Airs and Heiresses
New York, 1938
St. Regis Hotel
"So there I was, staring down a barrel INCHES from death...and I told the man, 'darling REALLY, if you simply must shoot me do allow me to remove my earrings. They are Cartier, you know." Molly Maltese paused to take a sip of her Red Snapper, popping the olive neatly between her cherub lips before gnashing it to a pulp. "And the man was quite flummoxed, he said- I say, is that Riza Hawkeye?"
She rose, the group of rapt men in tuxedos and women in glittering dresses and furs murmuring their protests as she wended through their knees. But the apparition she was quite sure had been Riza Hawkeye had vanished in the crowd of New York socialites populating the exclusive terrace.
"Well, this place is a bit ritzy for Riza." she murmured, fairly certain her old acquaintance didn't make a habit of populating social-climbing fetes. And she reasoned, any time Riza had appeared before it was hardly ever for a pleasant cause. Well, maybe that was unfair. It just seemed she was more the swirl-of-furs-and-stiletto-daggers type than a frothy socializer like Molly herself.
Peering around, Molly saw nothing but the shadowed faces of revelers partially cloaked in the smoky haze. She had just been about to give up and go back to her companions when the most shocking hubbub began. Over on the north part of the terrace, she could distinctly hear the shouts of men and panicked screeching of females. Moving forward, she could just make out..
"Did you see... The Ambassador... who could have... murder! Someone has pushed the Ambassador off the building!" Molly picked up speed, expertly weaving through the crowd of panicked voices. Sirens already began to sound twenty stories below. Just as she grasped the ledge and looked over, an all too familiar voice sounded in her left ear.
"Oh hello there, old friend. Lovely breeze out today."
Before her stood Riza Hawkeye herself, looking utterly unruffled as several ladies fainted behind her.
He was going to have to have a talk with Edward after this. He reloaded another bullet and took aim. Vulkie was lying on the ground, either unconscious or dead. Two more Sphinx members had entered the room during the quick change in positions.
He looked around. Joseph was beating someone near the window. He raised his foot and kicked, knocking the man out. Marc fired but missed another. A wasted shot. He quickly reloaded and shot a man coming behind Edward, who was pulling Jack off of Kerr.
Jasper fired a shot. "Got him!"
He jumped back down next to Marc. "Everything is FUBAR," Marc muttered.
When the fight was finished, Joseph grabbed Jack, and Ed grabbed Kerr with Riza's help and carried him out. Joseph made a hand signal. Marc and Jasper got up and left to go meet with them.
When they got to the rendezvous point, Marc threw down his rifle and grabbed Ed. He swung his fist and punched him in the mouth, splitting open his lip. "You son of a bitch! You almost got everyone killed with this fucking plan of yours. I hope you're happy!"
Joseph grabbed Marc. "Not here," he said. "Let's get Vulkie and get out of here. We need to question Jack. Kerr also needs medical attention ASAP."
Marc nodded and made his way into the Ambassador's office. Vulkie was gone.
"Joseph!" Marc called. Joseph appeared. "She's gone..." Marc said.
"Never mind her. We'll find her later. But for now, Kerr needs a doctor."
The British Ambassador was bleeding badly. Dark blood gushed out from his left thigh. The wound would have been higher and Kerr’s ‘treasured’ limb gone, if it wasn’t for Vulkie pulling him away from Jack’s attack in the nick of time. Where is she? Joseph worried for his old friend.
Locking the prisoner with his better arm, Zeo loosened Jack’s collar with his right. Zeo noticed his laryngeal prominence is missing. The amulet with a strange glowing blue stone hang from his neck in a thin silver chain. Zeo ripped the amulet right out from his neck. As his hand touched the stone, images of streets after streets flooded into his mind and Zeo felt a burning pain in his skull. Zeo head a terrifying scream and his vision became bright white. Ear-splitting clatters hurt his eardrum…. then everything faded out.
Zeo remembered too clearly that ambush behind their own ambush.
