Commandante Ivana Cantora felt the eyes of everyone in the compound follow her as she stepped across the bloody and broken ground. Her men, pumped from combat, silently lusted after her. They wanted her, their hunger sharpened by the knowledge that they could not have her. She pulled her shoulders back, straining the worn fatigue blouse as it tried to contain her generous bust, and strode through the smoking ruins. Two hours ago this compound had housed a school and clinic operated by a missionary group. Now the clinic was in flames, its doctors dead or taken prisoner, and the school a smoldering ruin. The mission at Agua Dulce was closed.
A scruffy but heavily armed man shuffled quickly toward her and saluted stiffly. "Si Commandante?"
"Did you get the girl?"
"Si, Commandante. We have sent her back to San Isidro as you ordered."
"Good. Make sure she stays in isolation and notify the Revolutionary Council."
The prisoners watched her with fear. She stopped in front of a small cluster of prisoners. They had been the clinic staff, doctors, and schoolteachers. Now they huddled, wrists bound behind them, coughing from the smoke and sobbing. She fingered the safety switch on her sub-machine gun as she looked over the pitiful group. Fear and power. Two powerful aphrodisiacs.
It had been a good day and Ivana was very pleased with herself. The girl was the only one that was important. The gringos would pay handsomely to get her back. The rest weren't worth what it would cost to truck them back to town.
She looked over the group. Wrinkling her nose, she picked several of the men. "Not much to choose from today." Addressing the soldier in charge of the group, she gave him her orders "Bring him. And him... and him, " she said pointing to three prisoners. "Have the rest dig graves. Then make sure that you use plenty of lime this time, Domingo. I don't want any mistakes."
A soldier hustled the three men the Commandante had selected to one of the trucks. One of the prisoners, his eyes wide with fear, was nearly hysterical as he was pushed into the bed of the truck.
"Wha... Where are we going?"
The guard silenced him with a slap.
"Shut up. One of you lucky boys will get to fuck Commandante Ivana." The soldier braced himself as the truck lurched forward. "The other two will get to die quickly."
The morning was already bright, hot, and humid. Ivana walked from the shower. Her light brown skin glowed from scrubbing. She looked at the handcuffs hanging from the rail at the head of her bed and smiled. He had been a school teacher and a more than adequate lover. The guards had taken him away while she bathed. The knowledge that they would be spreading the lime over his body didn't bother her a bit as she tied her robe's belt snugly around her slim waist.
She was already thinking of the Claxton girl as the orderly brought her coffee. The girl's family was said to have offered over twenty million dollars for her return. It was her ticket out of San Isidro and into the halls of power, possibly all the way to the Council itself.
"Bring me the gringa," she ordered.
Within moments she was looking down on the cringing slip of a girl. Ivana walked around the girl and let her fingertips trail over the girl's short blonde hair, slender hips, and small round breasts. Returning to her chair, Ivana crossed her arms and fixed the girl with a hard look.
"Strip." Ivana smiled as the girl took off her clothing like an automaton. "Until I tell you otherwise, your name will be Anastacia and you will help me in a little plan of mine."
The girl stood naked in front of the desk. Her skin was pale where her clothes had shielded her from the sun. She shivered despite the heat and she rubbed the goosebumps that covered her arms.
"Stand up straight," Ivana commanded. She slipped a hand inside her robe as she admired her captive's pert nipples.
"Beautiful," Ivana said, half to herself. "What is your name?"
The poor girl never saw Ivana's coffee cup as it sailed across the room to strike her shoulder and spray hot coffee all over the side of her face.
"Nooo," Ivana screamed. "You are Anastacia Claxton, rich Yanqui cunt and counter- revolutionary whore."
The girl shook like a lab animal, trapped and alone.
"And if you don't want to join your friends, you'll do you what you're told until I tell you different."
The girl nodded numbly.
"In the meantime." Ivana's smile died before it reached her eyes. She pulled her robe open. "Come over here. It's time you learned some of your other duties."
