Zeus and Io - Books 1 and 2
Chapter 16

Copyright 2012,2013 by Harry Carton


"Zeus," said Io in her avatar's calm, steady voice, "is Artemis going to be all right?"

"Yes, Io," I answered. "The Kevlar vest stopped the bullet. She may have a broken or cracked something or other. I've heard of cases where a sharp impact right over the sternum will stop the heart, but she's got a regular pulse, so she's okay on that score."

"That is good. I would be displeased to go on with this mission if she was seriously hurt."

"'Displeased' is an understatement. I'd be seriously..."

"Seriously what?" Arti said in a low tone.

"Oh good! You're awake again," I said in a relieved tone. "Seriously pissed off, is what I'd be. You can't take out one of my team members without seriously pissing me off."

"Team members," she whispered. Then more audibly, she said, "It hurts to breathe. Was I shot?"

"You were shot, and you were hit. But the vest did its job, so you're just sore."

"What about him? The DEA guy?"

"I'm almost sure he's not DEA. Probably 5225. I shot him back. If he was wearing one, his vest got hit. If not ... well, he's pretty much dead, I guess. I guess the attempt to take me isn't in the 'take me alive' category any more, no matter what the email says about 'not to be damaged.' That guy was shooting," I said.

"Zeus," said the ever-logical Io, "he was shooting, true. But was he shooting at you or Arti? I take it that he was close enough to shoot at either of you."

"Hard to tell, Io. But he hit Arti. And it was a well aimed shot. Center mass ... Now I'm really pissed off! He was shooting at my girl, not even at me."

Artemis reached over and took my hand. "But he didn't kill me, Zeus. I'm the Goddess of the Hunt. I don't even have a scratch. I'm still here ... although it hurts like a royal bitch to breathe. I'm just going to lie here for a while, and let Io do all the work. Wake me up if we're going to catch the ambulance."

She put her hand between the seat belt and the pad of clothing that was protecting her chest. There was the trace of a smile on her lips as she shut her eyes.

"So you're sure that there's no trace of the ambulance any more?" I asked Io, some time later.

We'd been cruising around, getting glimpses here and there of possible ambulance sightings. The cameras on the traffic 'copters weren't exactly cooperating. First they were trying to get in position around the airport, to see the 'scene of the shootout.' Then they shifted to a high speed chase out on the 805 (that's 'California-speak' for Interstate 805). Io had not been able to get a satellite view of the area, and apparently the Mexican kidnappers had been savvy enough to arrange their route to avoid the traffic cams at major intersections. Unlike what you see on TV, there isn't universal camera coverage at every single location in a big city.

"I suggest," said Io "that we get Artemis back to the camper where she can get more comfortable. We can search for the girls from there as well as from a moving H2."

So that's what we did. Back at the camper, I moved Arti into the bedroom, where she could stretch out and get as comfortable as possible. I'd sleep in her bunk.

Io was still monitoring everything we could monitor, but the police weren't even aware that there had been a kidnapping, yet.

In Phoenix, our fake call that there was a teenage Mexican girl who was a drug mule had led to nothing. Two Mexican girls, including Maria, had been stopped, searched, passed through the TSA's x-ray machines and sent on their way. The roster for the connecting flight to San Diego had Maria's name, but she hadn't checked in by flight time.

It seemed that all three girls had been taken. That news was confirmed by a pair of emails that was waiting in JJ Reodondo's inbox.

"Packages W and B picked up. Shipment is proceeding according to plan."

And two hours later:

"Package M has been added to the shipment. Tomatoes due to arrive in Juarez tonight. Will proceed to the farm."

White, Black and Mexican. They had all three.

It was Martinez' turn to use all the colorful language he had learned in the Navy.

"We missed them. All of them," he said, concluding his mini-tirade.

