VIRGINIA IS FOR LOVERS
Desiree slammed Feliz’s body against the hotel door, closing it to keep the outside world away. Her hot lips followed hastily upon his, hungry and wanting, both of them desperate to taste more of each other. The heat of their bodies soaked through their fine apparel, making their act exciting and uncomfortable at the same time. Without thinking, their lust drove them closer together. They began the steps of the ancient dance and did not look back.
“You’re looking hot, baby,” she whispered in his ear, unbuttoning his shirt. “Let me help you cool off.” Her hand slipped inside and began rubbing across his muscled, shaved chest.
Feliz chuckled and grabbed her head again, gently teasing her dark curly locks as he brought their lips closer for another kiss. Desiree easily relented to his demands. She played with his lower lip, while she greedily took his tongue. Her hand went down, not to his body, but across to the sleeve of her dress. The sound of plastic crinkled as she slipped something out from her little hiding place.
Latin lover chuckled again. “There’s no rush. I want the rest of you first.”
“A girl’s got to have protection.”
“My pito’s not ready for your gorro.”
“Maybe it is,” Desiree laughed, pressing closer for another kiss, moving her hand back across his chest. He didn’t notice the transdermal patch she placed on his strategically hairless skin.
As they continued to kiss and fondle each other, Feliz suddenly yawned. Already the drug was taking its effect. “What the…”
The woman immediately moved to distract him, not giving him a chance to think about the pharmacological change happening to him. It wasn’t a difficult job, considering the situation they were in. Each kiss she pressed moved Feliz towards getting sleepier and sleepier. He tried to shake himself awake, but Desiree continued her amorous assault. As she continued her attack with her lips, the man had no chance at conscious thought.
“I… I don’t…” he stumbled over his words. With each second, sentences became more difficult to form.
“Then maybe you should lie down,” she smiled, guiding him carefully to the bed. By the time they stumbled their way towards the mattress, Feliz was completely dead weight. Desiree let him fall; the exquisite mattress and sheets, imported from the best farms in Kirghizstan, cradled him easily with barely an audible thump.
“Nighty night, lover,” the woman chided, watching him as his eyes closed, pleased that the medication had done its work. She didn’t waste much time admiring the man. Besides, Desiree had already done that plenty at the hotel bar several floors below. The Hispanic man was attractive and well-muscled, his hair exquisitely cut in perfectly trimmed sides, but ruffled carefully on top in the fashion that was all the rage. Of course, in of itself, the handsome package meant nothing. Good looks were par for the course at the high class hotels she patrolled. In a few minutes, one quick fix with the skindoc and the muscular implants would do their magic. Beauty was affordable and quick to achieve; that’s not what she was after. She seduced him for something far harder to get.
Running her hands over his personally tailored suit, Desiree quickly extracted his credit chit, his wireless set, and a few miscellaneous tokens from several hotels across the Beach. Hmmm, she thought, they might be traceable, but these could save a lot of time in the future. I’ll have to find out if they’re any good later.
Reaching around his waist, she felt a bump on the side. Opening his jacket, she reached around and found a hidden pocket. Pulling out a dark shadowy object, she had to smile. The thief recognized the innocuous black box instantly. “Now Feliz, you naughty boy… how did you get a Porcupine past security?” She threw it in with the rest of his worldly possessions. “Oh well, more for me.”
Once Desiree finished her check of his body, she threw all of Feliz’s belongings she could steal into her handbag, and quickly made her way out the door. The drug that she used would last two to four hours, depending on the man’s size and tolerance. But to her, the details were less important than what it did. And what it did was keep him nicely unconscious. She knew she would have to fence all of Feliz’s things before he could deactivate them remotely. Which meant payday had to be now.
Without looking back, she made her way to the elevators. By the time she left the Royal Sun Hotel, the sun had gone down on Virginia Beach. The moon hadn’t risen yet, but as she looked out to sea, the thief could see the chemical fence glowing in the ocean, outlining the safe swimming areas of the resort. Its green aura efficiently killed the bacteria and biotoxins that infected the rest of the ocean.
She was about to turn away from the ocean when she heard the beep of an incoming call. Desiree opened her handbag to find Feliz’s wireless blinking. “Sorry, Charlie… I got here first.” With a touch, she quickly turned it off.
