Faith was wrong. The Dame's tough, there's no doubt about that, but as I drop soundlessly into Glory Talbot's backyard I know that she underestimated what I'm capable of. My boots hit the dirt, I lay down my bag of goodies and a split second later I dive into a roll to come up a mere foot from the closest guard. My hands grasp his head and before he has even felt my touch I snap his neck. Even as he falls to the ground I snatch his knife from his vest and fling it into the face of his buddy standing on the other side of a carefully manicured rose garden. With a slight gurgle he goes down in slow motion.
Yes, Faith was wrong. Two men dead in as many seconds and I'm not even warmed up yet.
The night is pitch black, not a trace of a moon. I pause for a few seconds and smell the roses so to speak, along with fresh cut grass and rich, dark soil. For a city cop so used to gutters and garbage cans it's like a foreign country. It's all too perfect to be real, further ruined by the fact that I know monsters live here. The whole scene is eerily still with a hint of moisture in the air and that sense of foreboding that lingers in the air before a thunderstorm. Conditions perfect for the foul things I have to do tonight. There's killing to be done...a lot of it. I don't have time to dwell on it but I know by the time dawn breaks and sheds light on this evil world my hands will be stained with blood.
Tara retrieved her bag in a firm grip and continued towards the house, the shotgun held firmly in her other hand although she knew she dared not fire it at this point. One single blast would alert the entire household to her presence. In the shadows ahead she heard the low throated growl of an animal and she froze, remembering Faith's warnings about t the guard dogs.
There's a mutt in front of me, one of those great big things people tend to breed for the purpose of ripping other people to pieces. Shit like that makes me angry. Another one joins the first, both look as though they weigh as much as I do...great big things, could probably tear me to pieces in less than a minute, making enough noise as they went to bring goons running. They don't...for some reason dogs have never bothered me, probably because I don't bother them. I go down on one knee and they bound up, eager tongues lapping at the palm of my hand. I grin slightly, probably more in anticipation of what is to come but at the same time I'm thinking I should get Willow a puppy...yeah, something cute and fluffy, and I can spoil the hell out of it when she's not looking.
Tara wiped the smile from her face as soon as she had left the dogs sitting on their hind quarters, swishing their tails back and forth across the grass as though they expected her to return for them. She was determined that her imagined future of hugs and puppies was going to come true. Dying a violent and bloody death trying to rescue Willow was not how this was going to end.
She moved swiftly from the manicured lawn onto terracotta tiles but the scent of roses remained the same. There was the house looming a head of her, she was close now and her state of vigilance reflected this. Her eyes darted everywhere, watching in advance for the one mistake that could end everything instantly. Tara dashed across a small courtyard before disappearing into the shadows of a covered walkway. She heard footsteps rounding the corner ahead of her. With nowhere to go, she put the weight of her shotgun to good use, smashing its butt into the face of a guard as he rounded the corner in front of her. He collapsed instantly with blood spurting from a smashed nose. She dragged and shoved him beneath a stone seat, hoping his unconscious body would remain undiscovered for the time it took to complete her work...which she hoped would not be long.
Tara moved ahead, feeling a light sheen of sweat begin to develop on her forehead. A door ahead clicked, as though someone had unlocked it with a swipe card and she moved into the shadow of a garden statute moments before the door opened and a black-suited figure moved directly across her path. He heard nothing as she slipped behind him and ducked inside the door before it closed and locked itself.
Even as the door slid shut behind her, shutting her inside the Talbot residence, Tara was moving. She remained wary as she moved ahead through the lair of her enemy even though the halls seemed cold and empty.
Tara had been in the house for less than a minute when she heard the rap of high heels on marble tiles and quickly folded herself into the nearest cover, a shadowy alcove created by a grandfather clock. The heels sounded closer, strong steps, each one ringing out the sound of power and merciless intent. Tara smelt the woman before she had even laid eyes on her. It was a thick, heavy, cloying scent that wafted through the air and assaulted her nostrils. She felt herself transported back in time eight years to that hospital bed with Glory standing over her broken and helpless body, forced to listen to her when all she really wanted to do was reach out and wrap her mits around the woman's porcelain neck. Now, eight years later, she was almost as close again. She wasn't surprised that they would come so close to each other moments into her mission, she had half been expecting Glory to be standing waiting for her when she entered the house, laying out the welcome mat.
