G.E.M.S. Book 1
Coming July 21, 2020
The stench of sweat and beer filled the air until it was weighted and oppressive. In one corner, an old jukebox played scratchy 45s behind cracked glass that told the story of too many drunken fights. All of the six tables held at least one person, drowning their sorrows in tequila and beer. A modulated hum, accented with the occasional laugh or shout, kept time with the song wafting in the air. Along one wall, a scuffed bar holding up a dozen or so drinking men and women commanded the room. Old and heavy, it looked more at home in a 50’s era western movie than a tiny cantina on the outskirts of Iturbide, Mexico.
Speaking of the 50’s era, the blonde sitting at the bar was dressed in vintage Marilyn Monroe attire and held the attention of two men. Her long legs were crossed under the cherry red dress with a halter top and tight black belted waist. One of her red leather pumps dangled from the tips of her toes as she laughed at something one of her courters said. From her vantage point in the corner, the woman known as “Diamond” watched the men as the beauty continued to flirt and tease them. Picking up the bottle of Corona, she took a sip. Unlike the woman at the bar, Diamond was dressed in all black, including a baseball cap pulled low over her eyes. Everything about her said Danger, leave this one alone, which made her blend in with the shady clientele perfectly.
“Dia, any sign yet?” The barest whisper of a voice filled one of her ears.
She almost smiled at the plethora of impatience of those four little words. “Negative.” She took another pull of the beer. “Looks like Saph’s been stood up.”
Sapphire’s crystal blue eyes flashed to the corner and gave a slight shake of her head, and then returned her attention to one of the men standing close. With a huge smile that caused the tiny beauty mark on her right cheek to rise slightly, she leaned over and whispered something to the man causing his dark skin to flush. Yep, when it came to handling men, Sapphire knew precisely what she was doing.
“How much longer are we gonna wait?” the impatient whisper had morphed into a low growl. “My ass is falling asleep.”
“Hold steady, Tope,” Emerald’s soft tones cut in. “At least you aren’t stuffed into the van in this sweltering heat. Enjoy the view and the breeze. It could be a whole lot worse.”
“You hold steady, bitch. It’s not your ass straddling a fucking ledge.”
“Who are you calling a bitch, slut?” Emerald retorted.
Topaz’s snarky reply was lightning fast. “Nope. Slut is getting her freak on with half the damn cantina.”
Diamond snorted, barely preventing a spray from leaving her mouth. Across the room, Sapphire’s only indication she had heard the exchange via the tiny earwigs was a slight widening of her eyes and a lifting of one perfectly painted lip. Damn, the woman was good.
“Look alive, ladies.” Ruby’s Creole influenced voice joined the conversation. “Blackbird has left the roost, and I’d say he’s on the hunt. Speaking of, Paul McCartney wrote the lyrics of Blackbird about the rising tensions of a racially charged 1968. In England, girls were known as ‘Birds’ and so…”
A collective groan filled the coms. Diamond whispered, “Not the time, Rube. Focus.”
Taking the last drink of the bottle, Diamond pushed the empty into the middle of the table and scooted her chair silently to the right, giving her a clear view of the door and Sapphire perched on the barstool.
The mark, a rugged wolf of a man with long, black hair tied in a low ponytail, entered the bar. He was snarling, showing a crooked line of yellow stained teeth through a bushy beard. He was tall and lean with thick muscles, wearing stained jeans and a dark gray tee-shirt. One fist clenched, causing the ink on his forearms to jump. The reason the hard-as-nails former biker carried the nickname “Gunshot” was evidenced by the .45 he had casually tucked into his waistband. His mother had christened him with the name Mitchell Woaller.
The noise fell quiet as all eyes landed on him. As if on cue, one of the two men cuddling up next to Sapphire melted into the shadows leaving his friend behind. The second man, his back to the door, continued to whisper to her as his finger made slow circles on the bare skin of her shoulder. From the way Woaller’s eyes narrowed and his face hardened, this was about to get messy.
“What the fuck are you doing with my woman?” Woaller’s snarl vibrated in the room.
The man glanced back over his shoulder. “Your woman? I don’t see an ownership brand on her. Believe me, I looked.” He smirked at Sapphire as his eyes drank her in. “Everywhere.”
