Excerpt for Wanda: Risking Life to Live by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Wanda:


Risking Life to Live



by

Margaret Gregory





Copyright © 2017 by Margaret Gregory

All Rights Reserved

Smashwords Edition


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This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are productions of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously.


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Please note that I use Australian spelling throughout.

You will see ou’s (colour) and ‘re’ (centre) as well as a few other differences from American spelling.




Cover designed by msgdragon


Cover Image Credits: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / CBoswell

Cover Image Credits: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / Meinzahn

CONTENTS:


Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38


Other Novels by Margaret Gregory


Chapter 1

The two completely black clad figures slid into the Sears Salon through the slightly opened rear door, then closed and locked the door behind them. They stopped just inside the door and the taller stockier figure went to a metal cabinet where an array of red, green and orange LEDs glowed. Within minutes, he had opened the cover and clamped bypasses to specific terminals. He gave his a companion a slight shove. The shorter, slender figure, wearing a backpack, ran lightly up the stairs to the office of the manager, seeming to have no trouble seeing in the dim security lighting.

The taller figure entered the ground floor showroom and wandered around the display cases, forcing open the ones with the most expensive displays of jewellery and sweeping the contents into soft fabric bags. These disappeared into pockets of his outfit - ones designed for the purpose. When all his special pockets were full, he followed his companion upstairs.

The smaller figure now knelt in front of an opened safe. She was carefully emptying the contents into the vinyl backpack. If she saw or heard his approach, she made no sign. Even when he lightly touched her shoulder, she didn’t jump. She glanced at him quickly and saw him tap his watch. She nodded, finished emptying the safe, re-closed it and followed her companion.

They both trotted soundlessly downstairs to the rear entrance. The tall man uncovered the luminous face of his watch and went to the alarm system cabinet to remove his work. Once the by passes were off, they would have ten seconds to leave the building or the alarms would sound. He reached in to begin, but the woman grabbed his arm. She was staring at the door, not at the man.

The man dropped his arm and in the faint light coming from a dim security light, saw his companion glance at him and mime smoking a cigarette. He glanced at his watch again.

Two minutes later, although it seemed like twenty minutes, the smoker outside moved on. The smaller figure inside nodded, allowing her companion to reset the alarm system he’d disabled fifteen minutes earlier and unlock the door.

Once outside, they paused in the doorway, smelling the trace of cigarette smoke as they looked around for watchers. Then they ran quietly, keeping to the deepest shadows, until they reached the street where their car was parked. By then, they had removed the black mask hoods they had adopted in the store.

No one paid any attention to the dark green ford as they drove off.

The woman, now crouched in the back seat, was pulling off the black clothes and putting on the spare clothing she had ready. The shimmering disco dress would confuse anyone who stopped them. It was so very inappropriate attire for a sneak thief.

After four years of practice, the rapid change was mere routine. Only when she finished did the woman realise that they were not headed back to her small apartment. Instead, they were on the freeway, headed for Beverly Hills. She gave the change of route some thought as she wrapped her tool kit in the black jumpsuit and pushed the bundle under the back seat.

Harry, as she had long since christened her companion, did not encourage questions. She still did not know his real name, but she had stopped wondering about it. He only knew her as Wanda Dean, and that was not her real name either.

He answered to Harry, on the odd occasions when talking was safer than silence. Besides, he was a wizard with alarm systems, something she knew nothing about. Her job was opening safes and the two of them now worked seamlessly together. Only twice in their partnership had unexpected guards surprised them; each time, Harry had dealt silently and efficiently with them.

A sudden thought brought a smile to the woman’s face. Beverly Hills. Maybe Harry was taking her to the Boss’s place.

Wanda knew her boss only as Harrison – he was a middle-aged man, still in rigorous good health and fitness, who dressed expensively. Once or twice, she had seen him in pictures of parties at homes in Beverly Hills, always in the background and never identified by name.

Ever since he had convinced her of the advantages of working for him, she had been trying to impress him. Now, her technique was to be efficient in her work and minimise her femininity. She had seen Harrison with a succession of seductive types; none had ever stayed with him for long.

He was a widower. She had deduced that when he had first approached her, but that was all that mattered about his personal life. She intended to impress him enough for him to move her out of her small apartment – and then – who knew. It was irrelevant that he already had two sons that were older than her.

“Have you got your belt on?” Harry asked unexpectedly.

She had, this time.

Wanda sat up straighter and looked around. A police car, with lights flashing, cut in front of them and slowed. Harry pulled the car to a stop behind them. He had donned a cap and was reaching unobtrusively for the gun he had in the pocket beside him.

The police officer approached and spoke to Harry through the driver’s window. Wanda slid into a graceless sprawl and pretended to be asleep. She made no sign of being aware that a second officer had a torch shining on her. This possibility was the reason for her quick change act, and twice before, it had deflected interest in them.

“What is the trouble, Officer?” Harry asked politely. He was relaxed, knowing he had broken no driving rules.

“Are you aware that your tail lights are not working?” the first officer asked.

Harry did not need to act surprised. He kept his car in top condition, he was too careful to invite police attention to it.

“No. No I didn’t.”

“Can we see your licence and registration papers, Sir?”

Harry complied at once, reaching up to the sun-visor to get them. He also pulled down his chauffeur’s licence. He handed the lot to the officer who took them back to his patrol car.

Harry took the opportunity to get out and walk around to the back of his car. He swore expressively when he saw the smashed taillights.

“The Boss is not going to be impressed!” he said to himself.

“Do you have much further to go?” the second officer asked.

“Several miles,” Harry estimated. “I have to deliver a rich, spoilt brat home before two thirty. I do have spare globes in the back, but not the covers.”

Harry glanced at his watch.