From her concealment, Tara saw a flash of red hair, curly and brassy where Willow's was natural and straight. She found her fingers curl unconsciously around the grip of one of her Berettas and before she knew exactly what she was doing, she had drawn it and was staring down the sights at Glory's head. While the encounter seemed to take an eternity to play out, it reality it was a mere split second. Even so, Tara had time to agonise over her target, to debate whether or not to pull the trigger. If she did, Glory, scourge of Basin City, would be dead but every goon in the mansion would be up in arms. Tommy Talbot would kill Willow and Dawn the moment he found out his mother had been shot dead and her rescue mission would be over before it began. Tara chose to spare her...for now. As she reholstered her weapon, feeling a sensation akin to pain as she did so, her target disappeared through a door.
Tara pressed herself against the wall behind her and let out a slow breath, trying to dispel the tension that had built up in her body. She had a job to do. With satisfying images of a single bullet ploughing into the back of Glory's head playing through her mind, Tara moved on quickly and quietly. Her booted feet barely made a sound on the marble tiles as she moved from shadow to shadow through the ground floor of Glory Talbot's house. She found her first destination easily, kitchens in these places were always tucked away at the back of the ground floor.
The kitchen was oddly deserted as Tara moved amongst the ranks of stainless steel appliances. She remained tense and moved quickly as someone could pop in for a snack at any time. Her boots barely sounded on the tiles beneath them as she moved behind a stack of crockery and placed her bag down. Tara knelt and slowly opened the zip on the bag of tricks in front of her. She felt like licking her lips in anticipation as she lifted the first one out.
After that she worked quickly, efficiently. She was in the kitchen for a mere thirty seconds before moving onto her next destination. After twenty minutes of moving stealthily throughout the lower level of the Talbot home, Tara's calling cards were safely stowed and she turned her attention to the matter that had not left her mind throughout the whole process. This was as much a rescue mission as it was about vengeance. As Tara moved like a hungry wolf through the shadows, she knew she had to remember that lest the vengeance overwhelm her.
Although the shackles that had held her arms above her head in a painful, unnatural position had been removed minutes earlier, Willow's shoulders felt as though they were dislocated. She sat in an awkward heap on the floor of the tiny room which was her cell, her captors having left her alone for a few moments at least. Even with all her limbs free, Willow knew there was no chance of escape. Although left switched on, the light shone ineffectually and gave her skin a sick glow that matched the way she felt inwardly. It also illuminated the solid walls that surrounded her, broken only by the dark wooden door with its heavy, and most certainly locked, handle. She briefly contemplated banging her fists on its surface in a blind rage while cursing her captors like the cowardly motherfuckers they were. While it would accomplish nothing, at least it was something to do.
Instead she sat in misery, her mid dwelling on her upcoming performance. Willow danced...she was good at it, and despite the leering gazes directed at her near-nude body, she enjoyed it. Being intelligent was one thing, but being able to win over an entire crowd simply by the way you moved your body was another. All too often she had stared out into the crowd as she moved across the stage and seen the rapt faces staring back, faces of men who could think about nothing except the beautiful woman they were watching. Her eyelids slid shut as the lock rattled, she knew what she had to do...although the thought of doing it made her blood run cold. Willow was shivering when she opened her eyes once more. The door slammed open and eager hands reached for her body, dragging her to what would no doubt be the performance of her life.
Even as she was half-dragged through a featureless maze of corridors Willow attempted to compose herself into something approaching the state of mind that she usually held before dancing. She had immense difficulty finding the sensual, exuberant state of mind needed due to her fear and chilled, cramped limbs. Her legs did not want to walk let alone dance and her fragile arms ached with each tug. Dragged through yet another door, Willow had to squint as she met bright lights.
"Your stage awaits little whore," one of her captors propelled her forward with a firm hand.
Willow stumbled, barely avoiding a humiliating fall to her hands and knees. As her eyes adjusted to the sudden fury of light, shapes of men standing around her and hemming her in gradually formed. She blinked a few times and realised that it was not only the lights, but the very walls themselves that dazzled her senses. Light reflected off period-style gilt decorations, framing large friezes showing images from another era, half a world away. It was a ballroom no doubt, a beautiful venue and yet Willow felt far from comforted.
