All the roads we have to walk are winding
And all the lights that lead us there are blinding.
Heaving a sigh of relief at the sight of Latoya and Shanisa being all right, Belle realized that whoever just drove away had to have done this. And the only people who would have come to threaten these two would have been more of Silk's animals. That taxi driver, Santiago, must have been tailed after all. But by causing trouble in Belle's own home, Silk had gone too far. He had now forced her to make good on her promise to him. But that was for later. Right now, she had to find out what the present situation was, and try to make restitution. For however things might be between them, Belle had offered Latoya and her daughter protection, and had failed to carry through on that promise.
When she got up to them, she dropped into a squat, sitting on her heels. "You're all right?" she asked softly. "It was more of Silk's thugs, wasn't it? They were pulling out as I arrived." She put a hand gently on Latoya's shoulder. "How about telling me what happened over dinner, if you're feeling up to it? The takeout's in my car."
Latoya nodded, pressing a hand to her head. "You wouldn't believe me."
"Aunt Belle!" Shanisa ran up and hugged Belle tight around the knees. "She's an angel that came to save us!"
With that, Belle turned her gaze - or more accurately, her aviators -on the other girl, and asked, "And by the way, who are you and what are you doing here?"
In passing, she noted, with a touch of irony, that the four of them were all more or less similarly undressed. Later, that might be cause for amusement, but for now, Belle only allowed herself a half-smile.
Fandora rose smoothly to her feet. "Perfect timing; I think Latoya and Shanisa need a familiar face right now. They're not hurt, but I think the TV needs a coroner. You're Belle, right? I'm Fandora. As for what happened… Two thugs and their boss - I think they called him 'Charlie' - tried to shake down Latoya. I dealt with them; the blood, gun parts and severed fingers are from one of the thugs, a bald guy with a snake tattoo on his scalp. The shattered knife was Charlie's. Latoya clobbered the third and I threw him out. That must have been their car I heard grinding away. And speaking of cars, could you give me a ride? I left my friends back at Mars, on 3rd, and umm… well, I'm good at getting to trouble spots, but I'm not so good at getting back. Could you help?" Fandora had seized the initiative, knowing that if she stopped or even slowed down, she'd never be able to speak coherently around this giantess. After a moment's pause for Belle to digest what she had just said, "Oh, and Latoya and Shanisa might tell you some very strange tales; they're true."
Belle took in the girl's words impassively. She recognized the effect she was having on Fandora, and her reaction to it. And she didn't mind in the slightest. She had long since ceased being surprised at the way men and women alike reacted to her. If another person found her attractive, and she felt the same way about that person, she would usually act without hesitation. But right now there were other matters that demanded her attention, even if the mere sight of Fandora didn't threaten to dredge up memories which Belle would just as soon leave buried.
Whatever the case, she had a hard time believing that this girl - who was, what, fifteen, sixteen tops? - could have done what she said she did. At a glance, she didn't look like any sort of fighter, with her taut but hardly muscular build, even though Belle knew from experience that looks weren't always indicative of ability. The way she stood up just now was certainly suggestive of some sort of training. But the circumstantial evidence was hard to refute, and Latoya and Shanisa both appeared to support what Fandora was saying. After a moment's consideration, Belle stood up again, easily drawing herself up to her full height.
"It looks like I owe you. Thanks," she said with a smile. "I'm Belle Maverick, as you've already figured out." With that, she reached out with one hand, and casually righted the sofa. "Most people around here call me 'The Blonde Bomber' or simply 'Bomber.' Have a seat while I get dinner out of the car." She walked out, and came back shortly with the takeout in hand. Placing the bags on the table, Belle crossed back into the living room.
"Latoya, you and Shanisa go ahead and start without me," she said as she moved around. "I'll take Fandora here back where she came from. I figure it's the least I can do. Hang on while I change into my working clothes," she said as she headed into her bedroom.
When she came out, the main difference was that her outfit was one piece instead of two. Instead of the leather bikini, Belle was now wearing a sleeveless leather leotard, that came all the way up to her neck. Also, she had changed the plain leather strap about her throat for a wide leather collar with studs, matching her wristbands. Latoya knew that this was what Belle usually wore at her club. And when Belle turned to face Latoya and her daughter, Fandora made an additional discovery: the leotard was a thong, revealing a pair of asscheeks as impressively formed as the rest of her.
I wonder if I can get into her bed… Fandora was startled at herself, but the idea was awfully attractive.
"OK, I'll lock the door behind me," she said to Latoya. "Don't open it for anyone but me. I'll be back as soon as I've taken Fandora back where she came from. Then we're gonna have another talk. In the meantime, if you want to lie down, feel free to use my bed. I've locked the closet and the bureau. Stay away from them. And don't go near the door to the basement, either. Especially Shanisa. There are a lot of things in this house that are dangerous if you don't know how to handle them."
Latoya nodded, mentally exhausted even if Fandora's touch had rejuvenated her physically. Scooping up Shanisha she headed for the bedroom. The little girl waved over her shoulder at Belle and Fandora. With that, Belle turned to Fandora, and gestured toward the door. "After you," she said.
Once they were on the road, Belle said, "Mars Pizza on 3rd huh? You've come an awful long way just to risk your neck to help out a couple of strangers. Thanks again."