“You son of a bitch,” Woaller growled and went for his gun.
Immediately, Sapphire hopped off the barstool, scooping up a shot glass and put herself between the two men. Facing Woaller, she gave him a seductive smile and raised the glass. “We were just talking, baby; nothing’s going on. Here, have a shot and calm down. You know I’m your girl.”
The ex-biker eyed the man behind her as every breath in the room was held. Finally, with a nod, he took the glass and tapped it on the bar before tossing it back. “You spilled it,” he muttered to her then pulled her finger into his mouth. Slowly, he licked her digit before letting her pull it out. “Damn, you look hot, baby. All that for me?”
“Always is,” she giggled then curled into his side.
The sound of gagging came through the earwig causing Diamond to smirk. “Keep it together, ladies,” she mumbled as she watched the scene.
“How long will it take?” Topaz whined unhappily. “My ass is dead.”
“Anytime,” Sapphire chirped happily. “You know anytime I am all dressed up, it’s for you, baby.”
Two things happened at the same moment. Woaller grunted and sat heavily on one of the barstools as Diamond’s hired help Pedro, the man who had been cuddling with Sapphire, gave a slight nod.
“Go,” Diamond muttered and stood from her chair.
“About damned time,” Emerald growled while Tope gave a whoop of excitement. The lights in the cantina sputtered then died. At the bar, the bartender cursed and headed down the steps to the cellar to presumably check the fuse box. He had barely disappeared when a boom echoed from the south side of town.
All hell broke loose.
Diamond hurried over to Sapphire and slung Woaller’s arm over her shoulder as Pedro did the same on the other side. Sapphire pulled a gun from Diamond’s waistband and took up a position behind them in the dim light. Amidst the confusion of people yelling and scrambling out the front door, the four disappeared out the rear.
“Come on, let’s go!” The petite form of Emerald waved at them from the front of a beat-up rusted 1997 Dodge Caravan. “They’re going to figure it out soon. We need to haul ass.”
“Where’s Tope?” Diamond and Pedro dumped Woaller into the back of the van and hopped inside. Up front, Sapphire slid into the passenger seat and checked her gun, sliding out the magazine and slamming it back in.
“Here.” The fourth member of their team materialized out of the dark and slid into the back. Carefully laying her bag on the floor, she opened it and pulled out two Sig Sauer pistols and flipped the safety off. “I saw one of the locals turn back. We’re going to have company.”
Diamond nodded and withdrew her piece. Knocking on the roof, she yelled toward the front. “Let’s go!”
Anyone looking at the rusted hunk of junk would never have believed the power it hid under the hood. That is, anyone not knowing the wealth of mechanical magic in Emerald. In a shower of dust and pebbles, the van lurched forward just as a police cruiser appeared at the end of the street, lights blaring.
“How long is he out?” Diamond tossed one of the guns to Pedro. “Do we need to restrain him?”
“We have at least thirty minutes,” Sapphire called out as she rolled down the window. “Plenty of time to get to extraction.” Twirling around, she glanced out the window.
A bullet ricocheted off the side mirror, shattering it in a shower of glittering particles. Beside Sapphire, Emerald swore softly. “I told you this wasn’t going to be easy. The damn paper tore right in half!”
Topaz slid open the side door. “No one gives two shits about your Laffy Taffy divination! If we thought it was going to be easy, I wouldn’t have brought this!” Topaz tucked the twin pistols into their holsters under her arms and hefted an assault rifle out of her bag. Wrapping a seatbelt around her other arm, she leaned out and yelled with glee as she let go with a barrage of bullets at the chasing police cruiser.
“No killing,” Diamond shouted as she opened the other side door. “They may be corrupt, but they’re still cops. We don’t want to bring the Mexican government down on our heads.” She aimed and shot toward the front wheel of their chasers.
“No fun,” Topaz growled as she took careful aim and returned fire, lurching inside at the last minute. As the bullet whizzed through the space, everyone ducked except Topaz who gave another whoop of sheer delight before returning fire once again.
Crouching under Topaz’s leaning body, Pedro listened to the banter with a barely suppressed grin and taking the occasional shot at the pursuing car. “Loca, all of you!” he shouted. “My kind of people!”
