided that they were taking one of the girls out, regardless of what she had to say about. Her jaw still strung a bit from a lucky shot. She could still use it, the guy might be able to use his as well in a few weeks. Belle did not take shit. Not from life in general but in her club in particular. At over 7 feet and 227 pounds she could generally do something about it.

You'd think after two years, people would learn. But no, every so often someone comes along who doesn't get the message. Well, that's one asshole who won't make that mistake again any time soon.

Eyes closed she reached for the phone. Whoever you are, have a good reason or I will yank you through this phone. Pressing it her ear, she muttered, "Yes?" The voice on the other end was familiar and scared. It filtered quickly thorough her sleep addled mind. Latoya… one of her dancers.

"Belle… please… ya gottsa… shit… I'm really in it… please… I need a place to put Shanisa…" she spoke in a rush, incoherent. Belle had heard her drunk, mad and horny but never scared shitless. That's what she was now. Latoya was tough. What the hell is going on?

Taking a deep breath, Belle popped her eyes open. Then she rolled over and swung her legs over the side of the bed, so that she was sitting on the edge. "OK, Latoya, I'm here," she answered, in as calm and reassuring a voice as possible. "First things first, one at a time: where are you? Are you all right? And what's happened?" As she spoke, Belle's mind was already racing. She made sure her dancers knew they could count on her if they needed her. That Latoya had called when she knew Bomber would still be asleep was indication enough of how much trouble she must be in. There wouldn't be any time to lose. She could see that whatever the situation was, it was serious, and she needed to get Latoya quickly calmed down enough to tell her what she needed to know if she was to help.

On the other end, Latoya took several deep breaths. Belle's voice was a lifeline to her. "Shanisa's all right… something happened… weird shit… she… Shanisa brought home some guy… white guy looked like some sort of suit… he killed Ice."

Ice. A strong arm boy for her ex pimp. More balls than brains. Sounds like the guy did her and the world a favor. "Then some others showed up… started askin' questions… about the suit… where he went, if he said anything… they tried.. they were gonna kill my baby…"

Her voice took on a hysterical edge, she was about to lose it. "Latoya, I'm here, you know that but I can't help unless I know… where are you now?"

"Still at my place… no where else to go."

Belle digested this information, then said, "All right. Here's what you do. Take Shanisa, and go to the corner of 3rd and Carter. A taxi will come by. The driver will say that I sent him. He'll bring you straight to my place. Got that? OK, get going. You'll be safe here."

"Yeah… yeah… got it… thanks Belle… I owe you…"

After she hung up the phone, Belle got to her feet, rising to her full height of almost 7' 3". Her physique defined Amazonian, powerful but with a easy animal grace that belied her great size. Her musculature would be the envy of any body builder, perfectly defined and sculpted rippling under her lightly tanned skin, her breasts full and well proportioned to her frame, standing firm.

About 15 minutes later there was a knock at the door. After a glance out the window confirmed that it was Latoya and her girl, along with the driver, a tall lanky Latino, Belle opened the door. Luis Santiago was a tall guy, or thought so until he found himself staring into the chest of the woman who opened the door… not that that was a bad thing. Luis stared for a moment at the bounty lain before him, scarcely concealed behind a black leather halter top. He looked up as he spoke… blinking once.

"Come on in and sit down," she said, waving Latoya and Shanisa through the door. Hurrying her daughter through first,Latyoa stepped inside. Turning back to the driver, she handed him a couple of bills. His eyes shot back up to her face as Belle turned back to him. "There's an extra $20 for you. Keep this to yourself. By the way, what's your name?" she asked.

"Luis… ah… Santiago… ma'am." No sense risking pissing her off.

Belle smiled. "Call me Bomber. Everyone around here does. Oh, do us a favor, and keep this ride to yourself, OK? Thanks. By the way, you weren't followed, were you?"

"Um… sure thing… yeah…" an honestly baffled look came over the young man's face at the followed question. "I don' think so… nah… didn't really look ya know…"

When he had gone, Belle turned back to her guests. "All right, Latoya. You're safe now. I need you both to tell me again what happened, slowly. Anything you can remember will help."

Latoya fell into a chair, sighing. She was a tall dark woman, strong features, hair cut mannishly short, and a tight athletic body, particularly her calves. She was in a tight white tube dress that came barely to her legs. Her face was hard and angular. In another time, her face could have been called regal. She was tired, brown eyes reddened and puffy.