Feliz awoke to the worst hangover of his life. To make it worse, there were three men standing over him, and a sharp pain running through his arm. Within a few seconds of waking, he worked out where he was. The men he knew; the needles that were caught into his flesh, he didn’t. It was only when his eyes slid down to see the box the needles were attached to that he understood. “Un desmadre,” he cursed under his breath. “What time is it?”
“10 pm, jefe.”
only been an hour, gracias a Dios.” Feliz rubbed his eyes with his free
hand. “How did you find me?”
“You didn’t answer your wireless,” one of his lieutenants answered. “After the third try, we activated the tracker.”
“Glad you did,” Feliz answered. “Is this pobo thing done flushing my veins?”
Another lieutenant looked over. “Yes.”
Then unplug me and let’s get out of here.”
The lieutenant hit the release switch on the EMT box; the automated medical equipment immediately sent coagulant to the wound, and then pulled the IV lines out of his skin. As the wires coiled back up, Feliz rubbed his sore arms, and slowly came to his feet. One of his lieutenants moved to help him, but their boss quickly waved them off. After all, he had his pride. “All right, Enrique. Tell me you did your research.”
“Si, jefe. The woman is 5’6”, 120 lbs, dark hair, brown eyes. Skin tone implies Hispanic descent, but…”
Feliz moaned. “Yes, Enrique. I remember her measurements quite well. I hope you got more than a mug shot.”
“I checked the ID when she passed through the gate. The credchit read as Marjorie Potts of Richmond.”
Enrique shrugged, “Fake.”
“Of course it was,” Feliz sighed. “Any idea who faked it?”
“Yes. We did.”
The boss’ eyes went wide. “What?”
“It’s registered in our database. We sold it to her.”
“Who sold it?”
“Luis, near Old Dominion.”
“Any chance we know her real name?”
“No, jefe,” Enrique explained. “Flashprint pic sold to college kids. Plausible deniability to both sides.”
Feliz’s calculator mind quickly moved through his options. “All right, contact all the fences in the chapter. Tell them to keep an eye out for all the things she stole. I have the specs stored; transmit them, but do not deactivate the items. Let her get her money. Then contact me. I’m personally going to see to this perra myself!”
“No one chingas with the Latin Kings,” Enrique smiled.
The smile dropped as soon as his boss stared at him. That laser-like concentration was part of the reason he was the local Inca. Feliz pointed to himself and said, “No, Enrique. Nadie chinga con mi.”
A blonde woman with a great tan walked into the late night coffee shop. Regardless of the weed, meth, and phenyls that they sold under the counter, coffee was still this shop’s biggest seller. Some drugs never go out of fashion, Desiree considered as she approached the counter.
It took the Latino with the yellow cap about a minute to look up from the holoproj on his wireless. Despite his job, selling to late-night addicts seemed the least of his concerns. “Yes?”
“I need to see Luis.” Desiree said sweetly.
“And who is that?”
“Your boss. Tell him I got something he’d like to see.”
“Hey, chicka,” the counter jockey shrugged. “You can always show it to me. I’ve got the time.” He seemed bored even attempting the innuendo.
“If I do, Luis might rip your balls off and feed them to his dogs.”
“Might be a nice change of pace.” The man wasn’t impressed. “I’m willing if you are.”
Desiree stood her ground. “Call him.”
With a sigh that spoke volumes of ennui, he bent his head back to call behind him. “Luis! Customer for you!”
A door opened behind the arcane machinery of coffee conversion and out walked Luis. He was dressed in a suit and tie, slicked back hair, and a stylus behind his ear. He had his wireless attached to a space behind his ear, which explained the rather dazed walk he had. Surfing the Web and walking at the same time caused a nasty double vision. Some advancements take longer than evolution can fix. His swarthy complexion had dimmed somewhat; after all, he hadn’t seen the sun in years. “¿Que? What’s all this?”
“I got another soul to sell,” Desiree said, trying to be subtle. She found it difficult to do that without some sort of code word. That was one of the problems of being independent; every situation was unscripted. Even if she did have a code word, it wouldn’t have done any good. There was no secret handshake a crafty cop wouldn’t figure out eventually. Despite the fact she was in a coffee shop full of stoned college kids, the thief didn’t feel safe enough to just come out and say what you wanted.
