Toronto, August 1994

Marianne leaned back in the chair, and put her feet up on Dariel's desk. She sipped at her brandy thoughtfully. Why Dariel had invited her tonight was beyond her grasp, as was why he had then asked her to stay in his office until needed. It was fine by her though. The party downstairs was purely for VIPs connected with the Business, and Marianne was not one to get involved with that unless she absolutely had to. It was most likely that she would not be needed at all, so she pulled out her tobacco pouch and began to roll a joint, the stem of her brandy glass still slung loosely between her first and second fingers.

Kitty swaggered in just after she had lit the joint. Impeccable timing as always, Marianne thought, the edges of her lips curling into what was not quite a smile.

"Want some?" she said, almost automatically.

"Thanks." He took it from her, and perched on the edge of the desk.

He was high as a kite, as he always seemed to be these days, Marianne noted. Although she did also note that he looked damn good in a dinner suit. She herself was a little less formally dressed -- black silk shirt under a black cotton trouser suit -- with her hair in a single plait pinned up on her head. And she wore decorative-yet-practical ankle boots. Her jacket was long, with deep pockets, which were empty -- she had no need for money or ID tonight. Her apartment keys were in a side pocket of her bag. She could be a date for any guest on their lonesome, or backup for Dariel and Kitty, as need dictated. She suspected however that she would merely be staying up here all evening -- just in case.

"So, Sands," Marianne said, as she took the joint back from him -- he might be high, but he had not drunk enough to answer to any of the other names she called him. "Who's Dariel entertaining tonight?"

"Didn't think you'd be interested." Sands leaned forwards and took the joint out of Marianne's fingers.

"He pulled in a whole big bunch of favours to get me to drop by tonight - of course I'm interested. Not to mention the staying mostly-sober part. It's Saturday night - I should be out drinking."

"Bunch of Russians and Italians -- something about a joint venture they're all planning." He handed the joint back, and bounced off the desk. "Better go -- he's got people he wants me to meet. Good dope though -- really took the edge off of my nerves." He swaggered out, truly Dariel's brat prince. And heir apparent, or so the rumours went. Not that Marianne wanted the inheritance herself -- oh, no -- but she would have thought Dariel could have found someone a little less interested in the merchandise to train up as his successor.

The Cat-boy was cute, of course. But cute was as cute did -- and Marianne had had her fill of cute, but ultimately flaky, girls and boys. She would try talking sense into Dariel, yet again, on Monday morning. Maybe if she told him that the word in the bars was that Kitty was getting daily coke deliveries over and above what came in his pay package, then Dariel would see what a liability his boytoy was turning into.

Marianne sighed, and ground out the remains of her joint. Then she placed her glass on the desk, and reached into the bag at her side to pull out one of her new comics. If she was going to be stuck up here all night, then she might as well keep herself occupied.

--


There was a commotion from downstairs. Marianne froze, her finger on the panel she had been reading. Footfalls, shouts, muffled shots -- Marianne hurriedly stuffed the comic into her bag, and exchanged it for a pair of cotton gloves. Then she stood up, pulling on the gloves. There was a rifle leaning up against the filing cabinets, and an open box of shells on the top; Dariel had obviously been expecting trouble. Marianne transferred fistfuls of shells to her jacket pockets, then picked up the rifle and headed towards the noise. She loaded it as she went, which slowed her progress a little, but then charging straight in would only draw attention to herself.

Dariel's office opened onto the metal walkway that ran all around the upper level of the club. From there Marianne could see what was happening below, but the lights all pointed downwards, so it would be much harder for those below to see her. The smoke machine was still running, blurring the action so she could see figures, but not instantly distinguish friend from foe. What she could do though, what she had learned to do all those years before, was to locate Dariel, and then pick off those firing on him.

Dariel was in the centre of the dance-floor, his people circling closely around him. Others were ranged further afield, using whatever they could for cover. None of them expected any shots to come from above. She began picking them off -- standing still only for long enough to raise the rifle to her shoulder; and then take aim and fire, before moving again. She stalked around and about the walkway, the weight of the rifle, and the force of its recoil, slowly but surely taking its toll on her arms and shoulder.

Each man she made sure to shoot in the head. When they went down, she wanted to be sure that they stayed down. That had always been her way, whether she had been shooting Dariel's rivals back in the East End, or shooting game in more civilised times. The men below were making excellent work of reducing each other's numbers, but it seemed that her body count was far, far higher.

She was on an adrenaline high that took her far above that place where Kitty spent his days. What did it matter who or how many she killed? They were all criminals with more deaths to their tally than she had -- or would ever have, even after tonight. They were trying to kill Dariel, and that alone was reason enough to eliminate them.

Finally the shooting stopped. Dariel -- miracle of miracles -- was still standing, although he looked to be the only one. Marianne took a breath, told her heart to stop hammering against her ribs quite so hard, then slowly descended the stairs to the main floor.