“If I put new globes in, would I be able to continue? Once I have delivered her, I can get someone from the company to help me, even if I have to wait an hour or two.”

“Where do you have to go?” the first officer asked, returning.

“Sunset Drive,” Harry improvised.

“Okay, put the globes in. We’ll follow you there. I’ll hang onto your licence until then.”

“Thanks Officer, I owe you one,” Harry said amiably. He promptly went to the back of his car to get the globes.

Harry hid his anger well, but Wanda, still feigning sleep but peeping through narrowed eyes, sensed his tension as soon as he was back in the driver’s seat. She’d figured out, long ago, that if Harry loved anything, it was his car. The lights would have been intact when he left to pick her up. She had not noticed the damage when they had returned from the job, but at that time, getting away was the priority.

Harry pulled up in front of a house in Sunset Drive. He had used his cell phone on wi-fi as he drove to call the Boss and arrange to get support for his story.

As Harry walked up to the door of the house, it opened.

“Cutting it fine, Karl,” the man in the doorway commented. Then he saw the police car.

“Had some trouble with vandals,” Harry/Karl explained. “The police were kind enough to follow me here so I could get your daughter home. I have someone from the company coming out to help me. I’ll just help your daughter out.”

The woman in the back of the car stirred when the door opened. She needed help to get out and more to get herself to the door. It seemed obvious she was too drunk to walk straight.

“You’re a disgrace Cherie-Ann,” the man from the house said audibly as he took over from Karl.

“Thanks for seeing me here safely,” Harry/Karl told the officers once he was back at his car. “Do you need to write me a ticket?”

“We’ll waive it this time,” the officer told Harry. “Just don’t drive the car until you have it fixed.”

Harry forced a grin and took his papers and licence back. Then he leant against the car, reached for his cell phone and pretended to dial a number as the police car drove off.


A dark sedan arrived within five minutes. Harry took the black wrapped bundle from under the back seat and the backpack from the floor and tossed them into the sedan. As he locked his car, Wanda and the man from the house were hurrying out and within a minute everyone was in the car and it was being driven off.

The car turned into the driveway of a large estate only a few miles away, and stopped at the metal gates. A guard came out to examine the driver. At his nod, the electronic gates swung open and the car moved quietly along the drive to the house. As the car approached close to the building, a garage door opened so that the car could drive straight in.

Wanda took her cue from Harry. He did not seem worried by the events of the drive here, so she relaxed. The driver and the man from the house did not seem hostile, but neither spoke further to her.

Harry passed Wanda’s backpack and wrapped tools to her, then led the way out of the garage, into the house.

Wanda expected the house to be grand, but her amazement was unfeigned when she saw the reality of it. It was even more opulent than the place Harrison had owned when she had first visited him. One day, she promised herself, she would own a house just like it.

“Miss Dean,” a soft voice spoke beside her.

Wanda turned around and saw a servant beside her. She had been so impressed by the house that she had not sensed his approach. “The Master wishes to see you in the front parlour. This way please.”

Wanda glanced at Harry who was walking into a passage on the far side of the hall. She followed the servant into a room at the front of the house.

“The Master will be here shortly,” Wanda was advised. “Would you care for a drink?”

“Do you have diet coke?”

The man nodded and fetched a small can from a bar fridge hidden in a panelled section of wall in one corner of the room.

“What should I do with this stuff?” Wanda asked when the man had handed her the can.

“The Master will tell you.” He bowed slightly and left the room.

Wanda decided not to remain standing. She walked to a two-seater couch and curled up on it. She was tired, having worked a twelve-hour shift at the restaurant before going with Harry. She want to sleep but it had been hard enough staying awake in the car.

She did doze off, but the slightest sense of not being alone, made her suddenly alert.

Harrison was striding into the room. Wanda sprang to her feet and watched him.

“What did you bring me?” he asked her.

Wanda reached for the pack and put it onto a low table. Harrison examined the papers and the special jewel cases as she unloaded each item.

“Good work. Any trouble?” Harrison repacked the bag.

“Not inside. We had to wait for a guard or someone to finish a cigarette before we came out. That was all. Then we had that trouble with Harry’s tail lights.”

“Harry?” Harrison asked sharply.

“You know. The guy I work with. I call him Harry. He’s never told me his real name.”

“Why Harry?”

“He works for you!” Wanda blushed faintly.

“Harry then. Yes, he told me about the car lights. Mistakes like that can cause all sorts of trouble,” Harrison commented mildly.

“The damage had to be done while we were on the job,” Wanda told him immediately. “They were fine when we left the car and we don’t hang around after a job.”

“Do you think the police noticed you particularly?” Harrison asked, still mildly.

Wanda shook her head.

“One of them shone a torch on me, but I had my hair mussed over my face. And I never look like me on a job.”

“What about on jobs I haven’t sanctioned?”

Harrison suddenly reached out and gripped Wanda’s wrist.

“What do you mean?” Wanda asked, meeting his gaze. She guessed he had learnt about her little excursion of two nights ago.

Harrison drew a folded piece of paper from the pocket of his evening jacket. He unfolded it one-handed and showed it to Wanda. It was an artist’s sketch of a woman that could have been her.

“Is that meant to be me?” Wanda asked, studying it.

“Is it?” was the sharp question.

“Where did it come from?” Wanda asked.

Harrison’s expression stopped being genial. “A woman, whose description could be yours, broke into the apartment of the wife of a prominent business man and threatened to harm her two year old son if she did not hand over a valuable leather coat. Was it you?”

Wanda stared defiantly at her employer.

“Was it?”

“Yes. So what?” Wanda finally admitted. “I got away clean.”

Harrison slapped her face hard, twice. Tears sprang into her eyes from the stinging pain, but she made no sound.