“What?” Luis deactivated his wireless and blinked a couple times. As the virtual browser cleared his sight, at last he could see his customer. “Oh… you again. What is this, third time this week?”
“Third time’s a charm,” she winked. “Are you willing to do business?”
He paused for a moment, looking her up and down and admiring the view. “If you weren’t obviously one hundred percent woman, I’d swear you have big brass cojones.”
“I carry them in my purse,” Desiree shrugged off his words. It was part of doing business in the black market. She knew it gave her an advantage, so she took it. As long as they were looking at her breasts, the thief had no problem taking their money. “Where?”
“Back,” Luis pointed back to his office. Both of them staggered through the piles of boxes and discarded coffee grounds in order to reach it.
The inside of Luis’ office was an electronics store built vertically. Every part of the small room was packed floor to ceiling with boxes filled with gadgets, waiting to be shipped or discarded to places unknown. A swivel chair and a small table were the only conceits to furniture. In the virtual age, monitors, keyboards, and mice were swept out with the advent of the wireless set. “Well?” the Latino stared.
Desiree opened her handbag and the detritus of Feliz’s life fell conveniently out on the table. Luis didn’t seem that impressed. “You would think with the shit you grab, I’d have the chit readers out 24/7.”
“I aim to please,” she smiled.
“Heh,” he laughed as he struggled with the mountain of boxes to pull out what he wanted. Several pieces of technology soon joined the pile of stuff on the table. The readers were originally top of the line, but they had been torn apart and fixed so many times, that it was hard to gauge what they were underneath all that fiberoptic cable and duct tape.
“Why don’t you buy a new set with all that money I bring in?” Desiree had to ask.
The man just glared at her, as if the simplest schoolgirl could comprehend the reason. “A new reader, my dear, with all the fanciest extra features, would not possess the one thing that this beauty does.”
He pushed the chit into the reader and it hummed to life. The sonic reverberations it kicked out drove her crazy. In the narrow space of this hardware closet, she felt a visceral reaction, like the machine was a serpent ready to strike. “And what’s that?”
Luis smiled—a geek at heart, he loved nothing more than explaining his toys. “A return signal block and randomizer. I can make any number of purchases on this chit and have them appear that they were purchased from… oh, San Salvador, Paris, Greenland…”
“Eco-tourists. They just love their seal meat.” The fence activated a holoproj from the reader, took his stylus out from his ear, and started pressing virtual buttons. After a minute or so, he suddenly whistled. “¡Madre de Dios!”
“What? What is it?”
“You scored the mother lode this time!”
She contained her excitement. “Great to hear it. What’s my cut?”
“Patience, mamacita. Just because I have access doesn’t mean I get all the wealth stored there.”
“The hell you can’t,” Desiree spat back. “A good fence like you can wipe that man clean in an hour. So I want my cut, and you better double whatever number’s going through your head.”’
“You ain’t that good looking, chicka. All right, here’s the news. What I got here is easy access to fifty grand. Hard access goes up to two-fifty. Since I’m doing all the hard work, let me give you ten and call it a night.”
“If it’s so easy, Luis, then next time you can steal it. Why don’t we split this fairly? Give me the easy money, you keep the hard money, and we call it a win.”
He didn’t seem impressed. “Ten. You can always go somewhere else, if you want. You’ve got maybe an hour left, and then this chit becomes worthless plastic.”
“Then they would get the free money and you wouldn’t.” Desiree pressed, batting her eyes as she took the begging approach. “Come on, give a working girl a break.”
I’ll go as high as 20K, then after that, you’re on your own.”
“40K, and I throw in the wireless for free.”
Luis couldn’t resist his eyes caressing the beautiful piece of Web accessing technology that lay before him. “Twenty-five. I’m not kidding. It’s hard to spend a quarter-million dollars in an hour.”
“You just don’t go to the right stores,” the fake blonde teased, but finally nodded. “Done. But you gotta give me something for the rest.”
“The wireless I’ll give you five thousand for. It’s about what it’s worth legally, but I’m a collector, and this kinda thing doesn’t drop in Norfolk everyday.”
“Good.” Luis lifted up the wireless. “You can’t buy this kinda tech. You need to know people. I’m thinking you better watch your back.”