Cruel faces stared at her, some merely outlines beneath the lights and others she could see clearly with their leering, eager expressions that made her sick to her stomach. Briefly she contemplated lashing out but there were a dozen men, and more, in the room. She was prodded forward through the crowd, a prize for all to ogle. The throng parted and Willow once again had to lay eyes upon that pitiful specimen of a man, Tommy Talbot.
Talbot wore an exceptionally self-satisfied smile as he stood at the head of his goons. Willow noticed his white-knuckled grip on his walking stick indicating just how much effort it required for him to stand upright for any period of time. She had to resist the urge to lunge forward and swipe it out from beneath his weight to send his bony carcass crashing to the floor. Instead, she had to stand helplessly and bear the humiliating scrutiny of Tommy and his men.
"I hope you're ready to dance, Willow," he began, a slight cackle following his words, "My men and I have high expectations for what we hope will be a very revealing show."
Willow felt more than a little clammy, her stomach continuing to do somersaults but she kept her chin high when most in her situation would have long since been reduced to quivering wrecks.
"I don't do nudity you fucking pig," Willow replied in a resolute voice.
A cacophony of boos and hisses erupted, Tommy's cackle sounded above it all. Willow knew it was a futile gesture but it had to be said anyway.
"I'm sure when the time comes we won't have any trouble ripping that flimsy, little garment you're wearing off your body," Tommy eyed her up greedily, "It will warm you up for the games I have planned for you later this evening. I don't want you going all shy on me when I finally get you alone. I have been waiting for you for eight years after all."
Willow was dead scared and yet she felt a sudden surge of anger that momentarily pushed fear aside. Her lips curled into a snarl as she surged forward before her minders could stop her to stand nose to nose with the loathsome toad known as Tommy Talbot. Her expression was one of disgust and contempt.
"If you make the mistake of getting your pecker out anywhere near me, I'll rip your balls off!" Willow hissed, "Whether it's with my hands or my teeth!"
She the spat in his face, watching her own spittle hit him between the eyes and run down his nose. His spindly fingers shot out and wrapped themselves around her neck. Willow expected to wrench away easily but he held her with the uncanny strength of a madman, nails digging into her flesh.
"I'm going to be the only one doing any ripping of flesh, Willow," he replied, his voice straining with effort, "Now dance, before I decide to skip this part and go straight to dessert!"
He released her with a slight shove backwards, the back of her calves hit the low stage and she did finally fall. However, even as she lay sprawled on her backside she had the satisfaction of watching as Tommy's goons rushed to support their boss into a waiting chair. The exertion had proved too much for him as his weak little legs gave out.
Someone at the back of the room turned on a sound system. Loud, clear music came through with an insistent, rhythmic beat that sounded like a porno without the images.
"Dance for us Willow, we're all waiting," Tommy lent forward eagerly in his chair.
Willow awkwardly clambered to her feet and faced the wall behind her with her back to the crowd. Desperately, in the last few moments she had before the dance became unavoidable, she looked for an avenue of escape. The stage had wings and a curtain but it was blocked by two men on one side and a single, but exceptionally large man on the right. All stood with their arms crossed over their chests.
"We're waiting, chica," the one on the right spoke to reveal herself as a woman, "Give me a little taste of the sugar you give Maclay."
Willow stared at the butch woman for a few moments, the familiarity in the way Tara's name rolled off her tongue indicated that she probably knew her. She shuddered to think where from. She had to draw her gaze away after those few moments, it was almost as bad as looking into Tommy's eyes...worse, because there was something that this woman knew and she was enjoying the fact that she knew it. When Willow cast another quick glance in her direction she licked her lips in a languorous manner that made her blood run cold.
Tara pressed her shoulder against the door in front of her and, with one last glance over her shoulder to confirm the coast was clear behind her, she pressed her ear against the cold wood. Her fingers moved to the handle and gripped it tightly. She heard the muffled, angry voices and knew there were at least two men on the other side. She felt the bulge of her shotgun inside her coat and her Berettas at the small of her back. While she itched for them to be kicking in her hands she knew that the situation called for something a little quieter.
"I'm not missing this fucking show!" someone whined as though he was a small boy denied access to an X-rated movie, "If Talbot thinks I'm staying here while the fun goes down..."