“You have no need to steal such things,” Harrison said coldly. “I pay you enough to buy several coats or whatever else you want. Why did you go to the woman’s place and steal it?”

“I was going to buy it,” Wanda said carefully. “I had it in my hands and she grabbed it off me. I wasn’t going to make a scene in the shop.”

“You could have got a different one.”

“I wanted … that one!” Wanda stared at Harrison.

She was ready for the reaction to her defiance. She moved her head away from the next slap.

“You and I have a deal. You do not do any jobs except what I tell you to do. You do remember that I trust?”

Wanda met his angry gaze and nodded. She let the defiance slip away.

“The police don’t like people who harm or threaten to harm, children. Even if the woman gets her coat back, they will still be looking for you. You will have to be very, very careful.”

Wanda finally dropped her eyes.

“I have the coat,” Harrison told her. “I will see that it is returned. I will not be paying you for this night’s work. If you try such a stupid stunt again, I will not be so forgiving. You have a very poor record of staying free on your own.”

“I won’t do it again, Mr Harrison,” Wanda promised, keeping her eyes down, but not acting cowed.

“See that you don’t!” Harrison finished. He paused to be sure the message had sunk in. Then he demanded, “Who is the boy camped outside your apartment?”

Wanda looked up in surprise. “Outside mine?”

Harrison nodded. “Sylvester saw him there and told him to move away.”

“I have no idea who it could be,” Wanda said honestly. “I don’t date anyone and if I did it would be a man, not a boy.”

“If he is there when you go back, tell him to stay away or I will make the removal permanent.”

Wanda knew Harrison meant exactly that.

“It will be best if you stay here until morning. I’ll have my man show you where you are to sleep.”

Harrison made a definite exit with the bag full of stolen items.

Wanda slumped into one of the chairs near the table and rested her head on her arms. With her face hidden, she allowed it to relax into a grin of exultation as she savoured the adrenalin rush of surviving her encounter with Harrison.

She had guessed right, played her part exactly right. He had a chance to remind her of his control of her and she had not behaved like a weak woman. He could have had one of his men beat her for her disobedience, but he hadn’t. Yes, she was warned; she could not afford to disobey him again, but she didn’t want to. She had his attention – that was what she wanted.

“Miss Dean,” the same soft voiced servant roused her. “I am to show you where you will sleep.”

Wanda controlled her face before she looked up. “Thank you. I can barely stay awake.”

She realised, belatedly that her face must look red. The man stared at her a moment longer than courteous. Well, who cared what he thought anyway?

She followed him along a long corridor and up a flight of stairs. He showed her into a room, so opulent that she was sure it had to be a mistake. The bed was king sized and had curtains that could be drawn around it. There was a corner with chairs and a coffee table, and another with a TV and stereo system that looked state of the art, but she was too tired to investigate it. The man withdrew.

The bed drew her attention. On it was a satin nightgown in a beautiful lavender shade. Wanda ran her hand on it and delighted in the feel of it. In moments, she was out of the evening dress and into the nightdress. She carefully folded her discarded clothes and put them on a chair.

As she climbed onto the bed, she realised something about the nightdress. What she had thought was the front seam of the calf length sheath, was actually comprised of delicate press-studs, from the crotch down. Did this mean what she thought it meant?

A wave of heat coursed through her body and she lay on the bed without getting between the satin sheets. She tried to stay awake, but dozed off anyway.


Firm but gentle hands were exploring her body. Wanda tensed for a moment, and then relaxed. She could smell a trace of the expensive body scent Harrison used. He was on the bed next to her, doing the things she dreamed of him doing and she was not about to ruin it by talking. His hands were rousing her body, making her moan with pleasure.

“Do I excite you?” Harrison whispered in her ear.

“Yes, please don’t stop,” Wanda begged.

“Do you want me to keep going?”

“Yes, oh yes.”

“You have to earn that privilege,” Harrison whispered. “You have to prove yourself worthy of me. I have to forgive you first.”

“Anything. I’ll do anything – whatever you ask,” Wanda promised rashly.

“See that you do,” Harrison murmured, doing something that brought her to a crescendo of sensation.

While her body was helpless, she was aware of him undressing and then felt him slipping into the bed. She dared to crawl under the covers next to him, and then felt him pull her next to him. His arms went around her and she fell asleep, feeling triumphant.

When one of the servants woke her at five o’clock next morning, Wanda was alone in the king-size bed. For a moment she thought that she had dreamt Harrison had been with her, but the second pillow had the impression of a head on it and smelt of body scent. She smiled to herself before rising to dress in the clothes she had removed the previous night.


Chapter 2

Wanda woke from an uneasy sleep. It was only seven-thirty but someone was pounding on the door of her apartment.

She rose, rubbed her eyes and reached for her ankle length dressing gown to hide the fact that she was still almost fully dressed. When she had arrived back at six o’clock, she had only had enough energy to remove her shoes before collapsing on the bed.

“Who is it?” she called through the door leading to the passage outside.

“Sandy!” the voice sounded young and male.

“Sandy who?”

“Your brother! Come on Sis, I know it’s you. Open up!”

Wanda fumbled with the catch and opened the door slowly. She hadn’t even put the safety chain on when she had arrived.

An older, but still recognizable, version of her younger brother sidled in through the part opened door.

Wanda quickly closed the door again. “How did you find me?” was her curt greeting as she held the gown tightly closed.

“Elisabeth told me where you were,” Sandy Willard informed his oldest sister. “She wanted to know you were alright. Aren’t you glad to see me?”

“No!” Wanda snapped. “You’d be better off forgetting you found me.”

“If you feel that way, why do you write to Elisabeth?”