“I’ll disappear,” Desiree ignored the warning. “What about the Porcupine?”
“I don’t deal in guns. Too many cops get too hard up about that. This is merchandise,” he waved to the boxes around him, “that is concealed carry and a year in the pen. No thanks.”
“Fine,” she said as she shoveled the weapon back into her bag. “Thirty thousand’s not a bad night’s haul.”
do you want it?”
Desiree pulled out her own credit chit. He pulled the expensive one out, put the common chit in, and transferred the cash instantly. When Luis handed it back to her, he added, “Your ass.”
“Is right where it should be,” she smiled, taking the chit and opening the door. She wiggled her fine rear end just for fun and closed the door behind her.
Luis picked up the expensive credit chit and sighed. “Quarter million. Damn. Easy come, easy go.” He activated his wireless and hit speed dial. “Enrique? Yeah, it’s Luis. Your target just walked out the door.”
“Acknowledged,” the Cacique said on the other line, and then nodded over towards his boss. “We’ve got her.”
Feliz stopped checking the latest reports from his field operatives on his own wireless, reluctantly borrowed from one of his lieutenants. At his deputy’s words, he sprung into action. “Where?”
“Norfolk. She just left Luis’ place.”
“Good, we’ll intercept her in the car.” The gang boss quickly grabbed his suit coat and swung it on his shoulders like a knight suiting up for battle. Since the coat was fabricated from spidersilk and other bullet-deflecting composites, the comparison was not too far off. “Get the monkeys to work.”
“They’re already on it,” Enrique answered, two steps behind Feliz as they headed for the door of the hotel. By the time they reached the entrance, a limo was already waiting for them. The head of the local Latin Kings chapter poured himself right into the back seat without breaking stride. Feliz’s second-in-command had a hard time keeping pace. The limo jolted forward as soon as Enrique closed the door, and the cacique struggled to find his seat. Meanwhile, Feliz seemed completely calm and focused. Too calm, his underling thought, that’s not right. The boss is on the hunt.
Once the limo cleared the main streets and made its way towards the Virginia Beach Expressway, the local Inca asked, “When will they have something?”
Enrique flipped out his own wireless and the holoproj whirred to life. He made it large so that Feliz could see the screen as well. Once the connection was made, the techs who hacked the traffic cams and taxi feeds for them sent their data through the tiny screen. “They already do. Target has hailed a cab and is proceeding east from Old Dom.”
“Have the monkeys identified the company?”
The cacique zoomed in on the image of Desiree getting in the cab. “Johnny Cab.”
“Damn,” Feliz groaned, “not one of ours. Have we got the feed yet?”
“No, jefe,” Enrique admitted. “They’re still trying to crack it.”
gang boss forced himself to relax into the seat. “Save your battery, Enrique.
We’re going to need it. Let the driver know once we have a destination.”
“Si, jefe,” his second answered as he shrank his screen.
Desiree rode home with more cash than she had ever had in a single night. Certainly she wasn’t poor, not after robbing rich tourists for over a year, but she had never achieved the critical mass of wealth that she needed to retire. To reach that beautiful plateau called independently wealthy. For her, that was the dream. She didn’t want to leave the Tidewater; this collection of towns was her home. Still, there was no way she could live the rest of her life on what she had already stolen. Well, she admitted to herself, not in the manner I have become accustomed to, anyway.
The taxi took her within a couple blocks of where she lived; Desiree was still too paranoid to have a vehicle actually pull up her apartment’s front steps. She knew that the authorities tracked these vehicles, and she had been too successful so far to get sloppy now. Stopping off at the half-deserted Pembroke Mall, she thought about taking her normal route through the wilds of suburbia, cutting through the mall, changing her appearance, and then zigzagging her way towards her apartment complex. Then she remembered the powerful weapon that she still had her purse—and suddenly that way was out.
Virginia Beach was one big sprawl, a collection of homes and business with plenty of entrances and exits—all of which made a nightmare to maintain law and order. So the only way the city could keep the decay of nearby Norfolk away was through fortification. Every mall became a fortress, every business a fort, every apartment complex a gated community. Getting a weapon past the gate of a high-security mall was nigh impossible.