Belle turned to the little girl, focusing her full attention on her, while trying not to scare her with the full force of her persona. Shanisa stuck her thumb in her mouth. She was small child with none of her mother's hard- edged good looks, just a sweet open face and wide brown eyes that held a perpetually curious look. Her pink dress was stained in spots and the intricate braiding in her hair getting frizzed. That was a bad sign. Latoya would go hungry before her girl looked bad or went without. Belle smiled. "Shanisa, why don't you start? Tell me about the man you brought home with you. Where did you meet him? What was he like?" she asked as gently as she could, while passing a help-me-out glance over her head at her mother.

"It's ok… tell aunt Belle…" Latoya said quietly, reaching out to stroke the little girl's head.

Belle blinked once at these words, but managed to keep her smile in place as Shanisa started talking.

"'kay… there wus this guy an' and he was sick or something… kept talkin' bout cars and ten plates… I brung him home ta momma cause he might be sick and might die or somthin' like that." She pauses. "He was white and in a suit an' stuff… acted like he was drunk or something' but I think thats cuz he hit his head." Her lip trembled and she turned to her moother, "I'm sorrry momma… didn't mean for those people to come… I… I…" She trembles, on the verge of tears. Latoya reaches out to gather her up in her arms.

Belle patted the girl's shoulder. "It's all right, Shanisa," she said softly. "What happened here wasn't your fault. That man was in some sort of trouble, but you couldn't have known that." She sighed. "Still, if he didn't scare you, but he people who were after him did, it's probably safe to guess that he wasn't going to hurt you."

Then she knelt close to Shanisa. "Tell you what," she said, pointing toward one of the doors in her house. "My bathroom is over there. If you go and get yourself cleaned up, I'll go get takeout for dinner. You like Chinese food? Now, your mother and I have some things to talk about, but she'll be right with you. OK?"

"'kay… " The little girl smiled up at Belle. "Thank you aunt Belle… momma said you should always say thank you." Standing on her tiptoes she managed to kiss the kneeling Belle on the chin the headed for the bathroom.

Once Shanisa was out of shot, Belle dropped the smile and sat down next to Latoya. "OK, I think I've got the picture. Just a couple of things," she said, all business now. "One, what was Ice doing there, and why did this guy off him? And two," she went on, reaching out and putting a hand on Latoya's shoulder, "what do you want to do? You can take the night off and stay here if you want. Or you can to the club, where we can both keep an eye on her. I don't think you have anything more to worry about from those types, but we can do it that way if you want. Just remember that neither you nor I can be in two places at once."

A look of shame crossed the black woman's face and she lowered her eyes. "He was there lookin' for his money… from before… use ta… ta turn tricks for Ice's boss… asshole is tryin' ta make me come back… I ain't trickin for him no more…"

Her voice trailed off for a moment then she looked back up at Belle. "You're gonna think I'm crazy… but the guy… the dude who killed Ice… never fuckin' touched him… not once… he just stared at him and he started screaming and bleeding… then fell out the window…" Her eyes go far away with the memory, "He never touched him…" Belle mulled that over for a second. Shock and stress could alter memory… but that much? She waited for a moment for Latoya to go on but she just looked thoughtful.

Then she stood up. "Well, you don't have to make up your mind right now. You and Shanisa have a shower, get yourselves cleaned up. Feel free to use my washer and dryer. They're in the back. I'll get that takeout and we'll all take it easy. OK?"

Latoya nodded. "Thank you… "

Belle watched Latoya go join her daughter in the bathroom, then picked up the phone again. The number she dialed this time was known to only herself and the parties at the other end: Weng Chow and his granddaughter Jun, who ran a high-priced fortunetelling house in Chinatown. What Belle wanted to have told, however, would be only indirectly connected with her fortune.

"Hello, Jun?" she said when the line was picked up. "I need to talk with your grandfather. Right away."

"Ah, yes, it has been some time, I will get him," Jun replied, her voice ever soft and delicate. There was a pause of only a few seconds before a male, slightly raspy voice came on the line, Weng Chow.

"Yes, good to hear from you again… I only wish it were under pleasant circumstances but I judge from your urgency it is not."