Riza and Zeo quietly stood across from each other inside the emptied out cabinet, waiting. They remained silent but the awkwardness of their physical proximity rang loud between them, only punctuated by Vulkie’s small talks with Ambassador Kerr in the office. Kerr sounded nervous but he played along. Perhaps Zeo should have asked Riza to watch Arielle instead, so they would not need to be in the same room for so long, but he knew this deployment with him and Riza at the battlefront was the most logical for the task at hand.
Something smelled wrong, but Zeo could not pinpoint what it was. He flashed Riza a warning look. Ed was guarding the front door, so he would inform them if anyone was coming. Suddenly Vulkie stopped her chattering. Zeo peaked out. The bathroom door opened from the inside and someone walked out. It was not supposed to be occupied.
“You can pretend as much as you like, it’s not going to change your fate, Kerr.”
The person in the pinstripe jacket calmly claimed, in a pitch too high for his frame.
“Ed!” Joseph yelled as he and Riza jumped into the room, weapons drawn. Edward and the guards stormed into the office behind them.
“Go ahead, fire! We all deserve to die.” Jack said cryptically.
“Jack,” Zeo assumed, “you are going nowhere.” Something seemed odd as Zeo cocked his gun, his fingers screamed at him for doing so.
“You are surrounded, Jack. I’m surprised you didn’t bring more of your people.” Edward added. The FBI agent was right, why is Jack alone?
“Your lack of senses astound me, gentlemen.” Jack held his gun up slowly and aimed it at Edward. Zeo could hear more guns cocking behind him.
“He wouldn’t fire,” Riza suddenly added, “He has filled the room with gasoline.” That was it! That was the reason Joseph’s fingers were tingling. The place would explode immediately if anyone triggers a firearm inside this room.
“Trust me, my knives here can be faster then any bullets, so anyway you look at it, you lose.” Riza was posed ready to strike any moment. Jack smirked as he raised his hands. Edward took out his handcuffs and walked to Jack, but Jack moved away quickly, punching Ed instead.
Suddenly Zeo heard strange mechanical noises behind him. He turned around and saw the “British Royal Guards” had installed bayonets at the tip of their rifles with a click of a button. The nasty blades were all pointed at the detectives. These are Sphinx men! Some of them didn’t even look British. How could Ed not notice it?
The Sphinx men attacked with their sharp spears, one cutting into Zeo’s jacket as he dodged. Zeo dropped his gun and held the rifle on its side. The Sphinx man was strong and pushed Zeo all the way to the window. Zeo kicked the man in the groin and then punched him in the head with his left fist. Without his gun, and his right arm still recovering from his wound from the previous strike, Zeo was pretty unless.
Bullets begun to shatter the windows, first knocking a Sphinx man out, but later on some were aiming at Riza. Those must be from the Sphinx snipers. Are Marc and Jasper alright? Riza dodged attacks both from within and from the outside with agility well known to him. She was the one who was engaging most of the men. Chaos continued....
Zeo slowly opened his eyes. The whiteness was slowly replaced by an image of a woman filled with concern. Riza.
“Joseph!” Riza beamed when he sat up. It was rare to see her smile. “Are you alright? What happened?”
“Hou- how long was I out for?” Zeo made an effort to make the muscles in his mouth work properly.
“Only half a minute.” You were taking the amulet from Jack, suddenly you screamed and passed out.
“Jack!” Zeo looked around.
“He dashed back into the embassy as soon as you went down. Marc and Jasper are giving chase.” Ed replied as he held onto Kerr, the ambassador’s face became whiter by the minute. Zeo can see Marc and Jasper running back to the embassy.
“.... and the amulet!” Zeo panicked, then he noticed the amulet on the ground. Riza picked it up, touching the blue glowing stone as if it was just a regular ruby. “It doesn’t hurt you?” Riza shook her head. “But you don’t see visions either?”
“No.” Riza seemed astounded by his claim of visions.
“Look here, we need to get Kerr to the hospital, fast!” Ed interrupted.
Just then, they heard a loud explosion as the embassy exploded from the inside. The two men on the chase flew backward and hit the ground.