Sandy looked like their father, too much for Wanda’s peace of mind, but he had blond hair like his mother’s had been. She looked nothing like him. She took after her own mother, who had died when she was four. Her light brown hair was all she had inherited from her father. Few who saw them together would guess they were related. And that was fortunate for Sandy Willard.

“That’s my business. I never gave her my address. So how did you know where I was?”

“Alright, I asked a private enquiry agent to trace you. I didn’t have much to go on. Elisabeth knew what part of town you posted your letters in and an idea of what this place looked like. I had on old photo of you and gave him that. It took him a few weeks to find you. Why did you change your name?”

“Look, Sandy, I’m doing you all a big favour. I’m keeping out of your lives. Now do me one. Get out of here and don’t come back!”

Sandy’s eyes flashed with suppressed anger and he kept his mouth shut. This was not going the way he hoped. Time to play his trump card.

“Elisabeth is very sick! She needs you to come home. The doctors think you can help her.”

Wanda’s face didn’t change.

“I can’t help her!” Wanda said, knowing it sounded callous. “Sandy, get out of here! I have a boyfriend who doesn’t know I have a brother and who won’t stop to ask questions if he finds you here. He told me he’d terminate you if he saw you here again.”

“Who? That jerk that told me off last night?”

Wanda said nothing.

“Is he your boyfriend or your pimp?” Sandy challenged. “I heard you worked nights.”

Wanda felt herself blushing, thinking of the previous night.

“Your precious detective obviously didn’t find out much. I waitress from noon until midnight. If I choose to be out after that – what I do and with whom – is my business. I don’t intend to live all my life in this shoebox!”

“You haven’t changed!” Sandy snapped. “I thought you at least cared for Elisabeth. If you change your mind, I’m working at Taggerty’s Sports Store for the next three weeks, and then I’ll be at the Police Academy.”

Sandy turned on his heel and let himself out. He was half way down the stairs when he saw the tailor’s dummy from the previous night, walking up them.

“I told you to stay away from here,” the man spoke in a soft menacing voice.

“Mate, you are welcome to the bitch,” Sandy shook off the man’s grip. “She can rot in hell!”

As he continued to stomp down the stairs, he didn’t see Sylvester Franklin smile.


Sandy went and sat in his car, which was parked opposite the block of apartments. He berated himself for losing his calm and probably blowing the only chance Elisabeth had to live. How could two people who had the same mother and father be so different?

“Damn it! It’s been six years – she can’t still be holding a grudge!”

Sandy recalled the night Wanda left home. The memory was still vivid enough to make him angry. He remembered Wanda screaming obscenities at their father, calling her stepmother horrible things and refusing to stop seeing the young louts she had teamed up with. It was the only time he had ever heard his father lose his temper – over anything.

He had predicted she would end up in jail and he wouldn’t help her if she did. He had not actually disowned her, but he never mentioned her. Yet his father had not stopped him from going to look for her. If Senator Charles Willard could forgive his daughter, why couldn’t Wanda, as she now called herself, try to forgive him?

When Sandy saw the man from the stairway walking across the road towards his car, he decided it was time to leave. The man was dangerous. Couldn’t his sister see that?

Sandy drove around until he came to Landler Park and stopped in the parking area there. It was too early for him to be at work. He took out his cell phone and dialled Elisabeth’s mobile.

The phone rang for a long time. Sandy pictured Elisabeth walking slowly and painfully to answer it. He had got her the mobile so she wouldn’t have to walk – but she wouldn’t keep it with her. She was stubborn. In that way she was like Wanda, but in all other ways she was the opposite. Elisabeth was the sweetest, most decent person he knew.

“Elisabeth Willard.”

“Hi, Liz, it’s Sandy.”

“Did you find her?” was Elisabeth’s breathless question.

“Yeah, I found her.”

“And…”

“It’s hopeless. She says she can’t help you.”

Elisabeth was silent for a moment.

“She will, Sandy. You have to keep at her.”

“She told me to get out and not come back. She has her own personal bouncer. He’s warned me off twice!”

“Find somewhere else to see her.”

Sandy counted to ten slowly.

“Sandy?”

“I’m here.”

“She’s in trouble. I know it, but I don’t know if she knows it.”

“If she’s in trouble, it’s where she wants to be. She hasn’t changed. She is still the bitch she was six years ago.”

“No, she’s not!” Elisabeth insisted. “I know she’s not!”

“Okay, I’ll keep trying. I’ll do it for you! But there is only so much I will put up with from her.”

“Don’t do anything rash, Sandy, please,” Elisabeth begged. “If she had a phone I’d call her myself. See if you can give her my number. Maybe she will call me if she isn’t afraid of Mum or Dad answering it.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” Sandy sighed. “Bye, Liz.”


Wanda was waiting on tables when she saw her brother walk into the restaurant. It was obvious that he was trying to get her attention, so she ignored him and let her young colleague, Kylie, tend to him. Well, she didn’t want anyone to think he knew her. There was no doubt in Wanda’s mind that Harrison’s warning was to be taken seriously. She may not want to have anything to do with her family, but she didn’t hate them enough to want them hurt. Why didn’t he just do as she said, and keep away?

He would ruin what she had achieved. She had just got Harrison to notice her as a woman. She had to keep her nose clean with him or the consequences wouldn’t be pleasant. She knew that instinctively, but it didn’t matter. He was her ticket to a life of riches and he made her feel alive, totally, scintillatingly, every nerve extra sensitive – alive.

“Sis!” Sandy whispered as Wanda had to pass him with a pile of dirty dishes. She ignored him again and disappeared into the kitchen.

Though he waited, she didn’t reappear. He guessed she wouldn’t until he left.

He raised his hand to get the attention of the cute little waitress that had served him.

“Can I have my bill, please?”