By 1500 hours, the second email had been sent. Io's monitoring of the local news revealed the following: the family meeting Barbara Hackamore had alerted the San Diego police. It seems Barbara had been traveling with her best friend, Astrid Ka'lune, and they were missing. According to a statement from airline officials, the pair had gotten on in Des Moines with a nice, young, Latino man; but then had taken ill, during the flight, and had fallen asleep. An ambulance had met them at the airport and that was the last seen of them. The young man, saying he'd notify their families, had gone down the jetway. Apparently, he hadn't notified anyone. A later check revealed that he was traveling under a false identity, and had an Illinois driver's license. An APB was issued for the man and the two girls. Barbara was a fourteen year-old, white girl from the San Diego suburbs. Astrid was a fourteen year-old, black-Asian girl, originally from Hawaii.

"We missed them by minutes," Martinez said. "Must have passed by the Latino while looking for them. It's frustrating to have gotten so close, and wound up with nothing."

"The way it turned out," I replied, "I'll take nothing. Arti could have gotten shot ... maybe killed."

"You know, I can hear you," Arti called from the other room. "Are you taking my name in vain?"

"Yes, Goddess," I answered, raising my voice a little, "we are. Just rest your weary head now and stop eavesdropping. I'm going to hook up the camper to the car, and we'll hightail it back to El Paso. There's no way we'll catch up with the 'tomato' shipment but we might as well try."

"Zeus, wait!" she said. "If we can't get there before them, why not go directly to the desert cabin where they are going to take the girls? Maybe we can get there first."

"Because I can't figure out how to get across the border with the guns," I said simply, adding, "and you're hurt."

"You saying that you can't pick up the slack if I'm a bit hurt?" she asked. I hadn't expected this assault on male competence. "I picked up your slack when you had a bum leg. I even went diving! Besides, I'm not that hurt. A little rub on the sore spots with some Arnica Montana, and I'll be good as new in a few days' time."

"What Montana?"

"Arnica Montana. It's a homeopathic medicine. If you don't know about it, you've been hurting for too long."

"Oh. You mean like voodoo medicine," I chuckled derisively.

"Actually, it should be vodun, but let's not quibble when you're clearly wrong. Arnica is not snake oil. It really works. But if you don't want to rub it into my wounded chest several times a day, I'll do it myself."

It must be 'female jujitsu:' the ability to turn any discussion into one where you've lost, even before you knew that it was a contest.

"If you want some, I'll go to the drug store and get it for you. You won't even have to get your sneakers dirty," I said.

When in doubt, concede gracefully.

I strolled up the street, with Sonny, to the same grocery store where I'd foiled a robbery, leaving Arti and Io to line up the camper and the H2's hitch apparatus. Io, of course, would do the driving. Arti was the beard, so no one would suspect the car of driving itself.

I trolled through the pharmacy section of the grocery store and found, to my dismay, that I had a choice of which type of Arnica Montana to get: cream or little bitty pills.

I called the pharmacist over and asked, "Which should I get for a real bad bruise?"

"Oh, both," he said helpfully. "You can take the pills every hour or two, just dissolve them in your mouth. And the cream is for rubbing in lightly right on the spot that's bruised. You almost can't take too much of either. It's a natural remedy."

So is water, but you can take too much of it, I thought to myself. To him I said, "Okay, thanks. I'll take two of each."

Matching deeds to the words, I took two of each, and picked up some stuff for sore muscles that worked more conventionally: regular mentholated ointment that felt cool and worked up to heat. That was for later, she'd have to heal up a bit before she could stand any type of liniment. When I got to the counter, there was Lucy – the checkout gal from the other day.

"It's you!" she practically screamed.

She leapt over the counter and enveloped me in a hug.

"You don't know how grateful I am ... was. You saved my life. I mean he had a gun and he pointed it at me and I froze..."

I could tell she was just warming up. I looked at her: she was kneeling on the checkout counter with her arms around my neck.

"HEY, EVERYBODY! He's back! The hero from the other day."

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