"I'm a priestess and spirit-bearer. That brings responsibilities with it; I couldn't ignore them if I tried." Despite her superficially calm tone, Fandora's attraction to and fantasising over the blonde giantess was obvious to the experienced people-reader.
"A priestess, huh?" Belle drawled. "Aren't you a little young to be pushing cults?" Her tone was half-joking; on the one hand, she had little patience with religious nonsense, and on the other, she wanted to see how thick the girl's skin was. If something was going to happen between them -and given the degree of lust Fandora had barely kept concealed from the moment she'd laid eyes on Belle, the odds were extremely in favour of just such an outcome - then Belle would have to have some idea beforehand of just what Fandora's tolerances were, emotionally as well as physically.
"I don't push things on anyone, Belle; the first law of my faith is 'An ye harm none, do as ye will;' the second is 'There is no "one true way."'" Fandora was perfectly calm; she'd never been asked about it before, but she'd rehearsed the answer, just in case. "And in my faith, if you're old enough to perform the rites, you're old enough to perform the rites. Historically, many priests and priestesses started even younger than me."
"You've got it all laid out, huh?" Belle was unperturbed. "Anyway, people got started historically in lots of things a lot earlier than they do nowadays." Though maybe not in all cases, she added to herself. "But if it gets you through the day, it's none of my business."
"I try, I try - which is more than I can say for a lot of my classmates. And you're right; lifespans were shorter then, so you couldn't afford to spend 20 years training your successor. But teens can be very competent - just ask Charlie," and she smiled in satisfaction.
"Yes, well, I'm sure he'd have a few choice words about that--practically his entire vocabulary, I imagine," Belle said with a smile. "But whatever you are, I think even you'd have to admit that you're no ordinary teen, if what I heard back there is any indication." These words might have had more of an edge, if she wasn't still smiling as she added them.
"That's true; I'm a lot of things, but ordinary is none of them."
Belle turned thoughtful. "I'm grateful, but you should be more careful where you hang out. The Strip is where people go in and never come out again. I can tell you're a good girl from a nice part of town, because I knew someone a lot like you a long time ago. She used to hang out on the Strip, until one night when she went in and disappeared. And like so many others, no one knows who she was or what happened to her anymore." Belle paused and looked briefly at Fandora, then back at the road. "I like you, and I'd hate for you to end up like that. So if you won't stay where you belong, at least be aware of the consequences."
"I go where I'm needed; I don't have a choice. But I'm always appropriately cautious. Um, do you have a business card around here somewhere? Maybe later I can help find out what happened to that other girl."
Belle frowned in confusion. "Huh? What 'other girl?'" she asked. Then it dawned on her. "Oh, you mean the girl I was just talking about." She turned thoughtful for a moment, as if choosing her words. Then she continued, "She's been gone a long time now. Over a decade, easily. I'd guess that you hadn't even started school when she… ceased to exist."
"Probably not… " Then several things click together in Fandora's mind. "You were that girl! What happened?"
Behind her aviators, Belle blinked once, twice. The atmosphere in the car seemed to chill noticeably. Her expression was unreadable. Finally, she pulled over to the curb, stopped the car, and spoke again. "I said I owe you, and I meant it. But, even if you guessed right, and the girl I spoke of wasn't an object lesson I invented out the images of lots of ones like her, but a real person, and if, by some chance, that girl is, in fact, me, that doesn't give you any right to stick your nose into another person's life." She paused and took several deep breaths, her hands gripping the steering wheel.
Then she added, in a voice considerably calmer, "But if you absolutely must have an answer… then it was life that 'happened.'" And with that, Belle started the car again.
"As I said, I don't push things on other people; I also don't push for more than they're willing to tell. Your secrets are yours to give, not mine to take."
Suddenly Belle chuckled, a low, rumbling sound in her throat. "Now, about this talk of 'business cards,'" she said, keeping her gaze straight ahead. "Sweets, the people who are in the market for the kinds of services I provide already know where to look. And even if they don't, I guarantee you, business cards aren't their style." She shook her head for emphasis as she spoke that last phrase.
After a moment's silence, Belle spoke up again. "Tell you what. You know where I live now. If you really need to, you can come over and see me again sometime." Then she chuckled again. "In any case, even if I did have business cards to give out, you couldn't get into my place of business. You're underage, and I'd have to throw you out."
Fandora shrugged. "Worth asking; these days, even some pushers have business cards. Now that's sad."
Belle made a face. "That leads into a discussion of economics and politics, the full ramifications of which we don't have time to go into right now."
"Agreed. A discussion for another time - maybe."
When they reached Mars, Fandora opened the door, getting out of the car as smoothly and gracefully as she could, then turning back to Belle leaned over from the hips. "Like I said, I have to help people. And besides, I enjoy it." And turned to walk into the restaurant, swaying her hips (she hoped) provocatively.
With the motor still running, Belle watched Fandora's bouncing young cheeks through her Ray-Bans (they don't call mirrorshades "girl-watchers" for nothing) as she entered the pizza parlour. When the door had closed behind her, Belle gunned the engine and pulled out of the parking lot. "I give you 'E' for effort, kid," she said to herself as she slipped back into traffic.