"What you gonna do about it?" Another sneered without sympathy in his voice, "You gonna go tell Mr Talbot that you're not happy with his orders? You never know, he's in a good mood so he might not rip you a new set of lips across your neck."
"How the hell is the girl gonna get out of there anyway? She doesn't need a guard. Little whore is probably sitting in there crying over her missing finger!"
Tara heard her teeth grind audibly. If anyone was going to rip new sets of lips it was going to be her.
"Boss isn't worried about her getting' out, it's that bitch Maclay you better be on the look out for, now stay put!" the voice said with an air of finality just on the other side of the door.
Tara felt pressure on the handle beneath her fingertips as it began to open from the other side. Without a moment's hesitation she jammed her own hand down on the handle and slammed it inwards. There was a startled grunt from the other side and the sound of someone falling backwards. Tara moved quickly through the door and straight in the direction she had heard the second man's voice. He had watched startled as the door flew in on his buddy before meeting Tara's fist with his face. He immediately tried to duck beneath her roundhouse swing but she caught him high on the temple and he went crashing against the wall beside him.
The first goon was already rising to his feet after the door had caught him on the forehead. Tara was on him before he could rise completely, a swift elbow to the face snapped his head back and a spinning kick sent him back to the ground. Tara planted her foot hard on his neck and heard a sickening crunch as it snapped.
Before she had time to swing around to finish the other guy off, an arm went around her neck and he threw her against the wall. Tara's face smashed into the glass of a picture frame and she felt a sharp stab on her cheek. With his body weight thrown against her, the goon held her against the wall. One hand gripped a fistful of her hair savagely.
"Boss is gonna give me a private show of my own for this!" he squeaked excitedly, no doubt already licking his lips in anticipation, "You're not even that tough Maclay...just another girl, although a fucking hot one at that..."
Tara could feel and smell his greasy breath on the back of her neck, his breath reeked of olives and pasta sauce. She felt his lips close on her ear and squeezed her eyes shut fiercely as he clamped down on it hard with his teeth. With one hand on her hair, keeping her face jammed against the broken glass, he moved the other beneath her jacket. As he pawed at her flesh Tara felt his grip slacken and she smirked. He should have plugged her straight away.
"Fucking little whore aren't cha," his foul breath came in pants, "Gonna have me my own private show..."
Tara wrenched herself sideways, feeling the glass tear across her cheek as she did so, and twisted out of his slack grip. She came face to face with the scumbag and closed her fist around the bulge in his pants, jerking it with all the force she could muster as her fingers closed around his neck. She squeezed his windpipe between her fingers and thumb.
"Open that door for me!" she growled, "Or I'll rip your tiny little dick off!"
"Okay, okay," he stammered in a high pitched voice, trying not to move within her grip.
Tara slammed him against the electronic key pad beside the door, still retaining her hold on his balls. He squealed as his tender organ was yanked savagely once again. With trembling fingers, he punched in the numbers and the door clicked open.
"Thank you," Tara whispered sweetly, retaining her hold on him as she peered into the dark room revealed behind the door.
Although she could make out little at first, she eventually saw the outline of a small figure crouched against the far wall. A pale face stared out at her and it was with a mixture of relief and regret that she saw just one girl in the room...Dawn. As the light flooded the little room, Tara saw the girl was naked and she had both her hands tucked beneath her armpits. Her face was streaked with tears.
"Hey...Dawn," Tara whispered gently, "I need you to come up out of there now okay?"
The terrified girl shook her head at first but made to get up slowly, hugging her arms around herself. As she moved out into the hallway, Tara thrust the goon she held into the room with such force that he was thrown headfirst into the opposite wall. He collapsed into a pathetic heap without a sound and Tara shut the door, locking him inside the very cell he had been assigned to guard.
Tara turned her attention to the trembling girl in front of her. In a few seconds she had whipped the jacket from her own shoulders and thrown it around the girl. Dawn clutched the garment tightly about her and it was then that Tara saw the little finger of her right hand was missing, the stump was a ruined and bloody mess of broken bone and flesh. The young woman quickly tucked the hand back beneath her arm when she saw Tara staring.