Then why am I stupid to walk outside? The thief knew she had no real good answer. I should just junk this gun and go inside. Desiree opened her purse and looked at the Porcupine. No, it’s far too valuable. I’m sure I can sell it to my other fences. They’re just harder to get to than Luis. That probably means a trip out to Great Bridge. Ick. God, I hate that place.
As she walked, Desiree quickly looked for some shadow, a place out of anyone’s sight or monitored surveillance. In the darkness of the parking lot, one tanned blonde woman passed behind a garbage container, and a black woman with dreadlocks emerged. She relaxed as she returned to her natural coloring. The young thief had spent a lot of her ill-gained fortune on implants—a melanin booster/drainer, photoreceptive hair follicles with ambient vicissitude functionality, ocular enhancement… just to name just a few. All of this high tech allowed her to do one thing very well; change her appearance at will. To disappear in plain sight. For someone who had grown up racially ambiguous to begin with, it wasn’t hard to enhance her God-given talents, and take them beyond the next level.
Although the night was menacing and there were plenty of ambush points on the path she walked, by this time of night, all the real crooks had left for easier pickings elsewhere. What idiot would walk in Virginia Beach? She laughed as she reached the front gate of her modest apartment complex. Its broken glass-topped wall and stun batteries lining the roof were hardly state-of-the-art, but it was enough for a young professional woman to feel safe at night. She placed her palm on the door and heard as the bolts came free, grinding open as she walked through the rarely-used pedestrian entrance.
The courtyard was calm and sedate, or at least it tried to be. The flowers there had wilted under the Virginia sun, and the evergreen bushes still clung to life, despite being two horticultural zones from their temperate home. Desiree walked the short distance to her slice of the cookie-cutter life and used her handprint to open the door again.
Her apartment was on the third floor of the building. By the time she reached her door, she felt exhausted. The humidity can’t be getting to me, she asked herself, can it? Maybe it’s all these late nights. An old-fashioned key was all that was needed to step into her climate-conditioned personal space. “Welcome home, Desiree,” a sexless soporific voice emanated from nowhere.
“Hello, Gremlin,” she gave the coded response. “What have you got for me?’
“No breaches, two letters in your in-box, one message holding.”
“ID reads from Na’Tisha Winters.”
She groaned unconsciously. “Mom. Okay, Gremlin. Play it.”
“Desiree!” burst out from the home speakers, like a hog call at a county fair. “My girl, where have you been hiding yourself? I haven’t seen you at church in weeks…”
“I know, Mom,” the daughter sat down, taking off her high-heels and rubbing her feet.
“And that’s a shame, honey, because some of the finest men in three states are just lining up here…”
“Men,” Desiree scoffed, “what do I need them for?”
“And you’re just sitting there wasting your time in that fancy digs of yours.”
“Fancy,” she repeated, chuckling to herself as her eyes cast around the simplistic middle class apartment. “Mom, you don’t know from fancy.”
“So get your ass down to P-town some Sunday and give some love to your momma. Trust me, it is worth your while. Love ya, honey. Bye!”
Desiree groaned again. As far as her mom and family knew, Desiree worked as an admin for one of the megacorps. Her other life—her real life—was no business of anyone’s, as far as she was concerned. She loved her momma and cousins and such as much as any good daughter, but she refused to get sucked into their life again. Anyone who can’t find their way out of Portsmouth ain’t worth meeting, she swore to herself for the umpteenth time. She had grown up in the slums of Tidewater and she was damned sure she was never going back.
Then again, the thief realized, I’m off to meet my fences who live on the other end of the crap spectrum. Every job has its downside. So she took off all the party clothes that were part of her “professional” life, and chose carefully from her wardrobe of reversible clothing. A quick change had saved her life more than once already. So with some jeans, a cheap top, and a leather jacket, she blitzed through her clothing and came out a much poorer, much less exciting person.
When she strapped her pink purse around her arm, the security alert rang.
The limo Feliz and Enrique rode in was full of wonderful surprises; including a mass spectrum frequency analyzer. The tech monkeys did the rest. Once the apartment complex was identified, through the magic of following one grainy female figure through a collection of badly-maintained security cameras, it was child’s play to crack the entry code to let the limo pass through the gates of the complex. The techs ran their decryption algorithms remotely—their software was far outside the ability of the common crook—and downloaded the code to the limo’s receptors. They hardly slowed down before they pulled in and were ready to engage.