Kylie went to the front desk and began to add it up for him.

Sandy was watching her, so he saw the man he’d seen near Wanda’s place enter with an older man. The other man had steel grey hair and if the younger was dangerous, the elder was evil itself.

The little waitress smiled at the pair and showed them to a table that had, until then, a reserved sign on it.

They must be regulars, Sandy thought, turning his head away so they wouldn’t see him.

He risked a peek at the table where the men were seated, but only the older man was there and his sister was hurrying out of the kitchen, hastily fixing her frilly little apron.

He was too far away to hear the conversation, but his sister was writing something on her order pad. Kylie returned with his bill.

“Wait a minute will you?” Sandy requested as he drew out his wallet. His bill came to under ten dollars but he drew out a ten and a twenty and a small photograph with a number on the back.

“Keep the change,” Sandy smiled at her.


“It’s too much,” Kylie protested, sure it was a mistake.

Sandy covered hers with his and spoke softly.

“If you give the photo to Wanda, without the two gents over at that table knowing it, I’d be grateful.”

Kylie nodded, catching on quickly.

“Ah, thanks,” she said, glancing quickly over his shoulder and hurrying away.

Sandy had only that much warning of the man’s approach. He stood up to leave.

“Hello, Friend!” the voice sounded genial but the owner of the voice clapped him on the back so hard that he almost staggered into a nearby table of diners. “The old man suggested that you join us.”

“I’ve already eaten, thanks,” Sandy backed away, sensing the menace in the words.

“No problems. We’ll buy you a drink.”

Sandy backed into another diner and turned to apologise only to feel his arm being held in a painful grip. Wedged between two tall, powerful men, Sandy had no option but to go where they wanted.

Wanda hadn’t left the table yet, nor could she see him coming. The old man had his hand on her wrist, but she didn’t seem to be objecting. As he was pushed around in front of her, he saw a smile on his sister’s face that seemed genuine. It vanished the moment she saw him. Was it a trick of the light or for an instant did she look panicked before a look of distaste replaced it?

“Bring an extra drink for your friend here, Miss Dean,” Harrison ordered. “A strong whisky.”

“He’s not my friend!” Wanda said coldly, and then moved off to fill the man’s order.

“Have a seat,” Harrison invited Sandy. He had no choice – his two escorts pushed him down before seating themselves. They looked ready to spring at him if he moved.

“I believe you have been told to keep away from Miss Dean,” Harrison said with quiet menace. “Twice!”

Sandy shrugged. “I told your friend here that he was welcome to her.”

“So why are you here?” Harrison persisted.

“That’s my business,” Sandy snapped.

“If you want to leave here in one piece, I suggest you make it my business,” Harrison suggested quietly.

Sandy looked around for inspiration. He licked lips that were suddenly dry. Like an answer to his prayer, he saw Wanda returning with a tray of drinks. She placed one in front of each person, keeping her eyes away from each of them.

Harrison held her wrist again. He was rubbing the back of it with his thumb, but this time, Sandy saw her rigid posture. His guts went into knots. He took the whisky and swigged half of it before the man on his right deliberately knocked his arm so he spilled the rest of it down his front.

Wanda laughed softly, looking at the mess her brother was in. It was a calculated move and she felt Harrison’s grip loosen.

“You know him then?” Harrison asked Wanda.

“Yeah, I do. Took me a while to place him. I last saw him six years ago when he was an obnoxious spotty faced brat. I knew his sister.”

“What did he want?”

“He’s just a messenger. His sister wants me to go back to Hicksville and be her bridesmaid. I told him I wasn’t interested. I have better things to do here. He just doesn’t have the message yet. Excuse me, Sir, your entrée’s are ready.”

“I’m feeling generous tonight,” Harrison said mildly, but Sandy sensed the menace. “I’ll give you one final warning. Go home! If you are seen near Miss Dean again – it might be fatal.”

Harrison waved his hand and Sandy felt his arms, released.

“Go!” he was told.

Sandy decided it was a good order to follow and stood up and left the table. He was so intent on getting away from the men that he didn’t see that one of the younger men was following him, five paces behind.

Wanda noticed as she delivered the plates to the table, but didn’t obviously look in that direction.

“Where’s the men’s room?” the other younger man asked.

“Down the passage next to the kitchen,” Wanda told him.

“Show me!”

Harrison nodded. Wanda walked back towards the kitchen, but instead of entering the passage, she was pushed into the kitchen. Her boss watched without comment as she was forced to walk through to the restaurant’s rear door.

Wanda was released and nudged in the direction of the service alley. She felt a moment of panic until she heard noises from further ahead. The noises sounded like fists on flesh and her fear took a new turn. Fortunately, it was dark, she did not have to hide her expression and by the time she stopped, she had it under control.

Her brother was lying on the alley stones. Harrison’s goon was leaning over him, feeling his clothing.

“He’s a bit too old for you, Syl,” the man behind Wanda said.

Syl growled. “He’s carrying no wallet!”

“He had one a little while ago,” Wanda said clearly. “He had to. He paid Kylie for his meal. He must have dropped it inside.”

Syl stood up and brushed his clothes back into position.

“Clean up your mess!” Syl told her before he and the other walked off.

“Hands off me, Bitch,” Sandy snarled, refusing help to get to his feet.

“I warned you, bro,” Wanda said very quietly.

“Yeah and if I ever see you again it will be too soon,” Sandy continued in a loud voice.

“I’m sorry, Sandy, I really am, but I can’t help Elisabeth.” Wanda insisted quietly. “Please stay away from me.”

“What have they got on you?” Sandy asked quietly as he stumbled along the alley towards the car park.

“I’ll help you to a taxi,” Wanda said loudly, avoiding the question.

“Hands off! I don’t want your help!”