"Ah, would that it were otherwise," Belle replied ruefully. "I had been meaning to surprise you with a visit sometime soon, but circumstances have forced my hand. I can be there in twenty minutes. Will you see me?"

"But of course… anytime, you know that." She could hear the smile in is voice. "I shall be waiting." After saying a quick goodbye to Latoya and Shanisa, Belle set out. It was a pretty short drive from her place to Chinatown but she always felt like she had went about 2000 miles and a couple of centuries back. The street took on a stylized "oriental" look with pagoda styled buildings, colorful banners, stands and shops. It was a chaotic mix of cultural preservation and tourist trap like Chinatowns all over. Belle pulled up to Weng's place, one of the more tasteful locales and was greeted at the door by young Jun. She was a slender one, in her robes with her hair done up in a complicated style. She looked almost frail. Appearances can be deceiving. Ushering Belle with in, she dropped the "dainty maid" routine instantly.

"Hey Belle how's it been?" she asked with a smile. "Still going to the same tailor, I see."

Belle spread her hands. "Listen, if I changed my style now, I'd wipe out an entire industry!" she deadpanned. Then she pointed at Jun's outfit. "As if you're one to talk," she continued. "I see your taste in work clothes hasn't changed either. Let me see, that was in fashion, what, a century ago?"

Jun grinned. "Who am I to argue with 1000 years of tradition? Besides… helps the atmosphere more than a leather mini skirt and boob tube, don't you think?"

With that, she grinned and lifted the smaller woman off the floor, gathering her effortlessly into her arms. "But never mind that. Have you been practicing what I've taught you so far? And speaking of teaching, when are you gonna give into my charms and slide that sweet Oriental ass into the sack with me, so I cans how you some other moves I know?" Belle whispered half-teasingly–but only half–into Jun's ear.

Jun and her grandfather were well acquainted with the breadth and depth of Belle's sexual proclivities. The fact that Belle herself made little secret of them may have had something to do with it. The two women played around with this sort of banter from time to time, but there had been an undercurrent of tension almost from the first time they had met as adults, almost a year ago. And where it might lead was still unclear.

The two women had actually met for the first time over a decade ago, before Belle became "Belle." Despite all their differences–or perhaps because of them–the two hit it off, and Belle was glad that she could renew her friendship with Jun as well as her grandfather after so much time. Jun had fulfilled her early promise, becoming an attractive, intelligent young woman. Belle didn't mind that they both recalled their past association with her, because there didn't seem to be anyone else around who did anymore. That, and because she knew that these two would keep it to themselves in any case.

Jun, unflustered by the comment, replied, "Well, if your other 'moves' are anything like the ones you've been showing me, I don't think I'd survive… I'm a delicate oriental flower, you know." She winked as Belle put her down. "Grandfather is in his office. He's missed you… Well, I have to go deal with some tourists… see you after you're done?"

With those words, Belle turned serious again. "Hmm, maybe for a few minutes. But I've got a couple of friends waiting for me. They think I'm just getting takeout. In fact, it's because of what's happened to them today that I need to see the Old Man." That Belle used that particular term to refer to Jun's grandfather indicated more clearly than anything that this visit was business with a capital B.

"Anyway, knock 'em dead. This shouldn't take too long; either he'll already know what I want to know, or he'll send out his feelers–or whatever it is he does. Whatever the case, I'll come back soon and we'll make a weekend of it. Deal?"

Weng's office was much like the man, quiet, serene, and somewhat intimidating until you became familiar with it. It was decorated in a tasteful if somewhat eclectic style, a well-blended mix of east and west. As for the man himself, he was somewhat small and slender, much like his granddaughter, but force of presence made him seem much larger. He had a ancient yet strangely ageless face that could be anywhere from 50 to 80 or more, and direct piercing eyes and a long white moustache. He smiled as Belle entered, bidding her welcome. The girl was, in a way, as valuable to him as his own granddaughter. If her dress surprised him, halter top and scant string bikini bottom, it never registered on his face. he knew Belle's tastes quite well and he was not so old as to not appreciate them.

Belle smiled, both because she was glad to be in this place again, and because she knew that Weng Chow liked the way she looked. She usually dressed the way she did because she liked it, and because there was little point in someone built like she was trying to be inconspicuous. But with some people, Weng Chow among them, it was different. She liked giving him eye candy, and knew that it wouldn't affect their relationship, or their regard for one another. If anything, her showing herself and him appreciating what he saw was a token of their affection.