Without a second thought, Tara folded Dawn into her arms, wrapping them around her like a protective cocoon despite their need to get moving and find Willow. She felt Dawn shudder and as her face was buried in Tara's shoulder, muffled sobs emerged. Tara let her cry for a few moments, awkwardly smoothing her matted hair back.
"Dawn, did you see where they took Willow?" Tara asked, the gentle tone of her voice failing to mask her urgency.
The felt Dawn shake her head quickly as she continued sobbing. Tara pushed the girl away and held her at arms length, keeping a firm grip on her shoulders in reassurance. Dawn choked back more tears but managed to stop beneath Tara's gaze.
"You have to pull yourself together...for both of us, and Willow," Tara had to resist the urge to shake the girl back to her senses, "We have to find her before something happens to her...can you help me do that?"
Dawn nodded, dashing her good hand across her nose, "Yeah, but I can't help...I don't know where they took her. She wouldn't dance for them...she refused...until they did this."
Dawn held up her hand with the missing finger and studied it as though it no longer hurt. She glanced back up at Tara whose lips were pursed tightly together.
"Tommy's making Willow dance?" Tara asked and received a quick nod in reply, she furrowed her brow, "A large space then...unless he wants her to dance just for him..."
"No," Dawn replied quickly, "She's dancing for all of them...the guys in suits, please Tara, we have to find her...they could be hurting her!"
"We'll find her before they have a chance!" Tara replied as though it were a promise to Dawn, herself and Willow...wherever she was.
"I'm coming with you?" Dawn asked urgently, fearing more than anything that Tara would leave her alone again.
Tara turned to look at Dawn, her pale face almost shining in the poor light and she nodded firmly in reassurance, "Yeah kid, you'd be as safe with me as you'd be anywhere else in this place...but I have to ask you to do exactly as I say, keep quiet and don't try anything stupid."
"Willow's my friend!" Dawn said bravely.
"Well, don't go shooting unless I say so," Tara whipped a small pistol from her boot and passed it across to Dawn, "And I'm going to need you to turn out the lights when I give the signal."
Dawn held the weapon gingerly in her hand and furrowed her brow, "We won't be able to see anything."
"Neither will they...and we'll be expecting it," Tara replied calmly, arching a single eyebrow at the expression on Dawn's face, "Or have you got a better plan?"
"Well, no," Dawn replied, turning her attention to fastening up the coat Tara had given her, "But we've got to have something better than charging in there and turning off the lights!"
"Dawn, what did I say earlier?" Tara asked testily.
"Err, do as you say, keep quiet and..." Dawn began sheepishly.
"Exactly!" Tara interrupted, "We're moving out, stay close!" I desperately want to wrap the poor kid up in cotton wool and bundle her away somewhere safe while this business goes down but I know I can't afford to do that...especially with the surprises I've got in store for later. She's right though, my plan stinks and it has more holes in it than fuckin' swiss cheese. I check both my cannons and the shotgun which is tucked beneath my webbing, it's nestled against my back and I feel it dig into my flesh reassuringly. I've got a few cards to play, I can only hope my hand is good enough...
"Can you hear the music?" Dawn whispered.
Tara cocked her head and nodded in response to Dawn's question. It was echoing through the walls, distant but close by. She had both Berettas in her hands as she inched forward cautiously. The sound led them to a small door, almost hidden which Tara hoped was a side entrance of sorts. She heard a sharp intake of breath from Dawn behind her as she placed her hand on the door handle and pushed it inwards. No alarms sounded, no goons rushed to meet them with raised weapons. Both women could now distinctly hear the throbbing, sexual beat that emanated from somewhere inside. Added to this, were men's voices raised in raucous shouts. While most were fused into an undecipherable cacophony, a few vulgar comments could be made out.
Dawn found herself rushing to keep up with Tara as the ex-cop practically ran into the darkened room behind the door. She glanced around, noting a switchboard to one side which was no doubt the lighting system for the room beyond. They emerged in a sort of backstage area with light streaming up ahead from the stage itself. She only caught partial glimpses of the person on the stage, but she knew in an instant that it was her friend Willow. Instinctively, she reached out a hand to restrain Tara and felt the older woman's muscles tense beneath her touch.