“Please yourself!”

In a low voice, Sandy said, “I hope you know what you’re doing, Sis. It seems to me you are on a one-way trip to hell. And I don’t think you are wasting time getting there.”

Sandy increased his pace towards his car, stumbling on the rough surface. Wanda watched him until he sat in his car. It was obvious to her that he was in pain and trying to ignore it.

Why didn’t you just leave me alone, Wanda thought, watching him drive off. She began to walk back to the rear of the restaurant.

“Back to work, Dean!” the manager, Green, pounced on her the moment she re-entered the kitchen. “You can get back to the dishes.”

“Yes, Mr Green,” she agreed willingly.

Wanda was relieved. At the moment, she wasn’t sure she could hide her inner thoughts from that trio of customers. Doing dishes would give her time to regain her control.

Damn Sandy anyway! He pranced back into her life, confusing her priorities. She couldn’t go home. Wouldn’t.

If she were to ask for time off from Harrison, he’d want to know why. If she just went – well she couldn’t – he’d find her and have her beaten. He’d never trust her enough to make love to her.

Kylie brought more dishes to stack on her pile.

“Your friend gave me something to give to you,” she said to the stiff back of her colleague.

Wanda stopped scrubbing and turned. “What friend?”

“The cute one at table 11.”

“He’s not a friend,” Wanda corrected.

“Well, he gave me this and a twenty dollar tip.”

Kylie handed over the photograph. Wanda wiped one hand roughly on a towel to take it.

The blond girl in the photo looked haggard and frail. The sight of Elisabeth, looking like that sent shivers of dread up and down Wanda’s spine. She turned the photograph over, saw the telephone number, and memorised it in moments. Then she shrugged and threw the photo in the bin near the sink.

“He must have the wrong girl. I don’t know who the hell that was.”

Kylie did not really care. She had done as she had been asked.

Wanda went back to doing dishes until the manager called her away.

“Take coffee to table 20,” he told her.

Wanda again replaced her frilly apron and took the tray over to Harrison. Only one cup. Yes, the other two men had gone.

“I have a special job for you,” Harrison told her quietly. “Harry will meet you as usual. Twelve thirty – don’t be late.”

Harrison had a faint smile on his face as he called his other operative ‘Harry’.

“Will that be all, Mr Harrison?” Wanda asked.

Harrison nodded, and Wanda went off to fix his bill. When Harrison left, there was a $50 dollar tip. Wanda relaxed slightly. Harrison, it seemed, was pleased with her.

Chapter 3

Harry was waiting for her, as usual, outside the rear door of the restaurant. He was there so often that the police officer on the beat no longer queried his intentions.

Wanda followed him in silence, and did not try to prompt Harry into giving her details of the night’s job. He would tell her when he was ready.

They were in Harry’s car when he said, “We’re going to do a snatch job.”

“Who?”

“Who doesn’t matter.”

“Okay, what? Man, woman or child?”

“Male.”

“And I’m to do what?”

“Your usual, open locks. But, you’ll need to wear nothing under your suit!”

There was almost a sneer in the way Harry said it. Wanda took the suggestion as an order.

“The Boss had better pay triple for this. I’m no whore!”

“He’ll make it worth your while,” Harry promised.


Harry waited in his car whilst Wanda went up to her apartment to prepare. She took her make-up case out and considered each of her favourite disguises. It was no good looking Hispanic on this outing, the skin under her suit would give her away. Instead, she darkened her hair and gave her face, hands and feet a fake tan. She let her hair loose and she blow waved it so it fell over her face.

When she was ready, she walked down to Harry’s car. He drove to one of the most expensive hotels in downtown LA and parked in the street nearby. On the way, he had explained what they had to do, and what she was to do.

Using stealth, they entered the hotel’s basement garage and used the fire stairs to by-pass the lobby. They both had a backpack carried on one shoulder. At the third floor, they entered the main part of the hotel and took the patron’s lift to the tenth floor. This was the level below the pent house, which was their destination.

The penthouse had a private lift from the garage and lobby. It was next to the main lift, but went express to the top floor.

Harry strode along to room 10-11 and indicated that Wanda was to open it. She complied immediately, and then moved aside to let Harry precede her into the suite. She followed and closed the door after hanging a do not disturb sign on the handle in the corridor.

Wanda’s keen ears heard slight sounds of a struggle and then nothing. Harry re-emerged from one of the bedrooms in the suite and entered the other.

A faint odour of ether clung to Harry as he pointed to a window. It overlooked the side of the hotel and the narrow way between it and the next building. Wanda unlocked the window, but this time, she climbed out first and using cracks in the brickwork, found a way up onto the roof where the penthouse garden hid their arrival. Harry was only moments behind her.

Using hand signals, Harry indicated that they would be leaving via the roof of the adjacent building.

“You go in first. There should only be one person in there, unless he invited a whore into his bed. Pretend to be stealing his jewellery, but we don’t want to take it – just him.”

Wanda had a very good idea what was going to happen, and wondered how he intended the man to wake up. She did not intend to do it.

However, she obeyed Harry’s instructions. This sort of activity put her mind into high gear and a zest into life.

Wanda forced the door lock on the French windows leading from the garden and crept stealthily through the suite to the bedroom. Harry had not been wrong. A gold watch, rings and a platinum pin set with a diamond lay carelessly on the side table.

The man, a foreigner, to judge by his looks in the faint light of her torch, lay asleep on his back. Wanda was aware of Harry approaching – it was like a sixth sense – probably the result of working together for so long.

Suddenly the phone gave two rings. The man on the bed woke suddenly, saw Wanda beside him and grabbed.

He was strong, and rolled off the bed, holding her and pushing her to the floor. He was on her before she could get up. Faster than a snake could strike, he had her arms pinned behind her.