Ed and Joseph yelled out at the same time.
Riza ran to the two men, followed closely by Zeo, who steadily regained control of his body. Both men seemed to suffer minor scratches but nothing more.
“Jack ran like a ghost! We lost him and before we could get back inside the whole place blew up!” Jasper exclaimed.
Marc dusted himself as he stood up, muttering, “What the hell just happened in there?”
It all seemed to happen in a blur; Jack challenged Joseph to shoot, but he hesitated; something was wrong. Vulkie could see it in his eyes. Ed started to taunt Jack, asking him why he didn't bring any Sphinx henchmen. Jack retorted by telling the detectives that their senses were lacking. Eventually, Riza chimed in; she said that the room had been filled with gasoline. If only one of us would fire a bullet into Jack's body or his guards, the whole room would be turned into a huge inferno and everyone would die in the blast.
Riza challenged Jack with her knife and Jack retorted by striking Ed down. That's when the guards armed their rifles with bayonets and all hell broke loose...
Vulkie instantly dropped her gun and charged towards a guard, struggling with him for the rifle. As she quickly glanced towards her right, she observed Riza. She was moving with a flexibility that could've belonged to a young gymnast. She wielded her dagger in front of her and slit a guard's throat.
Vulkie focused back on the matter at hand; she was still in a struggle for the rifle. The guard whispered in her ear: "What your friend did; that's what I'm going to do with you!"
Vulkie's eyes opened wide by that remark; she instantly kicked the guard in the groin, who groaned and knelt on the floor. She snapped his hand back, which caused him to drop the rifle on the floor. Shen then held his head with both her hands, as she proceeded to kick him with her right knee. The guard was lying on his back, dazed, but to be sure, Vulkie grabbed the rifle and pushed the bayonet slowly through his throat.
Blood began to pour out of his mouth and throat, while the man started to choke on his own blood. Vulkie's mind was filled with satisfaction, but she stared at the guard with glazed eyes. Instead of the relief she was hoping to find, Vulkie felt only anger as she stood up. She looked down at her hands, which started to tremble. She got a bit of revenge, but it wasn't enough; not by far.
Just then, she looked over towards Kerr. She had left him unprotected and Jack saw his chance clean, advancing towards Kerr. Vulkie immediately got up and pulled Kerr away, causing her and Kerr to tumble over his desk.
The Ambassador started to moan and as Vulkie observed, she could see that Jack's knife was stuck in his thigh. As she pulled the knife out, Kerr winced. She immediately applied pressure; that was the most important thing, but it also left her vulnerable. As she looked up, she could see the fury in Jack's eyes. He picked up the knife, before saying: "Too late, Detective. I win this time."
Vulkie closed her eyes, waiting for the inevitable, as she thought back of what happened earlier that day.
*** Earlier that day ***
"... and may I compliment you on your navy blue suit?" Vulkie said, albeit with a flirtatious tone, with one finger twirling her auburn hair strands. Ambassador Kerr blushed, before responding: "You may, Miss Nouson. Frankly, I'm not sure if this "Jack" is going to show up."
Kerr looked nervous and distraught. But who wouldn't, when one was so close to death's doorstep. And judging by what happened to Ambassador Kent Johnson, Kerr was in for one hell of a ride.
Vulkie sniffed; she asked herself if the Ambassador's cologne pervaded the whole room, but waved the thought away. It didn't matter anyway, because just then, they heard a noise and stopped talking. The bathroom door unlocked...
*** Several minutes later ***
Vulkie woke up, after having fallen unconscious from what Jack did to her. She could see at least four dead Sphinx henchmen lying in the room.
Suddenly, she felt a pain at her right side and something wet.
As she heaved herself up, she took a look; a dagger was stuck in her side and blood was pouring from the wound. Vulkie placed both her hands on the dagger's heft, took a deep breath and yanked the knife out of her body, causing her to wince and tear up.
She then proceeded to hold her right hand on her side and went towards the balcony. As she stood on the balcony, she looked, but couldn't see her friends anywhere. Moving towards the left end, Vulkie fell down onto the ground, fainting from the blood loss, while blood kept pouring out of her side...
