Tasha finally comes face to face with the leader of the gang that’s been harassing her, and all she wants to do is an about-face back to her apartment. Fortunately, her hero comes to her rescue and carries her off to safety, but not without some collateral damage for both the bad guys and themselves. Now she’s stuck with her hairy hero who has more than sleep in mind for them both.
Will Tasha be able to fend off his advances? Are they finally finished with the hanky gang? Where in the world are they?
To say I was depressed was not only an understatement, but not quite the whole truth. I was scared nearly out of my wits which was unfortunate because that’s all I had going for me. The gang cops drove me to a vile neighborhood a couple of blocks down, a terrible place of broken windows and wretched residents. Ugly faces looked out of the busted windows and the alleyways were filled with the most vile scum known to man. I thought it was a bit better than my own block.
They drove down one of those filthy alleys and parked the car at a side entrance to an abandoned restaurant. They dragged me out and into the ruined kitchen, or so I expected it to look. Instead it was in perfect condition complete with fancy French chefs working at the counters. I thought I was experiencing a mirage until the smell hit me and my stomach reminded me it hadn’t been fed all evening. Even if it was a mirage my stomach was willing to give it a try.
Unfortunately, the cops pulled me past the food and out into the front of the restaurant, or rather the middle. To fool everyone who passed by there was a false wall at the front that let in only a little natural light. The real room was filled with clean tables covered in white cloths and most of the places were filled with people in dresses and coattails. Along the walls were booths of curved, overstuffed seats with two chairs on one side. A man in a fancy top hat with a white band and coat passed by us and out into the dark alley.
The crooked cops led me to one of the stuffed seats where a balding, short bespectacled man in a dark suit sat with his broad, a woman in a wine-colored dress with blond hair that could only have been made in a dye factory. The woman had on a coy smile and a gallon of perfume. She puffed on a long cigarette with a large green ring at the end of one of her fingers, and the man ate spaghetti with all the manners of a one-legged chicken. He glanced up and sneered at me. The look would have been more intimidating if he hadn’t had sauce on his chin.
The policemen set me down in one of the chairs and stood behind me. The man glared at them and jerked his head toward the kitchen. “Get on outta here,” he sneered. “She can’t get far.” The cops glanced at each other and wandered back to the kitchen. I glanced around and couldn’t see any other way to escape the posh prison of this restaurant.
I looked between the pair with the fancy woman smoking her cigarette and the pig-man gorging himself on pasta. Under the circumstances there was only one comment I could make. “If you’re going to kill me the least you could do is give me a last meal.”
The woman laughed, but the man didn’t even crack a smile. He looked up from his plate and sneered. “You’re a bold one, aren’t you?” he shot back.
“I’ve got nothing to lose except weight, and I don’t think your goons brought me here for some exercise,” I replied.
“You must excuse them,” the woman spoke up. “They’re quite useful, but very stupid.”
“And a great risk,” the man added. “You should get rid of them and-”
“-and you should keep your mouth shut,” the woman snapped at him. The short man shrunk back and sulked in his noodles. I glanced between the pair in bewilderment. The woman noticed my face and laughed. “I know what you’re thinking, I’ve seen it on a lot of faces. You thought this butterball here was the leader of the Green Bandanna gang, didn’t you?”
“Um, maybe?” I squeaked out.
The woman leaned back and puffed out a ring of smoke. “It’s an honest mistake, and I keep up appearances by keeping this oaf around. Besides, he makes me laugh.” The man raised his head from his spaghetti and gave a toothy grin. She laughed and patted him on the head. “Such a silly little man.”
“Thank you, my dear,” he replied before he returned to stuffing his face.
The woman glanced back to me, and in the dim lighting the green ring on her finger sparkled. “But where are my manners. My name is Madam Sphinx, leader of the Green Bandannas.”
“Madam Sphinx?” I repeated.
“Don’t you like it? It gives a sense of the mysterious.” And the ludicrous, but I wasn’t about to tell my captor that.
“-Taylor,” Sphinx finished for me. “I know your name, but that’s not what I brought you here to find out. I want to know the man who keeps protecting you and eliminating my men. That last one was one of my best hitmen, and from what the cops told me he was tossed out of a window like a rag doll.”
“More like a heavy rock,” I quipped.
Sphinx scowled and impatiently tapped the end of her cigarette into a tray. “You’re annoying me, little girl. Just tell me the name of the man who’s protecting you and I’ll let you on your way.”
I shrugged. “I don’t know his real name, but his enemies call him The Furred Avenger.” The little man snorted into his food, and Sphinx glared at him.
“Such a childish name, and I’m in no mood for childish games.” She leaned toward me and her eyes narrowed as she looked at me. “I’m not someone to be trifled with, girl. I haven’t gotten to the head of this organization by tolerating imbeciles. I’ve ordered men to their deaths and others to kill their enemies. I won’t hesitate to kill a stupid girl like you.”
Suddenly the temperature in the room heated up to boiling, and all my wit wilted. I glanced around for help, but that’s when I noticed everyone in the room wore a green armband. It was like an Irish family reunion without the good booze and good company. Those armbands meant I wouldn’t receive so much as a smile from them, much less help.
“Um, could I have a chance to think about this?” I asked her.
“How long do you need?” she wondered.
“Oh, about forty years,” I replied.
Sphinx gestured to a waiter, who walked over beside his boss and bowed to her. The woman waved her well-manicured hand at me. “Kill her.” He pulled out a pistol from his vest and pointed it at me.