They made a hard right turn, moving off the main road and onto a small side one that was barely more than a trail. The rear of the van fishtailed a moment on the loose dirt then righted itself. Diamond had long ago learned to trust Emerald’s ability to fix or drive anything mechanical, but damned if she didn’t put that trust to the test every time she got behind the wheel.
“Less than a klick to extraction,” Emerald called out. “We need to shake them, or we’re going to be bringing this party right onto Ruby’s lap. You know how she hates uninvited guests.”
“Tope?” Diamond called out.
“Got it, boss.” The woman withdrew into the van and dropped her rifle onto her bag. Rummaging around, she pulled out a couple of hand grenades and wiggled her eyebrows.
“Jesus,” Diamond swore. “No killing!”
“Relax,” she said with a shit-eating grin. “All under control.”
From the front seat, Sapphire pulled her head back in the window and muttered something in Russian. Beside her, Emerald’s knuckles went white as she gripped the wheel harder.
“Better hold on, Pedro,” Topaz smirked. Quickly she pulled the pins on the grenades and tossed first one, then the other out the door. Immediately she closed the side and yelled, “Floor it!”
How the hell Emerald found any more power in that rickety bucket of bolts, Diamond had no idea. The van lurched ahead as all the passengers held on for dear life. There were two explosions behind them, followed by a loud bang. Diamond opened her door and glanced out. The police cruiser had rolled over onto the side of the road. With a sigh of relief, she saw both officers crawl out before they disappeared from view when Emerald took a curve causing the van to briefly lift on two wheels.
“We’re clear,” she slid the door closed.
“Damn, what a rush!” Topaz yelled, then followed it with a “Yee-haw!” before falling to the floor and giggling insanely.
“One of these days,” Emerald muttered from her seat.
Topaz sat up and kissed Emerald on the cheek. “You’re welcome,” she grinned.
With a shake of her head, Diamond lifted her chin toward their mark. “Get him in cuffs, Saph. I don’t want him waking up while we’re transferring to the extraction.” She glanced at him and then added, “Better make it double cuffs. He’s a big one.”
As they finished trussing up their mark, the van pulled up beside a Cessna 208 parked on a small strip of an abandoned road. The women gathered their belongings along with Woaller and hurried to the plane. Though initially commissioned by shipping companies for short runs, this particular one had been retrofitted for passengers. Boarding it, Diamond dropped into one of the cracked seats. “How’s it look, Rube?”
A small curvy woman with flaming red hair tied up in a teal headband and huge hazel eyes raised her gaze from the two laptops opened on the seat before her. “They figured out the cars exploding south of town was a ruse pretty fast.” She pointed to the grainy picture of the safe house that Woaller had been hiding in for the last six months. “Went straight to check on him and then the cantina.” She stood and pulled the plug on the miniature satellite dish on the ground. Hefting it back inside, she continued. “I say we have maybe ten minutes before they get to the wrecked cruiser.”
Emerald didn’t say a word. She slid into the pilot’s seat and began the preflight checklist. Topaz stored her gear, and Sapphire was shimmying into a pair of white pedal pushers and a green sailor top. That girl loved her pin-up style clothes.
“Well, Ms. Diamond, this is where I take my leave,” Pedro said from the ground.
There were few better than Pedro Juarez when it came to the intricacies of navigating the Mexican government. Many would think it unwise to trust a former cartel enforcer, but if it weren’t for Diamond, Pedro would be feeding worms in some shallow grave in the desert. He owed them his life.
“Thank you again for your help. Your fee will be wired to your account as soon as we get to the states.” Diamond smiled at him and shook his hand.
He laughed. “Any time I get to cuddle with the enchanting Ms. Sapphire, it’s a perfect mission.” He took a couple of steps back and winked as the engines started. “Safe flight.”
Diamond slammed the door closed and took a seat, fastening her seatbelt. Glancing out the window, she saw Pedro toss a grenade into the van to cover their tracks before hopping onto a motorcycle and disappearing into the desert. Turning away, she focused on the scenery as it began to slide by. Emerald revved up the engine, and soon, they were bouncing down the makeshift runway then leaping into the sky.