Tara was aware of nothing besides the fact that she could see Willow...only flashes of her, white skin and red hair whirling. With the realisation that she was being forced to dance, Tara felt a white hot rage surge in her. Despite the fact that she could see very little of what she was up against besides the two men blocking her path to Willow, she charged forward, oblivious to Dawn's restraining hand as it fell from her shoulder. In one swift movement, the hilt of a knife rested in her palm and in another she brought it up to slice swiftly across the neck of the one standing nearest her. There was a brief spray of warm blood as he crumpled to the floor. His partner turned to face the movement he saw from the corner of his eye, just in time to see Tara's knife plunge into his chest. She buried it up to the hilt and was staring right into his surprised, bulging eyes as blood entered his lungs and bubbled from his lips. He staggered once and clutched at the stage curtain for support. It tore beneath his bulk and both he and the curtain went fell out on the stage. He lay wrapped in his death shroud even as Tara stepped over his body, drawing both Berettas and brining them immediately to bear on the man whom she knew would be sitting directly in front of the stage.
"Tommy Talbot, you slimy little fuck," she spat, aiming for his pale forehead.
Tara did not waver an inch even as every other weapon in the room was drawn in unison...the only difference being that they were all pointed towards her. It was her two against twenty, but Tara liked those odds just fine.
The music continued to sound in the background, although Willow was no longer dancing. Her attention was focused on her lover standing to the left of the stage. A look of overwhelming relief mingled with absolute horror was fixed on the redhead's face. While it was the salvation she had been constantly dreaming throughout her day of horror...now that Tara was here she wished more than anything that she had not risked certain death coming into this snake pit. Although Tara did not take her eyes off Tommy, Willow felt the depth of Tara's attention as from the corner of her eyes she tried to determine if she had been hurt, to reassure her despite the situation she had now put them both in.
Tommy remained sitting in his chair, the look of immediate surprise on his face had not been replaced, it had merely morphed slightly into one of pleasant surprise. He pursed his hands together in front of him as a man praising someone for his good fortune.
"Well, well, if it isn't the former detective Tara Maclay...you haven't changed since the last time I saw you, when I was sprawled in agony on that rain soaked street after you shattered both my knees completely...bitch!" Tommy spat, "Prison was less than you deserved!"
"You're the bitch that should have gone to prison," Tara replied coolly, her head cleared enough for her to take stock of the situation.
She regretted charging in like an angry fool but there was little she could do about it now, she was up against it no doubt about that. While she kept her gaze fixed on Talbot, she surveyed the room. She saw the small sea of suit-clad shapes, the metal of their gun barrels pointing in her direction. They were all in a state of dishevelment, ties loose and shirts coming undone as they had moments ago been revealing in their wanton lust. They were a bunch of dangerous, pissed off men and anyone of them could have a jumpy trigger finger.
Tara also knew Willow was just behind her...and that was bad. If the situation deteriorated, which seemed inevitable, there was no way she could protect the kid save throwing herself in front of a hail of bullets. Someone had to break...or take a chance.
What happened next threw the ex-cop completely...
"Speaking of prisons...I think you'll enjoy meeting up with one of your old friends, someone I believe you know very well indeed," Tommy threw out one arm in the direction of stage right, as though he were introducing a new character to a play.
"Hello, chica, I miss your sweet cheeks so very much," a deep voice rumbled from the stage wing, a figure emerged from the shadows in a single, confident stride.
An immediate change came over Tara. Her shoulders tensed and the Berettas in her hand trembled. Both Dawn and Willow felt shivers run down their spines as they saw the solid rock in the plan start to crumble at just the sound of a voice.
I feel everything magnified a thousand fold. The coat of cold sweat that covers my body, the sting of the gash on my cheek from where that sonofabitch rammed my face into a mirror and the blood caking on my face. Willow whispers my name urgently but it just makes things worse. The shakes start in my gut, a pit of queasy fear. Above the trembling barrels of my Berettas, I see Tommy's ugly mug. He's laughing at me but my fingers are too stiff to jerk a trigger and wipe the smug smile off his face. It's the same frozen fear that I felt eight years ago...my first night in prison when that fuckin' dyke jumped me. I can't see her...but I know she's there...she's staring at me with those piggy little eyes of hers...all six foot, two hundred and fifty pounds of her...
"Baby Dedara," Tara growled through gritted teeth.