I flung up my arms and scooted to the end of my chair. “W-wait! I think I’m getting a name!” I yelped. I shut my eyes and rubbed my fingers in circles against my temples. “I’m seeing a man’s face. He’s very young and handsome, and I really wish he was here.”
Sphinx pounded her fist against the table and her face was a mask of fury. I wished she’d change it to something else more pleasant. “I didn’t ask for my fortune told, I just want that man’s name!”
I looked wildly around for some escape. “He’s. . .he’s-” My eyes lit on a familiar face. “He’s here!” I gasped in a voice even I barely heard.
“What was that?” Sphinx asked me. She followed where my wide eyes led and saw a gentleman complete with top hat and coat standing in the doorway of the kitchen. It was Greg, but no longer was he the plain apartment manager but instead a suave, sophisticated man. His clothes didn’t quite fit him, but he looked so possessed of himself that nobody could get past his smooth smirk. Sphinx leaned over to her pudgy companion. “Who in the devil is that?” He shook his head and shrugged his shoulders.
“I haven’t any idea,” he whispered back.
Sphinx glanced up at her gunman waiter. “Go ask the nice gentleman to join us, will you?” The waiter bowed and walked over to the gentleman. They exchanged a few words, and the waiter led Greg back to our table. He took off his hat and bowed his head at our small, joyous party.
“Good evening ladies, gentle-er, man,” he hesitated as he glanced at Sphinx’s pudgy accomplice.
The man scowled and Sphinx chuckled. “Good evening, sir. I don’t believe we’ve met.”
“No, I don’t believe we have.” He glanced at me, and smiled. “You have a lovely little party here. Mind if I join you?”
“You seem to have the full attention of our companion, so we don’t have much choice,” Sphinx offered. She gestured to the empty spot on the cushioned seat beside her. He smiled and glanced around the table where his eyes fell on the empty chair beside me.
“I would rather sit here if you wouldn’t mind,” Greg replied, and took the seat beside me. I had to fight the urge to throttle him and hug him at the same time, and opted for surprised silence.
Sphinx smiled, but her pleasure didn’t go past the wrinkles on her face. She leaned forward and put her elbows on the table. “You’ve been a very naughty boy?”
“Oh, have I?” Greg replied as he set the top hat on the table. I noticed it had a familiar white band around the stove pipe top.
“Yes, you have. You haven’t introduced yourself,” Sphinx pointed out.
“I’m terribly sorry. My name is Phillip Patterson,” he replied. He gestured to her and her companion. “And you are-?”
“Sphinx, and this gentleman here is Mr. Swallow.” His name suited him as he swallowed the last of his spaghetti in one big, appetite-stealing gulp.
“You’re being kind to him, and insulting to gentleman,” Greg smirked.
Mr. Swallow scowled at Greg. “You’re one to talk, your suit doesn’t even fit you.”
Greg held out his arms to show off the loose sleeves and glanced down at himself. “I’m afraid it was second-hand. I didn’t have time for a better fitting, and couldn’t afford to be picky.”
“What would have made you in such a hurry?” Sphinx asked him.
Greg glanced at me out of the corners of his eyes. “Well, you see, I was in a hurry to catch a friend and thought I didn’t have any time to lose, so I borrowed the first suit I could find.” My mouth fell open when I realized he’d borrowed the suit of the man I’d seen leave the restaurant, but I doubt he’d asked permission.
“How very touching, and very ingenious of you.” She blew a puff of smoke up in the air and slyly grinned at him. “To tell you the truth I’ve been wanting to meet you to give you a proposition, though I did expect you to be taller.”
Greg smirked. “Sorry to disappoint,” he replied.
“Will you hear me out on my proposal?”
“That depends. Is the money good?” Greg wondered.
“And the benefits?”
“If you survive they can be very good.”
“That doesn’t sound very definite.”
“Nothing in life is definite, Mr. Patterson,” Sphinx pointed out.
“And the duties? Will it involve weekends?” he teased her.
“I’m afraid you’ll be on call personally from me,” she told him.
“And what will be your commands?” he wondered. I had no idea how he could be so smooth with the waiter beside us with a gun, and these two psychotics sitting opposite us. I wanted to run straight through the wooden false front and to the nearest station-wait, that wouldn’t have been a good idea. Maybe home to bed-wait, that wasn’t safe, either. The more I thought about where to run, the fewer options I had except for my workplace, and I’d never run there.
“You’ve taken care of several of my men without any problems, so why not take care of the men causing me problems?” Sphinx suggested.
“Murder?” he asked her.
She wrinkled her nose and leaned back in her seat. “Murder is such an ugly word.”
“An ugly word for an ugly job,” Greg countered.
Sphinx shrugged. “I prefer to see it as competition elimination, but all this talk is boring me. Will you or won’t you take my offer?”
“A moment, please. I’ve heard the benefits of taking the job, but what about the consequences of refusing your offer?” he asked her.
Sphinx gestured to the waiter who stood on the other side of Mr. Swallow. The man opened his vest and pulled out his gun which he pointed at me. “Does that answer your question?” she returned.
“Unfortunately, very perfectly,” Greg replied. He glanced at me with a smile, then looked back to Sphinx. “Would you mind giving us a moment alone?”
The gang leader smiled and bowed her head. “But of course, but only ten minutes.” She stood and Mr. Swallow followed suit. “Oh, and don’t think of trying to run away. I have more than just his gun on this table.”
Greg bowed his head. “We wouldn’t think of doing such a rude thing.”
“And remember, ten minutes.”