Simon woke to his alarm's blaring bell. Slapping the clock into silence, he stared at the ceiling in the dim light. The house was as quiet as a tomb. He didn't look at the empty half of the bed were Arabella should have been. She'd left without a word or note almost a month ago. Standing at the bathroom sink, he looked at his bleary reflection. He kept telling himself that he'd get used to being alone again in time. The question was when the time would come. He figured that he was still in pretty good shape for a desk pushing bureaucrat in his mid-thirties. He'd gone through his morning routine in total silence and was just about to leave the house when he found himself staring at three policemen walking up to his doorstep.
The shortest cop spoke first. "Excuse me Mr. Woodsman. Can we ask you a few questions?"
Simon looked at their police cruiser blocking the driveway. "I guess so," he said, stepping out on to the porch and shutting the door behind him. He felt vaguely uneasy as he looked at their rumpled uniforms and bad shaves.
The short cop spoke again. "Do you live here alone sir?"
"Right now I do."
"Where are the other tenants?"
Simon watched as the other two cops left them and walked around the house. "Please ask your men to stay out of the flower beds." Shorty, as Simon thought of him, didn't react. "My fiancé has gone to stay with her grandmother for a while."
As silently as they had left, the two cops reappeared at Shorty's flanks. "Thank you sir," Shorty said as he turned and walked back down the drive.
Simon waited until they had left to check around the house. He saw by their tracks that Shorty's companions had looked into windows and tried the back gate. His shirt stuck to his back and his collar felt tight as he climbed into his car. Somebody was looking for Arabella. He needed some help. The first thing Simon did when he got to work was to phone Juliet.
"Hey fairy godmother, I'm buying lunch in exchange for a little advice."
Sitting in a little coffee shop Simon told Juliet about his encounter with the three false cops. She watched him without saying a word. Putting the mug down, she ran her tongue around her dark red lips before speaking.
"Sweetie, I think you're right," she said, digging through her purse and retrieving her cigarette case and lighter.
"But why? Why now?," Simon felt bile rise in the back of his throat.
Juliet leaned back to light a cigarette. Not for the first time, Simon was reminded of the old film-noir vids; the voluptuous femme fatale using her lush beauty to distract the hero. Blowing a cloud of blue smoke over her shoulder, Juliet waved her hand as if discussing something inconsequentially simple.
"The Provisional Government is trying to go legit. Clean up its act. Hide the embarrassing little blemishes like gun running politicians and local rebellions." She paused to consider her immaculately manicured dragon-red nails. "Sounds like someone wants to make sure that Arabella doesn't show up on the evening news saying something that might upset the little people."
Simon squirmed in his chair. A young lady appeared at Juliet's shoulder and handed her a note. Distracted, Simon only noticed the visitor as she was leaving the table.
He changed the subject. "I didn't realize that you'd gotten a new assistant. What happened to Dee?"
"Oh, you know. She moved on. Charlene's been with me for about two weeks now." She put her cigarette out. "But look, sweetie, why don't you take a vacation? I've got a little job you're perfect for down in Puerto Grande. Go someplace warm and sunny and take your mind off this shit for a little while."
Simon's eyes followed Charlene's svelte form around the room. "No. I've got too much work to do here." He got up to leave. "Thanks for coming to lunch and listening to me bitch and moan."
"You watch out for yourself. And try to relax a little. Get laid for Christ's sake. You look like you need it."
"Yeah. Sure. Thanks," Simon mumbled as he picked up the check.
Back at work, Simon shrugged off Juliet's advice and occupied himself with the details of his job for the rest of the day. Finally, at almost seven o'clock, the cleaning lady's appearance reminded him that he needed to go home, for sleep and food if nothing else.
He made his way to the parking lot and tossed his briefcase into the passenger seat. He had just sat down behind the steering wheel when he heard a noise, like a car backfiring, and the driver's side window shattered. His instincts took over and he dove out of the car. Another spider web grew on the windshield, right where his head had been seconds before.
.... There is more of this story ...