"I'm sorry to intrude on you like this," she said. "As I told Jun, I'll be back as soon as I cna for a real visit." The smile left her face. "I'm here on behalf of some friends of mine, and what happened to them earlier today." And she proceeded to relate events as Latoya and Shanisa had told them to her. When she was done, she asked, "Have you heard anything that might be connected with these matters?"

Weng listened closely then nodded. "I had heard of the event you speak of… but these details are most intriguing. I know the name of the man involved. Jason Williamson… a psychiatrist… a fascinating man. As far as my sources can determine he materialized a few years ago… according to the woman… he did nothing to this Ice… but killed him none the less… fascinating."

"Hmm. Well, I guess I could hardly be the only person to turn up out of nowhere, now, could I?" Belle chuckled. Then she frowned in concentration. "Do you think maybe Latoya just had a stress reaction–that maybe she's blocking out part of wha happened, or just doesn't remember? Or are you thinking maybe it really did happen the way she said, and this Jason guy just didn't do anything physically to Ice? And for that matter, what do you think about Shanisa mentioning 'cars and ten plates'? I can't see a connection, if only because license plates don't have more than seven characters. On the other hand, I don't think Shanisa was making that up. How do you think we should handle this?"

Weng listened, thought for a moment, then spoke. "Trappings of my business aside, I am no great believer in things unseen and stress can induce an odd reaction in people… and twice in the space of a day… talk to her again once she has calmed somewhat and see. This Jason has some very determined people very close on his trail evidently… ruthless people to threaten a small child in such a way." He allowed a brief look of contempt to cross his face then it returned to its normal impassive state. "As for what the girl said… I would think she is likely repeating something else to the best of her ability… she is a child… but what I have no idea of what it could be." He looked apologetic. "And finally as for what you should do… that depends on what you want to accomplish, Belle, keep your friend safe… or find out what is truly happening here."

Belle nodded. "Can't say much fairer than that. Thanks," she said. "I think we both know the way this is working out, though. I don't think it's a question of either/or. If I'm to protect my friend and her daughter, I'm going to have to find out what's really going on. The one presumes the other. However," and here she straightened up, "at least I now have a name associated with this situation. And if he's a practicing psychiatrist, he must have an office, and in all likelihood, be in the phone book. That gives me something to go on. Thank you again."

She smiled at Weng. "I hope you understand," she went, looking as apologetic as he did, "that I'd very much like to stay. And I promise I will be back for a real visit with the both of you, soon. I've missed you both. But this demands my attention right now. My friends need me. I need to get back to them. But I'll take your advice and ask them again after we've eaten. And then I'll see what there is to find at either this man's office, or his residence. I hope I wont need to involve either of you any further in this matter."

As she turned to leave, Belle stopped and looked back at Weng Chow. "Oh, there is one more little thing," she said. "I need to deliver a personal message to a local pimp named Eddie Silk. Would you by any chance know where I might find him?"

Weng nodded. "Ahh yes… the employer of the late and unlamented Ice… yes he can be found at a club called Katz, on the Strip." He gave her an address. "I suspect he will not enjoy the message?" At Belle's confirmation, he allowed a small bit of pleasure to show as he nodded. As she headed out Belle saw Jun dealing with some customers. She rolled her eyes over their shoulders and winked.

Belle winked back and blew her a kiss as she flicked open her aviators and slipped them back on. It was getting dark as she stepped back onto the streets, but she didn't seem to notice. Her next stop was a Chinese restaurant she frequented, where she ordered an assortment of food, in large portions. Three bags' worth. Then she told them she would be back by the time it was ready, and walked out again.

This time, she headed for the Strip. It wasn't a district per se, just the heart of a zone of steady degeneration. Bars, nightclubs and "entertainments" of a steadily more decedent nature, run down housing and dealers of all types from working girls to pushers. Even in the early evening the Strip was alive and moving. It never slept. As she contemplated what she was going there for, her expression changed, hardened, mirroring her state of mind. It was a good thing that her eyes were concealed, because anyone looking into them just then would have seen twin jets of blue flame.