“Which one?” Enrique asked, jumping out of the limo, half a second behind his boss.
“Look for the lights,” Feliz explained. “Sensible people are asleep.”
A quick visual scan revealed their targets. “I see only two.”
“Then we’ll split up.” His boss ordered. “Take the right, I’ll take the left. Remember, I want her alive.”
Enrique nodded as they ran to opposite sides of the apartment complex. Feliz practically leapt over the encumbering shrubbery as he reached the door. Not waiting to fiddle the lock, he simply yanked the door open and broke the cheap security mechanism. He dashed up the stairs, almost running into a redhead girl as he came up. She gasped, but he took no notice; his concentration was like a guided missile, aiming towards his target. Once he reached the third floor, he kicked the apartment door open.
Whipping out his gun, Feliz scanned the room, but found no one. Moving quickly from room to room, he found the small apartment empty—until he reached the bedroom. There was a mess of clothing on the floor; but what he recognized was the dress. It stood out for him like a flare. With a quick touch to his wireless, he barked, “Enrique!”
“She was here,” his boss barked, scouring the apartment, hoping to find a clue of her whereabouts. “We just missed her. Check with the monkeys. She couldn’t have gone far.”
“Si, jefe.” Enrique abandoned the search and started walking towards the limo. Dialing a new number on his wireless, he demanded, “Manuel, please give me some good news.”
The tech on the other line was just as confused as Enrique was. “What do you mean?”
“We lost the girl. Check the cameras, she can’t have gotten far.”
“Checking,” the bank of techs continued to scan the local systems they had already cracked. “Um… sir, the only people who’ve left were the ones you passed on the way in.”
“The ones we passed… what do you mean?”
“A woman, uh… went out the same way the Inca went in. I mean, that can’t be the target, could it? He would know.”
“Stand by,” Enrique ordered, and then called the boss. “Jefe, who did you pass on the stairs?”
Feliz was puzzled by the question. He had to think for a second. “Redhead, why?”
“The monkeys say the only person who’s left the complex was the one you passed.”
The gang boss suddenly realized what was going on. “Hair dye. Damn it—after her!”
Desiree kept walking until she got outside the apartment complex. Once past the door, she ran like hell, determined to get lost in the maze of office buildings and apartment blocks that lay between her and the mall. How did they find me?! her mind screamed as she ran. The thief was panting as she bolted, running as fast as she could for the relative safety of a public place.
Thankfully, she had one major advantage. She was on her home turf. She knew every short cut, back alley, and unfenced backyard between her and her destination. Once there, she knew, I can disappear. They’ll never find me again.
The limo screeched back onto the road as the gangsters raced to follow Desiree’s trail. Feliz felt the adrenalin pulsing through his veins. With much difficulty, he forced himself to calm down, while Enrique played puppet-master. He let his deputy shout on the wireless, coordinating the monkeys to adjust their search area. It wasn’t easy. She was right there, Feliz’s mind screamed. How could I have missed her?!
“Come on, Manuel, it’s one woman! Find her!”
“Sir, I’ve still got access to the screens we had before, and…”
“Search pattern,” Enrique cut him off. “Center on the apartment complex. Full circle, five blocks.”
“Working on it,” the Monkey King acknowledged, relaying his orders. As his team worked to adjust their surveillance, Manuel finally had something. “Hang on.”
“Sir, I’ve got her. She’s just emerged from an office building, heading into the Pembroke Mall parking lot.”
“Caca!” Enrique pounded on the driver’s window and screamed, “The mall! Andele!”
Feliz looked calm, but inside he was radiating anger, with his body twitching to move, move, move! The gang boss kept his cool. As his father had told him many times, don’t let the bastards see you sweat. As much as he wanted to be the one to scream and yell, to do something, the Inca deliberately controlled it by stating the obvious, “If she reaches the mall, our options are limited.”
“Jefe,” his cacique assured him, “she won’t get that far.”
“And if she does?” Feliz raised an eyebrow.
“Then within fifteen minutes, we’ll have every exit out of that mall covered. She won’t escape us.”
“Good,” the Inca sat back in his seat, pretending to have more patience than he felt.