Dariel looked straight at her. Then his gaze swept around the room and he shook his head. His head snapped back to where someone was still moving. A shape dragged itself off the floor. Marianne raised the rifle slightly, supporting the barrel as if preparing to take aim, even though she had not bothered to reload it after the last shot she had fired.

"What the fuck was that all about?" Sands' voice was shaking almost as much as his gun hand. He raised his gun to take aim at Dariel. "You set me up, didn't you?"

Marianne started towards him. There was no time to reload now. She turned the rifle in her hands, judging its weight, and the momentum she could get up in her exhausted state. Then she heard the explosion from Sands' gun, an instant before she brought the barrel of her rifle down on the back of his head.

Sands slumped back onto the floor. Marianne looked over to Dariel. He was dusting himself down as he crossed to the console that housed the main light control. The lights came up, and it was all she could do not to gasp at the carnage.

"What the fuck happened?" she asked, realising as she said it that she was almost parroting Sands.

Dariel gestured around the room.

"Russians. Italians. Triads. Our local enforcers of law and order. It is a mess all right." He clapped Marianne on the back. "I suppose I ought to thank you. Do I get to welcome you back to the business?"

"I'm not sure yet." He would need her now, almost as much as he had needed her after Roal's death. And this time she was old enough, strong enough, wise enough to be there for him.

His hand was gone from her back already. Marianne looked around, and saw him crouched by Sands' body.

"You hit him well there. But he should recover." Dariel shook his head. "This will take a lot of explaining. And the hardest part will be smoothing matters over with his superiors."

"His sup -- " Marianne could not quite believe what she was hearing. "Who was he?"

"CIA. A kind gesture of them to send me such a perfect present. I'm sure you agree?"

"You knew?"

"I am not so vain as some people might think. Why would a pretty young thing be interested in an old man like me, if not for my money? Or for something else I had?"

"Yet you kept him around?"

"He was entertaining. I wanted to see how long it would take for him to betray his employers." Dariel pulled Sands onto his lap, then sighed. "But now I suppose I should return him to them. There will be questions asked, of course, but I should be able to help him avoid too much of the blame for this unfortunate incident." He gestured around the room, then looked at her again. "You had better let me dispose of that gun. I shall arrange your alibi in the morning."

The enormity of what had happened struck Marianne then.

"Some of these guys were police," she said quietly, still not wanting to believe it.

"That is... unfortunate," Dariel said. "I have always had such a good relationship with the authorities. Obviously whoever organised this raid was unaware of the various arrangements I have set up."

"Arrangements?" Some of the jigsaw pieces were falling into place, but Marianne was unsure whether she liked the picture that was being revealed.

"I'll explain in the morning," Dariel said, standing up with Sands in his arms. "Now, I think it is best if you leave. I shall arrange for the cleaning, and see that our friend here has not suffered any lasting damage. Then I need to talk with some of my contacts. It is a little late to disturb them, but I am sure under the circumstances -- "

Marianne had heard enough. She dropped the rifle to the floor, then walked slowly back up to the office to retrieve her bag, and check her appearance, before beginning her walk home. There were cab firms where she had an account, but she needed the time, and the fresh air, to clear her head.

--


Postscript - Twelve Hours Later

Dariel put the phone down, feeling an emotion he almost recognised as worry. And he had thought that he no longer felt anything -- not since Roal's death. Marianne was still not answering his calls, nor was she replying to any of the messages he left on her answer machine. He knew that she had not left her apartment block -- the two men he had posted outside assured him of that. And she knew better than to panic, and do anything that might implicate herself, or Dariel, in the events of the previous night.

After Marianne had walked out of the club, Dariel had rearranged the bodies himself, positioning one of the larger Russians at the top of the stairs, with Marianne's rifle in his hands. He had also redistribute some of the guns, making it harder for the police deaths to be pinned on anyone associated with him. After that he had gone home -- first checking that his alibi still held - taking Sands with him.

And therein lay his other main problem. The massacre at the club was going to be costly to cover up, but money -- and time -- would be enough to cloud people's memories of the exact details. It had only taken one call to discover that the raid had been nothing to do with any of his usual contacts, and the bridges burned with the Russians and Italians might be rebuilt in years to come. The CIA, Dariel was certain, would want a lot more than money to keep off his back, and out of his operations.

Over more than three decades, Dariel had forged and kept some very powerful contacts in first England, then Canada, and, later still, South America -- although those last were as shaky as their countries' governments. The United States however had always been uncertain territory, and he had hoped that Sands would rectify that discrepancy. Now Sands was suffering from concussion and cocaine withdrawal, both of which were almost certainly masking the more serious matter of a nervous breakdown. He was openly hostile towards Dariel -- and there was only so long that it was considered ethical to shoot someone up with diazepam.

Feeling something rather akin to regret, Dariel picked up the handset of his phone and began to dial the number of a private clinic in Dallas.