Only then did the man seem to realise that his prisoner was a woman. He reached for something under his pillow.

“I have a gun,” he said in accented English. Wanda guessed him to be Spanish or South American.

“Roll over,” he ordered.

Wanda obeyed slowly, seeing he was indeed armed.

The man pushed the hair off her face and began to unzip the front of her body suit.

He began to chuckle when he realised the woman was naked under it.

Unlike Harrison’s touch, this man’s hands on her made her skin crawl, but even as his attention was on her, Harry caught his head between his side and his arm and held an ether soaked pad to his face.

While the man struggled, Harry ogled his companion. When he fell limp, enabling Wanda to use her hands, she quickly zipped herself up and took a loop of elastic from her wrist and tied her hair off her face. She glared at Harry until he began to bind the man’s wrists, ankles and mouth. He continued his task, using a sheet from the bed to wrap the unconscious man in. Together, they carried him outside and placed him next to the wall nearest the adjacent building.

Harry took his pack off and pulled out a small air gun, a coil of strong rope and a padded grappling hook. He assembled his equipment efficiently and shot the line across the gap between buildings. He tied off the nearest end once the hook had gripped.

Then he improvised a carry harness for the unconscious man and Wanda helped him sling the limp bundle across his shoulders. With an agility that Wanda envied, Harry used the rope to cross to the other building.

It was Wanda’s turn. She took from her pack a second coil of line, and clipped one end to a certain part of the knot securing the near end of the other rope. She played out the slack on that line, because she didn’t want to pull it too soon. It was to release the first line, once she was across. Skilfully, but with less finesse than Harry, Wanda swung from the rope and crossed to the other building. As soon as her feet were on a solid base again, she yanked the second rope and released the first. Then she pulled both ropes up as fast as possible.

Even with the weight of the man on his back, Harry helped her to re-coil the ropes and stow them neatly back in the packs. Only then did they make their way to the fire stairs of the building.

“Meet me at the car,” Harry told her, and indicated that she should precede him.

This building, Wanda knew, was mainly offices with shops on the bottom two floors. So without wasting time, Wanda opened the door and began running quietly down the concrete stairs, all senses alert for guards.

There were signs on all doors warning that the doors were alarmed. Wanda wondered what Harry expected her to do. He was the alarm expert, but then no alarm had gone off on the top floor.

On the ground floor, Wanda crouched under the stairs to catch her breath. She hoped to hear Harry following her but after five minutes there was still no sign of him. It meant she had to use her own initiative. Her only thought right now, was escape.

Wanda unlocked the outer door and pushed it open. The alarm clamoured noisily in the night time hush, but Wanda was well away before the first police car screeched to a halt.

Wanda slowed to a walk once she was a block away from the building. She kept to shadows as much as possible so it was less likely she’d draw attention to herself. It took her only a few moments to orientate herself and quickly realised that she was in the wrong street to reach Harry’s car. It was parked a block away in the next street across and police cars were converging from all directions.

Wanda kept walking, trudging rather, with her pack slung over one shoulder. She looked neither left nor right, only at the footpath ahead of her. At the next corner she turned left and continued walking to the next main street and then she turned left again. She was now heading back towards the focus of the police activity. Harry’s car was not far ahead.


The patrolman appeared in front of her like a phantom. Wanda walked into him then immediately apologised.

“Sorry, I’m not quite awake yet.”

“Where are you going,” the patrolman asked her.

“To work, at the hotel. I start at four,” Wanda lied glibly.

“What do you do?”

“I’m a cleaner. I start in the bars and restaurants and later in the day I do rooms if I’m needed or windows.”

“What’s in the bag?”

“Some ropes and tackle,” Wanda admitted at once. “I usually keep it at work, but I had to get some bits repaired.”

“Mind if I look?”

Wanda shrugged, glad that she had not kept any of the foreigner’s jewellery and that they had taken the time to tidy the ropes and disassemble the gear.

She watched the patrol officer as he examined her bag. He was a bit suspicious of her, but not ready to take her in.

He never had a chance to do more than that. Harry came quietly up behind him and coshed him. Wanda grabbed her bag and raced the short way to Harry’s car.


Wanda wondered where Harry had stashed the man they had abducted. However, she knew better than to ask. Perhaps he was in the boot of Harry’s car. But then, maybe not. It probably would not be smart of Harrison to have the man at his own house.

Harry drove them again to Beverly Hills, this time without trouble. Wanda had put a skirt and blouse over the body suit this time and pushed her pack under the seat. The few tools Harry had brought for her to use had gone back into Harry’s pockets.

At the house, Wanda followed Harry to Harrison’s office. Even though it was early in the morning, Harrison was awake.

“Any trouble?” Harrison asked.

Harry shook his head. “Worked just as you expected. The guy thinks with his balls. We split up to come down. I got the package to Syl and the kid distracted the guards. We had to quiet a patrolman, he’d cornered the kid.”

Harrison turned his attention to Wanda. “Tell me about it.”

Wanda complied and related the incident in detail. She finished by saying that the man was about to let her go when he went down. She made a point of saying that she thought coshing him was unnecessary, because now he would suspect her for sure.

Harrison considered the reports thoughtfully; Harry glared at Wanda.

“You may be correct,” Harrison agreed. “But he’s in charge.”

Wanda shrugged. Harry smirked and left the room when Harrison dismissed him.

“Good work,” he praised her. “Go and get a few hours sleep. You can use the same room as before.”

Wanda let a smile appear on her face. Harrison smiled back.

Yes, Wanda thought to herself.

Chapter 4

Wanda almost jumped a foot from the ground when her brother tapped her on the shoulder in the bank queue.