It still being early, Belle was able to find a space in the Katz parking lot. It was strewn with broken bottles and trash. People hung near the entrance of the place, bathed in the flickering neon light. She got out of her car, and strode into the place. Belle cut an impressive figure, a blonde goddess striding across the dimly lit lot. A look silenced the one attempt at heckling her from a scrawny kid near the entrance. From the moment she set foot inside, all her senses were on alert. Katz was one of those places that revelled in the term dive. Low lighting and bare brick walls, it sat nestled between a porno theatre and burned out store front. Loud hard music pounded from suspended speaker, Social Kaos, a heavy metal band. Several mostly empty tables were scarrered around in no particular pattern around a raised stage. A pretty, skinny Latino girl was doing a listless bump and grind number to the beat, sweaty skin covered only by a tiny black g-string. Belle walked straight to the bar. "I'm looking for Eddie Silk," she said to the bartender, in no-bullshit tone of voice. "Where is he?"

As her shadow fell over the man, he looked up, a retort ready but it died as quickly as it formed. Jesus. He stared. Carl Kreel was short and stocky no giant but not a runt either. This bitch dwarfs me, he thought, What the fuck is she? He jerked his head toward a table in the rear. Belle turned and crossed the room in a few long strides.

The table in question was occupied by 4 men, one the middle, dressed well in a dark blue shirt open to show smooth chest, a simple gold chain hanging around his neck. He was white, but had a healthy and probably artificial tan, short blonde hair and pretty fine boned face. His eyes were a startling green in color. The other three were larger, dressed in jeans and bulky jackets that could conceal a multitude of sins. They looked eager as Belle approached. The head man, Silk, she assumed, merely watched impassively until she was close.

"Nice… I always got room for another girl… even one as large as you… rough trade johns 'll love you… the collar's a nice touch." He smiled. The expression was utterly humorless, something more fitting on a snake than a man.

"That your usual opening line?" Belle shot back. "What would a pretty-boy bottom-dweller like you know about rough trade, anyway? I'd have thought you were better connected to all the rest of the slime in this area. But if you don't recognize me after all this time, that's OK too. I can do this the hard way."

"Oh, I know you, Belle Maverick." He looked her up and down. "Impressive." His look was utterly calculating.

As she reached the table, she leaned over and put her hands down, hard. The cheap wooden table shuddered under impact. "You have nothing to offer me. In fact, you need to hear what I'm going to tell you." The other men snapped to attention, their eyes locking on to her as her hands hit the table. He raised a hand, restraining his attack dogs for now.

She leaned in closer, until she was in his face, bringing the full force of her presence to bear. "This is a business proposition. Stay away from Latoya and her daughter. Or I will come back, and you don't want that. Because," her hand jumped up and grabbed him by the throat, jerking him out of his chair. The move was quick and caught his boys off balance for a second before they sprang, pulling handguns from under their jackets, aiming them at her with eager hungry looks. His expression never wavered from the cool dispassionate stare it had always been.

"Latoya owes me money. She can work it off or pay me. It is that simple, Belle. Now… as pleasant as this would be under other circumstances… I advise you release me."

"If I have to come back here, I will put you out of business. Permanently. When I'm done, you will wish you'd got off as easy as Ice did." Her voice and manner did not betray any excitement, but it was clear that her words were not a threat, but a promise. Still looking straight into his eyes, in that same cool manner, she went on, "And one more thing: muzzle your dogs, unless you want to share a hospital room with them. You couldn't pay them enough in any case."

With that, Belle dropped him as if she were letting go of something distasteful. Which, in fact, she was. Eddie Silk smoothed his shirt, allowing himself a slight smile. His goons, embarrassed at being caught off guard, kept up the threat routine until he motioned them down. "Belle came her on business and it is concluded… though I can't say much for her style… drink, Belle?" She turned and walked away without another word.

Belle walked over and got back into her car. The whole business didn't take more than five minutes. Good. A quick stop to pick up my order, and I'll be back home inside of half an hour.

But as she drove back home with dinner, Belle found herself preoccupied by one thing. He hadn't said why or how much, but Silk did say that Latoya owed him money. It made no difference to her, and she had little sympathy for slime like him. What bothered Belle was the thought that Latoya might be taking advantage of her. They would have to have a long talk about that, in private–among other things. But, Belle decided as she neared her house, that could wait until after they had eaten. She'd only had a couple of quick snacks before Latoya had arrived.