The adrenaline was quickly burning out of her system, leaving a growing exhaustion from too many days of surveillance and too many nights sleeping in rundown motel rooms. It’ll be good to get home to her own bed again. The hunt had ended predictably; rarely did the GEMS not get what they were after. With Woaller stored safely in the back, Diamond let the gentle hum of the aircraft lull her into a dreamless sleep. Several hours later, the touch of the wheels on the runway jarred Diamond awake. Stretching, she glanced out the window of the plane and saw two black SUVs waiting for them. Running her fingers through her hair, she straighted the ponytail and checked her face in a mirror. She knew the client wouldn’t care how she looked as long as she had the package with her. However, she felt she should always look as professional as possible, even when coming off a mission.
Satisfied with her appearance, she unbuckled her belt and checked on said package stowed in the back row of seats. Woaller had also awakened at some time during the flight and was glaring hate at her. She chuckled. There was a piece of duct tape over his mouth. Something told her he had gotten on the team’s bad side. She shook her head. That was going to hurt when it was removed from all that hair.
As the plane came to a stop, she opened the door and jumped down. The representatives of their client exited one of the SUVs and met her halfway. A handshake later, and he was glancing at the plane behind her.
“You have him, Ms. Gullion?”
“We do, Mr. Sherman.” Diamond, known to the rest of the world as Jackson “Jax” Gullion, turned and lifted her chin toward the plane. Immediately, Topaz pushed Woaller out before jumping down behind him. He took one look at the waiting man and shook his head, fighting against the woman in an attempt to get away. Behind him, Sapphire whispered something in his ear. His eyes widened, and a muffled whimper escaped from behind the tape as he went still.
The two women walked him to the waiting car, where a large man stood. Passing the man off, Jax grinned when Sapphire blew him a kiss causing him to shudder. Turning back, she smiled at Sherman. “One dirtbag skip, delivered as promised.” She handed over a folder of paperwork.
He took a moment to peruse the papers, making sure the proof of identity was included. Snapping the folder closed, he inclined his head to Jax. “Perfect as always.” He handed her a white envelope. “Your fee.”
Jax took it and folded it without even glancing inside. She trusted him because she knew he understood if he ever betrayed her, he would lose her services. Considering what she could do for him and his fancy law firm, it wasn’t a risk he would take.
Sherman turned to walk away and stopped. “I don’t suppose I could interest you in a retainer fee?“
Her hand froze for an instant then continued to stuff the folded envelope into her back pocket. Jax shook her head. “Retainers don’t work for me.”
Turning back, Sherman studied her. “I would make it worth your while. Say, twenty-five per month?”
Jax pulled her lip in to chew for a second, contemplating his words. Slowly, she shook her head. “I appreciate the offer, but no thank you.”
“If I may be so bold as to ask why not?”
“There’s certain ownership implied with retainers. I would be obligated to be at your command for that kind of money. I prefer not to put that type of pressure on me and my team. I need to be able to pick and choose our missions as I see fit without fear of repercussions.”
He nodded, a small smile on his lips. “I can respect that. Always a pleasure doing business with you.”
“And with you, Mr. Sherman.”
The two parties split ways with the women returning to the plane. Topaz hopped up on the floor and swung her feet. Behind her, Ruby and Emerald watched. If they overheard the conversation with the client, they didn’t let on. Instead, Topaz asked Sapphire, “What did you say to him to make him behave?”
Sapphire finished applying a layer of bright red lipstick and put her compact away. “I just told him I knew at least a dozen ways to castrate a man before he even knew it had happened.”
“Did you know, eunuchs have been around since 21st century BCE? They were often created to take care of royalty, especially the king. It was thought anyone who was that intimate would have the king’s ear and so they were castrated to remove the possibility of being influenced by beautiful women. Another belief was if they couldn’t create a family dynasty, they wouldn’t want to over…”
“Shut it, Ruby,” the team all shouted at once.
“Geez, woman, you’re like a walking Wikipedia,” Emerald grumbled.
“I just thought you would find it interesting,” Ruby pouted. “You know, to create them...”
Topaz put her hand up in Ruby’s face. “No. Just no. On behalf of all the brothers out there who are cringing and don’t know why, don’t put that into the universe.”
The women chuckled as a Town Car pulled up beside the plane. Grabbing their equipment, they transferred it to the car then piled in. While her team laughed and talked between themselves, Jax leaned back with a smile.
Damn, she loved her job, and she loved her team.