It was so awkward standing with Joseph in that cramped space. At least it was dark, so he couldn't see that her eyes were still red-rimmed from the previous day. Her temples throbbed. And she had to endure the inane drivel Vulkie was sprouting at the Ambassador in a decidedly unbecoming manner. Twit. This was not how Riza had imagined her day.
Suddenly Joseph turned his head and gave Riza a look; it was not one of contrition but of warning. What was it? Riza didn't hear anything out of the ordinary. Then suddenly she caught a whiff of a familiar scent. Gasoline!
Before she could alert Joseph, a female voice (or was it male?) rang out from the other side of the cabinet. “You can pretend as much as you like; it’s not going to change your fate, Kerr.”
Riza leapt out of the cabinet with Joseph, dagger at the ready. Joseph cocked his gun and yelled for backup. Ed charged into the room with the British Royal Guards in tow.
As Jack taunted the men to shoot, Riza narrowed her eyes. So that was his game. “He wouldn’t fire,” Riza announced. “He's filled the room with gasoline.” She watched Jack's face fall slightly.
In an undertone just loud enough for Joseph to hear, she added, "But guns fired outside of this room shouldn't be a problem." Joseph gave a barely perceptible nod. That little fact would help considerably if things got bad.
Riza clutched her dagger and assumed a stance. Did Jack really think bullets could outmatch the speed of her knife-throwing? If it came to it, he would be dead before his finger could pull the trigger.
A number of things happened very quickly. Ed was taken down. The guards charged from behind and attacked Joseph. A rain of gunfire shattered the windows, spraying bits of glass everywhere. Fuck! They had been betrayed.
Riza was pushing the limit of her abilities in trying to dodge the bullets while fending off the rifles' bayonets. It had been ages since she had moved like this. She ducked and spun, flinging knives in every direction like some sort of madwoman. With every soft thud, satisfaction coursed through her. The air was filled with the glint of shimmering steel, which would have been beautiful had it not been deadly.
At one point, she noticed Vulkie down on the ground, unmoving. "You better be dead, Vulkie! This is no time for a nap!" Riza threw one of her knives backwards so the handle bonked her on the head. Still she did not stir. "Dammit, woman," Riza cursed.
“No pressure,” Riza murmured to herself. “Only have to save everyone and not get killed. No pressure at all.”
Parrying attacks, Riza slowly tried to make her way across the room. She had to get to Joseph. The man was utterly useless without his gun. She slashed throats left and right, jumping out of the way to avoid getting blood on herself. With a grunt and a mighty thrust, she jammed one of her daggers up through a man's jaw. It made a sickening crunch. A surge of red pooled out of his mouth before he fell.
Riza did a quick calculation. This wasn’t good. She would have to wrap things up fast. Her knife supply was running dangerously low.
Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Joseph struggling with Jack near the window. Joseph wrenched something off the other man's neck and screamed. Then his body went limp and he fell to the ground.
"Joseph!" Riza screamed. She watched Jack bolt back into the embassy, but she was too preoccupied to do anything about it. In a fit of fury, she jammed her final two daggers straight into the hearts of the last two Sphinx men. They crumpled onto the ground.
Riza exhaled, suppressing a shudder. She hated the feeling of lingering death. For a second she was split. Should she chase after Jack or go help Joseph? Her heart tugged her one way. Riza darted over to Joseph and bent over him, concern etched on her face. Was he alive? He seemed to be breathing.
When his eyes began to open, Riza let a smile slip out of relief.
As Riza explained and recounted what had happened, she picked an amulet off the ground and rubbed her thumb over the blue ruby in the center. It was warm to the touch. She didn't understand what Joseph was going on about. Visions? Perhaps his brain was addled from the fight or from passing out.
Before she could say anything else, Ed interrupted, saying they had to get Kerr to the hospital. Riza glanced over and noticed that blood was running down one of the ambassador’s legs.
Just then, there came an ear-shattering BOOM which rocked the very earth.
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