“What’s made you so jumpy today?” Sandy Willard hissed as Wanda spun to see who had touched her.

Her brother’s face was badly bruised and several deep scratches had scabbed over.

“Nothing,” Wanda lied. “I wasn’t expecting to meet anyone.”

“Are you pleased with the result of your handiwork, sister?” Sandy challenged with quiet anger. Wanda controlled her expression with difficulty.

“Did you find your wallet? I pinched it so they couldn’t identify you.”

“Yes, damn you.”

“Good. Now nick off.” Wanda turned her back on her brother.

“Why? Are your pimps watching you still?”

“I don’t think so. I think they are busy this morning.”

Wanda felt sure that she had not been followed from her apartment.

“Don’t worry, Sis. I am going home! I just wanted to tell you that they had to rush Elisabeth to hospital last night. She’s in the ICU at Oxnard Special Hospital. If she dies – it will be your fault!”

Sandy strode off after delivering his message.

Wanda watched him go and suddenly felt as if her life had lost its focus. She moved forward in the queue automatically, but when she reached the teller, she had decided not to put all of Harrison’s three thousand dollar bonus for her last job into the bank. She kept out a thousand dollars, just in case she needed some ready cash. For what – she wasn’t sure.

After returning from the bank, Wanda spent an hour cleaning her tiny apartment and tidying her few belongings. Most of what she owned was clothes and some cheap paperbacks that she kept exchanging at the local book exchange. No ornaments or photos, no handcrafts, nothing she would miss if she had to leave.

Wanda caught herself. “Had to leave?”

Why would she want to leave? It was cheap rent, big enough for her needs. If she moved out, she intended it to be into Harrison’s mansion.

“Had to leave,” suggested running away. She wasn’t going to run away. She wasn’t planning on going anywhere.

The newspaper fell from the arm of the couch. Wanda leant down to retrieve it and remembered the impulse to buy it. She did not have a TV so the paper and her little radio were the only ways she had to find out the results of her nights’ work. Many times, though, no one even knew that she and Harry had been somewhere. They did not always rob the places they visited. Sometimes they copied documents, or planted false evidence or simply ‘looked’. Last night was her first snatch.

The main headlines were of some national crisis. Wanda did not care for politics. What she wanted was on page two. There was the article she sought about the abduction of the Spanish-Italian businessman Tony Vanetti from his penthouse suite.

Reading about the snatch was as exciting as doing it, Wanda decided. For a few moments she savoured the remembered thrill of the deed, the escape and later. Particularly later.

She felt invincible.

Wanda stopped reading, prepared an early lunch, and thought about getting ready for work at the restaurant.

She returned to the paper with her sandwich, intending to read the comics but the stop press caught her eye.

“Elisabeth Willard, daughter of Californian Senator Charles Willard, was rushed to hospital last night with an unidentified illness. Her condition is given as critical.”


Wanda had tried to ignore her brother’s news; tried to keep the hard shell around herself. At that moment, her protections vanished and her world went flip flop and upside down.

In the space of a heartbeat, Wanda felt four years old again. She remembered all too well her mother dying, slowly, painfully. She remembered the fear that the same fate would be hers.

“No!” Wanda said aloud, denying the truth. “It’s not right! It shouldn’t be her! She was all right. It should be me in that hospital, not her!”

“Elisabeth is my one friend. The one person who knows what I am and yet doesn’t judge me. My conscience.”

The other side of reality intruded. Her life – now.

“If she dies – it will be your fault!” Sandy had told her.

“If you disobey me again – I won’t be so forgiving,” Harrison had warned her.

The choice had seemed easy, a week ago.

Harrison might be pleased with her work now, but he would not have forgotten her disobedience, not yet.

She had never let herself dwell on the truth of Harrison’s nature. He was dangerous. That was part of the thrill he held for her. And he was a killer. If she failed him now he would kill her. If she were lucky – he would do it himself. He would rouse her first, then ….

“Stop it!” Wanda told herself firmly.

She took twelve long, deep breaths to clear her mind.

It was then that she realised that she would go to Elisabeth, without telling Harrison.

Elisabeth was more important than anything.

Wanda had a bag of clothes and necessities packed within a few minutes. The money she had not banked was shoved into a corner of it. She tossed the bag onto the top of her wardrobe. From amongst the books on her shelf, she took a map of California and stared at it for a while. Then she gathered her work clothes and apartment keys and left her apartment. She stopped at a phone booth on her way, called the bus company, and asked about buses to Oxnard. The woman rattled off a list of times and routes. Wanda memorised them all. The one that stood out in her mind departed downtown at midnight and stopped about twenty minutes later two blocks from her apartment.

Wanda did not intend to tell her boss she was taking time off. After the other night when he had just stood by and let Harrison’s goon walk her outside, she suspected he would blab to Harrison if she told him. If Green fired her, she would worry about a new job later.

Every minute that passed without seeing Harrison was a minute of hope. He did not come in every evening, but his appearances had been increasing of late. This was one night she did not want to work for him.

She was jumpy and nervous and snapped at Kylie and the other waitress. Both of them decided to keep their distance from her.

The manager had words with her when she dropped two plates.

“Dean! Take ten minutes outside,” he told her bluntly.

Wanda walked out without comment. He would dock her pay for those 10 minutes too. She did not care. Outside, she concentrated on clearing her mind and breathing deeply. Tricks she had mastered and used to survive that year she had spent in the training centre. They still worked. Push away the memories, concentrate on now.

A few minutes longer than ten, Wanda went back in to work, noticeably calmer.

“Get out on the tables,” Green told her. “He’s asking for you.”

Wanda nodded and put a smile on her face.

“How are you, Miss Dean?” Harrison asked as she reached his table.

“Fine, Sir. What can I get for you today?”


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